Front Page Titles (by Subject) SOME THOUGHTS concerning READING AND STUDY for a GENTLEMAN. - The Works, vol. 2 An Essay concerning Human Understanding Part 2 and Other Writings
Return to Title Page for The Works, vol. 2 An Essay concerning Human Understanding Part 2 and Other Writings
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
SOME THOUGHTS concerning READING AND STUDY for a GENTLEMAN. - John Locke, The Works, vol. 2 An Essay concerning Human Understanding Part 2 and Other Writings 
The Works of John Locke in Nine Volumes, (London: Rivington, 1824 12th ed.). Vol. 2.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
SOME THOUGHTS concerning READING AND STUDY for a GENTLEMAN.
Reading is for the improvement of the understanding.
The improvement of the understanding is for two ends; first, for our own increase of knowledge; secondly, to enable us to deliver and make out that knowledge to others.
The latter of these, if it be not the chief end of study in a gentleman; yet it is at least equal to the other, since the greatest part of his business and usefulness in the world is by the influence of what he says, or writes to others.
The extent of our knowledge cannot exceed the extent of our ideas. Therefore he, who would be universally knowing, must acquaint himself with the objects of all sciences. But this is not necessary to a gentleman, whose proper calling is the service of his country; and so is most properly concerned in moral and political knowledge; and thus the studies, which more immediately belong to his calling, are those which treat of virtues and vices, of civil society, and the arts of government; and will take in also law and history.
It is enough for a gentleman to be furnished with the ideas belonging to his calling, which he will find in the books that treat of the matters above-mentioned.
But the next step towards the improvement of his understanding, must be, to observe the connexion of these ideas in the propositions, which those books hold forth, and pretend to teach as truths; which till a man can judge, whether they be truths or no, his understanding is but little improved; and he doth but think and talk after the books that he hath read, without having any knowledge thereby. And thus men of much reading are greatly learned, but may be little knowing.
The third and last step therefore, in improving the understanding, is to find out upon what foundation any proposition advanced bottoms; and to observe the connexion of the intermediate ideas, by which it is joined to that foundation, upon which it is erected, or that principle, from which it is derived. This, in short, is right reasoning; and by this way alone true knowledge is to be got by reading and studying.
When a man, by use, hath got this faculty of observing and judging of the reasoning and coherence of what he reads, and how it proves what it pretends to teach; he is then, and not till then, in the right way of improving his understanding, and enlarging his knowledge by reading.
But that, as I have said, being not all that a gentleman should aim at in reading, he should farther take care to improve himself in the art also of speaking, that so he may be able to make the best use of what he knows.
The art of speaking well consists chiefly in two things, viz. perspicuity and right reasoning.
Perspicuity consists in the using of proper terms for the ideas or thoughts, which he would have pass from his own mind into that of another man. It is this, that gives them an easy entrance; and it is with delight, that men hearken to those, whom they easily understand; whereas what is obscurely said, dying, as it is spoken, is usually not only lost, but creates a prejudice in the hearer, as if he that spoke knew not what he said, or was afraid to have it understood.
The way to obtain this, is to read such books as are allowed to be writ with the greatest clearness and propriety, in the language that a man uses. An author excellent in this faculty, as well as several others, is Dr. Tillotson, late archbishop of Canterbury, in all that is published of his. I have chosen rather to propose this pattern, for the attainment of the art of speaking clearly, than those who give rules about it: since we are more apt to learn by example, than by direction. But if any one hath a mind to consult the masters in the art of speaking and writing, he may find in Tully “De Oratore,” and another treatise of his called, Orator; and in Quintilian’s Institutions; and Boileau’s “Traité du Sublime;”a instructions concerning this, and the other parts of speaking well.
Besides perspicuity, there must be also right reasoning; without which, perspicuity serves but to expose the speaker. And for the attaining of this, I should propose the constant reading of Chillingworth, who by his example will teach both perspicuity, and the way of right reasoning, better than any book that I know; and therefore will deserve to be read upon that account over and over again; not to say any thing of his argument.
Besides these books in English, Tully, Terence, Virgil, Livy, and Cæsar’s Commentaries, may be read to form one’s mind to a relish of a right way of speaking and writing.
The books I have hitherto mentioned have been in order only to writing and speaking well; not but that they will deserve to be read upon other accounts.
The study of morality, I have above mentioned as that that becomes a gentleman; not barely as a man, but in order to his business as a gentleman. Of this there are books enough writ both by ancient and modern philosophers; but the morality of the gospel doth so exceed them all, that, to give a man a full knowledge of true morality, I shall send him to no other book, but the New Testament. But if he hath a mind to see how far the heathen world carried that science, and whereon they bottomed their ethics, he will be delightfully and profitably entertained in Tully’s Treatises “De Officiis.”
Politics contains two parts, very different the one from the other. The one, containing the original of societies, and the rise and extent of political power; the other, the art of governing men in society.
The first of these hath been so bandied amongst us, for these sixty years backward, that one can hardly miss books of this kind. Those, which I think are most talked of in English, are the first book of Mr. Hooker’s “Ecclesiastical Polity,” and Mr. Algernon Sydney’s “Discourses concerning Government.” The latter of these I never read. Let me here add, “Two Treatises of Government,” printed in 1690;a and a Treatise of “Civil Polity,” printed this year.b To these one may add, Puffendorf “De Officio Hominis et Civis,” and “De Jure Naturali et Gentium;” which last is the best book of that kind.
As to the other part of politics, which concerns the art of government; that, I think, is best to be learned by experience and history, especially that of a man’s own country. And therefore I think an English gentleman should be well versed in the history of England, taking his rise as far back as there are any records of it; joining with it the laws that were made in the several ages, as he goes along in his history; that he may observe from thence the several turns of state, and how they have been produced. In Mr. Tyrrel’s History of England, he will find all along those several authors which have treated of our affairs, and which he may have recourse to, concerning any point, which either his curiosity or judgment shall lead him to inquire into.
With the history, he may also do well to read the ancient lawyers; such as Bracton, “Fleta,” Heningham, “Mirrour of Justice,” my lord Coke’s “Second Institutes,” and the “Modus tenendi Parliamentum;” and others of that kind which he may find quoted in the late controversies between Mr. Petit, Mr. Tyrrel, Mr. Atwood, &c. with Dr. Brady; as also, I suppose, in Sedler’s Treatise of “Rights of the Kingdom, and Customs of our Ancestors,” whereof the first edition is the best; wherein he will find the ancient constitution of the government of England.
There are two volumes of “State Tracts” printed since the revolution, in which there are many things relating to the government of England.a
As for general history, Sir Walter Raleigh and Dr. Howell, are books to be had. He, who hath a mind to launch farther into that ocean, may consult Whear’s “Methodus legendi Historias,” of the last edition; which will direct him to the authors he is to read, and the method wherein he is to read them.
To the reading of history, chronology and geography are absolutely necessary.
In geography, we have two general ones in English, Heylin and Moll; which is the best of them, I know not; having not been much conversant in either of them. But the last, I should think to be of most use; because of the new discoveries that are made every day, tending to the perfection of that science. Though, I believe, that the countries, which Heylin mentions, are better treated of by him, bating what new discoveries since his time have added.
These two books contain geography in general, but whether an English gentleman would think it worth his time to bestow much pains upon that; though without it he cannot well understand a Gazette; it is certain he cannot well be without Camden’s “Britannia,” which is much enlarged in the last English edition. A good collection of maps is also necessary.
To geography, books of travels may be added. In that kind, the collections made by our countrymen, Hackluyt and Purchas, are very good. There is also a very good collection made by Thevenot in folio, in French; and by Ramuzion, in Italian; whether translated into English or no, I know not. There are also several good books of travels of Englishmen published, as Sandys, Roe, Brown, Gage, and Dampier.
There is at present a very good “collection of voyages and travels,” never before in English, and such as are out of print; now printing by Mr. Churchill.e
There are besides these a vast number of other travels; a sort of books that have a very good mixture of delight and usefulness. To set them down all, would take up too much time and room. Those I have mentioned are enough to begin with.
As to chronology, I think Helvicus the best for common use; which is not a book to be read, but to lie by, and be consulted upon occasion. He that hath a mind to look farther into chronology, may get Tallent’s “Tables,” and Strauchius’s “Breviarium Temporum,” and may to those add Scaliger “De Emendatione Temporum,” and Petavius, if he hath a mind to engage deeper in that study.
Those, who are accounted to have writ best particular parts of our English history, are Bacon, of Henry VII; and Herbert of Henry VIII. Daniel also is commended; and Burnet’s “History of the Reformation.”
Mariana’s “History of Spain,” and Thuanus’s “History of his own Time,” and Philip de Comines; are of great and deserved reputation.
There are also several French and English memoirs and collections, such as la Rochefoucault, Melvil, Rushworth, &c. which give a great light to those who have a mind to look into what hath past in Europe this last age.
To fit a gentleman for the conduct of himself, whether as a private man, or as interested in the government of his country, nothing can be more necessary than the knowledge of men; which, though it be to be had chiefly from experience, and, next to that, from a judicious reading of history: yet there are books that of purpose treat of human nature, which help to give an insight into it. Such are those treating of the passions, and how they are moved; whereof Aristotle in his second book of Rhetoric hath admirably discoursed, and that in a little compass. I think this Rhetoric is translated into English; if not, it may be had in Greek and Latin together.
La Bruyere’s “Characters” are also an admirable piece of painting; I think it is also translated out of French into English.
Satyrical writings also, such as Juvenal, and Persius, and above all Horace: though they paint the deformities of men, yet they thereby teach us to know them.
There is another use of reading, which is for diversion and delight. Such are poetical writings, especially dramatic, if they be free from prophaneness, obscenity, and what corrupts good manners; for such pitch should not be handled.
Of all the books of fiction, I know none that equals “Cervantes’s History of Don Quixote” in usefulness, pleasantry, and a constant decorum. And indeed no writings can be pleasant, which have not nature at the bottom, and are not drawn after her copy.
There is another sort of books, which I had almost forgot, with which a gentleman’s study ought to be well furnished, viz. dictionaries of all kinds. For the Latin tongue, Littleton, Cooper, Calepin, and Robert Stephens’s “Thesaurus Linguæ Latinæ,” and “Vossii Etymologicum Linguæ Latinæ.” Skinner’s “Lexicon Etymologicum,” is an excellent one of that kind, for the English tongue. Cowell’s “Interpreter” is useful for the law terms. Spelman’s “Glossary” is a very useful and learned book. And Selden’s “Titles of Honour,” a gentleman should not be without. Baudrand hath a very good “Geographical Dictionary.” And there are several historical ones, which are of use; as Lloyd’s, Hoffman’s, Moreri’s. And Bayle’s incomparable dictionary, is something of the same kind. He that hath occasion to look into books written in Latin since the decay of the Roman empire, and the purity of the Latin tongue, cannot be well without Du Cange’s “Glossarium mediæ et infimæ Latinitatis.”
Among the books above set down, I mentioned Vossius’s “Etymologicum Linguæ Latinæ;” all his works are lately printed in Holland in six tomes. They are fit books for a gentleman’s library, containing very learned discourses concerning all the sciences.
[a ]That treatise is a translation from Longinus.
[a ]These two treatises are written by Mr. Locke himself.
[b ]“Civil Polity. A treatise concerning the nature of government,” &c. London 1703, in 8vo. Written by Peter Paxton, M. D.
[a ]We have now two collections of state tracts; one, in two volumes in folio, printed in 1689 and 1692, contains several treatises relating to the government from the year 1660 to 1689; and the other, in three volumes in folio, printed in 1705, 1706, and 1707, is a “Collection of tracts, published on occasion of the late revolution in 1688, and during the reign of K. William III.” These collections might have been made more complete and more convenient; especially the first, which is extremely defective and incorrect.
[a ]“Voyage de Francois Pyrard de Laval. Contenant sa navigation aux Indes Orientales, Maldives, Moluques, Bresil.” Paris 1619, 8vo. 3d edit.
[b ]“Relation des voyages en Tartarie, &c. Le tout recueilli par Pierre Bergeron.” Paris 1634, 8vo.
[c ]“Le grand voyage des Hurons, situés en l’Amerique, &c. Par F. Gab. Sagard Theodat.” Paris 1632, 8vo.
[d ]“Memoires de l’empire du Grand Mogol, &c. par Francois Bernier.” Paris 1670 and 1671, 3 vol. in 12mo.
[e ]That collection of voyages and travels was published an. 1704, in 4 vol. in fol.