Damaris Cudworth Masham
1658-1708
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Damaris Cudworth Masham was the daughter of a well known Platonist philosopher in England. She herself became a philosopher and was an important figure to some of the well known philosophers of her day.

Chronology

1658 Damaris Cudworth was born in this year. Her father is Ralph Cudworth a well known Cambridge Platonist.

Her father tutored her but apparently never taught her any Latin or Greek, two languages considered basic for an educated person at the time. But her home had an extensive library and she read the works of the Cambridge Platonists (Ralph Cudworth, Henry More and John Smith). This reading formed the basis of her philosophical education.

1682 She meets the philosopher John Locke. They develop a friendship which appears to have becomes romantic. They correspond frequently.

1683 Locke leaves England and goes to Holland. They continue their correspondence. Damaris tries to visit him in Holland but the plans do not work out.

1685 She marries Sir Francis Masham. He is a widower and has eight or nine children from his previous marriage.

1686 In this year, after a single year of marriage, she gives birth to her only child, a son who was named Francis Cudworth Masham

1690 John Norris writes Reflections upon the Conduct of Human Life with reference to the Study of Learning and Knowledge, in a letter to an excellent Lady, the Lady Masham. See also: John Norris's place in the work of Mary Astell

1691 Damaris Cudworth Masham publishes Occasional thoughts in reference to a Virtuous or Christian Life but she does so anonymously.

John Locke, who is in ill health, moves in with the Mashams. He tutors their son and works on his treatise Thoughts concerning Education. He remains at the Masham's home in Essex for the rest of his life.

1696 Damaris finished another work, A Discourse Concerning The Love of God . It is published - again anonymously. This discourse is a reply to a work by John Norris.

1704 Damaris sends Leibniz a copy of her father's work, The True Intellectual System of the Universe. As a result of some questions she raises, she and Leibniz begin a correspondence about Leibniz' ideas about forms and the action of the soul on matter.

1704 Locke dies at the Masham's home. His will contains a legacy for their son, Francis, whom Locke had tutored.

1705 The Discourse Concerning Love of God  is translated into French by Pierre Coste as Discours sur l'Amour Divin, and is published in Amsterdam. The translator sends a copy to Leibniz. Leibniz reads the work and says that Masham is close to his own ideas found in Codex juris gentium diplomaticus. The French translation is republished a decade later, also in Amsterdam.

1707 Damaris Cudworth Masham becomes ill and is no longer able to do philosophical work.

1708 On April 20 she dies.

Works

1696 - A Discourse Concerning the Love of God, Printed in London for A. and J. Churchill at the Black-Swan in Paternoster-Row

1795 Occasional Thoughts in reference to a Virtuous or Christian Life, Printed in London for A. and J. Churchill at the Black-Swan in Paternoster-Row.

See also: Beer, E. S., The Correspondence of John Locke, vol II (of VII) (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1976).

Here is a copy of the letter from Leibniz to Damaris Cudworth Masham


Secondary sources

Philosophy Today published a short article about by Regan Penaluna in 2010. 

Oxford's Dictionary of National Biography has this authoritative article about her.


This page was updated 2 November, 2014.

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