As John Locke himself once wrote, “What worries you, masters you,” and apparently what worried him as a young scholar was absolutely nothing, except needing his special blankie in his darkened dorm room, according to recently unearthed documents penned by a “friend” of the famous philosopher hailed as the “father of liberalism” who did not actually seem to like Locke very much or was perhaps just a two-faced trifler who lived for drama.
Either way, I love the low-stakes pettiness of these documents, uncovered by Dr. Felix Waldmann, a history lecturer at Cambridge while looking through various papers collected by historian Thomas Birch. Among these papers were some pages written by Huguenot journalist Pierre des Maizeaux saying that an anonymous source (believed to have been Locke’s decades-long friend James Tyrell, who met Locke at Oxford). Tyrell apparently had more than a few things to say about his bestie:
“The memoir opens with a reminiscence about Locke’s time at Oxford where, according to Tyrrell, Locke “did not study at all; he was lazy and nonchalant, and he amused himself with trifling works of wit”. Locke is remembered as a man who “‘prided himself on being original, and he scorned that which he was unable to pass off as his own.’”
As a recovering back-of-the-class smartass and grad student, I know this asshole. I was this asshole. But what I did not do was pretend to have never heard of Thomas Hobbes’s 1651 work Leviathan, then plagiarize it. If anything I pretended to have read Thomas Hobbes’s 1651 work Leviathan and then guessed about it. But Locke made a different choice with his pretentious lying. Though Locke spent nearly all his life basically denying he even understood the words “Thomas” and “Hobbes” in connection with one another, Tyrrell claims that’s not what he was saying when he tucked Leviathan under his little dorm pillow every night:
“But Tyrrell claims to Des Maizeaux that Locke “‘almost always had the Leviathan by H on his table, and he recommended the reading of it to his friends”, even though he “later affected to deny, in the future, that he had ever read it.’”
There’s more! God, it’s so messy and good. Apparently, Locke was a little bitch who was scared of the dark, and maybe a plagiarist, but oh my god, he was scared of the dark. I love it:
“Tyrrell goes on to damn Locke in many ways, both major – “’he was avaricious, vain, envious, and reserved to excess”; “he took from others whatever he was able to take, and he profited from them” – and minor: Locke was reportedly so timid that “often, at night, the noise of a mouse made him get up and call out for his host.’”
The veracity of these statements has rocked the office cubicles of the Locke-scholar philosophy world, but absolutely should come as no surprise to most scholars, as I have fired off hundreds of post-class discussion text messages making similar allegations about... well, if you’re reading this and you were in class with me and you never got one, then I do have some bad news.