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Home > Mezzofanti > Eminent linguists > British and Irish linguists > Toland

The unhappy deistical writer, John Toland, born in the County Donegal, in Ireland, in 1669, was one of the most skilful linguists of his day. His birth was probably illegitimate and he was baptized by the strange name of James Ju-nius,t which the ridicule of his schoolfellows caused him to change for that by which he is now known. During his early youth, he was a member of the Catholic religion; but his daring AVilkins was an eminent mathematician, raid one of the first members of the Boyal Society. But his reputation as a humourist was his chief recommendation to Buckingham. His character in many respects resembled that of Swift. One of his witticisms is worth recording. After the first appearance of his well-known Voyage to the Moon [" Discovery of a New World, with a Discourse . concerning the Possibility of a" Voyage thither"], the eccentric Duchess of Newcastle jestingly remarked to him that the only defect in his account was that it omitted to tell where the voyagers would finci lodging and accommodation by the way. " That need present no difficulty to your Grace," said Wilkins;"" you have built so many castles in the air that you cannot be at any loss for accommodation on the journey." He published the " Panthoisticon," the most profane of all his works, under this pseudonym. I regret to see that an elaborate attempt to recall this long-forgotten book into notice, is made by Dr. Hermann Hettner, in his " Geschichte der Enlischen Literatur von 1660 bis 1770," the first volume of which has just been published at Leipsic (1856). Dr. Hettner has even been at the pains to translate largely from its worst profanities. And sceptical mind early threw off the salutary restraints which that creed imposes, although, like Gibbon, only to abandon Christianity itself in abandoning Catholicity. His eventful and erratic career does not fall within the scope of this notice, and I will only mention that in the singular epitaph, which he composed for his own tomb, he speaks of himself as " lingua-rum plus decem sciens" In several of those ten languages, as he states in his memorial to the Earl of Oxford, he spoke and wrote with as much fluency as in English. Toland died at Putney, in 1722. Prom this period the same great blank occurs in the history of English scholarship, which we have observed in almost all the contemporary literatures of Europe. Still a few names may be gleaned from the general obscurity. It is true that what many persons may deem the most notable publication of the lime, Chamberlayne's Collection of Pater Nosters, (1715), was rather a literary curiosity than a work of genuine scholarship. But there are other higher, though less known, names.

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