John F. Taylor

Life
?1850-1902 [John Francis Taylor; occas. pseud. “Ridgeway”]; barrister, QC (and KC in the new reign); acted as Dublin correspondent to the Manchester Guardian; delivered inaugural address (“Parliaments of Ireland”) of the Young Ireland Society, 29 Jan. 1886; made the celebrated speech before the TCD Law Students’ Debating Society on 24 Oct. 1901 encouraged the learning of Irish - quoted (or misquoted) in Joyce’s Ulysses [7.793]; wrote a life of Owen Roe O’Neill (New Irish Library 1896); features in Yeats’s Autobiography as an rhetorician and enemy of spiritualism, and an opponent in the matter of the Irish National Theatre, along with Gavan Duffy; d. Dec. 1902. PI

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Criticism
Dominic Daly, The Young Douglas Hyde, 1974, J. F. Taylor, ‘The Parliaments of Ireland’, lecture to Young Ireland society at York St., c.1884. [202]

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Commentary
W. P. Ryan, The Irish Literary Revival (1894), J. F. Taylor, QC, the Dublin correspondent of the Manchester Guardian, has been prominent now and then in councils of the Society, but is regarded as a strong but independent personality, and will deal with the stronger personality of Owen Roe O’Neill for the New Irish Library. [153]

W. B. Yeats: ‘John Taylor while we was speaking seemd more than any man’s equal because he did not seem a man, being pure rage, and rage within our minds was raught [i.e., wrought] to passion equal with his own, not by hatred as with lesser men, but by self-recognition. No maxim, no principle clung to the memory, all was passion and that noble. But he had no personality; speech over one say again ill-fitting clothes, a wrinkled umbrella, a stiff ungainly body, and heard his rancorous voice speaking its scorn of this man or that. No great career was possible forhm; no party would accept him, no government lift him to great position; he was too notorious for a temper that carried him to the edge of insanity.’ (Early draft version of passage in Autobiographies [i.e., from Memoirs?]; quoted in Curtis Bradford, Yeats at Work, S. Illinois UP, 1965, p.358.) Note that Yeats makes numerous references to his exceptional power as an orator, called by Yeats Rí-fhear, ‘a king among kings.’ [86] Yeats wrote the following, deleted from Autobiographies, in a corrected partial typescript of which Curtis Bradford: ‘Rumour made him [J. F. Taylor] out to be the illegitimate son of a great Dublin lawyer.’ (Op. cit., 1965, p.347.) Bradford remarks that ‘study [...] shows that Yeats was still adding to and taking things out of his text in quite his usual way’ (ibid., p.346.)

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W. B. Yeats, “Autobiography”, in Memoir, ed. Denis Donoghue (London: Macmillan 1972): ‘The next in importance [after John O’Leary] was his disciple, the orator J. F. Taylor, a gaunt, ungainly man, whose mind was perpetually occupied with an impassioned argument, to which he brought vast historical erudition, upon the justice of the national cause. He saw the world, as it were, in mathematical forms, and, being incapable of compromise, hated and would always hate the actual leaders of Ireland. [...]. He had a mystical faith, derived from Catholic orthodoxy, in logic to its last extreme. [52] He was enraged, and he seemed at times to live in rage, at my quotation from Blake: “It is ordained that those who cannot defend the truth shall defend an error that enthusiasm and life may not cease.” Error could have no justification. He knew nothing of poetry or of painting, though he seemed to know by heart whole plays of Shakespeare and all the more famous passages in Milton, and was deeply read in eighteenth-century literature. He understood alone eloquence, an impassioned pleading. He sometimes gave me an impression of insanity.’ (pp.52-53.)

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Frank Tuohy, Yeats: An Illustrated Biography (London: Macmillan 1976), ‘Yeats troubled by his contact with J. F. Taylor, the lawyer and ‘obscure, great orator’; ‘I braved Taylor again and again, as one might a savage animal as a test of courage, but always found him worse than my expectation’; ‘coarse red hair, his gaunt ungainly body, his stiff movements as a Dutch doll, his badly rolled shabby umbrella’; counterbalanced by ‘a passion for all moral and physical splendour [and] a heart that every pretty woman set on fire’; showed Yeats how great might be the effect of verse spoken by a man almost rhythm drunk, at some moment of intensity, the apex of long-mounting thought’; ‘his science or his Catholic theology I could never discover which, would become enraged by my supernaturalism’; threw up his head like an angry horse’ at Yeats’s assertions about ghosts. (pp.42-43.) See also ‘the quarrel with Gavan Duffy and J. F. Taylor’ (p.91).

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Richard Ellmann, James Joyce [1959] (OUP 1965 Edn.): ‘Another article [in St. Stephen's], reporting a speech by the patriotic barrister John F. Taylor, said that Taylor's style compared with that “of our own Joyce at his best,” and had a “broadness of sympathy that the latter has yet to acquire.” During Taylor’s address, it went on, “Dreamy Jimmy and J. F. Byrne, standing on a window-sill, looked as if they could say things unutterable.” / This phrase must have pleased Joyce, for Taylor was an orator whom he respected. Among his activities outside the college, he appears to have attended the meeting of the Law Students' Debating Society on [94] October 24, 1901, where Taylor made the superb defence of the study of the Irish language which Joyce improved in Ulysses.’ (p.94.)

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References
Justin McCarthy, ed., Irish Literature (Washington: University of America 1904); gives extract from Life of Owen Roe O’Neill; ‘The Irish School of Oratory’, pp.vii-xxviii; also, an excerpt from his life of Owen Roe O’Neill [New Irish Library series] (1896); called an intense and rhetorical advocacy of the ‘Catholic Celt’; Edmund Spenser and Blennerhasset are written down as ‘two evangelists of robbery and murder’.

Hyland Books (Cat. 224) lists Owen Roe O’Neill (1896).

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Notes
Douglas Hyde notes ‘a lecture, the best I have ever heard’ from J. F. Taylor (20 Nov. 1886); see Dominic Daly, The Young Douglas Hyde: The Dawn of the Irish Revolution and Renaissance, 1874-1893 (Shannon: IUP 1974) [q.p.].

Ridgeway”, Taylor’s his pseudonym, is presumably a reference to the court-clerk who recorded Robert Emmet’s dock-speech.

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Armenian massacres: Patrick Maume writes - "[P]art of the correspondence from JF Taylor the barrister/orator familiar to readers of Ulysses and Yeats' memoirs to Green, has a letter dated  11 June 1895 which  jeers at British condemnation of the massacres as cheap imperial philanthropy over Armenia, predicts the Turks will not be robbed quietly,and declares that while Egypt was a nice stroke of burglary taking Armenia would be a more formidable prospect for Britain. (National Library of Ireland MS 43,312/16 Alice Stopford Green Papers.) Maume is working on an entry on Taylor for the Online "Missing Persons" supplement of the Dictionary of Irish Biography (RIA/Cambridge). [Submitted to Diaspora list (Bradford) at 13.11.2013.]

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