Lady Damaris Cudworth Masham (1659-1708)


Damaris Cudworth was the daughter of the noted Cambridge Platonist Ralph Cudworth. She met John Locke in 1682. Cudworth married Sir William Masham and her relationship with Locke became a strong friendship. Locke, who was by this time recognized as a major European philosopher, spent the last ten years of his life living in her home at Oates in Essex.

As a philosopher, Damaris Cudworth besides representing and defending both the views of her father and those of Locke in correspondence with such noted figures as Leibniz, is an early feminist. She argues against a double standard for men and women.


Masham Timeline

1659 18, January. Damaris Cudworth is born. Her father, Ralph Cudworth is already famous as a Cambridge Platonist. Her childhood is unnoted except that she grew up accustomed to philosophical discourse, read French, and did not have access to higher education.

1682 Damaris Cudworth becomes acquainted with John Locke. They develop a friendship which in turn, becomes a romantic attachment. They maintain a strong correspondence; Cudworth signing her letters, "Philoclea" and referring to Locke as " Philander" or "Damon".

1683 Locke leaves for Holland without giving Cudworth instructions on how to write to him. Evidently, this oversight is corrected and their correspondence resumes. Cudworth attempted to go to Holland but was unable to make arrangements.

1685 Cudworth marries Sir Francis Masham, a widower with eight children. She writes to Locke urging him to visit and continues to maintain her friendship with him.

1686-90 Lady Masham bears a son at some time during this period. He was her only birth child.

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.

1691 Lady Masham writes Occasional thoughts in reference to a Virtuous or Christian Life, but does not put her name on the title page. Locke, his health failing, moves in with Sir Francis and Lady Masham. He applies himself to aiding in the education of Lady Masham's son and the writing of Thoughts concerning Education.

1696 Lady Masham's treatise, A Discourse Concerning The Love of God is published in reply to John Norris' Piratical Discourses.

1704 Lady Masham sends Leibniz a copy of her father's principal work, The True Intellectual System of the Universe. She request clarification from Leibniz on his hypothesis of forms. This began a correspondence consisting of twelve letters discussing Leibniz's philosophy of form and the action of the soul on matter.

1704 31, October, Locke dies at the Masham home, Oates, leaving Lady Masham's son a legacy of money and a part of his library.

1705 20 October, Lady Masham writes her last letter to Leibniz, encouraging him to publish his philosophy "at large" so that philosophy lovers would not be misled by interpretations.

1706 Lady Masham composes a work on the Divine Love which is translated into French by her son's tutor, Pierre Coste. The work is a criticism of the ideas John Norris. Coste sends the translation to Leibniz. Leibniz replies to Coste that Lady Masham was close to his own conclusions written in the preface of his Codex juris gentium diplomaticus

1707 Lady Masham becomes ill and is unable to correspond with Leibniz concerning her last work.

1708 20 April Lady Masham dies.


Masham Time Line Sources

Suggested Readings available at OSU

  • Stenton, Mary Doris, The English Woman in History
  • Frankel Lois, "Damaris Cudworth Masham: A Seventeenth Century Feminist Philosopher" Hypatia vol.4, no. 1 (Spring 1989) pp.80-90.
  • Aiton E J. Leibniz A Biography. Masham's letters can be found in this text written in English. Leibniz' replies are in French.

    Other Sources

  • Atherton, Margaret. Women Philosophers Of The Early Modern Period
  • Masham, Damaris. A discourse concerning the love of God.
  • Masham, Damaris. Occasional thoughts in reference to a Virtuous or Christian life
  • de Beer, E.S. edit. The Correspondence of John Locke, vol. II and III.

Sources

  • Atherton, Margaret. Women Philosophers Of The Early Modern Period
  • Frankel Lois, "Damaris Cudworth Masham: A Seventeenth Century Feminist Philosopher" in Hypatia vol.4, no.1 (Spring 1989) pp. 80-90
  • Aiton E.J.Leibniz, A Biography
  • Stenton, Doris Mary, The English Woman In History

Where next?