Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Taylor, John (1750-1826)

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TAYLOR, JOHN (1750–1826), hymn-writer, and founder of the literary family of the Taylors of Norwich, born at Norwich on 30 July 1750, was second son of Richard Taylor, a manufacturer of Colegate, Norwich, and was grandson of John Taylor (1694–1761) [q. v.] His mother was Margaret (d. 1823), daughter of Philip Meadows, mayor of Norwich in 1734, and granddaughter of John Meadows [q. v.], the ejected divine. Her only sister, Sarah, was grandmother of Harriet Martineau [q. v.]

Taylor was educated under Mr. Akers at Hindolveston, Norfolk, but, on the death of his father, when twelve years old assisted his mother in business. Three years later he was apprenticed to a firm of manufacturers in Norwich, after which he passed two years as a clerk in London. He there began to contribute verses to the ‘Morning Chronicle.’ In 1773 he returned to Norwich, and started a yarn factory in partnership with his younger brother Richard.

Taylor was active in municipal and social affairs at Norwich, and was a prominent member of the Octagon presbyterian unitarian chapel, of which he acted as deacon. He devoted his leisure to literary pursuits, and his verse and hymns were held in wide repute. He was a member of the Norwich Anacreontic Society, and sang in more than one of the festivals. His stirring song ‘The Trumpet of Liberty,’ with the refrain ‘Fall, tyrants, fall,’ was first published in the ‘Norfolk Chronicle’ of 16 July 1791; it has been ascribed in error to William Taylor (1765–1836) [q. v.]

Taylor was author of several hymn-tunes, but his musical composition was inferior to that of his elder brother, Philip Taylor of Eustace Street presbyterian chapel, Dublin, grandfather of Colonel Meadows Taylor [q. v.] On the other hand, his hymns and verses were everywhere used in unitarian services. He edited ‘Hymns intended to be used at the Commencement of Social Worship’ (London, 1802, 8vo), in which ten by himself are included, and published a collection of forty-three of his own (London, 1818). These, with additions, were reprinted in ‘Hymns and Miscellaneous Poems,’ edited, with a memoir reprinted from the ‘Monthly Repository,’ September 1826, by his son Edward Taylor (London, 1863, 8vo). Many of these hymns are to be found in Robert Aspland's ‘Psalms and Hymns for Unitarian Worship’ (Hackney, 1810; 2nd edit. London, 1825, 12mo), the ‘Norwich Collection’ (1814; 2nd edit. 1826), Dr. Martineau's ‘Hymns of Praise and Prayer,’ ‘Hymns for the Christian Church and Home,’ and W. Garrett Horder's various collections. Perhaps the best known are those beginning ‘Like shadows gliding o'er the plain,’ ‘At the portals of Thy house,’ and ‘Supreme o'er all Jehovah reigns.’

Taylor contributed anonymously to the ‘Cabinet’ (3 vols. Norwich, 1795, 8vo) verses in the style and orthography of the seventeenth century, of which those on Richard Corbet [q. v.] were included in Gilchrist's edition of the bishop's poems, and others on ‘Martinmasse Day’ were cited in ‘Time's Telescope’ (1814, 8vo) as an ancient authority for the way in which that day is kept. Taylor's ‘History of the Octagon Chapel, Norwich,’ was completed by his son Edward (London, 1848, 8vo). He died at his son Philip's house at Halesowen in Shropshire on 23 July 1826, and was buried at Birmingham.

His wife Susannah (1755–1823), born on 29 March 1755, was the daughter of John Cook of Norwich. She married Taylor in April 1777. She was a lady of much force of character, and shared the liberal opinions of her husband, and is said to have danced ‘round the tree of liberty at Norwich on the receipt of news of the taking of the Bastille.’ Sir James Mackintosh corresponded with her on ‘subjects which interest us in common—friends, children, literature, life;’ Mrs. Anna Letitia Barbauld [q. v.] was her devoted friend, while Sir James Edward Smith [q. v.], the botanist, Henry Crabb Robinson [q. v.], Dr. John Alderson [q. v.] and Mrs. Amelia Opie [q. v.], William Enfield [q. v.], Dr. Frank Sayers [q. v.], William Taylor (1765–1836) [q. v.] (who was no relation), Basil Montagu [q. v.], the Gurneys of Earlham, the Sewards, and many others constantly visited her and enjoyed her brilliant conversation. A political element was supplied by Sir Thomas Beevor, Lord Albemarle, and Thomas William Coke (afterwards Earl of Leicester) [q. v.], member for Norfolk (1790–1818). Her intimate friends called her ‘Madame Roland,’ from the resemblance she bore to the French champion of liberty. Mrs. Taylor herself instructed her two daughters in philosophy, Latin, and political economy. She also contributed essays and verse to the budget read at periodic meetings of the Taylor and Martineau families, for which many of her husband's verses were composed. She died in June 1823. A monument to her and her husband was erected by their children in the Octagon Chapel, Norwich. A portrait of Mrs. John Taylor by H. Meyer is in Mrs. Ross's ‘Three Generations.’

Their seven children were: (1) John (1779–1863) [see under Taylor, Philip]; (2) Richard (1781–1858) [q. v.]; (3) Edward (1784–1863) [q. v.]; (4) Philip (1786–1870) [q. v.]; (5) Susan (b. 1788), married Dr. Henry Reeve [q. v.]; (6) Arthur (b. 1790), a printer and F.S.A., author of ‘The Glory of Regality’ (London, 1820, 8vo), and ‘Papers in relation to the Antient Topography of the Eastern Counties’ (London, 1869, 4to); and (7) Mrs. Sarah Austin [q. v.], wife of John Austin [q. v.], the jurist.

[Memoir by his son, above mentioned; Janet Ross's Three Generations of Englishwomen, i. 1–43; Turner's Lives of Eminent Unitarians, i. 341, 342; Julian's Dict. of Hymnology, p. 1119; Memoir and Correspondence of Sir J. E. Smith, i. 170, ii. 99, 315; Aikin's Mem. of Mrs. Barbauld, vol. i. p. lv; Le Breton's Memoirs of Lucy Aikin, pp. 124–49; Hare's Gurneys of Earlham, i. 79; Robberds's Mem. of William Taylor, i. 46; Life of Sir J. Mackintosh, i. 147, 215, 439; Crabb Robinson's Diary, i. 14, 254, 256, ii. 376; The Suffolk Bartolomeans, by Edgar Taylor; Principles and Pursuits of an English Presb. Minister, by P. Meadows Taylor; The Story of my Life, by Colonel Meadows Taylor; Egerton MS. 2220 is a book of letters from Arthur Taylor to Charles Yarnold, others are in Addit. MS. 22308, ff. 60, 61, 80.]

C. F. S.