Locke and Blake: A Conversation across the Eighteenth Century

By Wayne Glausser | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
Two English Physicians

Both Locke and Blake had a calling to heal sick English bodies. Locke was actually a practicing physician. Medicine and surrounding scientific studies became his earliest vocational passion, and although he gradually accumulated many other professional and intellectual interests, he continued throughout his life to keep track of Enlightenment theories of disease. His medical successes set the stage for a career of broader public service. Blake's work was more loosely and imaginatively medical, but his therapeutic vocation--to challenge, in many key elements, Locke's representation of the body and its discontents--was no less serious. Both physicians were also patients whose nervous symptoms resisted simple therapy.


ENLIGHTENMENT ELIXIR

Toward the end of his part-time but absorbing career as a physician, Locke complained about the persistent foolishness of doctors. They "lay the Foundation in their own phancies" of theories that amount to "waking Dreams": "I wonder, that after the pattern Dr. Sydenham has set them of a better way, men should return again to that romance way of physick." 1 Among "romance" physicians he no doubt meant to include mediocre Galenists, overly speculative iatrochemists, and medical thinkers who clung to mystical or supernatural explanations. All these versions of romanticized medicine hindered Enlightenment progress toward natural health, to be approached gradually by means of empirical reasoning.

Locke the physician-philosopher can easily be held up as an exemplary Enlightenment figure. More than once he was urged to take holy orders, in order to secure his place at Christ Church; but he rejected this advice and tried the much more difficult course of holding an Oxford position solely by virtue of a medical degree. This substitution of a medical for a theological credential fits nicely with some of the prominent Enlightenment themes for which Locke is

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Locke and Blake: A Conversation across the Eighteenth Century
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Chapter 1 from Caricature to Conversation 1
  • Chapter 2 Mothers, the Matrix, and Marriage 13
  • Chapter 3 Two English Physicians 43
  • Chapter 4 Slavery 62
  • Chapter 5 Seditious Plots 92
  • Chapter 6 Possessions 121
  • Chapter 7 Printing 141
  • Chapter 8 Epitaphs 163
  • Notes 166
  • Bibliography 183
  • Index 191
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