Monday, October 29, 2012

The Water Poet - John Taylor

John Taylor Portrait from his 1630 Poetry Anthology
John Taylor lived in London in the late 1500's and died in 1653.  He dubbed himself "The Water Poet", but it's maybe not for the reasons you may be thinking - and certainly not for the reasons I read the explanation.

He didn't write incessantly about water and how spiritual it is, or anything like that.  No, that would have been a gold mine of information for this kind of blog.  The truth is he was a Thames waterman - a member of the boatman and ferry guild that transported people and products across the Thames River in a time when only 1 bridge - the London Bridge - spanned the great river. 

It is only through his writings that some of London's history relative to the ferry industry has been captured.  The best examples of this are his works: To the Right Honorable Assembly (Commons Petition); and The True Cause of the Watermen's Suit Concerning Players.  In these two works he describes how the workers try to change the leadership of the watermen's guild to more of a democratic operation, and the watermen disputes of 1641-42 when the theater companies moved all the theaters across the river to eliminate ferry charges - a move that did not sit well with the tightly organized ferrymen.

He was not a particularly refined writer, but he did know human nature and was a good observer of  people and social styles of the period, so was reasonably popular.

He did many works by subscription - suggesting a book, asking for subscriptions, and writing the book only after receiving enough support to cover the costs.  The Pennylesse Pilgrimage (The Moneylesse Perambulation of John Taylor, alias the Kings Magesties Water-Poet); and 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 are two such examplesAnyone who defaulted on their promised subscription would be roasted the following year, though, and remember, he was NOT a refined writer so the followups tended to be embarrassing.  

His only other "water" work was "The Praise of Hemp-Seed" - a tale of his journey traveling from London to Queenborough in a paper boat with two fish tied to canes for oars.  Incidentally, this work was one of the first to mention the passing of William Shakespeare (died in 1616).  It was written in 1620.

Two final tidbits just for added interest.  First, John Taylor is credited with the early palindrome "Lewd did I live & evil I did dwel.".  Being a ferryman I can actually believe this one.  Secondly, he also authored a new language called Barmoodan.  You have to wonder about someone who invents a new language when he is the only one in the world who can use it.  I can't find any examples of this language, but I'd like to believe John was influenced by the Eskimo and created 22 words for "water".  That would be fitting. 

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