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George Berkeley, D.D., Bishop of Cloyne.
BORN, A. D. 1684.-DIED, A. D. 1753.
GEORGE BERKELEY was the son of William Berkeley, of Kilcrin, near Thomastown, in the county of Kilkenny-the county of Flood, Langrishe, Bushe, and other names not to be forgotten in the roll of honour. He was born, March 12, 1684.
We We are not enabled to give any detail of the history of his ancestors. It is mentioned in the memorial written by Dr Stock, and appended to the collection of his writings, that his grandfather came over to Ireland after the restoration, his family having been great sufferers, for their loyalty, in the civil wars; and that he " obtained the collectorship of Belfast." His ancestor is elsewhere mentioned as a younger branch of the earls of Berkeley.
Berkeley received the first part of his education at Kilkenny school, from which so many scholars of the first eminence have come. Of the peculiar indications of his schoolboy years, no notice has been preserved. He entered as a pensioner in the University of Dublin, in his fifteenth year, under the tuition of Dr Hall; and in 1707, when about twenty-three, he obtained a fellowship. The same year he published an essay on mathematical science, which had been written before he was twenty, and was probably the fruit of his studies for the fellowship. This was an attempt to demonstrate arithmetic without algebra or Euclid. As we intend to conclude this memoir with a distinct notice of his writings, we shall only here observe the evidence which such an attempt contains of a moral feature in his character, which, we are fully convinced, had a very considerable effect in determining the nature of all his writings, and some parts, at least, of his conduct: this was a freedom from the influence thrown over the mind by the settled conventions of human opinion, and a consequent disposition to take novel and eccentric courses, at the real or apparent dictate of reason or duty,-a temper, of which one of the results was, a very unusual simplicity and singleness of character;
another, a boldness equally remarkable, though we think far less fortunate, in the highly adventurous career of his philosophy.
His Theory of Vision came out in 1709, and the Principles of Human Knowledge, which gave the ultimate stamp to his philosophical character, in the following year. In 1712, he was induced to enter upon the discussion of those questions of political theory, which then mainly interested the public. The reader is already aware of the connexion of the questions upon the rights of kings, and the doctrine of passive obedience, with the history of the revolution which placed the family of Hanover on the British throne. Locke's celebrated treatise turned the attention of Berkeley to the controversy, on which he delivered three commonplaces, in the college chapel: these he afterwards printed; and as he undertook to maintain the exploded doctrine, which was supposed to be connected with adherence to the banished family of the Stuart princes, he was afterwards represented as a Jacobite, by Lord Galway, when recommended to him for preferment, by the prince and princess of Wales. Mr Molyneux, who had been Berkeley's pupil in college, and had introduced him to these royal personages, took care to remove the impression, by showing, from the work, that the principles of the writer were thoroughly loyal.
His system of materialism, as a matter of course, attracted a very high degree of attention among that class of persons who delight in the barren perplexities of metaphysics. The controversial opposition which it excited was more shown in the general opposition of eminent men, such as Whiston, Clarke, and others, than by any express attempts at refutation. Of this, the following extract from Whiston's memoir of Clarke may give a notion sufficient for our present purpose:" And perhaps it will not be here improper, by way of caution, to take notice of the pernicious consequence such metaphysical subtilties have sometimes had, even against common sense, and common experience, as in the cases of those three famous men, Mons. Leibnitz, Mr Locke, and Mr Berkeley. (The first, in his pre-established Harmony; the second, in the dispute with Limborch about human liberty.) And as to the third named, Mr Berkeley, he published, A.D. 1710, at Dublin, the metaphysic notion, that matter was not a real thing; nay, that the common opinion of its reality was groundless, if not ridiculous. He was pleased to send Dr Clarke and myself, each of us, a book. After we had both perused it, I went to Dr Clarke, and discoursed with him about it to this effect,- that I, being not a metaphysician, was not able to answer Mr Berkeley's subtile premises, though I did not at all believe his absurd conclusion. I, therefore, desired that he who was deep in such subtilties, but did not appear to believe Mr Berkeley's conclusion, would answer him,-which task he declined. I speak not these things with intention to reproach either Mr Locke or dean Berkeley. I own the latter's great abilities in other parts of learning; and to his noble design of settling a college in, or near the West Indies, for the instruction of natives in civil arts, and in the principles of christianity, I heartily wish all possible success. It is the pretended metaphysic science itself, derived from the sceptical disputes of the Greek philosophers, not those particular great men who
have been, unhappily, imposed on by it, that I complain of. Accordingly, when the famous Milton had a mind to represent the vain reasonings of wicked spirits in Hades, he described it by their endless rain of metaphysics, thus :
"Others apart sat on a hill retired," &c.-Par. Lost. ii. 557-561.
Many years after this, at Mr Addison's instance, there was a meeting of Drs Clarke and Berkeley to discuss this speculative point; and great hopes were entertained from the conference. The parties, however, separated without being able to come to any agreement. Dr B. declared himself not well satisfied with the conduct of his antagonist on the occasion, who, though he could not answer, had not candour enough to own himself convinced. But the complaints of disputants against each other, especially on subjects of this abstruse nature, should be heard with suspicion."
In 1713, he went over to London, and there published a defence of his philosophical theory, in "Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous." The ingenuity and the singular acuteness of intellect displayed in these writings attracted the admiration of scholars and literary men; and his acquaintance was sought and cultivated by the most distinguished persons of the time; Steele and Swift, especially the latter, were active in introducing him to those who might be serIviceable to his advancement. Steele employed him to write several papers in the Guardian, for each of which he is said to have given him a guinea and a dinner. At Steele's house he frequently met Pope, and formed an intimacy with him, which grew into a lasting friendship. He was introduced to the celebrated earl of Peterborough, by Swift, whose influence with this nobleman was very great. At his instance, the earl took Berkeley with him, as chaplain and secretary, when, towards the end of the same year, he was appointed ambassador to the king of Sicily, and the other Italian states.
He was left for three months at Leghorn, by the earl, while he went on by himself, to Sicily, to discharge the functions of his embassy. During his absence, a really trifling incident gave Berkeley a fright, to which he was afterwards used to revert with pleasantry, among his friends. At that period, it is stated, by Dr Clarke, that the only place in Italy where the service of the protestant church was tolerated, was at Leghorn-a favour then recently obtained by queen Anne from the grand duke. It happened that Dr Kennett, chaplain to the English factory, asked Berkeley to preach for him one Sunday. Berkeley complied with the request. On the next day, as he was sitting alone in his chamber, he was surprised and startled by the apparition of a train of surpliced priests, who entered his apartment in ghostly array, and walked round, muttering some form of prayer or exorcism, without seeming to notice his presence in any way, and then walked out again. Berkeley's first apprehensions suggested some connexion between this solemn visitation and his sermon of the previous day: could be, he thought, nothing less than some demonstration from the inquisition, which must have been informed that he had preached without license to a heretical congregation. When he
recovered from his astonishment, he made cautious inquiries, and, to his great relief, learned that it was the solemn festival set apart for blessing the houses of all "good catholics" from rats and vermin.
In 1714, he returned with lord Peterborough to England. The fall of the tory party appeared to terminate all immediate prospects of preferment; he was, therefore, not dissatisfied at the occurrence of a favourable opportunity to extend his travels. The bishop of Clogher, Dr St George Ashe, proposed to him to accompany his son who was heir to a good property, on a tour through Europe.
His stay at Paris is rendered memorable by an incident of some interest, his interview with the celebrated philosopher Malebranche, of which, we have to regret, that no detailed account remains. Malebranche was prominent among the great speculative inquirers of his age, and held opinions very nearly approaching those of Berkeley's theory. His opinion that all our volitions and perceptions are produced by the immediate operation of the divine will working on the frame, appears by a brief and very obvious train to lead to the inferences of the non-existence of external things. From this not very sane result, the French philosopher was deterred by an argument which should have had a similar influence on Berkeley, whose theory was invented with a direct view to oppose a scepticism fashionable in his day. Malebranche justly considered the existence of the external world to be affirmed in the beginning of Genesis, and, therefore, concluded that the inferences of speculation could not be carried so far as to deny it: although it is clear he removed all evidence for it but that supplied by scripture. When Berkeley paid him a visit, he was labouring under an inflammation of the lungs; and, at the moment, engaged in the preparation of some medicine, which he was watching as it heated in a small pipkin on his fire. It was an unfortunate situation for the encounter of two philosophers, who had such a point of difference to contend for. Malebranche had become acquainted with Berkeley's theory of the nonexistence of the external world; and immediately entered, with all the interest of a philosopher, and all the impetuosity of a Frenchman, into a discussion upon it. Berkeley was soon heated with controversial ardour; and they who best know the zeal of metaphysical disputation, will not hesitate to admit the probability, that the trifling considerations of form and circumstance must soon have been forgotten by both parties in the keen debate. The actual incidents are no further known than by the event. The French philosopher spoke so much and so loud, that it brought on a violent increase of his disorder, which carried him off in a few days.
Upwards of four years were, at this period, spent in travelling among other places, less upon the common track of tourists: he travelled over Apulia, Calabria, and Sicily. He had collected materials for a natural history of Sicily; but they were unfortunately lost in the passage to Naples. Some very curious and interesting sketches of his visit to Ischia, in the bay of Naples, and a description of an eruption of Vesuvius, which he witnessed, and was enabled to observe very accurately, have caused his biographer to regret this loss as an injury to the "literary world." And notwithstanding the bright reflection which Berkeley's fame, as a metaphysical writer, throws on his country,