Two Treatises on Civil Government

Two Treatises on Civil Government

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Two Treatises on Civil Government

Two Treatises on Civil Government

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Excerpt

From the time of the differences between James I. and his Parliament in 1610, to the Revolution of 1688, our history and literature contain records of energetic difference about the limit of authority. There was a problem to be solved that touched the interests and stirred passions of men, until some fought, while others reasoned, and all human forces were spent on labour to get the problem solved. It seemed for a while that the right answer was the Commonwealth. But a Commonwealth sustained by the genius of one man was monarchy. After Cromwell's death, it became clear that the answer to the problem had not yet been found. Stuarts were tried again, and Charles II. and James II. served the country most effectually by betrayal of the trusts confided to them. Their shortcomings ensured us against risk of another Civil War. Liberty seemed to be dying, but in the worst signs of the disease there was Nature at work on her own way of cure.

With the Revolution came John Locke as its interpreter. John Locke had been born in August, 1632, and was a year younger than John Dryden, who was born in August, 1631. After passing from Westminster School to Christ Church, Oxford, where he studied at first natural science, and made medicine his profession, Locke was brought by accident into friendly relation with Lord Ashley, afterwards that Earl of Shaftesbury whom Charles II. sought to strike down, and against whom Dryden wrote "Absalom and Achitophel." In Shaftesbury, Locke found a friend. In January, 1683, Shaftesbury, withdrawn for safety to Holland, died at Amsterdam. In the autumn of that year Locke took refuge abroad, and found congenial friends also at Amsterdam. From his exile in Holland he returned in February, 1689, in the same ship that brought the Princess Mary. His Latin Epistola de Tolerantia, on behalf of Religious Liberty, had been written in 1685, and it was published at Gouda, by his friends abroad, in the spring of 1689. In September, an English translation, made by William Popple, of this "Letter concerning Toleration," was published in London. Locke was then printing his most famous work, the "Essay concerning Human Understanding," of which the aim was to define the bounds of human knowledge, dissuade from vain speculation, and persuade men to economize their force of thought. At the beginning of the year 1690, Locke "Essay concerning Human Understanding" was first published at the "George," in Fleet Street, near St. Dunstan's Church. He had been at work on it for sixteen years, and for the copyright he was paid thirty pounds.

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