In the grant for the Philips Academy there is language which I find difficult to ascertain the real meaning.

From the bottom of page 463 here

...to lay the foundation of a free public School or Academy for the purpose of instructing Youth, not only in English and Latin Grammar, Writing, Arithmetic, and those Sciences, wherein they are commonly taught; but more especially to learn them the Great End and Real Business of Living

My question is, what does the GREAT END mean in this document. Is this a common 18th century phrase?

I feel the emphasized portion is ambiguous and informal, however the author clearly felt otherwise.

  • 2
    I'd read it as the 'ultimate goal' (in life), which presumably was quite clear in their minds and deemed to be the same for every student.
    – JHCL
    Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 8:37
  • 1
    Note that it's the "great end" of "living". Ie, the purpose of living.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 17:15

1 Answer 1




a : an outcome worked toward : purpose (the end of poetry is to be poetry — R. P. Warren)

Merriam Webster

Given that the school was founded in the late 1700s in America, it is almost certain that the 'great purpose' of life that is meant here is the Christian one of serving God.


Here's another work from the 1700s that supports this conclusion:

Which therefore is, or ought to be the great End of your eating and drinking, and of all and every Action of your whole Life. As we learn from his Apostle, faying, Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God

The great necessity ... of publick prayer and frequent Communion By William Beveridge 1709

  • I agree. I was writing an answer to the effect but I seem to have dozed off in the middle of doing. If you don't mind I just have several suggestions: One is to use a contemporaneous dictionary instead of Merriam-Webster's to define end. In this case, the only reputed candidate is A Dictionary of the English Language by Samuel Johnson, published in 1755, just a few years after Phillip Samuel Jr's. birth. The other is to mention great, since this is asking about both words together.
    – Tonepoet
    Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 11:49
  • @Tonepoet - Using a dictionary of the time is an excellent idea. I hadn't considered that. I'm relieved to see that definition 13 of 'end' in the dictionary you cite is very similar to the present-day one I used. In the case of 'great' there is more than one possible definition that could be appealed to in this case. Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 12:09
  • 1
    I think people overestimate how much the language changed over the past few centuries since the dictionaries, education and the such started to stabilize it. Anyway, keep in mind that def. 14 follows from def. 13, so include that too. In fact, regarding the word "Great" all of the actual definitions are just several words each so it's not much hassle to include them all, omitting the exemplary quotes and using quotation marks instead of block-quotes.in order to maximize white<space. efficiency. Quotes might help end though and I have those transcribed if I could send them to you somehow.
    – Tonepoet
    Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 13:07

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