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Taylor, Johnlocked

  • Barry Symonds

Taylor, John (1781–1864), publisher and writer, was born on 31 July 1781 at Market Square, East Retford, Nottinghamshire, the third of the nine children of James Taylor (1752–1823), bookseller and printer, and his wife, Sarah, née Drury (b. 1760). Following his education at Lincoln and Retford grammar schools he assisted in his father's business at East Retford before moving to London in 1803. There, over the next three years, he worked for various publishers and booksellers. In 1806 Taylor, along with his close friend James Augustus Hessey (1785–1870), set up the firm of Taylor and Hessey, publishers and booksellers, at 93 Fleet Street, London, with Taylor assuming responsibility for publishing matters (this side of the business moved to 13 Waterloo Place in 1823).

The partnership, never economically sound, was dissolved in 1825. Until then the staple publishing fare of the house had been 'sermons, domestic homilies, and moral tracts […] books which firmly reflected the interests of the reading public' (Chilcott, 12, 67). Taylor, however, is best-known for publishing and supporting a number of predominantly second-generation Romantic writers, especially the poets Keats and John Clare. Publishing such writers often proved a high-risk, low-profit venture; outstandingly so in the cases of William Hazlitt and Keats, where the ideologically liberal Taylor attracted considerable personal critical hostility from many tory periodicals by his advocacy of supposedly anti-establishment writing. In an age of increasing commercial detachment he none the less developed unusually close personal, artistic, and financial associations with many of his writers—Keats and Clare particularly—even if several later complained of his extensive, usually unauthorized, copy-editing.

From 1821 to 1825 Taylor was joint owner with Hessey of the London Magazine. He always remained the main power behind the venture and, with varying degrees of editorial assistance, acted as managing editor until late 1824. Under Taylor, the magazine cost 2s. 6d. until December 1824, when the price increased to 3s. 6d. During the first two years of his editorship the magazine, with its brilliant and critically perceptive if temperamentally brittle group of contributors, came to exemplify the artistic spirit of its age. The famous monthly London dinners of the early 1820s, hosted by Taylor for his writers, who included Lamb, De Quincey, and Hazlitt, became a paradigm for editor–contributor harmony, short-lived though this was in most cases.

Operating under his own name only, Taylor became publisher and bookseller to the new University of London in 1827. Among the books he published were A System of Popular Algebra (1827), Familiar Astronomy (1830) by George Darley, and Lectures on the Steam Engine (1828) by Dionysius Lardner. In 1836 he formed a new publishing partnership with a Mr Walton. Until 1853, when he retired from business, he published mostly ephemeral works of ‘useful knowledge’.

Erudite, depressive, deeply Christian with a moderate dissenting bent, and possessing a liking for litigation over copyright matters, Taylor was also a prolific writer. He published four of his own works on the identity of Junius in the 1810s and went on to write over forty scholarly, usually well-received, books, pamphlets, tracts, and magazine articles on a disparate range of subjects. Many of these concerned politico-economical matters (most often the vexed question of the relative importance and value of bullion and paper money); others handled religious, scientific, antiquarian, geographical, and philological themes. Additionally he contributed two dozen or so miscellaneous articles and poems to the London as well as compiling many of the editorial ‘Lion's Head’ columns for the magazine.

Having spent the whole of his publishing life in London, Taylor died there, a bachelor, at 7 Leonard Place, Kensington, on 5 July 1864. He was buried in the village churchyard in Gamston, near East Retford.

James Taylor (1788–1863), brother of John Taylor, was born in East Retford on 28 February 1788. In 1802, after receiving a local education, he moved to Bakewell, Derbyshire, home for the rest of his life, to help his sister Ann and her husband in their linen drapery business, later establishing himself as a successful and influential banker there and marrying in 1811. James Taylor was the lifelong intimate of his publisher brother, and kept the latter's business ventures solvent with numerous sizeable loans. A polymath like his brother, he published about a dozen (firmly identifiable) works, mostly on political economy, specifically currency matters, and on theological subjects. He died on 27 August 1863 at Bakewell, where he had been chairman of the local Wesleyan Missionary Society for nearly forty years. He was buried there on 9 September.


  • T. Chilcott, A publisher and his circle: the life and work of John Taylor, Keats's publisher (1972)
  • E. Blunden, Keats's publisher: a memoir of John Taylor (1781–1864) (1936)
  • O. M. Taylor, ‘John Taylor, author and publisher, 1781–1864’, London Mercury, 12 (1925), 158–66, 258–67
  • H. E. Rollins, ed., The Keats circle, 2 vols. (1965)
  • J. Bauer, The London magazine, 1820–29 (1953)
  • T. De Quincey, ‘Sketches of life and manners’, Tait's Edinburgh Magazine, new ser., 7 (1840), 765–71
  • C. A. Prance, Peppercorn papers (1964)
  • F. P. Riga and C. A. Prance, Index to The London Magazine (1975)


  • Derbys. RO, literary corresp. and family papers
  • Hunt. L., letters
  • NYPL, commonplace books and letters
  • priv. coll.
  • BL, Egerton MSS 2245–2249
  • UCL, letters to the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge


  • drawing (probably in his twenties or thirties), priv. coll.; repro. in Blunden, Keats's publisher
  • paste medallion (in later life), NPG; repro. in Blunden, Keats's publisher

Wealth at Death

under £450: administration with will, 7 Jan 1865, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

under £25,000—James Taylor: will, 15 Jan 1864, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

, 63 vols. (1885–1900), suppl., 3 vols. (1901); repr. in 22 vols. (1908–9); 10 further suppls. (1912–96); (1993)