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Locke, John

1. Dates
Born: Wrington, Somersetshire, 29 Aug. 1632
Died: Oates, Essex, 28 Oct. 1704
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 72
2. Father
Occupation: Lawyer, Government Official
Also John Locke, the father was a lawyer and a clerk to the local Justices of the Peace. It is my impression that the position of clerk was not a governmental one but rather private employment by the JP's. However, toward the end of his life the father was county clerk for sewers.
It seems clear that he was affluent. He had inherited a good fortune from his own father, although he left his own son less than he had received.
3. Nationality
Birth: English
Career: English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: Oxford, M.A., M.D.
Westminister School, 1646-52.
Oxford University, Christ Church, 1652-8. B.A., 1656; M.A., 1658; M.B., 1674. Locke never received the M.D., but I am listing all medical degrees as though they were M.D.'s.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Anglican, Heterodox
Locke's parents were stern Puritans, but he himself began to shuck off the received faith while he was at Westminster, and was never a Puritan after school days. At the Restoration, he conformed without hesitation and went on to be a Latitudinarian.
Cranston asserts that after 1688 Locke went beyond Latitudinarianism to Socinianism. See especially The Reasonableness of Christianity, 1695. Locke insisted, apparently even to himself, that he was still Anglican; however, he did publish Reasonableness anonymously.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Natural Philosophy
Subordinate: Meteorology
Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 1689, was, inter alia, centrally concerned with the foundations of the new scientific knowledge.
Beginning rather early, Locke kept records (some, perhaps most, of them published, some in the Philosophical Transactions) of the weather--temperature (such as the thermometer was), barometric reading, hygrometer reading (again such as it was).
Locke studied medicine but did not contribute to the science of medicine. Perhaps a case could be made for listing chemistry, because he did experiment in it as a young man. However, I am unable to see that much of anything came out of the experimentation.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Patronage, Government, Personal Means
Secondary: Academia, Publishing
After his M.A. Locke remained at Oxford as a Student (i.e., Fellow) of Christ Church. In 1660 he was Lecturer in Greek in the College; in 1663, Reader in Rhetoric; in 1664, Censor of Moral Philosophy. He held the Studentship, collecting the stipend though not often resident after 1667, until 1684 when he was expelled by order of the King.
He inherited a modest estate from his father, 1661. Earlier sources computed that he received about 73 per annum from it; Cranston (whom I accept) figures it rather at 240. He received income from the estate (presumably not always that identical sum) for the rest of his life.
Secretary to Sir Walter Vane, 1665-6, on his diplomatic mission to Cleves.
Resided in Anthony Ashley's house as physician and adviser 1667-83, when Ashley (now Shaftesbury) died. It is unclear what remuneration beyond living accommodations he received early, though Shaftesbury secured Locke's appointment to governmental offices. Locke later referred to 800 as what he had received for serving Shaftesbury for ten or twelve years. After the early governmental employment ceased in 1675, Shaftesbury bestowed an annuity of 100 per annum on him. Locke himself paid 800 (the same 800 mentioned above) into the annuity, so that only about half of it was Shaftesbury's gift.
At Shaftesbury's request he was tutor to the son of Sir John Banks in France, 1677-9.
Secretary of Presentation (of benefices), 1672-3; salary of 300 per annum.
Secretary to the Council of Trade and Plantations, 1673-5; salary of 500 per annum, later raised to 800. Cranston says that Locke never succeeded in collecting any of it, however.
Locke fled abroad in 1683 and lived in the Netherlands, apparently on his own resources, until 1689.
Commission of Appeals, 1689-1704; salary of 200 with virtually no duties.
Member of the new Board of Trade, 1696-1700; salary of 1000 per annum.
We have the contract for the first edition of the Essay; Locke received 10s per sheet, for a total of 29. Although other contracts are not described, Locke, now a famous man, undoubtedly received at least as much for other books and for subsequent editions of the Essay.
8. Patronage
Types: Court Official, Aristrocrat, Government Official, Merchant
Alexander Popham, one of the magistrates of Somerset for whom Locke's father worked, was Locke's first patron. Popham secured his admission to Westminster School in 1646 and was apparently instrumental in his later election to a Studentship in Christ Church in 1652.
In 1665 Locke went to Brandenburg (Cleves) as secretary to the diplomatic mission of Sir Walter Vane. It appears that this appointment came from the government rather than from Vane, for Locke was offered two similar diplomatic posts soon after he returned.
In 1667 Locke went to reside in the London house of Anthony Ashley, (later Earl of Shaftesbury and Lord Chancellor), as Ashley's personal physician, and he stayed in Ashley-Shaftesbury's service until Ashley's death in 1683. He came to be regarded as a valued and confidential friend by the whole family. Thus he negotiated the marriage of Shaftesbury's son. Already in 1666 Ashley had arranged the dispensation that allowed Locke to remain in Christ Church without taking orders. There is no clear record of Locke's remuneration, but Shaftesbury rewarded him with governmental positions--Secretary of Presentation in 1672 and the Secretory to the Council of Trade and Plantations in 1673.
He accompanied the son of the great merchant Sir John Banks in France as a tutor, 1677-9.
He hid in Dr. Veen's house in Amsterdam, 1685-7. (While this is interesting information, I won't count it as patronage.)
1687-9, he lived in a home of a Quaker merchant, Benjamin Furly, in Rotterdam. (And I won't list this.)
He became one of the William's advisers indirectly through Lord Mordaunt in 1687, and in 1689 he accompanied Queen Mary to England. In 1689 William offered to send him on a misssion to the Elector of Brandenburg, but he declined the offer. It appears that William named Locke to the Board of Trade in 1696.
Lord Mordaunt, later Duke of Monmouth and then Earl of Peterborough, stood behind Locke's appointment to the Commisssion of Appeals in 1689.
Locke dedicated the Essay to the Earl of Pembroke. He dedicated his Consideration of Interest, 1692, to Sir John Somers, an important figure in the government.
In his final years Locke settled at Oates in Essex, home of Sir Francis Masham and his wife Damaris Cudworth Marsham, an old and dear friend. I do not want to consider this as patronage. Locke was insistent that he would pay for his room and board.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Medical Practice
Locke did in fact practice medicine; his practice was not confined to Shaftesbury. I cannot see that it was ever a commercial practice, however.
10. Scientific Societies
Membership: Royal Society
Informal Connections: Friendship with Boyle, after 1654. He helped Boyle in experiments at Oxford, and after leaving Oxford he sent scientific information to Boyle.
Cooperation with Sydenham during 1660s-1670s.
Friendship with Guenellon, Nicolas Thoynard, and Justel, after 1675-9 when Locke was in France.
Connection with Newton, 1690s.
Note that Locke's correspondence is published.
Royal Society, 1668.
  1. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-1950), 12, 27-37. Biographia britannica, 1st ed. (London, 1747-66), 5, 2992-3009.
  2. A.I. Aaron, John Locke, (Oxford, 1937).
  3. John W. Yolton, John Locke: Problems and Perspectives, (Cambridge, 1969).
  4. Maurice Cranston, John Locke: A Biography, (London, 1952).
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. H.R. Fox Bourne, The Life of John Locke, 2 vols. (London, 1876).
  2. John W. Yolton, John Locke and the Way of Ideas, (Oxford, 1956).
  3. _____, A Locke Dictionary (The Blackwell Philosopher Dictionaries), (Oxford, 1993). Kenneth Dewhurst, John Locke (1632-1704): Physicians and Philosopher. A Medical Biography. (London, 1963).
  4. John D. Mabbott, John Locke, (London, 1973).
  5. John Dunn, Locke, (Oxford, 1984).
  6. The literature on Locke is enormous; there is no pretense that I have tried the impossible task of exhausting it.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

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1995 Al Van Helden
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