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Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Go to the History Today for October and read the article by Mark Goldie on John Locke. About John Locke? No, more specifically, it is about the vagaries of Locke’s reputation. This has become quite a little subgenre: the bio of the reputation. Orwell’s reputation has had, we believe, at least two bios. We rather like the idea – it is so reminiscent of the story of Peter Schlemiel’s shadow – the detachment of that purely negative space, and its adventures as it retains a shape to which it is no longer owes the loyalty of absolute physical proximity.

Locke, according to this informative survey, was a secretive soul.

“He was indifferent to biography and reticent, even secretive, about himself. When the philosopher Damaris Masham wrote her memoir of him, she could not report his year of birth, though they had lived together for fourteen years from 1690. Like another of his friends, Sir Christopher Wren, whose epitaph in St Paul's Cathedral invites us to 'look around', Locke's epitaph at High Laver in Essex invites us to 'learn from his writings' rather than engage in 'dubious eulogies'.”
This is the first time we ever encountered the evocative name, Damaris Masham (one isn’t quite sure whether fiction isn’t infecting the past, here – surely Damaris Masham is a wholly fictitious name made up by Neal Stephenson?), and we are noting her for future investigation. Goldie, in accordance with the epitaph’s invitation, shows that the dubious eulogies accorded Locke have come from ideologically diverse quarters. In the eighteenth century, as one might expect, Locke was damned by the tories – rather ironically, since, Goldie notes, “in contemporary America Locke or, rather, an imagined heritage 'Locke', is mascot of right-wing think-tanks.” Contrast with this:
“The first pictorial representation of 'Locke on government' appeared in 1710 in a Tory cartoon attacking the Whig pamphleteer Benjamin Hoadly, where Locke appears on the bookshelf behind Hoadly's desk. In one version, Oliver Cromwell stands over Hoadly's shoulder, with regicide's axe in hand; in another, it is the devil who stands there. Ironically, in the reign of Queen Anne Tory hatred of Locke served to make his name better known as a theorist of politics. One of his critics was the Tory feminist Mary Astell, who attacked Whig philosophy because it deposed monarchical tyrants while leaving husbandly tyranny intact. 'If all men are born free, how is that all women are born slaves?'”
We imagine Locke was the kind of leveler that Swift would have targetted (perhaps there is some anti-Lockian tone in the Modest Proposal), but Goldie concentrates more on Locke’s reputation among political types. Although there are artistic touches.

For instance,
“Lord Cobham transformed his estate at Stowe near Buckingham into a rural allegory of the fate of political liberty under the rule of perverted Whiggery. In his Elysian Fields he built a sturdy Temple of Ancient Virtue and a ruinous Temple of Modern Virtue. The ensemble culminated in the Temple of British Worthies. Here he placed busts of Elizabeth I, William III, John Hampden, Milton, and Locke. To these he added the Black Prince, a model for the current Prince of Wales, Frederick, who, it was hoped, would restore liberty when his father died. [circa 1730] Lastly came King Alfred, whom Cobham called the 'founder of the English constitution'.

The article goes on to explicate, entertainingly, the tangle between Locke and whiggism and anglican latitudinarianism, and the creation of a right and a left schools of Lockeans.

Tomorrow, if we have time, we will discuss this important article that appeared in Asterion. We recommend the whole issue. And after that – we are taking off for two weeks. Going to Mexico. Adios, have a good holiday including lots of sex – we recommend, between consulting adults, violating those precepts of good Christian sex and discovering the Saturnalia of pleasure that lies right on the surface of your skin. Best done under the blinking illumination of the Christmas tree lights. Santa gives Saturnalia a thumbs up!

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