John Toland: His Methods, Manners, and Mind

Description

248 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
$25.00
ISBN 0-7735-1007-9

Year

1984

Contributor

Reviewed by Carl Spadoni

Carl Spadoni was Research Collections Librarian at the Mills Library, McMaster University, Hamilton.

Review

Speaking many languages and travelling widely throughout Europe, John Toland (1670-1722) was an internationalist in the Age of Enlightenment. Known primarily as an exponent of deism and as a champion of toleration, he was also regarded as a philosopher, diplomat, biblical scholar, translator, and biographer. He thrived on controversy and published numerous books and pamphlets, many of them anonymously or pseudonymously. In assessing Toland’s career and thought, the major problem is to discover a structure and development to his many-sided writings.

Stephen H. Daniel, who is currently a professor of philosophy at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, completed his doctoral dissertation on Toland’s philosophical methodology in 1977. His book, which appears to be a revision of his thesis, professes to be the first systematic examination in English of Toland’s complete work. Daniel argues that even though Toland was not a thinker of the first rank, his lack of originality is compensated by his vitality and comprehensiveness. In Daniel’s opinion, the common element in Toland’s writing is an emphasis on the individual’s capacity to reason independently and critically.

Daniel’s treatment begins with Toland’s attack on priestcraft and popery in his deist manifesto, Christianity Not Mysterious, a notorious work that elicited some fifty replies and resulted in prosecution in both England and Ireland. Other topics that Daniel discusses concern Toland’s understanding of biography, his indictment of educational practices, his work in biblical and historical exegesis, his method of polemic, and his epistemology and metaphysics.

Drawing on a vast store of primary and secondary literature and archival material, Daniel’s book is superbly organized. In his introduction he explains how he intends to approach Toland’s thought chronologically while exploring the major themes of each period. Not only are the chapters linked successively, but they are set out in such a way that the reader can anticipate and further appreciate Daniel’s analysis. His discussion is enhanced by references to eminent thinkers such as Liebniz, Locke, Bayle, and Shaftesbury and by allusions to the chaotic events in Toland’s life and times.

Citation

Daniel, Stephen H., “John Toland: His Methods, Manners, and Mind,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 21, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/36803.