Journalist and Author

In spite of his English surname, Richard Taylor was a Maltese, born in Cospicua, the son of Joseph and Giovanna née Farrugia.

As a child, Taylor had no use for books and learning but preferred to scamper up and down the steep roads of Cospicua. He began his studies at the age of 9 years when he told his father that he wished to become a priest. He was accordingly sent to the Bishop’s seminary but he changed his mind when he grew up and went to sea. He was away for only a short time and when he returned to Malta he began his literary career. His first book was probably Via Sagra tal-Beatu Pietru Metastasju written in Maltese and published in 1839 when Taylor was twenty years of age.

Shortly after 1840, Taylor lost both his parents who left him a small amount of debts. He decided to immigrate to Egypt where he took up a job as a scenographer in a small theatre for a short time until he had to leave the country. Back in Malta, he opened a small tobacco shop but this venture was a failure that left him considerably poorer. He took up writing again and in 1842, published It-Triq tal-Ġenna - a book of prayers of some 158 pages in prose and rhyme that went through several editions.

That same year he published a translation of Diunelgo Valdecio ‘Lo Scoglio dell’Umanità’ under the name L-Iskoll tal Bniedem; a work that castigates prostitutes and prostitution. A second edition was published in 1851 consisting of 108 pages and an index while the first edition of 1843 was of 130 pages besides an index. This work was republished in prose by Arturo Caruana in 1901.

This book caused Taylor a lot of trouble with his publisher and printer Cumbo who demanded 130 scudi for his work while Taylor could only offer him 100 scudi. The matter was taken to court and Taylor spent some time in the debtors’ prison.

When he was released, he married Carmela Triganza. Taylor, well versed in English, Italian, French and Latin languages took up teaching as a profession. In November 1844 he published Grammatica Taljana għal ħtieġa tal Maltin. In August 1844, according to a notice that appeared in the Malta Times, Taylor opened a school at his residence no. 61 Strada Zecca Valletta. This was a day school and a night school for those who could not attend during the day. The fees charged were 2s.6d (13c) per month. In 1845, Taylor published a Maltese translation of Dr. Edward Young’s work under the title Jum il-Ħaqq divided into three cantos of 120, 144 and 102 verses respectively. The subject is the Last Judgement.

On Sunday 22 February 1846, Governor Sir Patrick Stuart had prohibited the usual carnival festivities. The result was a minor riot during which Mr. Frederick Sedley, the Commisioner of  Police was hit in the head and after sunset, a police baton charge on the people still strolling in Palace Square led to several arrests. Taylor published an illustrated booklet Il-Karnival ta’ Malta ta’ l-1846.

From now on Taylor was involved in the publication of various journals. He began the publication of a humorous sheet called Gahan. It was first published twice monthly but as it acquired no popularity was later published on the 8th, 18th and 28th of each month.

Taylor indulged in other activities: When a new ‘Teatrin’ was opened in Cospicua in February 1847, the first production was a farce by Taylor but its name has been lost.

In 1846 Taylor, now living in Kalkara, published a cartoon in Gahan that showed the devil reaching and feeding on human bodies some of whom represented people still living. This was a cause of further trouble to Taylor. One of these figures was believed to represent the Reverend Lorenzo Vella who had just died. Taylor hotly refuted the allegation insisting that Vella had been a dear friend of his. Yet, on the morning of 8 September 1847, Taylor was assaulted near the old market of Cospicua by two men who beat him up with sticks and fists. They were Luigi de Conti Preziosi and Antonio Vella who insisted that they were defending the memory of the late Reverend Vella. They were charged in a police court when Preziosi was sentenced to eight days imprisonment and fined 25 shillings and Frendo received six days and a fine of 20 shillings.

Stenterello - ‘un foglietto umoristico’ - in its issue of 1 September, 1847 mentioned the assault on Gahan and Taylor. A rival paper Flagell ta’ Gahan was also published.

Richard Taylor edited the Giahan (18.9.1846-18.1.1848) – a satirical paper which made fun of public figures and private individuals by means of articles, jokes, poems and dialogues. He also edited a few issues of Ix-Xitan Izzopp (February-July 1864), another satirical paper strongly criticizing the local authorities.

Taylor also published popular booklets in rhyme on the murder cases of Pawlu Azzoppardi and Farrugia and Saliba (1853) on the occasion of their public execution. These booklets are of 16 pages and divided into three cantos. Taylor published two other papers: Il-Hatar and L-Ghassies. During the years of the Crimean War in 1854-1856, Taylor was in Constantinople but the nature of his business is not known. In 1861, Taylor tried to revive his old paper Gahan but without success and for a period during November 1860-62 republished Nafras u Kolombu.

Richard Taylor was the first Maltese writer to attempt to translate Dante’s Divina Comedia in Maltese. In 1864 he published Il-Konti Ugolino that shows the measure of the writer (?). His works were so popular that unscrupulous hacks did not hesitate to publish some of them under their own names, helped by the lack of any law protecting copyright. From 6 February to 16 April 1864, Taylor published a paper called Ix-Xitan iz-Zopp. In the issue of 6 April 1864 (volume number 7), of this paper Taylor hit out at these hacks. His last work appears to have been a paper issued in 1867 Is-Serduq.

Taylor was involved in these papers: Ġaħan (1846-1848), Il-Ħatar (1850); L-Għassies (1855); Ġaħan (another edition: 1854-1861); Ix-Xitan iz-Zopp (1864); Il-Ġurnal Malti (1864-1865); and Is-Serduk (1866). In some of these papers, Taylor published many of his poems, and one of his comic poems, ‘Il haja, u il vinturi ta Giahan’ (The Life and Adventures of Giahan), is considered to be a caricature of autobiographical episodes. Amongst his serious poetry, one finds ‘L-Eżilju’ and ‘L-Iskoll tal-Bniedem’.

Taylor died in the Central Civil Hospital Floriana aged 50 years and was buried at the Pietà Civil Cemetery. At the time of his death he was resident in Birgu and his wife had predeceased him. His death certificate at the Public Registry describes his profession as precettore (teacher).

This biography is part of the collection created by Michael Schiavone over a 30-year period. Read more about Schiavone and his initiative here.

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