Henry Taylor (dramatist)

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Henry Taylor
Picture of Sir Henry Taylor.jpg
Sir Henry Taylor, by W.J. Hawker.
Born (1800-10-18)18 October 1800
Bishop Middleham
Died 27 March 1886(1886-03-27) (aged 85)
Occupation Dramatist and poet
Language English
Nationality British
Spouse Hon. Theodosia Alice Spring Rice
Children Five, including Ida Alice Ashworth Taylor
Relatives George Taylor (father)
Eleanor Ashworth (mother)

Sir Henry Taylor KCMG (18 October 1800 – 27 March 1886) was an English dramatist and poet, official, and well-connected man of letters.

Early life[edit]

Taylor was born on 18 October 1800 in Bishop Middleham, the third son of George Taylor and Eleanor Ashworth. His mother died when he was an infant.[1] His father married Jane Mills in 1818, and the family then moved to Witton-le-Wear.[2]

George Taylor's friend Charles Arbuthnot found positions in London for Henry Taylor and George, one of his older brothers. They went to London in 1817 with the second brother, William, a medical student, but soon afterwards they all caught typhus fever. William and George died in a fortnight.[1] Henry Taylor then took up post in Barbados.[2]

Taylor's place was abolished in 1820, and he returned to his father's house.

At the Colonial Office[edit]

Taylor had been introduced to Henry Holland, and through him obtained a clerkship in the Colonial Office. There he worked from 1824 until 1872, serving under the permanent secretary Robert William Hay in particular.[1][3] He was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) in the 1869 Birthday Honours.[4]

Hay's successors were James Stephen, Herman Merivale and Frederic Rogers. Hay, Stephen, Taylor and James Spedding, who also worked in the Office, each brought forward reforming proposals.[5] Taylor and Stephen were allies of Viscount Howick in his abolitionist efforts of the early 1830s. Hay was unhelpful, and was eventually ousted in favour of the efficient Stephen.[6]

Taylor died on 27 March 1886.

Literary connections[edit]

Study of King David, by Julia Margaret Cameron. Depicts Sir Henry Taylor, 1866

Taylor wrote Byronic poems and an article on Thomas Moore, which in 1822 was accepted for the Quarterly Review by William Gifford.[7] Returning to London in October 1823, he found that Gifford had printed another article of his, on Lord John Russell.[8] Taylor had also contributed to the London Magazine,[9] and had an offer of the editorship.[1]

His father George was a friend of William Wordsworth. In 1823, on a visit to the Lake District, Henry Taylor made the acquaintance of Robert Southey, and they became friends.[1] Jane Taylor had a first cousin Isabella Fenwick (1783–1856), and Henry Taylor introduced her to the Wordsworth family. She became a close friend of Wordsworth in later life, as she had been of Taylor up to the time of his marriage.[10][11][12]

Henry Taylor, photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron, for whom he was a regular sitter. The beard was grown after illness made him wary of shaving himself. Millais wished (in vain) to have Taylor model for him as Moses.[13]

Taylor's work also brought him literary friends: the circle of Thomas Hyde Villiers, and his colleague James Stephen.[14][15] He also knew John Sterling.[16] Through Villiers he became acquainted with Charles Austin, John Stuart Mill, and some of the Benthamites. He made speeches in opposition to their views, in the debating society documented by Mill. He also invited them to personal meetings with Wordsworth and Southey.[1] Mill introduced Taylor to Thomas Carlyle in November 1831, initiating a long friendship.[17] Carlyle's opinion of the "marked veracity" of Taylor was printed wrongly by the editor James Anthony Froude as "morbid vivacity".[18]

Taylor aspired to become the official biographer of Southey. The family row over Southey's second marriage, to Caroline Anne Bowles, found him with the Wordsworths and others hostile to Bowles.[19] He did become Southey's literary executor.[20]


In Witton, Taylor wrote The Cave of Ceada which was accepted for the Quarterly Review. Taylor wrote a number of plays, including Isaac Comnenus (1827),[21] and Philip van Artevelde (1834).[22] This latter brought him fame and elicited comparisons with Shakespeare. In 1845 there followed a book of lyrical poems. His essay The Statesman (1836) caused some controversy, as a "supposedly" satirical view of how the civil service worked.[23]

Taylor published his Autobiography in 1885, which contains portraits of Wordsworth, Southey, Tennyson and Walter Scott. In it, on his own account, he gave Richard Whately's opinion of him as a "resuscitated Bacon", who had better things to do than write verse (which could be left to women).[24]

His poem Edwin the Fair[25] depicted Charles Elliot as Earl Athulf.[26] Thomas Frederick Elliot, Charles's brother, was a Colonial Office colleague.[1]

Literary reputation[edit]

In his own time, Taylor was highly esteemed as a poet and dramatist.[27] [28] For example, J.G. Lockhart claimed that Philip Van Artevelde secured Taylor "a place among the real artists of his time",[29] and, as late as 1868, J.H. Stirling ranked Philip higher than anything produced by Robert Browning.[30]

Modern literary historians, however, tend to overlook Taylor's accomplishments in verse and drama and emphasize his importance as a literary critic, pointing out that he was a strong advocate for stylistic simplicity, subject matter rooted in common life, and intellectual discipline in poetic composition, placing special importance on clear and reasoned structure.[31] [32]


Taylor married Hon. Theodosia Alice Spring Rice, daughter of Thomas Spring Rice, 1st Baron Monteagle of Brandon, on 17 October 1839. They had five children, including the biographer Ida Alice Ashworth Taylor.[2][12]


Selected bibliography[edit]


  • Taylor, Henry (1827). Isaac Comnenus. London: John Murray. OCLC 707078180. 
  • Taylor, Henry (1850). The virgin widow. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans. OCLC 774388. 
  • Taylor, Henry (1862). St. Clement's eve. London: Chapman and Hall. OCLC 4790189. 
  • Taylor, Henry (1863). Philip van Artevelde. London: Boston, Ticknor and Fields. OCLC 405182. 


  • Taylor, Henry (1842). Edwin the Fair. London: John Murray. OCLC 4790134. 
  • Taylor, Henry (1864). The poetical works of Henry Taylor. London: Chapman and Hall. OCLC 1878181. 
  • Taylor, Henry (1992) [1878]. The works. Cambridge, England: Chadwyck-Healey. OCLC 60518022. 

Chapters in books[edit]

  • Taylor, Henry (1991), "Sir Henry Taylor (1800-86): On secrecy", in Gross, John J., The Oxford book of essays, Oxford England New York: Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780192141859. 
Also available as: Taylor, Henry (1836), "On secrecy", in Taylor, Henry, The statesman, London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, & Longman, pp. 128–131, OCLC 4790233.  Preview.


Originally published as: Taylor, Henry (1836). The statesman. London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, & Longman. OCLC 4790233.  Preview.
Money / Humility & independence / Wisdom / Choice in marriage / Children / The life poetic
  • Mazzeo, Tilar J. (2007), ""The slip-shod muse": Byron, originality, and aesthetic plagiarism", in Mazzeo, Tilar J., Plagiarism and literary property in the Romantic period, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, pp. 94–104, ISBN 9780812202731, ... Byron's most extended engagement with questions of plagiarism occurs in Child Harold's Pilgrimage, canto 3. The third canto of the poem was published in November of 1816, and by 1817 semi-public allegations of plagiarism were being circulated by Wordsworth. These charges were later made publicly in an 1823 essay, written by Wordsworth's friend Henry Taylor for The London Magazine... 
Wordsworth's letter to Henry Taylor regarding the essay: Wordsworth, William (1969) [1907], "CCCLXXXIX William Wordsworth to Henry Taylor: Rydal Mount, December 26th, [1823.]", in Wordsworth, William (author); Wordsworth, Dorothy (author); Knight, William Angus (editor), Letters of the Wordsworth family, from 1787 to 1855 Vol. 3 1833-1855, New York, New York: Haskell House Publishing, pp. 211–213, OCLC 255149323, ...he [Byron] deserves the severe chastisement which you, or some one else, will undoubtedly one day give him, and may have done already, as I see by advertisement the subject has been treated in the London Magazine 
The essay: Taylor, Henry (December 1832). "Recent poetical plagiarisms and imitations". The London Magazine, pp. 569-676. Baldwin, Craddock & Joy. VIII (6): 597–604. Mr. Coleridge has not suffered by this, and the plagiarism has availed nothing to Lord Byron, because it is obvious and unqualified; and therefore, by every reader acquainted with poetry, it is appropriated to its author 


  1. ^ a b c d e f g  "Taylor, Henry (1800-1886)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 
  2. ^ a b c Reger, Mark. "Taylor, Henry". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/27030.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. ^ Blackwell, John D. "Hay, Robert William". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/58175.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. ^ The London Gazette: no. 23512. p. 3750. 1 July 1869.
  5. ^ Gillian Sutherland (1972). Studies Ih the Growth of Nineteenth-century Government. Routledge & Kegan Paul. p. 146. ISBN 978-0-7100-7170-5. Retrieved 16 December 2012. 
  6. ^ Galbrath, John S (1963). Reluctant Empire: British Policy on the South African Frontier, 1834-1854. University of California Press. pp. 12–3. GGKEY:1HK80QN8SKK. Retrieved 16 December 2012. 
  7. ^ Taylor, Henry (October 1822). "654: Article 6. Moore's Irish Melodies". Quarterly Review. John Murray II. 28 (55): 139–144. 
  8. ^ Taylor, Henry; Gifford, William (July 1823). "687: Article 4. Lord John Russell, Don Carlos, or Persecution; a Tragedy, in Five Acts". Quarterly Review. John Murray II. 29 (58): 370–382. 
  9. ^ Taylor, Henry (December 1832). "Recent poetical plagiarisms and imitations". The London Magazine, pp. 569-676. Baldwin, Craddock & Joy. VIII (6): 597–604. 
  10. ^ William Wordsworth; Jared R. Curtis (2008). The Fenwick Notes of William Wordsworth. Humanities-Ebooks. p. 12 note. ISBN 978-1-84760-004-2. Retrieved 16 December 2012. 
  11. ^ Wordsworth and His Circle. Taylor & Francis. p. 311. Retrieved 16 December 2012. 
  12. ^ a b John Wyatt (2 November 1995). Wordsworth and the Geologists. Cambridge University Press. pp. 94–5. ISBN 978-0-521-47259-3. Retrieved 16 December 2012. 
  13. ^ Colin Ford; Julia Margaret Cameron (2003). Julia Margaret Cameron: A Critical Biography. Getty Publications. p. 51. ISBN 978-0-89236-707-8. Retrieved 16 December 2012. 
  14. ^ Mathew, H. C. G. "Villiers, Thomas Hyde". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/28303.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  15. ^ Shaw, A. G. L. "Stephen, James". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/26374.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  16. ^ Nye, Eric W. "Sterling, John". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/26408.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  17. ^ Mark Cumming (2004). The Carlyle Encyclopedia. Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press. p. 461. ISBN 978-0-8386-3792-0. Retrieved 16 December 2012. 
  18. ^ Mr. Froude and Carlyle. Ardent Media. p. 158. GGKEY:8XQN23A2TB5. Retrieved 16 December 2012. 
  19. ^ Lynda Pratt (2006). Robert Southey and the Contexts of English Romanticism. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. pp. 223–4. ISBN 978-0-7546-3046-3. Retrieved 16 December 2012. 
  20. ^ Catherine Seville (20 September 1999). Literary Copyright Reform in Early Victorian England: The Framing of the 1842 Copyright Act. Cambridge University Press. p. 182. ISBN 978-0-521-62175-5. Retrieved 16 December 2012. 
  21. ^ Taylor, Henry (1827). Isaac Comnenus. London: John Murray. OCLC 707078180. 
  22. ^ Taylor, Henry (1863). Philip van Artevelde. London: Boston, Ticknor and Fields. OCLC 405182. 
  23. ^ Taylor, Henry (author); Schaefer, David Lewis (editor); Schaefer, Roberta R. (editor) (1992) [1836]. The statesman. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger. ISBN 9780275944032. 
  24. ^ * Taylor, Henry (1885). Autobiography of Henry Taylor, 1800-1875, Volume 2: 1844-1875. London: Longmans, Green. p. 66. OCLC 277228504.  archive.org.
  25. ^ Taylor, Henry (1842). Edwin the Fair. London: John Murray. OCLC 4790134. 
  26. ^ Lambert, Andrew. "Elliot, Charles". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/8656.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  27. ^ Patmore, Coventry (1858). "The Modern English Drama". North British Review. 29: 134–35. 
  28. ^ De Vere, Aubrey (1865). "Mr. Henry Taylor's Late Plays and Minor Poems". North British Review. 43: 385–424. 
  29. ^ Lockhart, J.G. (1834). "Philip Van Artevelde". Quarterly Review. 51: 391. 
  30. ^ Stirling, J.H. (1868). "The Poetical Works of Robert Browning". North British Review. 49: 387. 
  31. ^ Poston, Lawrence (1978). "Wordsworth among the Victorians: The Case of Sir Henry Taylor". Studies in Romanticism. 17 (3): 293–305. doi:10.2307/25600139. Retrieved 23 October 2016. 
  32. ^ Cox, R.G. (1951). "Victorian Criticism of Poetry: The Minority Tradition". Scrutiny. 18: 16. 

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