John Taylor (Pamphleteer) - Encyclopedia

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JOHN TAYLOR (1580-1653), English pamphleteer, commonly called the "Water-Poet," was born at Gloucester on the 24th of August 1580. After fulfilling his apprenticeship to a waterman, he served (1596) in Essex's fleet, and was present at Flores in 1597 and at the siege of Cadiz. On his return to England he became a Thames waterman, and was at one time collector of the perquisites exacted by the lieutenant of the Tower. He was an expert in the art of self-advertisement, and achieved notoriety by a series of eccentric journeys. With a companion as feather-brained as himself he journeyed from London to Queenborough in a paper boat, with two stockfish tied to canes for oars. The Pennyles Pilgrimage, or the Moneylesse Perambulation of John Taylor. .. how he travailed on foot from London to Edenborough in Scotland.. . 1618, contains the account of a journey perhaps suggested by Ben Jonson's celebrated undertaking, though Taylor emphatically denies any intention of burlesque. He went as far as Aberdeen. At Leith he met Jonson, who good-naturedly gave him twentytwo shillings to drink his health in England. Other travels undertaken for a wager were a journey to Prague, where he is said to have been entertained (1620) by the queen of Bohemia, and those described respectively in A very merry, wherry ferry voyage, or Yorke for my money, and A New Discovery by sea with a Wherry from London to Salisbury (1623). At the outbreak of the civil war Taylor began to keep a public-house at Oxford, but when his friends the Royalists were obliged to surrender the city he returned to London, where he set up a similar business at the sign of "The Crown" in Phoenix Alley, Long Acre. At the time of the king's execution he changed his sign to the Mourning Crown, but the authorities objected, and he substituted his own portrait. He was buried in the churchyard of St Martin's-in-the-Fields on the 5th of December 1653.

Taylor gave himself the title of "the king's water-poet and the queen's water-man." He was no poet, though he could. string rhymes together on occasion. His gifts lay in a coarse, rough and ready wit, a talent for narrative, and a considerable command of repartee, which made him a dangerous enemy. Thomas Coryate, the author of the Crudities, was one of his favourite butts, and he roused Taylor's special anger because he persuaded the authorities to have burnt one of Taylor's pamphlets directed against him. This was Laugh and be Fat (1615?), a parody of the Odcombian Banquet. Sixty-three of Taylor's "works" appeared in one volume in 1630. This was reprinted by the Spenser Society in 1868-9, being followed by other tracts not included in the collection (1870-8). Some of his more amusing productions were edited (1872) by Charles Hindley as The Works of John Taylor. They provide some very entertaining reading, but in spite of the legend on one of his title-pages, "Lastly that (which is Rare in a Travailer) all is true," it is permissible to exercise some mental reservations in accepting his statements. Mr Hindley edited other tracts of Taylor's in his Miscellanea Antigua Anglicana (1873).

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