Alexander Hay Japp (1837-1905)

Alexander Hay Japp (Dec. 26, 1837-Sept. 29, 1905)

Raised in Dun and Montrose, Scotland, Alexander Hay Japp was an editor, poet, and author. He published works under his own name and pseudonyms on a variety of subjects such as literary criticism, the laboring class, natural history, animal consciousness, and anthropology. Japp also wrote several studies and biographies of notable authors such as Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Although Japp attended the University of Edinburgh, he did not graduate from the historic institution. He was awarded Legum Doctor or Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) from the University of Glasgow in 1879 and elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (F.R.S.E.) in 1880. Japp was also an editor for several journals, including Inverness Courier, Montrose Review, The Daily Telegraph (London); literary adviser to Alexander Strahan’s publishing firm; and assisted in editing Good Words, Sunday Magazine, The Contemporary Review, as well as the third edition of Chambers’s Cyclopædia of English Literature (1903).

A versatile and prolific writer, Japp adopted pseudonyms including “E. Conder Gray,” “A. N. Mount Rose,” “H. A. Page,” and “A. F. Scot.” Among the works written as H.A. Page are The Memoir of Nathaniel Hawthorne (1872) and Thoreau: His Life and Aims. A Study (1878), the study to which Henry S. Salt refers in his biography of the Concord author. Unlike Salt, Japp thought a difference in degrees of conscientiousness exists between humans and certain, not all, animals. However, Japp’s essay “Animal Expressions” (Cassell’s Family Magazine, 1892) focuses on the physical expressiveness of birds, dogs, and cats through body language and facial expressions. The Scotsman states this expressiveness indicates vanity, anger, guilt, fear, joy, and a level of “moral sensitiveness.” Japp compares Charles Darwin’s theory of the human smile as a remnant of animalistic snarling with the idea that animals, such as dogs, evolve to learn more emotion, thought, and expression the longer they’re around people. To further this point, in Thoreau: His Life and Aims. A Study (1877), he quotes poet William Ellery Channing’s Thoreau the Poet-Naturalist. With Memorial Verses (1873) regarding Thoreau’s fondness for animals, especially kittens.

Japp’s knowledge of and interest in Thoreau, other Transcendentalists, and their contemporaries ultimately led to a close friendship with Robert Louis Stevenson. Stevenson’s critique of Thoreau was published in The Cornhill (June 1880). Upon reading the article, Japp responded to Stevenson’s critique in a letter to the Editor of The Spectator (June 12, 1880) titled “Thoreau’s Pity and Humour.” Stevenson replied directly to Japp with an invitation to meet in Edinburgh. However, due to illness, Stevenson later requested Japp visit him at his family home, Braemar, and promises to revise what he wrote to clarify his view on Thoreau and note Japp’s objection in the preface.

Keeping his word, in the Preface to Familiar Studies of Men and Books (1894), Stevenson notes the essay “raised so much ire in the breast of Dr. Japp (H. A. Page), Thoreau’s sincere and learned disciple, that had either of us been men, I please myself with thinking, of less temper and justice, the difference might have made us enemies instead of making us friends. To him who knew the man from the inside, many of my statements sounded like inversions made on purpose; and yet when we came to talk of them together and he had understood how I was looking at the man through the books, while he had long since learned to read the books through the man, I believe he understood the spirit in which I had been led astray.” Japp later arranged for “Treasure Island” to be serialized in Young Folks (Oct. 1, 1881-Jan. 28, 1882). His last work, Robert Louis Stevenson: a Record, an Estimate, and a Memorial (1905), resulted from their friendship and correspondence.

Alexander Hay Japp died on Sept. 29, 1905 in Surrey, England, and is buried in London’s Abney Park cemetery.

Selected Works:
As “H. A. Page”:
The Memoir of Nathaniel Hawthorne (1872)
Thoreau: His Life and Aims. A Study. (1877)
De Quincey: his Life and Writings, with Unpublished Correspondence (2 vols. 1877)
Lights on the Way (1878)—under a dual-pseudonym, noted as by “the late J. H. Alexander, B.A.,” with explanatory note by “H. A. Page”
German Life and Literature (1880)
Literary Bye-Hours (1881)
Animal Anecdotes arranged on a New Principle (1887)
Hours in my Garden, and Other Nature-Sketches (1893)

As “A. F. Scot”:
Adam and Lilith: a Poem in Four Parts (1899)
Offering and Sacrifice: an Essay in Comparative Customs and Religious Development (1899)

As A. H. Japp:
“Animal Expressions” (Cassell’s Family Magazine, 1892)
“Animals as Bargain-Makers” (Cassell’s Family Magazine, 1894)
Some Heresies in Ethnology and Anthropology (1899)
Our Common Cuckoo and Other Cuckoos and Parasitical Birds (1899)
More Loose Links in the Darwinian Armour (1900)
Darwin as an Ethical Thinker (1901)
Robert Louis Stevenson: a Record, an Estimate, and a Memorial (1905)