Republican learning

Republican learning: John Toland and the crisis of Christian culture, 1696-1722

Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 272
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Republican learning
    Book Description:

    This book explores the life, thought and political commitments of the free-thinker John Toland (1670-1722). Studying both his private archive and published works, it illustrates how Toland moved in both subversive and elite political circles in England and abroad. It explores the connections between his republican political thought and his irreligious belief about Christian doctrine, the ecclesiastical establishment and divine revelation, arguing that far from being a marginal and insignificant figure, Toland counted queens, princes and government ministers as his friends and political associates. The book argues that Toland shaped the republican tradition after the Glorious Revolution into a practical and politically viable programme, focused not on destroying the monarchy, but on reforming public religion and the Church of England. It explores the connections between Toland’s erudition and print culture, arguing that his intellectual project was aimed at compromising the authority of Christian ‘knowledge’ as much as the political power of the Church.

    eISBN: 978-1-84779-043-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vi-vii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. Introduction Locating John Toland
    (pp. 1-22)

    Toland was desperately ill. He had recurring ‘pains in my thighs, reins and stomach’ accompanied by ‘a total loss of appetite, hourly retchings, and very high colour’d water’. His hopes that this suffering was the symptom of ‘gravel’ that would pass with the stones were dashed. Confined to his chamber for weeks, he could keep down nothing but weak broth, and was scarcely able to walk. Reduced to relying on the kindnesses of others by disastrous investments in the fashionable speculations of South Sea Company, Toland was on his uppers. Only a few years previously his pen had been at...


    • 1 ‘The traffic of books’: libraries, friends and conversation
      (pp. 25-44)

      John Toland read a great deal. The scholarly apparatus to his written work is ample evidence of this. A more intimate view of his own library survives in the manuscript fragments recording the piles of books left at his death in the room he rented in Putney. Gathered on top of chairs, a chest of drawers and on the floor was Toland’s working library of some one hundred and fifty volumes.¹ The collection was eclectic. It contained a number of foreign language works in French, Spanish and Italian while the majority of the works were in the commonplace scholarly languages...

    • 2 Publishing reason: John Toland and print and scribal communities
      (pp. 45-68)

      Toland did more than simply read and write books: he was a key agent in disseminating ideas around the elite salons of early eighteenth-century Europe. In the last chapter Toland’s involvement in a world of learning and the library was explored. One of the intentions was to underscore the social dimensions of this world of learning: gaining entrance to the inner sanctum of a man’s library was a means of getting inside his head. In locating Toland in this milieu we only get glimpses of his conduct and status from the surviving records. A more straightforward means of establishing his...

    • 3 Reading Scripture: the reception of Christianity not mysterious, 1696–1702
      (pp. 69-90)

      ‘As for religion ... it is more easy to guess what he was not, than to tell what he was. ’Tis certain, he was neither Jew nor Mahometan: But whether he was a Christian, a Deist, a Pantheist, an Hobbist, or a Spinozist, is the Question’.¹ Toland’s writings had ‘alarm’d all sober well-meaning Christians, and set the whole clergy against him’. Having explored how Toland lived and worked in a world of libraries and books, it is time to examine how his books worked in the public sphere. One of the persistent problems Toland faced throughout his life was the...


    • 4 Editing the republic: Milton, Harrington and the Williamite monarchy, 1698–1714
      (pp. 93-115)

      At some point in 1694, John Toland frequented Jack’s Coffee House in King’s Street, London. Recently arrived from Oxford, he struck up conversation with two persons ‘wholly unknown to him’. Boldly he opened the discussion with a powerful statement of political identity: ‘I am a commonwealth’s Man, tho’ I live at Whitehall, and that is a Mistery’. Continuing in this vein he challenged his auditors, ‘if any man will give me Ten guineas, I will go to the King and Queen, and prove to their faces, that a Commonwealth is more fit for this Nation than Monarchy’.¹ Writing a little...

    • 5 Anglia libera: Protestant liberties and the Hanoverian succession, 1700–14
      (pp. 116-140)

      With the publication of the splendid edition of Harrington’s works, Toland secured his position at the heart of a ‘true commonwealth’ interest. This intimate collaboration with elite Whig politicians led to Toland becoming the leading defender of Protestant liberty. This took immediate form in a vindication of the legitimacy of the Hanoverian succession under the terms of theAct of Settlement1701. For many ‘commonwealthsmen’ around Europe the act that confirmed the succession of Sophia of Hanover was a republican device to exclude both popery and tyranny. The third Earl of Shaftesbury even wrote to Benjamin Furly in Holland, claiming...

    • 6 Sapere aude: ‘commonwealth’ politics under George I, 1714–22
      (pp. 141-164)

      On the night of 1 March 1710, London was convulsed by rioting crowds. During the course of the evening dissenting meeting-houses were attacked and destroyed, lords, earls and bishops were insulted and affronted in the streets, and many citizens were beaten, assaulted and even killed. Any who refused to join in with the chant of ‘High Church and Sacheverell’ were ‘knocked down’ by armed and increasingly violent men.¹ Abigail Harley writing to Edward Harley in Oxford the day after the tumult, commented that ‘now we hear nothing but drums’.² The cause of all this disorder was a conflict over whether...


    • 7 Respublica mosaica: impostors, legislators and civil religion
      (pp. 167-189)

      Toland was, then, embroiled in the day-to-day cut and thrust of British politics, advancing a clear and profound defence of commonwealth principles especially by supporting the interest of the Protestant succession against popery. This was not simply a British project, but a European-wide campaign. Toland exploited all possible connections. His intellectual contribution was not just made in the form of printed works but (as we have seen in chapter 2 above) was also manifest in the conversations and scribal materials he circulated amongst his powerful friends. One potent relationship was the connection with Hanover. From the very moment Toland managed...

    • 8 De studio theologia: patristic erudition and the attack on Scripture
      (pp. 190-212)

      Toland had a clear and (to many contemporaries) dangerous political agenda. His public polemic on behalf of the Hanoverian succession had neatly blended a republican aspiration of establishing a government of reason with an internecine war against priestcraft and superstition. This warfare was fought on many fronts. The rules of engagement were diverse. In works likeChristianity not mysterious,Toland articulated a public strategy of enfranchising the rights of the individual to read and understand Scripture without recourse to the interpretative guidance of the Church. His work on Moses showed (following the example of Spinoza) how it was possible to...

    • 9 ‘A complete history of priestcraft’: The Druids and the origins of ancient virtue
      (pp. 213-235)

      The foundations of the cultural purchase of Toland’s intellectual arguments were laid in a series of personal relationships with powerful men and women. Whether writing for German princes or queens, or for government ministers, or wealthy earls, or provincial gentlemen, Toland was capable of designing writing suitable for his audiences. Sophia and Leibniz enjoyed abstract metaphysical discussion – they got works likeLetters to Serena(1704); Eugene and Hohendorf liked a variety of impiety – Toland drafted work on theGospel of Barnabas,dissertations on Giordano Bruno and the history of the apocrypha. For men like Harley, Collins and Shaftesbury (as well...

  9. Conclusion Writing enlightenment
    (pp. 236-256)

    In the early days of 1712 Prince Eugene of Savoy undertook a key diplomatic mission to London to reinforce the commitment of Robert Harley’s ministry to the alliance against France in the negotiations over peace at Utrecht.¹ With the Tories in the ascendancy, Eugene’s reputation as a stalwart defender of ‘our common liberty’ across Europe projected him as a defender of Whig principles. Long awaited by the Whig elites of London and Hanover, Eugene’s military prowess had endowed him with a powerful public reputation in London. Tory figures like Lord Strafford (probably at the instigation of Robert Harley) had been...

  10. Select Tolandiana
    (pp. 257-259)
  11. Index
    (pp. 260-264)