Years of Growth
( 1667 - 1689 )
In 1666 Locke first met Lord Ashley, afterwards Earl Shaftesbury. It was a chance meeting at Oxford, but for both men, and for Locke in particular, the event was fraught with important consequences. Ashley was already one of the most influential men in the country; his talents were many, and his practical ability admitted by all. How far Dryden’s bitter satire upon him is justified it is difficult to say. But Locke admired him, whilst Ashley, on his side, recognized the learning and wisdom of the young man.
From the middle of 1667 onwards Locke became one of his advisers and went to live with him in London. He first served him in the capacity of physician, and in 1668 he carried out an operation on his patient which saved his life. But it was not medical advice alone that Ashley sought from Locke. ‘Mr. Locke’, the third Earl Shaftesbury remarks, ‘grew so much in esteem with my grandfather that, as great a man as he experienced him in physic, he looked upon this as but his least part. He encouraged him to turn his thoughts another way; nor would he suffer him to practice physic except in his own family, and as a kindness to some particular friend. He put him upon the study of the religious and civil affairs of the nation, with whatsoever related to the business of a minister of state, in which he was so successful, that my grandfather soon began to use him as a friend, and consult with him on all occasions of that kind.’
Thus Locke found himself at the very center of affairs and was obliged to make himself acquainted with all the major occurrences of the day in order to advise Ashley. In Oxford he had spent his time in the company of men of learning and of scientists. Now he dwelt daily with business men, politicians, and courtiers. It was a completely new world for him, but he possessed wit, grace, and learning enough to hold his own in it. One of his first tasks was to help with the framing of a constitution for the new colony of Carolina, of which Ashley was one of the founders and lord proprietors. (The whole constitution is attributed to Locke, since a copy of it in his hand was found amongst his papers, but it is very unlikely that he is the author of it.) Another task, of a very different order, which fell to his lot at the time, was to find a wife for Ashley’s son, a sickly and none too intelligent boy of seventeen or eighteen. This he carried out most efficiently, negotiating successfully with the Earl of Rutland for the hand of his daughter, Lady Dorothy Manners. ‘Sir’, Ashley wrote to him on learning of the arrangement for the wedding, ‘you have in the great concerns of my life been so successively and prudently kind to me, that it renders me eternally your most affectionate friend and servant.’ He did not entirely neglect scientific work. He busied himself with medicine, co-operating with Sydenham, whose acquaintance he had lately made. He was also drawn into the Royal Society, now well established, and was elected a Fellow in November 1668, though he never seems to have played a very prominent part in its work. In 1671 he first bethought himself of the problems of the Essay, and wrote two important drafts to which we shall refer later. His many activities, however, began to tell on his frail constitution, and for the first time we hear of his being forced to leave London for reasons of health. He spent some time in the provinces, and then towards the end of 1672 crossed to France for a very short visit lasting a few weeks only.
He returned to weightier tasks of administration, for already in April 1672 Ashley had been raised to the peerage as Earl Shaftesbury and was now appointed President of the Council of Trade and Plantations. Still greater honors were to come, however, for in November, just after Locke’s return, he was made Lord High Chancellor. Advancement for Shaftesbury meant greater work for Locke; and he was appointed Secretary for the Presentation of Benefices with a salary of £300 and the care of all ecclesiastical business which came under the Chancellor’s control. Shaftesbury, however, was soon dismissed from the office of Chancellor and Locke lost the secretaryship. But in October 1673 he was appointed Secretary to the Council of Trade and Plantations (of which Shaftesbury was still President) at a salary of £500 a year. He retained this post until the Council was dissolved by royal mandate in March 1675. He thus gained much information which he put to good use later after the Revolution of 1688. His own financial position was secured by an annuity of £100 from Shafteshury, though Locke himself seems to have contributed towards this annuity. He continued to hold his Studentship at Christ Church.
In 1675 Locke’s health deteriorated so rapidly under the pressure of work upon him that he decided to try a prolonged stay in France. We are fortunate in having, in the Lovelace Collection, journals giving a very full account of his journeys there. He crossed to Calais and travelled leisurely through Abbeville to Paris, thence to Lyons, Avignon, and Montpellier, at that time a famous health resort. He reached it on Christmas Day, 1675, having spent almost six weeks on the way. He remained for over a year at Montpellier, finding many new friends, amongst them being Thomas Herbert, later Earl of Pembroke, to whom the Essay is dedicated. In March 1677 he returned to Paris and stayed there from May1677 to June 1678. He made a point of meeting as many scholars and learned men as he could, and he also interested himself in the philosophical speculation of Paris at the time. His journals contain many references to French thinkers. In the one for 1678 there is a long note entitled Methode pour bien etudiet Ia doctrine de M’ des Cartes, discussing the best books to read in order to gain a satisfactory view of Cartesianism. There are references to Bernier, the leader of the Gassendists, of whom we must shortly say more, to Cordemoy and others. He also made the acquaintance of many celebrated physicians, and that with Guenellon, the Dutch physician, was to prove useful later in his life. Others whom he met were Nicholas Thoynard (who later, in his correspondence, kept Locke well informed of happenings in France), Romer, Cassini, Thevenot and Justel.
In June 1678 Locke left again for Montpellier, travelling thither through Orleans, Bordeaux, and Toulouse. He describes vividly the unhappy state of the French peasantry in the Loire basin. In October he is back in Montpellier whence he hoped to journey on to Rome, but ‘old Father Winter, armed with all his snow and icicles, keeps guard on Mont Cenis and will not let me pass’. After a week’s stay at Montpellier he returned to Paris, arriving there in November. Here he spent the winter, seeing the shows the city and court had to offer, and spending as much time as he could, we may be sure, in the company of philosophic and scientific savants. In April 1679 Locke left Paris for London with many regrets for the friends and entertainments he was leaving behind him.
His regrets can be understood, for the England to which he returned was one troubled by acute political unrest. The Stuarts, surely the most lacking in political sense of all reigning families, had managed once more to unite the majority of the nation against them. Charles, his brother James, and the Court, were solidly Catholic, whilst the nation was no less solidly Protestant. Shaftesbury, now the leader of the people and of the opposition, had been imprisoned in the Tower. But with the summoning of Parliament in 1678 the King gave way before the opposition. Shaftesbury was freed and restored to power as Lord President of the Privy Council. Locke was recalled into Shaftesbury’s service. During the summer of 1679 Parliament tried unsuccessfully to pass the Disabling Bill ‘to disable the Duke of York to inherit the Crown of England’. The King, however, dissolved Parliament and in October Shaftesbury was again dismissed from office. Shaftesbury now joined the Duke of Monmouth’s party and Locke no doubt was engaged in making various secret inquiries on his behalf. Bur ill health soon drove Locke out of London for the rest of the winter and he was not able to return until the spring of 1680.
Another Parliament was called in 1680 which proved equally stubborn in its opposition to James’s accession to the throne, and was again dissolved. A new Parliament was summoned at Oxford. On this occasion Shaftesbury stayed at the house of John Wallis, the mathematician who had taught Locke in his undergraduate days; whilst Locke himself returned to his Christ Church quarters. But the Oxford Parliament was shorter lived than any, being dissolved within a week of its opening, and Shaftesbury returned to London.
Locke, however, except for occasional visits to London, stayed on at Oxford throughout the next two years, and the journals become fuller and more philosophical. He was probably in London in July 1681 when Shaftesbury was arrested, to be tried and acquitted in November. For the most part, however, he lived the quiet life of the scholar, researching in medicine and in philosophy. Meanwhile, watch was being kept on him by the King’s party, and this was increased when Shaftesbury was compelled to flee the country and find safety in Holland. In January 1683, broken-hearted no doubt by his failure to prevent the succession of the Duke of York to the throne, Shaftesbury died in Amsterdam in the presence of a few friends. Locke who had served him so well was far away in Oxford, but he was not wholly forgotten, if we are to believe a certain Thomas Cherry, admittedly an enemy, who wrote in a letter: ‘I’11 give an unhappy instance, which I had from the very person in whose arms the late Earl of Shaftesbury expired. He said, when he attended him at his last hours in Holland, he recommended to him the confession of his faith and the examination of his conscience. The earl answered him and talked all over Arianism and Socinianism, which notions he confessed he imbibed from Mr. Locke and his tenth chapter of “Human Understanding”.’
The information we have concerning Locke’s activities during the years 1682 and 1683 is rather scant. The best sources are the journals. There are also letters to Thomas Cudworth, the son of Ralph Cudworth, the philosopher, and to Edward Clarke, but they give only slight information. It is clear that he was of set purpose secretive in his movements during these years, fearing persecution, a fear which he could well entertain. His intimate friendship with Shaftesbury and his political sympathies were known, As his fears increased, Locke decided that it would be wise for him to follow his master’s example and flee the country. He was still in England in August 1683, for he wrote a letter to Clarke from London on the twenty-sixth of that month. But soon after that date he took ship to Holland, and by the 7th September, as we see from his journal, he was in Rotterdam, an exile from a land in which the forces he had always opposed were for the time being triumphant.
Locke spent his first Dutch winter in Amsterdam. In a letter to Clarke he says that he proposes to ‘apply himself close to the study of physic by the fireside this winter’. He no doubt made a point of visiting Guenellon, now back in Amsterdam, and in January he was introduced to the theologian Limborch, who quickly became a very firm friend.
Philip van Limborch is a most interesting figure. He was the grand-nephew of Episcopius, a follower of Arminius, the famous professor of theology at Leyden. Episcopius had set himself up against the prevailing Calvinism of the Dutch people. He stood for full liberty of belief, and for a church broad enough to include within it men of all opinions. By 1610 Episcopius had founded a new sect, which presented a remonstrance to the States-General, the sect from this time on wards being known as the Remonstrants. In 1630 they opened their first church in Amsterdam. Episcopius died in 1643. In 1668 Limborch was appointed pastor of this advanced community. When Locke arrived at Amsterdam fifteen years later Limborch had become one of the most important theologians in Holland. His name was known throughout western Europe. He was acquainted with the movements of English thought and counted some of the Cambridge Platonists amongst his friends. The portrait of him which still hangs in the Remonstrant council-chamber at Amsterdam presents him as a strong, heavily-built man, energetic, combining strength of character with that of body, but jovial also and alert. The longer Locke was in his company the deeper grew the friendship between them, and it was kept alive by frequent correspondence until Locke himself died. Of all the good things that Holland gave him the best was the companionship of Limborch.
Locke spent the summer and autumn months of 1684 touring the northern provinces and visiting the more interesting towns of Holland. These he describes in his journals. He writes many letters to Clarke, but these contain disappointingly little information about himself. From some references in them it would seem that Locke hoped to be back in England speedily, but the position at home was not improving. Indeed, the news from England could hardly have been worse, In November 1684 the King expressly asked Dean Fell of Christ Church to deprive Locke of his Studentship. The Dean tried to temporize, but the King would brook no delay. On the 16th November Fell wrote to say that ‘his majesty’s command for the expulsion of Mr. Locke from the college was fully executed’. It was an unpleasant blow, but Locke could do nothing. He spent the winter quietly at Utrecht, in the house of a painter, van Gulick.
But persecution was to assume a more severe form. In the spring of 1685 Charles II died, James came to the throne, and Monmouth attempted his inglorious rebellion. His defeat led to an inquiry and Lord Grey of Walk named Locke as one of Monmouth’s helpers. From the evidence at our disposal it appears most unlikely that Locke supported Monmouth in any way. But when Skelton came out to The Hague to demand of the Dutch government the surrender of eighty-five Englishmen who had plotted against their King, John Locke’s name was set down on the list of traitors. The Dutch authorities made no great effort to find the culprits, for they had scant sympathy with the Catholic English court. Thus the actual danger to Locke was probably never very great. But he was very much disturbed by the news, and went into hiding in the house of Dr. Venn, Guenellon’s father-in-law. He took the most extreme precautions and even assumed a false name, Dr. van der Linden. A later list of English suspects issued by the States-General in May 1686 no longer contained Locke’s name, and all danger was past. Pembroke wrote to him from London to say that the King was even prepared to pardon him if he chose to return. But Locke stayed in Holland and continued to be most cautious in his activities.
If he suffered in this way, he enjoyed one great consolation. The air of Holland suited him admirably, and his health improved every year. In December 1687 he was able to write to Clarke, ‘As to my health, which I know you are in earnest concerned for, I make haste to tell you that I am perfectly, God be thanked, recovered and am as well I think I may say as ever I was in my life. This improved health, and the enforced leisure which was his, Locke put to good use. In his letters to Clarke he outlined his thoughts on education, and it was these thoughts which were later gathered together and published. Again in the winter of 1685-6 he was introduced to Jean Leclerc, a native of Geneva, a man of considerable ability, who had travelled widely before accepting a chair in the Remonstrants’ College in Amsterdam in 1684. When Locke became acquainted with him, Leclerc was preparing the first issues of his Bibliotheque Universelle, one of the first literary journals. In the July 1686 number appeared (in French) an article by Locke, entitled Methode Nouvelle de dresser des Recueils, an account of how he set out materials in his commonplace books. To this journal he also contributed reviews. Here we have Locke’s first publications (if we exclude certain immature poems published by him in his early Oxford days). In the winter of 1685-6 also Locke composed a letter to Limborch in Latin on the subject of toleration which was published in 1689 under the title Epistola de Tolerantia. (In the same year it was translated by Popple and published anonymously as the First Letter Concerning Toleration.) Toleration was a question hotly debated at the time in Holland. Leclerc complains in the May 1687 issue of his Bibliotheque that one hears of nothing in Holland except of toleration, and this enthusiastic discussion of a subject, upon which he had pondered from a very early period, no doubt helped Locke greatly when he finally decided to set down his own thoughts on paper.
In January 1687 Locke moved from Amsterdam to Rotterdam living there nearly two years in the home of a Quaker merchant, Benjamin Furly. Writing to Limborch, he remarks: ‘I grieve much that I am parted from you and all my other dear friends in Amsterdam. To politics I there gave but little thought; here I cannot pay much attention to literary affairs.’ The politics which took up so much of his time were obviously English politics, and he no doubt moved to Rotterdam in order to be near enough to The Hague to take part in the plotting against James II which was now coming to a head. After some hesitation William of Orange had thrown in his lot with the English Whigs, and it seems fairly clear that Locke was one of his advisers, either directly or indirectly through Lord Mordaunt.
But he was not wholly engrossed in affairs of this nature. He was, as we shall later see, well advanced with his greatest work, the Essay; at the same time he had been reflecting on questions of political theory. He kept up a very full correspondence with various people, particularly Clarke. He visited his friends at Amsterdam, and was a member of a jovial, mum-drinking club at Rotterdam, the Lantern, which met at Furly’s house. Also, in January 1688 an abstract of his Essay was given to the world in the Bibliotheque Universelle, and Locke had to busy himself with the printing of it.
In the summer of 1688 he was visited by Edward Clarke, and his wife and daughter Elizabeth. Clarke, no doubt, took this opportunity of meeting William of Orange. The revolutionary plans matured in the autumn of 1688 and in November William left for England. His princess remained in Holland till January, when William was able to report that the revolution had been carried out peacefully and that James had fled. Locke had been left to bring over Lady Mordaunt, and they crossed in company with the Princess of Orange, now to be Queen Mary of England, on the 11th February, landing at Greenwich the next day. Thus Locke’s exile of over five years in Holland was brought to an end. He returned home stronger in body and more mature in mind, anxious now to submit to the judgement of the world the conclusions to which a lifetime’s reflections had led him. He had greatly enjoyed his stay in Holland and had grown to admire the Dutch people. ‘In going away’, he writes to Limborch, a few days before he left Holland, ‘I almost feel as though I were leaving my own country and my own kinsfolk; for everything that belongs to kinship, goodwill, love, kindness – everything that binds men together with ties stronger than the ties of blood – I have found among you in abundance. I leave behind me friends whom I can never forget and I shall never cease to wish for an opportunity of coming back to enjoy once more the genuine fellowship of men who have been such friends that, while far away from all my own connections, while suffering in every other way, I have never felt sick at heart. As for you, best, dearest and most worthy of men, when I think of your learning, your wisdom, your kindness and candour and gentleness, I seem to have found in your friendship alone enough to make me always rejoice that I was forced to pass so many years amongst you.’
What now were the chief philosophical influences that moulded Locke’s thought during this middle period? Here again the search for all the minor influences even amongst his own contemporaries would be endless. Locke learnt much in conversation, and he was a voracious reader. It is probable that no book of any worth published in England during his adult years passed unnoticed by him. Even in France and in Holland he kept himself well informed of English publications, and he also knew of the more important books published in those countries. An exhaustive comparison of Locke’s works with those others which he read during these years is, therefore, out of the question. Moreover, even if all the likenesses which exist between Locke’s thoughts and those of others were traced, we could still not be sure which works had really influenced him. In writers belonging to the same age, and growing up in the same ‘climate of opinion’ – to use a phrase of one of Locke’s contemporaries, Joseph Glanvilll – parallelisms of thought are inevitable. For instance, how much, if at all, is the author of the Essay indebted to Richard Cumberland’s De Legibus Naturae, published in 1672? The thought in both, particularly in connection with questions of moral philosophy, converges frequently. Yet the likeness between the two might well be explained by the fact that both men had the same cultural background, used the same methods, started from the same data, and faced the same problems. It is thus very dangerous to argue that since there are parallel passages in two writers belonging to the same epoch the one must have influenced the other directly.
Indeed, it is safer to talk of broad movements than of individual authors in dealing with this question of influences, and I propose to take here two contemporary movements which certainly did influence Locke greatly: first, the liberal-minded movement in theology typified by Cambridge Platonism and Latitudinarianism in England and by Arminianism in Holland; secondly, the Gassendist criticism of the prevailing Cartesianism in France. It is not difficult to show that these movements were the most important influences on Locke during this period.
The Cambridge Platonists were a school of erudite theologians flourishing in Cambridge in the middle of the seventeenth century. Their chief members were Benjamin Whichcote, Henry More, John Smith, and Ralph Cudworth. In their general standpoint they were opposed to more than one group. They criticized Hobbes’s materialism; but they were equally severe on the dogmatism of the Calvinists and on the ‘enthusiasm’ of the sects. They were rationalist in outlook. For whilst they admitted that revelation was necessary to complete our knowledge, reason was to be trusted wholly within its own, admittedly confined, sphere of operation. There could be no conflict between reason and revelation; the one completed the other. Nor was there any authority to which appeal might be made beyond reason on matters within reason’s own compass. Consequently, they were resolutely opposed to any body of doctrine, such as Calvinism, which involved a revolt against reason, or an appeal from reason to inspiration or non-rational religious intuition. They held that reason was infallible; it was something divine in man, ‘the candle of the Lord’; it enabled man to distinguish explicitly between truth and falsehood. On the other hand, just because they so clearly realized the high dignity, the finality, and the absoluteness of reason, they could not accept the Hobbesian interpretation of the world. They were progressive, and recognized willingly the splendid achievements of the ‘new philosophy’ in empirical inquiry. But they could not admit that the new science in any way justified the thorough-going atomistic and mechanical materialism implicit in Hobbes’s system. In their very confidence in human reason they found justification for a religious view of the world. This confidence also made them broad-minded and tolerant. Each individual was a free agent, possessing sufficient reason to guide his life aright if he made proper use of it, and so each individual should be free to order his own life in accordance with his own reason.
Locke was naturally disposed to doctrines such as these, and no doubt he would know something of them before leaving Oxford. But on coming to London in 1667 he met Mapletoft, Tillotson, and Patrick, all three of whom were disciples of Whichcote. The latter himself came to London in 1668 as rector of St. Lawrence Jewry and remained there until 1681. Locke might very well have been among his congregation. He had closer contacts, however, with another Cambridge Platonist, Ralph Cudworth, though we have no evidence that the two ever met. They were both Somerset men, born within twenty miles of each other, Cudworth being Locke’s senior by fifteen years. The Clarke correspondence shows us that Locke knew the family well before he left for Holland, and there are letters between Locke and Thomas Cudworth, the son. In his old age, also, as we shall see, Locke found a pleasant refuge in the house of Lady Masham, the daughter of Cudworth, at Oates, and for some years Mrs. Cudworrh, the widow of the philosopher, lived in the same house. So that even if Locke had not discussed his philosophy with Cudworth himself, he had every opportunity of discussing it with those who best knew his philosophical position and temper.
There are clear traces of the influence of this school upon Locke’s work. Much of the fourth book of the Essay might have been written by one of the Cambridge school. The argument in IV. X. 10 and what follows, where it is shown that God must be other than material, breathes the spirit of a Cudworth. His chapters dealing with reason and revelation, and that on enthusiasm, are very much in line with Cambridge thought. Outside the Essay also, in his letters on toleration, and in his Reasonableness of Christianity, the influence of Cambridge Platonism is even more evident. He recommends the reading of Cudworth to the student in his Thoughts Concerning Education and appeals to his authority on more than one occasion in the correspondence with Stillingfleet. Locke, we shall find, shared the view of the Cambridge Platonists on the nature and significance of reason in human life, on the relations between reason and faith, on the paramount importance of practical conduct in true religion, on toleration, and on enthusiasm.
In all these matters Locke helped to carry forward the liberal tradition which the Cambridge Platonists had themselves inherited from still earlier English sources. Yet while it is correct to hold that Locke was influenced by Cambridge thought, it would be a great mistake to regard him as a member of this school. There are important differences between his final standpoint and theirs, and it is these differences which made Locke’s works so very fruitful, whilst the works of the Cambridge Platonists were soon forgotten. I may mention, first, two of the more incidental differences. Most of the Cambridge Platonists believed in innate ideas, but Locke rejected them. Again, the Cambridge Platonists had room for a world of real intelligible objects, wholly other than the world of sensible things. Now Locke sometimes talks of an ‘intellectual world’ and always holds that reason has a type of object which is permanent and eternal. But for Locke these intellectual objects, i.e. universal ideas, were merely the creations of our own mind. The Cambridge school, however, attributed to them a reality as ‘essences’ or ‘ideas’ in the Platonic sense which Locke could not attribute to them. In this important respect their theory of universals is different.
But the fundamental difference between them is one of purpose and method. The Cambridge men were speculative theorists. Their aim was to show that a religious metaphysic and a theism were still possible, and, indeed, necessary, in spite of the changes in men’s opinions since the Renaissance. They were apologist and on the defensive. Locke, or the other hand, was critical. He had no system to defend. Indeed, his task, as he explained, was to clear the ‘under-rubbish’ that had first to be removed if an adequate system was to be built. Thus Locke’s attitude and purpose in philosophizing, particularly in the Essay, were fundamentally different from theirs, however much he may have shared their theological and religious outlook. It ls when one studies works other than the Essay, the letters on toleration and the Reasonableness of Christianity, that one best realizes the measure of Locke’s debt to them.
Cambridge Platonism, however, is only one manifestation of the liberal-minded trend in English religious and political thought and Locke was influenced by other manifestations of it. It is significant that ‘the judicious Hooker’, who himself belongs to the same tradition, is the author to whom Locke most frequently makes appeal (particularly so in the ‘Treatises on Civil Government). Again, in Locke’s own youth a movement more influential than Cambridge Platonism had come into being, Latitudinarianism. At first the most important figures were Hales and Chillingworth. The latter’s Religion of Protestants, 1637, left a deep impression upon the more thoughtful members of his own generation and the next. After the Restoration in particular liberal theologians and ecclesiastics in the Church of England were anxious to see the foundation of the Church laid on so broad a basis that all sincere believers in Christ, however they interpreted the Scriptures, might be included within it. The Christian creed consisted of a few essentials (they might even be reduced to one, that Christ is Saviour), and of very many non-essentials. The Latitudinarians argued that disagreement about the latter ought not to keep men apart. Conformity on non-essentials should not be demanded. ‘Require of Christians only to believe Christ.’ In Locke’s own day the leaders of the movement were Tillotson and Patrick, to whom we have already referred, and Locke was on most intimate terms with both. He was only too ready to accept views such as theirs, and in theological matters became Latitudinarian, as may well be gathered from his Reasonableness of Christianity. Still another influence upon him of an advanced liberal kind in theology was that of Episcopius, Limborch, and the Arminian Remonstrants of Amsterdam. The Latitudinarians themselves were Arminian in theology, so were the Cambridge Platonists, but in Holland Locke touched Arminianism at its fountainhead. Thus throughout this middle period Locke was in constant contact with the liberal Arminian school of theology, with men who desired to see established a broad and tolerant Church that would put no fetters upon human reason and would demand only such articles of faith as were deemed essential.
Before we turn to consider the influence of the Gassendist criticism of Cartesianism on Locke, a word should perhaps be said about the relations between him and Hobbes. When John Edwards charged Locke with putting forward views in his Reasonableness of Christianity very much akin to those of Hobbes the accusation went home. Locke does not try to hide his chagrin. He pleads ignorance of the details of Hobbes’s works, though it is very difficult to believe that he was wholly ignorant of them. In connetion with one doctrine said by Edwards to have come direct from the Leviathan he remarks: ‘I borrowed it from the writers of the four Gospels and the Acts and did nor know that these words he quoted out of the Leviathan were there or anything like them. Nor do I know yet, any further than as I believe them to be there from his quotation.’ He links Hobbes with Spinoza as ‘justly decried names’ and declares that he is not ‘well read’ in either. Finally, he condemns the ethical standpoint of the ‘Hobbists’. From all this it is clear that Locke was anxious not to be regarded as a follower of Hobbes. For in spite of Hobbes’s show of orthodoxy, the real meaning of his philosophy was nor hidden from his contemporaries. And Locke was convinced – as convinced as the Cambridge platonists – that Hobbes’s materialism was inadequate as a philosophy of life. ‘That which is not body’, Hobbes had said, ‘is no part of the universe.’ On this fundamental issue Locke and Hobbes were in opposing camps, and that of itself is sufficient to explain Locke’s animosity. On political questions also, as we shall see later, they were fundamentally opposed; and though Hobbes is not mentioned in the second Treatise on Civil Government, that book is obviously directed against his political views.
Hobbes’s influence on Locke is thus primarily of a negative sort. He is aware of him and sometimes is obviously seeking to answer him. But in a positive sense the influence is slight. True, their method is identical, namely, the compositional. (For Hobbes reasoning itself was a computation of words, propositions, and syllogisms. But the compositional method was common to the age and not peculiar to Hobbes. Again Hobbes forestalled Locke in asserting that truth pertained to propositions rather than to terms or things, and Locke may be indebted to him for suggesting this. I cannot, however, agree that Locke followed Hobbes in his nominalism, as is frequently argued, since Locke’s philosophy, it seems to me, is never nominalist. Nor again should it be said that Locke borrowed Hobbes’s account of the association of ideas and made it his own, for Locke’s theory is very different from that of Hobbes. Professor Laird has recently pointed to certain parallelisms between the two writers; but they are not such as to overthrow the view generally held, namely, that Locke’s direct debt to Hobbes was very slight.
The second movement to be considered here is the Gassendist. The influence of Gassendi upon Locke, and indeed, upon English thought in general at this period, has been strangely neglected. Yet in his own day Locke was regarded by no less a critic than Leibniz as a member of the Gassendist party, and a similar view was put forward by Henry Lee in commenting on Book II of the Essay. What Leibniz says is very important. The relevant passage will be found at the opening of his Nouveaux Essais, where Philalethes (who is Locke’s spokesman) rejoices in the fact that new support has come to the Gassendists from England. ‘You were for Descartes’, he says, ‘and for the opinions of the celebrated author of La Recherche de la Verite, and I found the opinions of Gassendi, clarified by Bernier, easier and more natural. Now I feel myself greatly strengthened by the excellent work which an illustrious Englishman … has since published. … He writes obviously in the spirit of Gassendi, which is at bottom that of Democritus. He is for the vacuum and for atoms; he believes that matter might think; that there are no innate ideas, that our mind is a tabula rasa, and that we do not always think, and he appears disposed to approve of most of the objections which Gassendi has made to Descartes. He has enriched and strengthened this system by a thousand beautiful reflections; and I do not at all doubt that now our party will triumph boldly over its adversaries, the Peripatetics and the Cartesians.’ Thus Leibniz, who was surely in a position to know, makes Locke a party man. For him Locke is a protagonist in the intellectual warfare then being waged between Cartesians and Gassendists, and belongs to the Gassendist party.
If Leibniz is correct, the supreme formative influence upon Locke’s thought was ‘Gassendi, clarified by Bernier’. How far is this view sound? In the first place it is well to remember that Leibniz wrote for European rather than English readers, and that he perhaps underestimated the strength of English influences. Cambridge Platonism and English Empiricism left their mark upon Locke’s mind. And yet Gassendi is certainly as great an influence as any of these. The Essay becomes, in my opinion, much more intelligible if read alongside Gassendi’s works; while Locke’s steady opposition to Descartes and to the Cartesians both in the Essay and elsewhere, as, for example, in his Examination of Male-branche, is more easily explained if his relation to the Gassendist party is borne in mind.
Locke, no doubt, came into closest contact with the Gassendists while on his visits to France. But he must have been familiar with their point of view earlier. For the first drafts of the Essay were written in 1671, and they already show the influence of Gassendi. The four years which followed 1671, as we saw, were crowded with political business, but in the leisure which his second visit to France gave him Locke was able to return to his philosophical reflections, so that the influences at work upon him on this visit must be reckoned as of very great importance. The reigning philosophy was then Cartesian, and Locke had an opportunity of studying it at first-hand. He was dissatisfied with much of it. He already favored the Gassendists, and it is not unlikely that he would soon seek out the acknowledged leader of the Gassendists since Gassendi’s own death, namely, Francois Bernier. Bernier is mentioned by Locke in his journals on more than one occasion, although usually in reference to non-philosophical matters. These references also make it plain that Locke knew him personally. It is not at all improbable that he spent a great deal of time in his company, for Bernier was a man after Locke’s heart, He was no mere philosopher. Like Locke he had been trained as a physician, but had never settled down to the life of a practicing doctor. Instead he had wandered over North Africa and Asia, Syria, the Nile, Suez, and India. He wrote books on his travels which became famous in their day. He was a gay companion, famed as a singer of ‘bacchic’ songs, and ‘sought after by the most illustrious and distinguished persons of the time’. Such merits would certainly count with Locke, who was always attracted by high spirits and joviality wherever they were to be found, and who loved to hear of travels in distant lands and of the curious and novel sights to be seen there. But Bernier was something more than an adventurer and wit. He was a philosopher of no small merit. And, in particular, he was the greatest enthusiast for Gassendi’s philosophy then alive in Europe. In the very years in which Locke met him he was publishing an abridged (and occasionally modified) edition of the works of Gassendi which attracted a great deal of attention. It is unthinkable that Locke could have been long in his company without discussing Gassendi with him, and his interest in that philosopher must have been considerably heightened as the result of his acquaintance with Bernier.
Gassendi himself had died two decades earlier in 1655. He was born in 1592 in Provence. For some years he taught philosophy at Aix, but he also studied the new astronomy and natural science, particularly anatomy. He was a keen defender of the new learning and attacked the scholastic philosophy of the universities. He was best known as the critic of Descartes and the Cartesians. An estrangement ensued between the two philosophers, though they were partially reconciled in 1648. His most important criticisms of Descartes may be found in the fifth set of objections to the Miditations. A complete edition of Gassendi’s works was issued three years after his death.
Gassendi was much influenced by the Greek atomists and by Epicurus. In his philosophy he attempted to set forward an Epicureanism which could, as could no other system in his opinion, adequately explain the new world revealed by the sciences of his day. At the same time the Epicureanism proposed by him was to be purified of all its pagan elements, so that it could also express what was valuable in Christian thought. Accordingly, Epicurean atheism and the Epicurean doctrine of the soul were both rejected by him. But he reintroduced the physics, the psychology, and the ethics of the Greek school. He also restored the Epicurean doctrine that knowledge begins with sensation. ‘Nihil est in intellectu quod non prius fuerit in sensu.’ Nevertheless, he was no mere sensationalist, for he believed that intellect, an eternal and immaterial faculty, also plays its part in the gaining of truth. His moral philosophy was a hedonism for which the end of life was harmony between soul and body. He stressed the importance of liberty and was, in this respect, a worthy forerunner of the Encyclopedists. He agreed with much of Descartes’s philosophy, but criticized his view of matter, of space, of innate ideas, and of animal life. Like Locke, he found Descartes over-speculative. For Gassendi theory should rest upon sound empirical evidence. The collection of the latter alone, in ars bene colligendi, as he termed it, was insufficient. Speculation was also necessary, but it should always rest on observation and be constantly tested by it.
This brief account of Gassendi’s thought is sufficient to show the close relation between him and Locke. But the reader should turn, for instance, to the first part of Gassendi’s Syntagma Philosophicum, and to the section called Institutio Logica, so as to compare it with the Essay. The measure of Locke’s debt to Gassendi will probably surprise him. Gassendi divides the Institutio into four parts, of imagination, of the proposition, of the syllogism, and of method. I have here space to quote from the first part only, and shall take the second of its eighteen canons to illustrate my point. The canon runs: ‘Every idea which exists in the mind originates in the senses.’ Gassendi adds the following explanation: ‘For whoever is born blind has no idea of color, since he lacks the sense of vision whereby that idea is attained; whoever is born deaf has no idea of sound, since he lacks the sense of hearing whereby that is attained. And if any one were wholly deprived of senses (which, however, is impossible since all creatures have touch) he could not have the idea of anything nor could he imagine anything. Hence the celebrated saying “There is nothing in the intellect that was not previously in the senses”, or again the intellect or the mind is tabula rasa on which nothing has been imprinted or depicted. Hence also the difficulties they find in proving their assertions who assert that ideas are impressed naturally and innately on the mind (ideas a natura impressas) and are not acquired by the senses.’ Here surely is the foundation upon which Locke erects the first two books of the Essay.