1753 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Taylor the Water Poet

Anonymous, in Cibber-Shiels, Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) 2:9-11.



JOHN TAYLOUR, Water Poet, was born in Gloucestershire, where he went to school with one Green, and having got into his accidence, was bound apprentice to a Waterman in London, which, though a laborious employment, did not so much depress his mind, but that he sometimes indulged himself in poetry. Taylour relates a whimsical story of his schoolmaster Mr. Green, which we shall here insert upon the authority of Winstanley. "Green loved new milk so well, that in order 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 while the maid and her master were arguing the matter, the bull very fairly pissed into the pail;" whereupon his scholar John Taylour wrote these verses,

Our master Green was overseen
In buying of a bull,
For when the maid did mean to milk,
He piss'd the pail half full.

Our Water-poet found leisure to write fourscore books, some of which occasioned diversion enough in their time, and were thought worthy to be collected in a folio volume. Mr. Wood observes, that had he had learning equal to his natural genius, which was excellent, he might have equalled, if not excelled, many who claim a great share in the temple of the muses. Upon breaking out of the rebellion, 1642, he left London, and retired to Oxford, where he was much esteemed for his facetious company; he kept a common victualling house there, and thought he did great service to the Royal cause, by writing Pasquils against the round-heads. After the garrison of Oxford surrendered, he retired to Westminster, kept a public house in Phoenix Alley near Long Acre, and continued constant in his loyalty to the King: after whose death, he set up a sign over his door, of a mourning crown, but that proving offensive, he pulled it down, and hung up his own picture, under which were these words,

There's many a head stands for a sign,
Then gentle reader why not mine?

On the other side,

Tho' I deserve not, I desire
The laurel wreath, the poet's hire.

He died in the year 1654, aged 74, and was buried in the church yard of St. Paul's Covent Garden; his nephew, a Painter at Oxford, who lived in Wood's time, informed him of this circumstance, who gave his picture to the school gallery there, where it now hangs, shewing him to have had a quick and smart countenance. The following epitaph was written upon him,

Here lies the Water-poet, honest John,
Who row'd on the streams of Helicon;
Where having many rocks and dangers past,
He at the haven of Heaven arrived at last.