Study Guide

George Berkeley Social Media


Berkeley was known as a very charming guy, captivating many of the London wits, including Jonathan Swift, Joseph Addison, Sir Richard Steele, and Alexander Pope. And apparently his charms were useful when it came his bank account, as well. Esther Vanhomrigh, Swift's longtime lover and correspondent, left Berkeley half her property—after only having met him once for dinner. (Source.)


Berkeley is known these days for his broad speculation about the true nature of the universe. But during his lifetime, what was his most popular book? Siris, a book that focused largely on the virtues of tar-water. That's right, tar-water—a foul-tasting mixture of pine tar and water that Berkeley promoted as the cure for most diseases. The book even includes a poem in praise of tar. We never said the guy wasn't a bit odd. (Source.)


While Berkeley was staying in Italy (with the appropriately named George Ashe), Mt. Vesuvius began erupting. So Berkeley decided—natch—to climb the volcano to get a closer look. A few weeks later, the volcano erupted again, so Berkeley once more climbed it. It seems like the good bishop was a bit of a thrill seeker. (Source.)


In many ways, Berkeley seemed like a genuinely nice guy, and he was regarded highly by his peers. That's why it's recommended that you not look too closely at his life—spare yourself the disappointment. But it's too late now. Here's the fly in the ointment: the truth is that when Berkeley was in America, he happily bought several slaves to work on Whitehall, his plantation. Perhaps he came to regret this decision? Afraid not. In his sermons, he carefully explained why Christianity supported slavery. Argh. (Source.)


Berkeley thought that slavery was the best way to convert black people to Christianity. With Native Americans, though, his attitude was different. Perhaps there was some hint of an enlightened attitude here? Sorry, Shmoopers: again we must face disappointment. Berkeley recommended getting Native Americans to convert each other. While he preferred a peaceful approach, if necessary, he urged "taking captive the children of our enemies." Double argh. (Source.)