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TAYLOR, HENRY, businessman and author; fl. 1799–1859.

Identification of Henry Taylor is a problem since a number of minor authors bearing this name published in England and the colonies in the mid 19th century. This Henry Taylor may have been born around 1771, and was possibly the son of Dr Henry Taylor and his wife, Anne, of Quebec. He attended schools in England at Hoddesdon and Waltham Abbey. He later claimed to have been a class-mate of Sir Isaac Brock* and of James Hughes, who became a trader in the North West Company and an official in the Indian Department in Montreal, but it seems unlikely in the former’s case. For a time in the 1790s Taylor was a chemist’s apprentice in London and in his writings he professed an early admiration for pneumatic chemistry and the discoveries of Henry Cavendish, Joseph Priestly, and Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier.

Taylor returned to British North America in 1799, establishing himself as an importer and distiller in Halifax. As a member of the Committee of Trade [see William Sabatier*], he presented a petition to the Nova Scotia House of Assembly in 1811 for a reduction of the import duties on rum and molasses from the West Indies. In 1819 he took up residence near Quebec where he wrote several articles, including “A representative union of the British North American provinces and the parent state” for the Montreal Herald in 1822 and others for the Enquirer (Quebec) in the same year on a policy of agricultural improvement; the latter he presented to Governor Sir James Kempt around 1828. It was also in Quebec, some time between 1819 and 1825, that he drafted his first major treatise, “An attempt to form a system of the creation of our globe,” the manuscript of which he presented to Anglican archdeacon George Jehoshaphat Mountain* in 1829. Mountain encouraged him to publish the work in England and in the fall of 1829 Taylor returned to London, where he stayed for five years. He failed to interest publishers in his lengthy manuscript, but he continued to write in support of various Canadian causes, addressing petitions to radical politician Joseph Hume in 1831 on colonial representation in the imperial parliament and to the East India Company on transportation through British North America to the Orient.

On his return from Britain in 1834, Taylor probably settled in or near Toronto, where he appears to have become a land agent. In 1836 at Toronto he published An attempt to form a system of the creation of our globe. The work purported to explain the origins of the solar system by biblical exegesis and the scientific method. Written in the same period as John Jeremiah Bigsby*’s scholarly paper of 1824 which took some account of debates about the geological origins of the earth, it appeared at a time when British scientists and theologians such as William Buckland and Edward Bouverie Pusey were publishing on similar subjects. Taylor’s work was heavily derivative, relying upon extensive citations from William Paley’s Natural theology (London, 1802), and his providential explanations of natural phenomena were simply popularizations of ideas accepted by Anglican divines a generation earlier. A larger edition of the work appeared in 1840 at Quebec, where Taylor, whose only source of livelihood appears to have been pamphleteering, moved to publish and advertise his works. This second edition added further scientific evidence from leading European astronomers and philosophers.

In 1840 Taylor also published a popular account of his journeys through the Eastern Townships of Lower Canada, Journal of a tour from Montreal. Obviously prejudiced against the primitive state of agriculture he saw practised in the seigneuries, Taylor gives many suggestions to improve productivity with the aim of making British North America a major exporter of grain; he displays considerable knowledge of the wheat-fly, then a menace in Lower Canada, and recommends the building of roads and a canal from the townships to the St Lawrence to improve the transportation of staples.

It was at this time that Taylor began to write political tracts on the unsettled state of affairs in the two provinces. Between 1839 and 1841, in two serialized works, Considerations on the past, present & future condition of the Canadas and On the forthcoming union of the two Canadas, he opposed a federal union of the British North American colonies. He preferred representation of the colonies in the British parliament in conjunction with a union of the Canadas in which there would be increased political power for the British parts of the province, and which would thus place the French Canadians in a small minority in the assembly, able only to vote on local improvements, education, and municipal services. Apparently unsuccessful in eliciting much public interest in his publications through advertisements in the Montreal Gazette, he also failed to persuade the city council of Montreal to purchase copies of the second one in 1841.

During the 1840s and 1850s Taylor seems to have followed the government as it moved between Quebec, Montreal, Kingston, and Toronto; he continued to seek official support for his writings. Yet another polemic, On the present condition of United Canada, strongly opposed responsible government as a republican remedy, comparing it by graphic analogy to “the dreadful effects of volcanic action.” Unfavourable comparisons to the French revolution were amplified in a second edition of the work, substantially revised and expanded, which was published in 1849 by the reform newspaper the Canadian Free Press (London) and in 1850 by the Toronto Patriot. Taylor was contemptuous of the radical Parisian republicans of 1848, stressed the benefits of the British constitution, and pandered to fears of “Romanism and Infidelity” emanating from Lower Canada.

In Toronto in 1850 Taylor undertook the reprinting of this latest work at his own expense and two years later secured a small grant of £10 from the legislature to be applied towards its purchase for the parliamentary library. In 1853 he solicited financial aid from the governor, Lord Elgin [Bruce*], for “pursuit of his scientific research” and support of his publications, but was refused. A further request for assistance from the government at Quebec was made in 1854, this time for a ninth edition of his A system of the creation of our globe. Taylor did not obtain the grant because of the work’s “unscientific nature,” and he published this edition himself. Purporting to include new scientific discoveries, the work merely resurrected well-known works on magnetism by Michael Faraday and on astronomy by François Arago. In Toronto in 1856 Taylor unsuccessfully petitioned Governor Edmund Walker Head* for additional public assistance on account of his “various misfortunes” and “much advanced years.” Ever hopeful, he took advantage of the Desjardins Canal disaster on the Great Western Railway in March 1857 [see Samuel Zimmerman] to petition railway and public officials for the joint development of patents to prevent railway accidents. Then, in 1858, “in extreme poverty,” he requested legislative support for a rambling pamphlet on federation and imperial representation for the colonies, then subjects of discussion in the province. With a final refusal in 1859, his prolific but undistinguished career as a publicist came to an end.

Taylor’s conservative political views were natural extensions of his disquisitions on the earth’s providential creation. Numerous theological digressions punctuate his political tracts, and he constantly refers to the divine nature of the social compact and to the similarities between the physical and the moral world, to which politics belonged. His major work, A system of the creation, was clearly a popular exposition of the creationist views widely held before the publication of Charles Darwin’s theories, and seems to have been the work most read in Canada on the subject at that time. In spite of its archaic and “unscientific” contents, it appears to have satisfied popular yearnings for a synthesis of biblical authority and emerging natural science.

Anthony W. Rasporich

Henry Taylor is the author of An attempt to form a system of the creation of our globe, of the planets, and the sun of our system; founded on the first chapter of Genesis, on the geology of the earth, and on the modern discoveries in that science and the known operations of the laws of nature, as evinced by the discoveries of Lavoisier and others in pneumatic chemistry (Toronto, 1836; this work went through several later editions as A system of the creation of our globe . . .); Considerations on the past, present & future condition of the Canadas (Montreal, 1839); Journal of a tour from Montreal, thro’ Berthier and Sorel, to the Eastern Townships of Granby, Stanstead, Compton, Sherbrooke, Melbourne, &c., &c., to Port StFrancis (Quebec, 1840); On the forthcoming union of the two Canadas, addressed to the Canadian public and their representatives, in the honourable legislature of United Canada (Montreal, 1841); On the present condition of United Canada, containing plans for the advancement of its agriculture, commerce and future prosperity, with strictures on the eventful question of responsible government, and the present crisis of the province (Montreal, [1843]; a second edition, substantially revised and enlarged, was published as On the present condition of United Canada, as regards her agriculture, trade, & commerce: with plans for advancing the same, and for promoting the health, wealth, and prosperity of her inhabitants with reflections on the present state of the Protestant religion; with a view to harmonize its various sects and ultimately to bring them into one powerful united body, also a dissertation on the national debt of Great Britain, with a plan for its gradual payment (London, [Ont.], 1849; repr., Toronto, 1850)); and On the intention of the British government to unite the provinces of British North America, and a review of some events which took place during the last session of the provincial parliament (Hamilton, [Ont.], 1857; 2nd ed., Toronto, 1858).

PAC, MG 24, D16, 56; RG 5, C1, 379, file 200; RG 7, G20, 62–67. PANS, RG 5, A, 17, 25 Feb. 1811. Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, Journals, 1852–59; Legislative Council, Journals, 1852–53, 1858. Enquirer (Quebec), 1 Jan., 1 April 1822. Montreal Gazette, 5, 19 Nov., 26 Dec. 1840; 9, 28 Jan. 1841. Nova Scotia Royal Gazette, 1799–1816. Quebec Gazette, 18 Aug. 1766, 8 June 1769, 27 Jan. 1774. Morgan, Bibliotheca Canadensis, 368–69. Lit. hist. of Canada (Klinck et al.; 1965), 448–49.

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Cite This Article

Anthony W. Rasporich, “TAYLOR, HENRY (fl. 1799-1859),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 18, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/taylor_henry_1799_1859_8E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/taylor_henry_1799_1859_8E.html
Author of Article:   Anthony W. Rasporich
Title of Article:   TAYLOR, HENRY (fl. 1799-1859)
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1985
Year of revision:   1985
Access Date:   April 18, 2024