Taylor, John (1694-1761) (DNB00)

TAYLOR, JOHN (1694–1761), dissenting divine and hebraist, son of a timber merchant at Lancaster, was born in 1694 at Scotforth in Lancaster parish. His father was a churchman, his mother a dissenter. Taylor began his education for the dissenting ministry in 1709 under Thomas Dixon [q. v.] at Whitehaven, where he drew up for himself a Hebrew grammar (1712). From Whitehaven he went to study under Thomas Hill, near Derby [see under Hill, Thomas, (1628?–1677?)], improving his classical knowledge, which, according to Edward Harwood [q. v.] , was ‘almost unrivalled,’ though Samuel Parr [q. v.] found fault with his latinity. Leaving Hill on 25 March 1715, he took charge on 7 April of an extra-parochial chapel at Kirkstead, Lincolnshire, then used for nonconformist worship by the Disney family. He was ordained (11 April 1716) by dissenting ministers in Derbyshire. In 1726 he declined a call to Pudsey, Yorkshire. In 1733 he removed to Norwich, as colleague to Peter Finch [see under Finch, Henry, (1633–1704)].

Hitherto Taylor had not deviated from dissenting orthodoxy, though hesitating about subscription. According to a family tradition, given by Turner, on settling at Norwich he went through Clarke's ‘Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity’ (1712) with his congregation, adopted its view, and came forward (1737) in defence of a dissenting layman excommunicated for heterodoxy on this topic by James Sloss (1698–1772) of Nottingham, a pupil of John Simson [q. v.] The ethical core interested him more than the speculative refinements of theology; hence his remarkable work on original sin (1740, written 1735), the effect of which, in combating the Calvinistic view of human nature, was widespread and lasting. Its influence in Scotland is signalised by Robert Burns (Epistle to John Goudie); in New England, according to Jonathan Edwards, ‘no one book’ did ‘so much towards rooting out’ the underlying ideas of the Westminster standards. His study of Pauline theology, partly on the lines of Locke, produced (1745) a ‘Key’ to the apostolic writings with an application of this ‘Key’ to the interpretation of the Epistle to the Romans. Here, rather than in his special treatise on the topic (1751), his view of atonement is clearly defined.

In 1751 he issued proposals for publishing a Hebrew concordance, on which he had been engaged for more than thirteen years. The subscription list to the first volume (1754) contains the names of twenty-two English and fifteen Irish bishops, and the work is dedicated to the hierarchy. Based on Buxtorf and Noldius, the concordance is arranged to serve the purposes of a Hebrew-English and English-Hebrew lexicon. He employed no amanuensis, and his accuracy is equal to his industry. As a lexicographer he deserves praise for the first serious attempt to fix the primitive meaning of Hebrew roots and deduce thence the various uses of terms.

On 25 Feb. 1754 Taylor laid the first stone of the existing Octagon Chapel at Norwich, opened 12 May 1756, and described by John Wesley (23 Dec. 1757) as ‘perhaps the most elegant one in all Europe,’ and too fine for ‘the old coarse gospel.’ In his opening sermon, Taylor, who had received (6 April) the diploma (dated 20 Jan.) of D.D. from Glasgow, disowned all party names, presbyterian and the like, claiming that of Christian only; a claim attacked by a local critic, probably Grantham Killingworth [q. v.], writing as a quaker, under the name of ‘M. Adamson.’

About the close of 1757 Taylor returned to Lancashire as divinity tutor (including moral philosophy) in the Warrington Academy, opened 20 Oct. 1757 [see Seddon, John, (1725–1770)]. The appointment was a tribute to his reputation, but his acceptance of it (at the age of sixty-three) was unwise. His manner in class was oracular, and his prelections were of an antiquarian order. Underlying small items of dispute was Taylor's conviction that he was denied the deference which was his due. His health was breaking; rheumatism settled in his knees, and he could not walk without crutches. Rousing his powers, he wrote, but did not live to publish, his fervent tractate on prayer, by far the most impressive of his writings, and proving the truth of Job Orton's remark (1778) that ‘he had to the last a great deal of the puritan in him.’ Orton's earlier surmise (1771), adopted by Walter Wilson, that Taylor had become a Socinian, is quite groundless. Still earlier (1757) Wesley had described Taylor's views as ‘old deism in a new dress.’

He died in his sleep on 5 March 1761, and was buried in the chapel-yard at Chowbent, Lancashire. His funeral sermon was preached by Edward Harwood. A tablet to his memory is in Chowbent Chapel; another in the Octagon Chapel, Norwich, bearing a Latin inscription by Samuel Parr. The best likeness of Taylor is a portrait in crayons, now at Manchester College, Oxford; a fine engraving by Houbraken (1754), after a picture by Heins (1746), was prefixed to the concordance and issued separately. He married (13 Aug. 1717) Elizabeth Jenkinson (d. 2 June 1761), a widow, of Boston, Lincolnshire. His surviving children were: 1. Richard (d. 1762), married Margaret Meadows; his eldest son, Philip Taylor (1747–1831), was presbyterian minister at Kay Street, Liverpool (1767), and at Eustace Street, Dublin (1771), and grandfather of Meadows Taylor [q. v.]; his second son, John Taylor (1750–1826) [q. v.], the hymn-writer. 2. Sarah (d. 1773), married to John Rigby of Chowbent, was mother of Edward Rigby [q. v.]

He published, besides single sermons and tracts: 1. ‘A Narrative of Mr. Joseph Rawson's Case … with a Prefatory Discourse in Defence of the Common Rights of Christians,’ 1737, 8vo (anon.; the ‘Narrative’ is by Rawson; Sloss replied in ‘A True Narrative,’ 1737, 8vo); 2nd edit. with author's name, 1742, 8vo. 2. ‘A Further Defence of the Common Rights,’ 1738, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1742, 8vo; reprinted, 1829, 12mo. 3. ‘The Scripture Doctrine of Original Sin,’ 1740, 8vo (three parts); 2nd edit. 1741, 8vo. ‘A Supplement,’ 1741, 8vo (reply to David Jennings, D.D. [q. v.]); ‘Remarks on … Original Sin,’ 1742, 8vo (reply to Isaac Watts); all included in 3rd edit. Belfast, 1746, 12mo (curious list of Irish subscribers); 4th edit. 1767, 8vo (with reply to Wesley). 4. ‘A Paraphrase with Notes on the Epistle to the Romans … Prefix'd, A Key to the Apostolic Writings,’ 1745, 4to; Dublin, 1746, 8vo. 5. ‘A Scripture Catechism,’ 1745, 12mo. 6. ‘A Collection of Tunes in Various Airs,’ 1750, 8vo. 7. ‘The Scripture Doctrine of Atonement,’ 1751, 8vo. 8. ‘The Hebrew Concordance adapted to the English Bible … after … Buxtorf,’ 1754–7, 2 vols. fol. 9. ‘The Lord's Supper Explained,’ 1754, 8vo; 1756, 8vo. 10. ‘Infant Baptism … the Covenant of Grace,’ 1755, 8vo; 1757, 8vo. 11. ‘An Examination of the Scheme of Morality advanced by Dr. Hutcheson,’ 1759, 8vo. 12. ‘A Sketch of Moral Philosophy,’ 1760, 8vo. Posthumous were: 13. ‘The Scripture Account of Prayer,’ 1761, 8vo; the 2nd edit. 1762, 8vo, has appended ‘Remarks’ on the liturgy edited by Seddon. 14. ‘A Scheme of Scripture Divinity,’ 1763, 8vo; part was printed (1760?) for class use; reprinted, with the ‘Key,’ in Bishop Watson's ‘Collection of Theological Tracts,’ 1785, 8vo, vols. i. and iii. He left in manuscript a paraphrase on Ephesians, and four volumes of an unfinished abridgment (1721–2) of Matthew Henry's ‘Exposition’ of the Old Testament, of which specimens are given in the ‘Universal Theological Magazine,’ December 1804, pp. 314 sq. A selection from his works was published with title, ‘The Principles and Pursuits of an English Presbyterian,’ 1843, 8vo.

[Funeral Sermon, by Harwood, 1761; Sketch of the Life (by Edward Taylor) in Universal Theological Magazine, July 1804, pp. 1 sq. (reprinted separately), see also September 1804, p. 128 sq., February 1805, p. 71; Turner's Lives of Eminent Unitarians, 1840, i. 299 sq.; John Taylor's Hist. of the Octagon Chapel, Norwich, 1848, pp. 19 sq.; Historical Account of Warrington Academy, in Monthly Repository, 1813, pp. 87 sq., 1814 pp. 201 sq. (list of his pupils); Bright's Historical Sketch of Warrington Academy, 1859, pp. 7 sq.; manuscript minutes of Warrington Academy; Memoirs of Gilbert Wakefield, 1804, i. 226, ii. 449; Orton's Letters to Dissenting Ministers, 1806, i. 78, 114, ii. 202; Wilson's Dissenting Churches of London, 1808, i. 105; Halley's Lancashire, 1869, ii. 390 sq.; Macgowan's Arian's and Socinian's Monitor, 1761 (a popular libel); Memoir of John Taylor, in Monthly Repository, 1826, pp. 482 sq.; Tyerman's Life of Wesley, 1870, ii. 291, 294 sq.; Julian's Dict. of Hymnology, 1892, p. 1118.]

A. G.

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

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439 ii 5f.e. Taylor, John (1694-1761): for Manchester New College read Manchester College