Thomas Tryon

Thomas Tryon (6 September 1634 – 21 August 1703) was an English sugar merchant, author of popular self-help books, and early advocate of animal rights and vegetarianism.

Thomas Tryon
Thomas Tryon, engraving by Robert White
Born(1634-09-06)6 September 1634
Bibury, England
Died21 August 1703(1703-08-21) (aged 68)
Hackney, London, England
Occupation(s)Sugar merchant, author, activist
Notable workThe Way to Health, Long Life and Happiness (1683)


Born in 1634 in Bibury near Cirencester, Gloucestershire, England, he had to work spinning wool as a child and received no education.[1] As a teenager, he worked as a shepherd till the age of eighteen and managed to learn reading and writing in his spare time.[2] In 1652 he moved to London without telling his parents and apprenticed with a hatter[2] at the Bridewell area.[3] He became an Anabaptist in 1654 under the influence of his master.[2] He liked the ascetic lifestyle of that congregation, but soon he found his own independent spiritual way after reading the writings of Jakob Böhme. In 1657 he heard an inner voice, which he named the "Voice of Wisdom", encouraging him to become a vegetarian and to live on a frugal diet.[4] He married in 1661 but failed to convert his wife to his lifestyle.[5]

He traveled to Barbados hoping to succeed in his hat trade and to profit from greater religious tolerance there, but was shocked by the cruelty of slavery in the plantations.[6] In 1669 he returned to London and settled in Hackney.[7] In 1682 his inner voice told him to engage in writing and to publish books in order to propagate temperance and nonviolence.[8] In the last two decades of his life, he published twenty-seven works on a wide range of subjects, including education, nutrition, abstinence from alcohol and tobacco and other health issues, and treatment of slaves.[9] At the same time he continued his hat trade and grew wealthy. Some of his self-help books sold very well.[10]


His most widely read book was The Way to Health, published in 1691 as a second edition of Health's Grand Preservative; or, The Women's Best Doctor (1682). It inspired Benjamin Franklin to adopt vegetarianism.[11][12][13] Tryon's writings also impressed playwright Aphra Behn (whose "On the Author of that Excellent Book Intitled The way to HEALTH, LONG LIFE, and HAPPINESS," appears in Tryon's 1697 Way to Health"), and vegetarian poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.[14] Tryon died in Hackney in August 1703 and his memoirs, Some Memoirs of the Life of Mr. Thomas Tryon, Late of London, Merchant, were published posthumously in 1705.[15]


Tryon's ideas on historical and philosophical matters were heavily influenced by ancient Pythagoreanism, Hinduism, and the teachings of German occultist Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa.[16] He considered himself a Christian and tried to reconcile Biblical, Pythagorean and Hindu teachings. His conviction was that there was one true original religion of mankind, followed by Moses, Pythagoras and the Indian Brahmins, but perverted by the majority of Christians.[17] According to him, the main tenets of that faith were pacifism and nonviolence to animals; benevolence to all species and vegetarianism were prerequisites for spiritual progress and a possible restoration of Paradise.[18] He explicitly advocated animal rights.[19]

Tryon was of the opinion that humans are a miniature image of the universe (microcosm).[20] He voiced environmental concerns about the pollution of rivers and the destruction of forests.[21] Tryon did not believe in reincarnation, but assumed that the souls of sinners take on the forms of vicious beasts in a nightmarish afterlife.[22]

Tryon has been associated with the history of animal rights. Historians have described Tryon as the first known author to use the word "rights" in regard to animals in his book The Way to Health, Long Life and Happiness, published in 1683.[23][24][25] He commented that man "would fain be an absolute Monarch or arbitrary Tyrant, making nothing at his pleasure to break the Laws of God, and invade and destroy all the Rights and Priviledges of the inferiour Creatures."[26][27]

Selected publications

See also

  • Benjamin Lay, an early abolitionist who was influenced by Tryon
  • List of abolitionist forerunners


  1. Stuart, Tristram: The Bloodless Revolution, New York 2007, p. 60; Spencer, Colin: The Heretic's Feast. A History of Vegetarianism, London 1993, p. 206.
  2. Stuart p. 60-61; Spencer p. 206.
  3. Cockayne, Emily (2021). Hubbub: Flith, Noise and Stench in England. Yale. p. 210.
  4. Stuart p. 61.
  5. Spencer p. 206.
  6. Stuart p. 60-62.
  7. Aithen, George Atherton (1889). "Marriage with Mary Scurlock". The Life of Richard Steele. Edinburgh and London: Ballantyne Press. pp. 204–05. Retrieved 14 July 2007.
  8. Stuart p. 62.
  9. Stuart p. 62-63, 509-511 (with list of Tryon's publications).
  10. Stuart p. 62-64.
  11. Spencer p. 207, 232.
  12. Franklin, Benjamin. His Autobiography.
  13. "What Benjamin Franklin Really Said About Vegetarianism | The Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG)". Retrieved 15 November 2021.
  14. Stuart p. 63-64.
  15. Smith, Virginia (23 September 2004). "Tryon, Thomas (1634–1703), vegetarian and author". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/27783. Retrieved 21 March 2021. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  16. Stuart p. 64-77.
  17. Stuart p. 65-66, 77.
  18. Stuart p. 65-67.
  19. Stuart p. 71-72.
  20. Stuart p. 75.
  21. Stuart p. 72-73.
  22. Stuart p. 76-77.
  23. Sherry, Clifford J. (1994). Animal Rights: A Reference Handbook. ABC-CLIO. p. 62. ISBN 9780874367331
  24. Linzey, Andrew. (1995). Animal Theology. University of Illinois Press. p. 20. ISBN 978-0252064678
  25. Perkins, David. (2003). Romanticism and Animal Rights. Cambridge University Press. p. 41. ISBN 0-521-82941-0
  26. Tryon, Thomas (1683) The Way to Health, Long Life and Happiness. p. 515.
  27. Magel, Charles R. (1989). Keyguide to Information Sources in Animal Rights. McFarland. p. 9. ISBN 0-89950-405-1

Further reading

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