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ART. IX.—The Family Pen. Edited by the Rev. ISAAC TAYLOR
Jackson, Walford and Hodder. 1867. In our leading literary journal we find the following notice (Saturday Review, November, 1867). of “ Original Poems,
, Illustrated."! What is meant by “ original,”' says the reviewer,
" "we are not aware. The
first verses in the collection“ Little Ann and her mother were walking one day—" are a good fifty years old, and we certainly "spotted,” as school'boys say, some other “poems” of the same venerable antiquity. However, whether new or old, or modern antiques, is of no 'great consequence. Here are verses for children, all good, and all inculcating the best and most proper moralities of kindness and sympathy with nature, flowers, trees, and “ dumb animals,” ' and poor folks, as well as proper lessons on the sins of gluttony ' and idleness.' Widely informed as we must suppose every one of this Paper's contributors to be upon English literature, past and present, it is clear this writer never heard of Jane Taylor of Ongar, or her sister Ann, as the authors of the main part of these Original Poems,' some sixty years ago, and who through them became two of the most popular writers in our language, if we are to take a vast and wide circulation wherever English is spoken—a circulation which still continues—as a proof of popularity. That the popularity is deserved, even the reviewer's testimony shows. That the reputation of the writers has faded away he is a competent witness, since he clearly knew the poems but not their authors. The verses, familiar to his childhood, evidently touched a chord of memory as only things that have fulfilled their purpose can do ; he judges with the tenderness of an old and pleasant association. We take this ignorance of the old popularity of these once famous ' Poems' in such a quarter
an illustration of the view put forth with characteristic formality and pretension by Jane Taylor's biographer, but in a sense true, and indeed indisputable, inasmuch as a vast number of the most successful books in a language cannot be classed among its literature. Our readers are all more or less acquainted with the style of Isaac Taylor, the author of 'Saturday Evening,' the · Natural History of Enthusiasm,' and many kindred works, a style of which it has been said that it gained by the omission of every other sentence, but which yet indicates a thoughtful habit of mind. In this closing work of his life, . The Family Pen,' he has claimed for the Taylor family, as a body, the distinction of being writers, and successful writers too, but stand
ing apart from the brotherhood of literature proper; being guided by higher motives and wielding the pen under altogether another inspiration from those which have prompted what is commonly understood by the literature of a language. After drawing the character, describing the pursuits, and dwelling on the lifelong work of his uncle, Charles Taylor, as editor of Calmet,' the importance of which loses nothing under his handling, Mr. Isaac Taylor, the elder, shows the link which connects the herculean task of the uncle with the higher labours in the cause of infancy of the nieces, his sisters :
'An instance very dissimilar in its circumstances and in its visible
proportions, but yet in barmony with it as to principle, was at hand, within the same family-or, I should say, in the family of Charles Taylor's brother and Isaac. But now may I presume that many of my readers, who perhaps have known nothing of the five quartos of the Bible Dictionary, may care to hear something of the young persons who, sixty years ago, put forth Original Poems, Hymns for Infant Minds, and some similar books ; not indeed in folio or in quarto, or even in octavo ? I have ventured to say that a principle connects the above-named five quartos, edited by the uncle, with the now mentioned twenty-four-mo's put forth by his two nieces. I think I shall make this relationship intelligible. The great pyramid of all that is printed might be sifted into several smaller pyramids on several grounds of distinction; but there is one that has a real difference as its reason-there is a literature which is literary properly; it possesses no very serious intention; it courts, it wins favour in various degrees, according or not according to its intrinsic merits; it reaps its reward—or perhaps no reward—in a commercial sense. A small portion of this printed mass survives its hour, and takes a place among the classics of the language ; it reprints through several decades of time. Thus far all is clear. But there is a literature which has bad its origin in motives that are wholly of another order. By a solecism, or an allowable ambiguity, it receives its designation as literature, yet it is unliterary literature. It did not spring either from literary ambition, or from calculations of gain. The producers of books of this class books wbether they be great or small—had been incited by no eagerness to be known as authors; perhaps they shrunk from notoriety, and would most gladly have remained under the screen of anonymous authorship to the end of their
If the due recompense of their labours did reach them at last, this material remuneration never took the foremost place in their regards. They wrote what they wrote with an intention and for a purpose, that was ever prominent in the estimate they formed of their own successes or failures. Fame or no fame-income or no income, these writers asked themselves, or others about them, if they had written to good purpose. If an affirmative answer to this question could be given in at the bar of conscience, substantial comfort would be thence derived-spite of discomfort smany.'
How many of our country's chiefest writers and most really influential for good, would be excluded by this test of a deliberate didactic purpose from the class which includes the Taylor family, it is not the place here to inquire. The terms, in fact, exclude the idea of inspiration-of being impelled to an utterance by mere fulness of matter. The
passage is quoted to illustrate the tone towards literature of the religious school to which Isaac Taylor belonged, and to which, it must be granted, he gave
distinction. This school thought all literature not marked by a purpose intelligible to the uncultivated, wrong. Works of imagination, and many, also, of science, were purposeless at best, and often mischievous as such. Following this lead, Mr. Taylor seems to treat the whole region of literature proper as something with which religious people have nothing to do ; and will scarcely allow a poet whose muse does not exercise herself on strictly didactic or doctrinal subjects, to have any worthy motive for expressing his fancies, any actuating influence but ambition, or the love of gain. In commending his sister's story of Display,' he takes care to specify that it was admired
for excellence of a more substantial kind than such as attach merely to an entertaining or pathetic fiction,' as though the qualities that belong to good fiction-observation, wit, sympathy, knowledge of the human heart—were trivial accomplishments: not that he could really think so; indeed, he claims credit to the full for these gifts of nature and experience; but that the habit of a party, and of his own mind, which here fell in with it, prompted such solemn platitudes as a matter of necessity. This, however, is a point on which all grave, unimaginative persons of any school-persons more occupied with their
own part in life than with life and nature as they see it—are apt to be unfair, and to treat as triflers, or influenced by low motives, all who are less habitually penetrated than they are with the importance of their own work in the world.
But these weighty people are essential to the human economy. The emphasis they lay on everything personal may be a narrowness, but is not necessarily a fault, and they furnish many a lesson of application, and of careful use of the talents committed to them, though these talents may sometimes be but five or two, when they think them ten. These remarks are suggested by the tone of the biographer towards the main subject of these volumes, a tone which has had the practical inconvenience of obscuring one-half of the character he wished to portray.
So afraid has Mr. Taylor been of seeming trivial, so bent on showing the solidity and purpose of his sister throughout her whole career, that all the lightness, brightness, and gaiety which we cannot but think may have been there, is put out of sight. There are allusions, for example, in Jane Taylor's own letters, to a tendency to trifling: In her letters we are given to understand that her character inclined too much to romance; but most of the letters afforded to the reader are simply sermonettes, reflections on the rapid flight of time, the shortness of life, the progress of the religious life, the only concern that ought to occupy an immortal soul, and regrets, often of a morbid kind, at inevitable change; or
if facts are given, they are recorded journal-wise, and sometimes the same details told, without anything in the style to recommend them, to several correspondents in succession. There is always something to be learnt from the history of a person independent mind and more than average powers; but we ought to have the whole mind put before us. The reader ought to be trusted, not all the frivolities and lighter touches kept out of sight as unedifying. The truth is, men of the habit of mind of the late Isaac Taylor, are unfitted for the task of biography. He clearly did not possess his sister's insight into character; the subject did not interest him. He is described by his son as leading a life of abstracted thought on his own subjects; as clinging to retirement-avoiding all general society. Such people work out valuable trains of thought, but they know least of what goes on in the head and brain of their fellow-creatures, though in this case there was the enlightenment of a strong attachment; for the brother and sister were bound together by a very touching affection.
The Taylor family were Nonconformists, in the middle class of life: the fact of this dissent, and its consequences on social position, somewhat rankle in the mind of the biographer, and, no doubt, greatly influenced the family line towards the outer world. This may, too, have stimulated that extraordinary industry and perpetual occupation which would have been incompatible with much intercourse with society :-a continuous labour which, however estimable under the circumstances of the family, oppresses the reader in description. Isaac Taylor, father of the better known Isaac, and of Ann and Jane Taylor, and brother of Charles, editor of Calmet,' set the measure and pace of this industry in his own person. An engraver by trade, a Nonconformist minister by profession, and active in both callings, he threw himself into the work of education as if it was his one pursuit. His son writes :
*The home in which Ann and Jane Taylor received their education, and underwent their preparation of training, was indeed fairly entitled to commendation on account of the occupation of all hours of the day, from early to late, by everybody therein resident. Yet this system of unremitting employment was carried through without any rigorous exactions, without any inflictions, without any consciousness of constraint. Assiduity was the tone and style of the house. Nor were frequent recreations forgotten. Set days and times were duly observed, and were almost superstitiously honoured. I have not seen in later years anything comparable to my father's industry. No man of whose habits I have known anything, has seemed to achieve a daily task of the same amount, and of the same variety. What he did in giving effect to the operose system which he had devised for the education of his children, has been an amazement to me to think of. Some of the still extant monuments of this laborious scheme of instruction might well pass for enough, if brought forward as the sole product of many years of labonr; they were, in fact, the product of
the earliest hour of each day. Much of this sort was done by the candle-light of the writer's morning. The artisan who was on his way to the place of his daily toil would not fail to see the light in my father's study window-he already awake and at work-his devotions first, and then some educational outfit-in science, history, or geography. We all had a perfect coufidence in the reasonableness and utility of these methods of instruction, in carrying out which we were required to perform our parts. The apparatus of teaching was huge; nevertheless the daily portion assigned to each of us came quite within the limits of reasonable industry. We were not injuriously crammed or broken in spirit.'-Ibid. p. 15.
Girls and boys learnt alike under this teaching, and the sisters, as an instance of the encyclopædic variety of studies, were taught the terms and principles of fortification. They had minds strong and vigorous enough, not only to bear but to profit by this teaching; to which their mother added all that concerns household management, in which, we are given to understand, they took more than a superintending part. As they grew up, to all this was added the business of engraving, in which the whole family took part, we must suppose, with very little success, though with praiseworthy submission to authority. Very early the daughters showed a
turn for At the respective ages of nine and seven, they would pace the broad green walk of the garden reciting couplets of their own joint compositions, at which age Jane conceived the idea of writing and printing a book. In this design she seemed to inaugurate the labours of the strictly family pen, for the father plodded at his educational systems and prepared his sermons without, as yet, any thought of print, and both parents had a repugnance towards authorship and every intellectual labour which was not of the most direct and intelligible utility.' In due time this repugnance was overcome by all ; even the mother wrote books which had success, though modern readers would think them dull enough. Perhaps the son conveys this opinion through his testimony to their acceptableness to the readers for whom they were especially designed.
“Those were, indeed, good days, fifty years ago, for writers of the class with which my mother's name would stand connected. There was then a public, especially a female public, that had for a long while been well held in hand by writers, of whom Hannah More was undoubtedly the chief—Hannah More-protégée, call her, of Dr. Johnson; Miss Hamilton, and a half dozen writers, some Christian and some in various degrees Christianised, and therefore antagonistic to Maria Edgworth, and to those who were then tainted with the French Revolution atheism. This indulgent public—under tilth as one might say—had at a later time received a broadcast and vigorous thought from the bands of Robert Hall, John Foster, and Olinthus Gregory. It was not that either my mother or the daughter Jane had made pretensions of this kind. but she entered upon a field in a corner of which there was room for her, and where she came to be cordially welcomed. The books of which I am speaking were published long before the coming on of the modern agonistic paroxysm in literature.'--P. 29.