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John Taylor (poet)

John Taylor, who dubbed himself "The Water Poet", was born on August 24, 1580. He died in 1654.

He spent much of his life as a Thames waterman[?] -- a member of the guild of boatmen that ferried passengers across the River Thames in London, in the days when the London Bridge was the only passage between the banks. He became a member of the ruling oligarchy of the guild, serving as its clerk; it is mainly through his writings that history is familiar with the watermen's disputes of 1641-42, in which an attempt was made to democratize the leadership of the Company. He details the uprisings in the pamphlets Iohn Taylors Manifestation ... and To the Right Honorable Assembly ... (Commons Petition), and in John Taylors Last Voyage and Adventure of 1641.

Taylor discusses the watermen's disputes with the theatre companies (who moved the theaters from the south bank to the north in 1612, depriving the ferries of traffic) in The True Cause of the Watermen's Suit Concerning Players (written in 1613 or 1614). He also addresses the coachmen, in his tracts An Errant Thief (1622) and The World Runnes on Wheeles (1623).

He was a prolific, if rough-hewn, writer with over one hundred and fifty publications in his lifetime. Many were gathered into the compilation All the Workes of John Taylor the Water Poet (London, 1630; facsimile reprint Scolar Press, Menston, Yorkshire, 1973); and The Spencer Society brought out their Works of John Taylor ... not included in the Folio edition of 1630 (5 volumes, 1870-78). Although his work was not sophisticated, he was a keen observer of people and styles in the seventeenth century, and as such his work is often studied by social historians.

On a note of trivia, Taylor is one of the few early authors of a palindrome that can be credited as such: in 1614, he wrote "Lewd did I live, & evil I did dwel."

Many of Taylor's works were published by subscription[?]; i.e, he would propose a book, ask for contributors, and write it when he had enough subscribers to undertake the printing costs. He had more than sixteen hundred subscribers to The Pennylesse Pilgrimage; or, the Moneylesse Perambulation of John Taylor, alias the Kings Magesties Water-Poet; How He TRAVAILED on Foot from London to Edenborough in Scotland, Not Carrying any Money To or Fro, Neither Begging, Borrowing, or Asking Meate, Drinke, or Lodging., published in 1618. Those who defaulted on the subscription were chided the following year in an scathing brochure entitled A Kicksey Winsey, or, A Lerry Come-Twang, which he issued in the following year.

By wondrous accident perchance one may
Grope out a needle in a load of hay;
And though a white crow be exceedingly rare,
A blind man may, by fortune, catch a hare.
- A Kicksey Winsey (pt. VII)


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