John Locke 1632-1704

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John LOCKE 1632-1704

Biographical Note

Born at Wrington, Somerset, son of John Locke, attorney. BA Christ Church, Oxford 1656, MA 1658, praelector and tutor 1661; admitted at Gray's Inn 1656. He travelled to Cleves as secretary to Sir Walter Vane in 1665 and in 1667 he moved to London to join the household of Anthony Ashley Cooper, later Earl of Shaftesbury. Having studied medicine and experimental science at Oxford, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1668. He was in France 1675-79; after returning to England, his association with the disgraced Shaftesbury was a threat and he moved to The Netherlands where he remained until 1689. He spent much of the 1690s living at High Laver, Essex at the house of Sir Francis Masham, though he spent time in London as a member of the Board of Trade 1695-1700. His works on philosophy, economics and governance, which established his reputation as a leading thinker and advancer of enlightenment thought, were published quite late in his life, but had been worked on for many years (including Two treatises of government, 1689; An essay concerning human understanding, 1690; Some thoughts concerning education, 1693).


Locke acquired books throughout his life; he left ca.2600 volumes when he died but he is known to have owned over three thousand. He bought many books while abroad, and his library was variously split up and partly housed by friends during his years out of England. A comprehensive catalogue of what he is known to have owned, with locations of surviving books, was published by Harrison and Laslett (see below). Their subject analysis classifies ca.24% of the contents as theology, 10-11% to each of medicine, politics and classics, with the remainder covering a wide range of other topics. 40% of the books were in English, 36.5% Latin, and the rest included books in French, Italian, Dutch, Greek and other languages. His library was largely divided, after his death, between the King and Masham families, and was variously dispersed thereafter; some parts were kept together and ca.800 volumes are now in the Bodleian.

Characteristic Markings

Locke's distinctive shelfmarks, sigla and other inscriptions are described and illustrated by Harrison and Laslett.


  • Ashcraft, R. John Locke’s library: portrait of an intellectual, Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society 5 (1969), 47-60.
  • Harrison J. and P. Laslett, The library of John Locke, 2nd edn, Oxford, 1971.
  • Keynes, G. A note on Locke’s library, Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society 4 (1967), 312-3.
  • Kelly, P. A note on Locke’s pamphlets on money, Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society 5 (1969), 61-73.
  • Lough, J. John Locke's reading during his stay in France (1675-79), The Library 5th ser 8 (1953), 229-258.
  • Milton, J. R. "Locke, John (1632–1704), philosopher." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  • Rosenblum, S. John Locke in W. Baker (ed), Pre-19th century British book collectors, 1999, 221-34.
  • Notes in Bodleian Library Record 11(2) (1983), 120-1, and 11(3) 191-2.
  • Waldmann, F., John Locke, Esther Masham, and the Works of the learned Isaac Barrow, 2017.