Saturday 24 February 2018

An Essex Walk and a Gray Talk

An eleven-mile walk in rural Essex on a cold February day might not be everyone's idea of fun – to be honest, it's not mine. Especially when a biting East wind, claggy ploughland and vast, hedgeless fields must also be factored in. However, there I was yesterday, striding along with my walking friends through just such country in just such a Siberian wind, and I'm sure it did me good. Certainly it was long overdue, being my first proper walk of the year.
 The churches on the walk were small-scale, unassuming buildings, all on the same pattern – West tower, nave, chancel, sometimes a small porch – and few notable monuments. However, in the church of All Saints, High Laver, is the tomb of the philosopher John Locke, who spent his last years living nearby in the household of Sir John Masham. Standing against the South wall, it's plain and simple – stone slab above brick tomb – but the tablet bearing Locke's self-composed Latin epitaph now hangs, protected from the weather, on the inner South wall. It's rather good. Here it is in English:

'Stop, traveller. Near this place lieth John Locke. If you ask what kind of a man he was, he answers that he lived content with his own small fortune. Bred a scholar, he made his learning subservient only to the cause of truth. This thou will learn from his writings, which will show thee everything else concerning him, with greater truth, than the suspected praises of an epitaph. His virtues, indeed, if he had any, were too little for him to propose as matter of praise to himself, or as an example to thee. Let his vices be buried together. As to an example of manners, if you seek that, you have it in the Gospels; of vices, to wish you have one nowhere; if mortality, certainly, (and may it profit thee), thou hast one here and everywhere.'

Back home and thawing out, I caught a new Point of View talk on Radio 4 by John Gray, making a welcome return after a run of A.L. Kennedy (groan) and Howard Jacobson. Gray's subject was The Dangers of a Higher Education. He explored 'the ignorance of the learned' – the sad fact that the highly educated are especially prone to Grand Theories and 'dangerously absurd' ideas – to which, happily, the less educated are largely immune, having a greater share both of common sense and of experience of the realities of daily life. Quite rightly, Gray takes a dim view of the postmodern neo-Marxist 'mishmash' that is being force-fed to so many students of the humanities and social sciences. Does this in any way give them a better understanding of life, or in any way equip them for the world outside Academe? Here is the link...

 John Locke had his own perspective on all this: 'There is frequently more to be learned from the unexpected questions of a child than the discourses of men'. Very true.


  1. AL Kennedy is truly awful. A smug entitled know-all. Sorry to sit on the fence on this one.

  2. With you there, Guy – a string of banalities delivered in a told-to-the-dhildren tone. No wonder she's such a Radio 4 favourite!