1902 Encyclopedia > Jeremy Taylor

Jeremy Taylor
Church of England clergyman
(1613-67)




JEREMY TAYLOR (1613-1667), was a native of Cambridge, and was baptized on the 15th August 1613. His father, Nathaniel, though a barber, was a man of some education, respected by his townsmen, and lineally descended from Dr Rowland Taylor, Cranmer's chaplain, who suffered martyrdom under Mary. Jeremy, after passing through the grammar school, was entered at Caius College as a sizar in 1626, eighteen months after Milton had entered Christ's, and while George Herbert was public orator and Edmund Waller and Thomas Fuller were undergraduates of the university. He was elected a fellow of his college in 1633, but the best evidence of his diligence as a student is the enormous learning of which he showed so easy a command in after years. Accepting the invitation of Risden, a fellow-student, to supply his place for a short time as lecturer in St Paul's, he at once attracted attention by his remarkable eloquence as well as by his handsome face and youthful appearance. Arch-bishop Laud, ever on the outlook for men of capacity, sent for Taylor to preach before him at Lambeth, and, discern-ing that his genius was worth fostering, dismissed him from the overpressure of the metropolis to the quiet of a fellowship in All Souls, Oxford, and at the same time, by making him one of his own chaplains, showed his desire to keep him in permanent connexion with himself. At Oxford Chillingworth was then busy with his great work, the Religion of Protestants, and it is possible that by intercourse with him Taylor's mind may have been turned towards the liberal movement of his age. After two years in Oxford, in March 1638 he was presented by Juxon, bishop of London, to the rectory of Uppingham, in Rut-landshire. In the autumn of the same year he was appointed to preach in St Mary's on the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, and apparently used the occasion to clear himself of a suspicion, which, however, haunted him through life, of a secret leaning to the Romish com-munion. This suspicion seems to have arisen chiefly from his intimacy with Christopher Davenport, better known as Francis a Sancta Clara, a learned Franciscan friar who became chaplain to Queen Henrietta; but it may have been strengthened by his known connexion with Laud, as well as by his ascetic habits and ritualistic propensities. More serious consequences followed his attachment to the Royalist cause, when in 1642 the livings of the loyal clergy were sequestered by decree of parliament. The author of Episcopacy Asserted against the Aerians and Acephali New and Old, ineffective as that work seems in the light of modern research, could scarcely hope to retain his parish. Along with Fuller, Chillingworth, and others, he found temporary refuge with the king at Oxford. His two little boys must have been cared for by friends, for his wife, Phoebe Langsdale, whom he had married the year after his settlement at Uppingham, had died with her third child in that disastrous year 1642.
During the next fifteen years Taylor's movements are not easily traced. Sometimes he appears with the king, from whom at his last interview he received, in token of his regard, his watch and some jewels which had orna-mented the ebony case in which he kept his Bible. He is supposed to be the Dr Taylor who was taken prisoner with other Royalists while besieging Cardigan castle. In 1646 he is found in partnership with two other deprived clergymen, keeping a school at Newton Hall, in the parish of Llanvihangel. It was while resident here that he attracted the friendship of one of his kindest patrons, Richard Vaughan, earl of Carbery, whose hospitable mansion, Golden Grove, is immortalized in the title of Taylor's still popular manual of devotion, and whose countess had the greater distinction of being the original of the " Lady" in Milton's Comus. It was also while resident in Wales that Taylor married his second wife, Joanna Bridges, who was generally understood to be a natural daughter of Charles I., and who owned a good estate, though probably impoverished by Parliamentarian exactions, at Mandinam, in Carmarthenshire. From time to time he appears in London in the company of his friend Evelyn, at whose table he met such men as Boyle, Berkeley, and Wilkins. Thrice he was imprisoned : in 1653-4 for a well-intended but injudicious preface to his Golden Grove; again in Chepstow castle, from May to October 1655, on what charge does not appear; and a third time in the Tower in 1657-8, on account of the indiscretion of his publisher, Boyston, who had adorned his " Collection of Offices" with a print representing Christ in the attitude of prayer. This unsettled life, with its interruptions, harassments, and privations, would seem rather to have stimulated than to have stinted the pro-ductiveness of his genius. In 1647 appeared his most important work, The Liberty of Prophesying, and in the following year the complete edition of his Apology for Authorized and Set Forms of Liturgy against the Pretence of the Spirit, as well as his Life of Christ, or the Great Exemplar, a book which at once won a popularity it still in large measure retains. Then followed in rapid succes-sion the Twenty-seven Sermons, "for the summer half-year," and the Twenty-five " for the winter half-year," Holy Living, Holy Dying, a controversial treatise on the Real Presence, the Golden Grove, and the Unum Necessarium, which by its Pelagianism gave great offence. During these years he was also busy with his Ductor Dubitantium (published in 1660), which he intended to be the standard manual of casuistry and ethics for the Christian people.
In 1658 settlement was at length reached through the kind offices of the earl of Carbery, who obtained for Taylor a lectureship in Lisburn. At first he declined a post in which the duty was to be shared with a Presby-terian, or, as he expressed it, " where a Presbyterian and myself shall be like Castor and Pollux, the one up and the other down," and to which also a very meagre salary was attached. He was, however, induced to take it, and found, near his patron's mansion on Lough Neagh, so congenial a retirement that even after he was raised to a bishopric he continued to make it his home. At the Restoration, instead of being recalled to England, as he probably expected and certainly desired, he was appointed to the see of Down and Connor, to which was shortly added the small and adjacent diocese of Dromore. He was also made a member of the Irish privy council and vice-chancellor of the university of Dublin. None of these honours were sinecures. Of the university he writes, " I found all things in a perfect disorder .... a heap of men and boys, but no body of a college, no one member, either fellow or scholar, having any legal title to his place, but thrust in by tyranny or chance." Accordingly he set himself vigorously to the task of framing and enforcing regulations for the admission and conduct of members of the university, and also of establishing lectureships. His episcopal labours were still more arduous. There were, at the date of the Restoration, about seventy Presbyterian ministers in the north of Ireland, and most of these were from the west of Scotland, and were imbued with the dis-like of Episcopacy which distinguished the Covenanting party. No wonder that Taylor, writing to the duke of Ormonde shortly after his consecration, should have said, '"I perceive myself thrown into a place of torment." His letters perhaps somewhat exaggerate the danger in which he lived, but there is no doubt that his authority was resisted and his overtures rejected. His writings also were ransacked for matter of accusation against him, " a committee of Scotch spiders being appointed to see if they can gather or make poison out of them." Here, then, was Taylor's opportunity for exemplifying the wise toleration he had in other days inculcated. These Presbyterians had, like himself, suffered under Cromwell for their loyalty, and might have been expected to evoke his sympathy; but the new bishop had nothing to offer them but the bare alternative—submission to episcopal ordination and juris-diction or deprivation. Consequently, in his first visita-tion, he declared thirty-six churches vacant; and of these forcible possession was taken by his orders. At the same time many of the gentry were won by his undoubted sincerity and devotedness as well as by his eloquence. With the Romanist element of the population he was less successful. Ignorant of the English language, and firmly attached to their ancestral forms of worship, they were yet compelled to attend a service they considered profane, conducted in a language they could not understand. As Heber says, " No part of the administration of Ireland by the English crown has been more extraordinary and more unfortunate than the system pursued for the introduction of the Reformed religion." At the instance of the Irish bishops Taylor undertook his last great work, the Dis-suasive from Popery (in two parts, 1664 and 1667), but, as he himself seemed partly conscious, he might have more effectually gained his end by adopting the methods of Ussher and Bedell, and inducing his clergy to acquire the Irish tongue.
Nor were domestic sorrows awanting in these later years.


In 1661 he buried, at Lisburn, Edward, the only surviv-ing son of his second marriage. His oldest son, an officer in the army, was killed in a duel; and his second son, Charles, intended for the church, left Trinity College and became companion and secretary to the duke of Bucking-ham, at whose house he died. The day after his son's funeral Taylor sickened, and, after a ten days' illness, he died at Lisburn on the 13th August 1667, in the fifty-fifth year of his life and the seventh of his episcopate.
Taylor's fame has been maintained by the popularity of his sermons and devotional writings rather than by his influence as a theologian or his importance as an ecclesiastic. His mind was neither scientific nor speculative, and he was attracted rather to questions of casuistry than to the deeper problems of pure theology. His wide reading and capacious memory enabled him to carry in his mind the materials of a sound historical theology, but these materials were unsifted by criticism. His immense learning served him rather as a storehouse of illustrations- or as an armoury out of which he could choose the fittest weapon for discomfiting an opponent, than as a quarry furnishing him with material for build-ing up a completely designed and enduring edifice of systematized truth. Indeed, he had very limited faith in the human mind as an instrument of truth. "Theology," he says, "is rather a divine life than a divine knowledge." His great plea for toleration is based on the impossibility of erecting theology into a demonstrable science. " It is impossible all should be of one mind. And what is impossible to be done is not necessary it should be done." Differences of opinion there must be; but heresy is not an error of the understanding but an error of the will." His aim in life was practical; his interests were in men rather than in ideas, and his sympathies were evoked rather by the experiences of individuals than by great movements. Of a decidedly poetic temperament, fervid and mobile in feeling, and of a prolific fancy, he had also the sense and wit that come of varied contact with men. All his gifts were made available for influencing other men by his easy command of a style rarely matched in dignity and colour. With all the majesty and stately elaboration and musical rhythm of Milton's finest prose, Taylor's style is relieved and brightened by an astonishing variety of felicitous illustrations, ranging from the most homely and terse to the most dignified and elaborate. His sermons especially abound in quotations and allusions, which have the air of spontaneously suggesting themselves, but which must sometimes have baffled his hearers. This seeming pedantry is, however, atoned for by the clear practical aim of his sermons, the noble ideal he keeps before his hearers, and the skill with which he handles spiritual experience and urges incentives to virtue. But, through all his gorgeous eloquence and genial interest in human nature, there breaks from time to time some dead and laboured irrelevancy, the growth of his training in scholastic dialectics; for "like some other writers of the 17th century he seems almost to have two minds,—one tender, sweet, luxuriant to excess, the other hard, subtle, formal, prone to definition and logomachy."
The first collected edition of his works was published by Bishop
Heber (with a life) in 1822, reissued after careful revision by
Charles Page Eden, 1852-61. (M. D.)








Search the Encyclopedia:



About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Sitemaps
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us



© 2005-17 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries