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John Locke was born at Wrington, in Somersetshire, A. D. 1632: his father, Mr. J. Locke, who was descended from the Lockes of Charton Court, in Dorsetshire, possessed a moderate landed property at Pensfold and Bellerton, where he lived.
John Locke was the eldest of two sons, and was educated with great care by his father, of whom he always spoke with the greatest respect and affection. He was sent to Westminster school, whence, in 1651, he went to Christ Church, Oxford, where, in the earliest period of his residence, he was distinguished for his talents and learning. But, notwithstanding this early reputation which he acquired at the University, he often expressed his regret that he had been ever sent there, conceiving that the method of instruction there pursued was ill calculated to open the under
standing, or prepare the way for any useful knowlege.
The earliest of Locke's printed works is the Essay on the Human Understanding.' The original copy in his own hand-writing, dated 1671, is still preserved. Prior to this, however, he had written a work of a political nature, which was never printed, though evidently intended for publication. It was written towards the end of 1660. One of the first and most necessary measures after the Restoration, and one of the most difficult, was the settlement of the church. The king had promised, that endeavors should be used to effect a comprehension; and the tract which Locke wrote was intended to reconcile the low church party to an obedience to the civil magistrate in all indifferent things in public worship, not otherwise commanded by the word of God. It is an answer to a writer who denied the right of the civil magistrate to interfere in matters of religion ; and in manner and style it resembles his later controversy with Sir Robert Filmer. The circumstances of the times, however, and the altered policy of the government towards the Presbyterian party, prevented the publication of the tract.
Locke's inclination led him strongly to the study of medicine, which seems to have occupied his thoughts to the end of his life. In the dedication prefixed to Dr. Sydenham's Observations on the History and Cure of Acute Diseases,' 1676, he boasts of the approbation bestowed on his method by Mr. J. Locke, who, to borrow Sydenham's own words, had examined it to the bottom; and who, if we consider his genius and penetration, and exact judgment, had scarce any superior, and few equals now living.'
In 1665 Locke accompanied Sir Walter Vane, the king's envoy to the elector of Brandenburg, during the first Dutch war, as secretary. In the same year, he returned to England, and an offer was made him, which he declined, of going in some public capacity into Spain.
In 1666, a friend in Dublin undertook to procure for him considerable preferment in the church, from the Duke of Ormond, then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. This also he declined. Thus there occurred, in the course of Locke's life, the choice of three distinct roads to fortune, and perhaps to celebrity; viz. the temptation of considerable preferment in the church, the practice of physic, and the opportunity of engaging in diplomatic employments.
It appears from Boyle's General History of the Air,' that in the same year Locke was engaged in experimental philosophy; as he began a register of the state of the air in the month of June of that year, and continued it, with many interruptions, till his final departure from Oxford in 1683.
In 1666 also, Locke became acquainted with the celebrated Lord Ashley, better known as Lord Shaftesbury, who, at that time suffering under an abscess in his breast, the consequence of a fall from his horse, came to Oxford in order to drink the water of Astrop. He had written to Dr. Thomas to procure the waters for him on his arrival at Oxford ; but this physician, happening to be called away from that place, desired Locke to execute the commission. By some accident the waters were not ready when Lord Ashley arrived ; and Locke waited on him to apologise for the disappointment, occasioned by the fault of the messenger sent to procure them. Lord Ashley received him with great civility, and was not only satisfied with his excuse, but was so much pleased with his conversation, that he desired to improve an acquaintance thus begun by accident, which afterwards grew into a friendship that continued unchanged to the end of his life.
From Oxford, Locke accompanied Lord Ashley to Sunning-hill Wells, and afterwards resided for some time, towards the end of the year, at Exeter House in the Strand. During his residence with Lord Ashley in London, he had the opportunity of seeing and conversing with many of the most distinguished characters of those times, the Duke of Buckingham, Lord Halifax, &c. He resided partly at Exeter House, and partly at Oxford, at which last place, in 1670, his great work, the Essay on the Human Understanding,' was sketched out. It arose, as the author
from the meeting of five or six friends at his chambers; who, tinding difficulties in the inquiry and discussion they were engaged in, he was induced to examine what objects our understandings were, or were not, titted to deal with. The hasty thoughts which he set down against the next meeting, gave the first entrance to that discourse, which, after long intervals and many interruptions, was brought at last into the order it assumed, when given to the world eighteen years afterwards.
In 1672, Lord Ashley, after filling the office of chancellor of the exchequer, was created Earl of Shaftesbury, and declared lord chancellor. He then appointed Locke his secretary for the presentation of benefices, and also to some office in the council of trade; both of which he quitted in 1673, when Shaftesbury quarrelled with the court, and placed himself at the head of the country party in parliament,
In 1675 Locke went to reside in France for the benefit of his health, where he remained till the beginning of May, 1679, when he returned to London, and took up his abode at Thanet House in Aldersgate-street, Shaftesbury being then at the head of the English administration,
The asthmatic complaint, however, which had induced Locke to leave England in 1675, was an obstacle to any long-continued residence in London, and obliged him to pass the winter season,
for the most part, either at Oxford or in the west.
In 1684, Locke was, by an illegal order of the king, deprived of his studentship at Oxford, on account of a suspicion that he was the author of a pamphlet that gave offence to the government. He now retired to Holland, where the persecution of the government still followed him; the king's minister demanding, among several others, that Locke should be delivered up: he was therefore under the necessity of living very much concealed ; and he had actually at one time removed from Amsterdam to Utrecht, to avoid the sus,