POLEMICS A.ND INFIDELITY; BIRTH. OF A SON; PERSONAL ACQUAINTANCE WITH DEAN BERKELEY; VISITS TO HIM AT NEWPORT, AND A CONVERT TO HIS VIEWS; ALCIPHRON, OR THE MINUTE PHILOSOPHER; RETURN OF BERKELEY TO ENGLAND, AND BENEFACTIONS TO YALE COLLEGE; RELIGIOUS CONTROVERSY, AND PUBLICATION OF PAMPHLETS.
A. D. 1727-1736.
THE inquiring mind of Johnson led him to seek the society of scholars and his thirst for knowledge was so great that he neglected no opportunity of intellectual improvement. William Burnet was now the Governor of New York, "a very bookish man, and much of a scholar," as the subject of this memoir described him, who had a large library, and whose taste for learning might have come from his father, for he was the eldest son of Gilbert Burnet, Bishop of Salisbury, and the celebrated historian of "His Own Time." Johnson, in his frequent visits to New York, cultivated the friendship of Governor Burnet, with whom he became a great favorite. He was furnished with some of the best books that his library contained, and in this way was drawn into the thorny thicket of the Bangorian controversy, which involved the doctrine of the Trinity, and questions of ecclesiastical authority, and the proper province of the civil magistrate. The Governor was a zealous champion on the side of Clark, Whiston, and Hoadly, and attempted dexterously to bring over his young friend to his own views. Here is one of the letters which he wrote to him:--
NEW YORK, August 14, 1727.
REVEREND SIR,--It is so rare a thing in this country to find one that reads books with care and impartiality, that you need no apology for borrowing, but you give me pleasure in doing it. I hate to have them lie idle upon a shelf; but when I lend them to such readers, I reckon they bring me in good interest.
There is no need in reading a controversy to be of one side of the question--it is rather better to be of neither; and, in points which are not capable of demonstration, perhaps those who never entirely determine, but still are in some suspense, act most rationally. Candor and temper are sufficient bonds of unity, without sameness of opinion.
The thing that always hung most in my mind out of Dr. Clark's book was, that there were but three possible opinions upon the subject, and that whoever has any opinion fixed, has one of the three, and that all other opinions are mere self-delusion and mere nothing, however plausibly disguised. As to the style and decency of writing which you commend in the Doctor, it is certainly very taking; and it is commonly the lot of the most unpopular to write so, whereas those who are backed by numbers are apt to swagger. I remember my father was called a Socinian, because in one of his books he commends the serious, modest way of controversy. But this is no proof of people's being right; and accordingly, I remember an able member of the House of Commons, speaking of a very rising young member, said, what a pity he had not been of the side of the minority, for then he would have had a complete finishing, but as he was on the winning side, it was a great chance but he would be spoiled. So much a better school is adversity than prosperity in every stage and profession of life. As to the three opinions, I take the fashionable one to be Sabellianism, as I have often found by conversation, of which Socinianism ought to be a consequence, though seldom drawn, and therefore not fairly chargeable; the most uncommon one Tritheism, which people are oftener driven to by dispute than that they choose it; and the most obvious one that of the inequality, which would be more universal if it did not seem to lead to Polytheism, though not so much as Tritheism does. I send the books, and am, sir,
Your most humble servant,
To this Johnson replied:--
MAY IT PLEASE YOUIR EXCELLENCY,--Dr. Clark's writings are so very agreeable and instructive that I cannot presently be disengaged from them, when I have once got them under my eye; however, I now at last return those of them which I had last, with my humble thanks for them and those kind lines which accompanied them from your Excellency, full of very wise and true observations.
But as to the last of them, relating to the three opinions: if Sabellianism do indeed necessarily include and infer Socinianism; and if, at the same time, the common orthodoxy were not really different from Sabellianism, provided there were but three possible opinions on this subject, I should readily enough subscribe to that of the inequality; for I cannot conceive how a great many texts of Scripture can be fairly accounted for upon the Socinian hypothesis; and as for Tritheism, that is demonstrably and utterly inconsistent with reason as well as Scripture. But that of the inequality, though reasonable and intelligible enough, and very well accounting for most texts of Scripture relating to this subject, yet there are some texts which I wish I could, but cannot find reconcilable to it, without too great a violence done to them, and too great a deviation from the most obvious sense and meaning of them. It seems to me, therefore, there must be a fourth hypothesis possible, though it may not be comprehensible or explicable; and yet, so far as it is discovered to us, it is intelligible, and because it is divinely revealed, must be credible. But I shall gladly embrace any further light on this subject.
If your Excellency removes to Boston, as the people there will no doubt think themselves very happy, so I shall be very glad in particular that you remove no further from us, and that it will yet remain practicable for me to enjoy the advantages of that condescending goodness you have hitherto expressed towards me. And therefore, if I may yet presume, I shall be very much obliged to your Excellency if you will please to lend me any other good book, and particularly an Italian Grammar, after the manner of Boyer for the French, for I have a curiosity to look into the nature of that language.
I am, May it please your Excellency,
Your most humble, etc.,
Thus he found him indisposed to adopt conclusions until he had examined and approved the basis on which they rested. The cause of truth demanded an impartial study of the matters in dispute, and therefore Johnson turned to the writings of those who had arrayed themselves in opposition to the principles of these men,--to such authors as Bull, Pearson and Waterland, Sherlock, Snape and Law,--and very soon he was more convinced than ever that the modus of the Trinity was not to be accounted for on any philosophical hypothesis; that it is beyond the reach of our faculties, and to be received as taught in the Scriptures, and believed in the Church for ages immediately succeeding the Apostolic. Thus he rejected human speculation in Divine things, and settled down in the conviction, as he himself states in his autobiography,--"That we must be content chiefly, if not only, both in nature and revelation, with the knowledge of facts and their design and connections, without speculating much further; that one great end of all God's discoveries, both in nature and grace, is to mortify our pride and self-sufficiency, to make us deeply sensible of our entire dependence, and chiefly to engage us to live by faith and not by sight."
A club of free-thinkers in England about this time startled the nation with their bold attacks on Christianity. Included in the members of this club were Anthony Collins, Thomas Woolston, and Matthew Tindall, all of whom, as if by concert, openly engaged in an effort to bring discredit upon the religion of the Bible, and weaken the faith of the disciples of Christ. They issued their publications in succession, and attacked Christianity from different points, claiming, among other things, that the miracles of Christ were susceptible of a mystical interpretation, and at the same time asserting that they were never actually wrought.
These infidel writers were attended and followed by others in the same abandoned cause, so that, as Johnson says, "it seemed as if hell itself was broke loose at once to undermine and demolish Christianity." He read very carefully the books that were prepared in defense of the truth and in confutation of the principles of the free-thinkers, and thus became a scholar armed and ready to do battle in his Master's service. "I remember," says Chandler in his Life, "to have heard him in conversation give an account of the various attacks upon revelation, and of the defenses which they occasioned, similar to that given by Leland in his "View of the Deistical Writers," and this too before that valuable work was published.
The loss of his parents, referred to in the previous chapter, was supplied to him in a measure by the birth of a child. On the 14th day of October, 1727, he made an entry in his private journal in these words,--" This day I am 31 years old, and this sevennight (October 7) it hath pleased God of his goodness to give me the great blessing of a very likely son, for which, and in my wife's comfortable deliverance, I adore his goodness.
"Thus I am no sooner deprived of a father but I am provided for with a son to supply the demands of our mortal condition in this world. My only hope in Thee, O God, who hast been my father's God, and who art my God, is, that Thou wilt be his God and portion in the land of the living, and forever. I have dedicated him to Thee; sanctify him by thy grace, that he may be serviceable unto Thee in the world, and be fitted for and made partaker of thy glory."
The pleasant letters which follow touch upon his domestic relations, and revive the recollection of friendships formed while he was sojourning in London:--
BOW LANE, Sept. 25, 1727.
REV. SIR,--I have a long time wished and hoped for a letter from you, but not being so happy as to receive one, I am resolved to force myself into your acquaintance, hoping the distance cannot hinder our good wishes to each other. I heard from Dr. Cutler success attends your labors in the ministry. I pray God continue health to you, and prosperity to your endeavors. I cannot but wish you all happiness in the change of your condition, and doubt not a man of your zeal and goodness will meet with all the blessings a married estate can allow. I should be pleased to divert you with a little news, but we have none fresher than the death of the good Bp. of Bath and Wells, and hope to have some good man his successor. Our new King seems everybody's favorite, and his Government so equitable that we flatter ourselves all things will be managed to universal satisfaction.
I am, dear sir, your affectionate brother,
And very humble servant,
Dr. Waterland is made a Prebend of Windsor. Immediately on its reception Johnson replied to this letter as follows:--
REV. SIR,--I have received yours of the 25th of September, and am very much obliged to you for retaining me still in your remembrance, and for this kind testimony of it, for indeed I was almost afraid you had quite forgot me. But I am surprised if you never received any letter from me, for I have written to you once and again, and I was afraid I should never have the happiness of receiving one from you. But the distance makes correspondence uncertain; however, I shall be glad, and not only esteem it an happiness but an honor, to receive now and then a letter from you, and you may depend upon it that I shall not be wanting on my part.
I thank you for your kind congratulations upon my new condition, not so new now indeed, but that I have a son, I thank God, as well as a wife. I hope I shall have occasion before long to congratulate you upon the like occasion, and that you will be as happy in such a state as you can wish me, and as happy, I thank heaven, I am as this fading world and this poor country will admit of.
I am glad to hear you are all so well pleased with our new King, and that we have so good a prospect of the welfare of the Church under his auspicious reign. I pray God we may feel the benign influences of it in these distant regions. I am glad so good a man as Dr. Waterland is taken notice of, and sorry for the good Bp. of Bath and Wells' death. I shall be glad to be informed who succeeds, and what other alterations and preferments occur. In hopes of which, my humble and affectionate regards to Mr. Berriman, Wheatly, and all friends.
I remain your most humble brother,
I have not heard who is the Rector since good Mr. Lazinby's death.
One of the most interesting portions of Johnson's life was from the beginning of 1729 to the autumn of 1731,--the period covered by the residence of Dean Berkeley at Newport in Rhode Island. Before that dignitary came to America, he had read his "Principles of Human Knowledge," and had not only formed a high estimate of the ability and character of the author, but had become in a measure a convert to his metaphysical opinions. Desirous of conversing with so extraordinary a genius and so distinguished a scholar, he made a visit to Newport soon after his arrival, and through his friend, the Rev. Mr. Honyman, Missionary of the Church of England in that place, he was introduced to the Dean, and admitted to a free and full discussion of his philosophical works, and of the benevolent scheme which brought him to this country. It was gratifying to Johnson that in this first interview he was received with such marked kindness and confidence, besides being presented with those of the Dean's publications which had not fallen under his eye. The personal acquaintance thus begun laid the foundation of a lifelong friendship and correspondence between two great thinkers.
There are glimpses of Berkeley among the wits of the Court of Queen Anne, and he was intimate with Steele and Addison, and a companion of Swift and Pope. He had been Senior Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, in official employment as Lecturer in Divinity, and preacher for the University, but resigned his Fellowship in 1724 on being preferred to the Deanery of Derry,--an important living in the Irish Church, with an annual income of about eleven hundred pounds. A romance connected with Dean Swift caused him to be remembered in the will of a lady of Dutch descent (Miss Vanhomrigh), but as he was an "absolute philosopher in regard to money, titles, and power," the fortune which came to him so unexpectedly appears to have only ripened his conception of the plan of erecting a college at Bermuda for better supplying the plantations with clergymen, and converting the savage Americans to Christianity.
It was about this time that he published a tract in defense of the enterprise. It had taken such shape in his mind, that he pleaded for it with wonderful power, and was resolved to dedicate his life and fortune and energies to its prosecution. An extract from the humorous letter of Dean Swift to Carteret, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, dated September 3, 1724, may furnish the best account of his enthusiasm:--
For three years past he has been struck with a notion of founding a University at Bermudas by a charter from the Crown. He has seduced several of the hopefullest young clergymen and others here, many of them well provided for, and all in the fairest way of preferment; but in England his conquests are greater, and I doubt will spread very far this winter. He showed me a little Tract which he designs to publish, and there your Excellency will see his whole scheme of a life academlico-philosophical (I shall make you remember what you were) of a college founded for Indian scholars and missionaries: where he most exorbitantly proposes a whole hundred pounds a year for himself, forty pounds for a Fellow, and ten for a Student. His heart will break if his Deanery be not taken from him and left to your Excellency's disposal. I discouraged him by the coldness of courts and ministers who will interpret all this as impossible and a vision; but nothing will do. And, therefore, I humbly entreat your Excellency either to use such persuasions as will keep one of the first men in the kingdom for learning and virtue quiet at home, or assist him by your credit to compass his romantic design.
No discouragements checked the efforts of Berkeley. By his persuasive eloquence he converted ridiculers into friends and supporters, and obtained towards the furtherance of his object private subscriptions of more than five thousand pounds. He approached the throne for a charter, which was finally granted, and then his influence at Court secured the promise of an endowment of £20,000--a fraction of the value of certain lands which the French, by the treaty of Utrecht in 1713, had ceded to the British Crown, and the proceeds of which, to the amount of £80,000, the good Queen Anne had designed as a fund for the support of four bishops in America. Her death, the next year, prevented the execution of her charitable design, and Berkeley felt that he had a moral claim upon it for his own kindred scheme.
Preparations for his voyage across the Atlantic were at last completed, and a business letter to his friend, Thomas Prior, dated Gravesend, September 5, 1728, opens with a paragraph which has fixed historically several matters,--"To-morrow, with God's blessing, I set sail for Rhode Island with my wife and a friend of hers, my Lady Handcock's daughter, who bears us company. I am married since I saw you to Miss Forster, daughter of the late Chief Justice, whose humor and turn of mind pleases me beyond anything that I know in her whole sex. Mr. James, Mr. Dalton, and Mr. Smibert go with us on this voyage. We are now altogether at Gravesend, and are engaged in one view."
Berkeley was in middle life when he landed at Newport on the 23d of January, nearly five months after sailing from Gravesend, and "was ushered into the town with a great number of gentlemen, to whom he behaved himself after a very complaisant manner." Here he rested to think over, under new circumstances, the romantic enterprise which had absorbed his energies for seven long years, and purchasing a tract of land in a sequestered spot, he built a commodious house, which, in loyal remembrance of the English palace, he named Whitehall, and waited the tardy movements of Sir Robert Walpole, the prime minister, to send him the funds which had been promised by the Government.
It was in this retreat that he continued his philosophical investigations, and received the successive visits of Johnson. The date of the first personal interview between them has not been discovered, but as early as June 25, 1729, Berkeley wrote to him at much length, in answer to objections or inquiries which he had been moved to make in reference to his Philosophy. Judging from its tenor it is thought to have been his first letter to Johnson. He began thus:--
REV. SIR,--The ingenious letter you favored me with found me very much indisposed with a gathering or imposthumation in my head which confined me several weeks, and is now, I thank God, relieved. The objections of a candid thinking man to what I have written will always be welcome, and I shall not fail to give all the satisfaction I' am able, not without hopes either of convincing or being convinced. It is a common fault for men to hate opposition, and be too much wedded to their own opinions. I am so sensible of this in others that I could not pardon it to myself, if I considered mine any further than they seem to me to be true, which I shall the better be able to judge of when they have passed the scrutiny of persons so well qualified to examine them as you and your friends appear to be, to whom my illness must be an apology for not sending this answer sooner.
He proceeded briefly to explain or defend under eleven heads the philosophic ideas which he had published, and then closed his letter with words which show his high respect for the intellectual force and clearness of Johnson:--
And now, Sir, I submit these hints (which I have hastily thrown together as soon as my illness gave me leave) to your own maturer thoughts, which after all you will find the best instructors. What you have seen of mine was published when I was very young, and without doubt hath many defects. For though the notions should be true (as I verily think they are), yet it is difficult to express them clearly and consistently, language being framed to common use and received prejudices. I do not therefore pretend that my books can teach truth. All I hope for is that they may be an occasion to inquisitive men of discovering truth by consulting their own minds and looking into their own thoughts. As to the Second part of my treatise concerning the principles of Human Knowledge, the fact is that I had made a considerable progress in it, but the manuscript was lost about fourteen years ago during my travels in Italy; and I never had leisure since to do so disagreeable a thing as writing twice on the same subject.
Objections passing through your hands have their full force and clearness. I like them the better. This intercourse with a man of parts and a philosophic genius is very agreeable. I sincerely wish we were nearer neighbors. [The distance from Stratford to Newport is about 120 miles.] In the mean time whenever either you or your friends favor me with your thoughts, you may be sure of a punctual correspondence on my part. Before I have done I will venture to recommend three points: 1. To consider well the answers I have already given in my books to several objections. 2. To consider whether any new objection that shall occur doth not suppose the doctrine of abstract general ideas. 3. Whether the difficulties proposed in objection to my scheme can be solved by the contrary, for if they cannot, it is plain they can be no objection to mine.
I know not whether you have got my treatise concerning the principles of Human Knowledge. I intend to send it with my tract De Motu. If you know of a safe hand favor me with a line, and I will make use of that opportunity to send them. My humble service to your friends, to whom I understand myself indebted for some part of your letter.
I am, your very faithful, humble serv't,
The correspondence thus begun was continued, and the following letter, written after Berkeley was well settled in his own house, indicates that the two had been brought face to face in the discussion of great metaphysical questions, and that further conversation was needed to "set several things in a fuller and clearer light:"--
REV. SIR,--Yours of Feb. 5th came not to my hands before yesterday; and this afternoon being informed that a sloop is ready to sail towards your town, I would not let slip the opportunity of returning you an answer, though wrote in a hurry.
1. I have no objection against calling the ideas in the mind of God, archetypes of ours. But I object against those archetypes by philosophers supposed to be real things, and to have an absolute rational existence distinct from their being perceived by any mind whatsoever, it being the opinion of all materialists that an ideal existence in the divine mind is one thing, and the real existence of material things another.
2. As to space, I have no notion of any but that which is relative. I know some late philosophers have attributed extension to God, particularly mathematicians; one of whom, in a treatise de Spatio reali, pretends to find out fifteen of the incommunicable attributes of God in space. But it seems to me that, they being all negative, he might as well have found them in nothing; and that it would have been as justly inferred from space being impassive, increated, indivisible, etc., that it was nothing, as that it was God.
Sir Isaac Newton supposeth an absolute space different from relative, and consequent thereto, absolute motion different from relative motion; and with all other mathematicians, he supposeth the infinite divisibility of the finite parts of this absolute space; he also supposeth material bodies to drift therein. Now, though I do acknowledge Sir Isaac to have been an extraordinary man, and most profound mathematician, yet I cannot agree with him in these particulars. I make no scruple to use the word space, as well as all other words in common use, but I do not mean thereby a distinct absolute being. For my meaning I refer you to what I have published.
By the to nun I suppose to be implied that all things past and to come are actually present to the mind of God, and that there is in Him no change, variation, or succession. A succession of ideas I take to constitute time, and not to be only the sensible measure thereof, as Mr. Locke and others think. But in these matters every mall is to think for himself, and speak as he finds. One of my earliest inquiries was about time, which led me into several paradoxes that I did not think fit or necessary to publish, particularly into the notion that the resurrection follows next moment to death. We are confounded and perplexed about time. (1.) Supposing a succession in God. (2.) Conceiving that we have an abstract idea of time. (3.) Supposing that the time in one mind is to be measured by the succession of ideas in another. (4.) Not considering the true use and end of words, which as often terminate in the will as the understanding, being employed rather to excite, influence, and direct action than to produce clear and distinct ideas.
3. That the soul of man is passive as well as active I make no doubt. Abstract general ideas was a notion that Mr. Locke held in common with the Schoolmen, and I think all other philosophers; it runs through his whole book of Human Understanding. He holds an abstract idea of existence exclusive of perceiving and being perceived. I cannot find I have any such idea, and this is my reason against it. Descartes proceeds upon other principles. One square foot of snow is as white as one thousand yards; one single perception is as truly a perception as one hundred. Now any degree of perception being sufficient to existence, it will not follow that we should say one existed more at one time than another, any more than we should say one thousand yards of snow are whiter than one yard. But after all, this comes to a verbal dispute. I think it might prevent a good deal of obscurity and dispute to examine well what I have said about abstraction, and about the true use of sense and significancy of words, in several parts of these things that I have published, though much remains to be said on that subject.
You say you agree with me that there is nothing within your mind but God and other spirits, with the attributes or properties belonging to them, and the ideas contained in them. This is a principle or main point from which, and from what I had laid down about abstract ideas, much may be deduced. But if in every inference we should not agree, so long as the main points are settled and well understood, I should be less solicitous about particular conjectures. I could wish that all the things I have published on these philosophical subjects were read in the order wherein I published them, once to take the design and connection of them, and a second time with a critical eye, adding your own thought and observation upon every part as you went along. I send you herewith ten bound books and one unbound. You will take yourself what you have not already. You will give the principles, the theory, the dialogue, one of each, with my service to the gentleman who is Fellow of New Haven College, whose compliments you brought to me. What remains you will give as you please.
If at any time your affairs should draw you into these parts, you shall be very welcome to pass as many days as you can spend at my house. Four or five days' conversation would set several things in a fuller and clearer light than writing could do in as many months. In the mean time I shall be glad to hear from you or your friends whenever you please to favor, Rev. Sir,
Your very humble serv't,
Pray let me know whether they would admit the writings of Hooker and Chillingworth into the library of the College in New Haven.
RHODE ISLAND, March 24, 1729-30.
Johnson was at Newport and preached November 1, 1730, and he may have taken an earlier opportunity for the "four or five days' conversation." Whenever the interview was held, other subjects besides philosophy must have entered into their discussions. For Berkeley had already begun to realize the painful uncertainty which hung over his prospects, and to feel that the crisis of the Bermuda College was approaching. The money promised by the Government had not been sent, and he wrote a letter to Prior on the 7th of May, 1730, manifesting much solicitude about the Ministerial delays, and intimating that he had no intention of continuing in these parts, if the grant of £20,000 was in the end to be positively refused. At one time he entertained the thought of applying for permission to change the original plan and transfer the College to Rhode Island, where he had expended largely for lands and buildings, and where the chief objections raised against placing it in Bermuda would be obviated. But he quickly relinquished this idea, and at length his hopes were entirely crushed when the conclusive answer came from Walpole, "advising him by all means to return home to Europe, and give up his present expectations." He bore his great disappointment like a philosopher, and a good picture of his feelings is given in the work' which he wrote " in this distant retreat, far beyond the verge of that great whirlpool of business, faction, and pleasure, which is called the world:"--
I flattered myself, Theages, that before this time I might have been able to have sent you an agreeable account of the success of the affair which brought me into this remote corner of the country. But instead of this, I should now give you the detail of its miscarriage, if I did not rather choose to entertain you with some amusing incidents which have helped to make me easy under a circumstance I could neither obviate nor foresee. Events are not in our power; but it always is, to make a good use even of the very worst. And I must needs own, the course and event of this affair gave opportunity for reflections that make me some amends for a great loss of time, pains, and expense. A life of action, which takes its issue from the counsels, passions, and views of other men, if it doth not draw a man to imitate, will at least teach him to observe. And a mind at liberty to reflect on its own observations, if it produce nothing useful to the world, seldom fails of entertainment to itself.
It is due to Johnson that the self-sacrificing and missionary enterprise of Berkeley was not wholly a failure, or rather that his name was held in grateful remembrance in America after his return to England. When it had been decided to break up and leave Whitehall and the country, he paid him a final visit and received from him many valuable books, and to use his own words, they "parted very affectionately." Nor was this all. Both were deeply interested in the cause of learning, and Johnson took the liberty of commending to his friendly notice the institution where he had himself been educated, notwithstanding the continued hostility of the authorities to the Church of England. He was in Rhode Island, July, 1731, and on the 4th day of that month, according to his own note, preached "before the Dean," a sermon from the text,--For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature." This was undoubtedly his final visit when they "agreed" together about the books, and discussed the matters of the College; but letters passed between them afterwards, and Berkeley, on the eve of his departure, wrote his great American friend as follows:--
REV. SIR,--I am now upon the point of setting out for Boston in order to embark for England. But the hurry I am in could not excuse my neglecting to acknowledge the favor of your letter. In answer to the obliging things in it, I can only say I wish I might deserve them.
My endeavors shall not be wanting, some way or other, to be useful; and I should be very glad to be so in particular to the College at New Haven, and the more as you were once a member of it, and have still an influence there. Pray return my service to those gentlemen who sent their compliments by you.
I have left a box of books with Mr. Kay, to be given away by you,--the small English books where they may be most serviceable among the people, the others as we agreed together. The Greek and Latin books I would have given to such lads as you think will make the best use of them in the College, or to the school at New Haven.
I pray God to bless you and your endeavors to promote religion and learning in this uncultivated part of the world, and desire you to accept mine and my wife's best wishes and services, being very truly, Rev. Sir,
Your most humble servant,
RHODE ISLAND, Sept. 7, 1731.
Berkeley's gifts to Yale College were through the agency of Johnson. To him was transmitted from England the instrument by which he conveyed to the corporation his farm at Whitehall of ninety-six acres,--the annual proceeds to be used for the purpose of encouraging Greek and Latin scholarship: and he so interested some of his Bermuda subscribers in the American College, that with their assistance he was enabled to send over in 1733 a donation to the library of nearly one thousand volumes, valued at about £500: "The finest collection of books" according to President Clap, "which had then ever been brought to America."
The letter to Johnson which accompanied "the instrument of conveyance," has not been published, or even referred to in any sketch of his life and benefactions; and that to Rector Williams is not to be found among the archives of Yale College. A little doubt has been raised about Johnson's sole agency in the matter, and the motive which actuated him and the Dean; but this letter removes it, and at the same time shows the singleness of the donor's intentions and the forecast of his mind as to a course after graduation. He appears to have been the first to suggest its advantages:--
LONDON, July 25, 1732.
REV. SIR,--Some part of the benefactions to the College of Bermuda, which I could not return, the benefactors being deceased, joined with the assistance of some living friends, has enabled me without any great loss to myself, to dispose of my farm in Rhode Island in favor of the College in Connecticut. It is my opinion that as human learning and the improvements of Reason are of no small use in Religion, so it would very much forward those ends, if some of your students were enabled to subsist longer at their studies, and if by a public tryal and premium an Emulation were inspired into all. This method of encouragement hath been found useful in other learned societies, and I think it cannot fail of being so in one where a person so well qualified as yourself has such influence, and will bear a share in the elections. I have been a long time indisposed with a great disorder in my head; this makes any application hurtful to me, which must excuse my not writing a longer letter on this occasion.
The letter you sent by Mr. Beach I received and did him all the service I could with the Bishop of London and the Society. He promised to call on me before his return, but have not heard of him, so am obliged to recommend this pacquet to Mr. Newman's care. It contains the instrument of conveyance in form of law, together. with a letter for Mr. President Williams, which you will deliver to him. I shall make it my endeavor to procure a benefaction of books for the College library, and am not without hopes of success. There hath of late been published here a treatise against those who are called Free Thinkers, which I intended to have sent to you and some other friends in those parts, but on second thoughts suspect it might do mischief to have it known in that part of the world what pernicious opinions are boldly espoused here at home. My little family, I thank God, are well. My best wishes attend you and yours. My wife joins her services with mine. I shall be glad to hear from you by the first opportunity after this hath come to your hands. Direct your letter to Lord Percival, at his house in Pall-Mall, London, and it will be sure to find me wherever I am. On all occasions I shall be glad to show that I am very truly, Rev. Sir,
Your faithful humble servt.,
Johnson, in his autobiography, mentions that "the Trustees, though they made an appearance of much thankfulness, were almost afraid to accept the noble donation,"--suspecting a proselytizing design, and remembering the effect in previous years of Anglican divinity upon the minds of some of their leading scholars. But wiser counsels prevailed, the books and lands were received, and Berkeley maintained a friendly correspondence with the authorities of the College to the end of his life.
His well-known philosophical work, published the year after his return to England, attracted the attention of learned men, and while many rejected his speculative spirit, none denied the greatness of his intellect and the purity of his Christian character. It was some compensation for the disappointment of his cherished hopes that so far from being overlooked at Court, he was promoted to the See of Cloyne,--a secluded bishopric in the southern part of his native Ireland, to which he was consecrated on Sunday, the 19th of May, 1734. In this retired spot, where he was almost as much out of the world as he had been at Newport, he found leisure to pursue his favorite studies, and to keep up by letter a tolerably frequent intercourse with his congenial friend on this side of the Atlantic.
Johnson became a thorough convert to his system, and owned his obligations to Berkeley in removing many difficulties that had hitherto attended his philosophical and theological inquiries. As he himself says in his autobiography, "he found the Dean's way of thinking and explaining things, utterly precluded skepticism, and left no room for endless doubts and uncertainties. His denying matter at first seemed shocking; but it was only for the want of giving a thorough attention to his meaning. It was only the unintelligible scholastic notion of matter he disputed, and not anything either sensible, imaginable, or intelligible; and it was attended with this vast advantage, that it not only gave new incontestible proofs of a Deity, but moreover, the most striking apprehensions of his constant presence with us and inspection over us, and of our entire dependence on Him and infinite obligations to his most wise and almighty benevolence."
The history of philosophic thought was blended to some extent with the infidelity of the times, but Berkeley went a great deal deeper and wider than those who treated his theories roughly and pronounced them fallacious and bewildering. It was his design in "Alciphron; or, the Minute Philosopher," to vindicate the Christian religion, and overcome the various objections of atheists, fatalists, enthusiasts, libertines, scorners, critics, metaphysicians, and skeptics. Years before, while present at one of the deistical clubs in London, he had heard a "noted writer against Christianity declare that he had found out a demonstration against the being of a God;" and though the thing was palpably false, he was ready to disprove it, and thereby to encourage a religious faith in the constancy of a Divine and superintending Power. Johnson was doubly careful to guard the truth, for he had under his eye at this time, and directed in their theological studies, young men, who, having finished their collegiate course, declared for Episcopacy, and were preparing to proceed to England for ordination. The following letter, otherwise interesting, mentions two, Isaac Browne and John Pierson, graduates of Yale College in 1729:--
DEAR SIR,--I am obliged to you for introducing me into the company of such worthy gentlemen as Mr. Browne and Mr. Pierson, and doubt not but they will ever be a credit to their Tutor, and a light and ornament to the Church in your parts; and I hope their success will prove an encouragement to others.
I might now send you a long account of the bustle we have had here about laying an excise on wine and tobacco, which has put the whole nation in a flame that will not presently be quenched,--of the divided state we have been in as to peace and war, by the affairs of Poland, where we suppose a king is chosen by this time, but as yet know not who is the person,--of the death of that infamous author Tindal, etc., etc.,--but you will have a better and more particular account by word of mouth, to which therefore I refer you, and am
Your hearty friend and servant,
SCOTCH YARD, August 31, 1733.
Another letter from the same clergyman, written six months later, reveals the uneasiness which was then felt about the nomination to a vacant see of one who was accused of unsound theology, especially of Arianism, and of giving to portions of the Old Testament an allegorical interpretation:--
DEAR SIR,-.... Dean Berkeley was lately made a bishop in Ireland. There is a great bustle with us about the nomination of a new bishop to the See of Gloucester, the like to which I know not whether any history can parallel. There is one Dr. Rundle named by our new Lord Chancellor, son to the late Bishop of Durham (Talbot), to whom the Doctor was Chaplain. The Bishop of London makes a vigorous stand against him, and it is said twenty of the bishops have declared they will have no hand in his consecration. It is objected against him, that he has said these words, or to this effect, that Abraham was an old dotard, and that no man in his senses could believe that God would command him to sacrifice his son. There are two clergymen, one of which is (Dr. Stebbing) preacher at Gray's Inn, and chaplain to the King, who will make good this charge against him upon oath, to prevent his confirmation; though if the court will have it so, we reckon all opposition will be in vain. This matter has been a good while in suspense, and God only knows how it will end. He knows how to bring good out: of evil, and may He order all for good.
I am very heartily, yours, etc.,
Feb. 15, 1734.
And Johnson replied as follows:
August 18, 1734.
DEAR SIR,--I very thankfully received yours of February 15, and am deeply affected with the story you tell me about Dr. Rundle. It seems the enemies of Christianity are resolved to leave no stone unturned in order to demolish it. This contrivance of endeavoring to furnish out the bench of bishops with infidels, is a notable step, which I doubt not but they will further pursue as the times will bear it. I conclude the favorite doctor is consecrated before now, for I have since heard that all the foundation of the outcry against him, was only that he said there were some allegories in the Old Testament, and that he was horridly abused, and so it was likely to be hushed up. I shall be much obliged to you to let me know what is the true event of this affair, and who succeeds at York and Winchester, and is likely to succeed at Canterbury; and what other events occur; especially about the progress of infidelity, which, with many other things, seems to have a most ominous aspect on our poor Church and nation. Notwithstanding infidelity, I hope the Church of England will yet more and more take root downward, and bear fruit upward in these American parts, where several dissenting ministers are, and many people have been hastening into her bosom. A worthy gentleman, one Mr. Arnold, has lately left them and come over to us; he had been my successor; he only wants to be encouraged by the Society (with whom things at present, I perceive, run pretty low) to come over for ordination; in the mean time will do all the good he can in a lay capacity. My very humble service to the Doctor, Mr. Scullard, and all friends.
I am, dear Sir,
Your most affectionate friend and humble servant,
A second letter from his friend touching the case of Dr. Rundle gives a fuller explanation of it, and has a postscript which shows the extent to which an infidel moralist in that age dared to proceed:--
DEAR SIR,--Yours of Aug. last came safely to me by the post; and since that I have had a packet from Dr. Cutler, in which came your second letter to a Dissenter, which I read over with great pleasure, and for which I now return you many thanks. You have had, I find, wrong accounts of Dr. Rundle's promotion, though before this you may have been set right by the public news. He did not get the Bishopric of Gloucester, at last, but since that dispute has got one of more than three times the value of that, which is Londonderry, Ireland. The great Sir R---- said he could not do without the Ch---l---r, and he must be obliged. I forgot whether I told you that Dr. R. had been charged with saying that Abraham was an old dotard and that no man could believe God should command him to sacrifice his son, and that Dr. Stebbing, chaplain to the King, and Mr. Venn, minister of St Antholin's, were his accusers; but besides this, the opposition he met with from the Bishop of London was grounded on strong suspicions of his being in the Arian scheme.
The Abp. of York (Dr. Blackburn) is still living. Bp. Hoadly is translated from Sarum to Winchester, and 'tis thought as matters now stand, if Abp. Wake should die, the Bp. of London will go to Canterbury, though an alteration at Court may possibly give Dr. Sherlock the advantage. Dr. Benson is promoted to the See of Gloucester, and Dr. Secker, who succeeded Dr. Clark at St. James's, is made Bp. of Bristol, the late Bp. Herring being translated to Bangor in the room of Bp. Sherlock, translated to Salisbury, and Dr. Fleming, late Dean of Carlisle, is made Bp. of that See in the room of Bp. Waugh, deceased. Benson and Secker were Prebendaries of Durham, and both ('tis said) promoted to appease the Ch--l--r, but nothing would do till Rundle was made a bishop.
I am, dear Sir,
Your affectionate friend and humble servant,
SCOTCH YARD, Apr. 5, 1735.
There has been lately published a book here which strikes a note higher in the scheme of infidel morality than perhaps you ever heard of, and that is to show fornication to be a necessary duty. Increase and multiply is the duty; and adultery itself is justified to promote this end, but besides all this the book is wrote in the grave way with prayers and praises and other instances of blasphemy. The bookseller is taken up by the King's messenger. The author is said in the title page to be a clergyman. I hear he is one of the Kirk of Scotland.
The Church of England in Connecticut was surrounded from the beginning with bitter opponents. By this time others had followed the example of Johnson in leaving the Congregational ministry and conforming to Episcopacy, and among the people a spirit of religious inquiry had been awakened which it was not easy to check. The case of John Beach, born in Stratford and graduated at Yale College in 1721, attracted much attention. For eight years he had been settled over the Independents or Congregationalists at Newtown, about twenty miles distant from the place of his nativity, and was a "popular and insinuating young man," but early in 1732, he publicly informed his people of a change in his views, and declared his determination to cross the Atlantic and receive holy orders in the Church of England. At the instance of his friends, he was sent back by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel with the appointment of a missionary in the town and vicinity where he had lately ministered and was so well known, beloved, and respected. The following extract from a letter of Johnson to the Bishop of London dated April 5, 1732, refers to his character and conversion:--
.... My Lord, as the Church here has been very unfortunate in the defeat of the noble design of the Reverend the Dean of Londonderry, which, especially if it had been executed on the Continent, would have been of great advantage to the interest of religion and learning in America, so it has, on the other hand, been happy since in the conversion (besides a number of other good people) of the worthy persons who have all had a public education in the neighboring College, and two of them have been dissenting teachers; two of them will go into other business, and one of them is Mr. Beach, the bearer hereof, whom I know, by long experience of him (he having been heretofore my pupil, and ever since my neighbor) to be a very ingenuous and studious person, and a truly serious and conscientious Christian; but I forbear to say anything further of his case, and refer your Lordship to our joint recommendation of him.
The conformity of Mr. Beach to Episcopacy, notwithstanding the admitted excellence of his character, stirred up his "congregationalist neighbors" more than any former defections from their ranks, and a sharp controversy arose which reached on through many years. There was much in the prevalent teaching of the day that savored of bigotry. The sin of covenant breaking was charged upon those who left the Congregational order, and Johnson drew up and published partly at the instance of William Beach, a brother of the above named clergyman, a tract to meet this charge, and give plain reasons for conforming to the Church. He was answered by John Graham, a Presbyterian minister in Southbury, and a reply and rejoinder followed. The tracts of Johnson were in the form of "Letters from a Minister of the Church of England to his Dissenting Parishioners," and he wrote three of them, the second of which he began with paragraphs that outline the history of the movement:--My writing my former letter to take off the aspersions which have been injuriously cast upon the Church, was principally occasioned by this very J. G., who, without any manner of provocation, had (as some of his friends have owned) written a scurrilous paper or verses which did most abominably misrepresent and abuse the Church, and tend to beget in people a very wrong notion of it, and a bitter uncharitable temper towards it; and now, in spite of all the caution and tenderness wherewith I endeavored to conduct myself, both in my conversation and letter, is still resolved to go on reproaching and misrepresenting us, and setting us in all the odious and ridiculous lights he can invent. For my part, I sincerely aimed at reconciling the difference between you and us, and composing our spirits as far as I was able, that if possible we might come at a right understanding of each other, and a good agreement; or at least if we could not attain to think alike, that we might not think hardly, censoriously, or injuriously of each other, and might live in tolerable good peace and charity one with another. But this man is resolved to set and keep us still at variance, and to blow up the fire of contention and uncharitableness, and all, forsooth, under the pretense of doing justice! though you will find by what follows, that his remarks are in truth one continued piece of injustice.
As Johnson was the leading spirit among the Episcopal clergy in the New England and northern colonies, the defense of the Church fell to his pen, and it is surprising that he found time with all his missionary duties to write so much and so ably. The people read the publications with avidity, and many who had hitherto believed the Church to be full of "Popery, Arminianism, and the inventions of men," became acquainted with the Liturgy, and were persuaded of its Scriptural character, that they withdrew from their former connections and attached themselves to the Anglican Communion. His ability as a controversialist was early recognized on the other side, and the following curious letter from one of his friends pays him a compliment and gives a scrap of history worth preserving:--
ETON COLLEGE, Sept. 29, 1735.
DEAR SIR,--Dr. Cutler lately communicated to me your 2d controversial letter, for which I am obliged to him and the author. It were to be wished, that a clergyiman's attention were not called off from the work of the ministry by the opposition of unreasonable men; but I am glad the cause has found so able a defender.
I send these lines by my friends who accompany Mr. Oglethorpe to Georgia; they go purely out of a religious motive; a circumstance not so common among our American Missionaries. They all are members of the University of Oxford, men of piety, learning, and zeal. Mr. John Wesley, Fellow of Lincoln College, Mr. Charles Wesley, student of Ch. Ch., Mr. Hall of Lincoln, and Mr. Salmon of Brasenose--all clergymen. We promise to ourselves much good from their pious endeavors under the assistance and influence of Mr. Oglethorpe, and that with regard both [to] the Indians to whom two of them go as missionaries, and to the colony itself. Your good offices in corresponding with them, and advising and assisting them in any respect, would be kindly accepted by them and me.
I continue still a member of the University, though not Fellow of C. C. C. I am Fellow of Eton Coll: near Windsor, and have a good living between that place and Oxford. If in any respect I can be serviceable to you, my best offices are at your command.
Your affectionate friend.
In answering this letter which reached him about a year after its date, Johnson said it would be "a mighty pleasure" to him, indeed, if he were so situated as to converse or hold any correspondence with "gentlemen of so worthy a character;" but as the distance from New England to Georgia was not much short of a thousand miles, and no trade as yet settled between the colonies, there was little prospect that he could render them essential service. He added at the close of his letter: "I thank you also for the candor you express towards the poor performance Dr. Cutler sent you. Controversy is what I have neither talents nor inclination for, but the most abusive misrepresentations of the Church which our adversaries disseminate among the people has made something of this kind in a manner necessary."