Thomas Moore Johnson

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Thomas Moore Johnson

Thomas Moore Johnson (1851-1919) was an American attorney and student of philosophy. Known as the "Missouri Platonist," he lived in Osceola, Missouri and published The Platonist. His periodical mostly comprised translations of Greek works by Alexander Wilder and Thomas Taylor.

Personal life

Thomas Moore Johnson was born in Osceola, Missouri on March 30, 1851 to Waldo P Johnson and Emily Moore Johnson, who had moved from Virginia. Two younger brothers were St. Clair (possibly named for the county in Missouri) and Charles. Thomas studied law at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, and then established a practice in Osceola, where he continued to live for the remainder of his life. On May 8, 1881, he married Alice Barr (1861-1948). They had four children: Ralph, Waldo, Helen, and Frank.

Johnson died on March 2, 1919.

Legal career

Johnson practiced as a successful attorney in Osceola. His sons Ralph and Waldo also became attorneys.

Theosophical Society involvement

With the encouragement of his friend Alexander Wilder, Johnson became an early member of the Theosophical Society, being admitted on April 17, 1883. He was not attached to a lodge.[1] His membership diploma was signed by Founders Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott. From 1884-1886, Johnson participated in the American Board of Control that worked to develop the American Section of the Society.

Philosophical studies

Johnson collected and translated Greek texts, and became a recognized authority on Plato and the Neoplatonists.

Editorial work

The Platonist was an important journal that Johnson published from 1881-1888. Alexander Wilder was co-editor for a time.

The journal included translations of Plato and his Neoplatonic commentators, Greek, Persian and Arabic, and studies of Thomas Taylor, the Alexandrian School, and the like... The journal also, especially after volume 1, published articles, thought by Johnson to relate to Platonism by way of Hermeticism or to reflect the "esoteric doctrine of all religions," by W.Q. Judge of the Theosophical Society (on whose American Board of Control Johnson sat), Alexander Wilder (the perennial Platonist), and by T.H. Burgoyne, C.H.A. Bjerregaard, Henry Wagner, and other fellow members of the H.B. of L., and translations of the Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali, The Desatir, etc... Although it now seems commonplace for occultism to position itself in the spectrum of ancient wisdom and the prisci theologi, the idea was a challenge to spiritualist orthodoxy at the time.[2]

Its successor was Bibliotheca Platonica, of which Pat Deveney writes: "The journal more strictly restricted itself to translations and avoided the occult contributions that had appeared in and arguably detracted from the scholarly standards of its predecessor. Contributions by Alexander Wilder."[3]

Writings and translations

  • The Collected Works of Thomas Moore Johnson. Westbury, UK: Prometheus Trust, 2015. Virtually all of TMJ's translations and much of his original writings have been gathered together for the first time. See Prometheus Trust for more details.
  • Iamblichus, the Exhortation to Philosophy: Including the Letters of Iamblichus and Proclus' Commentary on the Chaldean Oracles .
  • Opuscula platonica : the three fundamental ideas of the human mind : Hermias' Platonic demonstration of the immortality of the soul. Osceola, MO: [Press of the Republican], 1908.
  • Bibliotheca Platonica : an exponent of the Platonic Philosophy.
  • Metaphysical Elements' by Proclus. 1909.

Personal library

While still a student at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, Johnson began collecting Greek texts. The University of Missouri-Columbia Libraries was given 1793 volumes out of Johnson's large collection of 8,000 volumes. His son Franklin Plotinos Johnson made the donation in 1947. According to the university website:

“The collection spans the centuries from the ancient Greeks to the nineteenth century philosophers, but the emphasis is on the classical authors, augmented by modern philosophy and criticism. The medieval Christian philosophers are also represented. Since the collector was a Platonist, it is expected that the collection of works of Plato and the critical works would be large.” (The Thomas Moore Johnson Collection, page 3).

The oldest imprint is 1494 and there are several hundred volumes with publication dates from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.[4]


Johnson, like most editors of his day, maintained a very active correspondence with many people. Patrick D. Bowen and K. Paul Johnson have compiled T. M. Johnson's letters from esotericists in the first volume of Letters to the Sage. This volume "provides some clues to the status and nature of his Platonic activities, and recounts conversions from orthodox Christian denominations to religious syncretism, occult thought, and Neoplatonism (e.g. “I finally exchanged my faith in Jesus Christ for . . . spiritualist freethinking,” S. H. Randall, Oct. 29, 1883, 371)."[5] Editors Patrick Bowen and K. Paul Johnson also provide excellent notes and biographical sketches of the correspondents. These are T. M. Johnson's correspondents:

A second volume of Letters to the Sage documents a 32-year friendship with Alexander Wilder. It has been made available for free by its editors on

Additional resources

  • Johnson's library is in the Special Collections and Rare Books at the University of Missouri Libraries. The catalog is available at Thomas Moore Johnson Collection of Philosophy.
  • The Johnson Library and Museum is operated by Johnson's descendants.
  • Bowen, Patrick D. and K. Paul Johnson, eds. Letters to the Sage: Selected Correspondence of Thomas Moore Johnson Volume One: The Esotericists. Forest Grove, OR: The Typhon Press, 2016. Available at
  • Bowen, Patrick D. and K. Paul Johnson, eds. Letters to the Sage: Selected Correspondence of Thomas Moore Johnson Volume Two: Alexander Wilder, The Platonist. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2018. Introduction by Ronnie Pontiac. Glossary by Erica Georgiades.
  • Pontiac, Ronnie. "Thomas Johnson: Platonism Meets Sex Magic on the Prairie". Posted on March 19, 2013 by Kimberley Nichols in Newtopia Magazine.
  • "The Sage of Osceola: Thomas M. Johnson," History of the Adepts web page. Posted May 1, 2013 at History of the Adepts.


  1. Theosophical Society General Membership Register, 1875-1942 at See book 1, entry 1882 (website file: 1A/27).
  2. Pat Deveney, "The Platonist" in website. Accessed 11/5/2018.
  3. Pat Deveney, "Bibliotheca Platonica" in website. Accessed 11/5/2018.
  4. Thomas Moore Johnson Collection of Philosophy, Special Collections and Rare Books, University of Missouri Libraries.
  5. Jay Bregman, review in Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft 12 no. 2 (Summer 2017), 250-253.