A memoir of Charles Taylor
  The Taylors of Ongar
and others of their family



Writers on
the Taylors

Memoir of the late Charles Taylor

From the introduction to Calmet's Dictionary of the Holy Bible, sixth edition, 1837

By Isaac Taylor of Stanford Rivers

EVEN during his life it was pretty well known to the public, as well as to the immediate circle of his friends, that Mr Taylor, although accustomed to speak of himself as only the publisher of Calmet, or as the engraver of the plates, was in truth the editor of the work, and the author of the Dissertations, or Fragments, which it included. Since his death this fact has been generally understood. To attempt to divine the motives of the pertinacious and somewhat singular concealment by which he retreated from his well-earned fame would be fruitless. That concealment has, however, been long broken up, and it is now felt by the proprietors of the work to be an act of justice to the memory of the learned and highly gifted author, not merely to affix his name to his productions, but to communicate some notices of his personal history; and it is believed, too, that in doing so they shall meet the wishes of the learned world, and of the public at large. In truth the public has a claim to be put in possession of so eminent and instructive an example of energy of mind in achieving the most arduous labours, and when deprived of certain advantages usually deemed indispensable to success in a course like that to which the editor of Calmet devoted his life.

It might be said that Mr Taylor inherited the energy that vanquishes peculiar difficulty from his father, Isaac Taylor, a name familiar to those who are versed in the history of the English fine arts. The father of the editor of Calmet was the son of a brassfounder at Worcester; and he at an early age, impelled by an unconquerable passion for the arts, abandoned the business to which he had been trained, and came to London, there at once to learn and to practise line engraving, a taste for which was then beginning to appear in England. This branch of art was at that time — the early part of the last century, professed by few except Frenchmen and Italians; and altogether self-taught as he was, and very deficient in preliminary accomplishments, yet by no means wanting in artistical feeling and zeal, Isaac Taylor found it an arduous task to compete with these foreign artists whose ample advantages placed them at once on a higher stage of excellence. Nevertheless, he actually accomplished enough to give him an honourable place in the ranks of early English art; and may be said to have led the way in forming that style of engraving for the decoration of books, which has since, and in this country especially, reached an exquisite perfection.

He married (1754) Sarah Hackshaw Jefferys, daughter of Mr Josiah Jefferys, of Shenfield, Essex, where, for a short time after his marriage, he resided. Charles, the eldest of their three sons, was born February 1, 1756, in a house adjoining the town of Brentwood, though situate in the parish of Shenfield. In about a year after­wards, Mr. Taylor removed to London, where he followed his profession as an engraver. In the neighbourhood of his father's residence, Charles, together with his two brothers, the late Rev Isaac Taylor of Ongar, and the late Josiah Taylor, Esq of Stockwell, received a common education; but he, and they also, subsequently enjoyed greater advantages at a school in Lothbury. Yet this course of instruction fell short of what might deserve to be called a classical education. The actual extent of the acquirements made at school by Charles is not known, but it is certain that, besides obtaining a ready command of the French language, he made some proficiency in the Latin. It does not, however, seem that at school he entered upon the study of Greek.

On completing his fifteenth year, Charles was articled to his father, as an ­engraver, and proved himself to possess a fair measure of that zest for the arts without which the very peculiar difficulties of line engraving are not to be surmounted. Yet his burin, although it displayed much intelligence and accuracy, did not command that freedom, grace, and delicacy which are necessary to impart a charm to this style of art. It should however be noticed, in passing, that the technical knowledge and the executive skill which he acquired in early life afforded him the most important aid in carrying on and in superintending the graphic portion of his Biblical works; and not only did he become qualified to superintend the engravings which illustrate the dictionary, and which form so valuable an adjunct of it, but his professional knowledge and taste led him upon a field of research peculiarly rich in the materials of Biblical elucidation, and yet heretofore scarcely at all explored by Biblical critics. The intelligent reader of the Fragments is continually discerning instances of the technical sagacity and professional lore of the artist-Scholar.

At the time when Charles Taylor was in his fourteenth year, his father took the shop and stock of a bookseller in Holborn, and his access to the various works which constituted this stock proved of the most important consequence in deter­mining his future course of study. Already insatiable in the acquirement of know­ledge, an, by constitutin, a devourer of books, he now found the means of largely gratifying his taste, and in a short time made himself familiar with whatever, in all lines of literature, was the most valuable.

His memory was of a singularly excellent quality —  at once comprehensive, retentive, exact, and ready. To the end of life he could recall, at the demand of the immediate occasion, whatever he had at any time read, and could turn, without loss of time, to the book and page, where what he wished to refer to was to be found. As an instance of the compass and retentive­ness of his memory, it has been mentioned that he has been known, frequently, to repea; at the distance of several years, the most minute particulars of naval engage­ment —  the names of commanders, the number of guns, and the number of killed and wounded —  as reported in the newspapers of the day.

Among the books upon the shelves in his father's shop, was Calmet's Dictionary of the Bible, (French) and very soon after he had become acquainted with this work, that is to say, while he was yet in his seventeenth year, he was heard to express, not only his admiration or it, but the desire he had conceived of repub­lishing it with additions and corrections. This desire had ripened into a deliberately formed plan before Charles Taylor reached his twentieth year; and it is believed that he soon afterwards actually commenced the collection of materials with a view to the accomplishment of his design. During his apprenticeship he had availed himself of the privilege, enjoyed by the members of the Society of Artists, of which his father was for some time secretary, of drawing from the marbles in the collection of the Duke of Richmond; and there, as it is probable, he not only improved his taste and hand as an artist, but enlarged his acquaintance with antiquarian lore. When he came of age in the year 1777, he married Miss Mary Forrest, then residing with her uncle, who was Chaplain of the Tower: she, as well as a son and two daughters, still survives him. Immediately after his marriage Mr Taylor set out for Paris, then the principal school of engraving in Europe, with the view of accomplishing himself in his profession.

To what extent he might avail himself of the means of general information so richly afforded by the French capital before the Revolution, is not distinctly known.  During his stay abroad, which lasted a year, he addressed some letters to his friends, which appeared in the pages of the British Miscellany, and which attest his having frequented the King's Library. On his return from France, Mr Charles Taylor adopted the course, then usual with engravers, of executing ornamental prints on his own account. These engravings were, for the most part, after pictures by Smirke and Angelica Kauffmann. In the memorable year of tumult and outrage, 1780, Mr Taylor's house was involved in the conflagration which destroyed Langdale's distillery. He then took a house in Holborn, where he entered upon a style of publication in which art and literature were combined. The first of these works was entitled The Artist's Repository —  a miscellaneous collection, embellished with engravings, and which met with considerable success. It was followed by the Cabinet of GeniusSurveys of Nature, and some similar compilations, adapted to the taste of the times, and which gave him occupation, both as author and as superintendent of engravings. The authorship of these works passed under the assumed name of Francis Fitzgerald. While thus engaged, the higher energies of his mind were directed towards his favourite objects, and all his leisure was given to the prepara­tory labour of collecting materials for the biblical work which had so long been present to his thoughts.

Removing some time afterwards to a commodious house in Hatton Garden, he there received under his care the books of the London Library, which remained with him during several years. This circumstance afforded to Mr Taylor very important facilities for prosecuting his design, and he soon after commenced the republication of Calmet's Dictionary, accompanied by miscellaneous dissertations, under the title of Fragments, and illustrated by very numerous engravings, many of which were derived from sources heretofore little, or not at all known to biblical scholars.

The general opinion of the learned world has assigned a very high rank to this work, both in its editorial and original departments; nor can it be here necessary, or proper; to insist upon its merits. Having now fairly entered upon.the course he had so long and so wistfully contemplated, Mr Taylor directed all the energies of his mind —  a mind singularly active and vigorous, to the multifarious objects it brought before him. Nothing within the range of recondite or of modern literature, nothing that offered itself to his personal observation, escaped his notice or failed to furnish whatever it might possess that was available to the purposes of biblical elucidation; and his tact in seizing upon illustrative facts was eminently prompt and felicitous. The scriptures, in every narrative, in every allusion, in every idiomatic phrase, were perpetually present to his recollection; and that quick perception of analogy, which may be named as the distinguishing quality of his mental conformation, enabled him to gather pertinent instances, as well from common life as from the resources of study. Perhaps he hardly for a moment lost sight of the great object of his intellectual existence —  the illustration of the inspired writings.

Mr Taylor explored, with indefatigable ardour, the fields of Jewish and oriental literature and made himself instantly acquainted with every new work relating to the East, meanwhile not neglecting the more usual sources of biblical learning. In prosecuting these studies through a course of years, he had insensibly made himself master —  rather by habit, and by a singular intellectual aptitude than by any formal process of acquisition, of the several learned languages, and of three or four of those of modern Europe. Indeed, so excellent was his memory, and so penetra­ting and instantaneous his perception of philological analogies, that difficulties of this kind, which to ordinary minds appear formidable, or even prove insurmountable, seldom obstructed his progress; and in fact he availed himself readily of what­ever, in any language, might subserve his purpose. To that finished and universal acquaintance with the Greek language, which belongs to perfect scholarship, and which is seldom or never found apart from the advantage of an early and thorough initiation, he did not make pretensions. Nevertheless it is probable that there were some who, while they might be more accurately versed than himself in classical learning, would have found themselves decisively his inferiors in the ready and avail­able familiarity with Latin and Greek, and who might have failed to keep pace with him in his rapid explications of the perplexities of an obscure passage. Perspicacity, extent, and variety of information, ingenuity of conjecture, and readiness of recollection, often gave him the clue which a merely grammatical proficiency would not have presented.

The new edition of Calmet's Dictionary, quickly attracted the notice and favour of the learned world; and the work obtained a much more extensive sale than might have been anticipated, considering its costliness, and the recondite subjects which it embraces. Inquiries were eagerly made with a view to discover the learned, but anonymous editor; and in some instances these inquiries came from persons high in station in the church, as well as from many whose literary reputation gave importance to the opinion they expressed. Mr Taylor nevertheless adhered to his purpose of concealment, and would allow himself to be spoken of only as the pub­lishe. of the work, an. the engraver of the plates.

A demand for a second edition of the Calmet soon afforded him the opportunity of revising and extending his labours; of which opportunity he availed himself with unsparing assiduity: indeed, the work of revision for successive reprints occupied Mr Taylor more or less fully during the remainder of his life; and he lived to review the last sheets of a fourth edition. Nevertheless this great work did not exclusively engage his time and attention, for during the same period he took a part in more than one of the periodical publications of the time, either as editor or as a stated and principal contributor. Of these engagements the most important was that which he had with the Literary Panorama, a work that obtained, for some time, a considerable portion of public favour, and especially on account of the ability displayed in its articles on questions of political economy and state policy; and which, for the most part, were furnished by Mr Taylor. These papers, whether right or wrong in principle, gave proof of an extensive and exact knowledge of the subjects treated, and at the same time exhibited the characteristic sagacity and ingenuity which, in all cases, distinguished his productions.

Accidental circumstances led Mr Taylor to engage in the controversy on the subject of baptism, a subject in relation to which he could not fail to bring into play his peculiar talents and acquirements since it belongs fully as much to the province of antiquarian research as to that of theological discussion; and it is one that eminently invites the specific mode of elucidation of which he was so perfect a master.  He brought to bear upon the inquiry, at once, the ready and copious stores of his various learning, and his accustomed methods of graphic illustration. The result of his investigations appeared in a pamphlet entitled, Facts and Evidences on the Subject of Baptism, and was followed by Replies to the strictures which it drew from the leaders of the Baptist denomination. It is to be regretted that the ingenious reasonings, and the conclusive facts brought together in these publi­cations, have not been presented to the public in a condensed form, apart from the irrelevances with which, in the first instance, they were mingled, and which tend much more to weaken the force of the argument than either to enliven or to illustrate the controversy. The laborious researches into which Mr Taylor was led in the prosecution of the baptismal question, while at the same time he could allow himself no remission of his usual and arduous engagements, are believed to have given the first shock to his singularly vigorous constitution, which otherwise seemed likely to retain its uncommon energy to an extreme age. But when once the physical powers have given way under excessive and long-continued mental labour, it is not often that even the utmost care and forbearance avail to retrieve the mischief; much less can that mischief be remedied when the very same labours are persisted in, or when only an occasional remission of the daily —  and the nightly —  task is allowed. The delicacy of health induced by his various. literary engagements displayed itself in an asthmatic affection, which, after two or three years of suffering, terminated his life while his mental powers were still in their full vigour. He died November 13, 1823, being then in his sixty-eighth year.

Mr Taylor's habits and appearance were characteristically those of a literary  man, and of one rather of the past than of the present age. The incessant activity of his mind prevented his taking his part in  the customary relaxations of common life, and placed him too little at variance with certain conventional modes of society. Nevertheless he was at all times bland and communicative when actually drawn into company; nor was he ever so absorbed in his own meditations as to become unobservant of what was passing before him.  On the contrary, his eagle eye fixed itself upon the minutest objects that seemed in any way to invite intelligent curiosity. He saw, and noted, and analysed every thing; and drew from every source conjectures, or inductions, and whatever he so gathered went to augment the stores that were held at command for promoting the great and favourite object of his life. Intellectual habits of this kind cannot fail to render a man who reads largely, and who at the same time lives in the world, extensively ­informed, and in fact there were very few, if any subjects, whether of philosophy, history, literature, or politics, with which Mr Taylor was not more or less familiar; while, within his peculiar sphere he might well have put in his claim to the reputation of profound learning.  Had he been disengaged from the mercantile toils and cares of publication, and had he, early in his course, thrown aside the many and capital disadvantages unavoidably attendant upon literary concealment ­— had he admitted the fame which in fact, through life, courted him, he would no doubt have occupied, not only a high, but a prominent place among the accom­plished and gifted men of his times.

Mr Taylor was, by education and habit, and by personal conviction too (on certain points) a dissenter, and he was for many years a member of the religious society assembling in the Old Meeting House, Fetter Lane. It ought, however, to be added that his sentiments towards the Established Church, with many of the clergy of which he lived on terms of cordial friendship, were as far as possible from being of a hostile or a jealous kind. His theological opinions were (to use the stated phrases) decidedly orthodox and evangelical. This fact deserves the more to be noticed, not merely because the peculiar species of intellectual labour to which his life was devoted is not seldom seen to produce a chilling and unfavourable influence upon religious belief, but because the native tendency of his mind was towards that mode of ingenious explication which has actually seduced some minds of great talent and attainments, into the paths of heretical speculation. It is not affirmed that he did not himself occasionally venture too far in the dim region of plausible conjecture; but such conjectures or hypotheses never led him to involve in doubt the great principles of Christian faith; and although, in particular instances, his theoretic explications may be thought reprehensible, every candid and competent student of Holy Scripture will­ acknowledge that, when his labours are viewed comprehensively, the editor of Calmet has, in a signal manner, promoted the cause of sacred truth; and it is certain that to do so was his most ardent and invariable desire.

STANFORD RIVERS, February 15, 1836


1. Isaac Taylor of Stanford Rivers (1787-1865) was a grandson of Charles Taylor's brother Isaac (1759-1829).

2. Cornelius Humphreys, born about 1711, Llanelli, Wales, died at the Tower of London, 1770, matriculated from Jesus College, Oxford, in 1743, was minister of a chapel at the Tower of London from 1740 to 1770.

3. Charles Taylor (1780-1856), artist and bookseller; Mary Taylor (1782-1866) and Sarah Taylor (1785-1874).

4. Robert Smirke was a historical painter and book illustrator from Wigton in West Cumbria. He was the father of Sir Robert Smirke, prominent architect and designer of the British Museum, and Sidney Smirke, also a prominent architect.

5. Swiss-born Maria Anna Catharina Angelica Kauffmann was a Rococo-style painter who moved to London in 1766, where she met Sir Joshua Reynolds and helped to found the Royal Academy in 1769. She married fellow artist Antonio Zucchi and the couple later made their home in Rome. In addition to her many portraits, several of Kauffmann's works were decorations at St Paul’s and in the Royal Academy’s lecture room at Somerset House.


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