"Exquisite equilibrium": An analysis of the prose style of Jeremy Taylor

Roberta Suzanne LePage McFadden, Fordham University


Jeremy Taylor's prose style is much more complex than the common assessment of him as a writer of ornate, flowery prose. This study demonstrates that Taylor creates an exquisite equilibrium between practical and aesthetic elements in his prose style through a consideration of his themes, his controlling structural pattern, the specific elements of his style, and the prose styles of other major writers of the 1600s. Since long stretches of prose are required to identify and analyze his fusion of simple and ornate elements, and his writings are not as immediately striking or intimidating as Donne's or Baxter's or Andrewes', relying on subtle phrasing and quietly startling images to interest and instruct his readers, Taylor has not been studied as avidly or as thoroughly as his contemporaries by twentieth century critics. Thus the primary sources for this study were Taylor's devotional writings themselves, beginning with his dedicatory epistles. These make clear that Taylor's lifelong purpose in writing devotional books was to urge people to lead holy lives and to instruct them in how to do so. To this end, his themes are what he considered the necessary elements of a holy life--faith, charity, prayer, repentance and obedience. These are examined in detail and placed in the context of the Anglican-Puritan conflict of his time. Taylor presents his themes using a controlling structural pattern of a statement followed by examples both in the overall organization of his works and in the internal arrangement of his ideas. Within this distinctive framework, Taylor achieves the exquisite equilibrium of simple and ornate elements in his style as a whole through interweaving them in his diction, sentence structure, tone, unifying techniques and imagery. Comparing Taylor's distinctive style to those of Andrewes, Donne, Felltham, Browne and Baxter helps to place it as thoroughly as possible in the literary context of his age. Clearly, Taylor's achievement of writing traditional devotional handbooks in a style at once fresh and familiar, aesthetic and practical, deserves more critical attention and appreciation than has been granted him to date.

Subject Area

British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

McFadden, Roberta Suzanne LePage, ""Exquisite equilibrium": An analysis of the prose style of Jeremy Taylor" (1988). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8818467.