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John Locke received the following letter from the Hague on 31 January 1689, whilst he was waiting in Rotterdam for a ship to take him home, now that his exile in Holland could come to an end after the Revolution:
I have been very ill this fortnight. The beginning was what is called the disease of one's country, impatience to be there, but it ended yesterday with violence, as all great things do but kings. Ours went out like a farthing candle, and has given us by this Convention an occasion not only of mending the Government but of melting it down and making all new, which makes me wish you were there to give them a right scheme of government, having been infected by that great man Lord Shaftesbury.
Students of history are liable to assume that the entity ‘England’ has existed at all points in her past in roughly the same way as she exists in their present–not the same England of course, but the same sort of phenomenon, corresponding to a strictly similar social and political reality, apprehended in the same sort of way by contemporaries. When they read statements about any period, they tend to feel confident that the word ‘England’ is one that can be taken for granted, as representing something self-evident or something which can easily be explained in terms of geography and political history.
Andrew Appleby was a tall, quiet, judicious man – a large figure and a considerable presence. He came late to the writing of history, from a previous career helping to run a newspaper which his family owned in San Diego County, Southern California. The reasons why he changed were at bottom moral reasons, and the same could be said, I think, about his choice of a line of investigation. He felt a personal responsibility for the men and women of the past. He cared about what really weighed upon them much more than he cared about the traditional preoccupations of historians as he found them to be when he took up research.
Hence his settled concern with hunger, disease and death amongst our ancestors and predecessors in pre-industrial times, and his unwavering determination to get at the truth of these matters as far as that could possibly be done. The impression he gave to me was that he could afford to stand aside and wait until others saw things in the light in which he saw them himself. What a sad, sad thing that he should have died before that change had completely come about.
Nevertheless in the seven or eight years during which he cultivated his chosen territory, years when he was fulfilling the burdensome stint of teaching demanded by the State University of California, his output of books, articles and addresses was enormous.
This is a somewhat reduced version of the scholarly edition originally published in 1960 with a second edition in 1967, latest printing 1988. Much of the scholarly apparatus has been dropped here: the lists of books Locke had in his possession at times relevant to the composition of Two Treatises, the List of Printings, the Collation, the successive Forewords to successive printings. All these have been retained in the 1988 printing of the scholarly edition, to which those to whom final detail is important are referred.
Advantage has been taken of the appearance of the book in the Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought series to make some alterations not yet present in the scholarly edition. The extremely small number of errors in Locke's own text have been amended, though none of them alters the sense in any respect. The Introduction, its footnotes and the footnotes to Locke's text have been quite extensively corrected, but mainly so as to take account of work done after the second edition of 1971 until the later 1970s. As far as possible, moreover, all contributions made since then which touch on the facts about the writing and publication of Locke's political work have been taken into account. The book cannot, however, claim to cover the whole body of extant scholarship on Locke's Two Treatises, and for that reason a list of suggested reading has been added before the Bibliography.
Whilst he was waiting at Rotterdam for a ship to take him home after the Revolution, Locke received the following letter from The Hague:
I have been very ill this fortnight. The beginning was what is called disease of one's country, impatience to be there, but it ended yesterday with violence, as all great things do but kings. Ours went out like a farthing candle, and has given us by this Convention an occasion not only of mending the Government but of melting it down and making all new, which makes me wish you were there to give them a right scheme of government, having been infected by that great man Lord Shaftesbury.
The writer was Lady Mordaunt, wife of his friend who was to become Earl of Monmouth and Earl of Peterborough and who was already in England with William III. The Convention she mentions was the Convention Parliament, then working out the constitutional future of England after James II had sputtered out. By 11 February Locke was in London: on the 12th the Declaration of Right was completed: on the 13th William and Mary were offered the crown.
This letter, except perhaps for its last phrase, aptly expresses the traditional view of the reasons why Locke sat down to write Two Treatises of Government. What was wanted was an argument, along with a scheme of government, an argument deep in its analysis and theoretical, even philosophical, in its premises, but cogent and convincing in its expression.
‘Property I have nowhere found more clearly explained, than in a book entitled, Two Treatises of Government.’ This remark was made by John Locke in 1703, not much more than a year before he died. It must be a rare thing for an author to recommend one of his own works as a guide to a young gentleman anxious to acquire ‘an insight into the constitution of the government, and real interest of his country’. It must be even rarer for a man who was prepared to do this, to range his own book alongside Aristotle's Politics and Hooker's Ecclesiastical Polity, to write as if the work were written by somebody else, somebody whom he did not know. Perhaps it is unique in a private letter to a relative. What could possibly be the point of concealing this thing, from a man who probably knew it already?
Odd as it is, this statement of Locke anticipates the judgement of posterity. It was not long before it was universally recognized that Locke on Government did belong in the same class as Aristotle's Politics, and we still think of it as a book about property, in recent years especially. It has been printed over a hundred times since the 1st edition appeared with the date 1690 on the title-page. It has been translated into French, German, Italian, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Norwegian, Hebrew, Arabic, Japanese and Hindi: probably into other languages too.
The dating of the composition of Two Treatises and the question of whether the Second was composed before the First
Professor Richard Ashcraft in his recent book, Locke's Two Treatises of Government, 1987, has decisively rejected the version of the composition and dating of Locke's book set out in this Introduction. In his view the First was written in 1680–1 and the Second in 1681–2, neither as early as 1679, in whole or in part.
Neither in this book, nor in his extremely detailed analysis of Revolutionary Politics and Locke's Two Treatises of Government, 1986, does Professor Ashcraft produce any new references in materials previously unknown to underwrite his new interpretation. I had hoped that in the exhaustive analysis, interesting and valuable as it is in so many ways, which he has undertaken on the books and papers of the radicals who surrounded Shaftesbury in the 1680s, who plotted against James II after Shaftesbury's death and who involved themselves in Monmouth's attempt to overthrow him, some allusion to the text of Two Treatises might appear. It was perhaps unlikely, considering Locke's cautious habits and his attitude to what he had written, that any such allusion would be in plain language. But one or other of those who associated with Locke might well have known and written about the manuscript de Morbo Gallico (see above, pp. 62–5).