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

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