Taylor, John (1711-1788) (DNB00)


TAYLOR, JOHN (1711–1788), friend of Dr. Johnson, baptised at Ashbourne, Derbyshire, on 18 March 1710–11, was son of Thomas Taylor (1671–1730?) of Ashbourne and his wife Mary, daughter of Thomas Wood. He was educated with Samuel Johnson by the Rev. John Hunter at Lichfield grammar school, and he and Edmund Hector were the last survivors of Johnson's school friends. Taylor would have followed Johnson to Pembroke College, but was dissuaded by his friend's report of the ignorance of William Jorden, the tutor, and on the same advice matriculated from Christ Church, Oxford, on 10 March 1728–9, with a view to studying the law and becoming an attorney. He left without taking a degree, and apparently for some years practised as an attorney. On 9 April 1732 he married at Croxall, Derbyshire, Elizabeth, daughter of William Webb of that parish. She was buried at Ashbourne on 13 Jan. 1745–6.

At some date later than 1736 Taylor was ordained in the English church, and in July 1740 he was presented, on the nomination of the family of Dixie, and, as it is believed, by purchase from them, to the valuable rectory of Market Bosworth in Leicestershire. This preferment he retained until death, although he was unpopular with his parishioners. As a whig in politics and the possessor of much political interest in Derbyshire, he was made chaplain to the Duke of Devonshire, lord-lieutenant of Ireland from 1737 to 1745. He returned to Oxford and graduated B.A. and M.A. in 1742. In 1752, as a grand-compounder, he proceeded LL.B. and LL.D.

On 11 July 1746 he obtained, no doubt through the influence of the Duke of Devonshire, a prebendal stall at Westminster, which he retained for life. By the appointment of the chapter he held in succession a series of preferments, all of which were tenable with his stall and with his living of Market Bosworth. These were the post of minister of the chapel in the Broadway, Westminster, 1748; the perpetual curacy of St. Botolph, Aldersgate, 1769; and the place of minister of St. Margaret's, Westminster, which he held from April 1784 to his death. Johnson remarked of this position: ‘It is of no great value, and its income consists much of voluntary contributions’ (Letters, ed. Hill, ii. 397). Although Taylor was possessed of large resources, both official and private—amounting in all, so it was rumoured, to 7,000l. per annum—and never voluntarily paid a debt, he always hankered after better preferments.

Taylor spent much time at his family residence at Ashbourne. He became J.P. for Derbyshire on 6 Oct. 1761, and thenceforth was known as ‘the King of Ashbourne.’ Through life he maintained his friendship with Johnson. Johnson was at Ashbourne in 1737 and 1740, and in the thirteen years from 1767 to 1779 only thrice failed to visit Taylor. He acted in 1749 as mediator in the quarrel of Garrick and Johnson over the play of ‘Irene.’ He read the service at Johnson's funeral.

Johnson loved him, and considered him ‘a very sensible, acute man,’ with a strong mind; but his talk was of bullocks, and his habits were ‘by no means sufficiently clerical.’ Taylor owned the finest breed of milch-cows in Derbyshire, and perhaps in England. His ‘great bull’ is a constant subject of jest in Johnson's letters. Boswell and the doctor came to Ashbourne on 26 March 1776, driving from Lichfield in Taylor's ‘large roomy postchaise, drawn by four stout plump horses, and driven by two steady jolly postilions.’ The house and establishment accorded with this description, and their host's ‘size and figure and countenance and manner were that of a hearty English squire, with the parson superinduced.’

Taylor died at Ashbourne on 29 Feb. 1788, and was buried in Ashbourne church, tradition says in the nave, on 3 March. His second wife was Mary, daughter of Roger Tuckfield of Fulford, Devonshire. They did not live together happily, and in August 1763 she left him.

Taylor, who had no child that lived, disappointed his nieces by leaving all his property—1,200l. a year besides personalty—to a boy, William Brunt (b. 1772), who had been engaged as a page. It was stipulated that the legatee should take the name of Webster, which had long been connected with this family of Taylor.

Taylor published in 1787 ‘A Letter to Samuel Johnson, LL.D., on the subject of a Future State,’ which was inscribed to the Duke of Devonshire, at whose command it was issued. It is said to have been drawn up at Johnson's request, and with reference to his remark that ‘he would prefer a state of torment to that of annihilation.’ Appended to it were three letters by Dr. Johnson. After Taylor's death there came out—volume i. in 1788, and volume ii. in 1789—‘Sermons on Different Subjects, left for publication by John Taylor, LL.D.,’ which were edited by the Rev. Samuel Hayes. They were often reprinted, and are believed to have been in the main the composition of Johnson, in whose ‘Prayers and Meditations,’ 21 Sept. 1777, is the entry ‘Concio pro Tayloro.’ Boswell wrote down in Taylor's presence, and incorporated in the ‘Life,’ ‘a good deal of what he could tell’ about Johnson. Many letters from Johnson to him were printed in ‘Notes and Queries’ (6th ser. v. 303–482). Three of them were known to Boswell, and about twelve were printed by Sir John Simeon, their owner in 1861, for the Philobiblon Society. These communications, with others, are included in Dr. Hill's edition of Johnson's letters. Further letters are in the same editor's ‘Johnsonian Miscellanies’ (ii. 447, 452).

[Boswell's Johnson, ed. Hill, i. 26, 44, 76, 196, 238–9, ii. 473–5, iii. 135–9, 150–69, 181–208, iv. 353, 378, 420; Johnsonian Misc. ed. Hill, i. 476–7, ii. 136, 151; Johnson's Letters, ed. Hill, i. 12, 164–5, 175, 184, 347, ii. 43, 97, 165, 233–6, 264, 355, 397, 401; Macleane's Pembroke Coll. (Oxford Hist. Soc.), pp. 349–50; Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Le Neve's Fasti, iii. 366, 368; Gent. Mag. 1749 p. 45, 1769 p. 511, 1788 i. 274; information from the Rev. Francis Jourdain, vicar of Ashbourne.]

W. P. C.