Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Taylor, Peter Alfred

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TAYLOR, PETER ALFRED (1819–1891), radical politician, born in London on 30 July 1819, was the eldest son of Peter Alfred Taylor, merchant, by his wife and first cousin, Catherine, daughter of George Cortauld of Braintree, Essex. He entered, and ultimately became partner in, the firm of Samuel Cortauld & Co., silk mercers, to which his grandfather on his maternal side gave his name, and to which his father belonged. The anti-cornlaw agitation, in which his father took a leading part, enlisted his sympathies, and under its auspices he entered public life; but he first became known as a friend of Mazzini, whom he first met in 1845, and of the Young Italy party. He took a leading part in the agitation against Sir James Robert George Graham [q. v.] in 1844 for permitting Mazzini's letters to be opened in passing through the London post office, and in 1847 he became chairman of the newly formed committee of the Society of Friends of Italy. His first attempts to enter parliament were unsuccessful—at Newcastle-on-Tyne in 1858 and Leicester in 1860. But in 1862 he was returned for Leicester, and he continued to represent that constituency till his retirement in 1884.

In home politics Taylor was an advanced radical, and in his persistent opposition to government extravagance and social inequalities of the pettier kind he may be regarded as the chief custodian for his time of the political principles of the Manchester school. In every English movement for the promotion of freedom he took a keen interest, and generally occupied an official position. Coming of an old unitarian family, and being himself connected with South Place chapel, he was a warm advocate of the cause of political nonconformity, unsectarian and national education, and complete freedom of the press. He was also one of the pioneers of international arbitration. When the American civil war broke out he promoted the movement in England in favour of the north, acted as treasurer of the London Emancipation Society, and was the first member of parliament to associate himself with the federal party. He was also treasurer to the Jamaica committee, and joined John Bright, Frederic Harrison, and Goldwin Smith in their movement against Edward John Eyre, the governor of that colony. In order to advance the various movements with which he was connected, he associated himself from time to time with several journalistic ventures. His most interesting enterprise of this kind was his purchase of the ‘Examiner’ in 1873. He remained proprietor till 1878. His editor was William Minto [q. v.]

After he retired from parliament Taylor continued to take an interest in public affairs, particularly in the promotion of social clubs and educational institutes for working men. On the division of the liberal party which followed the introduction of Mr. Gladstone's home-rule bill in 1886, he joined the unionists in opposing that measure. He died at 18 Eaton Place, Brighton, on 20 Dec. 1891, and was buried in that town.

He married Clementia (d. 11 April 1908), daughter of John Doughty of Brockdish, Norfolk, on 27 Sept. 1842, but had no family. He compiled and edited ‘Some Account of the Taylor Family,’ London, 1875, and also edited a volume of Mazzini's work, London, 1875. Several of his speeches delivered in the House of Commons were published:

  1. ‘Payment of Members,’ London, 1870.
  2. ‘Game Laws,’ London, 1873.
  3. ‘Opening of Museums on Sundays,’ London, 1874.
  4. ‘The Cat,’ London, 1875.
  5. ‘Vaccination,’ London, 1879 and 1883.
  6. ‘Personal Rights,’ London, 1884.
  7. ‘Realities: a contribution to the Pen and Pencil Society,’ Ramsgate, 1871.

[Some Account of the Taylor Family, p. 692; Times, 21 Dec. 1891; Ewing Ritchie's British Senators; Hinton's English Radical Leaders; Fox-Bourne's English Newspapers, ii. 291.]

J. R. M.