Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Taylor, Tom

658531Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 55 — Taylor, Tom1898William Charles Mark Kent

TAYLOR, TOM (1817–1880), dramatist and editor of ‘Punch,’ was born at Bishop-Wearmouth, a suburb of Sunderland, on 19 Oct. 1817. His father, Thomas Taylor (1769–1843), was self-educated, having begun life in early boyhood as a labourer on a small farm in Cumberland. By thrift, industry, and intelligence he came in early manhood to be the head partner in a flourishing brewery firm at Durham, and, on that city being incorporated, was one in the first batch of aldermen in the new municipality. Tom Taylor's mother (1784–1858), though born in Durham, was of German origin, both her parents being natives of Frankfort-on-the-Maine. Her maiden name was Arnold. When Taylor betrothed himself to her she was companion at Belton to the daughters of Earl Brownlow.

Tom was educated first at Grange school in Sunderland, and afterwards at the university of Glasgow, where he carried off three gold medals. Finally, in 1837, he entered Trinity College, Cambridge. There he graduated B.A. in 1840 as junior optime in mathematics and in the first class of the classical tripos. In 1842 he was elected a fellow of Trinity, and proceeded M.A. in 1843. For the next two years Taylor pursued the career of a ‘coach’ at Cambridge, and met with great success. In the interests of his younger brothers he declined the ample annual allowance hitherto placed at his command by his father, and resolved thenceforth to support himself on his fees as tutor and upon the income of his fellowship.

Taylor quitted Cambridge towards the close of 1844, and in 1845 was appointed professor of English literature and the English language in the London University. He held the post for two years. Meanwhile, having kept his terms as a law student at the Inner Temple, he was called to the bar on 20 Nov. 1846. For a while he went the northern circuit. But a new opening was offered him in 1850, when, consequent on the passing of the Public Health Act, the board of health was called into existence, and Taylor was appointed assistant secretary under the presidency of Sir Benjamin Hall, (afterwards Lord Llanover). In August 1854 he was promoted to the position of secretary, with an income of 1,000l. a year. When the board of health was absorbed in the local government board his post became that of secretary to the sanitary department. He eventually retired on a pension of 650l. in 1871, when his office was abolished.

But Taylor owed his fame and the greater part of his income to other occupations. From his first settling in London he had engaged in journalism, and he obtained in early life remunerative work on the ‘Morning Chronicle’ and the ‘Daily News’ as a leader-writer. At an early date, too, he inaugurated a lifelong connection with ‘Punch,’ and until 1874 he was an active member of the staff. In that year he succeeded Shirley Brooks as editor, and he held that office till his death six years later. In art criticism Taylor also made some mark, and for many years was art critic for the ‘Times’ and the ‘Graphic.’ He numbered C. R. Leslie, W. P. Frith, and other artists among his closest friends, and among his miscellaneous works was a valuable biography of Benjamin Robert Haydon (3 vols., 1853). He also edited ‘Charles Robert Leslie's Autobiographical Recollections’ (1860), completed Leslie's ‘Life of Sir Joshua Reynolds’ (1865), and edited as ‘Pen Sketches by a Vanished Hand’ (1879) the essays of his friend Mortimer Collins. He had already translated ‘Ballads and Songs of Brittany’ from the Barsaz-Breiz of Hersart de la Villemarqué, and in 1874 he published an entertaining volume called ‘Leicester Square: its Associations and its Worthies’ (London, 8vo).

Taylor, however, found his true vocation as a playwright. From his early boyhood he had written and acted plays, and as soon as he settled in London he worked assiduously for the theatre. In his first year in London—in 1844—no fewer than four burlesques by him were brought out by the Keeleys, who were then managing the Lyceum Theatre. Their titles were ‘Valentine and Orson’ (March 1844), ‘Whittington and his Cat’ (Easter Monday, 1844), ‘Cinderella’ (Whit-Monday, 1844), and ‘A Trip to Kissingen’ (14 Nov. 1844). Other plays followed in rapid succession, and in thirty-five years he supplied more than seventy plays to the principal theatres of London. He essayed almost every department of the drama, but made his chief success in domestic comedy. His mastery of stage-craft was great, and many of his pieces still keep the boards; but he lacked dramatic genius or commanding power of expression.

The first piece of Taylor's that signally attracted the public was ‘To Parents and Guardians,’ a farce, which Keeley brought out at the Lyceum on 28 Sept. 1845. In some burlesques that followed he co-operated with Albert Smith. ‘Masks and Faces’ (London, 1854, 8vo), which he wrote in conjunction with Charles Reade, was produced at the Haymarket on 20 Nov. 1852. Hardly less successful was his ‘To Oblige Benson’ (Olympic, 6 March 1854), an adaptation from the French vaudeville, ‘Un Service à Blanchard,’ by Moreau and Delacour; and ‘Our American Cousin,’ first produced at Laura Keene's theatre at New York in 1858, which gave Sothern the opportunity of creating the character of Lord Dundreary. ‘New Men and Old Acres,’ in which Mr. Augustus W. Dubourg assisted him, was produced at the Haymarket on 25 Oct. 1859, and in the same year he dramatised Dickens's ‘A Tale of Two Cities.’ Next year he brought out at Manchester one of his most successful comedies, ‘The Overland Route.’ Almost equally popular were his ‘Still Waters run deep’ (Olympic, 14 May 1855), and ‘A Sheep in Wolf's Clothing’ (10 Feb. 1857), adapted from Mme. de Girardin's ‘Femme qui déteste son mari.’ Probably his best play was ‘The Ticket-of-leave Man,’ based upon ‘Le Retour de Melun’ of Brisebarre and Nuz, which was produced at the Olympic Theatre on 27 May 1863.

In 1869 Taylor induced the beautiful Mrs. Rousby and her husband to try their fortunes in London. The Queen's Theatre in Long Acre was engaged for them, and Taylor wrote for Mrs. Rousby a series of three historical dramas, in which he hardly realised his ambitious designs, although the public were attracted. The theatre was opened with ‘The Fool's Revenge,’ an adaptation of Victor Hugo's ‘Le Roi s'amuse,’ on 19 Dec. 1869. An adaptation from the German, ‘'Twixt Axe and Crown,’ followed on 22 May 1870, and ‘Joan of Arc’ on 10 April 1871. Other efforts on similar lines were ‘Lady Clancarty,’ which was produced at the Olympic on 9 March 1874, and long retained popularity, and ‘Anne Boleyn,’ which was produced at the Haymarket in March 1875, and was Taylor's penultimate piece and only complete failure.

Taylor was fond of theatrical life in all its aspects. He essayed several parts as an actor, and is said to have been successful as Adam in a performance of ‘As you like it’ at Manchester, in aid of the Calvert memorial fund, on 1 Oct. 1879. Taylor died at his residence, Lavender Sweep, Wandsworth, on 12 July 1880. He had married, on 19 June 1855, while resident at Eagle Lodge, Brompton, Laura, third daughter of the Rev. Thomas Barker, vicar of Thirkleby in Yorkshire. Mrs. Tom Taylor, a skilled musical composer, contributed the original overture and entr'acte to her husband's ‘Joan of Arc;’ she died in March 1905.

Other successful plays by Taylor, besides those already named, were:

  1. ‘Diogenes and his Lantern’ (Strand, 28 Dec. 1849).
  2. ‘The Vicar of Wakefield’ (Strand, 4 March 1850).
  3. ‘The Philosopher's Stone.’
  4. ‘Prince Dorus’ (Olympic, 26 Dec. 1850).
  5. ‘Our Clerks’ (Princess's, 6 March 1852).
  6. ‘Wittikind and his Brothers,’ a fairy tale (Princess's, 1852).
  7. ‘Plot and Passion’ (Olympic, 17 Oct. 1853).
  8. ‘A Nice Firm’ (Lyceum, 16 Nov. 1853).
  9. ‘Two Loves and a Life,’ in conjunction with Charles Reade (Adelphi, 20 March 1854).
  10. ‘The King's Rival.’
  11. ‘Helping Hands’ (Adelphi, 20 May 1855).
  12. ‘Retribution,’ from Bernard's ‘Loi du Talion’ (Olympic, 12 May 1856).
  13. ‘Going to the Bad’ (Olympic, 5 June 1858).
  14. ‘Barefaced Impostors’ (Canterbury Theatre, 15 Aug. 1859).
  15. ‘Nine Points of the Law,’ based upon M. W. Savage's novel called ‘Clover Cottage’ (11 April 1859).
  16. ‘Up at the Hills’ (St. James's, 29 Oct. 1860).
  17. ‘The Babes in the Wood’ (Haymarket, 10 Nov. 1860).
  18. ‘Sense and Sensation’ (Olympic, 16 May 1864).
  19. ‘Henry Dunbar,’ founded upon the novel of the same name by Miss Braddon (Olympic, 9 Dec. 1865).
  20. ‘The Sister's Penance’ (Adelphi, 26 Nov. 1866).
  21. ‘The Hidden Hand’ (1870), from the French of D'Ennery and Edmond.
  22. ‘Settling Day’ (Olympic, 4 March 1877).

A collection of his early pieces appeared in 1854. He published a collected edition of his historical dramas in 1877.

A portrait of Taylor, painted by Sir George Reid, was lent by his widow to the Victorian Exhibition. In Mr. M. H. Spielmann's ‘History of Punch’ a miniature photograph of the ‘third editor of the “London Charivari”’ is given on page 338, while in the same book may be found, at page 339, Richard Doyle's sketch of him between caricatures of John Leech and Horace Mayhew, and, at page 262, another sketch as the pianist in the orchestra presided over by Mark Lemon at Mr. Punch's fancy-dress ball in January 1844.

[Personal recollections; autobiographical notes jotted down by Taylor for present writer in minute holograph; Memoir by the present writer in Illustrated Review, 8 May 1873, with portrait; Times, 13 July 1880; Ann. Reg. 1880, p. 180; Purnell's Dramatists of the Day.]

C. K.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.262
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line
473 ii 12 Taylor, Tom: after Clothing' insert (10 Feb. 1857)