Ridley, James (DNB00)

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RIDLEY, JAMES (1736–1765), author of ‘Tales of the Genii,’ eldest son of Dr. Glocester Ridley [q. v.], was born at Poplar in 1736, and was baptised at St. Dunstan's, Stepney, on 18 Feb. in that year. He was educated at Winchester School, being elected scholar in 1749, and matriculated from University College, Oxford, on 25 May 1754, but soon afterwards migrated to New College, whence he graduated B.A. in 1760. He held a fellowship at New College from 1755 to 1762. Having taken orders, he obtained a chaplaincy in the East India Company's service, but he relinquished this post to become chaplain to a marching regiment, and was present at the capture of Belleisle in June 1761. Owing to the imperfect commissariat arrangements, the troops suffered greatly from dysentery. Ridley himself was confined for some weeks in a hospital at Palais on the island, and his general health was undermined. Soon after his return (his first signature in the Vestry Book appears on 12 April 1762) he obtained the reversion of his father's living at Romford in Essex, where he died prematurely in 1765. His death is recorded in the Romford register of burials 1 March, from which it might be presumed that he was buried at Romford; but Lysons expressly states that he died on 24 Feb. and was buried at Poplar in the chapel cemetery. By his wife Ann he had three children, James John (baptised at Romford on 16 April 1763), Ann (b. 1764), and Mary Judith (b. 1765).

Ridley is chiefly remembered as author of ‘The Tales of the Genii, or the delightful Lessons of Horan, the son of Asmar. Faithfully translated from the Persian Manuscript, and compared with the French and Spanish editions published at Paris and Madrid, by Sir Charles Morell’ (originally issued in shilling parts, and reprinted London, 1764, 2 vols. 8vo). The work purports to be by ‘Sir Charles Morell, at one time ambassador from the British settlements in India to the Great Mogul,’ and to be a literal translation from a book held in great estimation at Ispahan and at Constantinople. The ‘Tales,’ however, are entirely Ridley's own; the stories are good in themselves; they are interspersed with some satire upon the professions of so-called Christians; and, for the rest, are skilfully modelled upon the ‘Arabian Nights,’ which had been first translated into a European tongue (French) by Antoine Galland, and concurrently rendered into English, 1704–1717. Ridley's first edition, illustrated by some well-executed engravings, was dedicated to George, prince of Wales. A second edition appeared in 1780, and succeeding editions in 1794, 1800, 1805, 1814, 1849, and 1861. A French translation appeared in 1766, another in ‘Le Cabinet des Feés’ in 1786, and a German translation at Leipzig in 1765–6, 8vo. The two English editions last named were selected, ‘revised, purified, and remodelled,’ ‘with a view of developing a religious moral,’ by Archbishop Whately, who may have been a sounder moralist than Ridley, but was far inferior as a story-teller. Joseph Spence [q. v.], an old family friend, was portrayed in the ‘Tales’ as ‘Phesoi Ecneps’ (his name read backwards), the Dervise of the Groves. Their popularity among children outlasted the eighteenth century, and is attested by the infantine tragedy called ‘Misnar,’ which Charles Dickens founded on one of Ridley's ‘Tales’ about 1822.

In addition to ‘The Tales of the Genii,’ Ridley wrote a novel, of no great merit, entitled ‘The History of James Lovegrove, Esquire,’ in four books, London, 1761, 2 vols. 8vo; and ‘The Schemer, or Universal Satirist, by that Great Philosopher Helter van Scelter,’ London, 1763, 8vo (a series of papers originally contributed to the ‘London Chronicle’); it satirises, among other contemporary topics, Sterne's ‘Tristram Shandy,’ and the proposals submitted for the construction of Blackfriars Bridge upon elliptical arches [see Mylne, Robert, (1734-1811)].

[Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715–1888; Kirby's Winchester Scholars, p. 249; notes from Romford register kindly supplied by Thomas Bird, esq., of Canons, Romford; Lysons's Environs of London, iii. 464; Chalmers's Biogr. Dictionary; Nichols's Literary Anecdotes, i. 646, 647, ii. 376, 382; Letters of Eminent Persons, iii. 169; Cushing's Initials and Pseudonyms, pp. 504, 534; Halkett and Laing's Dict. of Anon. and Pseudon. Lit. iii. 2543; Monthly Rev. xxxi. 478; Watt's Bibl. Britannica; Ebert's Bibl. Dict. 1837, p. 1142.]

T. S.