a letter from Jane Taylor, ‘Colchester, February 21, 1809’

On the 21st February 1809, Jane Taylor wrote a letter to Mr J.C.: the letter is headed ‘Colchester, February 21, 1809’. Jane was an important member of the remarkable Taylor family. The Rev. Isaac Taylor and his wife, Mrs Ann Taylor, lived in Angel Lane in Colchester 1796-1811, with their surviving children Ann, Jane, Isaac, Martin, Jefferys and Jemima. The published authors in the family were the Rev. Isaac Taylor, Mrs Taylor, Ann Taylor, Jane Taylor, Isaac Taylor and Jefferys Taylor. Ann Taylor and Jane Taylor were the most famous Taylors – they wrote best-selling books of poems and rhymes for children. Ann married and gave up writing, but Jane progressed to writing adult literature. Their best-known poem is the world-famous ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star’. The Taylor house in Angel Lane is now 11-12 West Stockwell Street, which carries a plaque inscribed “In these houses lived Jane and Ann Taylor, Authors of original poems for infant minds 1796-1811.”  The Rev. Isaac Taylor was an Independent minister at the meeting-house in St Helen’s Lane and he also ran an engraving workshop at home, where Ann Taylor and Jane Taylor both worked; he also gave public lectures in the parlour.

An extract from the letter reads: ‘… I wish to be thankful that I can find enjoyment in simple pleasures, and such as are, as far as I can discover, purified from the dross of selfishness and vanity. I am pleased to look within, and find that I am really happy when our complete family circle is formed; and useful and interesting conversation rises and circulates. Memory can recall many livelier scenes, and fancy could present others still gayer; but neither memory nor fancy can persuade me to be discontented with the present. The loss of every external source of happiness, by the death of our early friends here, forced us to seek it in its native soil:–I loved home; but I knew not how to value and enjoy it; and to the beauties of nature, though blooming around me, I was blind. I am surprised when looking back only a few years, I remember how totally insensible I was to those very scenes which are now constant sources of delight:–though I should have been not a little startled had my taste and feeling been questioned;–I, who have spent many a summer evening on the old ivy-grown town wall, reading Thomson to the friend of my bosom; and would often strain my eyes till they ached, that I might read by moonlight. But now,  though I confess I prefer the convenience of a commodious apartment, and willingly endure the gross vapors of tallow, and the barbarism of artificial light; yet, I flatter myself, I know better how to enjoy the glowing landscape, as well as to taste the beauties of the poet; and that I can contemplate the fair face of the moon with sensations not only more rational, but more pleasurable, than in those days of idle romance. That I have an eye to see, and a heart to feel the beauties of nature, I acknowledge with gratitude; because they afford me constant and unsatiating pleasure; and form almost my only recreation. And I indulge the hope that having acquired a love for these simple enjoyments, I shall never lose it; but that in seasons of solitude or of sorrow, I shall continue to find a sweet solace in them. When I am low in spirits, weary, or cross; or especially when worried by some of the teasing realities of life, one glance at the landscape from the window of my attic, never fails to produce a salutary effect upon me. And when “’tis night, and the landscape is lovely no more,” if moon, planet, or star, condescends to beam through my casement, I revive under its benign influence. Many might smile at this; especially as I have renounced the title of romantic, and claim that of rational, for my pleasures; but I beg you will not. As a Londoner, I might apologize for dwelling so long upon such a theme; but to a poet, I cannot; and though to a correspondent I ought to apologize for so much egotism, to a friend I need not.

The infant smiles of spring have, perhaps, inspired me with this effusion: its return is always reviving and cheering; and while all around is gay and young, we forget that our winter has approached a step nearer. I am sometimes startled when I recollect that very probably half my allotted days are already spent; and possibly much more. Years that once appeared such long and tedious periods, now seem to fly onward with such rapidity that they are gone ere they can be enjoyed or improved. Yet a few, at most, of these fleeting seasons, and I, and all I love, shall be forgotten upon earth …’

Jane describes in this extract her pleasure in nature, even in a house in the walled town centre of Colchester. She had liked to sit on the Roman town wall on summer evenings, reading poetry to a friend by moonlight, but now she preferred her view of the night sky from her attic window, and her view of the countryside at Mile End.

Read the letter online at http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/taylor/memoirs/memoirs.html

Some Taylor memorabilia is on display in the Hollytrees Museum in Colchester and more in the Taylor room in the National Trust’s Guildhall at Lavenham (the Taylors lived in Lavenham before they moved to Colchester).

The image shows a silhouette portrait of Jane Taylor.