For what excess of Riot, Uncleanness, Prophaneness, Intemperancies in Meat and Drinks, Words and Works, with all kinds of Superfluity of Naughtiness do the greatest number of People not commit in these days (which yet they call Holy) … Entertaining our selves … with Tables not only full spread, but over-charg’d with heaps of high rich-Compounded Foods, and a variety of strong Cordial drinks
Christmas contemplations (1688)
Not long ago an American bookseller offered the Library a copy of a rare 17th century pamphlet, entitled Christmas contemplations or, Some considerations touching the due keeping of that solemn festival, as likewise of several irregularities therein, too frequently practiced (London: Printed by George Larkin, at the Two Swans without Bishopsgate, 1688). Just one copy of this tirade against Christmas excess is recorded on the English Short Title Catalogue, and the bookseller had become rather excited. Its only indication of authorship was a printed signature at the end – “Your well-wishing Friend, T.T.” – from which he rashly concluded that the author must be a Quaker, most probably Theophila Townsend, author of An epistle of love to Friends in the women’s meetings in London (ca. 1680) and three other short works.
The attribution of authorship seemed unlikely. Not only was Christmas Contemplations absent from Joseph Smith’s magnificent Descriptive catalogue of Friends’ books (1867), but the entry for Theophila Townsend in the Oxford dictionary of national biography (by our reader Catie Gill) made no mention of it, nor any reason to suppose her to be the previously unidentified author.
After looking into the matter, we thought it much more likely that “T.T.” was actually Thomas Tryon (1634–1703) the vegetarian. The case was clinched when we found that Tryon’s collected Miscellania (London, 1696) included the work. We informed the bookseller, the editors of the English Short Title Catalogue and the owners of the only other known copy (St. John’s College, Cambridge), and their records were duly altered. Bibliographic satisfaction achieved.
That wasn’t the end of it, though. As far as we knew, Thomas Tryon wasn’t a Quaker. Yet in our collection there were already two other works by him. Should Christmas contemplations have a place here too? If not a Quaker, what, if any, was the connection between Thomas Tryon and the Society of Friends?
One of the books we held was a treatise on plants of the Indies and ill usage of slaves, bound into a volume of pamphlets: it might have been acquired by virtue of its companion pamphlets or because it was printed by a Quaker, or perhaps because of its views on slavery (Friendly advice to the gentlemen-planters of the East and West Indies, by Philotheos Physiologus. – [London]: Printed by Andrew Sowle, in the year 1684).
The other, however, was a copy of Tryon’s autobiography, Some memoirs of the life of Mr. Tho. Tryon, late of London, merchant: written by himself: together with some rules and orders, proper to be observed by all such as would train up and govern, either familes [sic], or societies, in cleanness, temperance, and innocency (London: printed, and sold by T. Sowle, 1705).
Tryon was a man of many parts – an extraordinary self-taught polymath and mystical vegetarian, who wrote advice books on health, household management, brewing, animal husbandry and cookery, education and manners. He was a hatter from Gloucestershire who lived most of his life in Islington, but spent some years in Barbados; a keen amateur musician (he studied the bass viol); and a proponent of strict and idiosyncratic views on temperance, fasting and vegetarianism. He advocated a simple diet, avoiding certain mixtures of foods, “strong” foods and spices as well as meat, which he condemned as the cause of all sorts of ailments, including gout, dropsy, fever, wind and insomnia. Puddings (“such as are enricht with various sorts of Spanish Fruits and Indian Spices” … “a strange disorderly jumble and mishmash”) were a particular bug-bear, and currants were “most excellently fit to be thrown away to the Dunghil”.
Although not a Quaker, he evidently engaged with Quakers at some level: possibly some were sympathetic to his views, others certainly hostile. Many of Tryon’s works were printed by Andrew Sowle, the official printer to the Quakers, including his enticingly titled and several times reissued Way to health, long life and happiness (1683) and The way to make all people rich (1685), and the posthumous Memoirs (1705) were printed by Tace Sowle, Andrew’s daughter and successor. The Sowles didn’t only print for the Quakers; their output included works by other non-conformist and radical writers. It’s noteworthy though that the Quaker John Field (1648?-1724), although not personally acquainted with Tryon, published a theological rebuttal of his vegetarian arguments – The absurdity & falsness of Thomas Trion’s doctrine manifested, in forbidding to eat flesh (London: Thomas Howkins, 1685).
Whether or not the friends who arranged the publication of Tryon’s Memoirs after his death included any Quakers, there was certainly some intersection between Tryon and the Quakers. Did any of them, we wondered, subscribed to his views on diet and fasting? In the end we didn’t buy Christmas considerations from the American bookseller, but we enjoyed the closer acquaintance with Thomas Tryon, gent., that ensued from his offer.
Those of us who are vegetarians may well relish Tryon’s impassioned invective against the flesh-eating habit. His esoteric views on the dangers of mixing food ingredients might have fewer adherents though. We fully intend to enjoy our Christmas Pudding, and we hope you do too.