He was born in New York City. His father, Henry Grafton Chapman, was a broker who eventually became president of the New York Stock Exchange. His grandmother, Maria Weston Chapman, was one of the leading campaigners against slavery and worked with William Lloyd Garrison on The Liberator. He was educated at St. Paul's School, Concord and Harvard, and after graduating in 1885, Chapman traveled around Europe before returning to study at the Harvard Law School. He was admitted to the bar in 1888, and practiced law until 1898. Meanwhile he had attracted attention as an essayist of unusual merit. His work is marked by originality and felicity of expression, and the opinion of many critics has placed him in the front rank of the American essayists of his day.
In 1887 Chapman assaulted a man for insulting his girlfriend, Minna Timmins. He punished himself for this act by putting his left hand into fire. It was so badly burnt he had to have it amputated.
He married Minna Timmins in 1889 but she died giving birth to their third child. Chapman later married Elizabeth Chanler. Chapman became involved in politics and joined the City Reform Club and the Citizens' Union. He lectured on the need for reform and edited the journal The Political Nursery (1897-1901).
He is the subject of a biographical and critical essay by Edmund Wilson in The Triple Thinkers which recounts the reasons behind Chapman's deliberately burning off his own left hand.
Read more about this topic: John Jay Chapman
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