by Jon Guze
Senior Fellow, Legal Studies, John Locke Foundation
That’s how a John Locke scholar characterizes a recently discovered manuscript by our namesake. A recent article in the Guardian describes how the manuscript came to light:
Dated to 1667-8, the manuscript titled “Reasons for tolerateing Papists equally with others”, was previously unknown to academia. It had been owned by the descendants of one of Locke’s friends until the 1920s, when it was sold at auction to a book dealer. From there, it went into private collections until it was donated to St John’s College, Annapolis, in the latter half of the 20th century. It lay unstudied in archives until Locke scholar JC Walmsley noticed a reference to it in a 1928 book dealer’s catalogue, and raised an eyebrow: Locke, a hugely influential Enlightenment thinker, was not known to have extended his arguments for religious tolerance to Catholics. …
“This manuscript is the origin and catalyst for momentous and foundational ideas of western liberal democracy – which did include Catholics,” said Walmsley, who called the discovery “the culmination of a lifetime’s work”. He has just published an essay in the Historical Journal about the discovery, co-authored with Cambridge lecturer Felix Waldmann, who called the manuscript “a crucial and wholly unexpected part of Locke’s intellectual development”.
JR Milton, general editor of the Clarendon Edition of the Works of John Locke and a professor of the history of philosophy at King’s College London, called the discovery very significant, and “a valuable addition to the corpus of Locke’s writings”.