Thomas Taylor (writer)

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Thomas Taylor. Oil painting by Thomas Lawrence , National Gallery of Canada , Ottawa

Thomas Taylor (born May 15, 1758 in London , † November 1, 1835 in Walworth ) was an English popular science writer and translator. Through his translations of ancient philosophical literature from ancient Greek , he contributed significantly to the popularization of ancient philosophy , especially Platonism , in the English-speaking world. He was not only interested in the dissemination of knowledge of the history of philosophy, but also in reviving the Platonic tradition to which he professed. Therefore he is also called "Thomas Taylor the Platonist" to distinguish it from people of the same name.


Thomas Taylor was born on May 15, 1758 as the son of the corset manufacturer Joseph Taylor in London. He was admitted to St Paul's School in London in 1767 , but had to leave the school after three years. After three more years he moved to Sheerness , where his father's brother-in-law, who worked in the shipyard there, took over his upbringing. In his free time he did mathematical and philosophical studies; in particular, he dealt with the writings of Bolingbroke and Hume . When he left Sheerness at the age of nineteen and settled in Walworth, he was a supporter of skepticism . At the time, Mary Wollstonecraft , who would later become known as a writer and suffragette , lived for about three months at Taylor's Walworth home.

Taylor was a bank clerk and devoted himself autodidactic studies of ancient philosophy, where he authors in ancient Greek original reading and Aristotle began. His keen interest in metaphysics led him to turn to the Neoplatonic tradition. He was particularly fascinated by the religious dimension of ancient Neoplatonism, a direction in which he saw an ideal combination of religious and philosophical endeavors. The Neoplatonic literature also suited his interest in the philosophy of mathematics . In the house of the sculptor John Flaxman , who stood up for him, he gave twelve lectures on Plato . From 1787 he published translations of ancient works, from 1790/91 also treatises on topics from the field of ancient religious philosophy. Like the Cambridge Platonists of the 17th century, Taylor turned against materialistic and mechanistic thinking. In contrast to the Cambridge Platonists, who had advocated Christian Platonism, he rejected Christianity and professed polytheism , which aroused offense in England.

Taylor's increasing fame in educated circles brought him into contact with sponsors. This enabled him to free himself from being forced to work in the bank. The businessman William Meredith granted him an annual pension of £ 100 . In 1798 he became Assistant Secretary of the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. In 1806 he gave up this post to devote himself only to his work as a private scholar. Among his patrons was Charles Howard, the 11th Duke of Norfolk .

Taylor's extraordinary diligence, his self-taught excellent education and his extensive knowledge of the literature of ancient Platonism and Aristotelianism benefited his work as a translator and popularizer. He was able to critically examine the editions available to him, some of which were very poor. However, the lack of a university education had an unfavorable effect on his historical criticism; for example, he considered the mythical Orpheus to be a historical figure and, like the neo-platonists of late antiquity, assumed a fundamental correspondence between Platonism and Aristotelianism.


Taylor made a complete English translation of the works of Plato and Aristotle, using the already available translations by Floyer Sydenham for nine dialogues of Plato. The ancient literature, which he made known to a wider public in whole or in part through his translations, included Orphic hymns as well as works by Pausanias , Apuleius , Kelsus , Maximos of Tire , Plotin , Porphyrios , Iamblichos , Synesios and Proklos .

In his treatises Taylor dealt, among other things, with ancient mystery cults and with the philosophy of Aristotle. He wrote two essays "On the Theology of the Greeks" and "On the Mythology of the Greeks", which appeared in the Classical Journal in 1820 and 1821, respectively . In 1792 he anonymously published the essay A Vindication of the Rights of Brutes on animal rights , with the title of which he alluded to the book A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft , published in January 1792 .


Taylor's translations and writings made a considerable impact on his contemporaries and posterity, with their influence in America being stronger than in England. As a result, among other things, Plato was viewed in literary circles from a Neoplatonic perspective. English poets who were influenced by Taylor's translations and interpretation of Platonism include William Blake , Samuel Taylor Coleridge , Percy Bysshe Shelley, and William Wordsworth . In America, his work received particular attention from Ralph Waldo Emerson and Amos Bronson Alcott .

Isaac D'Israeli took Taylor as a model for a character in his novel Vaurien , published anonymously in 1797 . Thomas Love Peacock created in his novel Melincourt (1817) the figure of “Mr. Mystic ”, which is reminiscent of Taylor, with whom Peacock was friends.


Collected Writings

  • The Thomas Taylor Series . The Prometheus Trust, Frome (Somerset) 1994-2006
    • Volume 1: Proclus' Elements of Theology . 1994, ISBN 1-898910-00-6 (translation)
    • Volume 2: Select Works of Porphyry. With an appendix explaining the allegory of the wanderings of Ulysses, by the translator . 1994, ISBN 1-898910-01-4 (translations)
    • Volume 3: Collected Writings of Plotinus . 1994, ISBN 1-898910-02-2 (translation of half of the Enneading Plotinus)
    • Volume 4: Collected Writings on the Gods and the World . 1994, ISBN 1-898910-03-0 (translations of several ancient philosophical writings and Taylor's essays On the Theology of the Greeks and On the Mythology of the Greeks )
    • Volume 5: Hymns and Initiations . 1994, ISBN 1-898910-04-9 (translations of ancient works with introductory and explanatory texts by the translator and English hymns written by Taylor)
    • Volume 6: The Dissertations of Maximus Tyrius . 1994, ISBN 1-898910-05-7 (translation of the lectures of Maximus von Tire and Taylor's essay The Triumph of the Wise Man over Fortune and his article Remarks on the Daemon of Socrates )
    • Volume 7: Oracles and Mysteries . 1995, ISBN 1-898910-06-5 (studies and annotated translations)
    • Volume 8: Proclus: The Theology of Plato . 1995, ISBN 1-898910-07-3 (translation with Taylor's introduction)
    • Volumes 9-13: The Works of Plato . 1995 ff. (Translations of the works of Plato and relevant articles by Taylor)
    • Volume 14: Apuleius' Golden Ass or The Metamorphosis, and other Philosophical Writings, viz. On the God of Socrates & On the Philosophy of Plato . 1997, ISBN 978-1-898910-13-8 (translations of works by Apuleius)
    • Volumes 15 and 16: Proclus' Commentary on the Timaeus of Plato . 1998 (translation)
    • Volume 17: Iamblichus: On the Mysteries of the Egyptians, Chaldeans, and Assyrians and Life of Pythagoras . 1999, ISBN 978-1-898910-16-9 (translations)
    • Volume 18: Essays and Fragments of Proclus . 1999, ISBN 978-1-898910-17-6 (translations; the volume also contains seven English hymns and prayers written by Taylor)
    • Volumes 19-27: The Works of Aristotle . 2000 ff. (Translations of the works of Aristotle as well as commenting ancient texts)
    • Volume 28: A Dissertation on the Philosophy of Aristotle . 2004, ISBN 978-1-898910-27-5
    • Volume 29: Proclus' Commentary on the First Book of Euclid's Elements . 2006, ISBN 978-1-898910-28-2 (translation with a treatise by Taylor)
    • Volume 30: The Theoretic Arithmetic of the Pythagoreans . 2006, ISBN 978-1-898910-29-9 (five papers)
    • Volumes 31 and 32: Pausanias' Guide to Greece . 2006 (translation)
    • Volume 33: Against the Christians and Other Writings . 2006, ISBN 978-1-898910-32-9 (translations of ancient anti-Christian literature as well as numerous writings of Taylor and a bibliography of his works)

selected Writings

  • Kathleen Raine , George Mills Harper (Eds.): Thomas Taylor the Platonist: Selected Writings . Princeton University Press, Princeton (NJ) 1969 (with detailed introduction)

Font directory

  • Ruth Balch: Thomas Taylor the Platonist 1758-1835. List of Original Works and Translations . Newberry Library, Chicago 1917 (chronological index of Taylor's publications, online )


  • Timothy Webb: English Romantic Hellenism, 1700-1824 . Manchester University Press, Manchester 1982, ISBN 0-7190-0772-0 , pp. 180-188

Web links

Wikisource: Taylor, Thomas (1758–1835)  - Sources and full texts (English)


  1. James McMullen Rigg: Taylor, Thomas (1758-1835). In: Dictionary of National Biography (DNB), Vol. 55, New York / London 1898, pp. 468-470, here: 468.
  2. On Wollstonecraft's encounter with Taylor, see Emily W. Sunstein: A Different Face. The Life of Mary Wollstonecraft , New York 1975, p. 76.
  3. James McMullen Rigg: Taylor, Thomas (1758-1835). In: Dictionary of National Biography (DNB), Vol. 55, New York / London 1898, pp. 468-470, here: 468.
  4. On Taylor's influence on Blake, see Kathleen Raine: Thomas Taylor in England . In: Kathleen Raine, George Mills Harper (eds.): Thomas Taylor the Platonist: Selected Writings , Princeton (NJ) 1969, pp. 3–48, here: 3, 13–15, 34–37, 41 f.
  5. ^ Kathleen Raine: Thomas Taylor in England . In: Kathleen Raine, George Mills Harper (ed.): Thomas Taylor the Platonist: Selected Writings , Princeton (NJ) 1969, pp. 3–48, here: 40 (cf. pp. 130 f.).