James Allen was a philosophical writer and poet. He is best known for his book, As a Man Thinketh.
Allen wrote about complex subjects such as faith, destiny, love, patience, and religion but had the unique ability of explaining these subjects in a way that is simple and easy to comprehend. He often wrote about cause and effect, sowing and reaping, as well as overcoming sadness, sorrow, and grief.
Birth and Early Years
James Allen was born on November 28th, 1864 at 21 Brunswick Street, in Leicester, England to William (a Stocking Framework Knitter) and Martha (whose surname was Whalton or Whotton). His mother was 37 years old when she gave birth to him. Among his siblings, he had two younger brothers, George and Thomas. Thomas was also an author and contributed many articles to Allen’s monthly journal.
When Allen was 15 and after hardships at his trade in England, his father took what money he had and left for America with the intent to start a new life for his family in the United States. Two days after arriving in New York, his father died. It is unclear exactly how his father passed but most accounts point to murder.
The murder of his father caused Allen to leave school and begin work. James worked as framework knitter as his father did. At this time they lived at 75 Charnwood Street in Leicester.
Although working many hours, Allen continued to read and study. It was around this time that he began reading Shakespeare and at about age 24 he read The Light of Asia. The Light of Asia acted as spiritual awakener for Allen and started him on his path toward “perfect peace”. Allen’s parents are thought to be Methodists. It is clear that Allen strayed from his parent’s religion, drawing inspiration from many religions and committing to no denomination.
Lily Louisa Oram was born on December 30th, 1867 at Burrishoole, Eire to John and Jane Oram (whose surname was Talbot). Allen met Lily in 1893 when he was 29. They married on May 22nd, 1895 at the Holy Cross Church in Bampfylde, Somerset, England. The ceremony was performed by Philip C. Caffin, and witnessed by Lily’s parents. They were both devout vegetarians.
Allen began to work for Sidney H. Beard as a private secretary during this time.
Birth of Daughter
Allen’s daughter Nora was born on September 10th 1896 at 21 Littlefield Villas, Weymouth, Dorset. Around this time, Allen was living in Bath, England with his wife Lily and daughter Nora.
Writing Career and Inspiration
In 1901, when Allen was 37, he wrote his first book, From Poverty to Power. In 1902 he wrote his second book, As a Man Thinketh. Although this would be Allen’s most successful book, it is said that he felt it to be unsatisfactory and not worthy of print. It was his wife Lily who convinced him to publish it. Allen wrote 19 books in all.
Allen learned about publishing and running a magazine from his time working for Sidney Beard on Beard’s magazine The Herald of the Golden Age and in 1902, Allen started his own magazine titled The Light of Reason. Each issue of Allen’s magazine contained announcements, an editorial written by Allen on a different subject each month, and many articles, poems, and quotes written by popular authors of the day and even local, unheard of authors. In 1905, Allen organized his magazine subscribers into groups (called “The Brotherhood”) that would meet regularly and reported on their meetings each month in his magazine under the heading “Our Groups and Their Work”. Allen and his wife would often travel to the group meetings to give speeches and read articles. The name of the magazine was later changed to “The Epoch”.
Allen moved his family to 33 Broad Park Avenue, Ilfracombe, England to a house they called “Bryngoleu”, or “Hill of Light.” Allen eventually took over full editorial control of his magazine and moved its operation to his house. It was also here where Allen penned most of his works. They also ran their home as a bed and breakfast and often invited subscribers to their magazine to stay at their home.
Some of Allen's favorite writings, and those he quoted often, include the works of Shakespeare, Milton, Emerson, the Bible, Buddha, Whitman, Trine, and Lao-Tze.
Each morning Allen would climb The Cairn in Ilfracombe where he would go to reflect and meditate. He would then return home and write and until midday. In the afternoons, he enjoyed gardening and playing croquet.
About the week of January the 8th, Allen’s health began to deteriorate and by the week of the 15th, he was very ill. On January 12th, he spent the evening playing chess with Charles N. Foyster, whom he had known for 12 years. Mr. Foyster also contributed articles to The Light of Reason (The Epoch) and visit with Allen during his last days.
Allen died on Wednesday, January 24th, 1912 at his home with his wife and daughter by his side, he was 47. The exact cause of his death is not known. He was cremated on January 30th at 11:00am in Leicester and at about noon, his brother Thomas scattered his ashes into the cemetery surrounding the crematorium, saying: “As these ashes of James Allen are cast to the four winds of Heaven, so may the Truth he taught permeate to the four corners of the earth, carrying with it Joy, Peace, and Consolation.” There was no formal funeral. He left everything to his wife and named her and Thomas executors of his estate.
After his death, Lily’s life was devoted to spreading the works of her husband. She took over editing The Epoch, wrote books of her own, and continued to run Bryngoleu as a guest house.
Lily died on February 14th, 1952 at age 84. She was cremated and left her entire estate to Nora.
Nora continued to live in the family home, receiving guests and renting rooms to single women. She became a Roman Catholic and never married. She died at the Tyrrell Hospital in Ilfracombe on July 18th, 1976 at age 79 and was also cremated. Lily and Nora’s ashes were both placed at the grave of Lily’s parents in Weston Bampfylde, Somerset.