Catharine Trotter Cockburn
1674/9-1749
Epistemology, Philosophy of Religion, Ethics
 



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Catharine Trotter Cockburn was a self educated woman who worked her way out of poverty through her literary writings. She also wrote philosophical essays or tracts.

There is much room for scholarly investigations about her life and work.

  • Do her plays mirror her philosophical essays, can some common themes be found?
  • She defended Damaris Cudworth Masham. How well did these two philosophers know one another?
  • Also, since she defended John Locke, it would be interesting to know if she and Mary Astell were acquainted

Chronology - there is some dispute about the year of her birth

1674/9 She born on August 16 to Sarah Ballenden Trotter and David Trotter. Her parents were Scotish.

1683 Before her 10th birthday, her father, a ship's captain dies of the plague. The family is left without any means of support except the kindness of relatives and friends.

Little is known about her childhood. Thomas Birch, an early publisher of her works said that she taught herself French, Latin, Greek and logic. Some say she was a prodigy.

As a young woman, She began writing poetry and plays. Through a mutual acquaintance she was introduced to both Congreve and Dryden.

1695/6 Her first play Agnes de Castro is produced.

1698 Another play, The Fatal Friendship is produced and is a great success.

1700 In this year Both her Unhappy Penitent and Most Votes Carry It are produced.

Catharine Trotter Cockburn's plays are so popular that many people subscribe in advance for tickets. Like Olympe de Gouges (Marie de Gouzes), the French philosopher, she is earning her living through the popularity of her written work.

1701 Love at a Loss is produced and in this year after reading a criticism of John Locke's philosophy, she writes a defense of his work.

1702 She authors a brief book, "A Defence of Mr. Locke's 'Essay of Human Understanding'. anonymously. Locke reads her essay and sends her a note of appreciation. She also defends Damaris Cudworth Masham against those claiming that Masham's essays were not her own work but were borrowed from her tenant, Locke.

John Norris, a Cambridge Platonist thinks 'well' of her work even though he disagrees with Locke.

1703 She writes another play, The Revolution of Sweden but it is not produced. Congreve offers a critique and suggests some changes which she makes over the next two years. She also writes some poetry praising the victory of the Duke of Marlborough.

1706 The Revolution of Sweden is finally produced but it is not popular and has a short run.

1708 She marries. Her husband is a clergyman named Patrick Cockburn, the eldest son of Dr. John Cockburn. The couple lives in Nayland, Suffolk where Patrick was a curate. In the ensuing years Catharine Trotter Cockburn gives birth to 3 children: two girls and a boy.

1713 The family moves to London because Patrick is given a new position at St. Dunstan's.

1714 Her husband is fired from St. Dunstan's because he refused to take an oath renouncing the Stuart Claim to the English throne. Now the family has no means of support and their financial circumstances become dire. Once again Catharine Trotter Cockburn is thrust into poverty.

1726 Her husband's father and the Lord Chancellor convince Patrick to take the oath. Again He is given an appointment. This time it is to St. Paul's chapel in Aberdeen, Scotland. Catharine Trotter Cockburn rewrites Love at a Loss and it is produced as The Honorable Deceivers. She also writes a Vindication of Mr Locke's Christian Principles from the Injurious Imputations of Dr. Holdsworth , but she can not get the essay published.

1737 The Bishop of Durham forces the family to leave Aberdeen and they moves to Long Horsley in Northumberland where they live in difficult economic circumstances.

1739 Catharine Trotter Cockburn writes a work called Remarks upon some Writers in the Controversy concerning the Foundation of Moral Duty and Moral Obligations With some thoughts concerning Necessary Existence; the Reality and Infinity of space; the Extension and Place of Spirits and on Dr. Watts' Notion of Substance . The tract is not immediately published.

1743 Finally the tract of 1739 is published in The History of the Works of the Learned.

1747 She writes a refutation of Thomas Rutherford's Essay on the Nature and Obligations of Virtue.

1749 In January, her husband dies. Late in this same year, Catharine Trotter Cockburn dies.

1751 The Vindication of Mr Locke's Christian Principles from the Injurious Imputations of Dr. Holdsworth is finally published in Collected Works edited by Thomas Burke.


Works

Catharine Trotter Cockburn wrote both literary (poetry and plays) works and philosophical essays or tracts.

1695/6 Agnes de Castro .

1698 The Fatal Friendship

1700 Unhappy Penitent and Most Votes Carry It .

1701 - Love at a Loss

1702 A Defence of Mr. Locke's 'Essay of Human Understanding'. published anonymously.

1703 Poetry praising the victory of the Duke of Marlborough.

1706 The Revolution in Sweden.

1726 The Honorable Deceivers.

1743 Remarks upon some Writers in the Controversy concerning the Foundation of Moral Duty and Moral Obligations With some thoughts concerning Necessary Existence; the Reality and Infinity of space; the Extension and Place of Spirits and on Dr. Watts' Notion of Substance published in The History of the Works of the Learned.

1747 Refutation of Rutherford's Essay on the Nature and Obligations of Virtue

1751 Vindication of Mr Locke's Christian Principles from the Injurious Imputations of Dr. Holdsworth.

Sources:

Mary Ellen Waithe, "Catharine Trotter Cockburn" in A History of Women Philosophers volume 3, 1600 - 1900, Kluwer Academic Publishers 1991. 

The Literary Encyclopedia at: Catharine Trotter Cockburn

Web site by William Uzgalis at: Catharine Trotter Cockburn


This page was updated: 10 January, 2015.


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