Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Tom Taylor

TAYLOR, Tom (1817–1880), dramatist and art critic, was born at Sunderland in 1817. After attending school there, and studying for two sessions at Glasgow university, he in 1837 entered Trinity College, Cambridge, of which he became a fellow. Subsequently he held for two years the professorship of English literature at University College, London. He was called to the bar (Middle Temple) in November 1845, and went on the northern circuit until, in 1850, he became assistant secretary of the Board of Health. On the reconstruction of the board in 1854 he was made secretary, and on its abolition his services were transferred to the Local Government Act Office, a department of the Home Office created by the Sanitary Act of 1866. In his very early years Tom Taylor showed a predilection for the drama, and was in the habit of performing dramatic pieces along with a number of children in a loft over a brewer's stable. His first dramatic composition was a rhymed fairy tale or extravaganza, written in conjunction with Albert Smith and Charles Kenny, and performed in 1846. From this time he wrote for the stage continuously till the close of his life, his dramatic compositions or adaptations numbering in all over 100, amongst the best known of which are Still Water Runs Deep, Victims, the Contested Election, the Overland Route, the Ticket of Leave Man, Anne Boleyn, and Joan of Arc. He may perhaps be regarded as the first dramatist of his time, so far as general appreciation goes; and, if his chief concern was the construction of a popular acting play, his dramas possess at the same time considerable literary excellence, while the characters are clearly and consistently drawn, and the dialogue is natural, yet nervous and pointed. In his blank verse historical dramas, such as Anne Boleyn and Joan of Arc, he was not so successful. Taylor was also a very frequent contributor to the light magazine literature of the day. In 1872 he withdrew from public life, and, on the death of Shirley Brooks in 1873, he became editor of Punch, He occasionally appeared with success in amateur theatricals, more especially in the character of Adam in As You Like It and of Jasper in A Sheep in Wolf's Clothing. He had some talent for painting, and for many years was art critic to the Times. He died at Lavender Sweep, Wandsworth, 12th July 1880.

Apart from the drama, his chief contributions to literature are his biographies of painters, viz., Autobiography of B. R. Haydon (1853); Autobiography and Correspondence of C. R. Leslie, R.A, (1859); and Life and Times of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1865), which had been left in a very incomplete state by Mr Leslie. His Historical Dramas appeared in one volume in 1877. He also edited, with a memorial preface, Pen Sketches from a Vanished Hand, selected from Papers of the late Mortimer Collins.