1687 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Taylor the Water Poet

William Winstanley, Lives of the Most Famous English Poets (1687) 167-69.



Some perhaps may think this Person unworthy to be ranked amongst those Sons of Apollo whom we mentioned before; but to them we shall answer, That had he had Learning according to his natural Parts, he might have equal'd, if not exceeded, many who claim a great share in the Temple of the Muses. Indeed, for ought I can understand, as we may learn from his own Words in one of his Books.

I must confess I do want Eloquence,
And never Scarce did learn my Accidence;
For having got from Possum to Posset,
I there was gravel'd, and could no further get.

He was born in Glocestershire, where he went to School with one Green; who, as John Taylor saith, loved new Milk so well, that to be sure to have it new, he went to the Market to buy a Cow; but his Eyes being Dim, he cheapened a Bull, and asking the price of the Beast, the Owner and he agreed; and driving it home, would have his Maid to Milk it, which she attempting to do, could find no Teats: and whilst the Maid and her Master were arguing the matter, the Bull very fairly pist into the Pail; whereupon his Scholar John Taylor wrote these Verses.

Our Master Green was over-seen
In buying of a Bull,
For when the Maid did mean to milk,
He pist the Pail half full.

He was afterwards bound Apprentice to a Waterman of London, a Laborious Trade: and yet though it be said, that Ease is the Nurse of Poetry, yet did he not only follow his Calling, but also plyed his Writings, which in time produced above fourscore Books, which I have seen; besides several others unknown to me; some of which were dedicated to King James, and King Charles the First, and by them well accepted, considering the meanness of his Education to produce works of ingenuity. He afterwards kept a Publick House in Phoenix Alley by Long-Acre, continuing very constant in his Loyalty to the King, upon whose doleful Murther he set up the Sign of the Mourning Crown; but that being counted Malignant in those times of Rebellion, he pulled down that, and hung up his own Picture, under which were writ these two lines.

There's many a King's Head hang'd up for a Sign,

And many a Saint's Head too, then why not Mine?

He dyed about the Year 1654. upon whom one bestowed this Epitaph.

Here lies the Water-Poet, honest John,
Who rowed on the Streams of Helicon;
Were having many Rocks and dangers past,
He at the Haven arriv'd at last.