384. To Josiah Wedgwood MS. British Museum. Hitherto unpublished. [ February 1801.] Mr Locke's third Book is on Words; and under this head [he] should have arranged the greater number of the Chapters in his second Book. Des Cartes has said multum in parvo on the subject of words. He has said the same things as Mr Locke; but he has said them more perspicuously, more philosophically, & without any admixture of those errors or unintelligibilities into which Mr Locke suffered himself to be seduced by his Essences and Abstract Ideas. -- Words (according to Des Cartes) are to be considered in three ways -- they are themselves images and sounds; 2. they are connected with our Thoughts by associations with Images & ____________________ 1 μεϒ underlined once in MS. -697- Feelings; 3. with Feelings alone, and this too is the natural Tendency of Language. For as words are learnt by us in clusters, even those that most expressly refer to Images & other Impressions are not all learnt by us determinately; and tho' this should be wholly corrected by after experience, yet the Images & Impressions associated with the words become more & more dim, till at last as far as our consciousness extends they cease altogether; & Words act upon us immediately, exciting a mild current of Passion & Feeling without the regular intermediation of Images. Nam videmus, verba sive ore prolata sive tantum scripts, quaslibet in animis nostris cogitationes & commotiones excitare -- & so forth. And if, says Des Cartes it be objected that these Words do not all excite images of the Battles, Tempests, Furies, &c, sed tantummodo diversas intellectiones 1 ; this is true, but yet no wise different from the manner in which Impressions & Images act upon us. Gladius corpori nostro admovetur, et scindit illud; ex hoc sequitur Dolor, qui non minus diversus a gladii vel corporis locali motu, quam color vel sonus. 2 Words therefore become a sort of Nature to us, & Nature is a sort of Words. Both Words & Ideas derive their whole significancy from their coherence. The simple Idea Red dissevered from all, with which it had ever been conjoined would be as unintelligible as the word Red; the one would be a sight, the other a Sound, meaning only themselves, that is in common language, meaning nothing. But this is perhaps not in our power with regard to Ideas, but much more easily with regard to Words. Hence the greater Stability of the Language of Ideas. Yet both Ideas & Words whenever they are different from or contrary to our Habits either surprize or deceive us; and both in these instances deceive where they do not surprize. From inattention to this, it is conceivable, quantum in Catoptricis majores nostri aberrarent, quoties in speculis cavis et convexis locum Imaginum determinate conati fuerunt. 3 With regard to Knowlege, & Truth, & Error & Falsehood I find no essential Difference whatsoever in the opinions of Locke & Des Cartes. Knowlege according to Des Cartes is clear & distinctive Perception, & Truth a clear & distinct Perception of the Relations which our Cognitions bear to each other. The causes of error & falsehood are such associations of Ideas with Ideas, of Words with Ideas, & of Words with Words, as are liable to be broken in upon. I associate the idea of a Red Coat with a Soldier, & herein I have not erred; but I have associated with the idea of a Red Coat nothing else but the Idea of a Soldier, & in consequence ____________________ 1 Principia, Pt. IV, Sect. cxcvii. 2 Ibid. 3 Dioptrices, Ch. VI, Sect. xix. For aberrarent read aberrarint. -698- a feeling of conviction that whenever I see a Red Coat coming, it must be a Soldier / but this is liable to be broken in upon -- it is error. -- The most common sources of error arise according[ly] from misunderstanding the nature of Abstract Ideas, and the confiding in certain propositions & verbal theses, as believing that we had formerly demonstrated them -- quod multa putemus a nobis olim fuisse percepta, iisque memoriae mandatis, tanquarn omnino perceptis, assentiamur, quae tamen revera nunquarn percepimus. 1 To which he adds, as a motive for a wise and moderated scepticism, the action of early prejudices on our minds long after we have appeared to ourselves to have completely ridden our minds of them. ----- If the facts, I have adduced, produce the same effect on you which they have produced on me, you will have been convinced that there is no Principle, no organic part, if I may so express myself, of Mr Locke's Essay which did not exist in the metaphysical System of Des Cartes -- I say, the metaphysical / for with his Physics & in them with his notions of Plenum &c I have no concern. Yet it doth not follow that Des Cartes' System & Locke's were precisely the same. I think, if I were certain that I should not weary or disgust you by these long Letters, I could make it evident, that the Cartesian is bonâ fide identical with the Berkleian Scheme, with this Difference that Des Cartes has developed it more confusedly, and interruptedly than Berkley, and probably therefore did not perceive it in his own mind with the same steadiness & distinctness. Thus it is possible that in consequence of some brief Hints which your Brother gave me, & my after meditations on subjects connected with them, I may have formed in relation to visible & tangible Ideas opinions, which are not at present the same, but which would coalesce with his, instant[an]eously / but I am certain from the habits of my mind, that both my opinions & my modes of representing those opinions to my own mind, would be comparatively gross, drossy as it were, & unsteady too from the disturbing Forces of ordinary Language, with which I as a much & readily talking man have connected deeper Delights than he, & formed closer affinities. We may have the same point in view, but he is sailing thither, & I swimming. So Des Cartes's system is a drossy Berkleianism -- and it is in consequence of it's dross & verbal Impurities, that the System of Locke is found so completely bodied out in it. -- If I should not have been mistaken in this, it would follow that the famous Essay on the human Understanding is only a prolix Paraphrase on Des Cartes with foolish Interpolations of the Paraphrast's; the proper motto to which would be ____________________ 1 Principia, Pt. I, Sect. XLIV. -699- Nihil hîc Novi, plurimum vero superflui. A System may have no new Truths for it's component Parts, yet having nothing but Truths may be for that very reason a new System -- which appears to me to be the case with the moral philosophy of Jesus Christ / but this, [which] is admitted on all hands, is not the case with Mr Locke's Essay. But if it's Truths are neither new nor unaccompanied by Errors and Obscurities, it may be fairly asked, wherein does Mr Locke's Essay['s] merit consist. Certainly not in his style, which has neither elegance, spirit, nor precision; as certainly not in his arrangement, which is so defective that I at least seem always in an eddy, when I read him / round & round, & never a step forward; but least of all can it be in his Illustrations, which are seldom accurate to the eye, & never interesting to the Affections. -I feel deeply, my dear Sir! what ungracious words I am writing; in how unamiable a Light I am placing myself. I hazard the danger of being considered one of those trifling men who whenever a System has gained the applause of mankind hunt out in obscure corners of obscure Books for paragraphs in which that System may seem to have been anticipated; or perhaps some sentence of half [a] dozen words, in the intellectual Loins of which the System had lain snug in homuncular perfection. This is indeed vile in any case, but when that System is the work of our Countryman; when the Name, from which we attempt to detract, has been venerable for a century in the Land of our Fathers & Forefathers, it is most vile. But I trust, that this can never be fairly applied to the present Instance -- on the contrary I seem to myself as far as these facts have not been noticed, to have done a good work, in restoring a name, to which Englishmen have been especially unjust, to the honors which belong to it. It were well if we should rid ourselves of a fault that is common to us, in literary far more than in political Relations -- the hospitibus feros, 1 attributed to us of old. No cautious man will affirm any thing of a People without Limitations that almost squeeze the poor Proposition to Death / With such exceptions however, as a prudent man must be understood to make, when he speaks of national character, I am inclined to say -- that the French boast & flatter / the English neither boast nor flatter / but they assume and detract: that is, they take what they believe to be their absolute Bulk as a thing necessarily presupposed, & as it were, axiomatic, and they endeavor to increase their relative Size by levelling all around them. -- Besides, Discoveries of these & similar Facts in literary History are by no means so unprofitable as might appear at the first view. They lessen that pernicious custom begun no doubt by the great Bacon, & in no small degree ____________________ 1 Horace, Carm. iii, 4, line 33. -700- fostered by Des Cartes, of neglecting to make ourselves accurately acquainted with the opinions of those who have gone before us, which doth only by rendering honest Fame insecure, greatly diminish a venial motive to worthy Efforts, but lays us open to many Delusions, & obnoxious to Sects & opinions of Sects which but for the charm of supposed novelty would have sunk at once, without gaining even the honors of Oblivion by having been once noticed. It is even better to err in admiration of our Forefathers, [than] to become all Ear, like Blind men, living upon the Alms and casual mercies of contemporary Intellect. Besides, Life is short, & Knowlege infinite; & it is well therefore that powerful & thinking minds should know exactly where to set out from, & so lose no time in superfluous Discoveries of Truths long before discovered. That periodical Forgetfulness, which would be a shocking Disease in the mind of an Individual relatively to it's own Discoveries, must be pernicious in the Species. For I would believe there is more than a metaphor in the affirmation, that the whole human Species from Adam to Bonaparte, from China to Peru, may be considered as one Individual Mind. But more than all, these little Detections are valuable as throwing [light] on the causes & growth of Reputation in Books as well as man. I hold the following circumstances to have [been] the main efficients of Mr Locke's Fame. 1 First & foremost, he was a persecuted Patriot, in the times of James the Second -closely connected with the Earl of Shaftesbury, the Earl of Peterborough, &c / and his works cried up by the successful Revolutionary Party with the usual Zeal & industry of political Faction. 2. The opinions of Gassendus, & Hobbes, had spread amazingly in the licentious & abominable Days of Charles the second & the controversial Reign of his Successor -- All knowlege & rational Belief were derived from experience -- we had no experience of a God, or a future state -- therefore there could be no rational Belief. How fashionable these opinions & how popular the argument against Miracles of which Mr Hume seems to have conceited himself to have been the Discoverer, we need only read the Sermons of South 2 to be convinced of. When the fundamental Principles of the new Epicurean School were taught by Mr Locke, & all the Doctrines of Religion & Morality, forced into juxtaposition & apparent combination with them, the Clergy imagined that a disagreeable Task was fairly taken off their hands -- they ____________________ 1 In Dec. 1810 Coleridge explained Locke's reputation with many of the same arguments he employs in this letter. See Blake, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Lamb, etc. being Selections from the Remains of Henry Crabb Robinson, ed. by Edith J. Morley, 1922, p. 36. 2 Robert South ( 1634-1716) published his sermons in 6 volumes, 1679-1715. -701- could admit what they were few of them able to overthrow, & yet shelter themselves from the consequences of the admission by the authority of Mr Locke. The high Church Clergy were no friends to Mr Locke indeed; but they were popular chiefly among the Ignorant, and their popularity was transient. Besides, a small party violently & industriously praising a work will do much more in it's favor, than a much larger party abusing it can effect to it's disadvantage. But the low Clergy were no small party, & they had all the Dissenters to back. To this must be added the great spread of Arian notions among the Clergy / and it was no secret, that Mr Locke was an Arian. / Of this however the Clergy in the present Day take no notice; no Parson preaches, no Judge speechifies, no Counseller babbles against Deism, but the great Mr Locke's name is discharged against the Infidels, Mr Locke, that greatest of Philosophers & yet pious Believer. The effect, the Clergy have had in raising, extending & preserving Mr Locke's Reputation cannot be calculated -- and in the meantime the Infidels were too politic to contradict them. The infidels attacked the Christians with Mr Locke's Principles, & the Christians fell foul on the Infidels with Mr Locke's authority. -- 3. Sir Isaac Newton had recently overthrown the whole system of Cartesian Physics, & Mr Locke was believed to have driven the plough of Ruin over the Cartesian Metaphysics. -- This was a complete Triumph of the English over the French / the true origin of the union, now proverbial, of the two names -- Newton & Locke. -- 5 [4]. After this came Leibnitz, & the Dispute concerning the Invention of the Infinitesimal &c and the bitterness & contempt with which this great man was treated not only by Newton's Understrappers, but by the whole English Literary Public, have not even yet wholly subsided. -Now Leibnitz not only opposed the Philosophy of Locke, but was believed & spoken of as a mere reviewer of the exploded Cartesian Metaphysics -- a visionary & fantastic Fellow, who had only given Mr Locke occasion to 'fight his Battles o'er again & twice to slay the Slain.' -- Leibnitz's notions of Plenum, pre-established Harmony &c were misrepresented with the most ludicrous blunders by Maclaurin 1 & other Lockists -- & Voltaire in that jumble of Ignorance, Wickedness, & Folly, which with his usual Impudence he entitled a Philosophical Dictionary, made it epidemic with all the No-thinking Freethinkers throughout Europe, to consider Locke's Essay as a modest common sense System, which taught but little indeed -- & yet taught all that could be known / & held it up in opposition to the dreams of the Philosophy of Leibnitz, whose mortal sin in the Mind of Voltaire & his Journeymen was, not his ____________________ 1 Colin Maclaurin ( 1698-1746), mathematician and natural philosopher. -702- monads, but that intolerable Doctrine of the Theodicee, that the system of the Universe demanded not only the full acquiescence of the Judgement in its perfection, but likewise the deepest devotion of Love & Gratitude. Berkley who owed much to Plato & Malebranch, but nothing to Locke, 1 is at this day believed to be no more than a refiner upon Locke -- as Hume is complimented into a refiner on Berkley. Hence Mr Locke has been lately called the Founder of all the succeeding Systems of Metaphysics, as Newton of natural Philosophy ----- & in this sense his Name is revered tho' his Essay is almost neglected / -- Those, who do read Mr Locke, as a part of Education or of Duty, very naturally think him a great Man / having been taught to suppose him the Discoverer of all the plain pre-adamitical Common sense that is to be found in his Book. But in general his Merit like that of a Luther, or a Roger Bacon, is not now an idea abstracted from his Books, but from History, -- among the Overthrowers of Superstition, his Errors & Inaccuracies are sometimes admitted, now only to be weighed against the Bullion of his Truths, but more often as in other holy Books, are explained away -- & the most manifest selfcontradictions reconciled with each other / & on the plea, that so great a man has to be judged by the general Spirit of his Opinions, & not by the Dead Letter. -- Lastly, we must take in as the main Pillar of Mr Locke's Reputation the general aversion from even the name of Metaphysics & the Discussions connected with it / arising 1. from the enormous commerce of the Nation, & the enormous increase of numbers in the Profession of the Law consequent hereon, and 2. from the small number of the Universities & the nature of the Tutorships & Professorships in them -- & 3 & principally, from the circumstance that the preferment of the Clergy in general is wholly independent of their Learning or their Talents, but does depend very greatly on a certain passive obedience to the Impelling[?] articles of the Church. In the more than one or two Instances I have heard Clergymen confess that they did not read for fear that they might [be] rendered uneasy in their minds. How great a Loss this is to the Community will appear by the reflection, that of the three greatest, nay, only three great Metaphysicians which this Country has produced, B., B. & H. 2 / two were Clergymen of the Church of England. [MS. of this letter breaks off thus.] 3 ____________________ 1 To say that Berkeley owed nothing to Locke is nonsense. 2 I mean, Berkley & [ Joseph] Butler / in whose company I place Hartley as a useful Writer.' [Cancelled sentence in MS.] 3 The verso of the last page of this manuscript contains a rough draft of a small part of Letter 382. -703-