Reid, Thomas Wemyss (DNB12)

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REID, Sir THOMAS WEMYSS (1842–1905), journalist and biographer, born in Elswick Row, Newcastle-on-Tyne, on 29 March 1842, was second son of Alexander Reid, congregational minister of that town from 1830 to 1880, by his second wife, Jessy Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Wemyss (d. 1845) of Darlington, a Hebrew scholar and biblical critic of distinction. After a short stay at Madras College, St. Andrews, where he had brain fever, Reid was educated at Percy Street Academy, Newcastle, by John Collingwood Bruce [q. v. Suppl. I]. In 1856 he became a clerk in the 'W. B.' [i.e. Wentworth Beaumont] Lead office at Newcastle, Cherishing as a boy literary aspirations, at fifteen he sent papers on local topics to the 'Northern Daily Express.' These attracted the notice of the proprietor, who had him taught shorthand. Reid did occasional reporting work at seventeen; and a local cartoon, labelled 'The Press of Newcastle,' depicted him at the time as a boy in a short jacket perched on a stool taking down a speech. Another boyish exploit was the foundation near his father's chapel of 'The West End Literary Institute,' which included a penny bank. In July 1861 he gave up his clerkship for a journalistic career, becoming chief reporter on the 'Newcastle Journal.' His brilliant descriptive report of the Hartley colliery accident in January 1862 was issued as a pamphlet, and realised 40l. for the relief of the victims' families.

In 1863 Reid varied reporting with leader-writing and dramatic criticism. In June 1864 he was appointed editor of the bi-weekly 'Preston Guardian,' the leading journal in North Lancashire; and in January 1866 he moved to Leeds to become head of the reporting staff of the 'Leeds Mercury,' a daily paper founded and for more than a century owned by the Baines family. He maintained a connection with that journal for the rest of his life. From the autumn of 1867 till the spring of 1870 Reid was London representative of the paper. In order to gain admission to the press gallery of the House of Commons he had to become an occasional reporter for the London 'Morning Star,' then edited by Justin McCarthy. He subsequently took a leading part in the movement which resulted in 1881 in the opening of the gallery to the provincial press. An acquaintance with William Edward Baxter [q. v. Suppl. I], secretary to the admiralty, placed at his disposal important political information which gave high interest to his articles.

Reid at this time lived on intimate terms with Sala, James Macdonell [q. v.], W. H. Mudford, and other leading journalists. Meanwhile he sent descriptive articles to 'Chambers's Journal' and formed a life-long friendship with the editor, James Payn. To the 'St. James's Magazine,' edited by Mrs. Riddell, he sent sketches of statesmen which were republished as 'Cabinet Portraits,' his first book, in 1872.

On 15 May 1870 Reid returned to Leeds, to act as editor of the 'Leeds Mercury.' The paper rapidly developed under his alert control. In 1873 he opened on its behalf a London office, sharing it with the 'Glasgow Herald,' and arranged with the 'Standard' for the supply of foreign intelligence. His policy was that of moderate liberalism. A 'writing editor' with an extremely able pen, he was the first provincial editor to bring a newspaper published far from the capital into line with its London rivals alike in the collection of news of the first importance, and in political comments on the proceedings of parliament. He successfully challenged the views of 'The Times' as to the sea-worthiness of the Captain, which was sunk with its designer, Captain Cowper Coles [q. v.], on 7 Sept. 1870; and he obtained early intelligence of Gladstone's intended dissolution of parliament in 1874. Reid upheld Forster's education bill against the radicals, and supported against the teetotallers Bruce's moderate licensing bill. In the 1880 election at his suggestion Gladstone was invited to contest Leeds as well as Midlothian. With W. E. Forster, Reid's relations were always close, and he vigorously championed his political action in Ireland during 1880-2. The Mercury' under his editorship continued to support Gladstone when he took up the cause of home rule. Whilst at Leeds, Reid was also on friendly terms with Richard Monckton Milnes, Lord Houghton, at whose house at Fryston he was a frequent guest.

Reid made many journeys abroad, chiefly in his journalistic capacity. In 1877 he visited Paris with letters of introduction from Lord Houghton to the Comte de Paris and M. Blowitz, and was introduced to Gambetta. A holiday trip in Germany, Hungary, and Roumania in 1878 he described in the 'Fortnightly Review.' He went to Tunis as special correspondent of the 'Standard' in 1881, and narrated his experiences in 'The Land of the Bey' (1882).

In 1887 Reid withdrew from the editorship of the 'Leeds Mercury,' to which he continued a weekly contribution till his death, in order to become manager of the publishing firm of Cassell and Co. London was thenceforth his permanent home, and his work there was incessant. In January 1890 he added to his publishing labours the editorship of the 'Speaker,' a new weekly paper which he founded and which combined literature with liberal politics. A keen politician, he enjoyed the confidence of Gladstone and his leading followers, but his zeal in their behalf at times provoked the hostility of the extreme radical wing of the party. Reid became a strong supporter and a personal friend of Lord Rosebery, whose views he mainly sought to expound in the 'Speaker.' He was knighted on Lord Rosebery's recommendation in 1894 in consideration of 'services to letters and politics.'

In Sept. 1899 Reid ceased to be editor of the 'Speaker,' which in spite of its literary merits was in the financial respect a qualified success. Subsequently he wrote a shrewd and well-informed survey of political affairs month by month for the 'Nineteenth Century,' as well as weekly contributions to the 'Leeds Mercury.' He was elected president of the Institute of Journalists for 1898-9. He had become in 1878 a member of the Reform Club on the proposition of Forster and Hugh Childers [q. v. Suppl. I], and he soon took a prominent part in its management, long acting as chairman of committee. He was elected an honorary member of the Eighty Club in 1892, at the instance of his friend Lord Russell of Killowen.

Meanwhile Reid, who received the degree of LL.D. from St. Andrews University in 1893, made a reputation in literature. During his first residence at Leeds he had visited Haworth and interested himself in the lives of the Brontës. Ellen Nussey, Charlotte Brontë's intimate friend and school-fellow, entrusted to him the novelist's correspondence with herself and other material which had not been accessible to Mrs. Gaskell. With such aid Reid wrote some articles in 'Macmillan's Magazine' which he expanded into his 'Charlotte Brontë: a Monograph' (1877), which drew from Swinburne high appreciation. Reid showed admirable skill, too, as the biographer of W. E. Forster (2 vols. 1888) and of Richard Monckton Milnes, first Lord Houghton (2 vols. 1890). In both works he printed much valuable correspondence, and Gladstone helped him by reading the proofs. He also published memoirs of Lyon Playfair, first Lord Playfair of St. Andrews (1899); of John Deakin Heaton, M.D., of Leeds (1883); and a vivid monograph on his intimate friend William Black the novelist (1902). A 'Life of W. E. Gladstone,' which he edited in 1899, includes a general appreciation and an account of the statesman's last days from Reid's own pen. He further enjoyed success as a novelist. His 'Gladys Fane: a Story of Two Lives' (1884; 8th edit. 1902), and 'Mauleverer's Millions: a Yorkshire Romance' (1886), each had a wide circulation. He also left 'Memoirs' including much confidential matter of a political kind; portions were edited by his brother. Dr. Stuart Reid, in 1905.

Reid died, active to the last, and almost pen in hand, at his house, 26 Bramham Gardens, South Kensington, on 26 Feb. 1905, and was buried in Brompton cemetery. He was twice married: (1) on 5 Sept. 1867 to his cousin Kate (d. 4 Feb. 1870), daughter of the Rev. John Thornton of Stockport; and (2) on 26 March 1873 to Louisa, daughter of Benjamin Berry of Headingley, Leeds, who survived him. There was one son by the first marriage, and a son and a daughter by the second. A portrait in possession of the family was painted by Mr. Grenville Manton.

[Memoirs of Sir Wemyss Reid, 1842-1885 (with portrait), edited by Stuart J. Reid, D.C.L., 1905 (the remainder of the autobiography is at present unpublished); Men of

the Time, 1899; The Times, 27 Feb., 3, 4 March 1905; Speaker, 4 March; Newcastle Weekly Chronicle (portrait), 4 March; Leeds Mercury, 27 Feb.; Lucy's Sixty Years in the Wilderness, pp. 67, 68, 84; Stead's Portraits and Autobiographies; Brit. Mus. Cat.; private information.]

G. Le G. N.