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LOCKE, John.

An Essay concerning Humane Understanding.

In Four Books.

London: by Eliz. Holt, for Thomas Basset, 1690 Stock Code: 111580
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One of the principal sources of empiricism in modern philosophy, a huge influence on many Enlightenment philosophers

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" (PMM), and the resulting landmark work influenced many Enlightenment philosophers. The marginal annotations in this copy are proof of early and intelligent commentary, summarizing each of Locke's paragraphs throughout the first three books.

The significance of Locke's Essay was immediately recognized; it quickly ran to several editions and was popularized on the continent through 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. The art of education, political thought, theology and philosophy, especially in Britain, France and America, long bore the stamp of the Essay, or of reaction against it" (Fraser in Grolier One Hundred).

This issue has the Elizabeth Holt imprint; the "ss" of Essay is correctly printed and the type ornament on the title is composed of 30 aligned pieces. The other issue, with the imprint "printed for Tho. Basset, and sold by Edw. Mory", shows the "ss" of Essay reversed and the typographical ornament unaligned. Both issues have been championed as having priority - see Peter Nidditch's introduction to the Clarendon Press edition, and Attig - though as Yolton writes, "It is generally assumed that the Holt issue is the earlier because the title page of the other, Mory, issue, is a cancellans. I would assume that after all pages of the text had been printed, Basset came to some financial arrangement with Edward Mory to help sell it" (p. 69).

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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.


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