On This Day | Physic without Physician by John Toland (1670-1722)

On This Day | Physic without Physician by John Toland (1670-1722)

Physic without Physicians by John Toland

– new edition, faithfully reproduced from the original, first published in 1726 –

John Toland, the Irish-born rationalist philosopher died on this day in 1722. His last words (according to the Dictionary of Irish Biography) are said to have been, “I am poisoned by a physician.”

Though these words are not confirmed, it is documented that shortly before his death, having suffered a bout of illness from which he never fully recovered, Toland wrote a short dissertation in the form of a letter to a friend, Barnham Goode, entitled Physic without Physicians. It was subsequently published in 1726, as part of A Collection of Several Pieces of Mr. Toland (volume ii).

In Physic without Physicians, Toland invokes the ancient writings of Pliny the Elder and Hippocrates of Kos, in addition to contemporaries, such as Herman Boerhaave (frequently hailed as ‘the Dutch Hippocrates’ and the ‘father of physiology’) and Richard Mead, whose work, at the time, was considered to be ground breaking in terms of its understanding of transmissible diseases. Of Hippocrates, Toland says, “We may as successfully batter Quackery by his authority, as we do superstition by that of the Bible.”

While it exists today as a relatively obscure tract, by a largely forgotten author, it has not gone unnoticed over the years and continues to be studied for the arguments that are presented and the lucidness of its tone.

Following the teachings of the ancients, Toland maintains that the task of pharmacists has historically been to discredit natural and traditional methods and cures in the name of their ‘mysterious’ chemical compositions.

Dr Jordi Morillas, from a review of Physic without Physicians, translated by the author from the original Spanish – John Toland, Medicina sin médicos, 1722

Taken as a whole, the target of Toland’s polemic is not so much medical knowledge itself (which he asserts to be “the gift of God and Nature”), but rather upon the limitations of its practitioners 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.”

Physic without Physicians has now been re-issued in a new, modern and standalone edition but faithfully reproduced from the original, as part of the John Toland centenaries project. It is available to buy online, in print and e-book editions, along with other books by or relating to John Toland (1670-1722).

John Toland: Man of Ardagh

John Toland’s story starts on the Inishowen peninsula of County Donegal in 1670. He died in Putney, then a parish outside London, England on 11 March 1722.

The tercentenary of John Toland’s death was marked, in 2022, with a special commemoration in his home place of Ardagh, on the Inishowen peninsula in Co. Donegal.

“If you would know him, study his writings.”

– John Toland (1670-1722), from his self-penned epitaph

Books by or Pertaining to John Toland

John Toland: Ireland's Forgotten Philosopher, Scholar … and Heretic by J.N. Duggan

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John Toland: Ireland's Forgotten Philosopher, Scholar … and Heretic by J.N. Duggan

A short biography offering a concise introduction and critical appraisal of the the life and work of John Toland (1670-1722) – scholar and philosopher of international renown; prolific writer on important political and religious issues of his day; a radical republican who challenged the divine right of kings; a diplomat whose Account of the Courts of Prussia and Hanover is still quoted by historians of the period; the first person to be called a freethinker (by Bishop Berkeley); the first to advocate full citizenship and equal rights for Jewish people.

These are just some of his notable achievements yet he remains largely unknown in his home country.

Toland was born in 1670 and raised on the Inishowen Peninsula in Co. Donegal. He died in London, in 1722, the city where he had resided for most of his life, although he was also a frequent visitor to the continent. In his considerable volume of writings, he challenged political and ecclesiastical authority. He is chiefly remembered today for what was, in fact, his first work, Christianity Not Mysterious (1696) – a book which was denounced in the English and Irish Parliaments and publicly burned in Dublin.

This volume includes the most comprehensive bibliography of John Toland works available at the time of publication.

According to the author, this book "makes no claim to being a 'Life' of Toland, nor is it an exhaustive enquiry into his enormous literary output or extraordinary range of interests. I leave that to others better qualified than me. However, I hope it will serve to introduce all those young Irishmen and women who have never heard of him, to one of their most far-seeing and forward-thinking countrymen."

A book that will be of interest to Toland's considerable international following, as well as those who are new to the story of an interesting character from a country that has produced more than a few.

Ní bheidh a leitheid arís ann.


John Toland: Ireland's Forgotten Philosopher, Scholar … and Heretic by J.N. Duggan
Non-fiction; biography, Irish history, philosophers
62 printed pages, illustrated in black and white with bibliography and chronology, paperback
First published in Ireland, in 2010, by TAF Publishing. e-Book editions published by The Manuscript Publisher (see below)
ISBN: 978-1-907522-08-6


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