Remarks on George Berkeley, The Querist (1735-37), in Joseph Th. Leerssen, Mere Irish and Fíor Gael (Amsterdam 1986) [q.p.].

Berkeley’s Querist, three parts, 1735, 1736, and 1737, edited by Madden and Prior; rev. edn., 1750; and also in Berkeley’s posthumous Miscellanea, 1752; includes 895 rhetorical questions (but 595 in 1750 ed.) in a fugatic treatment touching on a number of basic problems of the Irish economy. E.g.,

‘Whether there be upon earth any Christian or civilized people so beggarly, wretched, and destitute as the native Irish?’; ‘Whether, nevertheless, there is any other people whose wants may be more easily supplied from home?’ (Q 132, 133).
‘Whether our hankering after our own woollen trade be not the true and only reason which hath created a jealousy in England towards Ireland? And whether anything can hurt us more than such jealousy?’ (Q 89);
‘Whether our old native Irish are not the most indolent and supine eople in Christendom: … their habitations and furniture more sordid than those of the savage Americans?’ (Q 357-8).
‘Whether a scheme for the welfare of this nation should not take in the whole inhabitants? And whether it be not a vain attempt to project the flourishing of our Protestant gentry, exclusive of the bulk of our natives?’ (Q 255).
‘the most pressing wants of the majority.. the dirt and famine and nakedness of the bulk of our people’ (Q 106).

Berkeley identifies not property but the circulation of property as the measure of wealth, anticipating Adam Smith. [351-54].

The most innovative feature of the Querist - which reiterates many of the prejudices of the Anglo-Irish towards the native Irish, is in considering that the welfare of one group presupposes and requires that of the other, making the two effectually a nation with a common interest and a common destiny. It is this viewpoint which he stresses in his Berkeley’s Letter to the Roman Catholics of the diocese of Cloyne (1745), in the year of the alarming Jacobite Rebellion in Scotland. The tone he strikes here, though condescending and unsympathetic (in keeping with the Ascendancy belief that it was the Catholic clergy which kept the native Irish in superstition and ignorance), is conciliatory, urging them to remember that:

… you have been treated with truly Christian lenity under the present government; that you persons have been protected, and your properties securded by equal laws: and that you it would be highly imprudent as well as ungrateful to forfeit these advantages by making yourself the tools to the ambitions of foreign princes … [who] will not fail to abandon you, as they have always done.’ (Works, 1901, vol. 4. 433).

The Catholic hierarchy responded with warmth. As a sign of his growing confidence in the political passivity of the Catholics, the post-1745 eds. of The querist replaced ‘Papists’ with ‘Roman Catholics’.

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