An Essay Concerning Human Understanding HTML version

An Essay Concerning Human Understanding
John Locke
To The Right Honourable Lord Thomas, Earl of Pembroke And Montgomery, Barron Herbert of
Cardiff, Lord Ross, of Kendal, Par, Fitzhugh, Marmion, St. Quintin, And Shurland; Lord President of
His Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council; And Lord Lieutenant of The County of Wilts, And of
South Wales.
My Lord,
This Treatise, which is grown up under your lordship's eye, and has ventured into the world by your
order, does now, by a natural kind of right, come to your lordship for that protection which you
several years since promised it. It is not that I think any name, how great soever, set at the
beginning of a book, will be able to cover the faults that are to be found in it. Things in print must
stand and fall by their own worth, or the reader's fancy. But there being nothing more to be desired
for truth than a fair unprejudiced hearing, nobody is more likely to procure me that than your
lordship, who are allowed to have got so intimate an acquaintance with her, in her more retired
recesses. Your lordship is known to have so far advanced your speculations in the most abstract
and general knowledge of things, beyond the ordinary reach or common methods, that your
allowance and approbation of the design of this Treatise will at least preserve it from being
condemned without reading, and will prevail to have those parts a little weighted, which might
otherwise perhaps be thought to deserve no consideration, for being somewhat out of the common
road. The imputation of Novelty is a terrible charge amongst those who judge of men's heads, as
they do of their perukes, by the fashion, and can allow none to be right but the received doctrines.
Truth scarce ever yet carried it by vote anywhere at its first appearance: new opinions are always
suspected, and usually opposed, without any other reason but because they are not already
common. But truth, like gold, is not the less so for being newly brought out of the mine. It is trial and
examination must give it price, and not any antique fashion; and though it be not yet current by the
public stamp, yet it may, for all that, be as old as nature, and is certainly not the less genuine. Your
lordship can give great and convincing instances of this, whenever you please to oblige the public
with some of those large and comprehensive discoveries you have made of truths hitherto unknown,
unless to some few, from whom your lordship has been pleased not wholly to conceal them. This
alone were a sufficient reason, were there no other, why I should dedicate this Essay to your
lordship; and its having some little correspondence with some parts of that nobler and vast system
of the sciences your lordship has made so new, exact, and instructive a draught of, I think it glory
enough, if your lordship permit me to boast, that here and there I have fallen into some thoughts not
wholly different from yours. If your lordship think fit that, by your encouragement, this should appear
in the world, I hope it may be a reason, some time or other, to lead your lordship further; and you will
allow me to say, that you here give the world an earnest of something that, if they can bear with this,
will be truly worth their expectation. This, my lord, shows what a present I here make to your
lordship; just such as the poor man does to his rich and great neighbour, by whom the basket of
flowers or fruit is not ill taken, though he has more plenty of his own growth, and in much greater
perfection. Worthless things receive a value when they are made the offerings of respect, esteem,
and gratitude: these you have given me so mighty and peculiar reasons to have, in the highest
degree, for your lordship, that if they can add a price to what they go along with, proportionable to
their own greatness, I can with confidence brag, I here make your lordship the richest present you
ever received. This I am sure, I am under the greatest obligations to seek all occasions to
acknowledge a long train of favours I have received from your lordship; favours, though great and
important in themselves, yet made much more so by the forwardness, concern, and kindness, and
other obliging circumstances, that never failed to accompany them. To all this you are pleased to
add that which gives yet more weight and relish to all the rest: you vouchsafe to continue me in
some degrees of your esteem, and allow me a place in your good thoughts, I had almost said
friendship. This, my lord, your words and actions so constantly show on all occasions, even to
others when I am absent, that it is not vanity in me to mention what everybody knows: but it would
be want of good manners not to acknowledge what so many are witnesses of, and every day tell me
I am indebted to your lordship for. I wish they could as easily assist my gratitude, as they convince