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The Notebooks of George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne. 1685-1753 (review)

From: Journal of the History of Philosophy
Volume 25, Number 3, July 1987
pp. 448-450 | 10.1353/hph.1987.0042

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Reviewed by
The Notebooks of George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne. 1685–1753. Tercentenary Facsimile Edition. Edited and with a Postscript by Désirée Park. Oxford: The Alden Press, 1984. Pp. xx + 360. £ 30.

This "Tercentenary Facsimile Edition" of Berkeley's Philosophical Commentaries, edited by Professor Désirée Park, is nicely printed. In addition to the black and white photographs reproduced from the British Library microfilm (232 plates, numbered by folio) and "Acknowledgments," the volume includes a "Note to the Reader," a "Postcript," a "Selected List of Printed Texts of Berkeley's Notebooks," and a "Note."

The editor has transcribed a few words below the plates on some of the pages, presumably those words that she found difficult to read. Here she makes frequent mistakes.1 I know from my own experience how difficult it is to produce a good transcription of a manuscript. But one mistake every twenty-fifth word is excessive.

On one of the most important editorial questions Park writes: "Apart from Berkeley's son's signature, the whole of the MS is, I believe, in Berkeley's hand. As to the occasional pencilled words; these were added later, have been studiously passed over by Luce and indeed are superfluous. A large and fair sample of them appears in the photographs, and it is clear that they are naïve at best and may safely be disregarded" (p. xii, my emphasis). It is hard to know exactly what this is supposed to mean. But given the first sentence, I take it that, however "naïve" or "superfluous" they may be, [End Page 448] the notes in pencil are "in Berkeley's hand," according to the editor. (Sometimes a page has been reproduced for no other reason than to show a note in pencil written on it.)

There is a curious note in this pencil hand (which is not an eighteenth-century hand) in entry No. 441 where Berkeley's "M. S." is mistakenly interpreted as "matter sensible." The only Berkeley scholar who has made this mistake is A. C. Fraser. In his editions of the Works—both in 1871 (vol. 4: 423) and in 1901 (vol. 1: 11)—he added at this entry in a note: "M. S. = matter sensible." He was criticized for this mistake in 1902 (see Mind, vol. XI: 249–53).

The lack of a survey of all those marks in pencil (transcriptions of particular terms, but also underlinings in the text as well as lines, parentheses, and cross-marks in the margin) which are not by Berkeley, is a serious editorial defect. As it is often impossible in this edition to distinguish these pencil marks from what is written by Berkeley in ink, the reader is inevitably left in uncertainty at a great number of places.

As I have elsewhere criticized Park's earlier view on the structure of the Notebooks, I am glad to report that she has made changes in her thesis now allowing a plausible account of matters of fact. It is possible to interpret her new position as follows: (1) The last lines of the "Description of the Cave of Dunmore," now disconnected from the main body of that "Description," once formed a running text with it. (2) Originally, all contributions from the queries on Locke's Essay (fol. 164v ) to the end were written inverted (Berkeley was thus writing from what we now take to be the end for some period of time). If she intends to say no more than this, then she has the merit of being the first to have observed this peculiar detail. Park is convinced that farreaching consequences follow from her discovery with regard to the dating of the two notebooks (A and B).

In order to follow Park's account of what is written first, second, and third, I refer to t1, t2 and t3 as successive points of time. Her argument opens with the clear statement that "Notebook B must have been completed before [the set of queries on Locke's Essay on folio] 164v was written" (xv). One thing was written before the other. Thus we have the following time table:

  1. (i). Berkeley finished...