Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Taylor, Isaac (1730-1807)

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601291Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 55 — Taylor, Isaac (1730-1807)1898Thomas Seccombe (1866-1923)

TAYLOR, ISAAC (1730–1807), engraver, son of William (b. 1693) and Ann Taylor, was born on 13 Dec. 1730 in the parish of St. Michael in Bedwardine, in the city of Worcester. In the early part of his career he is said to have worked successively as a brassfounder, a silversmith, and a surveyor, owing this versatility to his father, who cast a chandelier for the Worcester town-hall in successful competition with a Birmingham firm, and who also engraved cards for tradesmen and silver plate for the county families. Several examples of William Taylor’s work as an engraver are in the British Museum print-room. About 1752 Isaac, thinking himself ill-used at home, made his way to London, walking by the side of a wagon. He found employment first at a silversmith’s, and then with Thomas Jefferys, the geographer, at the corner of St. Martin’s Lane. Under his guidance he executed a number of plates for the ‘Gentleman’s Magazine.’ He gradually concentrated his attention upon book illustration, among the first that he illustrated being Owen’s ‘Dictionary’ and Andrew Tooke’s ‘Pantheon.’ Soon after its incorporation, in January 1765, Taylor was admitted a fellow of the Society of Artists, and in 1774 he was appointed secretary as successor to John Hamilton, being the third to hold that post. At the time he joined the society Taylor was living at Holles Street, Clare Market. The advance that was being made about this time by English engravers was illustrated by his engraving for Boydell of ‘A Flemish Collation,’ after Van Harp, which was shown at the first exhibition at Spring Gardens, and by his elegant vignette prefixed to John Langhorne’s ‘Poetical Works’ (1766), the last being in direct and successful competition with what had hitherto been regarded as a monopoly of the ‘library engravers’ of France. Taylor designed and engraved the vignette to Goldsmith’s ‘Deserted Village’ in 1770. He also designed and engraved plates for ‘The Fool of Quality,’ a frontispiece to Robertson’s ‘Charles V’ (1772), cuts for Sparrman’s ‘Cape of Good Hope,’ Clavigero’s ‘Mexico,’ Chambers’s ‘Cyclopædia,’ and numerous other publications. Among his best engravings were those for his friend Samuel Richardson’s novel of ‘Sir Charles Grandison,’ the plates for which he exhibited with the Society of Artists in 1778. ‘Not many plates,’ says Bewick, ‘have been superior to these,’ though ‘as designer,’ he adds, ‘he has in these attended too much to fashion and the change of mode.’ Taylor seems to have moved to the Bible and Crown, Holborn, about 1770, to Chancery Lane in 1773, and back to Holborn by 1776. When Bewick visited London in that year he received much kindness from Taylor; when, however, after a short experience, Bewick decided that he would ‘rather herd sheep at five shillings a week than be tied to live in London . . . my kind friend left me in a pet and I never saw him more’ (Memoir, 1887, p. 105). Soon after 1780 Taylor retired to Edmonton, and amused himself with painting a few subjects in oil. He died at Edmonton on 17 Oct. 1807, aged 77, and was buried in Edmonton churchyard, where there is a monument to him. Taylor’s style was finished, his workmanship sound, and his plates were supposed to wear better at the press than those of any other engraver of the time. He laid the foundation of that ornamental style of library decoration in which at the close of the last century English craftsmanship won decided triumphs over that of the continent. Among Taylor’s personal friends, besides Bewick, were Garrick, Goldsmith, Bartolozzi, Richard Smirke, and Fuseli.

Taylor married at Shenfield, Essex, on 9 May 1754, Sarah Hackshaw Jefferys (1733–1809), daughter of Josiah and niece of Thomas Jefferys [q. v.], and had issue Charles Taylor (1756–1823) [q.v.]; Isaac Taylor (1759–1829) [q.v.]; Josiah (1761–1834), a prosperous publisher of Hatton Garden; Sarah (1763–1845), who married Daniel Hooper; and Ann (1765–1832), who married James Hinton, a clergyman, and was mother of John Howard Hinton [q. v.] He brought up his two eldest sons with great care in his own profession.

His excellence as a portrait-painter is evidenced by the pictures of himself and his wife which he painted soon after their marriage, and which are now in the possession of Mr. Medland Taylor of Manchester. They are out-of-door subjects in which the landscape is treated with great skill.

Among other portraits by Taylor there are several specimens in the British Museum print-room, including a pencil drawing of Cornelius Cayley (1773), Mrs. Abingdon as Lady Betty Modish (drawn and engraved), Garrick in the character of a drunken sailor speaking the prologue to ‘Britannia’ (1778), Garrick as Tancred (1776).

James Taylor (1745–1797), younger brother of the above, practised for many years as a china painter in the porcelain works at Worcester, but about 1771 came up to London to work under his brother. He exhibited at the Incorporated Society between 1771 and 1775, and worked upon illustrations for the magazines. Among his pupils was Anker Smith [q. v.] James Taylor died in London on 21 Dec. 1797. A son of James, who was for some time a singer at Vauxhall Gardens, was also an engraver.

[Gent. Mag. 1807; Literary Panorama, January 1808; Chambers’s Worcestershire Biography; Bryan’s Dict. of Painters and Engravers, ed. Graves and Armstrong; Redgrave’s Dict.; Tuer’s Bartolozzi and his Works, pp. 416 sq.; Bewick’s Autobiographical Memoir, 1887; private information.]

T. S.