« PreviousContinue »
For SEPTEMBER, 1829.
Art. 1.-1. The Life of John Locke, with Extraets from his Corre
spondence, Journals, and Common-Place Books. By Lord King.
4to. pp. 408. (Portrait.) London, 1829. 2. O.xford and Locke. By Lord Grenville. 8vo. pp. 88. London.
T is but reasonable to conclude, that the members of an en
lightened community, in the possession of the invaluable privileges and benefits which are derived from very ample means of knowledge, and eminently enjoying the blessings of freedom, would be anxious to understand through what channels these advantages have been conveyed to them, and that they would be prepared duly to honour the memory of those individuals to whose labours they chiefly owe their high prerogatives. Society has, however, been but too little careful to preserve the memory of its greatest benefactors, many of whose names have been permitted to pass into oblivion. Omissions and neglects of this kind are most to be remarked in connection with the great moral and religious changes of a country. We have, however, in many instances, the satisfaction of seeing, in the works which survive them, the imperishable monuments of those distinguished persons who were principally instrumental in effecting those changes; and it is very gratifying, occasionally to receive additions to our knowledge of their personal history and character. A statue, said the Lyric Bard of Thebes, is immoveable, but my odes convey men's praises far and wide. And a literary memorial is, after all, perhaps, the best means of rendering justice to merit. Locke's is not altogether a neglected biography; but, till the publication before us, there existed no separate life of that illustrious person, which could be pronounced worthy of his fame: the present volume, therefore, supplies a very important desideratum.
After the death of Locke, his papers came into the possession of Sir Peter King, his near relative and the sole executor of his will. They comprise the originals of many of his printed works, and of some which were never published; the letters of a very extensive correspondence with his friends, both in England and abroad; his common-place books; and many miscellaneous papers; the whole of which have been carefully preserved, and are now in the possession of the noble Lord to whom we are indebted for the volume before us. For the present which he has made to the literature of our country, he is entitled to a very ample measure of grateful acknowledgement. To ourselves, the gift is most truly an acceptable one. Our debt of obligation to the eminent person who is the subject of his book, and our recollection of the benefits derived from his labours, induce in us a feeling of no common satisfaction in possessing the invaluable work before us, and in having the opportunity of recommending it to our readers. It is a fortunate circumstance, both for the memory of Locke, and for the interests of truth, that the selection of the several papers left in the hands of his executor, and the composition of the Life', should have devolved upon so competent and liberal a person as the present noble Author. He has, with most correct feeling and judgement, made Locke the exclusive subject of his work, which, in this respect, may very advantageously be contrasted with the numerous instances of redundant biographies, in which the professed subject is almost forgotten, and every kind of digression freely admitted. In the volume before us, the reader will find many interesting papers, and numerous letters selected from Locke's correspondence with the following distinguished persons: Sir Isaac Newton, Mr. (afterwards Lord) Somers, Lord Peterborough, Lord Shaftesbury, Mr. (afterwards Lord Chancellor) King, Sir William Trumbull, Lord Pembroke, and others. He will have the opportunity of learning from the perusal of the extracts and dissertations now first brought under bis observation, the early inclination of Locke's mind towards the subjects which, when advanced beyond the meridian of life, he presented to the world in his Essay and other works; as well as his constancy in the studies by which he was endeavouring to correct and enlarge bis own knowledge, and to assist others in the pursuit and acquisition of truth. At the close of the volume, there is inserted a • View of the Essay', drawn up by Locke himself, and originally published in Le Clerc's Bibliothéque Universelle before the Essay itself was given to the world.
John Locke was born at Wrington, in Somersetshire. A.D. 1632. His father, who was descended from the Lockes of Charton Court, in Dorsetshire, possessed a moderate landed property at Pensfold and Belluton, where he lived; but this
was considerably impaired in the times of the civil war, in which he supported the cause of the Parliament, in whose army he bore a captain's commission. John Locke was the elder of two sons, and was educated with great care by his father, of whom he always spoke with the greatest respect and affection, and who enjoyed the happiness of surviving for some years the period of his son's maturity. In the early part of his life, the father exacted from his son the utmost respect, but gradually treated him with less of reserve as he advanced in age, and, when grown up, lived with him on terms of the most entire friendship. Locke mentioned the fact of his father having expressed his regret for giving way to his anger and striking hiin once in his childhood, when he did not deserve it; and the following letter, written by Locke when almost thirty years of age, to his parent, is very satisfactory evidence of the son's tenderness of affection.
•“ Most dear and ever loving Father,
“ Sir, your most obedient son,
Locke was sent to Westminster School, and in 1651, was admitted a student of Christ Church, Oxford, where, in the earliest period of his residence, he was distinguished among his fellow-students for his talents and learning. From his own confession, however, it appears that he lost much time at the University. He was dissatisfied with the systems and methods of instruction which he found prevailing, and was often heard to express his regret that his father had ever sent him to Oxford. Such a mind as Locke's could find but little that was congenial in the philosophy of the schools. The obscurities, the subtilties, and the vain disputations which had become incorporated with the Aristotelian dogmas, could neither gratify nor excite the interest of an inquirer who was in search of truth, and who regarded as useless the acquirements which were not subsidiary to its attainment. It is, however, certain, that our aversion to systems generally, may induce us to overlook advantages which they are quite adequate to impart; and there are benefits to be derived from particular studies which would greatly contribute to the mental improvement of the scholar who has pronounced them useless. There can be no doubt, that great and solid acquisitions in science and learning, were made at Oxford by many of Locke's contemporaries. The regret which he is said to have expressed on account of his education at that University, is reported on the authority of some of his friends, particularly Le Clerc. But, probably, as Lord King remarks,
too much stress has been laid upon some accidental expres* sions; or the regrets expressed by Locke, ought to have been ' understood by Le Clerc to apply to the plan of education
then generally pursued at English universities. There can be no difficulty in concluding, with the noble Author, that 'to Ox* ford, even as Oxford was in the days of Locke, he must have been considerably indebted.'
· The course of study and the philosophy, bad as it was, fortunately did not attract much of his attention, and his mind escaped the trammels of the schools, and their endless perplexities and sophistry. If the system of education did not offer assistance, or afford those directions so useful to the young student, the residence at Oxford did, no doubt, confer ease, and leisure, and the opportunity of other studies; it afforded also the means of intercourse with persons, from whose society and conversation, we know that the idea of his great work first arose.'—p. 4.
Whether Locke had, at any time, serious thoughts of engag, ing in any profession, is uncertain. His inclinations led him to the study of medicine, which he appears to have very ardently prosecuted. His diary contains frequent notices of curious cases; his collection of medical books was considerable; he was, as appears from his correspondence, occasionally consulted by his firiends; and the praise which Sydenham, the greatest authority of his time, bestows on the medical talents of Locke, is sufficient to prove, that his skill and accomplishments, as a student of the healing art, were of a high order. In the retirement of Oxford, he spent many years. În 1665, he engaged, for the first time, in the practical business of life; when he accompanied, as secretary, Sir Walter Vane, the King's envoy to the Elector of Brandenburg. From his correspondence during this first period of his foreign residence, we shall make some extracts, which will exhibit the personage hitherto known to most of our readers only in the character of a grave philosopher, as a lively and amusing writer. The following is part of a letter to Mr. John Strachy, Sutton Court, Bristol.
« « DEAR SIR, « “ Are you at leisure for half an hour's trouble? will you be content I should keep up the custom of writing long letters, with little in them? 'Tis a barren place, and the dull frozen part of the year, and therefore you must not expect great matters. 'Tis enough, that at Christmas you have empty Christmas tales, fit for the chimney corner. To begin,
, therefore, December 15th, (here 25th,) Christmas-day, about one in the morning, I went a gossipping to our Lady ; think me not profane, for the name is a great deal modester than the service I was at. I shall not describe all the particulars I observed in that church, being the principal of the Catholics in Cleves; but only those that were particular to the occasion. Near the high altar was a little altar for this day's solemnity; the scene was a stable, wherein was an ox, an ass, a cradle, the Virgin, the Babe, Joseph, shepherds, and angels, dramatis personæ : had they but given them motion, it had been a perfect puppet play, and might have deserved pence a-piece; for they were of the same size and make that our English puppets are; and I am confident, these shepherds and this Joseph are kin to that Judith and Holophernes which I have seen at Bartholomew fair. A little without the stable was a flock of sheep, cut out of cards; and these, as they then stood, without their shepherds, appeared to me the best emblem I had seen a long time, and methought represented these poor innocent people, who, whilst their shepherds pretend so much to follow Christ, and pay
their devotion to him, are left unregarded in the barren wilderness. This was the show: the music to it was all vocal in the quire adjoining, but such as I never heard. They had strong voices, but so ill-tuned, so ill-managed, that it was their misfortune, as well as ours, that they could be heard. He that could not, though he had a cold, make better music with a chevy chace over a pot of smooth ale, deserved well to pay the reckoning, and go away athirst. However, I think they were the honestest singing men I have ever seen, for they endeavoured to deserve their money, and earned it certainly with pains enough ; for what they wanted in skill, they made up in loudness and variety: every one had his own tune, and the result of all was like the noise of choos