Thomas Taylor (neoplatonist)
Thomas Taylor (15 May 1758 – 1 November 1835) was an English translator and Neoplatonist, the first to translate into English the complete works of Aristotle and of Plato, as well as the Orphic fragments.
Born in London, Taylor was educated at St. Paul's School, and devoted himself to the study of the classics and of mathematics. After first working as a clerk in Lubbock's Bank, he was appointed Assistant Secretary to the Society for the Encouragement of Art (precursor to the Royal Society of Arts), in which capacity he made many influential friends, who furnished the means for publishing his various translations, which besides Plato and Aristotle, include Proclus, Porphyry, Apuleius, Ocellus Lucanus and other Neoplatonists and Pythagoreans. His aim was the translation of all the untranslated writings of the ancient Greek philosophers.
Taylor was an admirer of Hellenism, most especially in the philosophical framework furnished by Plato and the Neoplatonists Proclus and the "most divine" Iamblichus, whose works he translated into English. So enamoured was he of the ancients, that he and his wife talked to one another only in classical Greek.
He was also an outspoken voice against corruption in the Christianity of his day, and what he viewed as its shallowness. Taylor was ridiculed and acquired many enemies, but in other quarters he was well received. Among his friends was the eccentric traveller and philosopher John "Walking" Stewart, whose gatherings Taylor was in the habit of attending.
Taylor married his childhood sweetheart Mary Morton in 1777, and they had four sons, George Burrow Taylor, John Buller Taylor, William Grainger Taylor and Thomas Taylor. Their daughter, Mary Meredith Taylor, was named after his generous patron William Meredith. His wife died in 1809. He married again, and his second wife Susannah died in 1823. From his second marriage he had one son, Thomas Proclus Taylor.
Thomas Taylor died in Walworth.
The texts that he used had been edited since the 16th century, but were interrupted by lacunae; Taylor's understanding of the Platonists informed his suggested emendations. His translations were influential on William Blake, Percy Bysshe Shelley and William Wordsworth. In American editions they were read by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson Alcott, and G. R. S. Mead, secretary to Helena Blavatsky of the Theosophical Society.
Taylor also published several original works on philosophy (in particular, the Neoplatonism of Proclus and Iamblichus) and mathematics. These works have been republished (some for the first time since Taylor's lifetime) by the Prometheus Trust.
It appears that he and his wife were landlords at Walworth in the late 1770s to a family that included the 18 year old Mary Wollstonecraft; it is not clear whether the future author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman actually knew the Taylors, as at that age she left home for a job as a lady's companion. Consideration of Wollstonecraft's 1792 magnum opus, together with Thomas Paine's "Rights of Man" inspired Taylor in his A Vindication of the Rights of Brutes: if men and women have rights, why not animals too?
List of works
Among his translations are:
- The Mystical Hymns of Orpheus (1787)
- Plato (1804)
- Aristotle (1806–12)
- The Life of Pythagoras by Iamblichus (1818)
- Apuleius; Celsus; Iamblichus; Julian; Maximus Tyrius; Pausanias; Plotinus; Porphyry; and Proclus
Among his miscellanies are:
- A Vindication of the Rights of Brutes (1792) Modern transcription with photographs
- The Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries: a dissertation (c.1790). Amsterdam [i.e. London]; later editions, edited, and reprinted variously. (Fourth Edition, 1891)
- Theoretic Arithmetic (1816)
- W. E. A. Axon, Thomas Taylor, The Platonist (London, 1890)
- Gordon, Lyndall. Vindication: A Life of Mary Wollstonecraft. Great Britain: Virago, 2005. ISBN 1-84408-141-9.
- Kathleen Raine, Thomas Taylor the Platonist; Selected Writings, 1969.
- 1944 essay in Shrine of Wisdom magazine. "Emerson on Thomas Taylor and the Platonists". No author. Full text here at the Wayback Machine (archived June 21, 2007)
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Cousin, John William (1910). A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: J. M. Dent & Sons. Wikisource
- Artwork Page: Thomas Taylor Lawrence's painting of Taylor is described
- Gordon, 154
|Wikisource has original works written by or about:
- Works by Thomas Taylor at Project Gutenberg:
- Arguments of Celsus, Porphyry, and the Emperor Julian, against the Christians; also extracts from Diodorus Siculus, Josephus, and Tacitus, relating to the Jews, together with an Appendix (English) (as Author)
- An Essay on the Beautiful from the Greek of Plotinus (English) (as Translator)
- Introduction to the Philosophy and Writings of Plato (English) (as Author)
- Thomas Taylor, The Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries, 1791.
- Thomas Taylor, A Vindication of the Rights of Brutes, 1792.
- Hymns of Orpheus. 1792.
- Iamblichus, On the Mysteries. 1821.
- Julian the Apostate, Two Orations of the Emperor Julian. 1793.
- Political Fragments of Archytas, Charondas, Zaleucus, and other Ancient Pythagoreans, preserved by Stobæus; and also, Ethical Fragments of Pierocles.... 1822
- Sallustius, On the Gods and the World.
- The Six Books of Proclus, the Platonic Successor, on the Theology of Plato.
- Fragments That Remain of the Lost Writings of Proclus.
- Commentary on Plato's "Timaeus".
- Ten Doubts Concerning Providence and On the Existence of Evil.
- Select works of Porphyry: Containing his four books On abstinence from animal food; his treatise On the Homeric cave of the nymphs; and his Auxiliaries to the perception of intelligible natures. 1823:
- "Taylor, Thomas (1758-1835)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
- Complete list of original works and translations by Thomas Taylor, compiled by Ruth Balch
- The Prometheus Trust
- The Prometheus Trust: "Thomas Taylor, the English Platonist"
- Criticism of Taylor's translations of Platonicism
- Thomas Taylor, a great English Platonist at the Wayback Machine (archived June 21, 2007) Short biography and bibliography: The Shrine of Wisdom
- The Thomas Taylor Series Main Catalogue from the Prometheus Trust