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18 Sep

Incendiary: John Toland and the birth of the Irish Enlightenment

A book burning in London, 1643. (click for source)

A book burning in London, 1643. (Image  is figure 8 in “Incendiary texts”, referenced and linked below)

On 18th (some say 11th) September, 1697 the book “Christianity Not Mysterious” was burned in front of the Irish Parliament Buildings. This had been ordered by the Parliament who declared some days earlier that the heretical book “be publickly burnt by the hands of the common hangman” and the author “be taken into the custody of the Serjeant at Arms and…prosecuted”. Such burning of books by the hangman had been done in England since 1634 (ref), though letters from Molyneaux to Locke suggest it had not happened in Ireland before.

The book had already caused controversy. It was denounced when it was first published in 1696, the first edition anonymously and the second under Toland’s name. The book argues that “[T]here is nothing in the Gospel contrary to Reason, nor above it; and … no Christian Doctrine can be properly called a Mystery.” In other words, nothing in the Gospel can conflict with reason, the Gospel cannot transcend reason (so apparent conflicts with reason cannot be explained away as a mystery) and that no doctrine can at once be Christian and mysterious. The creation of mysteries within Christianity he attributed to innovations of competing sects.

This theory of the relationship between religion and reason went further than other supporters of reason such as Locke had dared. It was especially contentious in Ireland, since it undermined the position of the established Anglican Church over other churches. Archbishop Narcissus Marsh (of the Library) requested the Provost of Trinity College, Dr. Peter Browne, to write an answer to Toland’s book. Browne did so in his 1797 A Letter in answer to a book entitled Christianity not mysterious, condemning Toland as ‘an inveterate enemy of revealed religion’. Browne was later made the Bishop of Cork, due to Marsh’s influence, leading Toland to boast he had ‘made Browne a bishop’.
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12 Sep

The Weakness of William King

I impoverish my self with buying books but over Shoes over boots my head is in and an auction on foot who can stop his hand?

I am got here into books very foolishly, I bought Villalpandus in Large paper 3 vol. 4//. I bought Bsp Halls 4 Vols 111. 8s.three vol. of Musculus…and Sev//. other books, I confess my infirmity and [pro]mise to amend. “

Two quotes from Archbishop William King about his weakness for buying books, a trait that reputedly amused his friend Dean John Stearne and upset his collector of rents Henry Green, who had the job of “hindering” the book buying.

Both are from letters written by William King to John Stearne, Dean of St Patricks, after book auctions in London (1710 and 1713).

Source: An Irish Archbishop and his library [JSTOR, limited free access].