Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gilbert, Ann

1190622Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 21 — Gilbert, Ann1890Edwin Cannan

GILBERT, Mrs. ANN (1782–1866), writer of poetry for children, is better known by her maiden name, Ann Taylor, her most popular works having been written before her marriage in conjunction with her younger sister Jane, the author of the ‘Contributions of Q. Q.’ She was the eldest child of Isaac Taylor ‘of Ongar,’ and was born at a house opposite Islington Church on 30 Jan. 1782. One of her brothers was Isaac Taylor [q. v.], author of the ‘Natural History of Enthusiasm.’ From 1786 to 1795 her home was at the village of Lavenham in Suffolk, whither her father, who depended for his livelihood upon engraving, had removed for the sake of economy. Early in 1796, at a time when the trade in engravings was at a very low ebb, he was fortunately chosen minister of a congregation of nonconformists at Colchester. Here he educated his family himself. Ann and Jane worked long hours at engraving under his superintendence. The first literary venture of the family was a poetical solution of the enigma, charade, and rebus in the ‘Minor's Pocket Book’ for 1798, which Ann sent to the ‘Pocket Book’ for 1799. Her solution won the first prize, and in consequence she became a regular contributor to the annual, and established a connection with its publishers, Darton and Harvey. They employed the sisters on various books for children, the chief of which were ‘Original Poems for Infant Minds,’ in two volumes, published in 1804 and 1805, and ‘Rhymes for the Nursery’ in 1806. Their ‘Hymns for Infant Minds’ followed in 1810. In 1811 Isaac Taylor was called to the pastorate of a congregation at Ongar in Essex. He remained there for the rest of his life, and as his own and his wife's works and most of those of his children were published after this date the family became known as the ‘Taylors of Ongar.’ In 1812, while staying with Jane Taylor and her brother Isaac at Ilfracombe, Ann received a letter from the Rev. Joseph Gilbert [q. v.] asking if he might be allowed to visit her with a view to marriage. He had never seen her, knowing her only from the report of her friends, and from her writings. After he had been to Ongar and favourably impressed her parents, she consented to his visit. He was successful in his suit, and they were married on 24 Dec. 1813.

For many years the care of a somewhat numerous family impeded her writing. Soon after the birth of her eldest son she said ‘the dear little child is worth volumes of fame.’ She lived with her husband at Rotherham from 1814 to 1817, at Hull from 1817 to 1825, and at Nottingham from 1825 till his death in 1852. During her married life she published in 1839 ‘The Convalescent, Twelve Letters on Recovery from Sickness,’ and in 1844 ‘Seven Blessings for Little Children,’ and she also contributed about a quarter of the whole number of hymns in Dr. Leifchild's collection of ‘Original Hymns’ published in 1842. On her husband's death she wrote a ‘Memoir of the Rev. Joseph Gilbert,’ which was published along with ‘Recollections of some of his Discourses by one of his sons’ in 1853.

As a widow she continued to live in Nottingham. Though she was now above seventy, she made regular summer tours with an old friend, Mrs. Forbes, through England, Scotland, and Wales. She revisited in this way all the scenes of her youth, and saw many new places. When she was eighty she said ‘the feeling of being a grown woman, to say nothing of an old woman, does not come naturally to me.’ Her journeys continued till 1866. She died at Nottingham on 20 Dec. of that year.

In 1874 was published the ‘Autobiography and other Memorials of Mrs. Gilbert, edited by Josiah Gilbert’ (2 vols. 8vo, 3rd ed. 1 vol. 1878). In this work the history of her life, suggested by the frontispieces, which show Ann Taylor first as a sweet-tempered child, and again as a sweet-tempered old lady, is told in a charming manner by herself till the date of her marriage, and after that by her son with help from her letters. The fact that the ‘Original Poems for Infant Minds,’ the ‘Rhymes for the Nursery,’ and the ‘Hymns for Infant Minds’ are still republished is a strong testimony to their suitability for their purpose. The authorship of Ann and Jane Taylor's joint works is often attributed exclusively to Jane, but this is a mistake. Ann wrote at least as much of them as Jane, and her contributions, though they perhaps contain less of poetic merit than Jane's, are better adapted for children. Many of the best of the ‘Poems’ and ‘Rhymes,’ as, for instance, ‘My Mother’ and the ‘Notorious Glutton,’ were written by Ann. So, too, were some of the best known of the ‘Hymns,’ such as the one which begins 'I thank the Goodness and the Grace.'

Besides the works already mentioned Ann Taylor wrote, in conjunction with her sister: 'Limed Twigs to catch Young Birds' 1815; 'Rural Scenes;' 'City Scenes;' 'Hymns for Infant Schools; 'Original Anniversary Hymns for Sunday Schools;' 'Incidents of Childhood,' 1821; 'The Linnet's Life,' 1822; and (alone) 'The Wedding among the Flowers,' 1808.

[The Autobiography mentioned in the text; Isaac Taylor's Family Pen; Brit. Mus. Cat. of Printed Books.]

E. C.-n.