Curious anecdotes of his life—His penurious habits—His tempting cookery—His companions—The Earl of Northumberland and the money-lender—His pleasure in hoarding—His first and only act of charity—His death—Curious epitaph.
JEMMY TAYLOR, called by his contemporaries the Southwark miser, was a native of Leicestershire; he was brought up to the trade of a weaver, but he forsook it for the more lucrative one of stockbroker. He was an acute and cunning man, and soon became a successful adept on 'Change. He could fabricate news, spread false reports, excite distrust, or inspire confidence, with an activity and effect which many of his brethren would envy, but few could learn to imitate with similar success. So learned did he become in all the trickery of 'Change, that he grew immensely rich. There is a profound mystery connected with the Stock Exchange; such matters as interest, discount, transfers, debentures, bills, shares, and scrips, are even in the present day plunged in obscurity, to half the people who read for the sake of appearances the city news. This perplexity was considerably greater in the golden days of Jemmy Taylor, and the profits of stockbroking were monopolized by a choice and favoured few. Taylor was one of the most successful, and is said to have amassed a fortune of two hundred thousand pounds, by his money speculations. But this vast sum was accumulated without enjoyment, save the enjoyment derived from the gratification of his acquisitive propensity. He lived in a house which few would condescend to inhabit, and which the most impoverished would look upon with disdain. The wind blew through innumerable crevices in the walls, and whistled through broken panes; the rain spattered down from huge apertures in the roof, and the very stairs creaked with their ancient rottenness. His chamber was in all respects the chamber of a miser; dreary, desolate, and chilly. His bed was a truss of straw, and a few dirty rags served him for sheets; his food was of the most scanty and penurious description, and his clothes would have disgraced the indigent by their ragged filthiness; they were often the means of enabling this thrifty being to add a penny to his store; for the benevolent, thinking him destitute, frequently bestowed upon him some trifle in charity. One day, some ladies near the Bank, supposing him to be in great want, gave him sixpence, which he received with a low bow, and immediately set off to purchase a twopenny steak, which, on returning, he carried in his hand, to show them that he had not misapplied their bounty.
Jemmy Taylor enjoyed the friendship of several who were as avaricious, and as parsimonious, as himself. The famous Daniel Dancer was a great favourite, and was sometimes invited to partake of his hospitality. On one occasion, two bankers' clerks calling upon Taylor, found him busily engaged in boiling one solitary mutton chop in a prodigious quantity of water, to make, what he termed, some comfortable broth for himself and his old friend, Dancer, whom he hourly expected. After some complimentary salutations, the clerks, feeling disposed for fun, induced Jemmy to leave the room, to procure them some refreshment, from a neighbouring tavern; and during his absence they threw into his saucepan three halfpenny -candles, which happened to be lying on the table. This was regarded, by the two old misers, as a grateful and savoury acquisition, for they devoured the broth with a relish, and lavishly praised its surpassing richness and strength. The next day Taylor met the two clerks upon 'Change, and accused them of stealing his candles. They declared their innocence, assuring him that they merely committed them to the pot, at the bottom of which, most probably, he would still find the wicks, if they had not, in their hunger, devoured them!
A short time after the American war, it is said, that the Earl of Northumberland having occasion for seventy-four thousand pounds, applied to a broker, who appointed a certain day for the transfer. At the time and place for meeting, there was posted in waiting, old jemmy Taylor, who, in appearance, resembled some itinerant vendor of matches. Upon the Duke's arrival, the broker brought Jemmy forward to his grace, who, not knowing him, thought he was a beggar, and was about to bestow a trifle upon him, when he was informed that he was "a warm man." His grace immediately shook hands with the dirty usurer, and Jemmy accommodated him with seventy-four thousand pounds, out of one stock, in the four per cents., and from whence, as it appeared by the books, he could have sold out as much more, and yet have had as much left as would have made him comfortable all the rest of his days.
In hoarding up his gold, and denying himself every comfort to do so, Taylor did but follow the promptings of a passion, which, by encouragement, had become inordinate; people with whom he was acquainted, would sometimes endeavour to persuade him of the folly of such penurious habits, and beg of him to indulge in a few of the blessings of life. To all such appeals Taylor turned a deaf ear; and he used to reply, that "if his successors had as much pleasure in spending his property, as he had in. hoarding it up, they need not complain of their hard lot in the world!"
A curious anecdote is related of Taylor, in his last days, and as he lay on the bed of sickness. He had little thought of religion, during his career in life, but now, as death approached, he felt some compunctions of conscience. He hoped, by sacrificing a small portion of his ill-gotten store, to absolve his sins, and. to purchase some reward hereafter. He sent for the parish officers, the parson, and the curate, and, entreating their prayers, he paid them down twelve hundred pounds; but it is said that he would not conclude his bequest until they consented to return him a twelvemonths' interest, by way of discount for prompt payment!
His name, we believe, still adorns the donation board of Saint Saviour's Church, in the Borough. He died in 1793, and the following curious, but no very flattering Epitaph, was inserted by some wag, in the evening papers of the time:—
HERE LIES JEMMY TAYLOR,
GRIPUS, THE SOUTHWARK MISER,
Who lived and died single to save Expenses.
HIS MATCHLESS ŚCONOMY
Could only be compared to his singular Resolution in
He was so disinterested in his Disposition, that he never
Preferred one Person to another, but cast an equal
Eye upon all his Acquaintance.
His mind was of such a peculiar Cast, that he could neither
Hear the Tale, nor behold the Face of the Wretched;
And to avoid mistaken Acts of Charity,
Never bestowed the smallest Mite upon the Poor, until
Death, that shakes the strongest Head, whispered,
"TAYLOR, give something to the CHURCH."
Envied by the Avaricious for his vast Wealth,
Detested by the malicious World for his severe Virtues,
And regretted by none of his
FRIENDS UPON THE 'CHANGE,
He gave up this Life, with Fears of a Better,
IN THE SEVENTIETH YEAR OF HIS EXISTENCE;
And has left his Relations perfectly resigned
To the Will of Heaven,
For having withdrawn, in good Time, the
Accumulator of their Fortunes.