Posts Tagged ‘Francis Douce’

Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

William Taylor of Norwich
7 November 1765 – 5 March 1836


William Taylor

William Taylor of Norwich was the only child of William Taylor, a wealthy Norwich merchant with European trade connections, by his wife Sarah , second daughter of John Wright of Diss, Norfolk. William Taylor was taught Latin, French and Dutch by John Bruckner, pastor of the French and Dutch Protestant churches in Norwich, in preparation for continuing his father’s continental trading in textiles. In 1774 he was transferred to Palgrave Academy, Suffolk, by Rochemont Barbauld, whose wife Anna Letitia Barbauld Taylor regarded as a strong influence. For three years his school companion was Frank Sayers, who was to be a lifelong friend.

In August 1779 his father took him from school. During the next three years he spent much of his time abroad. Firstly he visited the Netherlands, France, and Italy, learning languages and business methods. In 1781, he left home again, and spent a year in Detmold, staying with an Alsatian Protestant pastor called Roederer, and absorbing German literature under the influence of Lorenz Benzler. Roederer gave him introductions to August Ludwig von Schlözer the historian at Göttingen, and to Goethe at Weimar. After further German travels he returned to Norwich on 17 November 1782.

Taylor was a Unitarian who attended the Octagon Chapel, Norwich. He became the central of Norwich’s literary circles, 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 wrote the 18th century tradition of liberal and latitudinarian criticism of the Bible (which Sayers thought heretical, at least in part). In the period 1793 to 1799 he wrote over 200 reviews in periodicals, following his concept of “philosophical criticism”.

From 1783 Taylor was engaged in his father’s business. In May and June 1784 he was in Scotland with Sayers, who had begun medical studies at Edinburgh; there he met James Mackintosh. A second journey to Edinburgh in 1788 followed a breakdown in Sayers’ health.

In November 1789 Taylor’s father was made secretary of a Revolution Society in Norwich, formed to commemorate the Glorious Revolution of 1688. In May 1790 Taylor made a visit to France, and spent time at the National Assembly. He returned somewhat sceptical whether its members’ rhetoric matched their intentions, but translated a number of its decrees for the Revolution Society. Before the end of 1790 two new clubs were formed in Norwich, of which Taylor became a member, the “Tusculan School” for political discussion, and the Speculative Society, founded by William Enfield for philosophical debate. Taylor became a leader of the Speculative Club. It lasted to 1797, dissolving after Enfield died.

Around this point in time, Taylor persuaded his father to retire on his fortune. The firm was dissolved in 1791; his father employed part of his capital in underwriting, not very successfully. Taylor resisted his father’s wish to put him into a London bank. William Taylor senior gave up his position as secretary to the Revolution Society by early 1792. In May 1794 government repression of radicals meant the Norwich Revolution Society closed down officially; and Taylor added “junior” to its written records, wherever his father’s name appeared.

In late 1794 a Norwich periodical, The Cabinet, was set up, publishing articles taking an anti-government view. It was supposed to be the work of a “Society of Gentlemen”, the group behind it being closely related to the Tusculan School, which dissolved or went underground in mid-1794: it was edited by Charles Marsh, and Taylor contributed, along with other like-minded young radicals, such as Thomas Starling Norgate and Amelia Alderson. They had tacit support from older citizens, including Enfield and Edward Rigby. It appeared for a year from September 1794, proposing in fact a tame and moderate intellectual line.

Taylor 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.

Taylor’s friendship with Robert Southey began early in 1798, when Southey, having placed his brother Henry Herbert Southey with George Burnett at Great Yarmouth, visited Norwich as Taylor’s guest; Southey revisited him at Norwich in February 1802. Much of their correspondence to 1821 is given by John Warden Robberds in his Memoir of Taylor; it is frank on both sides.

In 1802, during the Peace of Amiens, Taylor embarked on another tour of Europe, visiting France, Italy and German, partly on business; Henry Southey joined him at Paris. He stayed with Lafayette at Lagrange, where he met Frances d’Arblay. In Paris he met Thomas Holcroft, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Manning.

From 1811 American and other business losses made money tight. Taylor applied in 1812, at Southey’s suggestion, for the post of keeper of manuscripts in the British Museum, on the resignation of Francis Douce; but the vacancy was already filled.

Unmarried, Taylor lived with his parents. He had a daily routine of studying in the morning, walking in the afternoon followed by bathing in the River Wensum, from a bath house upstream from the city and its pollution. In the evening he liked to socialise, drink (heavily) and discuss linguistics, literature and philosophy in society.

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Francis Douce
1757 – March 30, 1834


Francis Douce

Douce was born in London. His father was a clerk in Chancery. After completing his education he entered his father’s office, but soon quit it to devote himself to the study of antiquities. He became a prominent member of the Society of Antiquaries, and from 1799 to 1811 served as Keeper of Manuscripts in the British Museum, but was compelled to resign owing to a quarrel with one of the trustees.

In 1807 he published his Illustrations of Shakespeare and Ancient Manners (2 vols.), which contained some curious information, along with a great deal of trifling criticism and mistaken interpretation. An unfavourable notice of the work in The Edinburgh Review greatly irritated the author, and made him unwilling to venture any further publications. He contributed, however, a considerable number of papers to the Archaeologia and The Gentleman’s Magazine. In 1833 he published a Dissertation on the various Designs of the Dance of Death, the substance of which had appeared forty years before. He died on the 30th of March 1834.

By his will he left his printed books, illuminated manuscripts, coins &c., to the Bodleian Library; his own manuscript works to the British Museum, with directions that the chest containing them should not be opened until 1 January 1900; and his paintings, carvings and miscellaneous antiquities to Sir Samuel Meyrick, who published an account of them, entitled The Doucean Museum.

He left his books and manuscripts to the Bodleian Library. He left his letters to the British Museum.

In 1811 Douce resigned from the British Museum citing a series of reasons that have become legendary in institutional circles. The letter is preserved in the Bodleian Library.

His list of complaints runs as follows:

  1. The Nature of the constitution of the M[useum] altogether objectionable.
  2. The coldness, even danger, in the frequenting the great house in winter.
  3. The vastness of the business remaining to be done & continually flowing in.
  4. The total impossibility of my individual efforts, limited, restrained & controlled as they are, to do any real, or at least much, good.
  5. An apparent, & I believe real, system of espionage throughout the place & certainly a want of due respect towards and confidence in the officers.
  6. The total absence of all aid in my department […]
  7. The want of society with the members, their habits wholly different & their manners far from fascinating & sometimes repulsive.
  8. The want of power to do any good, & the difficulty to make the motley & often trifling committees sensible that they could do any.
  9. The general pride & affected consequence of these committees.
  10. Their assumption of power, that I think not vested in them.
  11. The fiddle faddle requisition of incessant reports, the greatest part of which can inform them of nothing, or, when they do, of what they are generally incapable of understanding or fairly judging of.

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