Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Berkeley, George (1685-1753)

BERKELEY, GEORGE (1685–1753), bishop of Cloyne, was born on 12 March 1684-5 at 'Kilcrin,' or 'Killerin' according to his early biographers, or, as Professor Fraser thinks, at Dysert Castle, near Thomastown, in the county of Kilkenny. His father, William Berkeley, had some indefinite kinship to Lord Berkeley of Stratton, lord-lieutenant from 1670 to 1672. It is said that he went to Ireland in Lord Berkeley's suite, and that he or his father obtained a collectorship at Belfast in reward for loyalty to Charles I. The name of Berkeley's mother is unknown. She is said to have been great-aunt to the famous General Wolfe. Berkeley always considered himself an Englishman, and regarded the native Irish as foreigners (Querist, 91, 92, and Cave of Dunmore). He was entered at Kilkenny school on 17 July 1696, and placed in the second class, a proof of unusual precocity. One of his school-fellows, Thomas Prior, became his lifelong friend and correspondent. On 21 March 1700 he matriculated at Trinity College, Dublin, was scholar in 1702, B.A. 1704, M.A. 1707. On 9 June 1707 he was admitted to a fellowship after an examination passed with great distinction. The only anecdote of his college days tells us that Berkeley once went to see a man hanged. On his return he induced his friend Contarini, Goldsmith's uncle, to hang him experimentally. He was cut down when nearly senseless, and exclaimed, 'Bless my heart, Contarini, you have rumpled my band!' (Annual Register, 1763). His curiosity had borne better fruits. The philosophy of Locke had been introduced by Molyneux into Dublin, where the old scholasticism still lingered. The writings of Hobbes, Malebranche, Descartes, Leibnitz, and Newton were studied in connection with Locke's doctrine. In 1705 Berkeley with a few friends, formed a society for the discussion of the 'new philosophy.' A common-place book, first printed in the Clarendon Press edition of Berkeley's works (1871), shows that he was keenly interested in many of the questions raised by Locke's Essay, and that he conceived himself to have discovered a 'new principle' of great importance. It was set forth in three works soon afterwards published. His 'Essay towards a New Theory of Vision' appeared in 1709, and a 'Treatise concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge' in 1710. Berkeley was disappointed by the reception of his works. His friend Sir John Percival, afterwards Earl of Egmont, reported to him the criticisms of various metaphysical authorities, especially Clarke and Whiston (see Fraser's Berkeley, in Blackwood's Philosophical Classics). They compared him to Malebranche and Norris, regretting the waste of 'extraordinary genius' upon metaphysics, and regarding him as paradoxical and visionary. Clarke, whilst condemning Berkeley's first principles, declined to argue the point, though urged by Whiston (Memoirs of Clarke) to give an answer. Berkeley, moved by this neglect, and desiring to meet the ordinary objections, wrote the 'Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous,' published in 1713, the finest specimen in our language of the conduct of argument by dialogue. Berkeley's opinions made some noise, though few or no converts, and occasioned no serious discussion. Meanwhile he was promoted to various college offices. He was a tutor from 1707 to 1724, though after 1712 only in name; he was appointed sub-lecturer in 1710, elected junior dean in 1710 and 1711, and junior Greek lecturer in 1712. His whole college income is estimated at 40l. a year.

In January 1713 Berkeley went to England, obtaining leave of absence on the ground of ill-health and being anxious to publish his ' Dialogues ' and 'make acquaintance with men of merit.' He speedily became known to the wits. Steele received him warmly. He associated with Addison, Pope, and Arbuthnot. He describes Arbuthnot as being favourable to his new theory, though in a letter to Swift (19 Oct. 1714) Arbuthnot jokes rather disrespectfully about 'poor philosopher Berkeley,' who has now the ' idea of health ' which was struggling hard with the 'idea of a strange fever.' Addison, too, showed some favour to the new opinions, and either now or soon afterwards arranged a meeting with Clarke. The discussion was fruitless, and Berkeley complained that Clarke, though unable to answer, was not candid enough to own himself convinced. Berkeley contributed some papers to the 'Guardian,' under Steele's editorship. Swift., now Steele's bitter antagonist, did his best to help his young countryman. He introduced Berkeley to Lord Berkeley of Stratton on 12 April 1713 (Journal to Stella) and to the famous Lord Peterborough. Peterborough was sent as ambassador to the king of Sicily in November 1713, and upon Swift's recommendation took Berkeley as his chaplain. Berkeley left London in November 1713, travelled to Paris in company with Martin (author of the 'Voyage to St. Kilda'), and, after a month at Paris, crossed the Mont Cenis on 1 Jan. 1713-4, and reached Leghorn in Februarv, where he was left whilst Peterborough went to Sicily. From Leghorn he addressed a complimentary letter to Pope (1 May 1714) upon the 'Rape of the Lock,' and soon afterguards returned to England, reaching London in August. The death of Queen Anue deprived Berkeley's friends of power. The publication of a sermon on passive obedience in 1712, preached at Trinity College Chapel, had exposed him to a suspicion of Jacobitism—unjustly, for he advocates a general principle equally applicable to the new dynasty; but the lords justices not unnaturally made a 'strong representation against him,' and he could obtain no appointment. He spent two years mainly in London (Fraser's Berkeley, p. 108), and in November 1716 he again went abroad as tutor to St. George Ashe, son of Bishop St. George Ashe [q. v.] These dates disprove a story told by his biographer, Stock, and frequently repeated. Berkeley, it is said, had a discussion with Malebranche in Paris, and the rival philosopher became so excited that an inflammation of the lungs from which he was suffering was increased, and carried him off a few days after. Malebranche, however, died on 13 Oct. 1715, whilst Berkeley was still in England. Berkeley's travels lasted four years, though Bishop Ashe, the father of his pupil, died in 1718. A framentary diary shows that he passed 1717 in Rome, Naples, and Ischia. From Naples he wrote an interesting description to Pope of the island Inarime. In 1718 he was chiefly in Rome. His journals show a lively interest in natural phenomena as well as in antiquities. He is specially interested in stories about the bite of the tarantula. He wrote to Arbuthnot a graphic account of an eruption of Vesuvius in April 1717, which was published in the 'Philosophical Transactions' for October 1717. In 1719 it seems probable that he made a pedestrian excursion in Sicily (see Warton's Essay on Pope, ii. 198). During these travels he lost the manuscript of a second part of his treatise. On his way home through France he wrote a Latin essay, 'De Motu,' suggested lay a prize ottered by the French Academy. If ever presented, it was unsuccessful, the prize being given to Crousaz. Berkeley published his essay in London in 1721. Berkelev returned to London in 1720 to find the nation under the unprecedented excitement of the South Sea scheme. Paroxysms of speculation were then new, and to Berkeley the spectacle seemed to be symptomatic of a fatal development of luxury and corruption. He expressed his feelings in an 'Essay towards preventing the Ruin of Great Britain' (1721), recommending sumptuary laws, the encouragement of arts, and a return to simplicity of life. He can hardly have hoped for the speedy adoption of his doctrines in England, and a new scheme now took possession of his ardent and impulsive nature. Preferments and wealth were coming to him, but he resolved to use them for his philanthropic purpose. Pope is said to have introduced him to Lord Burlington, famous for architectural tastes shared by Berkeley himself. He returned to Ireland in the autumn of 1721, and upon Burlington's recommendation was made chaplain to the Duke of Grafton, the new lord lieutenant. He applied for the deanery of Dromore, which had just fallen vacant, and the influence of his friend Percival helped to secure his appointment. The bishop of the diocese, however, claimed the nomination, and a lawsuit followed. Whilst it was still undecided, he was appointed, in May 1724, through the influence of Lady Percival, to the richer deanery of Derry, said to be worth 1,500l. a year (Fraser's Berkeley, p. 122). A strange accident had increased his fortune. Swift's Vanessa, Hester Vanhomrigh, who died in May 1723, left him half her property, having previously, it was supposed, destined it to Swift. She had never seen Berkeley, as he says (ib. p. 123), though Mrs. Berkeley, his widow, says that he once met her at dinner at her mother's house (Biog. Brit. iii. Corrigenda and Addenda). As one of her executors, Berkeley suppressed for a time the famous correspondence with Swift. Much legal trouble followed before her fortune was realised, to which there are many references in his correspondence with Prior, and the debts absorbed a considerable part of the estate.

Berkeley valued these additions to his fortunes as means for carrying out his new project. His attention had been drawn to the new world beyond the Atlantic, where, as he says in a remarkable copy of verses (of uncertain date), a new golden age might be anticipated, and a fifth act, the noblest of all, close the great drama of Time. In a proposal, circulated in 1725 (Works, vol. iv.), he explains his theories. Religion, he thought, had declined amongst the American colonists for want of a proper supply of clergy; the negroes had been left without instruction and denied baptism; whilst the conversion of the savage Americans had not been attempted. Protestantism, he said, was losing ground in Europe, whilst in America the progress made by the French and Spanish was spreading the religion of Rome through the native races, a process which 'would probably end in the utter extirpation of our colonies.' The foundation of a college for the education of the planters' children and of young savages who might be trained as missionaries, would meet these evils. A college had already been projected in Barbadoes by General Codrington, who died there in 1710 and left his estates in trust for this purpose to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. Berkeley thought the Bermudas better fitted for the purpose, from the temperate climate, the greater frugality and simplicity of the colonists, and the central situation. The difficulties of local communication between the scattered settlements were great; whilst Bermuda had a trade with all the colonies, and was in the track of commerce from England.

Berkeley's project implied many misconceptions, now obvious, nor did it seem likely to commend itself to the common sense of the rulers of those days. Whilst the deanery of Dromore was still in suspense, he remained at Dublin, and held various college offices. He had been elected senior fellow in 1717; in November 1721 he was appointed divinity lecturer and senior Greek lecturer; in June 1722 Hebrew lecturer; and in November 1722 senior proctor; the income of all his college positions amounting to about 150l. He became B.D. and D.D. on 14 Noy. 1721 (Works, iv. 84, 95). He had definitely resolved to devote himself to the Bermuda scheme about May 1722 (Fraser's Berkeley, p. 120), and soon after his appointment to the deanery of Derry he set out for London to prepare for carrying out his plans. He took with him a letter from Swift to Carteret, the new lord lieutenant (dated 3 Sept. 1724) describing his zeal in humorous, though sympathetic, terms. Berkeley's heart would break, said Swift, if his deanery were not taken from him, and the exorbitant sum of 100l. a year provided for him at Bermuda.

Berkeley, on arriving in England, exerted his extraordinary powers of fascination. The impression made upon his contemporaries confirms Pope's famous attribution to him of 'every virtue under heaven' (Epilogue to Satires, ii. 73). 'So much understanding, so much knowledge, so much innocence, and such humility, I did not think had been the fashion of any but angels, till I saw this gentleman,' was Atterbury's exclamation after being introduced to him by Lord Berkeley (Hughes, Letters, ii. 2). Warton (Essay on Pope) tells us, on the authority of Lord Bathurst, that, after a dinner at his house, some of the 'Scriblerus' wits agreed to ridicule Berkeley's project; Berkeley's reply so confounded them that they all rose exclaiming 'Let us set out with him immediately !' Berkeley was introduced to the king hy a distinguished Venetian, the Abbé Gualtieri (Stock), and obtained a charter for the proposed college, the patent for which ; passed the seals in June 1725. Berkeley was named as the first president, and three junior fellows of Trinity (William Rogers, Jonathan Thompson, and James King) were to be fellows of the new body, ultimately to consist of a president and nine fellows. They were to hold their preferments till eighteen months after their arrival at Bermuda. Berkeley obtained promises of subscript ions to the amount of 5,000l., including 200l. from Sir R. Walpole. He discovered that certain lands in the island of St. Christopher, ceded to England by the treaty of Utrecht, might be sold at an enhanced price, and asked for a grant of 20,000l. from this sum towards his college. A vote was obtained from the House of Commons, after an active canvass by Berkeley, recommending this grant to the King. Only two members, or, according to Mrs. Berkeley (Biog, Brit.) only one, Admiral Vernon, disented. This success, however, was only the prelude to long and tiresome delays. The death of George I in 1727 threw him back, but a new warrant for his grant was signed by George II. Queen Caroline showed her favour by inviting him twice a week to her parties, where he endured useless debates, as he felt them to be, with Hoadly, Clarke, and Sherlock, for the sake of his college (Mrs. Berkeley and Monck Berkeley's Literary Relics). The general esteem for his character did not lead to the payment of the promised grant ; and at last, feeling himself to be in a false position, and fearing lest the seriousness of his design would be doubted, he resolved to sail for America (Fraser, Berkeley, p. 123). On 1 Aug. 1728 he married Anne, daughter of John Forster, who had been chief justice of the common pleas in Ireland. She was a woman of congenial disposition and disposed to the mysticism of Mme. Guyon and Fénelon. She had a fortune of about 1,500l. He sailed from Greenwich on 4 Sept. 1728, and landed at Newport, R.I., in the following January. Berkeley remained in America till the autumn of 1731. He bought a farm of ninety-six acres and built a small house, still standing, which he called Whitehall. Here he read and meditated ; a projecting rock near the sea is shown as the place where he wrote much of 'Alciphron,' and a chair in which he sat in the ' natural alcove ' is still preserved. The descriptions of scenery in ' Alciphron ' clearly represent his impressions. Berkeley saw something of the intelligent and educated colonists; he helped to found a philosophical society at Newport ; meetings of episcopal clergy were held at his house ; he made some short excursions to the mainland ; he preached sermons, which were attended by men of all persuasions, and enforced the duty of general toleration upon his brethren. His first son, Henry, was born here, and christened 1 Sept. 1729 ; and an infant daughter died 5 Sept. 1731. He formed a close friendship with Samuel Johnson, episcopal missionary at Hertford, Connecticut, afterwards president of King's College, New York. Johnson accepted Berkeley's teaching, and letters from Berkeley to him contain some interesting expressions of the teacher's views. It does not appear that he had any personal intercourse with Jonathan Edwards, whose earlv writings contain doctrines similar to his own (Chandler's and Beardssley's Lives of Johnson). Berkeley, it may be remarked, held slaves (Works, iv. 187). Slaves, he says, in his 'Proposal,' would only become better slaves by becoming christian; though he, of course, considered it a duty to make them christian.

Letters from home showed that there was little hope of his ever obtaining the money granted to him. Already in June 1729 his mend. Bishop Benson, tells him there is little chance of it. At last, in 1731, Walpole told Bishop Gibson that if consulted as a minister he should reply that the money should most undoubtedly be paid, as soon as it suited public convenience ; but that, if consulted as a friend, he advised Berkeley by all means not to wait in hopes of his 20,000l. Berkeley hereupon sailed from Boston in the end of 1731, and reached London in February 1732. He showed his continued interest in America bv making over his farm at Whitehall to found scholarships at Yale ; and he made to the same college a present of nearly 1,000 volumes. He also gave books to Harvard, and presented an organ to Trinity church, Newport.

Berkeley stayed in London from his return until the sprint of 1734. His ' Alciphron ' was published in March 1732 ; it became speedily popular, and reached a second edition that year; it was translated into French in 1734, and provoked replies from Mandeville, author of the 'Fable of the Bees,' and from Lord Hervey, in a so-called 'Letter from a Country Clergyman,' besides a more serious attack from Peter Browne, bishop of Cork [q. v.] The 'Analyst,' publish in 1734, led to another controversy with the mathematicians. Stock tells us that Sherlock showed 'Alciphron' to Queen Caroline in order to prove that Berkeley was not, as Hoadly maintained, of ‘disordered understanding.’ She hereupon, it is added, obtained Berkeley's nomination to the deanery of Down, which fell through from the claims of the lord-lieutenant to be consulted. Dates make this story doubtful, but a letter of Berkeley's to Prior, 22 Jan. 1733–4, shows that he had been proposed for Down. At the beginning of 1734, at any rate, he was nominated to the bishopric of Cloyne; he tells his friend Prior (15 Jan. 1733–4) that he had ‘not been at the court or at the minister's but once these seven years;’ and seems to intimate that he had a claim upon government for their breach of faith in regard to the Bermuda scheme (2 March 1734). His health was weaker, and a love of retirement growing upon him. He was consecrated bishop of Cloyne in St. Paul's church, Dublin, on 19 May 1734; and he spent the next eighteen years at Cloyne, with the exception of a visit to Dublin to attend the House of Lords in the autumn of 1737.

His life was one of domestic retirement and active benevolence to his neighbours, varied by occasional manifestations of his continued interest in social and philosophical questions. The second son, George, was born in London on 28 Sept. 1733; a third, John, born on 11 April 1735, died in October 1735; a fourth, William, was born in 1736; a daughter, Julia, was born in October 1738; and another, Sarah, died in infancy in 1740. Henry, born in Newport, George, William, and Julia, thus formed the family in whose education he found his chief happiness. Though he had no ear for music, he kept an Italian master, Pasquilino, in his house to teach them the bass viol, who is recorded to have exclaimed on one occasion, ‘May God pickle ( = preserve) your lordship!’ He refers to his children with touching affection; he wishes he had twenty sons like George, and would prefer them to 20,000l. a year; he tells Johnson that he has one daughter ‘of starlight beauty,’ and says to another friend that she is ‘such a daughter!’ so ‘bright a little gem! that to prevent her doing mischief amongst the illiterate “squires,” he is resolved to treat her like a boy, and make her study eight hours a day’ (Works, iv. 267–8). Professor Fraser thinks (ib. p. 326) that over-anxiety, and perhaps too much tarwater, injured the constitutions of children unusually delicate.

Berkeley's interest in the condition of the country was shown by some remarkable compositions. In 1736 he published ‘A Discourse addressed to Magistrates, occasioned by the enormous license and irreligion of the times,’ advocating the active support of religion by the government, and occasioned, it is said, by the discovery of a ‘hellfire club,’ called the ‘Blasters,’ who used to drink the health of the devil, and were guilty of various indecencies reported to a committee of the Irish House of Commons in 1738. In 1745 he published ‘A Letter to the Roman Catholics’ of his diocese, exhorting them to remain faithful to the government; and in 1749 a tract, called a ‘Word to the Wise,’ calling upon the catholic priests to use their influence on behalf of ‘honest industry, cleanliness, and prudence.’ The catholic clergy of the diocese of Dublin expressed gratitude for this friendly admonition and circulated the letter amongst the parish priests. Berkeley's most remarkable treatise, however, was the ‘Querist,’ originally published in three parts in 1735, 1736, and 1737. A new edition, published in 1750, made considerable omissions with a few additions. The first edition is extremely rare, but the whole is now given in the Clarendon Press edition of Berkeley's works. The ‘Querist’ consists of a series of detached maxims in the form of queries, which are remarkable not only as expressing the views contained in Berkeley's other writings, but as making a large number of economical suggestions upon the uses of money and so forth, which prove how Berkeley's acuteness had anticipated—though in an unsystematic and often inaccurate way—many of the theories of Hume and Adam Smith. Some pithy ‘maxims on patriotism,’ originally published in the ‘Dublin Journal’ in 1750, are a kind of short political appendices to the ‘Querist.’

Berkeley's last philosophical work was suggested by his interest in the condition of his neighbours. The winter of 1739–40 was of terrible severity; and the following years were marked by famine, distress, and disease. Berkeley did his best to carry out the maxims of the ‘Querist.’ He left off powder in his wig, by way of setting a precedent of frugality; he distributed 20l. every Monday morning amongst the poor of Cloyne; and he did what he could to encourage local handicrafts. He tried medical experiments upon the sick. In America he had learnt the use of tarwater, and he now used it in cases of dysentery. His success appeared to him decisive. He took it up with characteristic enthusiasm, and gradually came to regard it as almost a panacea. He set up an apparatus for manufacturing it; he used it in his own family; and made an ardent proselyte of his friend, Thomas Prior. The enthusiasm lasted through his life. A ‘Letter to Thomas Prior’ was published anonymously in May 1744; a second letter to the same 'concerning the usefulness of Tar-water in the Plague,' followed in 1747 a 'Letter to the Reverend Dr. Hales on the benefit of Tar-water in Fevers, for cattle as well as the human species,' which had appeared earlier in the same year; the last of his writings, 'Further Thoughts on Tar-water,' published in Berkeley's ' Miscellany ' of 1752, contains medical observations, and instructions for its use. It is good, as he says here, not only in fevers, diseases of the lungs, cancers, scrofula, throat diseases, apoplexies, chronic disorders of all kinds, but also as a general drink for infants. It strengthens their bodies and sharpens their intellects. It is good for cattle; every market town and every shop should have a supply ready. It is good for all climates, land and sea, for rich and poor, high and low livers, and he had himself drunk a gallon of it in a few hours. It was reported that he had made a giant of a child; the fact being that he had taken care of the Irish giant, Magrath, who grew to a height of nearly eight feet, and whose skeleton is preserved at Dublin (Work, iv. 335). Berkeley's time was so much occupied that his correspondence with his friends had to be abridged (ib. iv. 323), and a lively interest was excited in the public. Fielding thought that he had derived some benefit from it, and refers to it in his 'Voyage to Lisbon.' A list of some of the chief tracts published may be found in Fraser's introduction to 'Siris' {ib. ii. 343).

The most permanent result of his enthusiasm was the work published in 1744, 'Siris,' a chain 'of philosophical reflections concerning the virtues of Tar-water, and divers other subjects connected together and arising one from another.' The title 'Siris' was added in the second edition; this appeared in 1744, others in 1746 and 1748. It was translated, wholly or in part, into French, German, Dutch, and Portuguese. The popularity was doubtless due to the medical rather than to the metaphysical theories which were strongly blended together; at the time it was the most popular of Berkeley's writings.

Berkeley's reputation led to new offers of preferment. Chesterfield, lord lieutenant in 1746, offered to translate him from Cloyne to Clogher. Berkeley refused; he had become attached to Cloyne, and he told his wife soon after going there that he would never change; 'he had very early in life got the world under his feet, and was resolved to trample on it to his latest moments.' Growing infirmities and love of retirement were also causes for reluctance to move. The death of his favourite son William in February 1751 'was thought,' says Stock, 'to have stuck too close to his father's heart.' 'I was a man retired from the amusement of politics, visits, and what the world calls pleasure,' he says in a letter. 'I had a little friend, educated always under mv own eye, whose painting delighted me, whose music ravished me, and whose lively gay spirit was a continual feast. It has pleaded God to take him home. God, I say, in mercy hath deprived me of this pretty gay plaything.' And the father thinks that he had perhaps set his heart too much upon his son, and been vain as well as fond of him. In October 1751 he lost his old friend and school-fellow Prior. He speaks sadly of the 'gloom of Cloyne,' and says that he is resolved upon a quiet retreat. He proposed to exchange Cloyne for some Oxford headship or canonry. He then proposed to resign his bishopric absolutely. Such a precedent was not to be set. The king declared that Berkeley might live where he pleased, but that he should die a bishop.

Berkeley resolved to retire. He made arrangements about his revenues, including a distribution of 200l. a year, the rent of his demesne lands, amongst poor householders, and at last sailed for England in August 1752. His son George was already matriculated at Christ Church, and the desire to be near him was doubtless one inducement to the change. Berkeley was accompanied by George, his only daughter Julia, and his wife. He was so weak upon landing that he had to be taken in a horse-litter from the landing-place, Bristol, to Oxford. There he settled in a house in Holywell Street. A collection of some of his writings and a final letter upon tar-water were published at the time under the title of a 'Miscellany.' Little is known of his short stay at Oxford. On 14 Jan. 1753 he was on a couch; his wife had been reading to him the chapter on the Epistle to the Corinthians which forms part of the burial service; his daughter went to offer him some tea, and found him apparently sleeping. He was already dead. He was buried in Christ Church, and an inscription for his grave written by Dr. Markham. Berkeley left little behind him. In a short will made in the last July he left directions that his burial should not cost more than 20l., and that an equal sum should be given to the poor of the parish, that his body should be kept above ground five days, 'even till it grow offensive by the cadaverous smell,' and left undisturbed. He then left all he possessed to his wife.

Berkeley had been in his youth a handsome man, of great strength and activity. Professor Fraser gives a list of nine portraits; three are at Trinity College, Dublin — one, painted by Smibert, an English artist who accompanied him to America, and was afterwards a teacher of Copley, is at Yale ; one is at Lambeth; the other four are in private hands. An engraving of the Yale picture is given in the collected works, and one from an early picture, which belonged to a descendant, Robert Berkeley, Q.C., in Dublin, is given in Fraser's 'Berkeley.'

Berkeley's widow died at Langley, Kent, 27 May 1786, in her eighty-sixth year. Her daughter Julia, who was an invalid, lived with her and probably survived her. The oldest son Henry died in Ireland. The second, George, took his M. A. degree at Oxford January 1759), and in the same year became vicar of Bray. His wife was Eliza Berkeley [q. v.]

Berkeley's aim throughout his writings is to attack materialism, which Hobbes had openly accepted, and which seemed to lurk under the dualism of the Cartesian schools. His great principle is that esse = percipi : that ' ideas,' in Locke's sense — the immediate objects of the mind in thinking — do not represent something outside the mind, but constitute the whole world of reality, which thus exists in minds alone. In the new theory of vision he prepares the way by arguing that vision represents nothing beyond sensations. Assuming as proved or evident that the sight cannot inform us of distance in a direct line outwards, inasmuch as all the points in such a line are projected upon a single point in the retina, he argues that all sight involves foresight ; that an apparently simple perception involved an infererence founded upon association, and that the visual sensations are merely signs of of corresponding tactual sensations. The connection is 'arbitrary,' like the connection between words and things signified, and sight thus forms a natural language, which we learn to intrepret by experience in terms of touch. This psychological theory has been generally accepted both by Reid and by Hume and their respective followers, and has often been called an almost solitary example of a philosophical discovery. Anticipationns have been noticed in Locke, Descartes, and Malebranche, but the substantial originality of Berkeley remains.

It has been attacked recently by Bailey, Abbot, and Collyns Simon, but still holds its ground, though requiring to be supplemented by later researches. The 'Principles' give the most systematic exposition, and the ; 'Dialogues' the clearest defence of Berkeley's full theory. He explains in the 'Principles' the doctrine reserved in the 'Vision' (Principles. § 44) that the sense of touch is on a level with the sense of sight. The two senses form a reciprocal code of signals, a double language of words significant of each other and intesting because indicating the approach of pains and pleasures. Nor can the intellect infer anything beyond the signs from the signs themselves. This could only be done as Berkeley assumes, by abstraction. He therefore, in the introduction to the 'Principles,' begins by attacking the doctrine of abstract ideas, which, as understood by Locke, implied that we could frame an idea of a triangle neither equilateral, isosceles, nor scalene. Berkeley's 'nominalism' is opposed to this theory. He argues that every idea is individual, though it may represent an indefinite number of other individual ideas, and therefore cannot stand for an entity different from all individual ideas. Abstract ideas are an illusion due to the use of language and a confusion of a symbol calling up a variety of ideas with an independent entity. Matter, therefore, understood as a substratum in which the qualities of things, revealed by sensations, are supposed to inhere, is denounced as a mere metaphysical figment, and Berkeley appeals to common sense to condemn its reality. This rejection of matter and of abstract ideas generally, together with his theory of vision, are noticed by Mill as 'three first-rate philosophical discoveries.' Their influence upon the school represented by Mill is shown in the rejection of materialism by the English empirical school generally, The great difficulty of Berkeley lies in his rather obscure treatment of the theory of time and space. On his showing they seem to be a mere illusion. Consistently with his principles, he rejects the distinction between primary and secondary qualities accepted by Locke, and afterwards revived by Reid on theo common sense theory. All qualities (it may be said) are 'secondary' according to Berkeley. It can be said of no quality more than another that it corresponds (as the primary qualities were supposed to do) to something real in the object independently of the mind. Time, according to Berkeley, is nothing but the succession of ideas in the individual mind. Space or extension goes with abstract ideas, and has no more reality than the secondary qualities of colour, resistance, and other visual and tactual sensations (Principles, §§ 98, 99, &c.) Abstract space means the possibility of movement in the absence of the sensation of resistance (ib. § 116). One corollary from this produced his mathematical controversy. As it is contradictory to speak of unfelt sensations, it is contradictory to speak of sensations less than the minima sensibilia—the atomic ideas of which the sense world is constituted. Hence the mathematical theory of infinitesimals implied contradictions or mysteries, the necessity of which Berkeley advances in justification of theological mysteries. Mill considers that he raised ditficulties which were first fully solved by De Morgan. The theory of the purely ' relative ' nature of space, the refusal to distinguish between primary and secondary qualities, seems to reduce all mathematical theorems to the level of empirical propositions. Geometrical properties are inferred from the pro- perties of particular figures. This doctrine, worked out by Hume, led to Kant's famous theory of space and time, in which the reality and a priori necessity of mathematical propositions are made to follow from the assumption that space and time are forms imposed by the mind upon experience instead of being qualities of external and independent objects. Berkeley seems scarcely to appreciate the difficulties of his position ; as, indeed, he represents a brilliant appreciation of one aspect rather than a systematic elaboration. This is equally apparent in his theological application. According to him his theory demonstrates immediately the existence of a divine mind, 'in whom we live, move, and have our being' (Principles, § 61). The existence of such a mind follows, first, as solving the obvious difficulty, that upon his theory evervthing ceases to exist when it ceases to be present to consciousness, to which he replies that it still exists as perceived by the supreme mind ; and, secondly, because ideas being in their nature passive, and what we call causation being merely the arbitrary connection of sign and thing signified, we must assume the existence of a supreme cause which speaks to us through this divine language. Hume implicitly replies by denying the existence of any such idea of power as Berkeley postulates, and argues that the difficulties inherent in Berkeley's matter may be retorted against his mind and spirit. Berkeley replies to this by anticipation that, although we have not properly an 'idea' (in his sense) of spirit, we have a 'notion,' as of that which has ideas and wills and reasons about them, and infer the existence of other spirits from our own.

Berkeley never developed his philosophy beyond these early works. The ' Alciphron ' contains a restatement of the main principles, and an assertion of the ordinary arguments against deists, containing the ethical view of utilitarian theologians with no special originality. The ' Siris ' is a reverie rather than an argument, showing that the speculations of the later Platonists were congenial to his temperament, but not giving a philosophical elaboration of the position. Historically Berkeley, as a link between Locke and Hume, led to scepticism, and was controverted upon that assumption by Reid and his followers. In assaulting matter he seemed to destroy reality. But it is possible, with Professor Fraser, to hold that the real tendency of his works was, as he never doubted, in favour of the doctrine which makes mind the ultimate reality, and thus of the more systematic idealism of later times.

Berkeley's works, as given by Professor Fraser, are : 1. 'Arithmetica abeque Algebra aut Euclide demonstrata ;' 2. 'Miscellanea Mathematica' (published together anonymously at Dublin in 1707). 3. 'Essay towards a New Theory of Vision,' 1709 (a second edition with an appendix in the same year, a third appended to 'Alciphron' in 1732). 4. 'Treatise concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge,' 'Part I.' 1710; translation, 1869. 5. 'Passive Obedience, ... a Discourse delivered at the College Chapel,' 1712 (second edition, 1712; third, 1713). 6. 'Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous,' 1713 (second edition, 1725; third and fourth with second and third of the 'Principles,' as above) ; French, 1750 (Amsterdam) ; German (Rostock), 1756 ; German (Leipzig), 1781 (part of an intended version of 'Works'). 7. Essavs in the 'Guardian,' 1713 (Nos. 3, 27, 85, 39, 49, 55, 62, 69, 70, 77, 83, 88, 89, and 126 are ascribed to him from 14 March to 15 Aug. 1713). 8. 'De Motu,' 1721. 9. 'An Essay towards preventing the Ruin of Great Britain,' 1721. 10. 'A Proposal for the better supplying of Churches in our Foreign Plantations ... by a College to be erected in ... Bermuda,' 1725. 11. 'Sermon before the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel,' 1732. 12. 'Alciphron, or the Minute Philosopher,' 1732 (two editions; a third in 1752, collated in 'Works,' vol. ii.); French, 1734; German, 1737. 13. 'Theory of Vision ... vindicated and explained,' 1733 (an annotated edition by V. H. Cowell in 1800). 14. 'The Analyst, or a Discourse addressed to an Infidel Mathematician, &c.,' 1734. 15. 'A Defence of Free-thinking in Mathematics,' 1735. 16. 'Reasons for not Replying to Mr. Walton's Full Answer,' 1735. 17. 'The Querist,' Part I. 1735, Part II. 1736, Part IV. 1737 (second edition with an advertisement by the author, 1750; reprint in Glasgow, 1751. An edition was published in London in 1829. The queries omitted in the first edition are reprinted at the end of the ' Works,' vol. iii.) 18. 'A Discourse addressed to Magistrates,' 1736 and 1738. 19. ' [Siris, a chain of] Philosophical Reflections and Inquiries concerning the Virtues of Tar-water, &c.' (three editions in 1744, others in 1746 and 1748 ; the title ' Siris ' first added in second edition). 20. 'Three Letters to Thos. Prior and a Letter to the Rev. Dr. Hales on the Virtues of Tar-water,' 1720, 1744, 1746, and 1747. 21. 'A Letter to the Roman Catholics of the diocese of Cloyne,' 1745. 22. 'A Word to the Wise, 1749 (republished with the 'Querist' in 1750 and 1751). 23. 'Maxims coucerning Patriotism,' 1750. 24. 'Further Thoughts on Tar-water' appeared in the 'Miscellany' (1752), which also included Nos. 8, 9, 10, 11, 17, 18, 21, 22, 23, and verses on America.

A collected edition of Berkeley's works was published in 2 vols. 4to, 1784. An edition, in 2 vols. 8vo, edited by G. N. Wright, in 1843. The only complete edition is that published at Oxford, edited by Professor A. C. Fraser in 1871.

Criticisms of Berkeley, besides that in Professor Fraser's works, will be found in Ferrier's 'Philosophical Remains' (1866); J. S. Mill's 'Dissertations,' vol. iv. 154-87; Huxley, the 'Metaphysics of Sensation' in 'Critiques and Addresses,' pp. 320-50; Collyns Simons 'On the Nature and Elements of the External World, or Universal Immaterialism' (1862); S. Bailey, 'Review of Berkeley's Theory of Vision;' Penjon's 'Etude sur la vie et sur les œuvres philosophiques de G. Berkeley' (Paris, 1878); F. Fredericks's 'Ueber Berkeley's Idealismus' (Berlin, 1870): 'Der phenomenale Idealismus Berkeley's and Kant's' (Berlin, 1871); G. Spicker's Kant, Hume und Berkeley' (Berlin, 1875); J. Janitsch, 'Kant's Urtheil über Berkeley' (Strassburg, 1879).

[The Life of Berkeley by Professor Fraser (1871), which forms the fourth volume of the Clarendon Press edition of the Works, brings together all ascertainable information. In this edition were printed large selections from Berkeley's papers, which had come into the possession of Archdeacon Rose, and include a common-place book, diaries of his travels, and some correspondence. In 1881 Professor Fraser contributed a monograph upon Berkeley to Blackwood's Philosophical Classics (cited above as Fraser's 'Berkeley'), in which he makes use of Berkeley's letters to Sir John Percival, afterwards Earl of Egmont. A full account of them is given in the seventh report of the Historical MSS. Commission. The original sources are a Life by Bishop Stock, originally published in 1776, reprinted in the Biographia Britannica. vol. ii. (1780), and prefixed to the first collected edition of Berkeley's works in 1784. It is there stated that the facts were supplied to Stock by Dr. Robert Berkeley, the bishop's brother, then rector of Midleton, near Cloyne. In 1784 some notes by Berkeley's widow and his son (George were published in the Addenda and Corrigenda prefixed to the third volume of the Biographia Britannica. A few other anecdotes are given in the preface to the Poems by the late George Monck Berkeley, &c., 1797, by Mrs. Eliza Berkeley [q. v.], and G. M. Berkeley himself published many letters from Berkeley to Prior in his Literary Relics, 1789. These materials are all to be found in the fourth volume of the collected works.]

L. S.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.24
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