Home  »  Volume XI: English THE PERIOD OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION  »  § 18. Ann and Jane Taylor’s Original Poems

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XI. The Period of the French Revolution.

XVI. Children’s Books

§ 18. Ann and Jane Taylor’s Original Poems

To another branch of nonconformity we owe poems that have become proverbial. It has been alleged that Ann Taylor’s My Mother is the most often parodied poem ever written; but Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star must run it very close; while the splendidly martial beat of

  • The dog will come when it is called,
  • The cat will walk away,
  • not merely stirs recollections of infancy in numerous breasts, but offers some shrewd facts about natural history. It is by Adelaide O’Keeffe (daughter of the minor dramatist of that name), who collaborated with Anne and Jane Taylor in Original Poems (1804–5); her name was dropped in later editions for unknown reasons. She wrote other and inferior volumes independently. The joint collection is the first instance of the moral tale in verse. It is modelled, avowedly, on Isaac Watts, but with the addition of dramatic interest. It contains awful warnings, poems of crime and punishment, in which a fault is proved to be a fault by some terrible lesson: a boy who fishes is caught on a meat-hook, a girl plays with matches and is burnt to death, and so on. The poems, in their day, were a new idea, well carried out and enormously successful. Hymns for Infant Minds (1808) and Rhymes for the Nursery (1806) are less minatory; they have a gentle piety which can never be valueless, especially when conveyed with aptness of language and metrical skill. The Taylors’ poems simply say themselves; the metre is as sure and inevitable as the moral.

    The gifted family of Taylor was, also, responsible for a good many other works. The father—a man of great originality and character—was an engraver and a writer. Mrs. Taylor wrote didactic works; Jefferys wrote; Isaac wrote; Anne and Jane wrote, apart from their poems; their descendants wrote. “It was almost impossible to be a Taylor and not write.”