Monday, 19 October 2015

Lady Masham's closet

No portrait survives of Damaris Cudworth, Lady Masham, who was a close friend of Locke since 1681;  she was then living in Cambridge where her father, the Platonist Ralph Cudworth, was Master of Christ's College.

The Master's Lodge, Christ's College, Cambridge (built c. 1550)
© Christ's College Cambridge

This description was written in November 1685, when she was still adjusting to her new life as wife to Sir Francis Masham, stepmother to his children and mistress of a household in rural Essex, and it gives us a vivid sense of her personality.

"I have several times begun to write to You since I received Yours But the Necessitie of Household Affaires will have it so that I could never Yet finish one Letter;...'Tis in vain that you bid me Preserve my Poetry; Household Affaires are the Opium of the Soul… if ever that Humour come on me againe You shall Wish for Finis a Thousand times before you find it; I will set the  Affronted Countrey Ladies too upon you, and They shall Abuse you Ten times more than I can, for All your Contempt of Theire Sublime Ideas of Goose Pye and Bag Puding.  This would bring me again now to the Chapter of Household Affaires, and my imployments, but that I am awearie: However for All my quarrel with you I cannot help  telling you that there is scarse any thing I would not give to see you Here in my Closet where I am now writing to You: I can but think how you would  smile to see Cowley and my Surfeit Waters Jumbled together; with Dr. More and my Gally Potts of Mithridate and Dioscordium; My Receits and Account Books with Antoninus's his Meditations, and Des Cartes Principles; with my Globes and my Spinning Wheel; for just in this order they at present ly, and tis not without Reason I think that I designe to Draw Curtains over this Fantastical Furniture."

From her letter to John Locke, 14 November 1685
The Correspondence of John Locke, ed. E. S. De Beer  Oxford University Press

Engraving of Lady Masham's estate, Oates House, Essex (c. 1821)
(Essex Records Office)

This portrait of Locke was painted in the summer of 1689, soon after his return to England from political exile in Holland. The next year he moved to live with the Mashams at Oates,  a more healthy spot than London, where he became an influential part of the household (although he insisted on paying rent).   So Lady Damaris Masham's correspondence with her friend was replaced with daily conversation.

  John Locke   Herman Verelst,  1689
© National Portrait Gallery

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