Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Taylor, Michael Angelo

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TAYLOR, MICHAEL ANGELO (1757–1834), politician, son and heir of Sir Robert Taylor [q. v.], was born in 1757. He matriculated from Corpus Christi College, Oxford, as gentleman-commoner on 21 Oct. 1774, and graduated B.A. from that body in 1778, but proceeded M.A. from St. John's College in 1781. When only twelve years old he was admitted to the Inner Temple (19 Jan. 1769), but changed to Lincoln's Inn on 30 Nov. 1770. He was called to the bar at the latter inn on 12 Nov. 1774.

At the general election of 1784 Taylor embarked on politics, and contested as a tory the boroughs of Preston in Lancashire and Poole in Dorset. He was at the bottom of the poll at the former place, where he relied upon the support, and had a majority, of the ‘in-burgesses’ of the borough. His opponents contended that the right of voting was not limited to that section, but comprised all the inhabitants, and on a petition it was so settled (Dobson, Preston Parl. Representation, 2nd edit. p. 46). He became recorder of Poole in 1784, and was member of parliament for that borough from 1784 to 1790. He contested Poole again in 1790, but was not returned, and came in for Heytesbury at a by-election on 22 Dec. 1790. The return for Poole was amended by order of the House of Commons on 25 Feb. 1791, and Taylor was seated for it, whereupon he resigned his place for Heytesbury. He sat for Aldborough in Suffolk from 1796 to March 1800, when he resigned to stand for the city of Durham. There he had acquired considerable interest through his marriage to Frances Anne Vane, daughter of the Rev. Sir Harry Vane, first baronet, by his wife Frances, daughter of John Tempest, M.P. He sat for Durham from 17 March 1800 to 1802, but was defeated at the general election in the latter year, when he polled 498 votes to 517 which had been given for his tory opponent. He was out of the house until 1806, but subsequently sat in succession for Rye (1806–7), Ilchester (1807–12), Poole (1812–18), Durham city (1818–31), and Sudbury (from 1832 to death). Although he had not sat in the house without a break, he was called at the time of his death the father of the house. He was believed to be the senior barrister at Lincoln's Inn.

At his first election, in 1784, Taylor was a tory and a supporter of Pitt ‘on all great national points,’ though opposed to his schemes of parliamentary reform (Parl. Hist. xxiv. 987). Next year (9 Feb. 1785), on the motion that the high bailiff should make his return in the Westminster election, he separated himself from his leader, though with protests that ‘he perhaps might never vote against him again,’ and with the declaration that he was ‘young—but a chicken in the profession’ of the law. For this expression he was satirised by Sheridan and caricatured by Gillray, and the name stuck to him for life (ib. xxv. 42–8). From that date he gradually withdrew from supporting the views of Pitt, and adopted those of the whig party. By 1792 he was in favour of parliamentary reform (ib. xxix. 1338), and in 1797 he voted for the dismissal of the tory ministers (ib. xxxiii. 605). He adhered to Fox after the establishment of the French republic, and remained a whig for the rest of his life. For many years he was numbered among the personal friends of the prince regent, and was one of his counsel for the duchy of Cornwall. But they became estranged in 1811.

Taylor was one of the committee of managers for the impeachment of Warren Hastings, when he assisted Sheridan ‘to hold the bag and read the minutes,’ and he sat on many important committees of the House of Commons. From 1810 to 1830 he persistently brought before the house the delays which attended the proceedings in chancery, and for three consecutive years (1814, 1815, and 1816) he drew attention to the defective paving and lighting of the streets of London. His name is still remembered by the measure known as ‘Michael Angelo Taylor's Act,’ i.e. ‘The Metropolitan Paving Act, 1817, 57 Geo. III. cxxix (Local and Personal),’ under which proceedings for the removal of nuisances and other inconveniences from the streets are still taken. It is given in extenso in Chitty's ‘Statutes’ (vol. viii. 1895, title ‘Metropolis,’ pp. 3–49). Henry Luttrell [q. v.], in his ‘Letters to Julia’ (3rd edit. 1822, pp. 88–90), describes ‘a fog in London—time November,’ and appeals to ‘Chemistry, attractive aid,’ to help us with the assistance of ‘the bill of Michael Angelo’ [Taylor], who had introduced a bill on ‘gas lighting.’

Taylor was a small man, and Gillray in his caricatures always laid stress on his diminutive size. In the ‘Great Factotum amusing himself’ (1797) he is represented as a monkey; in ‘Pig's Meat, or the Swine flogged out of the Farmyard’ (1798), he is a tiny porker; and in ‘Stealing off—a Prudent Secession’ (November 1798) he becomes a little pugdog. In one caricature, that of ‘The new Speaker (i.e. the law-chick) between the Hawks and Buzzards,’ reference is made to the fact that had the whigs come into office in 1788 he would have been the speaker.

In February 1831 his attachment to the whigs was appropriately rewarded by his elevation to the rank of a privy councillor. He died at his house in Whitehall Gardens (long a favourite rendezvous of the whig party) on 16 July 1834, and was buried on 23 July in the family vault at St. Martin's-in-the-Fields.

A half-length portrait of him was painted by James Lonsdale, and an engraving of it was published by S. W. Reynolds on 7 March 1822. A whole-length portrait of his wife (when Frances Vane) as ‘Miranda’ was painted by John Hoppner. The original belongs to the Marquis of Londonderry, by whom it was exhibited in the ‘Fair Women Collection’ in the Grafton Gallery in 1894. It has recently been engraved.

[Foster's Alumni Oxon. (1715–1886); Fowler's Corpus Christi Coll. p. 442; Wilson's House of Commons, 1808, p. 303; Pink and Beavan's Parl. Rep. of Lancashire, p. 167; Gent. Mag. 1834, ii. 430–1; Official Return of M.P.s, ii. 177–345; Moore's Diary, iv. 261, 285–90; Wright and Evans's Account of Gillray's Caricatures, pp. 57–231; D'Arblay's Diary, iv. 139–40; Wright and Grego's Gillray, pp. 155–310; information from Lincoln's Inn through J. Douglas Walker, esq., Q.C.]

W. P. C.