Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Tryon, Thomas

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TRYON, THOMAS (1634–1703), ‘Pythagorean,’ the son of William Tryon, a tiler, and his wife Rebeccah, was born at Bibury, near Cirencester, on 6 Sept. 1634. He was sent to the village school, but had barely learned to read when he was put by his father to spinning and carding, at which industry he worked from 1643 to 1646, earning two shillings a week and upwards. But his predilection was for the life of a shepherd, and he tended a small flock for his father from his eleventh to his eighteenth year, when he ‘grew weary of shepherdizing, and had an earnest desire to travel.’ Having relearned his letters and saved three pounds, he trudged to London, and, with his father's approval, bound himself apprentice to ‘a castor-maker’ (i.e. hatter) in Bridewell Dock, Fleet Street. He followed his master's example in becoming anabaptist, and worked overtime to provide himself with books for astrological and medical study. About 1657, as a result of a perusal of the mystical works of Behmen, he underwent a phase of spiritual revolt and broke with the anabaptists. ‘The blessed day-star of the Lord began to arise and shine in my heart and soul, and the Voice of Wisdom … called upon me for separation and self-denial … retrenching vanities and flying all intemperance. … I betook myself to water only for drink, and forebore eating any kind of flesh or fish, confining myself to an abstemious self-denying life. My drink was only water, and food only bread and some fruit. But afterwards I had more liberty given me by my guide, Wisdom, viz. to eat butter and cheese. My clothing was mean and thin, for in all things self-denial was now become my real business’ (Some Memoirs, p. 27). This strict life he maintained for more than a twelvemonth, relapsing, however, at intervals during the next two years, the natural result of such an ascetic life; but at the end of this period he had become confirmed in his reform, and he practised it strictly until death. In 1661 he married ‘a sober young woman,’ Susanna, whom he did not succeed in converting to his own ‘innocent way of living.’ After his marriage he visited Barbados, where he extended his trade in ‘beavers,’ and on his return, his business in the city continuing to prosper, he settled down with a young family at Hackney. There, in his forty-eighth year, he became conscious of an inward instigation to write and publish his convictions to the world. His writings are a curious medley of mystical philosophy and dietetics, his objects being, as he himself informs us, to ‘recommend to the world temperance, cleanness, and innocency of living … to give his readers Wisdom's bill of fare … and at the same time to write down several mysteries concerning God and his government’ (ib. p. 55). He strongly recommends a vegetable diet, together with abstinence from tobacco, alcohol, and indeed all luxuries; but recognising that, in spite of his admonitions, people would still imbibe strong drinks and ‘gorge themselves on the flesh of their fellow animals,’ he gives some practical information on the subject of meats, and wrote a little treatise on the proper method of brewing (No. 9, below). In his horror of war and his advocacy of silent meditation, as well as in his mystical belief, he forms an interesting link between the Behmenists and the early quakers; and he seems to have been widely read by sectaries of various schools both in England and America. Benjamin Franklin was greatly impressed when a youth by the perusal of ‘The Way to Health,’ and became for the time being a ‘Tryonist;’ nor is it in any degree fanciful to discover a marked likeness between the style of Franklin and the quaint moralising of Tryon, though there is in the latter a vein of mystical piety to which ‘Poor Richard,’ with all his virtues, is a stranger. Many of Tryon's positions were repeated in 1802 by Joseph Ritson in his ‘Essay on Abstinence from Animal Food,’ and some opinions are quoted from ‘Old Tryon’ (p. 80), though Ritson seems to have owed his inspiration more directly to Rousseau. Views somewhat similar to those of Tryon, but in a more refined form, were held by Lewis Gompertz [q. v.], the founder of the ‘Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals,’ who was in 1832 denounced by an ultra-orthodox follower as a ‘Pythagorean.’

Tryon died at Hackney on 21 Aug. 1703, leaving house property to his surviving daughters—Rebeccah, married to John Owen; and Elizabeth, married to Richard Wilkinson. It was believed that he had prepared a complete autobiography, but his executors were able to discover among his papers merely a fragment, or perhaps a rough draft only, of the early portion, and this was published by T. Sowle, the well-known quaker bookseller, in 1705, as ‘Some Memoirs of the Life of Mr. Tho. Tryon, late of London, Merchant,’ London, 12mo. Appended to the volume is a list of rules for Tryon's followers; but it is at least doubtful whether a society was ever organised in obedience to this paper constitution. Prefixed to some copies is an engraved portrait by R. White, from the block which had already supplied the frontispiece to some of his works. It depicts a man of severe aspect, with a square-shaped and very massive head. The portrait was re-engraved for Caulfield's ‘Portraits of Remarkable Persons.’ The British Museum copy of the rare ‘Memoirs’ is unfortunately mutilated.

Tryon's chief works were: 1. ‘A Treatise on Cleanness in Meats and Drinks, of the Preparation of Food … and the Benefits of Clean Sweet Beds; also of the Generation of Bugs and their Cure … to which is added a short Discourse of Pain in the Teeth,’ London, 1682, 4to (Brit. Mus.) 2. ‘The Good Housewife made a Doctor; or Health's Choice and Sure Friend,’ London, 1682 (Watt), 1692, 12mo (Brit. Mus.) 3. ‘Health's Grand Preservative; or the Women's Best Doctor … shewing the Ill-Consequences of drinking Distilled Spirits and smoaking Tobacco … with a Rational Discourse on the excellency of Herbs,’ London, 1682, 4to (Brit. Mus.) The work commonly referred to as the ‘Way to Health,’ 1691, 8vo, is a second edition of this manual; 3rd edit. 1697. Mrs. Aphra Behn addressed lines to Tryon as the author of this work. 4. ‘A Dialogue between an East Indian Brackmanny … and a French Gentleman … concerning the present Affairs of Europe,’ 1683, 8vo; 2nd ed. 1691 (see Halkett and Laing). 5. ‘A Treatise of Dreams and Visions,’ 2nd ed. London [1689], 8vo; another edition, entitled ‘Pythagoras his Mystick Philosophy reviv'd, or the Mystery of Dreams unfolded,’ London, 1691, 8vo (Brit. Mus.) 6. ‘Friendly Advice to Gentlemen Planters of East and West Indies,’ London, 1684, 8vo (Bodleian; Lowndes). This is an enlightened plea for the more humane treatment of negro slaves. 7. ‘The Way to make all People Rich; or Wisdom's Call to Temperance and Frugality,’ London [1685], 12mo ({sc|Halkett}} and Laing; Douce, Catalogue, p. 279). 8. ‘Monthly Observations for Preservation of Health, by Philotheos Physiologus,’ London, 1688, 8vo (Bodleian). 9. ‘New Art of Brewing Beer, Ale, and other Sorts of Liquors,’ 2nd edit. 1691, 12mo (Gordon); 3rd edit. 1691 (Brit. Mus.). 10. ‘Wisdom's Dictates; or Aphorisms and Rules, Physical, Moral, and Divine … to which is added a Bill of Fare of Seventy-five Noble Dishes of excellent Food,’ London, 1691, 12mo; 2nd edit. 1696, 12mo (Brit. Mus. with manuscript notes). 11. ‘A New Method of educating Children; or Rules and Directions for the well ordering and governing them,’ London, 1695, 12mo (Brit. Mus.) 12. ‘Miscellanea; or a Collection of Tracts on Variety of Subjects [chiefly medical],’ London, 1696, 12mo (Brit. Mus.) 13. ‘The Way to save Wealth, shewing how a Man may live plentifully for Two-pence a Day,’ London, 1697, 12mo (Brit. Mus. imperf.) 14. ‘England's Grandeur and Way to get Wealth; or Promotion of Trade made easy and Lands advanced,’ London, 1699, 4to (Brit. Mus.) 15. ‘Tryon's Letters, Domestick and Foreign, to several Persons of Quality occasionally distributed in Subjects,’ London, 1700, 8vo (Brit. Mus.) 16. ‘The Knowledge of a Mans Self the surest Guide to the True Worship of God and Good Government of the Mind and Body … or the Second Part of the Way to Long Life, Health and Happiness,’ London, 1763, 8vo, to which was appended in the following year a third part, London, 8vo (Brit. Mus.)

[Tryon's Works in the British Museum; ‘A Pythagorean of the Seventeenth Century,’ a Paper read before the Liverpool Literary and Philosophical Society on 3 April 1871 by the Rev. Alexander Gordon; Williams's Ethics of Diet, 1896, pp. 242–8; The Post Boy robbed of his Mail, 1692, vol. ii., Letter lxvi.; Monthly Repository, ix. 170; Franklin's Autobiography, ed. Bigelow, Philadelphia, 1868; Caulfield's Portraits of Remarkable Persons, 1819, i. 54–6; Noble's Continuation of Granger's Biogr. Hist. i. 275–6; Halkett and Laing's Dict. of Anon. and Pseudon. Lit. pp. 970, 1654, 2795; Hazlitt's Collections and Notes, 1876; Springer's Wegweiser in der vegetarianischen Literatur, Nordhausen, 1800, p. 54; Graham's Science of Human Life, 1854, p. 528.]

T. S.