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James Scott Negley Farson

Negley Farson-Family Members READY.png

B. 14 May 1890 at Plainfield, New Jersey, USA

D. 13 December 1960 at North Devon, England


Educated at Phillips Andover, Massachusetts

and the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

Journalist, world-traveler, adventurer, and avid fisherman

The Sydney Morning Herald, 18 January 1936


Negley Farson

(By T.I.M.)

"The Way of a Transgressor," the title Negley Farson has chosen for his autobiography, is perhaps more striking than apt, since his "sins" were committed in defiance of prudence rather than anything else, and he certainly suffers from little sense of sinfulness. His way, too, if often hard, was never dull for long. He soon saw to that if it were. Reckless, happy-go-lucky, adventurous, a born wanderer, this rolling-stone has gathered little financial moss but a wealth of experience. Its richness was sufficient to enable the publisher to put out the book with a recommendation from the director of another publishing firm, who said, "I'd give an ear to have published it myself." Already it has been chosen a book of the month. For Negley Farson knows how to tell his stories crisply, humorously, vigorously. He has an eye for the dramatic, a strong sense of Irony, the gift of the concrete telling phrase, and abundance of sheer gusto. His journalistic experience has taught him how to make the most of his experiences in writing, for as foreign and London correspondent of the "Chicago Daily News," he forms one of that brilliant band of American journalists who cover Europe so brightly and knowingly. And it is typical that the author, before writing his life story, had just resigned from his excellent London post because a new "boss" had complained that he had lost his American detachment by absorbing the English point of view too thoroughly. Equally characteristic of the autobiography is the fact that this scion of an American pioneering family-"the first cabin west of the Alleghenies was built by a Negley"-who had cracked hickory nuts as a boy for a grandfather who was a Civil War General, after sharing with Ashmead Bartlett the honour of being the sole observers of Gandhi's arrest and departure for Poona prison, watching the fighting on the North-West Frontier with the Afridis and riots in Egypt, and being arrested near Lwow whilst investigating Polish beatings of Ukrainian peasants, writes this book in Dalmatia in a spot discovered 11 years before when he and his wife had sailed across Europe in a yacht from Rotterdam to the Black Sea.


Negley Farson was brought up as a boy by his grandfather, the General, and a negro servant in New Jersey, and later in Pennsylvania by his yachting father. He learnt to sail, fish, and shoot. He was expelled from Andover ("the finest prep school in the United States") in a batch of thirty boys for a lynching rag. Then came a period of athletics, shot putting, javelin-throwing, and rowing for the University of Pennsylvania. There followed business in New York, engineering in Manchester, and five years in Petrograd as agent for an Anglo-American export business trying to secure Russian war orders from a corrupt Tsarist Government. After a year on crutches as the result of streptococci infection, return to America, and a fresh start on his own in Russia, Negley Farson found himself embroiled with his friend, the famous John Reed, the Russian Revolution, various Russian inamoratas, the Crimean police, and other excitements. So he left Russia to enlist as a "soi-disant" Canadian in the British Royal Flying Corps. In Egypt he crashed an Avro and himself, one result being a smashed leg, upon which surgeons enjoyed themselves all over the world for a number of years afterwards. Then the author married an English girl, a niece of Bram Stoker, of "Dracula" fame, tried to sell motor trucks in Chicago, went into hospital again in Montreal, and then fled to Vancouver Island, where he and his wife for two years led a simple but happy life in the wilds.


Beach-combing in British Columbia gave place to a position as Chicago sales manager for the Mack Motor Truck Company. The position was highly paid, the author a success, the company generous, but the deadliness of a Chicago Sunday proved too much, and the unconventional pair returned to England, bought a yacht, and sailed across Europe, with adventures in Rumania, forbidden Bessarabia, and Constantinople. The eight months' voyage also gave the travellers "a shocking view of the worst side of nationalism." The remainder of "The Way of a Transgressor" is devoted to Negley Farson's journalistic experiences, which include the British general strike, the Welsh miners, Fascist frame-ups in Rome, a Y.M.C.A. conference in Stockholm, a whale-kill on a Norwegian whaler by Olsen, dean of Norwegian gunners, killer of 2600 whales, glimpses of Spain, the Basques, de Valera and the Irish, the High Caucasus, and Soviet Russia. The result of Negley Farson's experiences as a foreign correspondent after his sailing trip did not make him an optimist. "For the next ten years," he writes, "I watched the world come to bits. For the first six years I was not in any one country for over six months. . . I met some great men, such as Roosevelt and Gandhi. And I met some good men, such as Lord Irwin, Viceroy of India, and George Lansbury. The strongest Englishman I met was Stanley Baldwin. But for the rest of the world's public figures I am still waiting to I see their retribution which is so long over-due." (Gollancz; Dymock's.)

TIME -Milestones, Dec. 26, 1960 

Died. Negley Farson, 70, bestselling author (The Way of a Transgressor) and onetime foreign correspondent for the Chicago Daily News. Grandson of a Union Army general, hard-living Negley Farson drew the source material for his hard-bitten books from careers as an oil salesman in the U.S., engineer in England, arms salesman in Czarist Russia, aviator in Egypt; of a heart attack; in Georgeham, North Devon, England.

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