On The Prospect Of Planting Arts And Learning In America

by George Berkeley

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"Westward The Course Of Empire Takes Its Way"

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Context: Berkeley's one famous poem was inspired by his project of founding a college in the Bermudas, a project he pressed because he believed the English colonists, and the natives, of those islands ought to have educational facilities. Berkeley was granted a charter by the crown, but the necessary funds could not be raised; as a result, the project never came to fruition. In his poem Berkeley envisions a new golden age in the world; he hopes a time is about to occur when men are guided by reason and virtue, when education will be free from pedantry of all sorts. In the New World he hopes to see a British empire flourish, along with a renaissance of all the arts. He hopes America will be as he thinks Europe was when it was young, that America will produce wise and noble men, as Europe supposedly had. Berkeley says that four-fifths of history have already passed, but that the last and best period is yet to come. The site will be, of course, America. Berkeley's sentiments appealed to others in early America: John Quincy Adams said, in his Oration at Plymouth (1802), "Westward the star of empire takes its way." The last stanza of Berkeley's poem begins with the quotation:

Westward the course of empire takes its way;
The four first acts already past,
A fifth shall close the drama with the day;
Time's noblest offspring is the last.

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