Thomas Taylor (neoplatonist)  

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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, London, and devoted himself to the study of the classics and of mathematics. After being a bank clerk, 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 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, and a daughter Mary Meredith Taylor. 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.


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 of Mme Blavatsky the founder of Theosophy.

He and his wife took Mary Wollstonecraft into their home when she was an unhappy teenager, and thus influenced the future author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Wollstonecraft's book inspired him to write his Vindication of the Rights of Brutes.

Taylor also published several original works on philosophy (in particular, the Neoplatonism of Proclus and Iamblichus) and mathematics. These works are now published (some for the first time since Taylor's lifetime) by Prometheus Trust.

List of works

Template:Wikisource-author Among his translations are:

  • The Mystical Hymns of Orpheus (1787)
  • Plato (1804)
  • Aristotle (1806-12)
  • Life of Pythagoras by Iamblichus (1818)
  • Apuleius; Celsus; Iamblichus; Julian; Maximus Tyrius; Pausanias; Plotinus; Porphyry; and Proclus

Among his miscellanies are:


  • W. E. A. Axon, Thomas Taylor, The Platonist (London, 1890)
  • Kathleen Raine, Thomas Taylor the Platonist; Selected Writings, 1969.

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