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LOCKE'S BOYHOOD. HIS EARLY LIFE IN OXFORD.
JOHN LOCKE, perhaps the greatest, but certainly the most characteristic, of English philosophers, was born at Wrington, a pleasant village in the north of Somersetshire, August 29, 1632. His family, however, resided in the village of Pensford, and the parish of Publow, within a few miles of Bristol. It was there, probably, that Locke spent the greater part of his early life. His mother appears to have died while he was young. From his father, John Locke (b. 1606), who seems to have inherited a fair estate, and who practised, with some success, as a country attorney, he probably derived, if not his earliest instruction, at least some of his earliest influences and some of his most sterling characteristics. “ From Mr. Locke I have often heard of his father,” says Lady Masham in a MS. letter quoted by Mr. Fox-Bourne in his Life of Locke, “ that he was a man of parts. Mr. Locke never mentioned him but with great respect and affection. His father used a conduct toward him when young that he often spoke of afterwards with great approbation. It was the being severe to him by keeping him in much awe and at a distance when he was a boy, but relaxing, still by degrees, of that severity as he grew up to be a man, till, he being become capable of it, he lived perfectly with him as a friend. And I remember he has told me that his father, after he was a man, sol. emnly asked his pardon for having struck him once in a passion when he was a boy."
Locke's boyhood coincided pretty nearly with the troubles of the Civil Wars. “I no sooner perceived myself in the world,” he wrote in 1660,“ but I found myself in a storm which has lasted almost hitherto." His father, when Locke was hardly ten years old, publicly announced, in the parish church of Publow, his assent to the protest of the Long Parliament, and, a few weeks afterwards, took the field, on the Parliamentary side, as captain of a troop of horse in a regiment of volunteers. Though the fortunes of the family undoubtedly suffered from this step on the part of the young attorney, the political and religious interests which it created and kept alive in his household must have contributed, in no small degree, to shape the character and determine the sympathies of his elder son.
Locke, then, may be regarded as having been fortunate in early surroundings. Born in one of the more charming of the rural districts of England, not far, however, from a city which was then one of the most important centres of commerce and politics ; sprung from respectable and well-to-do parents, of whom the her, at least, possessed more than ordinary intelligence; accustomed, from his earliest boyhood, to watch the progress of the great events, and to listen to the discussion of great and stirring questions; there seems to have been nothing in his early life to retard or mar the development of his genius, and much that we may not unreasonably connect with the marked peculiarities, both moral and intellectual, of his subsequent career.
It was probably in the year 1646 that, through the interest of Colonel Popham, a friend and client of his father, Locke was admitted at Westminster School, where, probably in the following year, he was elected on the foundation. Here he must have remained about six years, till his election to a Westminster Studentship at Christ Church, Oxford, in 1652. Of the manner in which Locke spent these years we have no definite information. The stern disciplinarian, Mr. Busby, had been head master for about eight years when he entered the school, and among his schoolfellows, senior to him by about a year, were Dryden and South. The friends whom he made at Westminster, though highly respectable in after-life, did not achieve any great reputation. Of the studies which then constituted the ordinary school curriculum, his matured opinions are to be found in the "Thoughts concerning Education,” which will be described in a subsequent chapter. To judge from this book, the impressions left on Locke's mind by our English public school education were not of a pleasant or favourable kind.
Locke appears to have commenced his residence at Christ Church in the Michaelmas Term of 1652, soon after he had turned twenty years of age. His matriculation before the Vice-Chancellor bears date Nov. 27. Since the outbreak of the Civil Wars, both the University and the College had undergone many vicissitudes. At the moment when Locke entered, Cromwell was Chancellor; and Dr. John Owen, who was destined to be for some time the leading resident, had been recently appointed Dean of Christ Church and Vice-Chancellor of the University. Owen was an Independent, and, for a divine of that age, a man of remarkably tolerant and liberal views. Though, then as now, a dignitary in Owen's position probably had and could have but little intercourse with the junior members of his society, it is not improbable that Locke may have derived his first bias towards those opinions on the question of religious toleration, for which he afterwards became so famous, from the pub. lications and the practice of the Puritan Dean of Christ Church. Locke's tutor was a Mr. Cole, afterwards Principal of St. Mary Hall, but of his relations with his pupil we hear nothing of any importance. Wood calls him a “fanatical tutor ;” by which, of course, he does not mean more than that he was a Puritan.
During the Civil Wars the discipline and reputation of the Universities, however we may apportion the blame, seems to have suffered most severely. In these troublous times, indeed, it could hardly be otherwise. There is considerable evidence to show that, in the Little or Barebones Parliament of 1653, there was a serious attempt to suppress the Colleges and Universities altogether, and to apply the proceeds of their estates, as Clarendon tells us, “ for the public service, and to ease the people from the payment of taxes and contributions.” If such an attempt ever had any chance of success—and from an oration of Dr. Owen we may infer that it had -it must have spread consternation amongst University circles, and been a frequent subject of conversation during the early period of Locke's residence in Oxford.' But the Puritan party, which was now in the ascendant, was determined that, at any rate, no handle should be given to the enemy by any lack of discipline or by the infrequency of religious exercises. "Frequent preaching in every house,” Anthony à Wood tell us, “ was the chief matter aimed at by the Visitors appointed by Cromwell in 1652. Thus, on June 27, 1653, they ordered that “all Bachelors of Arts and Undergraduates in Colleges and Halls he required, every Lord's day, to give an account to some person of known ability and piety of the sermons they had heard and their attendance on other religious exercises that day. The Heads also or Deputies of the said Societies, with all above the Degree of Bachelor, were then ordered to be personally present at the performance of the said exercise, and to take care that it be attended with prayer and such other duties of religion as are proper to such a meeting.” In addition to the Sunday observances, there were also, in most Colleges, if not in all, one or two sermons or religious meetings in the course of the week. Locke, if we may judge from his character in latter years, must have occasionally found these tedious, and doubtless lengthy, exercises somewhat irksome and unprofitable. But we do not meet in his writings with any definite complaints of them, as we do of the scholastic disputations and some other parts of the academical course as pursued at that time. Of the disputations, which then constituted a very important element in the University curriculum, he expresses an unfavourable, perhaps too unfavourable an opinion. Writing in 1690, in the “ Thoughts concerning Education,” he says : “If the use and end of right reasoning be to have right notions and a right judgment of things, to distinguish between
truths and falsehoods, right and wrong, and to act accordingly, be sure not to let your son be bred up in the art and formality of disputingeither practising it himself or admiring it in others—unless, instead of an able man, you desire to have him an insignificant wrangler, opiniator in discourse, and priding himself in contradicting others; or, which is worse, questioning everything, and thinking there is no such thing as truth to be sought, but only victory, in disputing. There connot be anything so disingenuous, so becoming a gentle
man, or any one who pretends to be a rational creature, as not to yield to plain reason and the conviction of clear arguments. Is there anything more inconsistent with civil conversation, and the end of all debate, than not to take an answer, though ever so full and satisfactory? ... For this, in short, is the way and perfection of logical disputes, that the opponent never takes any answer, nor the respondent ever yields to any argument.” With the logic and rhetoric, the Latin speaking and writing, then in vogue, Locke is almost equally discontented. In fact, he looked back, in after-life, with little gratitude on the somewhat dry course of studies which the University then prescribed to its younger scholars. “I have often heard him say, in reference to his first years spent in the University,” says Lady Masham, “ that he had so small satisfaction there from his studies, as finding very little light brought thereby to his understanding, that he became discontented with his manner of life, and wished his father had rather designed him for anything else than what he was destined to, apprehending that his no greater progress in knowledge proceeded from his not being ñitied or capacitated to be a scholar.” We must, however, by no means infer that Locke had not derived considerable benefit from the discipline which he disparages. At any rate, the scholastic teaching of Oxford had a large share in forming, by reaction, many of his most characteristic opinions, while the Essay, in almost every page, bears distinctive marks of his early studies. Notwithstanding his depreciation, amounting often to ridicule, of the subjects he had learnt in his youth, we can hardly doubt that, if Locke had been brought up in an University where logic and philosophy did not form part of the course, his greatest work would never have been written.
Mr. Fox-Bourne attempts to supply a detailed account of the lectures which Locke attended, and the course of studies which he pursued, during his undergraduate and bachelor days. This account, however, betrays an innocent belief in the rigid enforcement and observance of University and College statutes, which, I am sorry to say, I cannot share. Minute regulations regarding courses of study and attendance at lectures are apt very soon to fall into desuetude, and it is impossible now to reconstruct with any accuracy, from the perusal of merely formal documents, a plan of the student life of the Commonwealth. It is to be much regretted that Locke and his contemporaries have not left us more specific information on the subject. All we can now say is that, if the authorities duly enforced their statutes and regulations, especially those relating to professorial lectures, many of which were appointed to be given at eight o'clock in the morning, the students of those days had by no means an easier time of it than their successors, even in these days of competition and examinations.
The stated regulations and prescribed statutes of a seat of learn. ing have, however, often far less to do with the formation of a student's mind than the society of the young men of his own age with whom his residence throws him into contact. Young men often educate one another far more effectually than ther can be educated by their tutors or their books. The mutual confidences, the lively interchange of repartee, the free discussion of all manner of subjects in college rooms or during the afternoon walk, are often fai more stimulating and informing to the intellect than the professorial lecture, however learned, or the tutorial catechising, however searching. Of this less formal and more agreeable species of education Locke appears to have enjoyed his full share. He was not, according to the account which he gave of himself to Lady Masham,
any very hard student,” but “ sought the company of pleasant and witty men, with whom he likewise took great delight in corresponding by letters; and in conversation and these correspondences he spent for some years much of his time.”
It should be noticed that in the year 1654 Owen published a volume of congratulatory verses addressed to Cromwell on the treaty recently concluded with the Dutch, entitled “Musarum Oxoniensium ελαιοφορία.» Among the many contributors to this volume, young and old, was Locke, who wrote a short copy of Latin, and a longer copy of English verses. These compositions do not rise much above, or sink much below, the ordinary level of such exercises ; but what is curious is that Locke's first published efforts in literature should have been in verse, especially when we bear in mind his strong and somewhat perverse judgment on versewriting in § 174 of the “ Thoughts concerning Education.” The fact of his having been invited to contribute to the volume shows that he was regarded as one of the more promising young students of his time.
To the period of Locke's life covered by this chapter probably belong, some interesting notes on philosophy and its divisions, found in his father's memorandum-book. These reflections afford evidence that he had already begun to think for himself, independently of the scholastic traditions. I append one or two characteristic extracts :
Dialectic, that is Logic, is to make reasons to grow, and improve both Physic and also Ethic, which is Moral Philosophy.”.
"Moral Philosophy is the knowledge of precepts of all honest manners which reason acknowledgeth to belong and appertain to man's nature, as the things in which we differ from beasts. It is also necessary for the comely government of man's life.”
• Necessity was the first finder-out of Moral Philosophy, and experience (which is a trusty teacher) was the first master thereof.”
Locke took his B.A. degree on the 14th of February, 1655-56, and his M.A. degree on the 29th of June, 1658, the latter on the same day with Nathaniel Crewe, afterwards Lord Crewe, Bishop of Durham, and Joseph Glanvill, the celebrated writer on witchcraft, and author of Scepsis Scientifica The statutable time of taking both degrees was anticipated, but irregularities of this kind were not then infrequent. On the 24th of December, 1660, he was appointed Greek Lecturer at Christ Church for the ensuing year, thus taking his place among the authorised teachers of his college,