« PreviousContinue »
that at all, it can only have been to a very small extent. Translations of it in Dutch and French were almost immediately issued, and it created a good deal of discussion among liberal and illiberal theologians as well as politicians on the continent during the early months of 1689; but, though men like William the Third and Bishop Burnet may have read it, it was at this time almost unknown in England. If Locke had any direct or indirect share in the comprehension and toleration bills that were submitted to the convention parliament in March, his contribution to the scheme of reform had been made long before.
The bills, now introduced by the Earl of Nottingham, were almost identical with measures that had been brought forward nearly ten years earlier, and that had indeed been originated more than twenty years earlier, when Locke was the modest coadjutor of the first Lord Shaftesbury. The comprehension bill proposed to relieve all ministers of the church of England, and all members of the universities, from the necessity of subscribing to the thirty-nine articles, substituting for them this declaration, “I do approve of the doctrine and worship and government of the church of England by law established, as containing all things necessary to salvation, and I promise, in the exercise of my ministry, to preach and practise according thereto;” it also gave considerable liberty as to the wearing of vestments, the mode of baptism, and other ceremonies; and it suggested the appointment of a commission for simplifying the ritual and rubric of the church. The toleration bill, without abrogating the five mile act, the conventicle act and the other monstrous laws in the same category, proposed to nullify their worst provisions in the case of dissenters willing to take the oaths of allegiance and
supremacy and to subscribe to the declaration against transubstantiation and to thirty-four of the thirty-nine articles, along with portions of two others.
Neither measure at all recognised the rule which Locke had laid down in terms that could not be controverted, though they might of course be contradicted, that the civil power has no right to interfere with any one's religious opinions or worship, or in any way to make those opinions or worship an obstacle to the full rights of citizenship, provided only that they are not clearly at variance with the civil interests of the community. We can easily understand that, they being better than nothing, Locke did all he could to secure their adoption, and that he was yet more zealous in urging, through Monmouth and others, that their clauses should be so modified as to make them really liberal measures; but, when he saw that they were narrowed instead of broadened by parliament, and when finally, though the toleration bill was passed, the more useful comprehension bill was allowed to drop through, he certainly had good reason for being disappointed. When his 'Epistola de Tolerantia' was issued in an English translation, it appeared only as an eloquent argument in favour of reforms yet to be effected, and, by implication, as an indignant remonstrance against the very lame and insufficient efforts at reformation which
were all that King William, himself an honest friend to | religious liberty, and the few men like Lords Monmouth
and Pembroke, who shared his views, could persuade the still priest-ridden country, and the priests who tyrannised over it, to consent to.
In that translation Locke himself had no part. “I understand that a countryman of mine is now engaged in rendering my little book about toleration into English,
he wrote to Limborch in June. “I hope its plea in favour of peace and justice may obtain a hearing.” The translator, whom Locke afterwards sought out and made a friend of, was William Popple, an unitarian merchant in London; and he expressed Locke's thoughts very skilfully, not only in the version itself, but also in the short preface with which he furnished it. “I think there is no nation under heaven,” he there wrote, “in which so much has already been said upon toleration as ours; but yet certainly there is no people that stand in more need of having something farther both said and done amongst them, in this point, than we do. Our government has not only been partial in matters of religion, but those also who have suffered under that partiality, and have therefore endeavoured by their writings to vindicate their own rights and liberties, have for the most part done it upon narrow principles suited only to the interests of their own sects. This narrowness of spirit on all sides has undoubtedly been the principal occasion of our miseries and confusions. But, whatever hath been the occasion, it is now high time to seek for a thorough cure. We have need of more generous remedies than what have yet been made use of in our distemper. It is neither declarations of indulgence nor acts of comprehension, such as have as yet been practised or projected amongst us, that can do the work. The first will but palliate, the second increase our evil. Absolute liberty, just and true liberty, equal and impartial liberty, is the thing that we stand in need of. Now, though this has been much talked of, I doubt it has not been much understood-I am sure not at all practised-either by our governors towards the people in
1 Familiar Letters,' p. 331; Locke to Limborch, 6 June, 1689.
general, or by any dissenting parties of the people towards one another.” 1
“I doubt not you have heard before this,” Locke wrote to Limborch, “that toleration is now established among us by law; not with such breadth as you and true men like you, free from Christian arrogance and hatred, would desire ; but 'tis something to get anything. With these small beginnings I hope the foundations will be laid on which the church of Christ can be built up. None are to be punished for their religious opinions, unless they are catholics, if they will only consent to take the oath of allegiance and to repudiate the doctrine of transubstantiation and certain other dogmas of the church of Rome.”2
An earlier letter to Limborch shows us with what temperate approval Locke watched the general progress of affairs during the first few months of William's reign, and with what honest independence of spirit he took part in them as far as he was able.
“Yesterday,” he wrote on the 12th of April, “ the inauguration or, as they call it, the coronation of the king and queen was celebrated with great pomp and amid the acclamations of a mighty concourse of people ; and at the same time, I suppose, they were in Scotland proclaimed king and queen of that country, as some days ago the Scottish throne, according to the institutions of the northern kingdom, had been decreed to William and Mary. Burnet, now bishop of Salisbury, took part in yesterday's solemnity. He preached before the king and queen, and everybody was delighted with his sermon. I have no doubt it will be printed, and if so, I shall take care to send you a copy. I saw him this morning, and
1. A Letter concerning Toleration' (1689), To the Reader.
told him you intended to send him a letter of congratulation as soon as you knew that he was actually a bishop. Whether, as you persuade yourself, he will show the same spirit at Salisbury as he did at Amsterdam, some people begin to doubt. I must tell you a bit of gossip about him. When he paid his first visit to the king after his consecration, his majesty observed that his hat was a good deal larger than usual, and asked him what was the object of so very much brim. The bishop replied that this was the shape suitable to his dignity. “I hope,' answered the king, 'that the hat won't turn your head.'»i Locke may surely be excused for rather spitefully repeating this story about the clever and conceited, though on the whole wellmeaning, busybody who was so fond of saying spiteful things about everybody else.
After referring to letters that he had received from his friends Veen and Guenellon, who, as well as Limborch, appear to have been surprised that they had as yet heard nothing of any favours shown to him, while Burnet had so soon forced himself into a bishopric, Locke went on to say, “I find you are all anxious to know what public office I mean to ask for. I can tell you in a word
On the score of my health I have declined an appointment which I should certainly have been glad enough to accept had I been younger and stronger than I
I want nothing now but to have some rest. It would never do for a man who is tumbling to pieces, and fit only to close his account with life, to rush into any new and great undertaking. I want nothing, I assure you, but a little better health than I have had since my return, to be able to breathe more easily, and to be less
1 MSS. in the Remonstrants' Library; Locke to Limborch, 12 April,