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John Locke and his World
John Locke was an English philosopher who lived during the 17th century. He was born in 1632, ten years before the English Civil War broke out, and the turbulent politics of 17th century England affected him on a very personal level throughout his life. But despite living in a time of constant conflict over politics and religion, Locke made several close and influential friends, including Anthony Ashley Cooper (later the 1st Earl of Shaftesbury).
Childhood and Education
Locke's family were members of the Church of England, and Locke remained religious throughout his life. During the English Civil War, Locke's father served with Oliver Cromwell and the parliamentary forces against King Charles I and the royalists. Luckily for Locke and his family, his father picked the winning side. Cromwell defeated the royalists in 1646, so for the time being, the Locke family was politically safe.
By the time the first English Civil War ended, Locke was 14. Locke's parents weren't rich, but they were comfortably well-off: his father worked as a legal clerk and had enough money to send his son to Westminster School in London, where he studied the ancient languages (Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic), geography, and mathematics. Locke succeeded academically, even being elected as a King's Scholar when he was 18. But he didn't enjoy his time at school and later criticized Westminster for overusing physical punishment. In his later work Some Thoughts Concerning Education, he wrote:
The usual lazy and short way by chastisement and the rod, which is the only instrument of government that tutors generally know, or ever think of, is the most unfit of any to be us'd in education...This sort of correction naturally breeds an aversion to that which 'tis the tutor's business to create a liking to. How obvious is it to observe, that children come to hate things which were at first acceptable to them, when they find themselves whipp'd, and chid, and teas'd about them?... Beating them, and all other sorts of slavish and corporal punishments, are not the discipline fit to be used in the education of those we would have wise, good, and ingenuous men; and therefore very rarely to be apply'd.
At age 20, in 1652, Locke left Westminster and enrolled in Christ Church college, Oxford. Here, he largely ignored the official curriculum in favor of reading the newer works of scholars like Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes.
Friendships and Correspondence
At Oxford, Locke made a number of friends who shared his interests in natural philosophy, political science, and medicine. He got to know people like Robert Boyle, the famous chemist who is still known today as the author of Boyle's Law, and Christopher Wren, the architect who rebuilt St. Paul's Cathedral after the Great Fire of London.
After graduating, Locke became a teacher and continued to work on his own writing. He stayed at Oxford for a few years and then moved to London. This didn't do much for his health - Locke struggled with lung infections for most of his adult life, and the air pollution in the city only exacerbated his respiratory problems. But while living in London, Locke continued to make more connections in the intellectual circles of his day. For example, he became personally friendly with the famous doctor Thomas Sydenham and did a significant amount of collaborative work with him.
Anthony Ashley Cooper
In 1666, Locke met Anthony Ashley Cooper, an affluent politician who secured Locke several cushy government jobs and even hired Locke as his personal physician. The two men became good friends, sharing fundamental political beliefs about the importance of constitutional government and religious toleration. In 1672, Anthony Ashley Cooper became the 1st Earl of Shaftesbury.
Unfortunately, Shaftesbury fell out of official favor shortly after being raised to the peerage, and since Locke was so closely associated with him, that put Locke in danger. To keep himself safe and continue writing, Locke moved to continental Europe, spending several years in France.
Locke briefly came back to England in 1679, but shortly afterwards, Shaftesbury was involved in a political controversy between Catholics and Protestants in England. Shaftesbury had to escape across the English Channel to Holland in 1682, and Locke followed him in 1683, knowing that he was again in serious danger.
Return to England
Locke returned to England in 1689, after the Glorious Revolution installed the Protestant couple William III and Mary II as the new English monarchs. As a supporter of William and Mary, Locke was now in political favor again and it was safe for him to live in England - he even helped write important documents for the new government, such as the English Bill of Rights. But by this time, the famous London smog was becoming too much for his fragile lungs, and he moved to the countryside to live with his friend Damaris Masham and her family. Masham was the daughter of Locke's longtime friend Ralph Cudworth.
Locke was friendly with Masham, who was also a philosopher. The two had probably met some time around 1682, and had been keeping in touch through letter-writing while Locke was in Europe. They had exchanged love letters in the early years of their correspondence, but by this point, Masham was married to another man and their friendship was based on their shared philosophical interests, not on romantic interest.
Masham was also present at John Locke's deathbed. In 1704, while he was living with Cudworth and Masham, Locke's chronic respiratory problems took a steep turn for the worse, and he died on October 28, while Masham read to him from the Bible.
John Locke was an English thinker of the 17th century. He lived in a time of constant political upheaval, and twice had to flee England for Europe to protect himself from danger. However, he also made close friendships with Anthony Ashley Cooper, the 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, Damaris Masham, and other intellectuals of the day.
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