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William Taylor
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William Taylor

William Taylor (1765-1836) was a scholar, linguist and translator of German romantic literature.

He was born in Norwich and the son of a wealthy Norwich merchant with European trade connections. William Taylor was taught Latin, French and Dutch by John Bruckner, pastor of the French and Dutch protestant Churches in Norwich, in preparation to continue his father's continental trading.

However, Taylor became the leading member of Norwich intelligentsia. A political radical like Wordsworth and Coleridge, he applauded the French Revolution. Taylor never abandoned his left-wing principles. He argued for universal suffrage and the end of all governmental intervention in the affairs of religion. Even after a right-wing back-lash against the excesses of the French Revolution in the late 1790's he maintained his radical views and the 18th century tradition of liberal and latitudinous criticism of Biblical Scripture.

William Taylor was a nonconformist and attended the newly-built Neo-Classical Unitarian Octagon chapel (1756) in Norwich, whose architect was Thomas Ivory. Taylor was nicknamed godless Billy for his radical views, he was also a heavy drinker. His contemporary Harriet Martineau said of him:

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.

In 1799 he embarked upon a tour of Europe, visiting France, Italy and Germany. Between 1793-1799 he wrote over 200 reviews, introducing the concept of 'philosophical criticism'.

William Taylor was England's leading advocate and enthusiast of German Romantic literature until the return of Coleridge from Germany in 1799.

Taylor met Goethe as early as 1782 and again in 1793. He sent his translation of Iphigenie to Goethe, but felt slighted at having received no acknowledgement from the Weimar sage. Although it aroused no interest in England, this translation was nonetheless valued by Goethe as he ordered his publisher Unger to issue a special De luxe edition of it. Both Taylor's Iphigenie and his Survey of German literature are recorded as once in Goethe's private library.

In 1828 the author Thomas Carlyle informed and reminded Goethe that:

A Mr.Taylor of Norwich who is at present publishing 'Specimens of German Poetry', is a man of learning and long ago gave a version of your Iphigenie.

William Taylor is depicted as a mentor in Borrow's semi-auto-biographical novel Lavengro. George Borrow described his philological teacher as:

the Anglo-German... a real character, the founder of the Anglo-German school in England, and the cleverest Englishman who ever talked or wrote encomiastic nonsense about Germany and the Germans. Romany Rye

A confirmed bachelor, 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. In the evening he liked to socialise, drink (heavily) and discuss linguistics, literature and philosophy in society.

Taylor is important for being in the vanguard of literary criticism, encouraging the newly-emerging Romantic literature of Wordsworth and Coleridge, both of whom were indebted for his, if not always accurate, enthusiastic translations of German romantic literature. From his translations of German Romantic literature there emerged Wordsworth's and Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads of 1798.