Taylor, John Edward (DNB00)

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

TAYLOR, JOHN EDWARD (1791–1844), founder of the ‘Manchester Guardian,’ was born at Ilminster, Somerset, on 11 Sept. 1791. His father, John Taylor, had, after acting as classical tutor in Daventry academy, become a minister of the English presbyterian church, but at Ilminster adopted the tenets of the Society of Friends, in connection with which he afterwards took up schoolwork at Bristol and Manchester. His wife, Mary Scott, was an intimate friend and correspondent of Anna Seward [q. v.] She printed a poetical review of eminent female writers, entitled ‘The Female Advocate’ (1774), and intended to supplement ‘The Feminead’ of John Duncombe [q. v.] She also wrote an epic, ‘The Messiah,’ in two books (1788), and other verse (Miss Seward, Letters, 1811, i. 133, 185, 294, ii. 88, 118, 228, 344, iii. 93, 310).

Their son, John Edward, was educated at his father's classical school in Manchester. He was apprenticed to a Manchester cotton manufacturer named Shuttleworth, who took him into partnership before the expiration of the term of his indentures. He had in the meantime carried on his private studies, inter alia acquiring a familiarity with German. His connection through his father with the Society of Friends accounts for the keen interest taken by him in the early educational movement, in which Joseph Lancaster [q. v.] was the most prominent figure; and in 1810 he accepted the secretaryship of the Lancasterian school in Manchester. He was also one of the founders of the Junior Literary and Philosophical Society, in rivalry with the senior Manchester society of that name. Soon afterwards he began to take some part in politics, which from 1812, when the Luddite disturbances spread to Lancashire, had assumed a most acutely controversial character in Manchester and its neighbourhood. Besides writing in the London papers, he was a frequent contributor to the ‘Manchester Gazette,’ a liberal paper owned and edited by William Cowdroy till his death in 1815. Taylor's articles are said to have nearly quadrupled its circulation.

In 1818–19 party feeling rose to its height in Manchester. At a meeting of the commissioners of police for Salford held in July 1818 for the purpose of appointing assessors, John Greenwood, a conservative manufacturer, took exception to Taylor's appointment on the ground that he was ‘one of those reformers who go about the country making speeches,’ and added an insinuation that Taylor was ‘the author of a handbill that caused the Manchester Exchange to be set on fire’ in 1812 (the charge was first made in a printed song, entitled ‘The Humours of Manchester Election,’ in regard to an anonymous handbill superscribed ‘Now or Never’). Taylor's name was accordingly passed over, and, Greenwood refusing to explain his words, Taylor addressed him a letter denouncing him as ‘a liar, a slanderer, and a scoundrel;’ and, having again received no reply, published the letter in Cowdroy's ‘Gazette.’ In consequence he was indicted for libel, and the trial took place at the Lancashire assizes on 29 March 1819, before Baron Wood. James Scarlett (afterwards first Baron Abinger) [q. v.] led for the prosecution, and Taylor conducted his own defence. He resolved on a line which no counsel could have been induced to take, and called witnesses to prove the truth of the alleged libel. According to the existing view of the courts, the truth of libel could not be pleaded in justification, although it might be urged in mitigation of the offence when the defendant came up for judgment. Scarlett offered no objection, probably because he had detected sympathy with the defendant in the foreman of the jury, John Rylands of Warrington. The result, after a summing-up from the bench wholly unfavourable to the defendant, was that the jury were locked up for eleven hours and five minutes, and that between ten and eleven at night they delivered to the judge, in bed at his lodgings, a verdict of not guilty (see A Full and Accurate Report of the Trial, published at the Manchester Gazette office in 1819, with a preface by Taylor, who describes his trial as in his belief the very first instance of a criminal prosecution for libel ‘in which a defendant has been allowed to call evidence in justification, and to prove the truth of the alleged libellous matter.’ Cf. A. Prentice, Historical Sketches and Personal Recollections of Manchester, chap. ix., ‘Mr. John Edward Taylor's Trial’).

On the occasion of the ‘Peterloo Massacre’ on 16 Aug. 1819 Taylor, who had left the spot shortly before the dispersal of the mob, was one of those who signed the ‘Declaration and Protest’ which asserted the peaceable character of the interrupted meeting, and utterly disapproved of the unnecessary violence used in dispersing it. Before the close of the year he published what may be regarded as the chief monument of his literary powers and political principles, under the title ‘Notes and Explanations, Critical and Explanatory, on the Papers relative to the Internal State of the Country, recently presented to Parliament,’ to which he appended a well-argued ‘Reply to Mr. Francis Philips's’ pamphlet in defence of the Manchester magistrates and yeomanry for their share in the catastrophe of Peterloo. This book, which professed to be ‘by a Member of the Manchester Committee for relieving the Sufferers of the 16th of August 1819,’ is a masterly exposure of a miserable chapter in the history of our national policy, and an unanswerable plea for trust in the people. It concludes with a prescient appeal to the middle classes to profit by their recent discovery ‘that they must interfere with domestic politics, because domestic politics will interfere with them.’

Taylor's successful intervention in political affairs suggested to him the abandonment of commercial pursuits. For a time he thought of the bar. Soon, however, some of his political friends proposed to him that he should undertake the editorship of a weekly journal which they designed to establish in Manchester in support of their opinions. Taylor having accepted their invitation, a sum of 1,000l. was subscribed, chiefly in loans of 100l.; and this formed the first capital in the establishment of the ‘Manchester Guardian,’ of which the first number appeared on 5 May 1821. It is a modest four-page sheet, price 7d.; containing with other matter an elaborate table of statistics as to the condition of charitable education in Manchester and the immediate neighbourhood.

The ‘Manchester Guardian,’ of which Taylor remained editor for the rest of his life, and of the copyright of which he speedily became the sole proprietor, at once asserted itself as the leading Manchester paper, and gradually rose into the front rank of the national press. Taylor was ably assisted in his labours by Jeremiah Garnett [q. v.], who was associated with him from the first days of the paper, and who succeeded him as editor after his death. In 1836 it became a bi-weekly paper, sold at the price of 4d. The political support of the ‘Guardian’ was consistently given to the views of the whig party, though in later years its sympathies with advanced liberalism were perhaps less evident. On labour questions, as they then presented themselves, the ‘Guardian’ seems certainly to have come to be more or less identified with the interests of the employers. In the fearless sincerity, however, of comments on matters of public concern, no change was perceptible; nor was he afraid of coming into occasional collision with old political friends where the rights of the community seemed to him to be at issue (cf. Prentice, pp. 358 sqq.).

Taylor's energies were far from absorbed by his newspaper work. He took a prominent part in the local business of Manchester, where the established importance of his journal had gradually made his position one of widespread influence; and he actively promoted parliamentary legislation in the interests of the town, repeatedly attending deputations to London. For several years he was deputy chairman of the improvement committee of the commissioners of police, and in this capacity did much to improve the condition of the Manchester streets. He died at his residence, Beech Hill, Cheetham, on 6 Jan. 1844. He was twice married: in 1824 to his first cousin, Sophia Russell Scott; in 1836 to Harriet Acland, youngest daughter of Edward Boyce of Tiverton. His second son, John Edward Taylor, is the present proprietor of the ‘Manchester Guardian.’

[A Brief Memoir of Mr. John Edward Taylor, 1844, reprinted from the Christian Reformer; biographical notice, by Jeremiah Garnett, in the Manchester Guardian, 10 Jan. 1844; Prentice's Historical Sketches and Personal Recollections of Manchester, 2nd edit. 1851; Axon's Annals of Manchester, 1886; cf. Holyoake's Sixty Years of an Agitator's Life, 1892, i. 129–31.]

A. W. W.