TAYLOR, William Cooke. Edited by. Romantic Biography of The Age of Elizabeth; or, Sketches of Life from the Byways of History. By The Benedictine Brethren of Glendalough.


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Two volumes. London: Richard Bentley, 1842. First edition. Large post octavo. pp. (1) xiv, 420 (2) [iv], 392. An elegant mid Victorian half morocco binding with gilt raised bands, twin labels and dense blind tooling to the panels. Armorial bookplate of Sir Robert Johnson Eden Bart., on front pastedown. Slight foxing confined to the two engraved frontispieces and the two title pages. Some marks to the boards. A near fine set.

This work consists of 17 interesting historical essays not actually composed by the fictitious ‘Benedictine Brethren of Glendalough’ but by a ‘pedestrian party from Trinity College, Dublin bent on exploring the romantic beauties of the County of Wicklow’. Titles include ‘Dr. Dee’; ‘John Darrel, the Exorcist’; ‘Calvin and the Church of Geneva’; ‘Loyola and the Order of the Jesuits’. William Cooke Taylor (1800-1849) was an Irish writer, known as a journalist, historian and Anti-Corn Law propagandist. He was born in Youghal and through his mother he claimed descent from the regicide John Cooke.

He is best known for two works The Natural History of Society (1841) and Factories and the Factory System (1844). In the early 1840s he toured the northern English industrial centres and wrote considerably for the Anti-Corn Law League and his observations of the factories of Manchester and Bolton provide a firsthand account of the depression at that time. In 1843 he became the editor of AntiCorn Law’s The League. He was extremely hostile to Chartism and his defence of child labour in factories (on the grounds that it was preferable to starvation) attracted much hostile criticism. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin and gained a BA in 1825 and an LL.D in 1835. In 1829 he moved to London and began to contribute regularly to journals such as the Athenaeum of which he was deputy editor, Bentley’s Miscellany and The Art Journal. In London he worked as a writer for hire or, as his obituary puts it, “a writer for his daily bread”. He published profusely throughout his career, writing on religion, history and a number of biographies, most notably that of Sir Robert Peel. In Irish politics Taylor was a Whig, fiercely critical of the Penal Laws and supporting Catholic emancipation, but believing that continued union with Britain would bring about rapid political and economic modernisation. He was a strong advocate of the professedly non-denominational National School system, and his economic and religious views were heavily influenced by Richard Whately. Cooke Taylor was on friendly terms with Thomas Davis, whom he respected as a fellow-Trinity graduate, but in 1847-8 he engaged in government-sponsored journalism denouncing the Young Irelanders as communists, and was accused by Charles Gavan Duffy of having been hired to defame his country. This was unjust; while Taylor worked as a hired pen, it was for causes that he believed in. He returned to Ireland for the last two years of his life where he worked as a statistician for the Irish Government before he died of cholera in 1849.

[L3 6A]


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