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MEMOIR OF THE LATE REV. HENRY TAYLOR, A. M., LECTOR OF CRAWLEY AND VICAR OF PORTSMOUTH, HANTS, BETTER KNOWN AS THE
AUTHOR OF BEN MORDECAI'S LETTERS : WITH A SUMMARY OF HIS WRITINGS.
The subject of this notice was one of those men who, by means of their learning, their ardent love of truth and diligent search for it, have produced important effects on the minds of their contemporaries, yet, owing to peculiar circumstances attendant upon their career and the times in which they lived, have not obtained a distinguished and abiding place in records of the progress of knowledge; although the powers of mind discoverable in his writings, the keenness of his wit, his unwearied spirit of inquiry and powers of argumentation, mark him as a disciple, and not an unworthy one, in the school of Hoadly, Clarke and Jortin. His inquiries had led him to a point in theology considerably in advance of his contemporaries in the Church of England -in advance of Watts and Doddridge among the Dissenters, but still behind Lardner and Benson. He thought he had reached the region of purified Christianity, and there was content to rest, while younger men, who had profited by his labours, were prepared for a further, although not a more intrepid, advance towards the “ truth as it is in Jesus.”
The one doctrine pre-eminently Mr. Taylor's—that Jesus Christ was a celestial being of pre-existent and high dignity, employed by the Almighty, under the title of Jehovah, in the creation of the world, in instructing and guiding the patriarchs, and communicating their messages to the Jewish prophets-has retained but few adherents among theologians. It placed the Messiah in too humble a rank for the orthodox, and too exalted for the latitudinarian, to be reconciled with the dictates of Scripture interpreted by human reason. It soon ceased to be a subject of controversy; the works in which it was advocated passed out of general notice, and so, in a few years perhaps, might even the name of their author have done, but from the circumstance that Dr. Abraham Rees, having some acquaintance with Mr. William Taylor, one of his sons, who had become a Dissenter, from him obtained the few facts from which he prepared the biographical article under his name which is inserted in his celebrated Cyclopædia. But his name ought not to pass away without some further memorial of his worth, his attainments and abilities. The aim of the writer of these pages is to furnish such a memorial.
The subject of our memoir was the son of Mr. William Taylor, of London, a merchant, who had retired to Southweald in Essex, in which county the family had been landholders for several generations. The elder Mr. Taylor was a man of education, a wit and a poet. Several of his jocular effusions are preserved among the epigrams in Dr. Knox’s
Elegant Extracts, of which one is entitled, “ The Brewer and Coachman." At Southweald, his son Henry, of whom a brief notice is here presented, was born in 1711. He was educated in the school of Mr. Newcome, at Hackney, which was considered at that time to be one of the best in the kingdom. There he was associated with John, the son of Dr. Benjamin Hoadly, Bishop of Winchester, the celebrated Whig Bishop, with whom he formed an early and intimate friendship. His education was completed at Queen's College, Cambridge. He took clerical orders, and commenced preaching with singular acceptance. His talents and acquirements, as well as his mode of delivery, which was peculiarly pleasing, recommended him to public notice, and he ranked high in the estimation of all with whom he associated.
His first preferment was the rectory of Whitfield, in Oxfordshire, which he held for a minor. In 1755, he was presented by Bishop Hoadly to the rectory of Crawley, Hants, situate about six miles N. W. of Winchester, which he afterwards held in connection with the vicarage of Portsmouth, of which he accepted the incumbency, in exchange for another living which he held in the same county, and which he exchanged at some loss, under the following circumstances :-Mr. John Carter, an alderman and magistrate at Portsmouth, whose fine portrait adorns the council-chamber of that borough-father of the late venerated Sir John Carter, and grandfather of John Bonham Carter, Esq., who for a series of years represented that borough in Parliament--was considered to be the leading man in the town, which had just lost its parochial vicar, with whom he and other Dissenters had lived on very indifferent terms. Having been a schoolfellow of Bishop Hoadly, and through life kept up a friendly correspondence with him, he addressed him on this occasion, requesting that the vacancy might be filled up by some clergyman of good character and moderate principles. The Bishop immediately recommended the incumbency to Mr. Taylor, and prevailed on the College of Winchester, to whom the patronage belonged, to appoint him. He lived in Portsmouth some years, in great cordiality with the inhabitants, particularly with the family of Mr. Carter; and the friendship thus formed has descended to succeeding generations in both families. Towards the close of his life, however, he principally resided at his other living, at Crawley, where he found himself less interrupted in those extensive biblical researches of which his printed writings furnish such abundant proof.
Early in life he was united in marriage to Miss Christiana Fox, daughter of the Rev. Francis Fox, vicar of St. Mary's, Reading, * who died in 1769. By her he had four sons and two daughters. It is to be regretted that the thought of penning a memorial of this able divine and excellent man has not occurred to any one until all personal recollection of him has nearly become extinct. It is certain that he was of a sprightly, cheerful disposition, and occasionally amused himself in writing verses, some of which, particularly one entitled “ Paradise Regained,” are preserved in Dodsley's Collection. The writer of these pages has met with only two persons old enough to recollect him. A late old inhabitant of Portsmouth bore testimony that he was a very pleasant man and universally respected. His knowledge referred only to
* It is erroneously stated in the Cyclopædia.
the close of the good man's life. His visits to Portsmouth had then become not very frequent; but, desirous of doing in his pastoral office all the good that he could, he was accustomed to occupy his congregation rather longer than was the custom of his curate, so that it was an understood thing with the bakers that when the vicar preached, the joints and puddings of the parishioners should be ready for the table half an hour later than ordinary. Another anecdote, not less characteristic, derived from a person of very advanced age, will be narrated by and by.
As a politician and a divine, he was warmly attached to the sentiments of Bishop Hoadly, with whom he held that the pretensions of the English or any other Church to a divine institution were inconsistent with fact and with reason, inasmuch as such institutions can only be vindicated on the ground of their expediency for the public welfare. He was the devoted friend of civil and religious liberty.
In religious opinion he was an Arian, but considered himself as coinciding more nearly with Apollinaris than with any other of the ancient controversialists. He held the Father alone to be the Author of all things, and the only proper Object of religious worship. The Son he considered to be the first in time and in dignity of all created beings, the instrument of the Father in the creation of the world, and in his direct communications with mankind; that it was he who conversed with Adam, with Abram and the patriarchs, with Moses; whose voice was heard by Samuel and the prophets; and who in fulness of time took our nature upon him and revealed the will of God to mankind. He was in all points an anti-trinitarian.
It will naturally be asked, how could he, with such views of religious doctrine, continue to be a minister of the Church of England ? It may be accounted for, and perhaps excused, on the ground, that when he had subscribed to its Articles and Creeds in early life, he had not entered upon those inquiries which led him to reject some of their principal dogmas; his opinions were not derived from education, but from reading and patient examination. He, probably, like many other disinterested and pure minds, was captivated with the theory of a Church which professes to provide a spiritual guide and comforter for every one of the subjects of the State, even in the remotest situations, and hoped the advantages of such an arrangement might, under the hand of judicious reform, be made to counteract and overcome its apparent evils, which would thus appear to be merely casual, and not inherent in the system. When his mind had made some progress in emancipating itself from the prejudices of education, he found that other persons of learning and character were, like himself, dissatisfied with various doctrines of the prescribed Articles and Creeds, and thought that the cause of truth and piety might be better advanced by enlarging the terms of communion and removing the tests that stood in the way of mental freedom, than by each raising the sectarian standard in connection with his own peculiar opinions. He therefore united himself with them in an Association, suggested by Archdeacon Blackburne, for obtaining, through Parliament, relief in the matter of subscription, and asking that a declaration of assent to the sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures might be substituted in lieu of subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles and the Book of Common Prayer. In this measure he was united with those excellent and talented men, Blackburne, Jebb, Mason, the poet, Lindsey, Disney,