Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Toulmin, Joshua
TOULMIN, JOSHUA, D.D. (1740–1815), dissenting historian and biographer, son of Caleb Toulmin of Aldersgate Street, was born in London on 11 May 1740. He was at St. Paul's school for seven years (admitted 11 Nov. 1748), and in 1756 began his five years' course of study for the ministry at the independent academy supported by the Coward trust, and then under David Jennings [q. v.], assisted by Samuel Morton Savage [q. v.], Toulmin's relative. To the grief of his parents and the ‘displeasure’ of Jennings, his views became inconsistent with the strict Calvinism of the academy; two elder students (Thomas and John Wright) were expelled for heterodoxy; Toulmin did not share their fate, but eventually he much outran their views.
In 1761 he succeeded an Arian, Samuel Slater, as minister of the presbyterian congregation of Colyton, Devonshire. His ministry was much esteemed, till his adoption of baptist opinions made it impossible for him to administer infant baptism. At the end of 1764 Richard Harrison (d. December 1781), minister of Mary Street general baptist chapel, Taunton, resigned in his favour. Toulmin removed to Taunton in March 1765, and remained there over thirty-eight years. The congregation was small and declining; to make a living he kept a school, while his wife carried on a bookseller's shop. John Towill Rutt [q. v.] was among his pupils. In 1769 he received the diploma of M.A. from Brown University, Rhode Island, a baptist foundation. He probably adopted Socinian views about 1770; his life of Socinus was projected in 1771. His theological views and his liberal politics (though he was little of a public man) combined to bring odium upon him in the exciting period of 1791. Paine was burned in effigy before his door; his windows were broken; his house was saved by being closely guarded, but the school and bookselling business had to be given up. Yet his friends were staunch, and he refused calls to Gloucester and Great Yarmouth. He was one of the founders of the Western Unitarian Society, and preached at its first annual meeting at Crediton (2 Sept. 1792). In 1794 he received the diploma of D.D. from Harvard, on the recommendation of Priestley, with whom, except on the question of determinism, he was in very complete agreement. It was a recognition also of his services as the editor of Daniel Neal [q. v.]
Towards the close of 1803 he accepted a call to the New Meeting, Birmingham, as colleague to John Kentish [q. v.], and began his ministry there on 8 Jan. 1804. Though no longer young, he rendered good service for more than a decade, and his reputation grew with advancing years. His intention of resigning at the end of 1815 was deprecated by his flock. He died on 23 July 1815. On 1 Aug. he was buried in the Old Meeting graveyard; at his request the pall was borne by six ministers of different denominations, including John Angell James [q. v.] and John Kennedy, an Anglican divine. His tombstone was removed in 1886 to the borough cemetery at Witton. He married (1764) Jane (d. 5 July 1824, aged 81), youngest daughter of Samuel Smith of Taunton, and had twelve children, of whom five survived him. His eldest son, Harry Toulmin, born at Taunton in 1766, and educated at Hoxton academy, was minister at Monton, Lancashire (1786–8), and Chowbent, Lancashire (1788–92), emigrated (1793) to America, and became successively president of the Transylvania College, Lexington, Kentucky, secretary to the state of Kentucky, judge of the Mississippi territory, and member of the state assembly of Alabama; he died on 11 Nov. 1823, having been twice married.
Toulmin was a voluminous writer. Kentish enumerates forty-nine separate pieces, not including his biographical articles in magazines or his posthumous volume of sermons (1825). His other works are ephemeral, but as annalist and biographer his industrious accuracy is of permanent service.
He published: 1. ‘Memoirs of the Life … and Writings of Faustus Socinus,’ 1777, 8vo; the list of subscribers includes the ‘Nabob of Arcot’ and ‘Rajah of Tanjour;’ the book does not profess critical research, but is fairly compiled from the ‘Bibliotheca Fratrum Polonorum,’ 1665–9. 2. ‘A Review of the Life … and Writings of … John Biddle’ [q. v.], 1789, 12mo; 1791, 12mo; 1805, 8vo, still the best book on the subject. 3. ‘The History of … Taunton,’ 1791, 4to (plates); enlarged by James Savage [q. v.], 1822, 8vo. 4. Neal's ‘History of the Puritans,’ new edition, 1793–7, 8vo, 5 vols.; with ‘Memoirs of Neal,’ notes, and much new matter on baptists (from Crosby), and on Friends (from Gough); the reprint, 1822, 8vo, 5 vols., is rearranged. 5. ‘Life’ of Samuel Morton Savage [q. v.], prefixed to ‘Sermons,’ 1796, 8vo. 6. ‘Biographical Preface’ to ‘Sermons’ by Thomas Twining [q. v.], 1801, 8vo. 7. ‘Memoirs’ of Charles Bulkley [q. v.], prefixed to vol. iii. of ‘Notes on the Bible,’ 1802, 8vo. 8. ‘Memoirs of … Samuel Bourn,’ 1808, 8vo; a storehouse of minor biographies. 9. ‘Memoir of … Edward Elwall [q. v.] ’, Bilston, 1808, 12mo. 10. ‘An Historical View of … Protestant Dissenters from the Revolution to the Accession of Queen Anne,’ 1814, 8vo; a good sequel to Neal; a second volume, to the death of George II, was projected, but left unfinished. He contributed numerous biographies to the ‘Protestant Dissenter's Magazine’ and to the ‘Monthly Repository,’ published funeral sermons, and contributed to the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ and the ‘Monthly Magazine.’ Letters by him are in ‘Memoir of Robert Aspland,’ 1850. His portrait was three times engraved.[Funeral Sermons by Kentish and Israel Worsley, 1815; Memoir by Kentish in Monthly Repository, 1815, pp. 665 sq.; see also 1806 p. 670, 1815 p. 523, 1816 p. 653, 1819 p. 81, 1824 p. 179; Protestant Dissenter's Mag. 1798, p. 127; Wreford's Nonconformity in Birmingham, 1832, pp. 59, 89 sq.; Rutt's Memoirs of Priestley, 1832, i. 152, 303, 358, 386; Murch's Hist. of Presb. and Gen. Bapt. Churches in West of England, 1835, pp. 196, 203, 335; Merridew's Catalogue of Engraved Warwickshire Portraits, 1848, p. 65; Beale's Old Meeting House, Birmingham, 1882; Gardiner's Admission Registers of St. Paul's School, 1884, p. 88.]