Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Taylor, Isaac
TAYLOR, ISAAC (1829–1901), archæologist and philologist, born on 2 May 1829 at Stanford Rivers, Essex, was eldest son and second child in the family of eight daughters and three sons of Isaac Taylor (1787–1865) [q. v.] by his wife Elizabeth (1804–1861), daughter of James Medland of Newington. His grandfather and great- grandfather were also named Isaac Taylor and were well known for literary or artistic talent [see Taylor, Isaac (1730–1807), and Taylor, Isaac (1759–1829)]. His aunts Ann and Jane Taylor and uncle Jefferys Taylor, writers for children, are likewise noticed in this Dictionary.
Isaac, brought up in an atmosphere of plain living and high thinking, was early accustomed to help his father in minor literary tasks. He was educated at private schools, and was from 1847 to 1849 at King's College, London. In 1849 he passed to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he carried off many college prizes, including the silver oration cup. He graduated B.A. in 1853 as nineteenth wrangler. On leaving Cambridge, he went as a master to Cheam school until 1857, when he proceeded M.A. and was ordained to the curacy of Trotterscliffe, Kent. He was curate of St. Mary Abbots, Kensington, in 1860-1, and of St. Mark's, North Audley Street, from 1861 to 1865, when he became vicar of St. Matthias, Bethnal Green.
The difficulties of serving a parish of 7000 people of the poorest class without funds or helpers were intensified by the outbreak of cholera in 1866. In 1867, at Highgate, Taylor preached a sermon on behalf of East London charities. It was published at the expense of one who heard it, under the title of 'The Burden of the Poor,' and made a deep impression throughout the country. The vivid account which Taylor gave of the conditions of the Spitalfields silk-weavers and child workers in and about his parish brought him subscriptions to the amount of over 4000Z. But the strain of administration was severe, and an attack of typhoid fever finally compelled his retirement. In 1869 Bishop Jackson nominated him vicar of Holy Trinity, Twickenham, and in 1875 he was presented by Earl Brownlow to the living of Settrington, Yorkshire, which he held until his death. In 1885 he was made canon of York and prebend of Kirk Fenton.
Taylor's family tradition, which combined puritan piety with philosophic thought, drew him to the broad church party. A lover of controversy and of paradoxical statement through life, he roused much opposition in 1860 by a pamphlet, 'The Liturgy and the Dissenters,' in which he advocated the revision of the Prayer Book 'as an act of justice to the Dissenters.' In 1887 a paper on Islam, at the Wolverhampton Church Congress, in which he pleaded for a more tolerant comprehension of 'the second greatest religion in history,' excited indignation. He developed his views on Islam in 'Leaves from an Egyptian Note-book' (1888), and he did not conciliate his opponents by his stringent criticisms in the 'Fortnightly Review' (Nov. and Dec. 1888) on the methods of missionary societies. He was a member of the Curates' Clerical Club, or 'C.C.C.,' and counted among his friends in London F. D. Maurice, Dean Stanley, Farrar, Stopford Brooke (a fellow curate at Kensington), Haweis, and J. R. Green.
Taylor's chief interest lay in philological research, his pursuit of which gave him a wide reputation. In 1854 he produced an edition of Becker's 'Charicles.' In 1864 there followed 'Words and Places,' which went through several editions, and was adopted as a text-book for the Cam- bridge higher examination for women. The book was practically the first attempt in English to apply the results of Gterman scientific philology to the derivation of local names. It was followed in 1867 by 'The Family Pen, Memorials of the Taylor Family of Ongar,' 2 vols. Later, a winter in Italy led him to study the remains of ancient Etruria, and in 1874 he published 'Etruscan Researches,' in which he propounded the now accepted theory that the Etruscan language was not Aryan, but was probably akin to the Altaic or agglutinative family of speech.
The problem of the origin of letters had always attracted him, and he recalled how, when learning the alphabet, he used to wonder why certain shapes should represent certain sounds. About 1875 he took up the subject in earnest, and in 1883 he published ’The Alphabet' (2 vols.; 2nd edit. 1899). He was one of the first to apply the principle of selection — in this case he called it the Law of Least Effort — to the evolution of written symbols, a discovery which led a critic to call him 'the Darwin of philology.' His scientific reputation rests mainly on this book, which, though now partially superseded by subsequent researches, remains a scholarly and exhaustive inquiry, set forth in admirably lucid English.
His studies of the alphabet led Taylor to the problem of the Runes, and his conclusion that they were derived from Greek sources he embodied in a separate volume, 'Greeks and Goths' (1879). In 1889 he wrote 'The Origin of the Aryans' for the 'Contemporary Science' series. It assailed the hitherto accepted theory of Max Müller as to a Central Asian cradle of the Aryans, and maintained that kinship of race cannot be postulated from kinship of speech. A French translation was published at Paris in 1895. Taylor took a prominent part in the Domesday celebration of 1886, and contributed three essays to the memorial volume (1888). Notes for a revised and enlarged version of 'Words and Places,' which his health disabled him from completing, appeared as an alphabetically arranged handbook of historical geography — 'Names and their Histories' (1896; 2nd edit. 1897). He wrote many articles for the new edition of 'Chambers's Encyclopædia,' and was a frequent contributor to the 'Academy,' the 'Athenæum,' and 'Notes and Queries.' In 1879 the University of Edinburgh conferred on him the honorary degree of LL.D., and in 1885 he was made doctor of letters by his own University of Cambridge.
Taylor's versatile interests embraced the practice of photography and the study of botany, entomology, geology, and archæology. He was an original member of the Alpine Club, joining in 1858; he retired in 1891. He died on 18 Oct. 1901 at Settrington, Yorkshire, and was buried there. He married, on 31 July 1865, Georgiana Anne, daughter of Henry Cockayne Cust, canon of Windsor. His only child, Elizabeth Eleanor, married in 1903 Mr. Ernest Davies.
[Personal knowledge; The Biograph and Review, April 1881; Athenæum and Literature, 26 Oct. 1901; York Diocesan Mag., Dec. 1901.]