Wednesday, 11 March 2020

A New Edition of Physic without Physicians by John Toland (first published in 1726)

Physic without Physicians by John Toland (1670-1722)

– first published in 1726, now re-issued in a new, modern edition –

Physic without Physicians by John Toland (1670-1722)
Physic without Physicians
by John Toland (1670-1722)
as it first appeared in 1726

For the last four years of his life, John Toland lived in Putney, then a parish outside London, where he took lodgings with a carpenter, Edward Hinton. It is here that he wrote a number of his important works, including Pantheisticon. When he died on this day (11 March) in 1722, he left a legacy said to consist of not much more than "150 manuscripts piled high upon two stools."

Following his death, A Collection of Several Pieces of Mr. John Toland, in two volumes, appeared in 1726. The collection is described as "first published from his original manuscripts with some memoirs of his life and writings."

These memoirs were written by Pierre des Maizeaux, an exiled French Huguenot living in London, who describes the last years of Toland’s life in the following terms:
Mr Toland had for above four years past liv’d at Putney, from whence he cou’d conveniently go to London and come back the same day; but he used to spend most part of the winter in London. Being in town about the middle of December, he found himself very ill; having been lingering for some time before. His appetite and strength fail’d him: and a certain Doctor, who was call’d to him made him a great deal worse, by bringing a continual vomiting and looseness upon him. However, he made a shift to return to Putney, where he grew better, and had some hopes of recovery. In this interval, he writ a Dissertation* to shew the uncertainty of Physic, and the danger of trusting our life to those who practise it: while by our own care and experience we might easily provide such medicines as are proper and necessary for us.
*That Dissertation, intitled Physic without Physicians is printed in this Collection, Vol. II. pag. 273
Physic without Physicians by John Toland. 2020 edition.
New edition, published by
The Manuscript Publisher
The arguments presented in Physic without Physicians invoke the ancient writings of Pliny the Elder and Hippocrates (of the latter, he says, "we may as successfully batter Quackery by his authority, as we do superstition by that of the Bible.") as well as some contemporaries, such as Herman Boerhaave and Richard Mead. Taken as a whole, it could be considered, not so much as a reflection upon medical knowledge in itself ("which is the gift of God and Nature") but rather, the limitation of its practitioners and counsels that ultimately, people should take responsibility for their own health.

As part of the John Toland Centenaries web project, Physic without Physicians by John Toland has been re-published and, for the first time, in its own edition (ISBN: 978-1-911442-23-3) but faithfully reproduced from the original. It is on sale now and available to buy online, in print and e-book editions.

Monday, 17 February 2020

Giordano Bruno (1548-1600)

Giordano Bruno (1548-1600)
Giordano Bruno (1548-1600). Public Domain
Giordano Bruno, the Italian Dominican friar who was also a philosopher, mathematician, cosmologist, poet, pantheist and polymath, died on this day in 1600. His death was no ordinary one: he was burned at the stake in Rome's Campo de' Fiori, having been found guilty by the Roman Inquisition on charges of denial of certain core Catholic doctrines.

A martyr for science, Bruno has never been accorded the kind of posthumous 'pardon' that has been extended to others, who were similarly persecuted by the Inquisition, such as Galileo Galilei. This is on the grounds, apparently, that Bruno's sentence did not arise out of any scientific conclusions that he reached but rather, a retribution for certain stances that he held that were deemed to be heretical.

In 1942, Cardinal Giovanni Mercati, archivist of the Vatican Secret Archives and Librarian of the Vatican Library from 1936 until his death in 1957, upon discovering a number of lost documents relating to Bruno's trial, concluded that the Church was perfectly justified in condemning him!
On 20 January 1600, Pope Clement VIII declared Bruno a heretic and the Inquisition issued a sentence of death. According to the correspondence of Gaspar Schopp of Breslau, he is said to have made a threatening gesture towards his judges and to have replied: Maiori forsan cum timore sententiam in me fertis quam ego accipiam ("Perhaps you pronounce this sentence against me with greater fear than I receive it")Wikipedia

Monument to Giordano Bruno in Campo de' Fiori square - Rome, Italy - 6 June 2014 rectified
daryl_mitchell from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada / CC BY-SA
The writings and discourses of Giordano Bruno grew greatly in influence and stature in the years following his death. That this influence can be found in the works of John Toland (1670-1722) is easily attested to (see, for example Ricorso). It hardly needs asserting that Toland would have been drawn to Bruno, even if he himself had not narrowly escaped a similar fate, when copies of his Christianity not Mysterious were publicly burned by the common hangman in Dublin, in 1697, having been denounced in both the Irish and English parliaments.

Toland is considered as among the first to have come to regard Bruno as an atheist. An account by Toland of Bruno's De l'infinito, universo e mondi ('On the Infinite Universe and Worlds', first published in London in 1584) appears in A Collection of Several Pieces of Mr. John Toland ..., published by Pierre des Maizeaux shortly after Toland's death in 1722. Here, Bruno developed the Copernican system and was the first to postulate that the stars were objects like our sun, which may themselves have exoplanets.

Today, monuments to Bruno stand in many places, including the site of his execution in Campo de' Fiori in Rome. Asteroids and a crater on the far side of the moon have been named in honour of his contributions to astronomy and cosmology.

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Further Reading

  • An Account of the Courts of Prussia and Hanover: Sent to a Minister of State in Holland by John Toland