Lecture series marks donation of rare Locke books


Above, from left: Robert Drummond, Jean Yolton, Avie Bennett, John Yolton and Gerard Naddaf 

Carrie Brodi, communications officer with York University Foundation, sent the following article to YFile.

An exceptional and rare collection of antiquarian books on philosopher John Locke now resides in York’s Scott Library, Special Archives & Collections.

Valued at over $150,000, the Locke Collection was generously donated to the York University Foundation by York Professor Emeritus John Yolton, and his wife, Jean. The collection is considered to be the finest and most complete compilation of Locke Monographs in the world.

A one-time acting president of York, the founding Chair of the Philosophy Department, and a professor of philosophy at York between 1963 and 1978, John Yolton has dedicated his life to studying, writing, and educating others about John Locke.

Referred to as “the father of liberal democracy,” Locke’s work still resonates 300 years after his death, lending relevance to many aspects of present-day society including law, business, politics, religion and the arts.

Left: John Dunn

“Weighing the Scales of Locke,” the inaugural biennial lecture series held to celebrate the collection and honour the Yoltons, welcomed distinguished Locke scholar John Dunn to York on Oct. 16. Dunn, a professor at King’s College, University of Cambridge in England, thanked John Yolton for the impact he had on his own work and for facilitating the publication of his first book on Locke.

“Even though he did not agree with my position at the time,” Dunn said, “John still urged the publication of my book, which I am very grateful for.”

While thanking the Yoltons for their gift, Dean Robert Drummond of the Faculty of Arts also commented on the diverse collection of over 200 faculty, students and staff in attendance at Osgoode Hall’s Moot Court.

Right: Gerard Naddaf (left) and Avie Bennett

“The reason the lecture series attracted people from all corners of the University,” said Gerard Naddaf, Chair of York’s Philosophy Department, “is a combination of three things: the way in which Locke’s work overlaps so many different disciplines, the strong reputation of John Dunn, and the extraordinary nature of the Yolton gift.”

At the post-lecture reception, Yolton said he was happy to be able to donate the collection to York, a place where he feels he has deep roots. “I am thrilled that this collection will inspire students to study the history of philosophy,” he said.

In thanking the Yoltons, York Chancellor Avie Bennett quipped, “Thank you for bringing us the key to your ‘locke’.”

Originally from the United States, John Yolton taught during his 40-year teaching career at such institutions as Stanford University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland and Rutgers University. Invited to York by Murray Ross in 1963, he played a pivotal role in the formation of the University, remaining until 1978, and leaving the Philosophy Department hundreds of books after his departure.

Jean Yolton was pivotal to John’s work. For example, while the couple travelled for the purpose of John’s international lectures, teaching and study on Locke, Jean combed antique bookstores and libraries for rare Locke texts. Aside from helping to amass a one-of-a-kind collection, her work resulted in the publication of a definitive Locke Bibliography, which is used as a key resource by Locke scholars around the globe.

The next Yolton Lecture Series is scheduled to take place in 2005.