Posted in William Butler Yeats

The Seven Sages

The First. My great-grandfather spoke to Edmund Burke
In Grattan’s house.
The Second. My great-grandfather shared
A pot-house bench with Oliver Goldsmith once.
The Third. My great-grandfather’s father talked of music,
Drank tar-water with the Bishop of Cloyne.
The Fourth. But mine saw Stella once.
The Fifth. Whence came our thought?
The Sixth. From four great minds that hated Whiggery.
The Fifth. Burke was a Whig.
The Sixth. Whether they knew or not,
Goldsmith and Burke, Swift and the Bishop of Cloyne
All hated Whiggery; but what is Whiggery?
A levelling, rancorous, rational sort of mind
That never looked out of the eye of a saint
Or out of drunkard’s eye.
The Seventh. All’s Whiggery now,
But we old men are massed against the world.
The First. American colonies, Ireland, France and India
Harried, and Burke’s great melody against it.
The Second. Oliver Goldsmith sang what he had seen,
Roads full of beggars, cattle in the fields,
But never saw the trefoil stained with blood,
The avenging leaf those fields raised up against it.
The Fourth. The tomb of Swift wears it away.
The Third. A voice
Soft as the rustle of a reed from Cloyne
That gathers volume; now a thunder-clap.
The Sixth. What schooling had these four?
The Seventh. They walked the roads
Mimicking what they heard, as children mimic;
They understood that wisdom comes of beggary.

Yeats’ poem (published 1933) in praise of Edmund Burke, Oliver Goldsmith, George Berkeley (the Bishop of Cloyne) and Jonathan Swift. All wrote about oppression and dispossession; Berkeley and Swift in the Irish context (The Querist and A Modest Proposal), Goldsmith in the context of the rich evicting the poor in The Deserted Village, and Burke on the widest canvas of all (India, the American colonies and Ireland).

Yeats’ affiliation with the Georgian (protestant, intellectual) past first emerged in “The Tower” (1928) and “Blood and the Moon” (1929). Yeats also makes reference to the 1798 Rising, “the trefoil stained with blood”, which he previously referred to (“Emmet, Fitzgerald, Tone”) in “The Funeral of Parnell” (1932).

It is a little strange to see four men who attended Trinity College Dublin, three of whom (Swift, Berkeley and Burke) were pillars of the Establishment, described as walking the roads and knowing that “wisdom comes of beggary”. However in Yeats’ 1931 introduction to Hone and Rossi’s Bishop Berkeley1 Yeats argued that the Georgian society they all belonged to was one that allowed “solitaries to flourish” – essentially the same premodern society that supported hermit monks, or Indian sages with begging bowls, or literal beggars and wanderers.
Continue reading “The Seven Sages”

Posted in George Berkeley

Oxford University General Philosophy: Berkeley and Locke, Problems with Resemblance

One of a series of lectures on General Philosophy delivered by Peter Millican to first-year philosophy students at the University of Oxford. This section (6.2) explores Berkeley’s and Locke’s arguments concerning the resemblance of qualities and objects; that the perceived qualities of objects exist only in the mind or whether secondary qualities are intrinsically part of the object.

Source: Oxford University

Posted in George Berkeley

What you see is what you get

This, too, is a feature of Irish thought. A nervousness of abstraction underlies the conservative politics of Berkeley, Swift and Burke, leading them to belabour impious rationalists and idle utopianists. It is not surprising that Burke, with his passion for the particular, should have produced one of the first great works of aesthetics in these islands. It fitted well with his hatred of revolutionary rationalism across the Channel. It may seem odd to say that Berkeley was wary of abstractions when he produced such a wildly speculative doctrine as esse est percipi, but the truth is that he thought it no more than common sense. It was, he thought, what the man in the street believed too. The common people were not metaphysically inclined, and so did not subscribe to the notion that there was some mysterious ‘substance’ that supposedly underlay our sensory impressions of things. For them as for Berkeley himself, what you see is what you get.

From “What you see is what you get” in the LRB, Terry Eagleton’s review of “The Correspondence of George Berkeley”, edited by Marc Hight (subscription required).

The piece is 90% Eagleton on Irish thought, and 10% the volume being reviewed, but none the worse for that.

Posted in George Berkeley

Berkeley: Irish archetype?

Philosophical Lecture
Philosophical Lecturer (1829) – detail
© Trustees of the British Museum

This section from a satirical print from 1829 is held in the British Museum, who describe it as follows:

The lecturer, wearing breeches and top-boots, stands on the edge of his platform gesticulating to an audience of men and women who register amusement, horror, or stupidity: ‘It’s all a farce! I tell you it’s all a farce—there are no clouds, no mountains, no trees, no water—I’ve proved it, it’s nothing, depend on it—nothing—bona fide nothing’. Behind him is a terrestrial globe on a table, and on the wall a paper: ‘Bishop Berkley’.

Philosophical Lecturer © Trustees of the British Museum

This print is one of four vignettes. Another is called “Irish Character”, the third, called ‘March of Intellect’, features an Irish accent (being corrected) and the fourth is a picnic where all have brought legs of mutton. It seems plausible that the set is a set of satires of the Irish.

This is interesting in light of the discussion about Irishness in Richard Kearney’s “Post-Nationalist Ireland”. Kearney reports a claim that Berkeley can’t be Irish since he is included in books as an English philosopher. (That, despite Berkeley’s famous use of “we Irish” in his writing.) It certainly appears that eighty years after his death, Berkeley wasn’t English yet…