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John Toland and the crisis of Christian culture, 1696–1722
Author: Justin Champion

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 he moved in both subversive and elite political circles in England and abroad. The book explores the connections between Toland's 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, he counted queens, princes and government ministers as his friends and political associates. In particular, Toland's intimate relationship with the Electress Sophia of Hanover saw him act as a court philosopher, but also as a powerful publicist for the Hanoverian succession. The book argues that he 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 also examines how Toland used his social intimacy with a wide circle of men and women (ranging from Prince Eugene of Savoy to Robert Harley) to distribute his ideas in private. The book explores the connections between his 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. Overall, it illustrates how Toland's ideas and influence impacted upon English political life between the 1690s and the 1720s.

Justin Champion

This introductory chapter discusses the theme of this book, which is about the republican political thought of free-thinker John Toland. The first part deals with what we might call the material and social infrastructure for Toland's ‘life of the mind’. The second part of the book explores the dimensions of Toland's political arguments and examines how he used printed work to communicate with a public audience in an attempt to convince them of the best strategy for compromising the tyranny of clerical politics.

in Republican learning
Libraries, friends and conversation
Justin Champion

Toland's working library had about one hundred and fifty volumes, including a number of foreign-language works. Many of his books, by a variety of continental scholars, formed the basis for intellectual projects undertaken by him. This chapter suggests that the provision, reception and circulation of books, manuscripts and ideas amongst this community brought Toland enormous cultural credibility and status. And in his literary and oral conversations, Toland formed the relationships that meant his ideas had a theatre of influence which unfolded across Europe. The books he wrote, and used, were given cultural value by a combination of the sociabilities necessary to produce them, and he used them not only as bearers of arguments but as means for brokering political and social transactions.

in Republican learning
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John Toland and print and scribal communities
Justin Champion

This chapter examines the role of John Toland in the print and scribal communities. 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. His skill at manipulating both print and scribal works laid the foundation for his political ambitions: his literary transactions produced both cultural and political effects. The chapter describes how Toland manipulated and constructed diverse audiences for similar works, and discusses his attempts to communicate his ideas to powerful and politically effective communities.

in Republican learning
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The reception of Christianity not mysterious, 1696–1702
Justin Champion

This chapter examines how John Toland's books, particularly his Christianity not mysterious, worked in the public sphere, explaining that this book was criticised as the most arrogant and impudent treatment of God and the Holy Scriptures. It suggests that Christianity not mysterious was published in a context riven by orthodox disquiet about the connection between private immorality and public depravity, and that its presentation as a common nuisance was intended to act as a precedent for others to do the like.

in Republican learning
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Milton, Harrington and the Williamite monarchy, 1698–1714
Justin Champion

This chapter focuses on John Toland's efforts to defend the sovereignty of reason in politics by undertaking the adventurous project of republishing the canonical works of the commonwealth tradition between 1697 and 1700. His 1698 King Charles I. No such Saint, martyr, or Good Protestant as commonly reputed made extraordinarily clear the author's commitment to an anticlerical republicanism. The chapter suggests that Toland's work about John Milton entitled Amyntor was a means for reinvigorating the attack upon de jure divino accounts of Church and State, while his folio collection of James Harrington's works was an even more pronounced attempt to make republican texts suitable for contemporary consumption.

in Republican learning
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Protestant liberties and the Hanoverian succession, 1700–14
Justin Champion

This chapter examines John Toland's collaboration with elite Whig politicians as a leading defender of Protestant liberty, activities which resulted in the vindication of the legitimacy of the Hanoverian succession under the terms of the Act of Settlement 1701. A key problem for Toland and other republicans in the 1700s was the dynastic insecurity of the platform for their vision of politics, because the principles espoused in his Anglia libera were dependent upon the successful coronation of Sophia or George rather than the restoration of James.

in Republican learning
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‘Commonwealth’ politics under George I, 1714–22
Justin Champion

This chapter discusses the activities of John Toland under George I. After the disastrous electoral defeats of 1710, Toland focused his energies on defending the succession and remaining vigilant against popish tyranny. In 1714 he published The reasons for naturalising the Jews, which advanced one of the most radical defences of social toleration in the eighteenth century. The chapter explains that Toland's defence of toleration was premised not upon the theological credibility of the Jewish religion but upon the nature of civil society. This ambition of establishing a tolerant and rational civic culture was taken even further in Toland's most successful political pamphlet, The State anatomy of Great Britain, and its supplement, The second part of the State anatomy.

in Republican learning
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Imposters, legislators and civil religion
Justin Champion

This chapter focuses on the activities of John Toland under Sophia of Hanover, his intimacy with whom Toland used as a theatre for the display of his arguments. He advanced a clear and profound defence of commonwealth principles, especially by supporting the interest of the Protestant succession against popery. The convergence of Toland's public and private discourse resulted in the publication of his Letters to Serena, which established the connections between such metaphysical speculation and more mainstream political thought. The chapter also considers Toland's characterisation of Moses as a republican legislator and an exemplary model for the conduct of contemporary politics. It suggests that Toland's work on Moses laid the foundation for practical suggestions in reforming the confessionalism of political culture, and that the veneration of the Mosaic institution was to be a prescriptive model for political and religious reform.

in Republican learning
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Patristic erudition and the attack on Scripture
Justin Champion

This chapter discusses John Toland's religious thoughts and his invocation of the authority of erudition, explaining that Toland's ambition was to deconstruct the credibility of clerical knowledge, or at the very least to expose the institutional processes which made clergymen's opinions masquerade as divine truth. To accomplish this ambition, Toland pursued a process of renovation by subversion from within, rather than one of revolutionary destruction. The chapter argues that the starting point for Toland's cultural hostilities was the canon of orthodox literature, and also analyses his learning, contending that it is neither profound nor shallow, but instrumental in accomplishing his goals.

in Republican learning