Thomas Tryon’s A Dialogue between an East-Indian Brackmanny or Heathen-Philosopher, and a French Gentleman concerning the Present Affairs of Europe (1683)
This 22-page tract was published anonymously in 1683 (reissued in 1691 and 1697), and was the first of Tryon’s cross-cultural dialogues wherein he used his ventriloquizing powers to promote sociocultural reforms.
Tryon also ventriloquized the Other (birds of North America) in Part 2 of his The Planter’s Speech to his Neighbours & Country-Men of Pennsylvania, East & West-Jersey ... (1684), and he made significant use of the technique again that same year in one of the earliest anti-slavery tracts published in English, with a descriptive title which reads in full:
Friendly advice to the gentlemen-planters of the East and West Indies in three parts. I. A brief treatise of the most principal fruits and herbs that grow in the East & West Indies; giving an account of their respective vertues both for food and physick, and what planet and sign they are under. Together with some directions for the preservation of health and life in those hot climates. II. The complaints of the negro-slaves against the hard usages and barbarous cruelties inflicted upon them. III. A discourse in way of dialogue, between an Ethiopean or negro-slave, and a Christian that was his master in America. By Philotheos Physiologus. (London, 1684)
In Tryon’s Friendly Advice to the Gentlemen-Planters of the East and West Indies in Three Parts, a black African slave appeals to white European sensibilities using arguments which reflect such European values as femininity:
These things [pertaining to the inhumane treatment of black women and children], though our hard-hearted Masters regard not, yet methinks, our Mistrisses, if not out of Christianity or good Nature, yet out of respect to Woman-hood, and their own Sex, and by a Compassion raised from their own experience of the difficulties of Child-bearing, might be induced to prevail with their Husbands to be more tender in such cases [e.g., abuse of pregnant slave women], but so far are even these counted of the softer Sex, from any such commiseration, that when they alone have the sole command, as when they are left Widdows, or the like, many of them are more fierce, dogged, pinching, oppressing and severe than the men themselves.
(T. Tryon, Friendly Advice to the Gentlemen-Planters of the East and West Indies in Three Parts, 1684, 105–6)
and just punishment:
... one Widdow Woman above all the rest, (as we have heard) burned her Negro for running away, and saying, that, Where-ever he met her, he would Kilt her: So when she caught him, she was Judge, Jury, Executioner, and all, though at the same time she might have sold him to be transported to Mevis [i.e., rather than having him burnt to death].
Here was (as doubtless ’tis true) Revenge in the highest degree! If she had only threatned him, as he threatned her, she would have been even with him, but nothing would satisfie her Malice but to Roast him. O thou most just and eternal Lawgiver, and Perswader of all Creatures! Do these things taste or favour of Christianity?
(T. Tryon, Friendly Advice to the Gentlemen-Planters of the East and West Indies in Three Parts, 1684, 111–2)
and financial gain:
For the Tyranny, ill Usage and Improvidence of the generality may further appear by the great Numbers of our Country-men and Women that are brought every Year to America, and the Isles thereabouts, which shews the vast Consumption or Destruction that is made of us in those parts; we shall only give one Example; in the small Island of Barbadoes there are supposed to be commonly resident, forty or fifty Thousand of our Country-People, that are Slaves; and though we have our Custom of Plurality of Wives, and are naturally as fruitful as most Nations, yet our Off-spring will not maintain the Number, but they are forced yearly to bring in by Shipping, several Thousands more of our Country-men, as fresh Supplies, and to maintain the old Stock or Number; so that it looks like the Fields of Mars, where often Recruits are required to supply the place of the slaughtered Soldiers. Now would not any rational man conclude, that if One Thousand Men and One Thousand Women, (most of them young, and capable of Generation) lived in a separated place or Isle, where they want for no Conveniencies, for a matter of ten or twenty Years, who, (I say) could but in reason expect these two Thousand to be multiplyed at least to four Thousand, or more, and that they would encrease so fast as to grow rather Superfluous and Super-numerary, than that there should be any occasion to purchase more at dear Rates, from remote Regions: For thus it usually happens in other parts of the World, as England ... does not it spare every Year great Numbers of Men, which of late Years have settled several Colonies, and peopled divers Countries and Islands in America, which are like to become very numerous, and yet still their own Country rather over-stockt, than wanting of men to carry on their Affairs ....
(T. Tryon, Friendly Advice to the Gentlemen-Planters of the East and West Indies in Three Parts, 1684, 141–4)
On paper, at least, Tryon’s righteous and eloquent slave makes a persuasive case against the sort of double consciousness that excused Christian slave-owners engaged in human trafficking.
But it was Tryon’s A Dialogue between an East-Indian Brackmanny ... and a French Gentleman ... which first represented the so-called “heathen” as embodying the core principles of “true Christianity,” in contrast to his European brethren, among whom “the general Practice now-a-days runs quite contrary.” (Dialogue, 20 and 3)
During the course of their Euro-Hindu dialogue, Tryon’s inquisitive French gentleman admits that “nothing is more frequent among us than Contentions, Controversies and Wars.... Some for Empire, some for Glory, but most about Religious points, and the nearest way to Heaven.” (Dialogue, 2) In addition, the very “Life of Religion” (Dialogue, 3) is threatened in Europe by state-sanctioned (and in England’s case, state-imposed) restraints on “Liberty of Conscience”:
... to make all mens Understandings of a size, our Church-men prepare Moulds for them, viz. Creeds, Liturgies, Systems of Divinity, and the like, wherein they cast and fashion all mens Understandings, so that none but must own these, though he do not understand a Word of them; nor must dispute them, though his Heart and his Brain tell him they are false and impious.
(T. Tryon, A Dialogue between an East-Indian Brackmanny or Heathen-Philosopher, and a French Gentleman concerning the Present Affairs of Europe, 1683, 12–13)
As Tryon’s cultured “negro-slave” would do in 1684, Tryon’s Brahman spokesman of 1683 used European-style “Civilities” to persuade his French interlocutor of the need for reform and religious tolerance within the Christian community, by posing such rhetorical questions as:
Can any thing be more absurd than to turn Earth into a kind of Hell, under pretence of driving men to Heaven? and to commit Murders and Cruelties for the sake of the God of Life and Love?
(T. Tryon, A Dialogue between an East-Indian Brackmanny or Heathen-Philosopher, and a French Gentleman concerning the Present Affairs of Europe, 1683, 3)
In this book, and throughout Tryon’s oeuvre, the contradictions between professed principles and actual practice are laid bare, leaving the French gentleman to conclude:
You [i.e., his Brahman interlocutor] have not only gratified my Curiosity, but in several things informed my Understanding. And I heartily wish that your Virtue and Morality were crowned with true Christianity, and our Christianity embellisht with the real practice of your Virtue, Temperance and Moderation.
(T. Tryon, A Dialogue between an East-Indian Brackmanny or Heathen-Philosopher, and a French Gentleman concerning the Present Affairs of Europe, 1683, 20)
But Tryon’s A Dialogue between an East-Indian Brackmanny ... and a French Gentleman ... takes social criticism a step further when it becomes a study in comparative religion. From page 1, Tryon’s attraction to Brahman teachings and lifestyle is apparent. As a cosmopolitan London merchant who travelled abroad and spent 5 years in the Anglo-American colony of Barbados, Tryon shared with the Brahman spokesman of his 1683 Dialogue a heartfelt openness to and appreciation of human variety:
And we Bannians scarce know any thing that is a greater Evil, than for men to Contend, Hate, Envy, Oppress, Fight and Destroy one another, because they are not in all particulars like themselves: For men naturally are as various in their Intellects, as in their Shapes, Forms and Complexions; for the Shape and Form of every Body is according to the Nature, Equality or Inequality of the Spirit. The Lord hath made all things to differ; there is not any two things in the four Worlds alike in all particulars; therefore whosoever is offended with another, because he is not perswaded, or does not understand just as he does, is in truth offended with his Maker, who is the author of that Variety .... If there were not Variety there would be no Motion, for it is the various working Power, and as it were Strife between the Properties that causeth all Vegetation and Manifestation; if there were but one thing, there would be nothing, or a standing still, which the Jews great Prophet seems mystically to shew, when he saith, God made all things out of Nothing: For there was no Manifestation or Appearances before God moved himself on the Face of the Waters; which moving, seems to signifie the Strife of the various Forms, Qualities and Properties of the hidden Nature, without which nothing could be generated. But here I must be silent, for we are counted Heathens already, and I do not know what worse Censures may pass upon us, if we too far explain those Notions, which though founded in Nature, are yet so disagreeable to the Conceits and Practice of the Multitude.
(T. Tryon, A Dialogue between an East-Indian Brackmanny or Heathen-Philosopher, and a French Gentleman concerning the Present Affairs of Europe, 1683, 12–14)
Nor was Tryon alone in this seminal understanding of human difference. A wide range of European theosophists, natural philosophers (early-modern cosmologists), alchemists, and mystics — from “the lowest of men,” “tinkers, cobblers, weavers, and poor beggarly fellows” who learned Hermetic philosophy from Dr. John Everard, translator of The Divine Pymander of Hermes Mercurius Trismegistus from the original Arabic in the 1640s ... to the high-ranking duchess of Newcastle, Margaret Cavendish, who also argued that “it was impossible for all Mankind to be of one Religion, or Opinion” — embraced what Cavendish called in her scientific works the “infinite,” “Miraculous,” and “glorious or beautiful ... variety” of the divine creation.
Such beliefs concerning divinely-inspired variety derived, in part, from Pythagorean science, and Tryon repeats the 17th-century claim that Hindus, too, were influenced by the Greek philosopher, Pythagoras of Samos (b. c. 570 BCE–d. c. 480 BCE), about whom Tryon’s Brahman spokesman comments:
... this great man travelling for the acquest and diffusion of Knowledge into divers parts, left not our India unvisited, and there planted this wholsom Doctrine, which ever since hath not wanted Observers, derived down by a continual Succession to our Times.
(T. Tryon, A Dialogue between an East-Indian Brackmanny or Heathen-Philosopher, and a French Gentleman concerning the Present Affairs of Europe, 1683, 18)
our well-advised Fathers commanded us, our Wives and Children, to abstain from all kinds of Violence and Oppression, especially to those of our own Species, that thereby our Souls might be preserved from being precipitated into Wrath, and so retain Humanity, and the more noble Faculties of our Souls unspotted, as well as our Bodies rendred wholsom, clean, and fit to be Temples for the divine Spirit, esteeming Abstinence, Cleanness and Separation to be the true Paths that lead to all external and eternal Bliss.
(T. Tryon, A Dialogue between an East-Indian Brackmanny or Heathen-Philosopher, and a French Gentleman concerning the Present Affairs of Europe, 1683, 16–17)
Tryon, speaking elsewhere in his own voice, makes much the same argument over and over throughout his works, including in The Planter’s Speech to his Neighbours & Country-Men of Pennsylvania, East & West-Jersey ... (1684).
Here in his Euro-Hindu Dialogue, Tryon is intent on overturning “that common Error of thinking, that out of Europe or the Pale of Christendom dwells nothing but Rudeness and Barbarism.” (Dialogue, 1) Upon hearing from the Frenchman that Europeans “are told by our Learned, that you are meer Heathens, Infidels, Idolaters and Worshippers of the Sun, Moon, and all the Host of Heaven,” Tryon’s enlightened Brahman replies:
I nothing wonder that you Europeans should be mistaken about us, who live so remote, since you seem so little to understand the Opinions of each other amongst your selves, every one misrepresenting the Sentiments and Doctrines of all that differ from him. ’Tis true, we do highly esteem and admire all the heavenly Host, and those Refulgent Quires of the Coelestials, especially that glorious Eye of the World, the Sun, as being the Handy-Works and Wonderful Powers of the incomprehensible Creator, and think it part of our Duty to express our Gratitude and Veneration to the one only Fountain whence all those amazing Wonders proceed; for he that contemns the Streams cannot truly honour the Fountain. Do not your own Prophets teach you to Honour Rulers and Governours, because they derive their Government from God? And if you do not only worship and bow the Knee one to another (who are at best but brittle animated Dirt) but also reverence the Works of your own Hands, as a man cloathed in goodly Rayment, and the like, how much more ought we to have in high Veneration those wonderful Fountains of Light, Heat, Motion and Vitality, which are the manifested Powers of God, and his upper Vice-gerents and Lieutenants over the lower World? Did not you tell me but now that you esteemed your Hugenotes worthy of Death or Persecution, because they would not pay Esteem and Adoration to a few painted Clouts, the Pictures of their fellow-Creatures, which you call Saints, not knowing whether they be truly so or not; and yet you will condemn our Brachmans, for directing their Esteem to these glorious Master-pieces of the Creation? If you count such lifeless pittiful things, as Wood and Stone, or things painted and fashioned by Man, fit to be Representations of your Godds, and means whereby to enliven your Phantasies and Minds to an higher degree of Devotion (which was the sole intent of the first Inventers of those things) what regard then ought we not to have of those living Powers of God, the Coelestial Bodies, by whose sweet and friendly Influences all created Beeings are preserved and nourished? What is more exciting to a well-disposed Mind than to behold that glorious Body the Sun, with the innumerable Train of Stars, and the various Species in the four Worlds? or what doth more ravishingly declare the Greatness, Goodness, and eternal Wisdom of the immense Creator? This is a Book we study, in which the grand Charter of Nature, and the holy Mysteries of God are recorded, and we think do not Err in preferring it before the endless and contentious thwarting Volumns of the Talkative Philosophers and Wrangling School-men.
(T. Tryon, A Dialogue between an East-Indian Brackmanny or Heathen-Philosopher, and a French Gentleman concerning the Present Affairs of Europe, 1683, 14–16)
This speech revealed an alternative spiritual path, more or less in line with his own, that would intrigue Tryon for the rest of his life. He continued to explore Hinduism’s contours and depths, publishing, in 1695, a new work on the subject, this time ventriloquizing Averroës, Pythagoras, and “the King of India,” who converse about a wide range of topics, mostly medical.
In the book’s “A Letter Prefatory to the Ensuing Discourse,” dated April 1687, Averroës is described as a great philosopher
who is acknowledged by all that have the least Relish of Physick, to have very well deserved from that Art, he having laid down Excellent Rules, built upon sound Reason for the Preservation of Health, encouraging, and commending Temperance to all his Disciples.
(T. Tryon, Averroeana: Being a Transcript of Several Letters from Averroes an Arabian Philosopher at Corduba in Spain, to Metrodorus a Young Grecian Nobleman, Student at Athens ... Also Several Letters from Pythagoras to the King of India ... To which Is Prefixt, a Latin Letter by Monsieur Grinau ..., 1695, A5v–A6r)
being a severe Searcher, and diligent Enquirer into the Secrets of Nature, he never rashly past Judgment upon things: And being an Arabian, and having a nearer Communication with Phoebus, whatsover there is of Secret in this Business, that has created so much trouble to our Modern Physicians, could not be unknown to him.
(T. Tryon, Averroeana: Being a Transcript of Several Letters from Averroes ... to Metrodorus ... Also Several Letters from Pythagoras to the King of India ..., 1695, A6r)
The pseudonymous “Monsieur Grinau” emphasizes in his preface that Averroës’ doctrine concerning “the Menstruum [i.e., digestive juices] of the Stomach” (a favorite topic of Tryon’s) is not only well known to the learned of his day, but “an Original Manuscript Writ in Arabick” (presumably on a related subject) is held by the Library of the College of Physicians in London. And, he opines, it is to be expected that Averroës studied the writings of Pythagoras, since “their Sentiments are so much alike, that none can doubt but that there was an Intercourse and Correspondence betwixt their Souls.” (Averroeana, A6r)
As for Pythagoras,
Mankind with one consent agree that he was a Person endued with Antient Morals, and Sincere Fidelity, affecting neither the Applause nor Estimation of the Vulgar, having only a particular regard to the Welfare of Mankind, not stuffing his Writings with Rhetorical Flights to captivate the Understanding of the Ignorant, always commending many wholesom Rules, and useful Notions, to the Service of the World. So that it seems he was altogether bent to promote the Health and Welfare both of Body and Mind. What need is there to say more, so many Excellent Things have been Written by him, and with so many Praises have all the Learned in former Ages extolled him, that it would be highly unreasonable to suspect the Reputation of so great a Man.
(T. Tryon, Averroeana: Being a Transcript of Several Letters from Averroes ... to Metrodorus ... Also Several Letters from Pythagoras to the King of India ..., 1695, A5v–A6r)
The 1695 Averroeana (probably written in the late 1680s) is in three parts: Part 1 is formatted as an epistolary exchange between Averroës and Metrodorus, in which Arabic philosophy and Brahman culture are explored; Part 2 is formatted as an epistolary exchange between an Indian King and Pythagoras, in which Pythagorean doctrine is explored; and Part 3 is formatted as a third-person “Account of a personal discourse between Pythagoras the Indian king and his gymnosophists, asserting the truth of his doctrine, [as] found in an ancient Latin manuscript, attested by Averroes own hand.”
The book’s authorities assert, as does Tryon throughout his works, that “a due and sober moderation in Eating, Drinking and Exercising” (Averroeana, 51) is the key to good health and well-being. Doctors and apothecaries, along with their “inhumane” treatments and expensive medications, are for the most part dismissed. And Tryon’s Averroës promotes instead the traditional healing practices of “the Indian Brachmans. They are a sort of Philosophers, for whom I have ever had a great Esteem.” (Averroeana, 51)
Of note, Letter 8 in Tryon’s collection of Averroeana describes the state of women’s reproductive medicine in early-modern India (“the Method they use with their Women, during the time of their Impregnation, Lying in, and giving Suck, &c. in respect both to Mind and Body”). Here we learn that pregnant women of the Brahman caste drink nothing but pure spring water; that they are “very Exact and Punctual as to the quantity and quality of their Food”; that they fast regularly; that they “Labour and Exercise gently, Morning and Afternoon”; that they are ideally silent (“It makes the Mind sedate, grave, and thinking, strengthening all the Powers thereof, whereby they become more considerate, and better able to endure the Inconveniences they may meet with. For the Spirits of Women are naturally more Volatile than those of Men; so that much Talking doth spend and wast them, weaken the whole Constitution, and beget swelling, angry Humours, equally prejudicial to the Child, as to the Mother.”); that they are ideally cheerful (“Pleasantness both of Mind and Manners”); that they use music, taught to them by priests, to regulate (moderate and compose) their passions (“the Composition of the Elements in Women are of a more fine and softer Nature than in Men, for which cause they are more subjected to Passions, apter to Love or Hate, and consequently sooner, and more deeply wounded both in Mind and Body”); and that they use an herbal poultice for any tumors and distempers they develop.
Unfortunately, the passage that I think has to do with Hindu medicine’s treatment for breast cancer is badly stained, obliterating some of the text:
My transcription of the Hindu “Receipt to Cure Swelled Breasts” — part of a letter supposedly written by Averroës to Metrodorus — follows, with underlined spaces in place of the printed text which I can’t quite make out:
If any of their Women chance to have [hard ?] [swelling ?] ___ or Tumors, they ___ them to make this following Poultice, which they esteem to have an Universal Tendency and Effect. Viz. Take Rice and boil it in Water, and when it becomes thick and soft, they take a bitter Herb called (Tantaraboys) cut it small, and mix it with the Rice, adding to a Quart of this Two Ounces of good Sugar, and apply it to the Sore Ten or Twelve times in Twenty-four Hours, which gives ease the first time, and in a few Days heals the Distemper. They have a great Opinion of Sugar, taking it to be one of the greatest Balsams in the World, if mixed with proper Ingredients, and will often apply it alone to Cuts, Sores and Wounds.
(T. Tryon, Averroeana: Being a Transcript of Several Letters from Averroes ... to Metrodorus ... Also Several Letters from Pythagoras to the King of India ..., 1695, 58)
Tryon’s source for this ancient medical recipe is not known.
Perhaps he learned of it from Hindu traders of his acquaintance in London or Amsterdam.
Or perhaps he found it among Averroës’ MSS. in the collection at the Library of the Royal College of Physicians of London.
However he came by it, Tryon deserves credit for “Well-doing” (T. Tryon, A Dialogue between an East-Indian Brackmanny or Heathen-Philosopher, and a French Gentleman concerning the Present Affairs of Europe, 1683, 12) in publishing it, “to the Honour and Glory of God, the Improvement of our own Understandings, and rational Faculties, and the publick Benefit of the Creation” (T. Tryon, The Country-Man’s Companion, 1st edn., 1684, 89).
A firm believer in the efficacy of poultices, Tryon was always on the lookout for additional cataplasm recipes, regardless of national origin. In 1696, he published an English prescription for “An Excellent Poultis to Cure Sore Breast’s”:
My transcription follows:
An Excellent Poultis to Cure Sore Breast’s.
Take one Quart of Rain or River Water, some Sorrel cut small, half an Ounce of Coriander Seed beaten to Powder, two Ounces of good brown Sugar, as much Bread as will make it into a Poultis, make it Boyling hot, stirring it all the time, then it is done,-----Apply this every Hour, or every two Hours as warm as your Blood on a Linnen Cloath for two or three Days more or less, as you see occasion, and remember to wash your Breast with good Water and fresh Butter beaten together, every time you apply the Poultis, and you need not doubt but with God’s Blessing the Cure will be Effected in a short time.
(T. Tryon, Miscellania: or, a Collection of Necessary, Useful, and Profitable Tracts on Variety of Subjects ..., 9 books, 1696, 1.4)
Herbal poultices such as this, and the ancient Hindu treatment for cancerous breasts, are “noble” according to Tryon, since “all the Ingredients do cast a friendly aspect to each other, being of a cleansing mild Balsamick Nature and Operation.” Most important, they are “cheap and easily Come-at-able” remedies for the poor, who would otherwise be dependent upon “the tedious methods of some unskilful Chyrurgeons, together with their improper Compositions and unatural Applycations, which do not only Ruin and Undo many poor necessitous People, but to the losing of their Limbs and sometimes their Lives too” (T. Tryon, Miscellania, A4r).
In keeping with his vegetarian principles, Tryon did not use “the fulsom Grease of Swine and other Fats” in his poultices, as was then customary for Europeans. Anticipating his critics, Tryon argued that the added animal fats undermined the remedial powers of fomentation (“those Poultices wherein Fats are mixed, the fine Spirits and Vertues thereof do not so easily nor powerfully penetrate the Wound”), and were not the only means of preventing a poultice from “sticking to the Sore or wounded part.” This, argued Tryon, was better accomplished by “often repetition” (frequently changing a poultice): “every fresh Application of this Homogenial Poultice to the grieved part, do add new fresh Supplies of Vertue.” (T. Tryon, Miscellania, A5r) As “all Brewers and good House-Wifes are sensible of,” leaving one “applycation” on another for too long “will soon awaken another Quality of a gross harsh sour ... Nature, which with a rapid motion, tinges or transmutes all the fine sweet healing Vertues into their own Qualities.” In like manner, leaving a poultice on a wound for 12 or 24 hours, as was also common practice, causes it to “smell sour and stink” and “puts the patient to great Pain and Torment, and often the limb is cut off, and sometimes the Life too.” (T. Tryon, Miscellania, A6v)
Tryon concludes the preface to his Miscellania by advising his critics, “therefore despise not our method, nor our plain home bread Poultices”:
I could produce many living Testimonies of ... Success, but it is needless, since every Man’s Experience that tries it, will soon confirm the Truth of what is here delivered, nor am I not much Solicitous whether I am credited or not; it is the consideration of the publick good it may do to many poor People, [prompts] me to publish it, whether you will follow the forementioned Rules [e.g., constantly “stirring” the heated ingredients; and concocting “thin,” not “thick,” spoon-meats] or not, I have done my Duty in offering it, and therefore am satisfied.
(T. Tryon, Miscellania: or, a Collection of Necessary, Useful, and Profitable Tracts on Variety of Subjects ..., 9 books, 1696, A7r–v)