Taylor, Jane (DNB00)
|←Taylor, James (1813-1892)||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 55
TAYLOR, JANE (1783–1824), writer for the young, the second daughter of Isaac Taylor (1759–1829) [q. v.] of Ongar, was born in Red Lion Street, London, on 23 Sept. 1783. Her constitution was delicate from the first, but upon the family removing to Suffolk in 1786 she took a new lease of life. Her vivacity as a child was great. She used to preach and recite for the amusement of the neighbours at Lavenham, and was ‘the spirited foremost in every youthful plan.’ Apart from a natural diffidence, however, she was protected from self-conceit by an abundant measure of common-sense. The children concentrated a great deal of energy into the small amount of spare time that was allowed to them under their father's scheme of education. From a very early age Jane and her sister began imagining stories and writing plays and verses. Her natural propensity to book-making was extraordinary, and from the age of eight or nine she began drafting prefaces (sometimes in verse), title-pages, introductions, and dedications of a singular precocity. When she had a request to prefer to her parents for a small garden, she presented her ‘petition’ in five well-turned stanzas in the metre of ‘John Gilpin.’ The first piece of Jane's which appeared in print was a contribution (‘The Beggar's Boy’) in 1804 to ‘The Minor's Pocket Book,’ published by Darton & Harvey, of which small annual her elder sister had been a ‘correspondent’ since 1798. The publishers now inquired for any more pieces in verse that the sisters might chance to have by them, and the result was the publication in 1804 of ‘Original Poems for Infant Minds by several young persons’ (London, 12mo), for which Jane and her sister received the sum of 15l.
One or two of the poems at the end of this work were by Isaac Taylor, but the great majority were by his sisters Ann and Jane. They soon obtained a wide popularity, and were reprinted in America and translated into German, Dutch, and Russian. Some fifty editions have appeared in England alone. The best known of the poems is ‘My Mother,’ by Ann; but hardly inferior in its way is the well-known ‘The Cow and the Ass,’ by Jane, or a score of poems inculcating kindness to dumb animals. Equally popular was their next joint work, ‘Rhymes for the Nursery, by the Authors of “Original Poems”’ (London, 1806, 12mo; the best edition of the ‘Poetical Works’ of Ann and Jane Taylor, containing the ‘Original Poems,’ ‘Rhymes,’ and ‘Hymns,’ is that of 1877, in which most of the pieces are ascribed to their respective authors). The tenth of these poems, few of which are unfamiliar to English children, is Jane Taylor's ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star.’ The same vein was cultivated with less success in ‘Limed Twigs to catch Young Birds’ (London, 1808).
The two sisters next directed their attention to writing children's hymns, and here their success was perhaps most conspicuous of all, their ‘Hymns for Infant Minds’ (London, 1810, 8vo) having gone through wellnigh one hundred editions in England and America. The fourth edition (1811) has a frontispiece of a child kneeling over her mother's grave, engraved by Jane from a drawing by her brother Isaac. Jane's hymns have less literary excellence than those of her sister, but they are marked by great simplicity and directness. The most popular and one of the best of her contributions is ‘There is a path that leads to God.’ In spite, or perhaps in consequence, of the extreme simplicity of the language used in these hymns, their elaboration and revision cost their authors more labour than any other of their writings. Their further joint productions include ‘Original Hymns for Sunday Schools’ (1812, 12mo, many editions), ‘City Scenes’ and ‘Rural Scenes,’ and ‘Signor Topsy Turvyey's Wonderful Magic Lantern, or the World turned upside down’ (London, 1810, 12mo).
These joint productions of their early years, containing all that is most worthy of remembrance among their writings, were produced by the two sisters under considerable disadvantages. Neither the father nor the mother favoured the literary occupations of their daughters, and their early verses were written in minutes or half-hours snatched early in the morning or at night from the round of occupations and studies to which much more importance was attached by themselves as well as by their parents. The year 1812 saw the dissolution of the literary partnership of the two sisters, Ann becoming engaged to Joseph Gilbert [q. v.], and Jane leaving the family circle to accompany her brother Isaac to Ilfracombe, where they spent the next two winters. In the spring of 1814 they left Ilfracombe, and spent nearly three years at Marazion in Cornwall. There Jane completed ‘Display, a Tale for Young People’ (London, 1815, 12mo), which she had commenced at Ilfracombe, and which went through several editions. There also she laboured assiduously, and probably to the injury of her health, upon ‘Essays in Rhyme, on Morals and Manners’ (London, 1816, 12mo), which is her most ambitious effort in verse, but with the exception of one short poem, ‘The Squire's Pew,’ lacks the spontaneity and precision of her previous efforts.
In February 1816 she commenced her regular contributions to the ‘Youth's Magazine,’ which continued until December 1822, and include, among a number of essays, some of her neatest verse, mostly in the form of fables. They were collected in two volumes as the ‘Contributions of Q.Q.’ (London, 1824, 8vo). Some of the prose fragments excited the admiration of Robert Browning, as many of her rhymes were favourites of Sir Walter Scott. Leaving Marazion in June 1816, Jane proceeded on a visit to Yorkshire, and returned in August to her home in Ongar, where, with the exception of an occasional sojourn at Hastings or in London, she spent the remainder of her life. Parish work and correspondence now occupied a great portion of her time, while the waning state of her health precluded her from accepting the advantageous offers made to her by publishers. In 1823, during the summer, she made a pilgrimage to Olney, from which, intellectually speaking, Ongar may be regarded as a colony. From the autumn of 1823 she declined rapidly, and she died on 13 April 1824. She was buried in the ground attached to the chapel at Ongar, where a simple monument marks her grave. A memoir, in which her fine qualities of heart and head are delineated with a marvellous delicacy, was written shortly after her death by her brother Isaac, to whom she was specially attached (Memoirs and Correspondence of Jane Taylor, London, 1825, 2 vols. 12mo).
A silhouette of Jane Taylor is prefixed to the ‘Memoirs’ (ed. 1826). A portrait in oils of Jane with her sister in the garden at Lavenham (painted by their father) is preserved at Marden Ash. Portraits were exhibited in the ‘Gallery of Distinguished Englishwomen’ at Chicago in 1893, their ‘Original Poems’ being truly stated in the catalogue to mark an era in children's books.
[Taylor's Family Pen—Memorials of the Taylor Family of Ongar, 1867 (the first volume embodies the revised edition of the Memoir of Jane by her brother, and the second a selection of some of her best fragments in prose, such as ‘The Discontented Pendulum’); Mrs. H. C. Knight's Life of Jane Taylor; Walford's Four Biographies; Taylor's Personal Recollections; Quiver, October 1880; Macmillan's Mag. July 1869; Chatelain's Poésie Anglais, i. 322; Field's Child and its Book; Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 19167, f. 136; Julian's Dictionary of Hymnology.]