Archer Taylor (August 1, 1890 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) was a
seminal proverb and riddle scholar and folklorist.
He enrolled at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, graduating with the
BA and MA in German by 1912. He then taught German at Pennsylvania
State College. He went on to Harvard University, receiving his Ph.D.
degree in German with a dissertation on the fairy tale motifs in the
Wolfdietrich epics. At Harvard, he studied under such famous scholars
as Kuno Francke, George Lyman Kittredge, John Albrecht Walz, Hans Carl
Gunther von Jagemann, William Henry Schofield, Charles Hall Grandgent,
and F.N. Robinson. From them he developed interest in such fields as
German literature, Germanic philology, Scandinavian studies, Romance
languages, Celtic and, folklore in general. In 1915 Taylor began
teaching German at Washington University in St. Louis, eventually
being promoted to professor.
He moved to the University of Chicago in 1925. By 1927 Taylor had
become the Chairman of the Department of Germanic Languages and
He married his childhood sweetheart Alice Jones on September 9, 1915
and they had three children. He lost her June 16, 1930, while they
lived in Chicago. He later married Dr. Hasseltine Byrd, who became his
second wife on June 17, 1932. They had two children.
In 1939, they moved to California where he served as Professor of
German Literature and Folklore at the University of California at
Berkeley, as Chairman of the Department from 1940 to 1945. While in
California, they built a home in the Napa Valley, where they hosted
many folklorists. While in California, he worked as a journal editor,
for California Folklore Quarterly (which he helped found) (now Western
Folklore) and the Journal of American Folklore. In 1965, Archer worked
with his Finnish friend
Matti Kuusi to establish the journal
His publications were numerous, included work in medieval literature,
philology, folklore, bibliography, etc., eventually totalling over
four hundred books, monographs, articles and notes in America and
Europe. His most famous work was The
Proverb (Cambridge, MA 1931),
which contains his most famous quote, "the definition of a proverb is
too difficult to repay the undertaking... An incommunicable quality
tells us this sentence is proverbial and that is not" (The Proverb
Though Taylor's contribution to the studies of proverbs is better
known, his contribution to the studies of riddles is also significant.
Archer Taylor ... among modern folklorists has contributed most to
Taylor died on September 30, 1973.
4 External links
In 1960 Taylor was honored by a
Festschrift Humaniora. Essays in
Literature, Folklore, Bibliography. Honoring
Archer Taylor on His
Seventieth Birthday (Locust Valley, New York 1960), edited by his
Wayland D. Hand and Gustave O. Arlt. At the annual meetings of
the Western States Folklore Society, which he helped found, there is
an invited lecture in the
Archer Taylor Lecture Series.
Mieder, Wolfgang. 1987. Seven overlooked paremiological publications
by Archer Taylor. Proverbium 6: 187-190.
Taylor, Archer. 1975. Selected Writings on Proverbs by Archer Taylor.
Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia.
Taylor, Archer. 1931. The Proverb. Cambridge: Harvard University
^ Georges, Robert and Alan Dundes. 1963. Toward a Structural
Definition of the Riddle. The
Journal of American Folklore vol. 76,
no. 300: 111-118.
Biography from California
Archer Taylor at Project Gutenberg
Works by or about
Archer Taylor at Internet Archive
ISNI: 0000 0001 0898 5471
BNF: cb12086207h (data)