John Toland

John Toland
(1670-1722)

Some careless scholar took you for an "English Deist".
And so at first did I, his student.

You, the bastard son of a Gaeltacht priest,
A native of Clonmony, an Ulsterman,
Tender of sheep in Inishowen, schoolboy in Redcastle,
Whence a kirkman in Glasgow, dissenter in London,
And so to Leiden:
A free
Thinker.

A man of no property, you disdained the canting career
Of the cleric's collar, the spinning of dogmas.
But, reckless after fame,
Your youthful soul gambled all on Truth.
Rashly you proclaimed the Faith of Reason:
“Christianity Not Mysterious”.

Like Marx's mentor, the fiery brook,
You went down to clerical censor.
In Dublin, recognised and anathematised in your own land,
The public hangman burned your book.
And you found, when crossing the Irish Sea
In a packet-boat, that God and politics
Could be dangerous conversation for a man of reason.

You were a Commonwealth man
Living in unfavourable times.
By necessity a journeyman polemicist,
Writing from issue to issue.
Statesmen used you and more prudential philosophers
‘Locked’ you out of their company.

But for all England's assimilative power,
And metropolitan pose, pace Defoe,
You were no True-Born Englishman
(You never lost your Irish brogue -
That at least should please provincial minds)

Shepherd of Inishowen,
Father of deism in these islands,
Cosmopolitan Irishman.