Thursday, July 16, 2009

Bolingbroke on Berkeley

From a letter from Lord Bolingbroke to Jonathan Swift, dated 24 July 1725; George Berkeley was Dean of Derry at the time:

Ford brought the dean of Derry to see me. Unfortunately for me, I was then out of town; and the journey of the former into Ireland will perhaps defer for some time my making acquaintance with the other; which I am sorry for. I would not by any means lose the opportunity of knowing a man, who can espouse in good earnest the system of father Mallebranche, and who is fond of going a missionary into the West-Indies. My zeal for the propagation of the Gospel will hardly carry me so far; but my spleen against Europe has, more than once, made me think of buying the dominion of Bermudas, and spending the remainder of my days as far as possible from those people, with whom I have past the first and greatest part of my life. Health and every other natural comfort of life is to be had there. As to imaginary and artificial pleasures, we are philosophers enough to despise them. What say you? Will you leave your Hibernian flock to some other shepherd, and transplant yourself with me into the middle of the Atlantic ocean? We will form a society more reasonable, and more useful, than that of doctor Berkley's college: and I promise you solemnly, as supreme magistrate, not to suffer the currency of Wood's halfpence: nay, the coiner of them shall be hanged, if he presumes to set his foot on our island.

One thing this shows is why Berkeley took so much trouble in the Three Dialogues to distinguish his view from that of Malebranche: people who only knew his ideas in summary would have assumed it was just a variant of Malebranche's claim that we see all things in God. Throughout all this period of Berkeley's life he is as well known for his plan to form a college in Bermuda as he is for his philosophy; in letters by a number of people during these years his name often comes up in a half-joking way whenever Bermuda is mentioned.

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