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CHARACTER OF MR. LOCKE,
BY MR. PETER COSTE:
A LETTER RELATING TO THAT CHARACTER, AND TO THE
AUTHOR OF IT.
A LETTER to Mr. * * * * * *
London, Feb. 4, 1720. Being informed that you design to publish several new pieces of Mr. Locke, I here send you, at the request of some of his friends, the translation of a letter, attempting his character, and containing several passages of his life and conversation; which you are desired to prefix before that collection.
The author of that letter is Mr. Peter Coste, who has translated into French Mr. Locke's Thoughts concerning Education, his Reasonableness of Christianity, and Vindications thereof; with his principal work, the Essay concerning Human Understanding
Mr. Coste lived in the same family with Mr. Locke, during the seven last years of that great man's life; whereby he had all possible opportunities to know him.
The letter was written some time after Mr. Locke's death, and appears to be the production of a man in
raptures, and struck with the highest admiration of Mr. Locke's virtue, capacity, and of the excellency of his writings; and under the deepest affliction for the loss of a person, to whom in his lifetime he had paid the most profound respect, and for whom he had constantly expressed the greatest esteem, and that even in writings, whereof Mr. Locke did not know him to be the author.
And therefore Mr. Locke's friends judge its publication necessary, not only, as they think it contains a just character of Mr. Locke, as far as it goes, but as it is a proper vindication of him against the said Mr. Coste, who in several writings, and in his common conversation throughout France, Holland, and England, has aspersed and blackened the memory of Mr. Locke, in those very respects wherein he was his panegyrist before.
For, they conceive, the eulogium contained in the following letter must stand good, till Mr. Coste thinks fit either to deny his own experience, or to confess that the same things, which he then thought praiseworthy, have since changed their nature.
I am, Sir,
Your most obedient humble servant,
and blackut France, ito ind in his com
In a Letter to the Author of the Nouvelles de la
Republique des Lettres. By Mr. P. Coste*.
London, Dec. 10, 1704. You must have heard of the death of the illustrious Mr. Locke. It is a general loss. For that reason he is lamented by all good men, and all sincere lovers of truth, who were acquainted with his character. He was born for the good of mankind. Most of his actions were directed to that end; and I doubt whether, in his time, any man in Europe applied himself more earnestly to that noble design, or executed it with more success.
* That letter was printed in the Nouvelles de la Republique des Lettres, for the month of February 1705, art. II. page 154, with this title. A Letter of Mr. Coste to the Author of these Nouvelles, written on Occasion of the Death of Mr. Locke.
I will forbear to speak of the valuableness of his works. The general esteem they have attained, and will preserve, as long as good sense and virtue are left in the world; the service they have been of to England in particular, and universally to all that set themselves seriously to the search of truth, and the study of christianity, are their best eulogium. The love of truth is visible in every part of them. This is allowed by all that have read them. For even they, who have not relished some of Mr. Locke's opinions, have done him the justice to confess, that the manner in which he defends them shows he advanced nothing that he was not sincerely convinced of himself. This his friends gave him an account of from several hands: “ Let them, after this," answered he,“ object whatever they please against my works, I shall never be disturbed at it: for since they grant I advance nothing in them but what I really believe, I shall always be glad to prefer truth to any of my opinions, whenever I discover it by myself, or am satisfied that they are not conformable to it.” Happy turn of mind! which, I am fully persuaded, contributed more even than the penetration of that noble genius, to his discovery of those great and useful truths which appear in his works.
But, without dwelling any longer upon considering Mr. Locke in the quality of an author, which often serves only to disguise the real character of the man, I haste to show him to you in particulars much more amiable, and which will give you a higher notion of his merit.
Mr. Locke had a great knowledge of the world, and of the business of it. Prudent without being cunning, he won people's esteem by his probity, and was always safe from the attacks of a false friend, or a sordid flatterer. Averse to all mean complaisance, his wisdom, his experience, his gentle and obliging manners, gained him the respect of his inferiors, the esteem of his equals, the friendship and confidence of the greatest quality.
Without setting up for a teacher, he instructed others by his own conduct. He was at first pretty much disposed to give advice to such of his friends as he thought wanted it; but at length finding that “ good counsels are very little effectual in making people more prudent,” he grew much more reserved in that particular. I have often heard him say, that the first time he heard that maxim, he thought it very strange; but that experience had fully convinced him of the truth of it. By counsels, we are here to understand those which are given to such as do not ask them. Yet, as much as he despaired of rectifying those whom he saw taking of false measures, his natural goodness, the aversion he had to disorder, and the interest he took in those about him, in a manner forced him sometimes to break the resolution he had made of leaving them to go their own way, and prevailed upon him to give them the advice which he thought most likely to reclaim them; but this he always did in a modest way, and so as to convince the mind by fortifying his advice with solid arguments, which he never wanted upon a proper occasion.
But then Mr. Locke was very liberal of his counsels when they were desired, and nobody ever consulted him in vain. An extreme vivacity of mind, one of his reigning qualities, in which perhaps he never had an equal, his great experience, and the sincere desire he had of being serviceable to all mankind, soon furnished him with the expedients which were most just and least dangerous. I say the least dangerous; for what he proposed to himself before all things was to lead those who consulted him into no trouble. This was one of his favourite maxims, and he never lost sight of it upon any occasion.
Though Mr. Locke chiefly loved truths that were useful, and with such fed his mind, and was generally very well pleased to make them the subject of his discourse, yet he used to say, that in order to employ one part of this life in serious and important occupations,
it was necessary to spend another in mere amusements; and when an occasion naturally offered, he gave himself up with pleasure to the charms of a free and facetious conversation. He remembered a great many agreeable stories, which he always brought in properly; and generally made them yet more delightful, by his natural and agreeable way of telling them. He was no foe to raillery, provided it were delicate and perfectly innocent.
Nobody was ever a greater master of the art of accommodating himself to the reach of all capacities; which, in my opinion, is one of the surest marks of a great genius.
It was his peculiar art in conversation, to lead people to talk of what they understood best. With a gardener he discoursed of gardening; with a jeweller, of a diamond; with a chemist, of chemistry, &c. “ By this," said he himself, “I please all those men, who commonly can speak pertinently upon nothing else. As they believe I have an esteem for their profession, they are charmed with showing their abilities before me; and I, in the mean while, improve myself by their discourse.” And indeed Mr. Locke had by this means acquired a very good insight into all the arts, of which he daily learnt more and more. He used to say, too, that the knowledge of the arts contained more true philosophythan all those fine learned hypotheses, which, having no relation to the nature of things, are fit for nothing at the bottom, but to make men lose their time in inventing or comprehending them. A thousand times have I admired how, by the several questions he would put to artificers, he would find out the secret of their art, which they did not understand themselves, and oftentimes give them views entirely new, which sometimes they put in practice to their profit.
This easiness, with which Mr. Locke knew how to converse with all sorts of men, and the pleasure he took in doing it, at first surprised those who had never talked with him before. They were charmed with this condescension, not very common among men of letters, and which they so little expected from a person whose