Domville, Silas (DNB00)

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DOMVILLE, alias Taylor, SILAS (1624–1678), antiquary, the son of Silvanus Taylor, a committee-man for Herefordshire and ‘a grand Oliverian,’ was born at Harley, near Much Wenlock, Shropshire, on 16 July 1624. Although Wood calls him Domville or D'omville, it does not appear that Taylor ever used the alias himself. After some schooling at Shrewsbury and Westminster he entered New Inn Hall, Oxford, in the beginning of 1641. He soon quitted his studies, however, to join the parliamentary army, in which he bore a captain's commission under Colonel (afterwards major-general) Edward Massey. When quiet was restored he became, by his father's influence, a sequestrator in Herefordshire; but though he enriched himself considerably in this office, and had a moiety of the bishop's palace at Hereford settled on him, he used his power so discreetly that he gained the esteem of even the king's party. At the Restoration he ‘was faine to disgorge all he had gott,’ and would have been ruined had not his patron, Sir Edward Harley, on being appointed governor of Dunkirk in June 1660, taken Taylor with him in the capacity of commissary for ammunition. He returned to London in 1663, to remain idle for nearly two years; but his mild behaviour while exercising the ungracious office of parliamentary sequestrator was not forgotten, and by the friendly exertions of Sir Paul Neile and others, ‘whom he had before obliged,’ he obtained the keepership of naval stores at Harwich, a place worth, according to Aubrey, about 100l. a year. In this office he continued until his death, which took place on 4 Nov. 1678. He was buried in the chancel of Harwich Church.

Although the perquisites of his office were probably large, Taylor died much in debt, so that his valuable collections and manuscripts (a portion of which, however, he had been forced to pawn in his lifetime) were seized by his creditors and sold for next to nothing. During the Commonwealth he had ransacked the cathedral libraries of Hereford and Worcester for manuscripts; from the latter he filched an original grant of King Edgar dated 964, ‘whence the kings of England derive their right to the sovereignty of the seas,’ printed in Selden's ‘Mare Clausum’ (bk. ii. ch. xii.). ‘I have seen it many times,’ writes Aubrey, ‘and it is as legible as but lately written (Roman character). He offered it to the king for 120 lib., but his majesty would not give so much,’ preferring to offer Taylor 100l., which he refused, for ‘one thin 4to [also stolen] of the Philosopher's Stone, in the hieroglyphicks, with some few Latin verses underneath; the most curiously limned that ever I sawe.’ ‘Since his death,’ continues Aubrey, ‘I told one of the prebends [of Worcester], and they cared not for such things. I beleeve it hath wrapt herrings by this time.’ Taylor left his collections for a history of Herefordshire at Brampton-Bryan, the seat of Sir Edward Harley in that county. He intended at one time to publish them in ‘Britannia,’ then in course of compilation by John Ogilby, but he found that that astute folio-maker had his own notions of what constituted original authorship. ‘Hee beeing unwilling,’ writes Taylor to Aubrey, ‘to grant me the same favour as Mr. Camden did to Mr. Lambard in the county of Kent; but desired mee to epitomize my collections into 9 or 10 sheets of paper for Herefordshire, & he would put it into what stile of English he thought fit: soe I should have the fflitted milke for my entertainment & he goe away wth ye creame & all under his owne name too’ (Egerton MS. 2231, f. 259). What remains of the manuscript is preserved, scattered and mutilated, among the Harleian collection. At f. 192 of Harl. MS. 6766 is part of the general history of the county, occupying twenty-one leaves, which, however, abruptly breaks off at the beginning of Stephen's reign. At f. 189 there is a sketch for an engraved title-page. Harl. MS. 4046, ff. 1–31, contains Taylor's notes on the city and county. ‘Collections out of Domesday Book relating to the County of Hereford,’ commenced on 1 Sept. 1659, occupy fourteen leaves of Harl. MS. 6856; prefixed are seven leaves containing an index of places and two Saxon records with an interlinear English version. It is possible that ff. 57–66 of Harl. MS. 7366 (‘Collections on the Antiquities of Hereford in various hands’) are also by Taylor. His collections relating to Harwich fell into the hands of Dr. Samuel Dale [q. v.], by whom they were published under the title of ‘The History and Antiquities of Harwich and Dovercourt, … first collected by Silas Taylor alias Domville … and now much enlarged … in all its parts, with notes and observations relating to Natural History … by Samuel Dale,’ 4to, London, 1730. A second edition, or rather a second title-page, bears date 1732. The manuscript had been previously made use of by Bishop Gibson for his edition of Camden's ‘Britannia,’ by Newcourt for ‘Repertorium Ecclesiasticum,’ and by Cox for ‘Magna Britannia.’ The only work Taylor himself published was ‘The History of Gavel-Kind, with the etymology thereof … With some observations upon many … occurrences of British and English History. To which is added a short history of William the Conqueror, written in Latin by an anonymous author,’ i. 2 pts. 4to, London, 1663 (the Latin tract had been communicated to Taylor from the Bodleian by Dr. Thomas Barlow, the then librarian). In this essay the author assigns both the name and custom of gavelkind to an earlier period than that fixed by his predecessor in the same field, William Somner. In all important points he mostly agrees with Somner, who has answered Taylor's objections in marginal notes on a copy of the other's book, which, with a corrected copy of his own, is preserved in the library of Canterbury Cathedral (Gough, British Topography, i. 450). From his father Taylor inherited a fine taste for music, and was intimate with the Playfords, the elder Purcell, and Matthew Lock. ‘He hath composed many things, and I have heard anthems of his sang before his majestie, in his chapell, and the K. told him he liked them. He had a very fine chamber organ in those unmusicall dayes’ (Aubrey, Lives of Eminent Men, vol. ii. pt. ii. pp. 555–7, of Letters written by Eminent Persons, 8vo, London, 1813). Two of his compositions were published in John Playford's ‘Court Ayres,’ obl. 4to, London, 1655, Nos. 199–201 and Nos. 216–18. Pepys, who befriended him, speaks of Taylor as ‘a good understanding man,’ ‘a good scholler,’ and ‘a great antiquary,’ one ‘that understands musique very well and composes mighty bravely.’ He afterwards pronounces an anthem performed in the Chapel Royal to be ‘a dull, old-fashioned thing, of six and seven parts, that nobody could understand; and the Duke of York, when he came out, told me that he was a better storekeeper than anthem-maker, and that was bad enough too’ (Diary, ed. Bright, iii. 143–4, 322, v. 316). From the same authority we learn that Taylor left a manuscript play with Pepys for his opinion. ‘It is called “The Serenade, or Disappointment,” which I will read, not believing he can make any good of that kind’ (ib. vi. 75–6). Taylor's express to Sir William Coventry, dated ‘Harwich, 5 June 1666, about 8 at night,’ giving on the authority of Captain Blackman of the Little Victory a glowing account of a great victory over the Dutch, threw London into a state of the utmost excitement and rejoicing. A few hours later it was found that the nation had suffered serious loss. The letter is preserved in Addit. MS. 32094, f. 135.

A family named Taileur, alias Danvill, was resident at Windsor in the middle of the seventeenth century, to which Wood might have supposed Silas Taylor to have belonged (pedigree in Marshall's Genealogist, vi. 97–8.).

[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), iii. 1175–8; Dale's Preface to Taylor's Hist. of Harwich; Cal. State Papers (Dom. 1657–8) p. 186, (Dom. 1667) p. 85, and passim; Egerton MS. 2231, ff. 256, 259; Pepys's Diary, ed. Bright, i. 51, ii. 483, iii. 143–4, 147–8, 322, 466, v. 247, 316, 328, vi. 75–6 (he is confounded in the notes and index with Captain John Taylor, navy commissioner at Harwich); Gough's British Topography, i. 409, 416, 450; Allen's Bibl. Herefordiensis, p. vii; Chalmers's Biog. Dict., art. ‘Taylor.’]

G. G.