1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Taylor, Jeremy

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TAYLOR, JEREMY (1613-1667), English divine and author, was baptized at Cambridge on the 15th of August 1613. His father, Nathaniel, though a barber, was a man of some education, for Jeremy was “solely grounded in grammar and mathematics” by him. The tradition that he was descended from Dr Rowland Taylor, Cranmer's chaplain, who suffered martyrdom under Mary, is grounded on the untrustworthy evidence of a certain Lady Wray, said to have been a granddaughter of Jeremy Taylor. She supplied Bishop Heber in 1732 with other biographical data of doubtful authenticity. Jeremy Taylor was a pupil of Thomas Lovering, at the newly founded Perse grammar school. Lovering is first mentioned as master in 1619, so that Taylor probably spent seven years at the school before he was entered at Gonville and Caius College as a sizar in 1626,[1] eighteen months after Milton had entered Christ's, and while George Herbert was public orator and Edmund Waller and Thomas Fuller were undergraduates of the university. He was elected a Perse scholar in 1628, and fellow of his college in 1633, but the best evidence of his diligence as a student is the enormous learning of which he showed so easy a command in after years. In 1633, although still below the canonical age, he took holy orders, and, accepting the invitation of Thomas Risden, a former fellow-student, to supply his place for a short time as lecturer in St Paul's, he at once attracted attention by his eloquence and by his handsome face. Archbishop Laud sent for Taylor to preach before him at Lambeth, and took the young man under his special protection. Taylor did not vacate his fellowship at Cambridge before 1636, but he spent, apparently, much of his time in London, for Laud desired that his “mighty parts should be afforded better opportunities of study and improvement than a course of constant preaching would allow of.” In November 1635 he had been nominated by Laud to a fellowship at All Souls, Oxford, where, says Wood (Athen. Oxon., Ed. Bliss, iii. 781), love and admiration still waited on him. He seems, however, to have spent little time there. He became chaplain to his patron the archbishop, and chaplain in ordinary to Charles I. At Oxford William Chillingworth was then busy with his great work, The Religion of Protestants, and it is possible that by intercourse with him Taylor's mind may have been turned towards the liberal movement of his age. After two years in Oxford, he was presented, in March 1638, by Juxon, bishop of London, to the rectory of Uppingham, in Rutlandshire. In the next year he married Phoebe Langsdale, by whom he had six children, the eldest of whom died at Uppingham in 1642. In the autumn of the same year he was appointed to preach in St Mary's on the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, and apparently used the occasion to clear himself of a suspicion, which, however, haunted him through life, of a secret leaning to the Romish communion. This suspicion seems to have arisen chiefly from his intimacy with Christopher Davenport, better known as Francis a Sancta Clara, a learned Franciscan friar who became chaplain to Queen Henrietta; but it may have been strengthened by his known connexion with Laud, as well as by his ascetic habits. More serious consequences followed his attachment to the Royalist cause. The author of The Sacred Order and Offices of Episcopacy or Episcopacy Asserted against the Aerians and Acephali New and Old (1642), could scarcely hope to retain his parish, which was not, however, sequestrated until 1644. Taylor probably accompanied the king to Oxford. In 1643 he was presented to the rectory of Overstone, Northamptonshire, by Charles I. There he would be in close connexion with his friend and patron Spencer Compton, 2nd earl of Northampton.

During the next fifteen years Taylor's movements are not easily traced. He seems to have been in London during the last weeks of Charles I., from whom he is said to have received his watch and some jewels which had ornamented the ebony case in which he kept his Bible. He had been taken prisoner with other Royalists while besieging Cardigan castle on the 4th of February 1645. In 1646 he is found in partnership with two other deprived clergymen, keeping a school at Newton Hall, in the parish of Llanvihangel-Aberbythych, Carmarthenshire. Here he became private chaplain to Richard Vaughan, 2nd earl of Carbery (1600-1686), whose hospitable mansion, Golden Grove, is immortalized in the title of Taylor's still popular manual of devotion, and whose first wife was a constant friend of Taylor. The second Lady Carbery was the original of the “Lady” in Milton's Comus. Mrs Taylor had died early in 1651. He second wife was Joanna Bridges, said on very doubtful authority to have been a natural daughter of Charles I. She owned a good estate, though probably impoverished by Parliamentarian exactions, at Mandinam, in Carmarthenshire.

From time to time Jeremy Taylor appears in London in the company of his friend Evelyn, in whose diary and correspondence his name repeatedly occurs. He was three times imprisoned: in 1654-5 for an injudicious preface to his Golden Grove; again in Chepstow castle, from May to October 1655, on what charge does not appear; and a third time in the Tower in 1657-8, on account of the indiscretion of his publisher, Richard Royston, who had adorned his “Collection of Offices ” with a print representing Christ in the attitude of prayer.

Much of his best work was produced at Golden Grove. In 1646 appeared his famous plea for toleration, Θεολογία Ἐκλεκτικὴ, A Discourse of the Liberty of Prophesying. In 1649 he published the complete edition of his Apology for authorized and set forms of Liturgy against the Pretence of the Spirit, as well as his Great Exemplar . . . a History of . . . Jesus Christ, a book which was inspired, its author tells us, by his earlier intercourse with the earl of Northampton. Then followed in rapid succession the Twenty-seven Sermons (1651), “for the summer half-year,” and the Twenty-five (1653), “for the winter half-year,” The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living (1650), The Rule and Exercises of Holy Dying (1651), a controversial treatise on The Real Presence . . . (1654), the Golden Grove; or a Manuall of daily prayers and letanies . . . (1655), and the Unum Necessarium (1655), which by its Pelagianism gave great offence.[2] The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living provided a manual of Christian practice, which has retained its place with devout readers. The scope of the work is described on the title-page. It deals with “the means and instruments of obtaining every virtue, and the remedies against every vice, and considerations serving to the resisting all temptations, together with prayers containing the whole Duty of a Christian.” Holy Dying was perhaps even more popular. A very charming piece of work of a lighter kind was inspired by a question from his friend, Mrs Katherine Phillips (the “matchless Orinda”), asking “How far is a dear and perfect friendship authorized by the principles of Christianity?” In answer to this he dedicated to the “most ingenious and excellent Mrs Katherine Phillips” his Discourse of the Nature, Offices and Measures of Friendship (1657), His Ductor Dubitantium, or the Rule of Conscience . . . (1660) was intended to be the standard manual of casuistry and ethics for the Christian people.

He probably left Wales in 1657, and his immediate connexion with Golden Grove seems to have ceased two years earlier. In 1658, through the kind offices of his friend John Evelyn, Taylor was offered a lectureship in Lisburn, Ireland, by Edward Conway, second Viscount Conway. At first he declined a post in which the duty was to be shared with a Presbyterian, or, as he expressed it, “where a Presbyterian and myself shall be like Castor and Pollux, the one up and the other down,” and to which also a very meagre salary was attached. He was, however, induced to take it, and found in his patron's mansion at Portmore, on Lough Neagh, a congenial retreat.

At the Restoration, instead of being recalled to England, as he probably expected and certainly desired, he was appointed to the see of Down and Connor, to which was shortly added the small adjacent diocese of Dromore. He was also made a member of the Irish privy council and vice-chancellor of the university of Dublin. None of these honours were sinecures. Of the university he writes, “I found all things in a perfect disorder . . . . a heap of men and boys, but no body of a college, no one member, either fellow or scholar, having any legal title to his place, but thrust in by tyranny or chance.” Accordingly he set himself vigorously to the task of framing and enforcing regulations for the admission and conduct of members of the university, and also of establishing lectureships. His episcopal labours were still more arduous. There were, at the date of the Restoration, about seventy Presbyterian ministers in the north of Ireland, and most of these were from the west of Scotland, and were imbued with the dislike of Episcopacy which distinguished the Covenanting party. No wonder that Taylor, writing to the duke of Ormonde shortly after his consecration, should have said, “I perceive myself thrown into a place of torment.” His letters perhaps somewhat exaggerate the danger in which he lived, but there is no doubt that his authority was resisted and his overtures rejected. His writings also were ransacked for matter of accusation against him, “a committee of Scotch spiders being appointed to see if they can gather or make poison out of them.” Here, then, was Taylor's opportunity for exemplifying the wise toleration he had in other days inculcated, but the new bishop had nothing to offer the Presbyterian clergy but the bare alternative — sub- mission to episcopal ordination and jurisdiction or deprivation. Consequently, in his first visitation, he declared thirty-six churches vacant; and of these forcible possesssion was taken by his orders. At the same time many of the gentry were won by his undoubted sincerity and devotedness as well as by his eloquence. With the Roman Catholic element of the population he was less successful. Ignorant of the English language, and firmly attached to their ancestral forms of worship, they were yet compelled to attend a service they considered profane, conducted in a language they could not understand. As Heber says, “No part of the administration of Ireland by the English crown has been more extraordinary and more unfortunate than the system pursued for the introduction of the Reformed religion.” At the instance of the Irish bishops Taylor undertook his last great work, the Dissuasive from Popery (in two parts, 1664 and 1667), but, as he himself seemed partly conscious, he might have more effectually gained his end by adopting the methods of Ussher and Bedell, and inducing his clergy to acquire the Irish tongue.

The troubles of his episcopate no doubt shortened his life. Nor were domestic sorrows wanting in these later years. In 1661 he buried, at Lisburn, Edward, the only surviving son of his second marriage. His eldest son, an officer in the army, was killed in a duel; and his second son, Charles, intended for the church, left Trinity College and became companion and secretary to the duke of Buckingham, at whose house he died. The day after his son's funeral Taylor caught fever from a patient whom he visited, and, after a ten days' illness, he died at Lisburn on the 13th of August 1667, in the fifty-fifth year of his life and the seventh of his episcopate, and was buried in the cathedral of Dromore.

Taylor's fame has been maintained by the popularity of his sermons and devotional writings rather than by his influence as a theologian or his importance as an ecclesiastic. His mind was neither scientific nor speculative, and he was attracted rather to questions of casuistry than to the problems of pure theology. His wide reading and capacious memory enabled him to carry in his mind the materials of a sound historical theology, but these materials were unsifted by criticism. His immense learning served him rather as a storehouse of illustrations, or as an armoury out of which he could choose the fittest weapon for discomfiting on opponent, than as a quarry furnishing him with material for building up a completely designed and enduring edifice of systematized truth. Indeed, he had very limited faith in the human mind as an instrument of truth. “Theology,” he says, “is rather a divine life than a divine knowledge.” His great plea for toleration is based on the impossibility of erecting theology into a demonstrable science. “It is impossible all should be of one mind. And what is impossible to be done is not necessary it should be done.” Differences of opinion there must be; but “heresy is not an error of the understanding but an error of the will.” He would submit all minor questions to the reason of the individual member, but he set certain limits to toleration, excluding “whatsoever is against the foundation of faith, or contrary to good life and the laws of obedience, or destructive to human society, and the public and just interests of bodies politic.” Peace, he thought, might be made “if men would not call all opinions by the name of religion, and superstructures by the name of fundamental articles.” Of the propositions of sectarian theologians he said that confidence was the first, and the second, and the third part. Of a genuine poetic temperament, fervid and mobile in feeling, and of a prolific fancy, he had also the sense and wit that come of varied contact with men. All his gifts were made available for influencing other men by his easy command of a style rarely matched in dignity and colour. With all the majesty and stately elaboration and musical rhythm of Milton's finest prose, Taylor's style is relieved and brightened by an astonishing variety of felicitous illustrations, ranging from the most homely and terse to the most dignified and elaborate. His sermons especially abound in quotations and allusions, which have the air of spontaneously suggesting themselves, but which must sometimes have baffled his hearers. This seeming pedantry is, however, atoned for by the clear practical aim of his sermons, the noble ideal he keeps before his hearers, and the skill with which he handles spiritual experience and urges incentives to virtue.

The whole works of . . . Jeremy Taylor with a life of the author and a critical examination of his writings was published by Bishop Reginald Heber in 1822, reissued after careful revision by Charles Page Eden (1847-54). His most popular works, The Liberty of Prophesying, Holy Living, and Holy Dying have been often reprinted. The Poems and Verse-translations of Jeremy Taylor were edited by Dr. A. B. Grosart in vol. i. of the Miscellanies of the Fuller Worthies Library (1870). The first biographer of Jeremy Taylor was his friend and successor, George Rust, who preached a funeral sermon (in 1668) which remains a valuable document. His life has been written by John Wheeldon (1793), H. K. Bonney (1815), T. S. Hughes (1831), R. H. Willmott (1847), George L. Duyckinck (New York, 1860). The chief authority is still Eden's revision of Bishop Heber's memoir, which includes much valuable correspondence. See also E. W. Gosse's Jeremy Taylor (1904) in the English Men of Letters series. A bibliography of works dealing with the subject is included in the article by the Rev. Alexander Gordon in the Dictionary of National Biography. S. T. Coleridge was a diligent student and a warm admirer of Jeremy Taylor, whom he regarded as one of the great masters of English style. A series of comments by Coleridge are collected in his Literary Remains (1838, vol. iii. pp. 203-390).


  1. An obviously erroneous entry in the Admission Book states that he had been at school under Mr. Lovering for ten years, and was in his fifteenth year. Admissions to Gonville and Caius College (ed. J. Venn, 1887).
  2. See an angry letter by Brian Duppa, bishop of Salisbury, on the subject (Eden i. xlii.).