Taylor, John (1703-1772) (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 55
Taylor, John (1703-1772)

by Edward Irving Carlyle
1904 Errata appended.
Contains subarticle John Taylor (1724–1787).

TAYLOR, JOHN (1703–1772), itinerant oculist, elder son of John Taylor, a surgeon and apothecary of Norwich, was born on 16 Aug. 1703. In 1722 he obtained employment as an apothecary's assistant in London, and studied surgery under William Cheselden [q. v.] at St. Thomas's Hospital, devoting especial attention to diseases of the eye. He afterwards practised at Norwich for some time as a general surgeon and oculist, but, encountering considerable opposition, he resolved to enlarge the sphere of his operations. In 1727 he began to journey through the country, and before 1734 had traversed the greater part of the British Isles. He obtained the degree of M.D. at Basle in 1733, and was made a fellow of the College of Physicians there. In 1734 he received the degree of M.D. from the universities of Liège and Cologne. In the same year he made a tour through France and Holland, visiting Paris, and returning to London in November 1735. In 1736 he was appointed oculist to George II. For more than thirty years he continued his itinerant method of practice, making London his headquarters, but visiting in turn nearly every court in Europe.

Taylor, who was commonly known as the ‘Chevalier,’ possessed considerable skill as an operator, but his methods of advertisement were those of a charlatan. He was accustomed to make bombastic orations before performing his cures, couched in what he called ‘the true Ciceronian, prodigiously difficult and never attempted in our language before.’ The peculiarity of his style consisted in commencing each sentence with the genitive case and concluding with the verb. He made great pretensions to learning; but Johnson declared him ‘an instance of how far impudence will carry ignorance’ (Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. Croker, 1848, p. 630). Among other illustrious patients he tried his skill on Gibbon (Gibbon, Miscellaneous Works, 1797, i. 19). About 1767 he finally quitted England, and, after visiting Paris, died in a convent at Prague in 1772. He is said to have become blind before his death. By his wife, Ann King, he had an only son, John Taylor, who is mentioned below.

Taylor was the subject of many satires and pasquinades, among which may be mentioned ‘The Operator: a Ballad Opera,’ London, 1740, 4to; and ‘The English Imposter detected, or the Life and Fumigation of the Renown'd Mr. J—— T——,’ Dublin, 1732, 12mo.

Taylor was the author of numerous treatises on the eye in various languages, mainly filled with accounts of cures effected by him. Among them may be mentioned: 1. ‘An Account of the Mechanism of the Eye,’ Norwich, 1727, 8vo. 2. ‘Traité sur l'Organe immédiate de la vue,’ Paris, 1735, 8vo. 3. ‘Treatise on the Chrystalline Humour of the Human Eye,’ London, 1736, 8vo. 4. ‘An Impartial Enquiry into the seat of the Immediate Organ of Sight,’ London, 1743, 8vo (Raccolta delle Opere scritte e pubblicate in differenti lingue dal Cavaliere Giovanni di Taylor, Rome, 1757). Taylor also published an autobiography dedicated to his son and written in the most inflated style, entitled ‘The History of the Travels and Adventures of the Chevalier John Taylor, Opthalmiater,’ London, 1761, 8vo.

His portrait, painted at Rome by the ‘Chevalier Riche,’ and engraved by Jean-Baptiste Scotin, is prefixed to his ‘Nouveau Traité de l'Anatomie du Globe de l'Œil,’ 1738. He was engraved from life by Philip Endlich in 1735. He is also a prominent figure in Hogarth's ‘Consultation of Physicians,’ where he is depicted leering at Mrs. Mapp, the bone-setter.

His son, John Taylor (1724–1787), oculist, born in London in 1724, was educated at the Collège du Plessis in Paris. About 1739 he came to London, and, after studying under his father, practised independently as an oculist. On the death of the Baron de Wenzel he succeeded him as oculist to George III. In 1761 a ‘Life and Extraordinary History of the Chevalier John Taylor’ was published in his name. It was of an exceedingly scurrilous character, representing the chevalier's conduct as insensately profligate and his alleged cures as mere frauds committed in collusion with the patients. No serious attempt to disown the book was made by the younger Taylor at the time, but according to John Taylor, the chevalier's grandson, the life was really the production of Henry Jones (1721–1770) [q. v.], who, after being entrusted with the materials, had betrayed his trust. Taylor died at Hatton Garden, London, on 17 Sept. 1787, and was buried in the new burying-ground of St. Andrew's. By his wife, Ann Price, he had three sons, of whom the eldest, John Taylor (1757–1832) [q. v.], was afterwards oculist to George III and George IV (Gent. Mag. 1787, ii. 841, 932).

[Taylor's Works; Records of my Life, by John Taylor (the chevalier's grandson); Nichols's Lit. Anecd. viii. 400, 410, ix. 696; Scots Mag. 1744 pp. 295, 322, 344, 1749 p. 252; Gent. Mag. 1736 p. 647, 1761 p. 226, 1781 p. 356; London Mag. 1762, pp. 5, 88; Disputationes Chirurgicæ Selectæ, 1755, ii. 194; Notes and Queries, I. xii. 184, II. vii. 115, VII. vii. 82, 273; Edinburgh Medical Essays and Observations, iv. 383; Smith's Mezzotint Portraits, p. 429; Norfolk Archæology, viii. 314; Haller's Bibliotheca Chirurgica, ii. 80; King's Anecdotes of his own Times, p. 131; Horace Walpole's Letters, ed. Cunningham, 1861, ii. 422, iii. 181.]

E. I. C.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.262
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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