Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Taylor, Charles (1840-1908)

TAYLOR, CHARLES (1840–1908), Master of St. John's College, Cambridge, born in London on 27 May 1840, was son of William Taylor, tea-dealer, by Catherine his wife. The family had formerly been settled near Woburn in Bedfordshire. His grandfather, a man of energy and foresight, had come to London, where he acquired considerable property in Regent Street, then in course of construction. He is said to have been the first job-master in London. Charles Taylor lost his father at the age of five, when his mother, with her three young sons, went to live near Hampstead. He attended the grammar school of St. Marylebone and All Souls (in union with King's College), and, afterwards. King's College School itself, winning prizes at both schools. It was at King's College School that he began his lifelong friendship with Ingram By water, afterwards regius professor of Greek in the University of Oxford.

In October 1858 Taylor entered St. John's College, Cambridge, where at first he devoted himself mainly to mathematics. In 1860 he was elected to one of the new foundation scholarships, and in 1862, a year in which St. John's had six wranglers out of the first ten, he was ninth wrangler. In the same year he was placed in the second class of the classical tripos; in 1863 he obtained a first class in the theological examination; and in 1864 the Crosse scholarship and the first Tyrwhitt scholarship, while in his college he vacated the Naden divinity studentship for a fellowship. On the river he was fond of sculling, and he also rowed in the college boat-races from 1863 to 1866. He was always a great walker.

In 1863 he published 'Geometrical Conics, including Anharmonic Ratio and Projection.' This was followed, in 1872, by a text-book entitled 'The Elementary Geometry of Conics,' which passed through several editions, and, in 1881, by a larger treatise, 'An Introduction to the Ancient and Modern Geometry of Conics,' including a brief but masterly sketch of the early history of geometry. He here lays special stress on the principle of geometrical continuity, usually associated with the name of Poncelet, and traces this principle back to Kepler. He returned to the subject in the memoir on 'The Geometry of Kepler and Newton,' which he contributed to the volume of the 'Transactions of the Cambridge Philosophical Society' published in honour of Sir George Gabriel Stokes's jubilee, and in the article on 'Geometrical Continuity' printed in the 'Encyclopædia Britannica' in 1902, and reprinted in 1910. He was one of the founders of the ' Oxford, Cambridge, and Dublin Messenger of Mathematics,' and continued to be an editor from 1862 to 1884. He joined the London Mathematical Society in 1872, and was president of the Mathematical Association in 1892. His mathematical writings include some thirty or forty papers, mostly on geometry, published in the 'Messenger,' the 'Quarterly Journal of Pure and Applied Mathematics,' and the 'Proceedings of the Cambridge Philosophical Society.' All of them are 'marked by elegance, conciseness, a rare knowledge of the history of the subject, and a veneration for the great geometers of the past' (Prof. A. E. H. Love in Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society, 1909).

He was ordained deacon in 1866 and priest in 1867, the year in which he obtained the Kaye University prize for an essay published in an expanded form under the title of 'The Gospel in the Law.' He had given a course of sermons on the subject as one of the curates at St. Andrew's the Great. In 1873 he was appointed college lecturer in theology. He soon made his mark as a Hebrew scholar. In 1874 he issued 'The Dirge of Coheleth in Ecclesiastes xii. Discussed and Literally Interpreted.' This was followed in 1877 by his edition of the 'Sayings of the Jewish Fathers, in Hebrew and English, with Critical and Illustrative Notes' (2nd edit. 1897 ; appendix, 1900). This work was authoritatively pronounced to be 'the most important contribution to these studies made by any Christian scholar since the time of Buxtorf' (J. H. A. Hart, in the Eagle, xxx. 71).

From 1870 to 1878 he was an energetic and indefatigable mountaineer, in spite of his bulky physique. He wrote for the 'Alpine Journal' (vi. 232–43) a record of a notable ascent of Monte Rosa from Macugnaga in 1872 (see also T. G. Bonney, in the Eagle, xxx. 73–77). He was a member of the Alpine Club from 1873 till death.

In 1877–8, during the Cambridge University commission, Taylor took an active part in the discussions on the revision of the statutes of the college. In 1879 he was chosen, with the Master (Dr. Bateson) and Mr. Bonney, one of three commissioners to represent the college in conferring with the university commission. Before the new statutes came into force the Master (Bateson) died, on 27 March 1881, and on 12 April Taylor was chosen as his successor. On 14 June he was presented by the public orator for the complete degree of D.D. jure dignitatis (J. E. Sandys' Orationes et Epistolæ Academicæ, p. 31). As Master, Taylor left details of administration to others, but he was not inactive. His college sermons, delivered in a quiet, level tone, with no rhetorical display, were marked by a solid grasp of fact and a patient elaboration of detail. His commemoration sermons of 1903 and 1907 mainly dealt with three college worthies, William Gilbert, Thomas Clarkson, and William Wilberforce (the Eagle, xxiv. 352 f.; xxviii. 279 f.).

While Master, Taylor published: 'The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles' (1886); 'An Essay on the Theology of the Didache' (1889); 'The Witness of Hennas to the Four Gospels' (1892); and 'The Oxyrhynchus Logia, and the Apocryphal Gospels' (1899).

Since November 1880 he had been a member of the council of the university. In the four years from 1885 to 1888 he presented the university with 200l. in each year, to be applied to the increase of the stipend of the reader in Talmudic. In 1886, as vice-chancellor elect, he represented the university at the commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the founding of Harvard, Cambridge, U.S.A., where he received an honorary degree on 8 Nov. From New Year's Day, 1887, to the corresponding date in 1889 he filled with dignity the office of vice-chancellor. On 18 July 1888 {Orationes et Epistolæ Academicæ, pp. 72-75) the vice-chancellor invited more than eighty bishops attending the Lambeth Conference, and nearly seventy other guests, to a memorable banquet in the hall of St. John's. At the end of the year he presented to the university his official stipend of 400l. as vice-chancellor for the year, and the money was spent in providing the nine statues which adorn the new buildings of the university library. Taylor was one of the two university aldermen first chosen in 1889 as members of the borough council; he held the office till 1895. Among further proofs of his generous temper was his gift to the university library of the Taylor-Schechter collection of Hebrew MSS., which, by the energy of Dr. Schechter, the university reader in Tahnudic, and by the generosity of Dr. Taylor, had been obtained from the Genizah of Old Cairo, with the consent of the heads of the local Jewish community (letters of thanks in Orationes et Epistolce Academicce, pp. 250 f.). Taylor and Dr. Schechter published in 1899, under the title of 'The Wisdom of Ben Sira,' portions of Ecclesiasticus from Hebrew MSS. in this collection. In 1907 Taylor presented to the library a fine copy of the 'Kandjur,' which 'at once secured for Cambridge a first place among the repositories of BuddMst texts.' In his own college, the Lady Margaret mission in Walworth, the first of the Cambridge College missions in south London, found in him a generous supporter; he provided the Lady Margaret Club with the site for its boat-house, and sent the boat to Henley; while his gifts to the general funds of the college were constant and lavish.

'He had an intense church feeling, without the slightest appearance of ecclesiasticism, . . . and his moderation, which was no part of a policy, but was natural to the man, was an invaluable quality in the head of a large college containing many varieties of rehgious opinion.' Though reserved and stiff in manner, he was endeared to his friends by 'his practical wisdom, sense of humour, detachment of view, and absolute freedom from petty enmities' (the Eagle, xxx. 78).

He died suddenly on 12 Aug. 1908, at the Goldner Adler, Nuremberg, while on a foreign tour. After a funeral service in the chapel of St. John's College his body was buried in St. Giles's cemetery on the Huntingdon Road, near Cambridge. He married on 19 Oct. 1907, at St. Luke's church, Chelsea, Margaret, daughter of the Hon. Conrad Dillon.

He is commemorated by a stained-glass window placed in the college chapel by his widow. A portrait by Charles Brock of Cambridge belongs to his widow. A bronze medallion by Miss Florence Newman was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1909.

[Obit. notices in the Guardian, 20 Aug. 1908; and Cambridge Review, Oct. 1908; the Eagle, xxx. (1909), 34-85, 196-204 (with photographic portraits); Alpine Journal, Nov. 1908.]

J. E. S.