[LOCKE, John.]

An Essay concerning Humane Understanding.

In Four Books.

London: by Eliz. Holt, for Thomas Basset, 1690 Stock Code: 111580

One of the principal sources of empiricism in modern philosophy, a huge influence on many Enlightenment philosophers

Reserve Ask us a question


First edition, the Holt issue, traditionally considered the first. Locke worked for nearly two decades on his investigation of "the certainty and the adequacy of human knowledge," concluding that "though knowledge must necessarily fall short of complete comprehension, it can at least be 'sufficient'; enough to convince us that we are not at the mercy of pure chance, and can to some extent control our own destiny" (PMM).
The significance of his Essay was immediately recognized: it quickly ran to several editions and was popularized on the continent by French translations. "Few books in the literature of philosophy have so widely represented the spirit of the age and country in which they appeared, or have so influenced opinion afterwards" (Fraser).
This issue has the Elizabeth Holt imprint, and the "ss" of Essay correctly printed; the type ornament on the title is composed of 30 aligned pieces. An issue with a cancel title under the imprint of Thomas Basset, with the "ss" of Essay reversed, and with the typographical ornament unaligned is also known. Both issues have been championed as having priority, but recent scholarship indicates that priority of issue cannot be established: in his introduction to the Clarendon Press edition of the Essay, Peter Nidditch reverses his former opinion that the Holt imprint is the sign of a first issue; John Attig's bibliography records it as a variant.
The marginal annotations are early and intelligent commentary, summarising the content of each of Locke's paragraphs throughout the first three books.

Confused? Read our glossary


Folio (320 x 190 mm). Bound to style sometime in the 20th century in full blind-panelled calf, brown morocco spine label, retaining old free endpapers. Housed in a dark brown quarter morocco solander box by the Chelsea Bindery.


Neat early ink annotations in the wide margins throughout, and a couple of corrections to the text; early ownership inscription of R. Styleman at head of title; ownership inscription of Robert Dixon on both free endpapers. Binding rubbed, internally very good.


With the exception of framed items*, Peter Harrington offers free delivery on all UK orders of rare books, maps and prints placed through this website. Delivery to USA and the rest of the world is similarly free for orders over £200.

View Full Delivery Details



Established in 1969, Peter Harrington is one of the leading rare book firms in the world. It is a proud member of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association – along with ILAB, the PBFA and Lapada – and from shops in Mayfair and Chelsea, London, sells rare books, prints and ephemera to customers across the world.

Email: mail@peterharrington.co.uk

Tel: +44 (0)20 7591 0220

ABA Antiquarian Bookseller Association ILAB International League of Antiquarian Booksellers LAPADA The Association of Art and Anatique Dealers PBFA Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association

Our Guarantee Page

Ask us a question


Contact us with details of the book you are interested in or selling and we will contact you

Sell Old Books Help me find a book