William Taylor (man of letters) bigraphy, stories - British linguist

William Taylor (man of letters) : biography

1765 - 1836

William Taylor (1765–1836), often called William Taylor of Norwich, was a British essayist, scholar and polyglot. He is most notable as a supporter and translator of German romantic literature.

Intellectual interests

William Taylor was a nonconformist who attended the Unitarian Octagon Chapel, Norwich. He became the leading member of Norwich intelligentsia, and a political radical who applauded the French Revolution. He argued for universal suffrage and the end of all governmental intervention in the affairs of religion. He maintained radical views and the 18th century tradition of liberal and latitudinarian criticism of Biblical Scripture. In the period 1793 to 1799 he wrote over 200 reviews in periodicals, following his concept of 'philosophical criticism'.

He was nicknamed godless Billy for his radical views. He was a heavy drinker, of whom his contemporary Harriet Martineau said:

his habits of intemperance kept him out of the sight of ladies, and he got round him a set of ignorant and conceited young men, who thought they could set the whole world right by their destructive propensities.http://www.fullbooks.com/The-Life-of-George-Borrow1.html



Three early poetic translations from German brought him to notice. Georg Herzfeld wrongly assigned to him the political song, ‘The Trumpet of Liberty,’ first published in the Norfolk Chronicle on 16 July 1791, having been sung on 14 July at a dinner commemorating the fall of the Bastille; Edward Taylor claimed it for his father, John Taylor, of the unrelated Norwich family. William Taylor's name was made by his translation of Gottfried August Bürger's Lenore into English ballad metre. This was written in 1790, and bore the title Lenora; sent it to his friend Benzler from Detmold (then in Wernigerode); a previous version had been made in 1782 by Henry James Pye, but was not published till 1795, and was unknown to Taylor. The translation, circulated in manuscript, was made the foundation of a ballad (1791) by John Aikin, and was read by Anna Barbauld in 1794 at a literary gathering in the house of Dugald Stewart in Edinburgh. Stewart's brother-in-law, George Cranstoun (Lord Corehouse) gave his recollection of it to Walter Scott, who produced his own version (1796) of the poem, entitled William and Helen. The announcement of the almost simultaneous publication of Scott's version and three others had led Taylor to publish his in the Monthly Magazine in March 1796; he then published it separately as Ellenore, revised with some input from the version by William Robert Spencer.

To 1790 belong also his translations of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's Nathan the Wise and Goethe's Iphigenia in Tauris. The former was first published in 1805. The Iphigenia was submitted to Benzler before September 1790, but was not printed till 1793 (for private distribution); and published 1794. In 1795 Taylor sent a copy to Goethe, through Benzler. A volume of Christoph Martin Wieland's ‘Dialogues of the Gods,’ 1795, contained four dialogues; five more dialogues were included in his ‘Historic Survey’ (1828–30).

Taylor's career as a prolific literary critic began in April 1793 with an article in the Monthly Review on his friend Frank Sayers's Disquisitions. To this review (with a break, 1800–1809) he contributed till 1824; to the Monthly Magazine from its start till 1824; to the Annual Review from 1802 to 1807; to the Critical Review, 1803–4 and 1809; to the Athenæum, 1807–8, making a total of 1754 articles. He wrote also for the Cambridge Intelligencer, conducted by Benjamin Flower, from 20 July 1793 to 18 June 1803, and was concerned in two short-lived Norwich magazines, the Cabinet (October 1794–5), issued in conjunction with Sayers, and the Iris (5 February 1803–29 January 1804), to which Robert Southey was a contributor. To the Foreign Quarterly (1827) he contributed one article. His friends teased him on the peculiarities of his diction, which James Mackintosh styled the Taylorian language: he coined words such as ‘transversion,’ ‘body-spirit,’ and ‘Sternholdianism. Some of his terms, ruled out by the editor of the Monthly Review as ‘not English,’ have since become accepted—for instance, ‘rehabilitated.’ He forecast steam navigation (1804); advised the formation of colonies in Africa (1805); and projected the Panama Canal (1824).

Living octopus

Living octopus

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