Not to be confused with An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.
Title page of the first edition
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding is a work by John Locke concerning the foundation of human knowledge and understanding. It first appeared in 1689 (although dated 1690) with the printed title An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding. He describes the mind at birth as a blank slate (tabula rasa, although he did not use those actual words) filled later through experience. The essay was one of the principal sources of empiricism in modern philosophy, and influenced many enlightenment philosophers, such as David Hume and George Berkeley.
Book I of the Essay is Locke's attempt to refute the rationalist notion of innate ideas. Book II sets out Locke's theory of ideas, including his distinction between passively acquired simple ideas, such as "red," "sweet," "round," etc., and actively built complex ideas, such as numbers, causes and effects, abstract ideas, ideas of substances, identity, and diversity. Locke also distinguishes between the truly existing primary qualities of bodies, like shape, motion and the arrangement of minute particles, and the secondary qualities that are "powers to produce various sensations in us" such as "red" and "sweet." These secondary qualities, Locke claims, are dependent on the primary qualities. He also offers a theory of personal identity, offering a largely psychological criterion. Book III is concerned with language, and Book IV with knowledge, including intuition, mathematics, moral philosophy, natural philosophy ("science"), faith, and opinion.
The main thesis is that there are "No Innate Principles", by this reasoning:
If we will attentively consider new born children, we shall have little reason to think that they bring many ideas into the world with them
and that "by degrees afterward, ideas come into their minds." Book I of the Essay is devoted to an attack on nativism or the doctrine of innate ideas. Locke allowed that some ideas are in the mind from an early age, but argued that such ideas are furnished by the senses starting in the womb: for instance, differences between colours or tastes. If we have a universal understanding of a concept like sweetness, it is not because this is an innate idea, but because we are all exposed to sweet tastes at an early age.
One of Locke's fundamental arguments against innate ideas is the very fact that there is no truth to which all people attest. He took the time to argue against a number of propositions that rationalists offer as universally accepted truth, for instance the principle of identity, pointing out that at the very least children and idiots are often unaware of these propositions.
Whereas Book I is intended to reject the doctrine of innate ideas proposed by Descartes and the rationalists, Book II explains that every idea is derived from experience either by sensation – direct sensory information – or reflection – "the perception of the operations of our own mind within us, as it is employed about the ideas it has got".
Furthermore, Book II is also a systematic argument for the existence of an intelligent being: "Thus, from the consideration of ourselves, and what we infallibly find in our own constitutions, our reason leads us to the knowledge of this certain and evident truth, that there is an eternal, most powerful, and most knowing being; which whether any one will please to call God, it matters not!"
Book 3 focuses on words. Locke connects words to the ideas they signify, claiming that man is unique in being able to frame sounds into distinct words and to signify ideas by those words, and then that these words are built into language.
Chapter ten in this book focuses on "Abuse of Words." Here, Locke criticizes metaphysicians for making up new words that have no clear meaning. He also criticizes the use of words which are not linked to clear ideas, and to those who change the criteria or meaning underlying a term.
Thus he uses a discussion of language to demonstrate sloppy thinking. Locke followed the Port-Royal Logique (1662) in numbering among the abuses of language those that he calls "affected obscurity" in chapter 10. Locke complains that such obscurity is caused by, for example, philosophers who, to confuse their readers, invoke old terms and give them unexpected meanings or who construct new terms without clearly defining their intent. Writers may also invent such obfuscation to make themselves appear more educated or their ideas more complicated and nuanced or erudite than they actually are.
This book focuses on knowledge in general – that it can be thought of as the sum of ideas and perceptions. Locke discusses the limit of human knowledge, and whether knowledge can be said to be accurate or truthful.
Thus there is a distinction between what an individual might claim to "know", as part of a system of knowledge, and whether or not that claimed knowledge is actual. For example, Locke writes at the beginning of Chap. IV (Of the Reality of Knowledge): "I doubt not my Reader by this Time may be apt to think that I have been all this while only building a Castle in the Air; and be ready to say to me, To what purpose all of this stir? Knowledge, say you, is only the Perception of the Agreement or Disagreement of our own Ideas: but who knows what those Ideas may be? ... But of what use is all this fine Knowledge of Man's own Imaginations, to a Man that enquires after the reality of things? It matters now that Mens Fancies are, 'tis the Knowledge of Things that is only to be priz'd; 'tis this alone gives a Value to our Reasonings, and Preference to one Man's Knowledge over another's, that is of Things as they really are, and of Dreams and Fancies."
In the last chapter of the book, Locke introduces the major classification of sciences into physics, semiotics, and ethics.
Reaction, response, and influence
Many of Locke's views were sharply criticized by rationalists and empiricists alike. In 1704 the rationalist Gottfried Leibniz wrote a response to Locke's work in the form of a chapter-by-chapter rebuttal, the Nouveaux essais sur l'entendement humain ("New Essays on Human Understanding"). Leibniz was critical of a number of Locke's views in the Essay, including his rejection of innate ideas, his skepticism about species classification, and the possibility that matter might think, among other things. Leibniz thought that Locke's commitment to ideas of reflection in the Essay ultimately made him incapable of escaping the nativist position or being consistent in his empiricist doctrines of the mind's passivity. The empiricist George Berkeley was equally critical of Locke's views in the Essay. Berkeley's most notable criticisms of Locke were first published in A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge. Berkeley held that Locke's conception of abstract ideas was incoherent and led to severe contradictions. He also argued that Locke's conception of material substance was unintelligible, a view which he also later advanced in the Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous. At the same time, Locke's work provided crucial groundwork for future empiricists such as David Hume. John Wynne published An Abridgment of Mr. Locke's Essay concerning the Human Understanding, with Locke's approval, in 1696. Louisa Capper wrote An Abridgment of Locke's Essay concerning the Human Understanding, published in 1811.
- Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding. 1st ed. 1 vols. London: Thomas Bassett, 1690.
- Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Edited by Alexander Campbell Fraser. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1894.
- Locke, John. Works, Vol 1. London: Taylor, 1722.
- Clapp, James Gordon. "John Locke." Encyclopedia of Philosophy. New York: Macmillan, 1967.
- Uzgalis, William. "John Locke." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved on 22 July 2007.
- Ayers, Michael. Locke: Epistemology and Ontology. 2 vols. London: Routledge, 1991.
- Bennett, Jonathan. Locke, Berkeley, Hume: Central Themes. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971.
- Bizzell, Patricia, and Bruce Herzberg, eds. The Rhetorical Tradition. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2001.
- Chappell, Vere, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Locke. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
- Fox, Christopher. Locke and the Scriblerians. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.
- Jolley, Nicholas. Locke: His Philosophical Thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
- Lowe, E.J. Locke on Human Understanding. London: Routledge, 1995.
- Yolton, John. John Locke and the Way of Ideas. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1956.
- Yolton, John. John Locke and the Compass of Human Understanding. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970.
- ^Essay, II, viii, 10
- ^Essay, I, iii, 2.
- ^Essay, I, ii, 15.
- ^Essay, I, iv, 3.
- ^Arnauld, Antoine; Nicole, Pierre (1662). La logique ou l'Art de penser. Paris: Jean Guignart, Charles Savreux, & Jean de Lavnay. . See part 1, chapter 13, Observations importantes touchant la définition des noms.
PREFACE by the EDITOR.
The person chiefly concerned in improving this edition of Mr. Lock’s works, having long entertained an high esteem for that author’s writings, and being informed that a new edition of them was preparing, became naturally desirous of seeing one more complete than any of the foregoing; and of contributing his assistance towards it (so far as the short time allowed for that purpose would give leave) by not only collating former editions, and correcting those numerous errors which had crept into most of them; but also by inserting, or giving some description of, such other pieces as are known to have come from the same hand, though not appearing in any catalogue or collection of his works.
The farther liberty has been taken to subjoin a few things by other hands, which seemed necessary to a right use of Mr. Locke’s discoveries, and a more ready application of the principles whereon they are founded, v. g.
1. To the Essay on Human Understanding is prefixed a correct analysis, which has been of considerable service by reducing that essay into some better method, which the author himself shows us, (preface and elsewhere) that he was very sensible it wanted, though he contented himself with leaving it in its original form, for reasons grounded on the prejudices then prevailing Edition: current; Page: [ii] against so novel a system; but which hardly now subsist.
This map of the intellectual world, which exhibits the whole doctrine of ideas in one view, must to an attentive reader appear more commodious than any of those dry compends generally made use of by young students, were they more perfect than even the best of them are found to be.
2. There is also annexed to the same essay a small tract in defence of Mr. Locke’s opinion concerning personal identity; a point of some consequence, but which many ingenious persons, probably from not observing what passed between him and Molyneux on the subject, [letters in September and December, 1693, and January, February, May, 1694,] have greatly misunderstood.
It may perhaps be expected that we should introduce this edition of Mr. Locke’s works with a particular history of the author’s circumstances and connections; but as several narratives of this kind have been already published by different writers, viz. A. Wood, [Ath. Ox. Vol. 2d.]; P. Coste, [character of Mr. Locke here annexed]; Le Clerc, [first printed in English before the Letters on Toleration, 1689, but more complete in the edition of 1713, from whence the chief part of the subsequent lives is extracted]; Locke’s Article in the Supplement to Collier Addend.; and by the compilers of the General Dictionary, Biographia Britannica, Memoirs of his Life and Character, 1742, &c. &c. and since most of that same account which has been prefixed to some late editions by way of Life, is likewise here annexed; there seems to be little occasion for transcribing any more of such common occurrences, as are neither interesting enough in themselves, nor sufficiently characteristic of the author. We have therefore chosen to confine the following observations to a critical survey of Mr. Locke’s writings, after giving some account of his literary correspondence, and of such anonymous tracts as are not commonly known to be his, but yet distinguishable from others that have been imputed to him. Besides those posthumous pieces which have Edition: current; Page: [iii] been already collected by Des Maizeaux, and joined with some others in the late editions, there is extant,
1. His Introductory Discourse to Churchill’s Collection of Voyages, [in 4 vols. fol.] containing the whole History of Navigation from its Original to that Time, (A. D. 1704) with a Catalogue and Character of most Books of Travels.*
These voyages are commonly said to have been published under his direction. They were presented by him to the university of Oxford [v. Collier’s Dict.] That he was well versed in such authors is pretty plain, from the good use he has made of them in his essays; and the introductory discourse is by no means unworthy of him, though deemed too large to be admitted into this publication: whether it may be added, some time hence, in a supplemental volume, along with some of his other tracts hereafter mentioned, must be submitted to the public, and those who are stiled proprietors.
2. For the same reason we are obliged to suppress another piece usually ascribed to him, and entitled, The History of our Saviour Jesus Christ, related in the Words of Scripture, containing, in Order of Time, all the Events and Discourses recorded in the four Evangelists, &c. 8vo. printed for A. and J. Churchill, 1705, concerning which a learned friend, who has carefully examined it, gives the following account: ‘I am inclined to think that this work is the genuine production of Mr. Locke. It is compiled with accuracy and judgment, and is in every respect worthy of that masterly writer. I have compared it with Mr. Locke’s Treatise on the Reasonableness of Christianity, and find a striking resemblance between them in some of their expressions, in their quotations from scripture, and in the arrangement of our Saviour’s discourses.’ Under each of these heads this ingenious writer has produced remarkable instances of such resemblance, but too particular and minute to be here recited; on the last he adds, that Edition: current; Page: [iv] whoever reads the Treatise on the Reasonableness of Christianity with the least attention, will perceive that Mr. Locke has every where observed an exact chronological order in the arrangement of his texts, which arrangement perfectly corresponds with that of the History. It would have been very difficult to throw a multitude of citations from the four evangelists into such a chronological series without the assistance of some Harmony, but Mr. Locke was too cautious a reasoner to depend upon another man’s hypothesis; I am therefore persuaded that he compiled his Harmony, the History of Christ, for his own immediate use, as the basis of his Reasonableness of Christianity. And though the original plan of this history may have been taken from Garthwaite’s Evangelical Harmony, 4to. 1633, as Dr. Doddridge supposes, yet the whole narrative and particular arrangement of facts is so very different, that Mr. Locke’s History in 1705 may properly be termed a new work.
3. Select Moral Books of the Old Testament and Apocrypha, paraphrased, viz. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom, and Ecclesiasticus, in one vol. 12mo. 1706. This useful work is given by tradition to Mr. Locke, and his name often written before it accordingly. It was printed for his old booksellers A. and J. Churchill, and is thought by some good judges to bear evident marks of authenticity: of which I shall only observe farther, that by the method there taken of paraphrasing these writers in one close, continued discourse, where the substance is laid together and properly digested, a much better connexion appears to be preserved, and the author’s sense more clearly expressed, than it can be in any separate exposition of each verse with all the repetitions usual in eastern writings, and all the disadvantages arising from the very inaccurate division of their periods, as is hinted in the judicious preface to that work.
4. A letter to Mrs. Cockburn, not inserted before in any collection of Mr. Locke’s pieces. It was sent with a present of books to that lady, on her being discovered to have written a Defence of his Essay against some Edition: current; Page: [v] Remarks made upon it by Dr. T. Burnet, author of the Theory of the Earth, &c. Dr. Burnet’s Remarks appeared without his name in three parts, the first of which was animadverted on by Mr. Locke at the end of his Reply to bish. Stillingfleet in 1697; the two others were left to the animadversion of his friends. Mrs. Cockburn, to whom the letter under consideration is addressed, finished her Defence of the Essay in December, 1701, when she was but twenty-two years old, and published it May, 1702, the author being industriously concealed: which occasioned Mr. Locke’s elegant compliment of its being ‘a generosity above the strain of that groveling age, and like that of superiour spirits, who assist without showing themselves.’ In 1724 the same lady wrote a letter to Dr. Holdsworth on his injurious imputations cast upon Mr. Locke concerning the Resurrection of the same Body, printed in 1726; and afterwards an elaborate Vindication of Mr. Locke’s Christian Principles, and his controversy on that subject, first published, together with an account of her works, by Dr. Birch, 1751, and the forementioned letter added here below, Vol. ix. p. 314.
5. Of the same kind of correspondence is the curious letter to Mr. Bold, in 1699, which is also inserted in the 9th volume, p. 315, as corrected from the original. Mr. Bold, in 1699, set forth a piece, entitled, Some Considerations on the principal Objections and Arguments which have been published against Mr. Locke’s Essay; and added in a collection of tracts, published 1706, three defences of his Reasonableness of Christianity; with a large discourse concerning the Resurrection of the same Body, and two letters on the Necessary Immateriality of created thinking Substance.
Our author’s sentiments of Mr. Bold may be seen at large in the letter itself, Vol. ix. p. 315.
6. Mr. Locke’s fine account of Dr. Pococke was first published in a collection of his letters, by Curl, 1714, (which collection is not now to be met with) and some extracts made from it by Dr. Twells, in his Life of that learned author, [Theol. Works, Vol. I. p. 83.] The same is given at full length by Des Maizeaux, as a letter Edition: current; Page: [vi] to ****, (intending Mr. Smith of Dartmouth, who had prepared materials for that life) but without specifying either the subject or occasion.
7. The large Latin tract of Locke’s De Toleratione was first introduced in the late 4to. edition of his works, but as we have it translated by Mr. Popple to the author’s entire satisfaction, and as there is nothing extraordinary in the language of the original, it was judged unnecessary to repeat so many things over again by inserting it. Perhaps it might afford matter of more curiosity to compare some parts of his Essay with Mr. Burridge’s Version, said to be printed in 1701, about which he and his friend Molyneux appeared so extremely anxious, but which he tells Limborch (Aug. 1701) he had not then seen; nor have we learnt the fate of this Latin version, any more than what became of a French one, (probably that of P. Coste, mentioned under Locke’s article in the General Dictionary) in correcting which he (Mr. Locke) had taken very great pains, and likewise altered many passages of the original, in order to make them more clear and easy to be translated.* Many of these alterations I have formerly seen under his hand in the library at Oates, where he spent the last and most agreeable part of his life in the company of lady Masham, and where his own conversation must have proved no less agreeable and instructing to that lady, since by means of it, as well as from an education under the eye of her father, Cudworth, she appears to have profited so much as to compose a very rational discourse, entitled, Occasional Thoughts in reference to a virtuous and Christian Life, published 1705, and frequently ascribed to Mr. Locke. [See particularly Boyer’s Annals of Queen Anne, Vol. III. p. 262.] She was generally believed (as Le Clerc tells us) to be the author of another discourse on the Love of God, in answer to Mr. Norris; which has likewise been attributed to Mr. Locke, and has his name written before it in a copy now in the library of Sion College, but others Edition: current; Page: [vii] give it to Dr. Whitby. Of the same excellent lady Mr. Locke gives the following character to Limborch: ‘Ejus [i. e. Historiæ Inquisitionis] lectionem sibi et utilissimam et jucundissimam fore spondet Domina Cudwortha, quæ paternæ benignitatis hæres omnem de rebus religionis persecutionem maxime aversatur.’ Lett. June, 1691. ‘Hospes mea Tyrannidi Ecclesiasticæ inimicissima, sæpe mihi laudat ingenium et consilium tuum, laboremque huic operi tam opportune impensum, creditque frustra de religionis reformatione et Evangelii propagatione tantum undique strepitum moveri, dum Tyrannis in Ecclesiâ vis in rebus religionis (uti passim mos est) aliis sub nominibus utcunque speciosis obtinet et laudatur.’ Id. Nov. 1691.
8. We cannot in this place forbear lamenting the suppression of some of Mr. Locke’s treatises, which are in all probability not to be retrieved. His Right Method of searching after Truth, which Le Clerc mentions, is hardly to be met with; nor can a tract which we have good ground to believe that he wrote, in the Unitarian Controversy, be well distinguished at this distance of time; unless it prove to be the following piece, which some ingenious persons have judged to be his; and if they are right in their conjecture, as I have no doubt but they are; the address to himself that is prefixed to it must have been made on purpose to conceal the true author, as a more attentive perusal of the whole tract will convince any one, and at the same time show what reason there was for so extremely cautious a proceeding. Part of the long title runs thus: ‘The Exceptions of Mr. Edwards in his Causes of Atheism, against The Reasonableness of Christianity as delivered in the Scriptures, examined and found unreasonable, unscriptural, and injurious, &c. London, printed in the year 1695, 47 pages, 4to.
It is uncertain whether he lived to finish that System of Ethics which his friend Molyneux so frequently recommended to him; but from a letter to the same person, dated April 1698, it appears that he had several plans by him, which either were never executed, or never saw the light.Edition: current; Page: [viii]
Among the late Mr. Yorke’s papers burnt in his chambers in Lincoln’s-Inn, were many of Mr. Locke’s letters to lord Sommers, but probably no copies of these remain; which must prove an irreparable loss to the public, many of them being in all likelihood written on subjects of a political nature, as that eminent patriot was well acquainted with, and seems to have availed himself considerably of Mr. Locke’s principles throughout his excellent treatise, entitled, The Judgment of whole Kingdoms and Nations concerning the Rights and Prerogatives of Kings, and the Rights, Privileges, and Properties of the People. A work which seems to be but little known at present, though there was a tenth edition of it in 1771. The conclusion is taken almost verbatim from Mr. Locke.
9. Thirteen letters to Dr. Mapletoft, giving some account of his friends, with a large description of a severe nervous disorder and his method of treating it, and frequent intimations of his desire to succeed the doctor in his professorship at Gresham College, &c. were very obligingly communicated by a grandson of the doctor’s; but we have not room to insert them, as they contain very few matters of literature, to which our inquiries are chiefly confined at present; nor shall we be excused perhaps for taking notice of his letter to the earl of **, dated May 6, 1676, with a curious old ms. on the subject of free masonry, published in the Gentleman’s Magazine for September, 1758.
We are informed, that there is a great number of original letters of Mr. Locke, now in the hands of the Rev. Mr. Tooke, chaplain to the British factory at Petersburgh; but have no proper means of applying for them.*
10. Forty letters to Edward Clarke, esq. m. p. are among Dr. Birch’s papers in the Museum, but of like unimportance. Perhaps some readers think that the Edition: current; Page: [ix] late editions of Mr. Lock’s works are already clogged with too many of that kind; however I shall give one of these for a specimen, on raising the value of coin, as the same method which he there recommends, viz. of weighing it, has of late been practised. See the letter in Vol. ix. of this edition, p. 320. The two letters from lord Shaftesbury and sir Peter King, will speak for themselves.
11. It may likewise be observed, that our author has met with the fate of most eminent writers, whose names give a currency to whatever passes under them, viz. to have many spurious productions fathered on him. Beside those abovementioned, there is a Common-place Book to the Bible, first published in 1693, and afterwards swelled out with a great deal of matter, ill digested, and all declared to be Mr. Locke’s; but whatever hand he might be supposed to have in the original book itself, it is plain he had none in that preface, which is neither sense nor English. A puerile edition of Æsop’s Fables has likewise his name prefixed to it, and was in all probability ascribed to him for no better reason than the frequent mention made of that book in his Thoughts on Education. The title runs thus; ‘Æsop’s Fables in English and Latin, interlineary, for the benefit of those who, not having a master, would learn either of those tongues. The second edition, with sculptures. By John Locke, gent. Printed for A. Bettesworth, 1723.’
12. But it is high time to conduct the reader to Mr. Locke’s more authentic and capital productions, the constant demand for which shows that they have stood the test of time, and their peculiar tendency to enlarge and improve the mind, must continue that demand while a regard to virtue or religion, science or common sense remains amongst us. I wish it were in my power to give so clear and just a view of these as might serve to point out their proper uses, and thereby direct young unprejudiced readers to a more beneficial study of them.
The Essay on Human Understanding, that most distinguished of all his works, is to be considered as a system, at its first appearance absolutely new, and directly Edition: current; Page: [x] opposite to the notions and persuasions then established in the world. Now as it seldom happens that the person who first suggests a discovery in any science is at the same time solicitous, or perhaps qualified to lay open all the consequences that follow from it; in such a work much of course is left to the reader, who must carefully apply the leading principles to many cases and conclusions not there specified. To what else but a neglect of this application shall we impute it that there are still numbers amongst us who profess to pay the greatest deference to Mr. Locke, and to be well acquainted with his writings, and would perhaps take it ill to have this pretension questioned; yet appear either wholly unable, or unaccustomed, to draw the natural consequence from any one of his principal positions? Why, for instance, do we still continue so unsettled in the first principles and foundation of morals? How came we not to perceive that by the very same arguments which that great author used with so much success in extirpating innate ideas, he most effectually eradicated all innate or connate senses, instincts, &c. by not only leading us to conclude that every such sense must, in the very nature of it, imply an object correspondent to and of the same standing with itself, to which it refers [as each relative implies its correlate], the real existence of which object he has confuted in every shape; but also by showing that for each moral proposition men actually want and may demand a reason or proof deduced from another science, and founded on natural good and evil: and consequently where no such reason can be assigned, these same senses or instincts, with whatever titles decorated,* whether styled sympathetic or sentimental, common or intuitive,—ought to be looked upon as no more than mere habits; under which familiar name their authority is soon discovered, and their effects accounted for.Edition: current; Page: [xi]
From the same principles it may be collected that all such pompous theories of morals, however seemingly diversified, yet amount ultimately to the same thing, being all built upon the same false bottom of innate notions; and from the history of this science we may see that they have received no manner of improvement (as indeed by the supposition of their innateness they become incapable of any) from the days of Plato to our own; but must always take the main point, the ground of obligation, for granted: which is in truth the shortest and safest way of proceeding for such self-taught philosophers, and saves a deal of trouble in seeking reasons for what they advance, where none are to be found. Mr. Locke went a far different way to work, at the very entrance on his Essay, pointing out the true origin of all our passions and affections, i. e. sensitive pleasure and pain; and accordingly directing us to the proper principle and end of virtue, private happiness, in each individual; as well as laying down the adequate rule and only solid ground of moral obligation, the divine will. From whence also it may well be concluded that moral propositions are equally capable of certainty, and that such certainty is equally reducible to strict demonstration here as in other sciences, since they consist of the very same kind of ideas [viz. general abstract ones, the true and only ground of all general knowledge]: provided always that the terms be once clearly settled, in which lies the chief difficulty, and are constantly applied (as surely they may be) with equal steadiness and precision: which was undoubtedly Mr. Locke’s meaning in that assertion of his which drew upon him so many solicitations to set about such a systematic demonstration of morals.
In the same plain and popular introduction, when he has been proving that men think not always, [a position which, as he observes, letter to Molyneux, August 4, 1696, was then admitted in a commencement act at Cambridge for probable, and which few there now-a-days are found weak enough to question] how come we not to attend him through the genuine consequences of that proof? This would soon let us into the true nature Edition: current; Page: [xii] of the human constitution, and enable us to determine whether thought, when every mode of it is suspended, though but for an hour, can be deemed an essential property of our immaterial principle, or mind, and as such inseparable from some imaginary substance, or substratum, [words by the by, so far as they have a meaning, taken entirely from matter, and terminating in it] any more than motion, under its various modifications, can be judged essential to the body, or to a purely material system.* Of that same substance or substratum, whether material or immaterial, Mr. Locke has farther shown us that we can form but a very imperfect and confused idea, if in truth we have any idea at all of it, though custom and an attachment to the established mode of philosophising still prevails to such a degree that we scarcely know how to proceed without it, and are apt to make as much noise with such logical terms and distinctions, as the schoolmen used to do with their principle of individuation, substantial forms, &c. Whereas, if we could be persuaded to quit every arbitrary hypothesis, and trust to fact and experience, a sound sleep any night would yield sufficient satisfaction in the present case, which thus may derive light even from the darkest parts of nature; and which will the more merit our regard, since the same point has been in some measure confirmed to us by revelation, as our author has likewise shown in his introduction to the Reasonableness of Christianity.
The abovementioned essay contains some more refined speculations which are daily gaining ground among thoughtful and intelligent persons, notwithstanding the neglect and the contempt to which studies of this kind Edition: current; Page: [xiii] are frequently exposed. And when we consider the force of bigotry, and the prejudice in favour of antiquity which adheres to narrow minds, it must be matter of surprise to find so small a number of exceptions made to some of his disquisitions which lie out of the common road.
That well-known chapter of Power has been termed the worst part of his whole essay,* and seems indeed the least defensible, and what gave himself the least satisfaction, after all the pains he and others took to reform it; [v. Letters between him and Molyneux and Limborch. To which may be added note 45 to King’s Or. of E. p. 220, 4th edit.] which might induce one to believe that this most intricate subject is placed beyond human reach; since so penetrating a genius confesses his inability to see through it. And happy are those inquirers who can discern the extent of their faculties! who have learnt in time where to stop and suspend a positive determination! ‘If you will argue,’ says he, ‘for or against liberty from consequences, I will not undertake to answer you: for I own freely to you the weakness of my understanding, that though it be unquestionable that there is omnipotence and omniscience in God our maker, yet I cannot make freedom in man consistent with omnipotence and omniscience in God, though I am as fully persuaded of both as of any truths I most firmly assent to; and therefore I have long left off the consideration of that question, resolving all into this short conclusion: that, if it be possible for God to make a free agent, then man is free; though I see not the way of it.’ Letter to M. Jan. 20, 169⅔.
13. Connected in some sort with the forementioned essay, and in their way equally valuable, are his tracts on Education and the early Conduct of the Understanding; both worthy, as we apprehend, of a more careful perusal than is commonly bestowed upon them, the latter more especially, which seems to be little known and less attended to. It contains an easy popular illustration Edition: current; Page: [xiv] of some discoveries in the foregoing essay, particularly that great and universal law of nature, the support of so many mental powers, (v. g. that of memory under all its modifications) and which produces equally remarkable effects in the intellectual, as that of gravitation does in the material world;—I mean the association of ideas: the first hint whereof did not appear till the fourth edition of his essay, and then came in as it were by the by, under some very peculiar circumstances, and in comparatively trivial instances; the author himself seeming not to be sufficiently aware of its extensiveness, and the many uses to which it is applicable, and has been applied of late by several of our own writers. The former tract abounds with no less curious and entertaining than useful observations on the various tempers and dispositions of youth: with proper directions for the due regulation and improvement of them, and just remarks on the too visible defects in that point; nor should it be looked upon as merely fitted for the instruction of schoolmasters or nurses, but as affording matter of reflection to men of business, science, and philosophy. The several editions of this treatise, which has been much esteemed by foreigners, with the additions made to it abroad, may be seen in Gen. Dict. Vol. VII. p. 145.
14. Thus much may serve to point out the importance of some of our author’s more private and recluse studies; but it was not in such only that this excellent person exercised his learning and abilities. The public rights of mankind, the great object of political union; the authority, extent, and bounds of civil government in consequence of such union; these were subjects which engaged, as they deserved, his most serious attention. Nor was he more industrious here in establishing sound principles and pursuing them consistently, than firm and zealous in support of them, in the worst of times, to the injury of his fortune, and at the peril of his life, (as may be seen more fully in the life annexed); to which may be added, that such zeal and firmness must appear in him the more meritorious, if joined with that timorousness and irresolution which is there observed Edition: current; Page: [xv] to have been part of his natural temper, note,* p. xxix. Witness his famous Letter from a Person of Quality, giving an account of the debates and resolutions in the house of lords concerning a bill for establishing passive Obedience, and enacting new oaths to inforce it: [V. Biogr. Brit. p. 2996. N. 1.] which letter, together with some supposed communications to his patron lord Shaftesbury, raised such a storm against him as drove him out of his own country, and long pursued him at a distance from it. [Ib. p. 2997, &c. from A. Wood.] This letter was at length treated in the same way that others of like tendency have been since, by men of the same spirit, who are ready to bestow a like treatment on the authors themselves, whenever they can get them into their power. Nor will it be improper to remark how seasonable a recollection of Mr. Locke’s political principles is now become, when several writers have attempted, from particular emergencies, to shake those universal and invariable truths whereon all just government is ultimately founded; when they betray so gross an ignorance or contempt of them, as even to avow the directly opposite doctrines, viz. that government was instituted for the sake of governors, not of the governed; and consequently that the interests of the former are of superiour consideration to any of the latter;—that there is an absolute indefeasible right of exercising despotism on one side, and as unlimited an obligation of submitting to it on the other: doctrines that have been confuted over and over, and exploded long ago, and which one might well suppose Mr. Locke must have for ever silenced by his incomparable treatises upon that subject,* which have indeed exhausted it; and notwithstanding any objections that have yet been, or are likely to be brought against them, may, I apprehend, be fairly justified, and however unfashionable they grow, continue fit to be Edition: current; Page: [xvi] inculcated; as will perhaps be fully made appear on any farther provocation.
15. Nor was the religious liberty of mankind less dear to our author than their civil rights, or less ably asserted by him. With what clearness and precision has he stated the terms of it, and vindicated the subject’s just title to it, in his admirable letters concerning Toleration! How closely does he pursue the adversary through all his subterfuges, and strip intolerance of all her pleas!
The first lord Shaftesbury has written a most excellent treatise on the same subject, entitled, An Essay concerning Toleration, 1667, which, though left unfinished, well deserves to see the light; and, as I am assured, in due time will be published at the end of his lordship’s life, now preparing.
16. From one who knew so well how to direct the researches of the human mind, it was natural to expect that Christianity and the scriptures would not be neglected, but rather hold the chief place in his inquiries. These were accordingly the object of his more mature meditations; which were no less successfully employed upon them, as may be seen in part above. His Reasonableness of Christianity, as delivered in the Scriptures, is a work that will richly repay the labour of being thoroughly studied, together with both its Vindications, by all those who desire to entertain proper notions concerning the pure, primitive plan of Christ’s religion, as laid down by himself: where they will also meet with many just observations on our Saviour’s admirable method of conducting it. Of this book, among other commendations, Limborch says, ‘Plus veræ Theologiæ ex illo quam ex operosis multorum Systematibus hausisse me ingenue fateor.’ Lett. March 23, 1697.
In his Paraphrase and Notes upon the epistles of St. Paul, how fully does our author obviate the erroneous doctrines (that of absolute reprobation in particular), which had been falsely charged upon the apostle! And to Mr. Locke’s honour it should be remembered, that he was the first of our commentators who showed what Edition: current; Page: [xvii] it was to comment upon the apostolic writings: by taking the whole of an epistle together, and striking off every signification of every term foreign to the main scope of it; by keeping this point constantly in view, and carefully observing each return to it after any digression; by tracing out a strict, though sometimes less visible, connexion in that very consistent writer, St. Paul; touching the propriety and pertinence of whose writings to their several subjects and occasions, he appears to have formed the most just conception, and thereby confessedly led the way to some of our best modern interpreters. Vide Pierce, pref. to Coloss. and Taylor on Rom. No. 60.
I cannot dismiss this imperfect account of Mr. Locke and his works, without giving way to a painful reflection; which the consideration of them naturally excites. When we view the variety of those very useful and important subjects which have been treated in so able a manner by our author, and become sensible of the numerous national obligations due to his memory on that account, with what indignation must we behold the remains of that great and good man, lying under a mean, mouldering tomb-stone, [which but too strictly verifies the prediction he had given of it, and its little tablet, as ipsa brevi peritura] in an obscure country church-yard — by the side of a forlorn wood—while so many superb monuments are daily erected to perpetuate names and characters hardly worth preserving!
Books and treatises written, or supposed to be written, by Mr. Locke.
Epistola de Tolerantia.
The History of our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Select Books of the Old Testament and Apocrypha, paraphrased.
Introductory Discourse to Churchill’s Collection of Voyages.
Exceptions of Mr. Edwards to the Reasonableness of Christianity, &c. examined.Edition: current; Page: [xviii]
Pieces groundlessly ascribed, or of doubtful authority.
Occasional Thoughts in Reference to a Virtuous and Christian Life.
Discourse on the Love of God.
Right Method of searching after Truth.
Common Place-Book to the Bible.
Interlineary Version of Æsop’s Fables.
P. S. Having heard that some of Mr. Locke’s mss. were in the possession of those gentlemen to whom the library at Oates belonged, on application made to Mr. Palmer, he was so obliging as to offer that a search should be made after them, and orders given for communicating all that could be found there; but as this notice comes unhappily too late to be made use of on the present occasion, I can only take the liberty of intimating it along with some other sources of intelligence, which I have endeavoured to lay open, and which may probably afford matter for a supplemental volume, as abovementioned.
the LIFE OF THE AUTHOR.
Mr. John Locke was the son of John Locke, of Pensford, a market-town in Somersetshire, five miles from Bristol, by Ann his wife, daughter of Edmund Keen, alias Ken, of Wrington, tanner. He was born at Wrington, another market-town in the same county. John Locke, the father, was first a clerk only to a neighbouring justice of the peace, Francis Baber, of Chew Magna, but by col. Alexander Popham, whose seat was at Huntstreet, hard by Pensford, advanced to a captain in the parliament’s service. After the restoration he practised as an attorney, and was clerk of the sewers in Somersetshire. This John the father was son of Nicholas Locke, of Sutton Wick, in the parish of Chew Magna, but a younger brother of the Lockes of Charon Court in Dorsetshire.* The late Mr. Locke’s age is not to be found in the registers of Wrington, which is the parish church of Pensford; which gave umbrage to a report that his mother intending to lie in Edition: current; Page: [xx] at Wrington, with her friends, was surprised in her way thither, and putting into a little house, was delivered there. Mr. Locke had one younger brother, an attorney, married, but died issueless, of a consumption. By the interest of col. Popham, our author was admitted a scholar at Westminster, and thence elected to Christ-Church in Oxon. He took the degree of bachelor of arts in 1655, and that of master in 1658.* But though he made considerable progress in the usual course of studies at that time, yet he often said, that what he had learned there was of little use to him, to enlighten and enlarge his mind. The first books which gave him a relish for the study of philosophy, were the writings of Des Cartes: for though he did not always approve of that author’s sentiments, he found that he wrote with great perspicuity. After some time he applied himself very closely to the study of medicine; not with any design of practising as a physician, but principally for the benefit of his own constitution, which was but weak. And we find he gained such esteem for his skill, even among the most learned of the faculty of his time, that Dr. Thomas Sydenham, in his book intitled, ‘Observationes medicæ circa morborum acutorum historiam et curationem,’ gives him an high encomium in these words: ‘You know,’ says he, ‘likewise how much my method has been approved of by a person, who has examined it to the bottom, and who is our common friend; I mean Mr. John Locke, who, if we consider his genius, and penetrating and exact judgment, or the purity of his morals, has scarce any superiour, and few equals, now living.’ Hence he was very often saluted by his acquaintance with the title, though he never took the degree, of doctor of medicine. In the year 1664, sir William Swan being appointed envoy from the English court to the elector of Brandenburgh, and some other German princes, Mr. Locke Edition: current; Page: [xxi] attended him in the quality of his secretary: but returning to England again within the year, he applied himself with great vigour to his studies, and particularly to that of natural philosophy.* While he was at Oxford in 1666, he became acquainted with the lord Ashley, afterward earl of Shaftesbury. The occasion of their acquaintance was this. Lord Ashley, by a fall, had hurt his breast in such a manner, that there was an abscess formed in it under his stomach. He was advised to drink the mineral waters at Astrop, which engaged him to write to Dr. Thomas, a physician of Oxford, to procure a quantity of those waters, which might be ready against his arrival. Dr. Thomas being obliged to be absent from Oxford at that time, desired his friend Mr. Locke to execute this commission. But it happened, that the waters not being ready the day after the lord Ashley’s arrival, through the fault of the person who had been sent for them, Mr. Locke was obliged to wait on his lordship to make an excuse for it. Lord Ashley received him with great civility, according to his usual manner, and was satisfied with his excuses. Upon his rising to go away, his lordship, who had already received great pleasure from his conversation, detained him to supper, and engaged him to dine with him the next day, and even to drink the waters, that he might have the more of his company. When his lordship left Oxford to go to Sunning-Hill, where he drank the waters, he made Mr. Locke promise to come thither, as he did in the summer of the year 1667. Edition: current; Page: [xxii] Lord Ashley afterward returned, and obliged him to promise that he would come and lodge at his house. Mr. Locke went thither, and though he had never practised physic, his lordship confided intirely in his advice, with regard to the operation which was to be performed by opening the abscess in his breast; which saved his life, though it never closed. After this cure, his lordship entertained so great an esteem for Mr. Locke, that though he had experienced his great skill in medicine, yet he regarded this as the least of his qualifications. He advised him to turn his thoughts another way, and would not suffer him to practise medicine out of his house, except among some of his particular friends. He urged him to apply himself to the study of political and religious matters, in which Mr. Locke made so great a progress, that lord Ashley began to consult him upon all occasions. By his acquaintance with this lord, our author was introduced to the conversation of some of the most eminent persons of that age: such as, Villiers duke of Buckingham, the lord Hallifax, and other noblemen of the greatest wit and parts, who were all charmed with his conversation. The liberty which Mr. Locke took with men of that rank, had something in it very suitable to his character. One day, three or four of these lords having met at lord Ashley’s when Mr. Locke was there, after some compliments, cards were brought in, before scarce any conversation had passed between them. Mr. Locke looked upon them for some time, while they were at play: and taking his pocket-book, began to write with great attention. One of the lords observing him, asked him what he was writing? ‘My lord,’ says he, ‘I am endeavouring to profit, as far as I am able, in your company; for having waited with impatience for the honour of being in an assembly of the greatest geniuses of this age, and at last having obtained the good fortune, I thought I could not do better than write down your conversation; and indeed I have set down the substance of what hath been said for this hour or two.’ Mr. Locke had no occasion to read much of this conversation; those noble persons saw the ridicule of it, and diverted Edition: current; Page: [xxiii] themselves with improving the jest. They quitted their play, and entering into rational discourse, spent the rest of their time in a manner more suitable to their character.
In 1668 our author attended the earl and countess of Northumberland into France; but did not continue there long, because the earl dying in his journey to Rome, the countess, whom he had left in France with Mr. Locke, came back to England sooner than was at first designed. Mr. Locke, upon his return to his native country, lived as before, at the lord Ashley’s, who was then chancellor of the exchequer, but made frequent visits to Oxford, for consulting books in the prosecution of his studies, and keeping the changes of the air. While he was at the lord Ashley’s, he inspected the education of that lord’s only son, who was then about sixteen years of age. This province he executed with great care, and to the full satisfaction of his noble patron. The young lord being of a weakly constitution, his father thought to marry him betimes, lest the family should be extinct by his death. He was too young, and had too little experience, to choose a wife for himself; and lord Ashley having the highest opinion of Mr. Locke’s judgment, and the greatest confidence in his integrity, desired that he would make a suitable choice for his son. This, it must be owned, was no easy province; for though lord Ashley did not require a great fortune for his son, yet he would have him marry a lady of a good family, an agreeable temper, and a fine person; and above all a lady of good education, and of good understanding, whose conduct would be very different from that of the generality of court-ladies. Notwithstanding all these difficulties, our author undertook the business, and acquitted himself in it happily. From this marriage sprung seven children, all of them healthy. The eldest son, afterward the noble author of the Characteristics, was committed to the care of Mr. Locke in his education. Here was a great genius, and a great master to direct and guide it, and the success was every way equal to what might be expected. It is said, that this noble author always Edition: current; Page: [xxiv] spoke of Mr. Locke with the highest esteem, and manifested on all occasions a grateful sense of his obligations to him: but there are some passages in his works, in which he speaks of Mr. Locke’s philosophy with great severity.*
In 1670, and the year following, our author began to form the plan of his ‘Essay on Human Understanding,’ at the earnest request of Mr. Tyrrell, Dr. Thomas, and some other friends, who met frequently in his chamber to converse together on philosophical subjects; but his employments and avocations prevented him from finishing it then—About this time, it is supposed, he was made a fellow of the Royal Society.Edition: current; Page: [xxv]
In 1672, his great patron Lord Ashley was created earl of Shaftesbury, and lord high chancellor of England; and appointed him secretary of the presentation to benefices; which place he held till the end of the year 1673, when his lordship resigned the great seal. Mr. Locke, to whom the earl had communicated his most secret affairs, was disgraced together with him: and assisted the earl in publishing some treatises, which were designed to excite the people to watch the conduct of the Roman catholics, and to oppose the arbitrary designs of the court.
In 1675 he travelled into France, on account of his health. At Montpelier he staid a considerable time; and there his first acquaintance arose with Mr. Herbert, afterward Earl of Pembroke, to whom he dedicated his ‘Essay on Human Understanding,’ having the highest respect for that noble lord. From Montpelier he went to Paris, where he contracted a friendship with Mr. Justel, whose house was at that time the place of resort for men of letters: and there he saw Mr. Guenelon, the famous physician of Amsterdam, who read lectures in anatomy with great applause. He became acquainted likewise with Mr. Toignard, who favoured him with a copy of his ‘Harmonia Evangelica,’ when there were no more than five or six copies of it complete. The earl of Shaftesbury being restored to favour at court, and made president of the council in 1679, thought proper to send for Mr. Locke to London. But that nobleman did not continue long in his post; for refusing to comply with the designs of the court, which aimed at the establishment of popery and arbitrary power, fresh crimes were laid to his charge, and he was sent to the Tower. When the earl obtained his discharge from that place, he retired to Holland; and Mr. Locke not thinking himself safe in England, followed his noble patron thither, who died soon after. During our author’s stay in Holland, he renewed his acquaintance with Mr. Guenelon, who introduced him to many learned persons of Amsterdam. Here Mr. Locke contracted a friendship with Mr. Limborch, professor of divinity among the remonstrants, and the most learned Mr. Le Edition: current; Page: [xxvi] Clerc, which he cultivated after his return into England, and continued to the end of his life.
During his residence in Holland, he was accused at court of having writ certain tracts against the government, which were afterward discovered to be written by another person, and upon that suspicion he was deprived of his place of student of Christ-Church.
‘Being observed,’ (says the very unfair writer of his article in Biographia Britannica) ‘to join in company with several English malecontents at the Hague, this conduct was communicated by our resident there to the earl of Sunderland, then secretary of state; who acquainting the king therewith, his majesty ordered the proper methods to be taken for expelling him from the college, and application to be made for that purpose to bish. Fell, the dean: in obedience to this command, the necessary information was given by his lordship, who at the same time wrote to our author, to appear and answer for himself, on the first of January ensuing: but immediately receiving an express command to turn him out, was obliged to comply therewith, and accordingly Mr. Locke was removed from his student’s place on the sixteenth of Nov. 1684.’—But in order to a more complete view of these iniquitous proceedings, it may not be improper to annex the several letters between lord Sunderland and bp. Fell on the occasion, from Dr. Birch’s papers in the Museum. The first from lord Sunderland runs thus: ‘Whitehall, Nov. 6, 1684. The king having been given to understand that one Locke, who belonged to the late earl of Shaftesbury, and has, upon several occasions, behaved himself very factiously against the government, is a student of Christ-Church; his majesty commands me to signify to your lordship, that he would have him removed from being a student, and that, in order thereunto, your lordship would let him know the method of doing it,’ &c. The bishop answered, Nov. 8, 1684. ‘To the right hon. the earl of Sunderland, principal secretary of state: right honourable, I have received the honour of your lordship’s letter, wherein you are pleased to inquire concerning Mr. Locke’s being a student of Edition: current; Page: [xxvii] this house, of which I have this account to render: that he being, as your lordship is truly informed, a person who was much trusted by the late earl of Shaftesbury, and who is suspected to be ill affected to the government, I have for divers years had an eye upon him; but so close has his guard been on himself, that after several strict inquiries, I may confidently affirm, there is not any man in the college, however familiar with him, who had heard him speak a word either against or so much as concerning the government; and although very frequently, both in public and private, discourses have been purposely introduced to the disparagement of his master, the earl of Shaftesbury, his party and designs; he could never be provoked to take any notice, or discover in word or look the least concern. So that I believe there is not a man in the world so much master of taciturnity and passion. He has here a physician’s place, which frees him from the exercise of the college, and the obligation which others have to residence in it, and he is now abroad for want of health; but notwithstanding this, I have summoned him to return home, which is done with this prospect, that if he comes not back, he will be liable to expulsion for contumacy; and if he does, he will be answerable to the law for that which he shall be found to have done amiss. It being probable that, though he may have been thus cautious here where he knew himself suspected, he has laid himself more open at London, where a general liberty of speaking was used, and where the execrable designs against his majesty and government were managed and pursued. If he don’t return by the first of January, which is the time limited to him, I shall be enabled of course to proceed against him to expulsion. But if this method seems not effectual or speedy enough, and his majesty, our founder and visitor, shall please to command his immediate remove, upon the receipt thereof, directed to the dean and chapter, it shall accordingly be executed, by your lordship’s,’ &c. Lord Sunderland’s second letter to the bishop of Oxon: ‘My lord, having communicated Edition: current; Page: [xxviii] your lordship’s of the 8th to his majesty, he has thought fit to direct me to send you the inclosed concerning his commands for the immediate expulsion of Mr. Locke.’ The inclosed warrant, addressed to the dean and chapter, Nov. 12, ‘Whereas we have received information of the factious and disloyal behaviour of Locke, one of the students of that our college; we have thought fit hereby to signify our will and pleasure to you, that you forthwith remove him from his student’s place, and deprive him of all rights and advantages thereunto belonging, for which this shall be your warrant. And so we bid you heartily farewell. Given at our court of Whitehall, the 11th day of Nov. 1684. By his majesty’s command, Sunderland.’ The bishop answered thus: Nov. 16, ‘Right honourable, I hold myself bound to signify to your lordship, that his majesty’s command for the expulsion of Mr. Locke from this college is fully executed.’ The last letter from lord Sunderland to the bishop of Oxon: ‘I have your lordship’s of the 16th, and have acquainted his majesty therewith, who is well satisfied with the college’s ready obedience to his commands for the expulsion of Mr. Locke.’
With regard to bishop Fell’s conduct on this occasion, Dr. Birch observes, that notwithstanding his many good qualities, he was capable of some excesses in cases where the interest of party could bias him. Life of Tillotson, p. 100, first edition. What has been urged on the bishop’s side as rather favouring Mr. Locke, seems only to prove that all he acted against him might be done with some degree of reluctance; but yet notwithstanding the respect and kindness which he bore toward Mr. Locke, bishop Fell, it seems, on the clearest conviction of his inoffensiveness, under so many trials, had no thoughts of serving him so far as to run the least hazard of suffering for him, or with him. His candour towards Mr. Locke on a former occasion, when application was making for his being admitted to a doctor’s degree at Oxon, on a visit from the prince of Orange, will appear sufficiently from lord Shaftesbury’s letter to Edition: current; Page: [xxix] the said Dr. Fell, annexed in Vol. ix. p. 321, of this edition.
After the death of king Charles II. Mr. William Penn, who had known our author at the university, used his interest with king James to procure a pardon for him; and would have obtained it, if Mr. Locke had not answered, that he had no occasion for a pardon, since he had not been guilty of any crime.
In the year 1685, when the duke of Monmouth and his party were making preparations in Holland for his unfortunate enterprize, the English envoy at the Hague had orders to demand Mr. Locke and eighty-three other persons to be delivered up by the states-general: upon which he lay concealed to the year following.aEdition: current; Page: [xxx]
During this concealment, our author wrote his ‘Letter of Toleration,’ in Latin, in 1685; which was printed in duodecimo, at Gouda,* 1689, under the following title, ‘Epistola de Tolerantia; ad Clarissimum Virum, t. a. r. p. t. o. l. a. [Theologiæ apud Remonstrantes Professorem, Tyrannidis Osorem, Limburgium, Amstelodamensem:] scripta a p. a. p. o. i. l. a.’ [Pacis Amico, Persecutionis Osore, Joanne Lockio, Anglo.]†
At Amsterdam he formed a weekly assembly, consisting of Mr. Limborch, Mr. Le Clerc, and others, for conversation upon important subjects, and had drawn Edition: current; Page: [xxxi] up in Latin some rules to be observed by them; but these conferences were much interrupted by the frequent changes he was forced to make of the places of his residence.
Our author’s great work, the ‘Essay concerning Human Understanding,’ he had been employed about for some years, and he finished it in Holland about the end of the year 1687. He made an abridgment of it himself, which his friend Mr. Le Clerc translated into French, and inserted in one of his ‘Bibliotheques.’* This abridgment was so highly approved of by all persons of understanding, and sincere lovers of truth, that they expressed the strongest desire to see the whole work.
About the same time, as Le Clerc informs us, he made several extracts of books, as that of Boyle on Specific Medicines, which is inserted in the second volume of Bibliotheque Universelle; and some others in the following volume.
At length the happy revolution in 1688, effected by the courage and good conduct of the prince of Orange, opened a way for Mr. Locke’s return into his own country; whither he came in the fleet which conveyed the princess of Orange. And upon the restoration of public liberty, he thought it proper to assert his own private rights. He endeavoured therefore to procure his restoration to his place of student of Christ-Church; not that he designed to return thither, but only that it might appear from thence, that he had been unjustly deprived of it. But when he found, that the college could not be prevailed on to dispossess the person who had been elected in his room, and that they would only admit him as a supernumerary student, he desisted from his claim.
He was now at full liberty to pursue his speculations, and accordingly, in the year 1689, he published his ‘Essay on Human Understanding.’ This work, which has made our author’s name immortal, and which does honour to our country, gave great offence to many Edition: current; Page: [xxxii] people at the first publication. It was proposed at a meeting of the heads of houses of the university of Oxford, to censure and discourage the reading of it; and after various debates among themselves, it was concluded, that each head of an house should endeavour to prevent its being read in his college.* The reason of this is obvious; Mr. Locke had let in more light upon the minds of men than was consistent with the dark designs of some persons.
In the same year Mr. Locke also published his ‘Two Treatises on Government;’ in which he fully vindicated the principles upon which the revolution was founded, and entirely overturned all the doctrines of slavery.
His writings had now procured him such high esteem, and he had merited so much of the government, that it would have been easy for him to have obtained a very considerable post; but he contented himself with that of commissioner of appeals, worth about 2001. per ann. He was offered to go abroad in a public character, and it was left to his choice whether he would be envoy at the court of the emperor, the elector of Brandenbourg, or any other, where he thought the air most suitable to him; but he declined it on account of his ill health.
About this time the public coin was very bad, having been so much clipped, and no care used to remedy it, that it wanted above a third of its due value. The effect of this was, that the people thought themselves a great deal richer than indeed they were: for though the coin was not raised in its value by public authority, it was put off in trade for above a third part more than it weighed. Mr. Locke had observed this disorder ever since his return to England; and he frequently spoke of it, that some measures might be taken to prevent it.—He said, ‘that the nation was in greater danger from a secret unobserved abuse, than from all those other evils of which persons were so generally apprehensive; and that if care was not taken to rectify the coin, that Edition: current; Page: [xxxiii] irregularity alone would prove fatal to us, though we should succeed in every thing else.’ One day, when he seemed very much disturbed about this matter, some persons rallied him as if he tormented himself with a groundless fear: he answered, ‘that persons might laugh if they pleased, but they would find in a very short time, that if care was not taken, we should want money in England to buy bread.’ And accordingly there were such disorders on this account, that the parliament took the matter into the most serious consideration. To assist the great men at the head of affairs, who are not always the best judges, to form a right understanding of this matter, and to excite them to rectify this shameful abuse, Mr. Locke published a little treatise, intitled, ‘Some Considerations of the Consequence of the lowering of the Interest, and raising the Value of Money;’ in which there are many nice and curious observations on both those subjects, as well as on trade in general. This treatise was shortly followed by two more upon the same subject, in which he obviated all objections, and confuted all his opposers.
He fully showed to the world by these discourses, that he was able to reason on trade and business, as on the most abstract parts of science; and that he was none of those philosophers, who spend their lives in search of truths merely speculative, and who by their ignorance of those things which concern the public good, are incapable of serving their country. These writings recommended him to the notice of the greatest persons, with whom he used to converse very freely. He held weekly conferences with the earl of Pembroke, then lord keeper of the privy seal; and when the air of London began to affect his lungs, he went for some days to the earl of Peterborough’s seat near Fulham, where he always met with the most friendly reception: but he was obliged afterward entirely to leave London, at least all the winter season, and to go to a greater distance. He had made frequent visits at different times to sir Francis Masham’s, at Oates, in Essex; where he found the air so good, so agreeable to his constitution, and the society so delightful, that he was easily prevailed with Edition: current; Page: [xxxiv] to become one of the family, and to settle there during his life. He was received upon his own terms, that he might have his intire liberty, and look upon himself as at his own house. Here he applied himself to his studies as much as his weak health would allow, being seldom absent, because the air of London grew more and more troublesome to him. He came to town only in the summer for three or four months, and if he returned to Oates any thing indisposed, the air of that place soon recovered him.
In 1693 he published his ‘Thoughts concerning the Education of Children,’ which he improved considerably afterward.
In 1695 Mr. Locke published his treatise of ‘The Reasonableness of Christianity, as delivered in the Scriptures:’ written, it is said, in order to promote the scheme which king William III. had much at heart, of a comprehension with the dissenters. In this he has proved, that the christian religion, as delivered in the scriptures, and free from all corrupt mixtures, is the most reasonable institution in the world. This book was attacked by an ignorant, but zealous divine, Dr. Edwards, in a very rude and scurrilous manner. Mr. Locke answered Edwards, and defended his answer with such strength of reason, that he might justly have expected from his adversary a public acknowledgment of his errour, if he had not been one of those writers who have no more shame than reason in them. Mr. Locke was also obliged to Mr. Bold, a worthy and pious clergyman, for vindicating his principles against the cavils of Edwards.
Some time before this, Mr. Toland published a book, intitled, ‘Christianity not mysterious,’ in which he endeavoured to prove, that there is nothing in the ‘christian religion, not only contrary to reason, but even nothing above it.’ Mr. Toland, in explaining some of his notions, used several arguments from Mr. Locke’s ‘Essay on Human Understanding.’ Some unitarians also about this time published several treatises, in which they affirmed, that there was nothing in the christian religion but what was rational and intelligible; Edition: current; Page: [xxxv] and Mr. Locke having asserted in his writings, that revelation delivers nothing contrary to reason; these things engaged Dr. Stillingfleet, the learned bishop of Worcester, to publish a treatise in which he endeavoured to defend the doctrine of the trinity, against Mr. Toland and the unitarians. In this treatise the bishop opposed some of Mr. Locke’s principles, judging them heretical, and favouring the above-mentioned writers. Mr. Locke answered him, and the bishop replied the same year. This reply was confuted, by a second letter of Mr. Locke’s, which drew a second answer from the bishop in 1698; and Mr. Locke again replied in a third letter, wherein he treated more largely of ‘the certainty of reason by ideas, of the certainty of faith, of the resurrection of the same body, and the immateriality of the soul.’ He showed the perfect agreement of his principles with the christian religion, and that he had advanced nothing which had the least tendency to scepticism, which the bishop had very ignorantly charged him with. But the bishop dying some time after this, the dispute ended. In this controversy every body admired the strength of Mr. Locke’s reasoning, his great clearness and exactness, both in explaining his own notions and principles, and confuting those of his adversary: nor were men of understanding less surprised, that so learned a man as the bishop should engage in a controversy, wherein he had all the disadvantages possible; for he was by no means able to maintain his opinions against Mr. Locke, whose reasoning he neither understood, nor the thing itself about which he disputed. This learned bishop had spent the greatest part of his time in the study of ecclesiastical antiquities, and reading a prodigious number of books, but was no great philosopher; nor had he ever accustomed himself to that close way of thinking and reasoning, in which Mr. Locke did so highly excel. However, though our philosopher had so great a victory over the bishop, and had reason to complain of the bishop’s unjust charges against him, and for his writing on subjects of which he was so grossly ignorant; yet he did not make an insolent triumph over his ignorance, but in the confutation Edition: current; Page: [xxxvi] of his errours treated him with great respect. He shows, indeed, that the bishop did not understand the subject he wrote about, and that he was very incorrect and inaccurate in his expressions; but he rather insinuates this by producing the bishop’s own words, and leaving his readers to judge, than reflects on him for it. In short, never was a controversy managed with so much art and skill on one side; nor, on the other, so unjustly, confusedly, or so little to the credit of the author. Time, which is the best judge of things, has abundantly manifested this. The bishop’s writings on that subject, like all those of our author’s adversaries, are neglected and buried in oblivion; but his own will live for ever.
In 1695 Mr. Locke was appointed one of the commissioners of trade and plantations, a place worth 1000l. per annum. The duties of this post he discharged with much care and diligence, and with universal approbation. He continued in it till the year 1700, when upon the increase of his asthmatic disorder, he was forced to resign it.
He acquainted no person with his design of leaving that place till he had given up his commission into the king’s own hand. The king was very unwilling to dismiss him, and told our author, that he would be well pleased with his continuance in that office, though he should give little or no attendance; for that he did not desire him to stay in town one day to the hurt of his health. But Mr. Locke told the king, that he could not in conscience hold a place to which such a salary was annexed, without discharging the duties of it; and therefore he begged leave to resign it. King William had a great esteem for our author, and would sometimes send for him to discourse on public affairs, and to know his sentiments of things. Mr. Locke once told the king very plainly, that if the universities were not reformed, and other principles taught there, than had been formerly inculcated, they would either destroy him, or some of his successors, or both.
He had a great knowledge of the world, and was prudent without cunning, easy, affable, and condescending Edition: current; Page: [xxxvii] without any mean complaisance. If there was any thing he could not bear, it was ill manners, and a rude behaviour. This was ever ungrateful to him, unless when he perceived that it proceeded from ignorance; but when it was the effect of pride, ill-nature, or brutality, he detested it. He looked on civility not only as a duty of humanity, but of christianity; and he thought that it ought to be more pressed and urged upon men than it commonly is. He recommended on this occasion a treatise in the moral Essays, written by the gentlemen of Port Royal, ‘concerning the means of preserving peace among men,’ and was a great admirer of Dr. Whichcote’s sermons on the subject. He was exact to his word, and religiously performed whatever he promised. He was very scrupulous of giving recommendations of persons whom he did not well know, and would by no means commend those whom he thought not to deserve it. If he was told that his recommendation had not produced the effect expected, he would say, ‘the reason of that was because he never deceived any person by saying more than he knew; that he never passed his word for any but such as he believed would answer the character he gave of them; and that if he should do otherwise, his recommendations would be worth nothing.’
He was naturally very active, and employed himself as much as his health would permit. Sometimes he diverted himself with working in the garden, which he well understood. He loved walking, but not being able to walk much, through the disorder of his lungs, he used to ride out after dinner; and when he could not bear a horse, he went in a chaise. He always chose to have company with him, though it were but a child, for he took pleasure in talking with children of a good education.* His bad health was a disturbance to none but himself; and any person might be with him without any other concern than that of seeing him suffer. He did not differ from others in his diet, but only in that his usual drink was nothing but water; and he thought Edition: current; Page: [xxxviii] that was the means, under God, of lengthening his life. To this he also thought the preservation of his sight was in a great measure owing, for he could read by candle-light all sorts of books to the last, if they were not of a very small print, without the use of spectacles. He had no other distemper but his asthma, except a deafness for about six months, which he lamented in a letter to one of his friends, telling him, ‘he thought it better to be blind than deaf, as it deprived him of all conversation.’
The last fourteen or fifteen years of his life, he spent chiefly at Oates, seldom coming to town; and during this agreeable retirement, he applied himself to the study of the scriptures.
In 1704 our author’s strength began to fail more than ever in the beginning of the summer; a season which for several years had restored him some degrees of strength. His weakness made him apprehend his death was near. He often spoke of it himself, but always with great composure, though he omitted none of the precautions which his skill in medicine could suggest, in order to prolong his life. At length his legs began to swell; and that swelling increasing every day, his strength diminished visibly. He then saw how short a time he had to live, and prepared to quit this world, with a deep sense of the manifold blessings of God to him, which he took delight in recounting to his friends, and full of a sincere resignation to the divine will, and of firm hopes in his promises of a future life. For some weeks, as he was not able to walk, he was carried about the house in a chair. The day before his death, lady Masham being alone with him, and sitting by his bed, he exhorted her, to regard this world only as a state of preparation for a better; and added, that he had lived long enough, and thanked God for having passed his life so happily, but that this life appeared to him a mere vanity. He had no sleep that night, but resolved to try to rise next morning, as he did. He was carried into his study, and placed in an easy chair, where he slept a considerable while at different times. Seeming to be a little refreshed, he would be dressed as he Edition: current; Page: [xxxix] used to be. He then desired lady Masham, who was reading the psalms low, while he was dressing, to read aloud: she did so, and he appeared very attentive, till the approach of death preventing him, he desired her to break off, and a few minutes after expired, on October 28, 1704, in the seventy-third year of his age. He was interred in the church-yard of High Lever, in Essex, and the following inscription, placed against the church-wall, was written by himself:
‘Siste viator, Hic juxta situs est Joannes Locke. Si qualis fuerit rogas, mediocritate sua contentum se vixisse respondet. Literis innutritus, eousque profecit, ut veritati unice litaret. Hoc ex scriptis illius disce; quæ, quod de eo reliquum est, majori fide tibi exhibebunt, quam epitaphii suspecta elogia. Virtutes si quas habuit, minores sane quam sibi laudi, tibi in exemplum proponeret. Vitia una sepeliantur. Morum exemplum si quæras, in evangelio habes; vitiorum utinam nusquam: mortalitatis, certe, quod prosit, hic et ubique.’
- Natum An. Dni. 1632, Aug. 29°.
- Mortuum 1704, Oct. 28°.
- Memorat hac tabula
- Brevi et ipsa peritura.
Thus died this great and most excellent philosopher, who, after he had bestowed many years in matters of science and speculation, happily turned his thoughts to the study of the scriptures, which he carefully examined with the same liberty he had used in the study of the other sciences.
There is no occasion to attempt a panegyric on our author. His writings are now well known, and valued, and will last as long as the English language. Some account of these has been given in the editor’s preface, and a farther description of them occurs in Des Maizeaux’s dedication, towards the middle of our last vol. His character, by P. Coste, is likewise delivered at large in the same place, and need not be repeated here, as it inadvertently was in a former edition.
AN ESSAY concerning HUMAN UNDERSTANDING. IN FOUR BOOKS.
As thou knowest not what is the way of the Spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child, even so thou knowest not the works of God, who maketh all things.
Quam bellum est velle confiteri potius nescire quod nescias, quam ista effutientem nauseare atque ipsum sibi displicere!
Cic. de Nat. Deor. Lib. 1.
to the right honourable THOMAS, Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery,
Baron Herbert of Cardiff, Lord Ross of Kendal, Par, Fitzhugh, Marmion, St. Quintin, and Shurland; Lord President of his Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council, and Lord Lieutenant of the County of Wilts, and of South-Wales.
This Treatise, which is grown up under your lordship’s eye, and has ventured into the world by your order, does now, by a natural kind of right, come to your lordship for that protection, which you several years since promised it. It is not that I think any name, how great soever, set at the beginning of a book, will be able to cover the faults that are to be found in it. Things in print must stand and fall by their own worth, or the Reader’s fancy. But there being nothing more to be desired for truth, than a fair unprejudiced hearing, nobody is more likely to procure me that than your lordship, who are allowed to have got so intimate an acquaintance with her, in her more retired recesses. Your lordship is known to have so far advanced your speculations in the most abstract and general knowledge of things, beyond the ordinary reach, or Edition: current; Page: [xliv] common methods, that your allowance and approbation of the design of this treatise, will at least preserve it from being condemned without reading; and will prevail to have those parts a little weighed, which might otherwise, perhaps, be thought to deserve no consideration, for being somewhat out of the common road. The imputation of novelty is a terrible charge amongst those who judge of men’s heads, as they do of their perukes, by the fashion; and can allow none to be right, but the received doctrines. Truth scarce ever yet carried it by vote any where at its first appearance: new opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any other reason, but because they are not already common. But truth, like gold, is not the less so for being newly brought out of the mine. It is trial and examination must give it price, and not an antique fashion: and though it be not yet current by the public stamp; yet it may, for all that, be as old as nature, and is certainly not the less genuine. Your lordship can give great and convincing instances of this, whenever you please to oblige the public with some of those large and comprehensive discoveries you have made of truths hitherto unknown, unless to some few, from whom your lordship has been pleased not wholly to conceal them. This alone were a sufficient reason, were there no other, why I should dedicate this Essay to your lordship; and its having some little correspondence with some parts of that nobler and vast system of the sciences your lordship has made so new, exact, and instructive a draught of, I think it glory enough, if your lordship permit me to boast, that here and there I have fallen into some thoughts not Edition: current; Page: [xlv] wholly different from yours. If your lordship think fit, that, by your encouragement, this should appear in the world, I hope it may be a reason, some time or other, to lead your lordship farther; and you will allow me to say, that you here give the world an earnest of something, that, if they can bear with this, will be truly worth their expectation. This, my lord, shows what a present I here make to your lordship; just such as the poor man does to his rich and great neighbour, by whom the basket of flowers or fruit is not ill taken, though he has more plenty of his own growth, and in much greater perfection. Worthless things receive a value, when they are made the offerings of respect, esteem, and gratitude; these you have given me so mighty and peculiar reasons to have, in the highest degree, for your lordship, that if they can add a price to what they go along with, proportionable to their own greatness, I can with confidence brag, I here make your lordship the richest present you ever received. This I am sure, I am under the greatest obligations to seek all occasions to acknowledge a long train of favours I have received from your lordship; favours, though great and important in themselves, yet made much more so by the forwardness, concern, and kindness, and other obliging circumstances, that never failed to accompany them. To all this, you are pleased to add that which gives yet more weight and relish to all the rest: you vouchsafe to continue me in some degree of your esteem, and allow me a place in your good thoughts; I had almost said friendship. This, my lord, your words and actions so constantly show on all occasions, Edition: current; Page: [xlvi]