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Title: Joseph Priestley
Author: Thorpe, Thomas Edward
Language: English
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                             MEN OF SCIENCE

                               EDITED BY
                        J. REYNOLDS GREEN, D.Sc.

                            JOSEPH PRIESTLEY

                         _All Rights Reserved_

                      [Illustration: J Priestley]

                            JOSEPH PRIESTLEY

                          T. E. THORPE, F.R.S.
                               AUTHOR OF
                               ETC., ETC.

                         PUBLISHED IN LONDON BY
                      J. M. DENT & CO., AND IN NEW
                       YORK BY E. P. DUTTON & CO.


In the following account of the life and work of that “hero and type of
the intellectual energy of the eighteenth century”—the “honest
heretic”—Joseph Priestley, I have, to a considerable extent, made the
subject of it tell his own story. After Priestley’s death there was
found among his papers a short autobiography, dealing with the main
events of his life up to the time of his settlement in America. This was
subsequently published, with additions and explanatory notes, by his
eldest son. Of this biography I have made full use, considering it, of
course, as the best authority on the matters to which it refers.

For the account of the Warrington Academy, with which institution
Priestley was connected for some years, and which connection profoundly
affected his career, I am mainly indebted to Mr Henry A. Bright’s paper
in the _Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and
Cheshire_, 1858-59.

The Yates papers in the possession of the Royal Society have also
afforded me much assistance, and have been freely drawn upon.

I am also indebted to the late Mr Henry Carrington Bolton’s collection
for certain letters and for information concerning the Lunar Society of

For the graphic account of the Birmingham Riots of 1791, when
Priestley’s house was wrecked, and his library and laboratory destroyed,
as described by an eye-witness, Miss Martha Russell, I have to express
my obligations to her relative, Dr W. J. Russell, who first made me
acquainted with her narrative. I am also indebted to Dr Russell for a
copy of the print from which has been prepared the illustration showing
the destruction of Priestley’s house.

I desire also to acknowledge my indebtedness to Dr Aikin for permission
to publish certain of Priestley’s letters to his distinguished
connection, Mrs Barbauld.

I am further under obligations to Lady Priestley, Lady Roscoe and Mr
Sydney Lupton for much useful assistance.

The portrait of Priestley, which forms the frontispiece, has been
reproduced in photogravure from the painting by Artaud, now in Dr
Williams’ Theological Library in Gordon Square. I have to thank the
Trustees of the Library for their kindness in allowing the copy to be

                                                                T. E. T.

London: _May_ 1906.



Chapter I                                                              1
Birth—Parentage—Home Life—Early Education.

Chapter II                                                            17
Enters the Daventry Academy to be trained for the Ministry—Goes to
Needham Market—His Life, Work and Privations there.

Chapter III                                                           30
Goes to Nantwich—Starts a School—Is appointed a Tutor in the Warrington
Academy—Life at Warrington.

Chapter IV                                                            45
Priestley marries—Is ordained—His Essay on Education—Lectures on History
and General Policy—His Chart of Biography—Becomes a Doctor of Laws of
the University of Edinburgh—His visits to London—Makes the acquaintance
of Dr Price, Canton and Benjamin Franklin—Writes the _History of
Electricity_—Is elected into the Royal Society.

Chapter V                                                             66
Goes to Leeds as minister of the Mill Hill Chapel—Resumes his studies in
Speculative Theology—_The Theological Repository_—Becomes a
Unitarian—Priestley as a controversialist—His Theory and Practice of
Perspective—His literary characteristics—Begins his inquiries on
Pneumatic Chemistry—His invention of soda-water—Receives the Copley
Medal of the Royal Society.

Chapter VI                                                            82
Becomes literary companion to Lord Shelburne—Goes abroad—His visit to
Paris—His scientific work at Calne and in London—Continues his
theological and metaphysical studies—His growing unpopularity—Leaves
Lord Shelburne.

Chapter VII                                                           89
Removes to London—Declines a pension—Renews his acquaintance with
Franklin—Goes to Birmingham—Becomes a member of the Lunar Society.

Chapter VIII                                                         103
Priestley at Birmingham—His theological work there—His love of
literature—His catholicity—His personal characteristics.

Chapter IX                                                           120
The Birmingham riots of 1791.

Chapter X                                                            145
Determines to leave England—His arrival in America—Settles in
Northumberland—His closing days—His death.

Chapter XI                                                           167
Priestley as a man of science—His characteristics as a
philosopher—_Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of Air_—His
discovery of the influence of vegetation on vitiated air—Atmospheric air
not elementary—His researches on nitric oxide—Eudiometry—Nitrous
oxide—Discovers hydrogen chloride—Prepares oxygen from nitre
(1771)—Isolates ammonia gas—Discovers sulphur dioxide—Dephlogisticated
air (oxygen)—Discovers silicon fluoride—Intra-diffusion of
gases—Respiration—Priestley’s opinions of the value of experimental
science in education—Discovers nitrosulphuric acid—Notes the constancy
of composition of the atmosphere—Prepares chlorine—Sound in
“air”—Experiments relating to phlogiston—The seeming conversion of water
into air—Watt and the compound nature of water—Discovers sulphuretted
hydrogen—Priestley’s confession of faith in phlogiston.

Index                                                                225

                         LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

Joseph Priestley, from the portrait in Dr Williams’ Library by Artaud
          (_Photogravure_)                                _Frontispiece_
Birthplace of Priestley, from a drawing by J. A. Symington after a
          photograph                                            _page_ 5
The Pillaging of Priestley’s House during the Birmingham Riots   _facing
                                                               page_ 120

                            Joseph Priestley

                               CHAPTER I

  Birth—Parentage—Home Life—Early Education

“If,” says Mr Frederic Harrison, “we choose one man as a type of the
intellectual energy of the eighteenth century we could hardly find a
better than Joseph Priestley, though his was not the greatest mind of
the century. His versatility, eagerness, activity and humanity; the
immense range of his curiosity in all things, physical, moral or social;
his place in science, in theology, in philosophy and in politics; his
peculiar relation to the Revolution, and the pathetic story of his
unmerited sufferings, may make him the hero of the eighteenth century.”

In these few lines Mr Harrison has indicated, in terms sufficiently
precise, the leading features in the character and life-history of one
of the most remarkable men of the eighteenth century. To what extent he
may be regarded as a hero and as a type of the intellectual energy of
that century it is the purpose of the following pages to make clear.

Joseph Priestley was born at Fieldhead, in the parish of Birstall, near
Leeds, on March 13 (Old Style), 1733.[1] He was named after his paternal
grandfather, “an eminent tradesman, as much famed for his heavenly
conduct as his grandson (Joseph) has since been for natural abilities.”

  “The Priestleys,” writes Madame Belloc, the great-granddaughter of the
  subject of this memoir, in her charming essay, “Joseph Priestley in
  Domestic Life” (_Contemporary Review_, October 1894), “were of an old
  Presbyterian stock; one branch of the family acquired wealth and lived
  at Whiteways, but his (Joseph’s) own immediate ancestors were farmers
  and clothiers, people of substance in the yeoman class. We can trace
  them accurately as far as the middle of the seventeenth century, when
  one Phœbe Priestley, after wrestling with fever in her household, was
  herself stricken, and ‘lay like a lamb before the Lord’ on her
  deathbed. Her husband wrote a long and touching account of all she
  said and did, that her children might know what manner of mother they
  had lost. These people were presumably of the same stock as the
  Priestleys of Soylands, who ran back into the Middle Ages.

  “The children of the Priestley families were all named after
  scriptural characters. They were Josephs, Timothys and Sarahs from one
  generation to another. The Bible was stamped into them, and from it
  they drew all the inspiration of their lives.”

Joseph Priestley the elder was born in 1660, and died on August 2, 1745.
He married Sarah Healey and had by her eight children, five sons and
three daughters, of whom Jonas, the father of Joseph Priestley the
younger, born about 1700, was the seventh child and fourth son. Jonas
Priestley married Mary, a daughter of Joseph Swift, a farmer and
maltster of Shafton, near Wakefield, and had by her six children, four
sons and two daughters, of whom Joseph was the eldest and Timothy the
second; Martha, the elder girl, who died in 1812, married John Crouch,
and was left a widow in poor circumstances in 1786. Another member of
the Priestley family who requires mention for the purpose of this
narrative is Sarah, the sister of Jonas and second daughter of Joseph
Priestley the elder. She was born in 1692 and married John Keighley—“a
man who had distinguished himself for his zeal for religion and for his
public spirit.” She was left a widow in 1745. Three years before this
she took her nephew Joseph, the subject of this memoir, to live with
her, and “was fond of him in the extreme.” She died in 1764. Her brother
John, Joseph Priestley the younger’s uncle, died on February 28, 1786,
aged ninety-two. “He was a remarkable man and of a singularly happy
constitution, both of body and mind.”

This happy constitution of body and mind seems indeed to have been a
characteristic of many members of the family, the several branches of
which were remarkably healthy and long-lived.

Priestley says of his father Jonas that he had uniformly better spirits
than any man he ever knew, and by this means was as happy towards the
close of life, when reduced to poverty and dependent upon others, as in
his best days. These facts are not without interest as serving to
account for much that we shall have occasion to note in the character
and temperament of the subject of this biography.

Fieldhead, the house in which he first saw the light, had been occupied
by the family for several generations. It was a small two-storey
building, built of stone and slated with flag, similar in character to
many of the houses still standing in the district, the long, low windows
in the upper storeys betokening that they were formerly occupied by
weavers. It was last lived in by Martha Priestley (Mrs Crouch), but on
the death of her husband in 1786 was abandoned by the family, and,
falling into decay, was pulled down about fifty years ago.

The Priestleys were a simple, sober, honest, God-fearing folk, staunch
Calvinists, and deeply religious. Jonas Priestley was a manufacturer of
“home-spun”—a weaver and cloth dresser—two trades now distinct but then
practised in common—who took his week’s work on ass-back, on roads
little better than bridle-paths, to the Sunday market in Leeds. He was
of a class characteristic of the district.

These hand-loom weavers, who lived in the hill country lying to the west
of Leeds, were generally men of small capitals; they often annexed a
small farm to their business, or possessed a field or two on which to
support a horse and cow, and were for the most part blessed with the
comforts without the superfluities of life. During five or six days of
the week they dwelt in their own little village, among trees and fields,
taking no thought of the outside world and contenting themselves with
the homely gossip of their farmstead or hamlet. On market day they came
into the town in shoals, clad in their quaint corduroy breeches,
broad-brimmed hats, and brass-buttoned coats of antique cut, bringing
their produce on pack-horses, to await the visits of the merchants—the
commercial aristocracy of Leeds, then a town of some 16,000 or 17,000
inhabitants—who were the agents through which the outer world received
its supply of Yorkshire woollen goods. They were a shrewd, careful race,
somewhat stolid and slow of speech and not given to great mental
briskness or activity, keenly appreciative of the blessings of liberty
and usually in sympathy with the political party to whom the cause of
liberty was for the moment entrusted; sober, godly souls for the most
part; regular in their attendance at public worship, and upon the whole
preferring the plebeian zeal of the Chapel to the aristocratic repose of
the Church.[2]

                [Illustration: BIRTHPLACE OF PRIESTLEY.]

And what a world it was in which they thus serenely dwelt apart.

  “It was,” writes Madame Belloc, “the time of Louis the Fifteenth in
  France and of George the Second in England, and the nephews and nieces
  of Charlotte Princess Palatine were still living, and her letters,
  whose name is legion, yet lay stored in the cabinets of her
  correspondents, full of inexpressible details discussed in most
  expressive language. It was the time when Jeanie Deans walked from
  Scotland to beg her sister’s life of Queen Caroline, and met Madge
  Wildfire in the way. It was the time when the polite world was
  composed of ‘men, women and Herveys’; when Squire Pendarves was found
  dead in his bed in Greek Street, Soho, leaving his young widow to be
  courted by John Wesley and wedded by Dr Delany; when statesmen bribed,
  and young blades drank, and Sir Harbottle carried off Harriet Byron,
  whose shrieks brought Sir Charles Grandison to the rescue, sword in
  hand. It was the period when the Jacobite Rebellion flamed up and
  expired; when the Young Pretender marched to Derby and the heads of
  the decapitated lords were exposed on Temple Bar; tragedies, agonies,
  highway robberies, Dick Turpin, Jack Sheppard, smugglers, the
  press-gang; Frederick Prince of Wales quarrelling in Leicester Square;
  Queen Caroline on her death-bed telling her weeping little George,
  ‘que l’un n’empêche pas l’autre’; Horace Walpole making the grand
  tour; Dean Swift dying in agonised misery. Merciful Heavens! What an
  England, of which we possess the daily diary! We can see Hogarth at
  his easel, and Sir Joshua taking his first stiff portraits, and
  Garrick going on pilgrimage to Stratford, and the young king courting
  Hannah Lightfoot and marrying his little bride from Mecklenburg.
  Without too much verifying of dates it is certain that all this was
  happening before Dr Priestley was thirty years of age, and that of
  none of it is there the faintest mention in the account he has drawn
  up of his own childhood, youth and young manhood, though he was
  himself destined to be one of the principal illustrations of the
  Georgian era. For anything which appears to the contrary, he and his
  friends might have dwelt in some far-distant planet whose inhabitants
  were wholly given up to study and to prayer.”

Priestley says of his father that he had a strong sense of religion,
praying with his family morning and evening, and carefully teaching his
children and servants the Assembly’s Catechism, which was all the system
of which he had any knowledge.

  “In the latter part of his life he became very fond of Mr Whitfield’s
  writings and other works of a similar kind, having been brought up in
  the principles of Calvinism, and adopting them, but without ever
  giving much attention to matters of speculation, and entertaining no
  bigoted aversion to those who differed from him on the subject.”

We may well imagine that Jonas, with his “strong sense of religion,” was
one of that earnest band of “several hundreds of plain people” who
listened, spellbound, to the eloquence of John Wesley on that memorable
day of May 1742, on which, on Birstall Hill, began the great Yorkshire

Of his wife, “a woman of exemplary piety,” the mother of the future
philosopher, little has been recorded beyond the fragmentary notice in
her son’s autobiography. He says of her:—

  “It is but little that I can recollect of my mother. I remember,
  however, that she was careful to teach me the Assembly’s Catechism,
  and to give me the best instructions the little time that I was at
  home. Once in particular, when I was playing with a pin, she asked me
  where I got it; and on telling her that I found it at my uncle’s, who
  lived very near to my father, and where I had been playing with my
  cousins, she made me carry it back again; no doubt to impress my mind,
  as it could not fail to do, with a clear idea of the distinction of
  property and of the importance of attending to it. She died in the
  hard winter of 1739,[3] not long  after being delivered of my youngest
  brother; and having dreamed a little before her death that she was in
  a delightful place, which she particularly described and imagined to
  be heaven, the last words which she spake, as my aunt informed me,
  were, ‘Let me go to that fine place.’”

During some considerable portion of his mother’s short period of married
life, Joseph Priestley, together with his brother Timothy, was committed
to the care of his grandfather Swift, with whom he remained with little
interruption until his mother’s death. From this we may infer that the
domestic circumstances of his parents were far from easy, or that the
accommodation at Fieldhead was unequal to the support of the
cloth-dresser’s rapidly-increasing family.

Timothy, who, after following his father’s business as a cloth-dresser
for a time, became an Independent minister, and died in London, has left
us reminiscences of his brother’s boyhood. He seems to have been
particularly impressed with his ability to repeat the Assembly’s
Catechism “without missing a word,” and by being made to kneel down with
him while he prayed. “This was not at bed-time, which he never
neglected, but in the course of the day.”

On the death of his mother, the eldest boy, then barely six years old,
was taken home and sent to school in the neighbourhood. Luckily for him,
his Aunt Sarah, Mrs Keighley, “a truly pious and excellent woman, who
knew no other use of wealth, or of talents of any kind, than to do good,
and who never spared herself for this purpose,” being childless,
offered, in 1742, to relieve her brother Jonas of all care for his
eldest son by taking entire charge of him. “From this time,” says her
nephew, “she was truly a parent to me, till her death in 1764.”

John Keighley was a man of considerable property, and at his death,
which occurred when Priestley was about twelve years of age, the widow
was left with the greater part of his fortune for life, and much of it
at her disposal after her death.

By Mrs Keighley’s direction he was sent, he tells us, to several schools
in the neighbourhood, especially to a large free school under the care
of a clergyman, Mr Hague, under whom, at the age of twelve or thirteen,
he first began to make progress in Latin and acquired the elements of
Greek. His brother Timothy records that “from eleven to about thirteen
he had read most of Mr Bunyan’s works and other authors on religion,
besides the common Latin authors.”

How a well-ordered school was conducted in the middle of the eighteenth
century may be gleaned from the following regulations in force in Mr
Canton’s well-known academy in 1745:—

  1. That the School hours are from 7 o’clock in the morning till 12,
  and from 2 to 5 in the afternoon: except the winter half-year, when
  they begin at 8 in the morning.

  2. That all the Scholars come decently, that is, with their Hands and
  Faces wash’d, their Hair or Perriwigs Comb’d, and their Shoes black’d.

  3. That they bow at Coming in and going out, and when any Thing is
  given or rec’d; and never wear their Hats in the House or School.

  4. That they loiter not, but go immediately to their own seats and
  move not thence, without Leave, till School is done.

  5. That if any Person come into the School whom they know, they are to
  get up, make a bow, and sit down in their places again.

  6. That if the Master be discoursing with, or reading to any Person,
  they shall not stare Confidently on them or hearken to their Talk,
  unless required to be present.

  7. That they shall not interrupt the Master while a Stranger is
  talking with him, with any Question, request, or complaint whatsoever,
  but stay till he is at Leisure.

  8. That they shall not presume to talk loud nor make any noise in
  getting their lessons. A Boy’s Tongue should never be heard, but in
  saying his Lesson, asking or Answering a Question.

  9. That there be no buying, selling, changing, laying Wagers or Gaming
  in School-time, on the forfeiture of the whole so bought or sold, etc.

  10. That those who learn French shall not speak English to any that
  learn French, on the Forfeiture of ye Bill, or one Hour’s Exercize
  after School Time.

  11. That such as learn Latin are also oblig’d not to speak other
  Language to those that learn it, during School time, on the Penalty
  last mentioned.

  12. That all perform their Lessons and Exercises in fair Writing and
  true Spelling, and likewise prepare themselves for their Examinations
  in French, Latin, Accounts and Catechisms every week, both in School
  times and all Vacations.

  13. That such as perform well, shall be prefer’d according to their
  Merit, and shall have liberty to leave School before the usual Time;
  but such as are Negligent herein, shall have their Exercizes to write
  over again after School.

  14. That none presume to call any Party or Nick-names nor give any ill
  or reproachful Language, much less Curse, Sware, or Lye, but in all
  things behave in a quiet, peaceable, and civil manner.

  15. That the Boarders shall not go beyond y^e bounds belonging to y^e
  House on any pretence whatsoever without leave, on the forfeiture of
  6d. or two Hours’ Exercize after School for Every such Offence.

  16. That one Scholar is not to strike another, or challenge him to
  fight; but in case of any Difference shall acquaint the Master
  therewith and be satisfied with his Determination.

Whilst acquiring Greek at the public school, Priestley learned Hebrew on
holidays of the Dissenting minister of the place, Mr Kirkby, under whose
care he eventually came.

The weakly, consumptive habit into which he now fell necessitated his
withdrawal from school. His fondness for books had led his aunt to
encourage the hope that he might be trained for the ministry, and he
readily entered into her views.

  “But,” he says, “my ill health obliged me to turn my thoughts another
  way, and, with a view to trade, I learned the modern languages,
  French, Italian and High Dutch [German], without a master; and in the
  first and last of them I translated and wrote letters for an uncle of
  mine who was a merchant, and who intended to put me into a
  counting-house in Lisbon.”

Indeed, he says a house was actually engaged to receive him there, and
everything was nearly ready for his undertaking the voyage when his
health so far improved that the idea of the ministry was resumed. During
the two years in which he had been kept away from school the boy was
thrown almost entirely upon his own resources. It says much for the
activity and eagerness of his mind, his diligence and his power of
mental acquisitiveness, that he should have neglected no opportunity of
gaining knowledge from the various heretical divines who came to drink a
dish of tea with his aunt. He tells us that from Mr Haggerstone, a
Dissenting minister in the neighbourhood, who had been educated under
Maclaurin, and whom he visited twice a week, he learned geometry,
algebra and various branches of mathematics, theoretical and practical.
He also read, with but little assistance from him, Gravesend’s _Elements
of Natural Philosophy_, Watts’s _Logic_, and Locke’s _Essay on the Human
Understanding_. “He also gave lessons in Hebrew to a Baptist minister at
Gildersome, a village about four miles from Leeds, and by that means
made himself ‘a considerable proficient in that language.’” “At the same
time I learned Chaldee and Syriac, and just began to read Arabic.”

As his knowledge increased, and the powers of his intellect
strengthened, he began to exercise his reason upon the many problems of
doctrine and religious belief which could not fail to be uppermost in
his mind when his upbringing and the environment in which circumstances
had placed him are considered. His aunt, although a strict Calvinist,
was a large-minded woman, and, as her nephew says, “far from confining
salvation to those who thought as she did on religious subjects.”

  “Her home,” he says, “was the resort of all the dissenting ministers
  in the neighbourhood, without distinction, and those who were the most
  obnoxious, on account of their heresy, were almost as welcome to her,
  if she thought them honest and good men (which she was not unwilling
  to do), as any others.”

Although all the religious books that came in his way tended to confirm
him in the principles of Calvinism, he was led by the natural vigour of
his mind, and by an innate spirit of philosophical optimism, which
strengthened with advancing years, to feel a repugnance to its gloomy
tenets, and to question the sufficiency and reasonableness of much of
its doctrine. The conversation of the heretical divines in whose company
he was thrown served, moreover, to awaken inquiry and to increase his
doubts. These divines were for the most part men who, in liberality of
thought, were far in advance of the congregations they served, and this
was especially the case of those for whose attainments and character the
discerning boy had most respect.

The youth, who as a child had lisped at his mother’s knee, “without
missing a word,” the formularies of the Assembly’s Catechism, was now
tortured with doubt and misgiving as he strove to penetrate into and to
realise the meaning of the phrases his memory so tenaciously retained.
And the more he read and the more he pondered the more disquieted he

  “Having,” he says, “read many books of _experiences_, and, in
  consequence, believing that a _new birth_, produced by the immediate
  agency of the Spirit of God, was necessary to salvation, and not being
  able to satisfy myself that I _had_ experienced anything of the kind,
  I felt occasionally such distress of mind as it is not in my power to
  describe, and which I still look back upon with horror.
  Notwithstanding I had nothing very material to reproach myself with, I
  often concluded that God had forsaken me, and that mine was like the
  case of Francis Spira, to whom, as he imagined, repentance and
  salvation were denied. In that state of mind I remember reading the
  account of the man in the iron cage in the _Pilgrim’s Progress_ with
  the greatest perturbation.”

  “I imagine,” he continues, “that even these conflicts of mind were not
  without their use, as they led me to think habitually of God and a
  future state. And though my feelings were then, no doubt, too full of
  terror, what remained of them was a deep reverence for divine things,
  and in time a pleasing satisfaction which can never be effaced, and I
  hope was strengthened as I have advanced in life and acquired more
  rational notions of religion. The remembrance, however, of what I
  sometimes felt in that state of ignorance and darkness gives me a
  peculiar sense of the value of rational principles of religion, and of
  which I can give but an imperfect description to others.”

At the time he was greatly distressed that he could not feel a proper
repentance for the sin of Adam, taking it for granted, he says, that
without _this_ it could not be forgiven him. The fact was that, under
the influence of his friends, Haggerstone and Walker, he was insensibly
following Baxter in attempting to reconcile the doctrines of Arminius
and Calvin, and he ended by embracing those of Arminius. It was
repugnant to his sense of equity and justice that, in the words of his
Catechism, “All mankind, by the fall of our first parents, lost
communion with God, are under his wrath and curse, and so made liable to
all miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell for

His first trial of faith came when he applied for admission as a
communicant in the congregation which he had always attended. The old
minister was willing enough to receive him, but the elders, who had the
government of the church, discovering this unsoundness on the subject of
the sin of Adam, stoutly refused to sanction his admission.

Whilst the taint of heresy appears not to have greatly distressed the
worthy Mrs Keighley, it doubtless added to her difficulties in shaping
his course towards the ministry. In the natural order of things he was
to have been sent to the academy at Mile End, a hot-bed of Calvinism,
then under the care of Dr Cawder.

  “But,” he says, “being at that time an Arminian, I resolutely opposed
  it, especially upon finding that if I went thither, besides giving an
  _experience_, I must subscribe my assent to ten printed articles of
  the strictest Calvinistic faith, and repeat it every six months.”

It now looked as if the idea of the ministry was to be given up for good
and all, and given up it probably would have been but for the
intercession of Mr Kirkby, who strongly recommended that he should be
placed under the care of the good and learned Dr Doddridge.

  “Mr Kirby,” says Priestley, “had received a good education himself,
  was a good classical scholar, and had no opinion of the mode of
  education among the very orthodox Dissenters, and being fond of me, he
  was desirous of my having every advantage that could be procured for
  me. My good aunt, not being a bigoted Calvinist, entered into his

Priestley had another ally in his step-mother, for his father had
married again. She was a woman of good sense as well as of religion, and
had been sometime housekeeper to Dr Doddridge, of whom she had a high
opinion, and had always recommended his academy.

To Dr Doddridge, however, he was not destined to go. That eminent divine
was in the last stages of the malady to which he eventually succumbed,
and he died at Lisbon in the October of 1751.

                               CHAPTER II

  Enters the Daventry Academy to be trained for the Ministry—Goes to
  Needham Market—His Life, Work and Privations there.

Accordingly, in 1752, he was sent to Daventry, then under the charge of
Mr Ashworth. He was now nineteen. Although of a weakly constitution, his
health was sufficiently re-established to enable him to stand the strain
of preparation for the calling to which he now assiduously devoted
himself. In mental equipments he was so much in advance of his fellows
that he was excused all the studies of the first year and a great part
of those of the second. He remained at the Academy three years.

No student ever dwelt more fondly on the memory of his _Alma Mater_ than
did Priestley on Daventry and all that it meant to him. Its atmosphere
was wholly congenial to him, steadying, stimulating and strengthening
the naturally vigorous powers of his mind. It was, he says, peculiarly
favourable to the serious pursuit of truth, and every question of much
importance, such as liberty and necessity, the sleep of the soul, and
all the articles of theological orthodoxy and heresy were the subjects
of continual discussion between the teachers and the taught. The general
plan of studies was exceedingly favourable to free inquiry: the students
were referred to authors on both sides of every question and were
required to give an account of them, abridging the more important for
future use.

Concerning this small seminary for the training of Dissenting ministers,
the Rev. Mr Hargrove in his account of Priestley in the _Inquirer_ of
1904, says:[4]—

  “A miserable little place it must have seemed to the eyes of
  neighbouring clergy, with nothing in it of the venerable traditions,
  the ancestral wealth, the beauty and the dignity of the old colleges
  at Oxford and Cambridge. There was nothing grand about this building,
  nor did any sacred associations hallow its homeliness. But while the
  lamp of learning burnt low in the ancient universities during the
  eighteenth century, their gates kept fast closed against all who were
  too intelligent not to doubt the doctrines of the Established Church,
  or too honest to conceal their doubts, it burnt bright and clear, tiny
  though the flame might be, in obscure and poor haunts like this of
  Daventry. As Priestley proudly, and not untruly, boasted, at a later
  time, to the Prime Minister of England:

  “‘Shutting the doors of the universities against us, and keeping the
  means of learning to yourselves, you may think to keep us in ignorance
  and so less capable to give you disturbance. But though ignominiously
  and unjustly excluded from the seats of learning, and driven to the
  expedient of providing at a great expense for scientific education
  among ourselves, we have had this advantage, that our institutions,
  being formed in a more enlightened age, are more liberal and therefore
  better calculated to answer the purpose of a truly liberal education.
  Thus while your universities resemble pools of stagnant water secured
  by dams and mounds, ours are like rivers which, taking their natural
  course, fertilise a whole country.’”

The manner in which he occupied his time, the range of his studies, and
the miscellaneous nature of his reading at Daventry, may be seen from
his following extract from his journal for 1755:—



  Howe’s Blessedness of the Righteous; Bennel’s Pastoral Care; Norris’s
  Letters and Some Sermons.


  Taylor on Atonement; Hampton’s Answer; Sherlock’s Discourse, vol. i.;
  Christianity not founded in Argument; Doddridge’s Answer; Warburton’s
  Divine Legation; Benson on the First Planting of Christianity; King’s
  Constitution of the Primitive Church.


  Josephus, vol. i. from p. 39 to 770; Ovid’s Metamorphoses, to p. 139;
  Tacitus’s History, Life of Agricola, and Manners of the Germans.


  John the Evangelist; The Acts of the Apostles; The Epistles to the
  Romans, Galatians, Ephesians; 1 and 2 Corinthians, in Greek; Isaiah to
  the 8th chapter, in Hebrew.


  Maclaurin’s Algebra, to part ii.


  Irene; Prince Arthur; Ecclesiastical Characters; Dryden’s Fables;
  Peruvian Tales; Voyage round the World; Oriental Tales; Massey’s
  Travels; Life of Hai Ebn Yokdam; History of Abdallah.


  A Sermon on the Wisdom of God; An Oration on the Means of Virtue; 1st
  vol. of the Institutes of Natural and Revealed Religion.

With one of his classmates he engaged to rise early and so “dispatched
many articles of business every day. One of them, which continued all
the time we were at the academy, was to read every day ten folio pages
in some Greek author, and generally a Greek play in the course of the
week besides. By this means we became very well acquainted with that
language and with the most valuable authors in it.... My attention was
always more drawn to mathematical and philosophical studies than his

Throughout the whole of his time at the academy, and despite the
attractions which scholarship and literary studies had for him, and
notwithstanding his eagerness to satisfy “the immense range of his
curiosity in all things, physical, moral or social,” he never, he says,
lost sight of the great object of his studies, which was the duties of a
Christian minister.

  “There it was that I laid the general plan which I have executed
  since. Particularly I there composed the first copy of my _Institutes
  of Natural and Revealed Religion_, Mr Clark, to whom I communicated my
  scheme, carefully perusing every section of it and talking over the
  subject of it with me.”

What three years of this mental, moral and intellectual discipline meant
to the young Arminian may be summed up in his own words: he saw reason
to embrace what he says is usually called the heterodox side of almost
every question. And this notwithstanding that Dr Ashworth was earnestly
desirous of making him as orthodox as possible.

  “Notwithstanding the great freedom of our speculations and debates,
  the extreme of heresy among us was Arianism; and all of us, I believe,
  left the academy with a belief, more or less qualified, of the
  doctrine of _atonement_.”

Priestley, even at this early stage in his career, gave abundant proof
of that resolute regard for truth which constituted the motive power of
his life. His sturdy independence of thought, and his almost passionate
resentment of dogmatic authority—among the most significant of his
intellectual traits—were plainly manifested in his youth and early
manhood. They continued to the end to be the dominant notes of his
character and to be the springs of his action. They were at once the
sources of his strength and the causes of his misfortunes.

Priestley had now finished with Daventry. He was twenty-two years of
age, and ready, and indeed eager, to minister in all the glory of a
full-bottomed wig to any congregation that might solicit his services.

The young divines at the academy were an unworldly set, taking but
little thought of their future situations in life. They often, indeed,
amused themselves, as Priestley tells us, with the idea of their
dispersion in all parts of the kingdom, after living so happily
together, and with the _camaraderie_ of youth used to propose plans of
meeting at certain times, and smile at the different appearances they
would probably make after being ten or twenty years settled in the

Priestley set out on his career with the highest ideal of his calling;
indeed to him the office of a Christian minister was the most honourable
of any on earth, and he had no other ambition than to distinguish
himself by his application to the studies proper to that profession.
That he laboured unselfishly and with no idea of place and preferment is
certain from the circumstance that he suffered from a physical
disability which he must have recognised could not but tell strongly
against his chance of worldly success. He had an inveterate stammer
which, at times, made preaching as irksome to him as it was trying to
those who had to listen to him. In spite of many and repeated attempts
he never wholly overcame this trial. And yet nothing is more
characteristic of him than, as he reviewed his career in the evening of
his life, he should see that, like St Paul’s thorn in the flesh, his
impediment had not been without its use.

  “Without some such check as this,” he says, “I might have been
  disputatious in company, or might have been seduced by the love of
  popular applause as a preacher; whereas, my conversation and my
  delivery in the pulpit having nothing in them that was generally
  striking, I hope I have been more attentive to qualifications of a
  superior kind.”

The thorn in the flesh was probably not without its use in other ways.
It probably drove him to literature. If he had none of the graces of
pulpit oratory, he had at least the gift of facile composition. If he
could not hope to move men’s minds by oral appeals, he might aspire to
sway them by the power of the pen.

His first call came from an inconsiderable congregation at Needham
Market in Suffolk. It was a poor and needy place, nominally under the
charge of a superannuated minister, the prospects bounded by the
possibilities attaching to a stipend of forty pounds a year. And these
prospects, limited as they were, were still further curtailed by
Priestley’s own action. He found that his congregation had been used to
receive assistance from both Presbyterian and Independent funds.
Priestley was no longer in the mood to receive assistance from the
Independents, and told his congregation that he “did not choose to have
anything to do” with that body. That little difference between the
elders and himself concerning the sin of Adam and its consequence,
together with his three years’ sojourn at Daventry, were beginning to
bear fruit. The congregation readily consented to give up the
Independent fund and promised to make good the deficiency themselves.
Priestley, however, quickly realised that they deceived themselves
either as to their ability or their willingness to redeem this promise,
for the most, he says, he ever received from them was in the proportion
of about thirty pounds per annum. They also deceived him in another
sense. Their readiness in consenting to do without the assistance of the
Independents disposed him to think “they could not have much bigotry
among them.” Although he made it a rule to introduce nothing in the
pulpit that could, or should, lead to controversy, he made no secret of
his real opinions in conversation, or in his lectures on the theory of
religion which he had composed at the academy and which he proceeded to
give to all persons, without distinction of sex or age, who chose to
come and listen to him. He then found that when he came to treat of the
Unity of God merely as an article of religion his hearers were attentive
to nothing but the soundness of his faith in the doctrine of the
Trinity, and they quickly discovered, what he was at no pains to
conceal, that he was a very pronounced Arian. From the time of this
discovery, he says, his hearers fell off apace, especially as the old
minister, as might have been expected, took a decided part against him.
To add to his difficulties his aunt stopped his remittances. This was in
part due to the ill offices of his orthodox, _i.e._, Independent,
relations, but mainly because the worthy Mrs Keighley had largely
exhausted her liberality in supporting others of her needy dependants,
and in particular a deformed niece, her constant companion, and who
could not, Priestley thinks, have subsisted without the greatest part,
at least, of all she had to bequeath. He himself was the first to
recognise that, being apparently settled in the world, he ought to be no
longer burdensome to her. She had spared no expense in his education,
and that, he says, was doing more for him than giving him an estate.
Whatever the world might have thought as to his being settled in it, it
had little to offer him beyond the dignity of his profession, and it is
difficult to live on dignity alone. The respectable and agreeable
families in the place, to whom he had flattered himself he would be
useful, were not very prompt to support that dignity, and eventually it
had to sustain itself on the wages of an agricultural labourer. Indeed,
he says, had it not been for the good offices of Dr Benson and Dr
Kippis, eminent eighteenth century divines, who procured him “now and
then an extraordinary five pounds from different charities,” he believed
he should have starved.[5]

  “At Needham” he says, “I felt the effect of a low, despised situation,
  together with that arising from the want of popular talents. There
  were several vacancies in congregations in that neighbourhood where my
  sentiments would have been no objection to me, but I was never thought
  of. Even my next neighbour, whose sentiments were as free as my own,
  and known to be so, declined making exchanges with me, which, when I
  left that part of the country, he acknowledged was not owing to any
  dislike his people had to me as heretical, but for other reasons, the
  more genteel part of his hearers always absenting themselves when they
  heard I was to preach for him. But visiting that country some years
  afterwards, when I had raised myself to some degree of notice in the
  world, and being invited to preach in that very pulpit, the same
  people crowded to hear me, though my elocution was not much improved,
  and they professed to admire one of the same discourses they had
  formerly despised.”

The iron would have entered the soul of a weaker man, but Priestley,
true to himself, never lost hope or faltered in his courage. However
short his commons, Providence had endowed him with the continual feast
of a contented mind. He firmly believed, even during the darkest hours
of that Suffolk time, that this same wise Providence was disposing
everything for the best. Notwithstanding his unfavourable circumstances,
“I was,” he says, “far from being unhappy at Needham.” He boarded with a
family for whose kindness he was always grateful. He had free access to
one or two private libraries in the district, in particular one
belonging to Mr Alexander, a Quaker.

  “Here it was,” he says, “that I was first acquainted with any person
  of that persuasion; and I must acknowledge my obligation to many of
  them in every future stage of my life. I have met with the noblest
  instances of liberality of sentiment and the truest generosity among

There can be little doubt, however, in spite of his robust optimism and
the courage with which he confronted the world, the young divine led a
cheerless and solitary existence at Needham. And it is no less certain
that it was during this dark and troubled time that he sowed the
seed—the wheat and the tares—which in the fulness of time was to furnish
the harvest of good and evil he eventually garnered—fame, obloquy,
insult, persecution, respect, affection and his position among the

Although the account which Priestley has left us of his life and work at
Needham is somewhat meagre, it is sufficiently full to enable us to
trace in it the initial stages of his evolution as a theological
thinker. Indeed, he says his studies at this period were chiefly
theological, theology being the business of his life and the vocation to
which he had been called. He had left the academy with a qualified
belief in the doctrine of atonement, and as he was desirous of getting
some more definite ideas on the subject he set himself to peruse the
whole of the Old and New Testament and to collect from them, with the
greatest care, all the texts that appeared to him to have any relation
to the subject, and to arrange them under a great variety of heads.

  “The consequence of this was,” he says, “what I had no apprehension of
  when I began the work, viz., a full persuasion that the doctrine of
  atonement, even in its most qualified sense, had no countenance either
  from Scripture or reason.”

He then proceeded to digest his observations into a regular treatise, a
part only of which was at that time published, under the title of the
_Doctrine of Remission_. The portion omitted had reference to an
examination of the writings of the Apostle Paul, whose reasoning, he was
satisfied, was in many places far from being conclusive. This
examination grew into a separate work, in which he tested every passage
in which the reasoning appeared to him to be defective or the
conclusions ill-supported; and, as he says, he thought them to be pretty

His friend Kippis advised him to publish this treatise under the
character of an unbeliever, in order to draw the more attention to it.

  “This” he says, “I did not choose, having always had a great aversion
  to assume any character that was not my own, even so much as disputing
  for the sake of discovering truth. I cannot ever say that I was quite
  reconciled to the idea of writing to a fictitious person, as in my
  _Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever_, though nothing can be more
  innocent, or sometimes more proper, our Saviour’s parables implying a
  much greater departure from strict truth than those letters do. I
  therefore wrote the book with great freedom indeed, but as a Christian
  and an admirer of the Apostle Paul, as I always was in other

When nine sheets of the work were printed off, Dr Kippis dissuaded him
from proceeding, or indeed from publishing anything of the kind, until
he should be more known and his character better established, and
accordingly he desisted. All that he considered of consequence in this
work he subsequently inserted in the _Theological Repository_, “in order
to its being submitted to the examination of learned Christians.”

Another task that he imposed on himself at Needham, and in part
executed, was an accurate comparison of the Hebrew text of the
Hagiographa and the Prophets with the version of the Septuagint, noting
all the variations.

It was, perhaps, in connection with this inquiry that his name appears
in the second list of subscribers to Taylor’s _Hebrew Concordance_, the
second volume of which was published in 1757. The subscription was three
guineas, a very considerable sum to the young divine in those days. The
fact that he should have entered his name at all is an indication of the
ardour and spirit of self-sacrifice with which he invariably pursued his
inquiries, whether theological or scientific.

Priestley, to the end of his days, cared little for money except as the
means of procuring the material for his investigations, and he was
always ready to part with it, to the extent of his opportunity, in any
cause in which his sympathies were enlisted.

His circumstances were now so straitened that, despite the great
aversion which he conceived he had to the business of a
schoolmaster—having often said that he would have recourse to anything
else for a maintenance in preference to it—he was at length compelled to
make some attempt that way. He therefore printed and distributed
proposals to teach classics, mathematics, etc., for half a guinea a
quarter, and to board the pupils in the house with himself for twelve
guineas a year. It was recognised that he was not unqualified for this
work, but although there was no obvious connection between Arianism and
arithmetic it was enough that he was tainted with heresy, and not a
pupil was entrusted to his care.

He then proposed to give lectures to grown persons on such branches of
science as he could procure the means of illustrating, and began with a
course of twelve lectures on the use of “A New and Correct Globe of the
Earth.” His one course of ten hearers did little more than pay for his

At this juncture a distant relative procured him an opportunity of
preaching as a candidate at Sheffield, but his trial sermon was not
approved: his manner was thought “too gay and airy.” One of the
ministers at Sheffield had, however, more discrimination, and by his
good offices he was recommended to a congregation at Nantwich, in
Cheshire, who gave him an invitation to preach there for a year certain.
Accordingly, he put together his few worldly possessions—his globes, his
beloved books, his stock of sermons, and the manuscripts of the
theological treatises he was too poor or too diffident to give to the
world—and took the Ipswich packet to London as the least expensive way
of getting down to Cheshire.

The chapel in which Priestley preached at Needham was taken down and
rebuilt in 1837. When Rutt was preparing his edition of Priestley’s
_Memoirs_, his daughter, Mrs Notcutt, who lived in Ipswich, made
inquiries respecting Priestley, but with no result.

No reminiscences of him could be found at Needham. He was evidently
thought too poor and too obscure for his memory to be treasured.

                              CHAPTER III

  Goes to Nantwich—Starts a School—Is appointed a Tutor in the
  Warrington Academy—Life at Warrington.

Priestley left Needham Market in 1758. He had been there three years,
and he was in his twenty-fifth year when he entered upon his work at
Nantwich. Of this place he had always the happiest recollections. The
meeting-house, as we learn from Partridge’s _Historical Account of
Nantwich_, 1774, was a good, decent building, “to which appertains a
convenient house for the minister.” Whether he actually occupied this
house is uncertain. One account states that he boarded with Mr John
Eddowes, a grocer, and sometimes showed his agility and sprightliness by
leaping over the counter. Eddowes was described by Priestley as a very
sociable and sensible man, and as he was fond of music his guest was—

  “Induced to learn to play a little on the English flute, as the
  easiest instrument;” and, he continues, “though I was never a
  proficient in it, my playing contributed more or less to my amusement
  many years of my life.”

And he adds,—

  “I would recommend the knowledge and practice of music to all studious
  persons; and it will be better for them if, like myself, they should
  have no very fine ear or exquisite taste, as by this means they will
  be more easily pleased and be less apt to be offended when the
  performances they hear are but indifferent.”

At Nantwich he found the people good-natured and friendly, and happily
free from those controversies which had been the topics of almost every
conversation in Suffolk. He had indeed little mind for them himself. His
congregation never exceeded sixty persons, and a great proportion of
them were travelling Scotchmen, men, he says, of very good sense, and,
what he thought extraordinary, not one of them at all Calvinistical. As
there were few children in the congregation there was little scope for
exertion with respect to his duty in catechising.

As the duties of his office left him ample opportunity to turn the
active powers of his mind to account, he again attempted to establish a
school, and this time with a success far beyond his anticipations.

  “My school,” he states, “consisted of about thirty boys, and I had a
  separate room for about half a dozen young ladies. Thus I was employed
  from seven in the morning until four in the afternoon, without any
  interval except one hour for dinner, and I never gave a holiday on any
  consideration, the red-letter days, as they are called, excepted. I
  had, therefore, but little leisure for reading or for improving myself
  in any way, except what necessarily arose from my employment.”

Priestley, in truth, was an excellent teacher, and with the success
which his efforts brought him there passed away the last traces of the
aversion with which he had entered on that calling. He made it his study
to regulate his business as a schoolmaster in the best manner, and he
was able to say with truth that in no school was more business done, or
with more satisfaction, either to the master or the scholars, than in
this school of his.

He was no longer haunted, as at Needham, with the fear of debt, and he
was able to add to his stock of books and to gratify his wish to possess
some philosophical instruments, such as a small air-pump and an
electrical machine, which he taught his pupils to use and to keep in
order, and by entertaining their parents and friends with experiments he
added greatly to the reputation of his school. At that time, however, he
had no leisure to make any original observations.

Such leisure as he had he gave to literature, recomposing his
_Observations on the Character and Reasoning of the Apostle Paul_, which
he began at Needham, and compiling an English grammar for the use of his
school, on a new plan. This work, which was printed in 1761, had a
considerable reputation in its day. David Hume acknowledged to Griffith,
the bookseller, that he was made sensible of the Gallicisms and
peculiarities of his style on reading it.

Priestley remained three years at Nantwich. His success there as a
teacher induced the trustees of the newly-founded academy at Warrington
to reconsider the desirability of engaging him as tutor in the Classical
Languages and in what used to be called Polite Literature. His name had
already been mentioned in connection with the Warrington Academy by his
friend, Clark of Daventry, at the time of its establishment and whilst
he was at Needham.

“But,” says Priestley, “Mr (afterwards Dr) Aikin, whose qualifications
were superior to mine, was justly preferred to me.” On the death, on
March 5, 1761, of Dr John Taylor of Norwich, the learned author of _A
Hebrew Concordance_ and other theological works, and a well-known
classical scholar, the head of the academy and its tutor of divinity, Dr
Aikin was appointed to succeed him, and Priestley was invited to take Dr
Aikin’s place.

  “This,” says Priestley, “I accepted, though my school promised to be
  more gainful to me. But my employment at Warrington would be more
  liberal and less painful. But, as I told the persons who brought me
  the invitation, I should have preferred the office of teaching the
  Mathematics and Natural Philosophy, for which I had at that time a
  great predilection.”

Priestley’s removal to Warrington, in September 1761, was one of the
turning-points in his career, and no single circumstance in it exercised
a greater influence on his life and fortunes. “The Warrington Academy
for the education of young men of every religious denomination for the
Christian ministry, or as laymen,” and the men who formed its tutors,
played a notable part in the history of Nonconformity in England. In
Taylor of Norwich; in Aikin, the father of the well-known physician and
lecturer on Natural History, and of Anna Lætitia, better known as Mrs
Barbauld, the poetess; in John Reinhold Forster, the naturalist, who
accompanied Cook in his second voyage; in Nicholas Clayton, who
succeeded Aikin as divinity tutor; in William Enfield, the author of the
_History of Liverpool_ and the well-known compiler of _The Speaker_, who
afterwards became _Rector Academicæ_; in Pendlebury Houghton, and in
Gilbert Wakefield, the accomplished editor of _Lucretius_, Priestley had
for colleagues or successors as eminent a set of teachers as any place
of learning at that time could boast of. It was at the Warrington
Academy, the successor of the older academies belonging to the English
Presbyterian body at Findern and Kendal, and the direct ancestor of the
Manchester College at Oxford, that the free thought of English
Presbyterianism first began to crystallise into the Unitarian theology,
and for a time it was the centre of literary taste and activity, and of
political liberalism of the district in which it was placed—the
Areopagus in the Athens of Lancashire, as it was called.

The _Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire_
(vol xi. p. I, 1858-59) contain “A Historical Sketch of Warrington
Academy,” by Mr Henry A. Bright, compiled in great measure from a parcel
of papers, letters and memoranda which had belonged to the Rev. J.
Seddon, and which had been rescued from the hands of a Liverpool
cheesemonger, who was using them for the ordinary purposes of his shop.
Among these papers were letters of Priestley, Kippis, Aikin and others
of lesser note, all of interest as throwing light on the history of the
academy. I am indebted to Mr Bright’s paper for the following account of
the character and fortunes of the academy. Mr John Seddon, we learn, was
its virtual founder. The letters referred to, as well as the testimony
of contemporaries, bear witness to “the concern which he had ever
expressed for its support, honour, success; the indefatigable pains
which he took for this purpose; the indifference which he showed to fame
or censure, to good or evil report, so that he might serve the general
designs of the institution.”

Seddon, although described as “a dullish person,” must have been a man
of considerable pertinacity, patience and resource, as shown by the
manner in which he steered his venture through the difficulties and
dangers incident to its establishment, for he had to contend with the
doubts, hesitation and luke-warmness of its professed supporters, and
the “pleasing spirit of jealous rivalry” which existed between Liverpool
and Manchester as to its locality. Liverpool advanced seven “excellent
reasons” why the academy should _not_ be settled at Warrington; of these
one of the Manchester party writes:—“Some of them are _false_, others
_dubious_, and all, whether true or not, _trifling_ and _impertinent_.”
This “retort courteous” was naturally followed by “Remarks on a letter
from the gentlemen in Manchester to the gentlemen in Liverpool,
subscribers to the intended Academy,” in which “the gentlemen in
Liverpool” lose their temper most completely. Every fourth word in the
remarks is italicised. “The gentlemen of Manchester,” are stigmatised as
“the authors of contention and division,” and are subjected to much
scathing sarcasm. Evidently the omens were not very propitious, but the
wordy warfare eventually spent itself. Mr Seddon got his way; the
trustees ultimately settled down to business and on June 30, 1757, the
academy was duly inaugurated.

Its first home, immortalised by the lines in which Mrs Barbauld bids us

  “Mark where its simple front yon mansion rears,
  The nursery of men for future years,”

was described, in terms eminently suggestive of the incomparable Mr
George Robins, as “a range of buildings” with “a considerable extent of
garden ground, and a handsome terrace walk on the banks of the Mersey,
possessing altogether a respectable collegiate appearance.” The “ugly,
mean, old brick house,” no longer

  “A dim old mansion, hidden half-away
  From a dull world grown careless of its fame,”

has been transformed into a place of quiet, old-world dignity, and is
now turned to uses worthy of its fame and in harmony with its

In spite of the seeming unanimity of the trustees, and the zeal and
energy of their secretary, Mr Seddon, the fortunes of the Academy were
ill-starred from the outset. Dr Taylor, one of the first Arians who
ministered to the English Presbyterians, and an erudite and accomplished
man—an author so widely read in his day that he is even mentioned by
Burns in his Epistle to John Goudie:

  “’Tis you and Taylor are the chief,
  Wha are to blame for this mischief”—

was ill fitted to direct the precarious existence of the enterprise, and
the old scholar must have sighed often for the free and independent
position, and the dear home among an affectionate people, which he had
sacrificed in leaving Norwich for Warrington. Dissensions arose, in the
midst of which Dr Taylor died.

Dr Taylor, as already stated, was succeeded as theological tutor by Dr
Aikin, who retained that position until his death in 1780.

  “Dr Aikin,” says Gilbert Wakefield, “was a gentleman whose endowments
  as a man and as a scholar it is not easy to exaggerate by
  panegyric.... His intellectual attainments were of a very superior
  quality indeed. His acquaintance with all true evidences of
  revelation, with morals, politics and metaphysics, was most accurate
  and extensive. Every path of polite literature had been traversed by
  him, and traversed with success. He understood the Hebrew and French
  languages to perfection, and had an intimacy with the best authors of
  Greece and Rome superior to what I have ever known in any Dissenting
  minister from my own experience.”

Under his judicious guidance matters now went more smoothly: indeed, the
eighteen or twenty years which followed constituted the golden age of
the Academy, and the brightest and happiest of these were the six years
of Priestley’s stay.

In the year following Taylor’s death the academy moved from the house by
“Mersey’s gentle current,” then, we are told, an uncontaminated stream
noted for its salmon, to the new Academy, which is described as a brick
building in a quiet and secluded court, with stone copings and a clock
and bell turret in the centre, of no great architectural beauty, but not
unpleasing with its quaint, old-world look. This, too, was celebrated in
verse by Mrs Barbauld:

  “Lo! there the seat where science loved to dwell,
  Where liberty her ardent spirit breathed.”

It exists no longer: municipal improvements have swept it away, and all
that remains of Academy Place are the houses at right angles to it where
dwelt Priestley and Enfield. As to emoluments, the tutors had each £100
a year from the subscription fund, and “with respect to dwelling houses,
are to be at their own expenses.” Poor students were exempted from the
payment of fees, but richer ones paid two guineas yearly to each of the
tutors, who might take boarders into their houses at £15 per annum for
those who had two months’ vacation, and £18 per annum for those who had
no vacation, exclusive of “tea, washing, fire and candles.”

If the living at Warrington was plain and the thinking high, there was a
degree of decorous gaiety, of refinement, of social charm, “easy, blithe
and debonnair,” pervading the little community, which, as may be gleaned
from the memoirs and reminiscences of the period, impressed and
delighted everyone who was witness of it. Among those who had pleasant
memories of the place were John Howard, the philanthropist, whose works
on prison reform were printed by Eyres of Warrington under Dr Aikin’s
superintendence;[6] William Roscoe, the author of the _Lives of Lorenzo
de Medici_ and _Leo the Tenth_, who first learned to care for botany
from his visits to the Warrington Botanical Gardens, and whose first
work, _Mount Pleasant_, was also printed there; Pennant, the naturalist,
whose _British Zoology_ and _Tour in Scotland_ first saw the light at
Warrington; Currie, the biographer of Burns, etc.

  “The tutors in my time,” wrote Priestley—(“they knew better,” said
  Miss Lucy Aikin, “than to usurp the title of _Professors_”)—“lived in
  the most perfect harmony. We drank tea together every Saturday, and
  our conversation was equally instructive and pleasing. I often thought
  it not a little extraordinary that four persons who had no previous
  knowledge of each other should have been brought to unite in
  conducting such a scheme as this, and be all zealous _Necessarians_ as
  we were. We were all, likewise, Arians; and the only subject of much
  consequence on which we differed respected the doctrine of atonement,
  concerning which Dr Aikin held some obscure notions. The only Socinian
  in the neighbourhood was Mr Seddon of Manchester, and we all wondered
  at him.”

Miss Lucy Aikin, the granddaughter of Priestley’s colleague, the niece
of Mrs Barbauld, and the accomplished authoress of _Memoirs of the
Courts of Queen Elizabeth_, and the biographer of Addison, has left us a
little sketch of that society in which the early years of her girlhood
were spent.

  “I have often thought,” she says, “with envy of that society. Neither
  Oxford nor Cambridge could boast of brighter names in literature or
  science than several of those Dissenting tutors—humbly content, in an
  obscure town and on a scanty pittance, to cultivate in themselves, and
  communicate to a rising generation, those mental acquirements and
  moral habits which are their own exceeding great reward. They and
  theirs lived together like one large family, and in the facility of
  their intercourse they found large compensation for its deficiency in
  luxury and splendour.”

But we learn there were other attractions in the Warrington circle
besides the tutors and their philosophy.

  “We have a knot of lasses just after your own heart,” writes Mrs
  Barbauld (then Miss Aikin) to her friend Miss Belsham, “as merry,
  blithe and gay as you would wish them, and very smart and clever—two
  of them are the Miss Rigbys.”

We are further told the beautiful Miss Rigbys, whose father was
“provider of the Commons,”

  “made wild work with the students’ hearts; and the trustees had to
  insist that they must be removed from the house if any students stayed
  there. And so for a time they were, but Mrs Rigby’s health fortunately
  broke down, and the young ladies were brought back again.

  “Rousseau’s _Heloise_, too, had much to answer for, and at its
  appearance (so Miss Aikin tells me), ‘everybody instantly fell in love
  with everybody’; and then it was that our poetess, after winning the
  hearts of half the students, some one or two of whom for her sake
  lived (I am informed) ‘sighing and single,’ was carried off to
  Palgrave by that queer little man whom henceforth she was to ‘honour
  and obey.’”

On another occasion she wrote:—

  “Somebody was bold enough to talk of getting up private theatricals.
  This was a dreadful business! All the wise and grave, the whole
  tutorhood, cried out, ‘It must not be!’ The students, the Rigbys and,
  I must add, my aunt, took the prohibition very sulkily, and my aunt’s
  Ode to Wisdom was the result.”

Those wicked Miss Rigbys must have made the life of that “dullish
person,” Mr Seddon, who acted as _Rector Academiæ_, and who was
responsible for law and order, well-nigh insupportable. On one
occasion—perhaps it was to celebrate their return—they asked some of the
students to supper.

  “Hams and trifles, and potted beef and other luxuries, were placed
  before them, and the students were asked to help the ladies. But the
  hams were made of wood, and the trifles were plates of soap-suds, and
  the potted beef was potted sawdust, and the other luxuries were
  equally tempting and equally tantalising.”

Nor were the Rector’s feelings likely to be soothed by such letters as
the following from Mr Samuel Vaughan of Bristol, sent during the Long
Vacation, complaining bitterly of the disappointment he felt as regards
the Academy, and the “too great latitude allowed the students”:—

  “My son Ben’s expenses during ten months’ absence amounted to £112,
  and Billy’s to £59, 12s.; this should nearly suffice for the
  University, and of itself would to many be a sufficient objection, but
  in my opinion the consequence of the expense is abundantly more
  pernicious, as it naturally leads to Levity, a love of pleasure,
  dissipation and affectation of smartness; diverts the attention, and
  prevents the necessary application to serious thoughts and Study. When
  I sent my Sons so great a distance, it was with a view to preserve
  them from the reigning contagion of a dissipated age, to imbibe good
  Morals, acquire knowledge, and to obtain a manly and solid way of
  thinking and acting, but they are returned with high Ideas of modern
  refinements, of dress and external accomplishments, which if ever
  necessary, yet resumed by them much too soon. As one instance, they
  think it a Sight to appear without having their hair Frissened, and
  this must be done by a dresser, even upon the Sabbath. No person can
  more wish for, and encourage an open and Liberal way of thinking and
  acting than myself, yet do I think that day should be kept with
  Ancient Solemnity, for to say the least, the reverse gives offence to
  many serious good People, and exhibits an Ill example at a time when
  Religion is at so low an ebb as to stand in need of every tie and prop
  (whether real or imaginary) for its support, therefore any relaxation
  or Innovation under sanction of such a seminary as yours may have the
  most pernicious tendency, for when restraints even in unessentials are
  removed they are frequently a clue or gradation to the fashionable
  levity of the Age and Irreligion.”

That the _mauvais quart d’heure_ under the ancestral roof was not
without its chastening influence on the improvident Ben is evident from
the fact that the same post brought the perturbed Rector a letter from
him protesting that—

  “none of us have been vicious but only gay.... Our recreations have
  been innocent though expensive, but they imagine that they cannot be
  expensive without being criminal.”

However, he expresses contrition and promises amendment, fears that he
has encroached on Mr Seddon’s goodness and forbearance, and that his
conduct may have acted injuriously on the Academy, etc., etc., and winds
up by saying that Mr Wilkes will probably get a pardon from the Crown,
and that he (Mr Vaughan) does not believe that he ever wrote the _North
Briton_—No. 45.

Alas! Mr Benjamin Vaughan’s contrition was very short-lived, for next
year that “affectionate but distressed pupil” had to confess to the
Rector that he dare not show his accounts to his father.

  “My father, last year, was extremely angry at an account I gave him of
  £112 spent at Warrington—the present sum is £179. Bill disclaims all
  share in the expenses above £60. _I_ then have £119 to answer for; _I_
  who promised such a strict amendment, and who had as many excuses last
  year as at present. I had more journeys, more music, and yet,
  according to his knowledge, have spent £7 more in my present year of
  pennance, repentance, etc.!”

And yet Mr Benjamin Vaughan became a useful member of society, had a
seat in the House of Commons, and had the honour of having dedicated to
him the _Lectures on History and General Policy_, to which is prefixed
an “Essay on a Course of Liberal Education for Civil and Active Life,”
to which he had listened as a pupil and which Priestley published in

Whatever may have been Mr Seddon’s worries he had at least the
consolation of a loving wife, although, it is to be feared, she too
suffered much at the hands of those terrible Miss Rigbys, and even from
Miss Aikin, who was somewhat of a quiz. The daughter of an equerry to
Frederick Prince of Wales, she was a very fine lady, and, says Mr
Bright, “spelt abominably.”

  “Among the Seddon papers is a letter which her husband wrote to her
  during a short absence in 1766. On the back of his letter Mrs Seddon
  prepares a rough draft of an answer to her truant husband. The word
  which puzzles her most is ‘adieu,’ and she has to spell it over three
  times before she can determine whether the ‘e’ comes before the ‘i,’
  or the ‘i’ before the ‘e.’ The knotty point is at last settled and the
  fair copy written out; and this, too, her careful husband put away and
  preserved among his papers.”

I cannot resist quoting the last paragraph of this most charming but
laborious letter.

  “Let me hear of you as often as you can; for it does me more good, and
  has a much stronger _a_ffect upon my spirits than either e_a_ther or
  salvolatiley. Adieu, my dear, _e_xcept the sincerest and best wishes
  for your health and happiness, of one whose greatest pleasure in this
  world is in subscribing herself your truely affectionate wife.—J.

  “_P.S._—I shall want cash before you return; what must I doe? Pray put
  me in a way how to replenish. Remember me propperly to everybody.”

We cannot, however, concern ourselves at greater length with the life at
the Warrington Academy, or dwell much longer on the fortunes of that
seat of learning. To do full justice to the theme would need indeed the
witty pen which in “Cranford” delineated the social life of a
neighbouring town with such inimitable grace and charm.

The worthy Mr Seddon died in 1770, and was succeeded as Rector by Dr
Enfield, a man distinguished for elegance of taste and sound literary
judgment, and who, on the death, ten years later, of Dr Aikin, became
chief tutor. For various reasons, which it is unnecessary to state here,
the trustees eventually decided to remove the Academy to Manchester, and
Warrington knew it no more after 1786.

During the twenty-nine years of its existence in the latter place some
400 pupils had passed through it—many of them noteworthy men in their
day, such as Percival; the Aikins; Rigby of Norwich; Estlin of Bristol;
Sergeant Heywood; Hamilton Rowan, the Irish rebel; Malthus, the
political economist; Lord Ennismore; Sir James Carnegie of Southesk; Mr
Henry Beaton, Mr Pendlebury Houghton and Dr Crompton.

  “In looking over the students’ names,” says Mr Bright, “I cannot but
  notice how many of their descendants are still the staunch supporters
  of the liberal dissent which was the distinguishing characteristic of
  the Academy. Some families, like the Willoughbys of Parkham, whose
  last lord was educated at Warrington, have now died out; others, like
  the Aldersons of Norwich, of which family the late judge was a member,
  have seceded to the Church of England. But we still find united the
  lineal and the theological successors of the Academy’s students in the
  Rigbys, the Martineaus, and the Taylors of Norwich, the Heywoods and
  the Yateses of Liverpool, the Potters of Manchester, the Gaskells of
  Wakefield, the Brights of Bristol, the Shores of Sheffield, the
  Hibberts of Hyde, and the Wedgwoods of Etruria.”

                               CHAPTER IV

  Priestley marries—Is ordained—His Essay on Education—Lectures on
  History and General Policy—His Chart of Biography—Becomes a Doctor of
  Laws of the University of Edinburgh—His visits to London—Makes the
  acquaintance of Dr Price, Canton and Benjamin Franklin—Writes the
  _History of Electricity_—Is elected into the Royal Society.

Priestley’s entrance into the Warrington community affected his career
in more ways than one. In the first place, the improvements in his
worldly prospects enabled him to marry; and in the second he was led to
turn his attention to Natural Philosophy, to which, as we have seen, he
was already predisposed. The selection of his wife and of his studies
influenced the subsequent course of his life profoundly. Why he should
have left the sprightly, witty “Nancy Aikin, with the blue and laughing
eyes,” to be “carried off to Palgrave by that queer little man” whom she
had to “honour and obey” as a school-mistress, is one of those
inscrutable dispensations which the hymeneal god delights in. That they
were the best of friends and had pleasure in each other’s society is
abundantly evident. Priestley warmly admired her genius: she confessed,
indeed, that he first encouraged her to try her ’prentice hand at
poetry. She was about eighteen when Priestley first appeared at
Warrington, and about ten years his junior, a girl of many personal
attractions and, as demonstrated by her writings, of great mental
ability and accomplishments. She had been carefully educated by her
father, had a considerable knowledge of modern literature, and was
fairly well-read in that of Greece and Rome. Her first volume of poems
was printed at Warrington in 1773 and ran through four editions in a
year. It was said of her that she roused the admiration of Fox and
Johnson, the envy of Rogers and Wordsworth, and the jealousy of
Goldsmith; Scott declared she made a poet of him; Brougham eulogised her
in the House of Lords, and Mrs Oliphant has paid her a beautiful tribute
in her _Literary History of England_.

Miss Lucy Aikin, in her edition of her aunt’s collected works, gives a
charming description of her as she appeared in early womanhood:—

  “She was at this time possessed of great beauty, distinct traces of
  which she retained to the latest period of her life. Her person was
  slender, her complexion exquisitely fair, with the bloom of perfect
  health; her features were regular and elegant, and her dark blue eyes
  beamed with the light of wit and fancy.”

Not less charming is the testimony of Henry Crabb Robinson, who, in
1805, wrote:—

  “Mrs Barbauld bore the remains of great personal beauty.[7] She had a
  brilliant complexion, light hair, blue eyes, a small, elegant figure,
  and her manners were very agreeable, with something of the generation
  then departing.... Mrs Barbauld is so well known by her prose writings
  that it is needless for me to attempt to characterise her here. Her
  excellence lay in the soundness and acuteness of her understanding,
  and in the perfection of her taste. In the estimation of Wordsworth
  she was the first of our literary women, and he was not bribed to this
  judgment by any especial congeniality of feeling or by concurrence in
  speculative opinions. I may here relate an anecdote connecting her and
  Wordsworth, though out of its proper time by many, many years; but it
  is so good that it ought to be preserved from oblivion. It was after
  her death that Lucy Aikin published Mrs Barbauld’s collected works, of
  which I gave a copy to Miss Wordsworth. Among the poems is a Stanza on
  Life, written in extreme old age. It had delighted my sister, to whom
  I had repeated it on her deathbed. It was long after I gave these
  works to Miss Wordsworth that her brother said, ‘Repeat me that Stanza
  by Mrs Barbauld.’ I did so. He made me repeat it again. And so he
  learned it by heart. He was at the time walking in his sitting-room at
  Rydal with his hands behind him, and I heard him mutter to himself, ‘I
  am not in the habit of grudging people their good things, but I wish I
  had written those lines.’”[8]

Priestley’s choice fell upon Mary Wilkinson, who was of about the same
age as Anna Letitia Aikin. She was the daughter of a well-to-do
ironmaster at Wrexham, with whose family he had become acquainted in
consequence of the youngest son, William, having been a pupil at his
school in Nantwich. He certainly had no reason to regret his choice,
whatever Mary Wilkinson might have felt at times in the “cloudy weather”
she was destined to go through. It is, of course, idle to speculate “on
what might have been if things had been otherwise.” The world, at all
events, was the richer for the _Hymns in Prose_ and the _Early Lessons_,
on which Mr Rochemont Barbauld’s young charges and many succeeding
generations of children were nurtured.

From a worldly point of view Priestley’s marriage was not without its
advantages to him, immediate and prospective. Mary Wilkinson had all the
force of character, and much of the mental and intellectual ability of
her father and her brother John, both of whom had a considerable share
in the development of the iron industry in this country. Of them Miss
Meteyard, in her _Life of Wedgwood_, writes:—

  “John Wilkinson and his father Isaac played no unimportant part in the
  vast industrial movement of their time. Isaac invented and first
  brought into action the steam-engine blast at his iron works near
  Wrexham. John, at the same place, as also at Bradley Forge, in
  Staffordshire, executed all the ponderous castings for the steam
  engines required in the Cornish mines, as well as those for Boulton
  and Watt when they first commenced business.”

The father was ruined in one of the commercial crises of which the times
were fertile. Of the son we shall hear more as this history proceeds. He
was one of the truest and staunchest of the many true and staunch
friends Priestley possessed.[9]

Priestley was married in 1762, Mr Threlkeld, one of the students at the
academy, who subsequently became a well-known Presbyterian divine,
notable for his linguistic attainments and his extraordinary power of
memory, being his groomsman. Whatever might be Mr Threlkeld’s faculty of
recollection it went wholly astray on this occasion, for he became so
absorbed in the study of a Welsh Bible he found beside him in the pew
that he became quite oblivious to the onerous duties of his office.

Of his marriage Priestley characteristically writes:—

  “This proved a very suitable and happy connection, my wife being a
  woman of an excellent understanding, much improved by reading, of
  great fortitude and strength of mind, and of a temper in the highest
  degree affectionate and generous; feeling strongly for others, and
  little for herself. Also, greatly excelling in everything relating to
  household affairs, she entirely relieved me of all concern of that
  kind, which allowed me to give all my time to the prosecution of my
  studies and the other duties of my station.”

All accounts we have of Mary Wilkinson are to the same effect. Her
great-granddaughter, Madame Belloc, writes:—

  “It is a tradition in the family that Mrs Priestley once sent her
  famous husband to market with a large basket, and that he so acquitted
  himself that she never sent him again! Mrs Priestley was extremely
  intelligent and original. Lord Shelburne once found her sitting on the
  top of a pair of steps, clad in a great apron, and vigorously pasting
  on a new wallpaper. She received him with calm composure. There is a
  good portrait of her as an elderly lady in a cap, curving her hand
  round her ear to assist her hearing. She must have herself insisted
  upon being painted in this unusual attitude. She looks like a person
  of excellent understanding, whose mind has been much improved by

Before he committed himself to matrimony Priestley took another step
hardly less momentous.

What it was may be gleaned from the following extract of a letter dated
May 1, 1762, to Seddon, who was away at the time on one of his frequent
begging expeditions on behalf of the Academy:—

  “I am seriously preparing for _ordination_. As all things in this
  world are uncertain, I think it a point of prudence not to omit
  anything that may possibly be of advantage to me, if ever it be my lot
  to be obliged to have recourse to the ministry for the whole or any
  part of my subsistence, particularly as I am going to have a dearer
  and more important stake in this world than I have ever yet had in it.
  I can sincerely say I never knew what it was to be anxious on my own
  account, but I cannot help confessing I begin to feel a good deal on
  the account of another person. The hazard of bringing a person into
  difficulties which she cannot possibly have any idea or prospect of
  affects me, at times, very sensibly.”

The earliest known portrait of Priestley is of this period. It
represents him as a slender young man with sloping shoulders, with a
keen, intelligent eye and an expression not unlike that caught by Fuseli
at a later time; his long neck is swathed in the ample folds of a white
neck-cloth, and he wears a full-bottomed wig.[10] During Priestley’s
residence at Warrington an artist was employed in making silhouettes of
the principal inhabitants. Many of these were published by Dr Kendrick
in his _Profiles of Warrington Worthies_. In that of Priestley the
features are delicate and almost feminine: the full-bottomed wig is very
much in evidence.

Priestley brought his young bride to “the good dwelling-house neatly
filled up, handsomely sashed to the front, with a flight of five steps
to the entrance, three storeys high, four rooms on a floor, cellared
under, with convenient kitchens, yards and out-offices,” over which she
was to preside for the next five years. To add to her responsibilities
she was promptly charged with the care of the gay but improvident Mr Ben
Vaughan and his brother Bill, and “received the very moderate
compensation of fifty pounds a year for each son.”

Priestley’s house in Academy Street still remains, and the fact that he
occupied it until his removal in 1767 is commemorated by a bronze tablet
affixed to its walls by the members of the Warrington Society on the
hundredth anniversary of his death.

There is a local tradition that an adjoining building was used by him as
a laboratory, although it is difficult to find any grounds for the
belief. There is no mention of experimental work at this time in his
memoirs or correspondence, and whatever he might have done in this
direction for his own amusement or the instruction of his pupils needed
no special apartment.[11]

Lectures on chemistry were, however, given at the academy by Matthew
Turner, who is believed to have first turned Priestley’s attention to
that science. Turner, who practised medicine in Liverpool, although an
eccentric man, applied his knowledge of chemistry to industrial
purposes, and he is credited with having revived the art of

Priestley was now wholly engrossed in the business of teaching, and
although nominally tutor in the classical languages and in the _belles
lettres_, there was practically no department of education in which at
one time or other during the half-dozen years of his sojourn at
Warrington he was not called upon, or did not offer, to instruct. He
enlarged and published the _Grammar_ to which reference has already been
made, and began a treatise on “The Structure and Contemporary State of
the English Language,” the material for which he eventually gave to
Croft of Oxford for the compilation of his _Grammar_ and _Dictionary_.

But what particularly impressed him as a practical educationist was that
whilst most of his pupils were designed for situations in civil and
active life, every article in the plan of their education was adapted to
the learned professions. There was hardly any medium between an
education for the counting-house, consisting of writing, arithmetic and
merchants’ accounts, and a method of instruction in the abstract
sciences. He proceeds to trace how this came about:—

  “Formerly none but the clergy were thought to have any occasion for
  learning. It was natural, therefore, that the whole plan of education,
  from the Grammar School to the finishing at the University, should be
  calculated for their use. If a few other persons, who were not
  designed for Holy Orders, offered themselves for education, it could
  not be expected that a course of studies should be provided for them
  only. And, indeed, as all those persons who superintended the business
  of education were of the clerical order, and had themselves been
  taught nothing but the rhetoric, logic and school-divinity, or civil
  law, which comprised the whole compass of human learning for several
  centuries, it could not be expected that they should entertain larger,
  or more liberal, views of education; and still less that they should
  strike out a course of study for the use of men who were universally
  thought to have no need of study, and of whom few were so sensible of
  their own wants as to desire any such advantages.

  “Besides, in those days, the great ends of human society seem to have
  been but little understood. Men of the greatest rank, fortune and
  influence, and who took the lead in all the affairs of State, had no
  idea of the great objects of wise and extensive policy, and therefore
  could never apprehend that any fund of knowledge was requisite for the
  most eminent stations in the community. Few persons imagined what were
  the true sources of wealth, power and happiness in a nation. Commerce
  was little understood, or even attended to; and so slight was the
  connection of the different nations of Europe that general politics
  were very contracted. And thus, men’s views being narrow, little
  previous furniture of mind was requisite to conduct them.”

These paragraphs constitute the introduction to an _Essay on Education_
which Priestley published in 1764, with the object of drawing attention
to the necessity for a reform in our educational system. Although
written nearly a century and a half ago, Priestley’s main contention
that the education of youth should be directed and adapted to the
circumstances and needs of the time in which they live is just as valid
now as then, and needs the same insistence. He points out that “the
severe and proper discipline” of the Grammar Schools, which are
subservient to the Universities, is become a “topic of ridicule.”

  “This is certainly a call upon us to examine the state of education in
  this country, and to consider how those years are employed which men
  pass previous to their entering into the world; for upon this their
  future behaviour and success must, in a great measure, depend. A
  transition, which is not easy, can never be made with advantage; and
  therefore it is certainly our wisdom to contrive that the studies of
  youth should tend to fit them for the business of manhood; and that
  the objects of their attention, and turn of thinking in younger life,
  should not be too remote from the destined employment of their riper
  years. If this be not attended to they must necessarily be mere
  novices upon entering the great world, be almost unavoidably
  embarrassed in their conduct, and, after all the time and experience
  bestowed upon their education, be indebted to a series of blunders for
  the most useful knowledge they will ever acquire.”

  “That man is a friend of his country who observes and endeavours to
  supply any defects in the methods of educating youth.”

At the risk of being called “a projector, a visionary, or whatever
anybody pleases,” he proceeds to show “how to fill up with advantage
those years which immediately precede a young gentleman’s engaging in
those higher spheres of active life in which he is destined to move.”

It will be observed that Priestley is not dealing with any scheme of
national or universal education adapted to every youth in the community.
He is concerned only with the young man who is destined for a station in
which his conduct may considerably affect the liberty and the property
of his countrymen, and the riches, the strength and the security of his
country; and who is within the influence of an honourable ambition to
appear as a legislator in the State, or of standing near the helm of
affairs and guiding the secret springs of Government—in a word, that
class which the universities thought they alone were specially concerned

  “That the parents and friends of young gentlemen destined to act in
  any of these important spheres may not think a liberal education
  unnecessary to them, and that the young gentlemen themselves may enter
  with spirit into the enlarged views of their friends and tutors, I
  would humbly propose some new articles of academical instruction, such
  as have a nearer and more evident connection with the business of
  active life, and which may therefore bid fairer to engage the
  attention and rouse the thinking powers of young gentlemen of an
  active genius. The subjects I would recommend are ‘Civil History,’ and
  more especially the important objects of ‘Civil Policy’; such as the
  theory of laws, government, manufactures, commerce, naval force, etc.,
  with whatever may be demonstrated from history to have contributed to
  the flourishing state of nations, to rendering a people happy and
  populous at home and formidable abroad; together with those articles
  of previous information, without which it is impossible to understand
  the nature, connections and mutual influences of those great objects.”

He then gives plans and detailed syllabuses of three distinct courses of
lectures subservient to this design. The first is on the “Study of
History in General”; the second on the “History of England,” and the
third on the “Present Constitution and Laws of England.” This scheme is
so daring an innovation on the established order of things 150 years
ago, that Priestley then proceeds with care to anticipate, examine and
rebut the objections which may be urged against it. There is no
necessity to dwell upon them now. Much water has flowed under the Folly
Bridge or past the “Backs” since Priestley’s essay was penned, and
everything for which he contended, and even more, now finds its proper
place in the educational schemes of all our universities, ancient and
modern. But it is significant of the condition of things in the older
seats of learning in the middle of the eighteenth century, that he
should have to urge his project apologetically and to labour points
which to-day appear almost axiomatic. The essay is characteristic of the
author in the breadth and liberality of its tone, in its declaration of
the real functions and objects of government, and in its note of true
patriotism. Of course it was fiercely attacked, among others, by
Griffiths in the _Monthly Review_, but it enlisted Josiah Wedgwood’s
sympathy with its author and formed the basis of a friendship as cordial
and enduring as it was useful.

The lectures on “History” and on “General Policy” were subsequently
published, with a dedication, as already stated, to Mr Benjamin Vaughan.
It is interesting at this juncture to learn the views Priestley
inculcated on the youth of Warrington concerning other matters which,
like the education problem and the poor, are always with us.

In the 51st lecture on “General Policy” we read:—

  “The gain of the merchants, it is said, is not always the gain of the
  country in general. If, for instance, a merchant imports foreign goods
  by which the consumption of national manufactures is hurt, though the
  merchant should be gainer by those goods, the State is a loser. As, on
  the other hand, a merchant may export the manufactures of his own
  country to his own loss and the nation’s gain. But if the merchants be
  gainers, the consumers, that is those for whose use manufactures are
  established, having a power of purchasing or not at pleasure, must be
  so too. And if, after sufficient trial, it be found that merchants
  importing foreign goods can sell these cheaper than the manufactures
  can be bought at home, it is an indication that it is not for the
  interest of the nation at large to encourage such manufactures.

  “Though exportation makes a nation rich, we are not to judge of the
  quantity of riches which a nation gains by trade from exportation
  only, but the importation must also be considered. If these exactly
  balance one another nothing can be said to be gained or lost, just as
  a person is not the richer for selling a quantity of goods if he buy
  to the same amount. Nay, though the exportation be lessened, if the
  importation be lessened more than in proportion, it proves an increase
  of gainful trade, notwithstanding the decrease of exportation. This,
  however, is estimating the value of commerce by the mere increase of
  money. But a nation may flourish by internal commerce only, and what
  is _external_ commerce between two nations not united in government
  would be internal if they should come under the same government. In
  every fair bargain the buyer and the seller are equally gainers,
  whether money be accumulated by either of the parties or not.

  “It is a great mistake to confound the king’s revenue with the gain a
  nation makes by its trade. No man would presume to say it is more for
  the public benefit that the nation should expend a million or more
  every year with foreigners, in order to raise a hundred thousand
  pounds to the revenue by the customs, than to save that million or
  more within ourselves and to raise only the hundred thousand pounds
  the other way. But Ministers of State are apt to estimate the value of
  everything to the country by the gain it brings, and that immediately
  to themselves....

  “The legislature of any country has seldom interfered in the affairs
  of commerce, but commerce has suffered in consequence to it, owing to
  the ignorance of statesmen, and even of merchants themselves,
  concerning the nature of trade. And indeed the principles of commerce
  are very complicated and require long experience and deep reflection
  before they can be well understood....

  “Most politicians have injured commerce by restricting, confining or
  burthening it too much; the consequence of which has been that by
  aiming at great immediate advantage they have cut off the very springs
  of all future advantage. The inconveniences which have arisen to a
  nation from leaving trade quite open are few, and very problematical
  in comparison of the manifest injury it receives from being cramped in
  almost any form whatsoever....

  “Mr Colbert, a man of great probity, knowledge and industry ... would
  have done better to have listened to the advice of an old merchant,
  who being consulted by him about what he should do in favour of trade,
  said, ‘_Laissez nous faire_.’”

In another place he says:—

  “The happiness of all nations, therefore, as one great community, will
  be best promoted by laying aside all national _jealousy of trade_, and
  by each country cultivating those productions or manufactures which
  they can do to the most advantage; and experience, in a state of
  perfect liberty, will soon teach them what those are. In this state of
  things the only advantage will be on the side of industry and
  ingenuity, and no man or nation ought to wish it to be anywhere else.”

With regard to questions of political and civil liberty, the theory of
the progress of law, the influence of religion on civil society, the
connection of modes of religion with forms of government, the teaching
is precisely what we should expect in such a hot-bed of liberal dissent
as the Warrington Academy. With regard to the connection between civil
government and religion he says:—

  “The principal sufferer by this alliance between the Church and the
  State is religion itself, that is, the members of society as
  professors of religion and deriving advantages from it. For when it is
  thus guarded by the State, if it be faulty or wants reformation, it
  must long continue so. The professors of it, being interested in its
  support, will do everything in their power to prevent any alteration,
  though it should be ever so much wanted....

  “It is alleged, in favour of these establishments, that religion has
  an influence on the conduct of men in this life. No doubt it has, as
  it connects the hopes of a future life with good behaviour in this.
  But this is done in all sects of Christians, and as much in those
  which are reprobated by the State as those which are encouraged by it.
  Besides, if this was the true cause of attachment to Christian
  establishments, the friends of them would be much more jealous of
  unbelievers than they are of sectaries, which does not appear to be
  the case.... One would think that Christian Governments might content
  themselves with establishing the Christian religion in general without
  confining themselves to any particular mode of it. But so far is this
  from being the case, that by the present laws of this country a man
  who denies the doctrine of the Trinity, which has no more imaginable
  connection with the good of the State than the doctrine of
  Transubstantiation, is deemed a blasphemer and sentenced to suffer
  confiscation of goods and imprisonment....

  “In all other countries the established religion is that of the
  majority of the people, and the writers in defence of it vindicate it
  on this principle, viz., that it is the religion of the majority,
  whatever that be. But in Ireland we have a most remarkable exception
  to this rule. There the established religion is not that of the
  majority but of a small minority of the people, perhaps not more than
  that of one in ten of the inhabitants. That so flagrant an abuse of
  power should exist, and under a Government pretending to justice, and
  even to liberality, is barely credible.”

Here again much water has flowed under the bridges since these words
were penned, but the bread which Priestley cast upon the stream, as well
as that upon which he nurtured the young gentlemen of the Warrington
Academy, has, we recognise, not been wholly wasted. In regard to what he
considered other anomalies, the State still takes upon itself a “great,
dangerous and unnecessary burthen” by undertaking the care of religion.
From the remains of superstition the clergy are still considered as a
distinct order of men in this country, and they are in a manner
represented in Parliament by the bishops having seats in the House of
Lords. “From which,” he says, “if they had a just sense of the nature of
their office, and consulted their true dignity, they would retire of
their own accord. At present their seat in the House only flatters their
pride and gives the minister so many votes.”

In regard to other items of political and social development, it is
noteworthy that Priestley was a consistent opponent of national
education as we understand it to-day, on the ground that in his judgment
it was inimical to liberty and the natural rights of parents. His
position, in fact, was very similar to that taken up by a considerable
and influential section of Liberal Dissenters prior to 1870.

Whilst at Warrington he also gave lectures on the “Theory of Language,”
on the “Laws and Constitutions of England,” and on “Oratory and
Criticism”—all of which were subsequently published, and which may still
be read with profit, despite Lord Brougham’s sneering allusion to the
adventurous tutor afflicted with an incurable stutter who, having never
heard any speaking save in the pulpits of meeting-houses, promulgated
rules of eloquence and of jurisprudence to the senators and lawyers of
his country. The adventurous tutor with the incurable stutter even
taught Elocution, also Logic and Hebrew for a time, and one year he gave
a course of lectures on Anatomy.

Whilst at Warrington he published a _Chart of Biography_, exhibiting by
lines and spaces the succession of the eminent men in every age and of
every profession, with the relative length of their lives, and in such
manner that at any given epoch it could be seen not only who flourished
in it, but how all their ages stood with respect to one another, who
were a man’s contemporaries, how far any of them was before him, or how
far after him, in the order of their births or deaths.

The _Chart of Biography_ procured for its compiler the degree of Doctor
of Laws of the University of Edinburgh.

It has been said of Priestley that he was not a man who made friends. If
it is meant by this that he was essentially a self-centred recluse, who
sought his relaxation in change of occupation, or only within his own
family circle, the statement gives a wholly imperfect idea of the man
and is very wide of the truth.

In reality he was one of the most gregarious and most easily
approachable of individuals, a man of strong, active human sympathies
and of much social charm. There is abundant evidence of this in the
testimony of his contemporaries; it is illustrated by numberless
anecdotes, and is reflected in almost every letter of his

It was, doubtless, under the impulse of the social instincts of his
nature that, whilst at Warrington, he was led to begin the practice of
spending one month in every year in London. This, remarks his son, was
of great use to him. He saw and heard a great deal. A new turn was
frequently given to his ideas. New and useful acquaintances were formed,
and old ones confirmed. London then, as now, was the centre of the
intellectual life of the kingdom and the Royal Society the seat of its
scientific activity. To a man of Priestley’s versatility and eagerness,
whose curiosity ranged practically over every department of human
knowledge, these annual visits were a sort of intellectual tonic and
gave a powerful stimulus to his activity.

On the first of them he made the acquaintance of men who, in their
several capacities, proved to be true and valuable friends, notably, Dr
Richard Price, Mr Canton, and Dr Benjamin Franklin.

Dr Price, a philosopher, and an eminent nonconformist divine, and one of
the leading Arians of his time, is best known by his work on morals, and
by his writings on financial and political questions. Among these, his
papers in the _Philosophical Transactions_ on “Life Insurance” and on
the “Proper Method of Calculating the Values of Contingent Reversions,”
are specially noteworthy. His pamphlet on the National Debt is said to
have influenced Pitt in establishing the Sinking Fund for its
extinction, and that on the “Policy of the War with America” to have
contributed to the declaration of independence by the Americans. His
liberal opinions gained him the friendship and patronage of Lord
Shelburne. The acquaintance with Priestley soon ripened into a lasting
friendship, which was in nowise disturbed by the controversy on
materialism and necessity in which they subsequently engaged. Price and
Priestley held similar views as to the French Revolution, and both were
denounced with equal fierceness by Burke. Price died in the spring of
1791, and his funeral sermon was preached by Priestley, who succeeded
him in the care of the Gravel Pit Meeting at Hackney. He was a man for
whom Priestley ever entertained the warmest feelings of friendship on
the ground of his amiable simplicity, his truly Christian spirit,
disinterested patriotism and true candour.

John Canton, a notable schoolmaster in his day, is best known for his
electrical inquiries and for his work on the compressibility of water,
and his name is associated with the phosphorescent substance first
obtained by him by calcining oyster shells with flowers of sulphur.

Among the Canton papers in the possession of the Royal Society is a
letter from Seddon to Canton introducing Priestley, in which the latter
is described as the author of _A Chart of Biography_ and of an _Essay on
Education_, and in which the writer says of the bearer:—

  “You will find him a benevolent, sensible man, with a considerable
  share of learning. Besides the studies which belong to his profession,
  he has a taste for Natural Philosophy which will not render him less
  agreeable to you.”

That Priestley greatly enjoyed and profited by his Christmas in London
is evident from the terms in which he refers to it in a letter to Canton
under date February 14, 1766.

  “The time I had the happiness to spend in your company appears upon
  revision like a pleasing dream. I frequently enjoy it once again in
  recollection, and ardently wish for a repetition of it. I wish, but in
  vain, that it may ever be in my power to return in kind your generous
  communication of philosophical intelligence and discoveries.”

He concludes the letter by expressing a desire to become a Fellow of the
Royal Society.

Benjamin Franklin, journeyman printer and journalist, statesman and
diplomatist, was about sixty years old when Priestley, then a man of
little more than half his age, first made his personal acquaintance. The
Royal Society, which had formerly ridiculed the discoveries which have
given Franklin his undisputed position as one of the most eminent
natural philosophers of his time, had paid him, although still a British
subject, the distinguished compliment of making him an honorary fellow.
At the time of Priestley’s coming to town he was occupied with the great
struggle on behalf of the American Colony which ended in the defeat of
the Stamp Act, and his famous examination before a Committee of
Parliament had made him an object of great popular interest. During the
eight or nine succeeding years in which Franklin remained in England his
acquaintance with Priestley grew into the closest friendship, and there
can be no question that the friendship reacted powerfully on Priestley’s
work as a political thinker and as a natural philosopher. Indeed, it may
be truthfully said that Franklin made Priestley into a man of science.

As the result of this intercourse with Canton and Franklin, Priestley
offered to compile what he called “a distinct and methodical account” of
the history of discoveries in electricity, provided he could be supplied
with the necessary books. Franklin warmly seconded the proposal, and
undertook, with the assistance of friends, to furnish all existing
literature on the subject. As a matter of fact almost the whole of the
historical account in Priestley’s book is taken from the _Philosophical
Transactions of the Royal Society_, which was then the chief source of
information concerning electrical science, inasmuch as the English
electricians of that period, in addition to their own original papers,
which were both numerous and important, introduced into the
_Transactions_ detailed accounts of all the principal books on
electricity published abroad. In putting together his work, Priestley,
having, as he says, a pretty good machine, was led to endeavour to
ascertain several facts which were in dispute, and was thus led by
degrees into a large field of experimental inquiry, in which he spared
no expense that he could possibly afford. One of the most important of
his discoveries is that charcoal is a good conductor. He describes
coloured circles produced by receiving discharges from 21 square feet of
glass on metal plates. When an electrical battery is discharged light
bodies placed near the electric circuit are moved. Priestley ascribes
this motion to what he calls the force of the lateral explosion, and he
conceives it to depend upon the sudden elasticity given to the air. He
found that a long circuit conducts much worse than a short circuit, even
when the conductors are the same; also, that when the circuit contains
an imperfect conductor a spark passes to bodies near, no electricity
being communicated.

The work necessitated much correspondence with Franklin and others of
his philosophical friends in London, and much of his leisure was devoted
to his own experimental observations. Nevertheless, the book was
completed in less than a year. Hasty and imperfect as it was, “_The
History and Present State of Electricity_. With Original Experiments,
illustrated with Copperplates,” was well received and ran through five
editions in its author’s lifetime. Its publication at once stamped
Priestley as a man of science; it secured him recognition as such in
scientific circles at home and abroad, and was the immediate cause of
his election, on June 12, 1766, into the Royal Society. The growing
interest in the subject induced him to put together a _Familiar
Introduction to the Study of Electricity_, which had also a considerable
measure of success and was the means of popularising a knowledge of the
main facts then known concerning Frictional Electricity. Priestley was
instrumental in reviving the use of large electrical machines and
batteries. The first of the large machines for which Nairne became
famous was constructed in consequence of a request made to Priestley by
the Grand Duke of Tuscany to procure for him the best machine that could
be made in England. One of his machines, which figured in his _History_,
and also in his _Familiar Introduction_, is in the possession of the
Royal Society.

                               CHAPTER V

  Goes to Leeds as minister of the Mill Hill Chapel—Resumes his studies
  in Speculative Theology—_The Theological Repository_—Becomes a
  Unitarian—Priestley as a controversialist—His Theory and Practice of
  Perspective—His literary characteristics—Begins his inquiries on
  Pneumatic Chemistry—His invention of soda-water—Receives the Copley
  Medal of the Royal Society.

Although Priestley lived in philosophic contentment with his lot at
Warrington, happy in his occupations and in the society of congenial
colleagues, the circumstances of the Academy were not fortunate. The
institution never wholly recovered from the unhappy differences between
the trustees and the first head of the Educational Staff, and in time
many of the subscribers grew lukewarm in their support. Priestley had a
remarkable power of adapting himself to his environment; he was one of
the most even-tempered of men and had a capacity for being cheerful that
would have extorted admiration even from Socrates. “But,” says Miss
Aiken, “the Alma Mater of Warrington was ever a niggardly recompense of
the distinguished abilities and virtues which were enlisted in her
service.” One hundred pounds a year, with a house and a few
boarders—hungry lads at £15 a year, exclusive of washing and
candles—meant little towards the _res angusta domi_. Moreover, little
Sarah Priestley had made her appearance, and the uncertain prospects
which were before that young lady, coupled with the condition of her
mother’s health, which was not wholly satisfactory at Warrington, led
him to contemplate the expediency of giving up school-mastering and of
resuming his profession of the ministry. Accordingly he was induced to
accept an invitation to take charge of the congregation of Mill Hill
Chapel, at Leeds, where he was already pretty well known, and thither he
removed in 1767.[12]

Although it was no part of his duty to preach when at Warrington, he had
from choice continued the practice, and wishing to maintain the
character of a Dissenting minister, he had, as we have already seen,
been ordained whilst there. His tendency to stammer was still a
difficulty. Indeed, whilst at Nantwich it was so marked that he had
almost resolved to abandon the calling. By reading aloud and very slowly
every day, and by taking pains, he in some measure got the better of his
defect, but he never wholly overcame it.

At Leeds he found a liberal, friendly and harmonious congregation, to
whom his services, of which he was not sparing, were very acceptable.
There, he says, he had no unreasonable prejudices to contend with, so
that he had full scope for every kind of exertion. His activity and zeal
in the special duties of his office led him to prepare and print
catechisms for the young and to form various classes of catechumens and
to instruct them in the principles of religion. He also published
discourses on “Family Prayer,” on the “Lord’s Supper” and on “Church
Discipline,” some of which were not altogether to the liking of members
of the Established Church. Indeed, the first of his controversial pieces
was written in answer to some angry remarks on one of these discourses
written by a clergyman in the neighbourhood.

His return to the active duties of the ministry naturally induced him to
resume the studies in Speculative Theology which had occupied him at
Needham but which had been in large measure interrupted by the business
of teaching at Nantwich and Warrington. He now published his _Institutes
of Natural and Revealed Religion_, and began the publication of _The
Theological Repository_, a collection of papers on theological
questions, contributed by himself and a number of neighbouring ministers
and others. The work eventually extended to six volumes, three of which
were printed whilst he was at Leeds.

  “_The Theological Repository_,” says the Rev. Charles Wicksteed,[13]
  “was one of those publications which will always appear from time to
  time in every body in which there is much activity and much freedom of
  thought. It had, however, a very slender circulation, and was very
  little read by any but theologians of the Liberal school. Indeed, it
  discussed questions which were viewed with terror by many even of the
  Liberal school itself, because it, in fact, purposely deserted the
  beaten track of opinion and opened out those questions on which
  difficulties began to be felt, or on which fresh light was wanted. It
  aimed at collecting the contributions of free, independent and
  thoughtful minds—_towards_ correct ultimate decisions, without
  pretending itself to furnish those decisions. This is ever a position
  which the bigoted violently resent, which the unlearned cannot
  understand, on which even the candid and liberal often look with a
  dissatisfaction not unmingled with fear, but which is,
  notwithstanding, the essential preliminary of correct settled opinion
  in every age of thought. It is a position often assumed by the most
  contemplative and the most thoroughly honest men of the generation,
  but one which is never understood until the generation which produced
  and neglected it is passed. If there were not this neutral ground on
  which inquiring spirits can meet, beyond the hackneyed and settled
  points in which alone the many are interested, there would be an end
  to thought, which in a short time would prove an end to active,
  healthy, influential and tested truth.”

Shortly after his removal to Leeds, Priestley avowed himself an adherent
to that school of theological opinion which its enemies associate with
the name of Fausto Sozzini; that is, he became what has been called a
_humanitarian_, or a believer in the doctrine that Jesus Christ was in
nature solely and truly a man, however highly exalted by God.

Sozzini’s doctrine brought down upon its teacher the ill-will of a
Cracow mob; his house was wrecked, his books and manuscripts destroyed,
his life threatened, and he was driven from the city. Two hundred years
later the Socinian Priestley went through precisely the same experience.
Wrecking the homes, pillaging the property and injuring the persons of
heresiarchs might seem an extraordinary way of identifying oneself with
the doctrine of the gentle author of the Sermon on the Mount if history
had not made us pretty familiar with such spectacles. At Leeds, as
already stated, Priestley published the first of the series of
controversial pieces on religion and politics which ceased only with his
death. By some strange irony of fate this man, who was by nature one of
the most peaceable and peace-loving of men, singularly calm and
dispassionate, not prone to disputation or given to wrangling, acquired
the reputation of being perhaps the most cantankerous man of his time,
who delighted in tilting against established usage, and whose hand,
Ishmael-like, was against every man’s. By sheer force of circumstances
he became an indefatigable pamphleteer, apparently ever ready to
vindicate the cause of civil and religious liberty, to champion the
principles and conduct of Dissenters, and to attack what he considered
the inveterate prejudices of the prevailing religion of his countrymen.

As a controversialist his methods were beyond reproach, and the arts of
casuistry were wholly foreign to his character. He was so obviously
sincere and fair-minded that he frequently overcame prejudice and
disarmed criticism by his unconscious unwritten appeal to the finer
instincts of his adversaries. He made many enemies but he won far more
friends: the enemies were for the most part men whom history willingly
lets die; the friends were of every sect, and some of them were among
the chief glories of the eighteenth century.

The following characteristic letter to his friend, Miss Aiken, is
interesting as illustrating the action of the active, eager mind which,
as its owner says, found scope for every kind of exertion at this period
of his life:—

                                               “Leeds, _13th June 1769_.

  “Dear Miss Aikin,—You will be surprised when I tell you I write this
  on the behalf of _Pascal Paoli_ and the brave _Corsicans_, but it is
  strictly true. Mr Turner of Wakefield, who says he reads your poems,
  not with admiration, but astonishment, insists upon my writing to you
  to request that a copy of your poem, called _Corsica_, may be sent to
  Mr Boswell, with permission to publish it for the benefit of those
  noble islanders. He is confident that it cannot fail greatly to
  promote their interest, now that a subscription is open for them, by
  raising a generous ardour in the cause of liberty and admiration of
  their glorious struggle in its defence. Its being written _by a lady_,
  he thinks, will be a circumstance very much in their favour and that
  of the poem, but there is no occasion for Mr Boswell to be acquainted
  with your name unless it be your own choice some time hence. I own I
  entirely agree with Mr Turner in these sentiments, and therefore hope
  Miss Aikin will not refuse so reasonable a request, which will, at the
  same time, lay a great obligation on her friends in England and
  contribute to the relief of her own heroes in Corsica. Consider that
  you are as much a general as Tyrtæus was, and your poems (which, I am
  confident, are much better than his ever were) may have as great an
  effect as his. They may be the _coup de grace_ to the French troops in
  that island, and Paoli, who reads English, will cause it to be printed
  in every history of that renowned island.

  “Without any joke, I wish you would comply with this request. In this
  case you have only to send a corrected copy to me at Leeds, to Mr
  Johnson in London, and I will take care to introduce it to the notice
  of Mr Boswell by means of Mr Vaughan or Mrs Macauley, or some other of
  the friends of liberty and Corsica in London. The sooner this is done
  the better. Mr Turner regrets very much that it was not done some time
  ago. I shall not tell you what I think of your poems for more than
  twenty reasons, one of which is that I am not able to express it. We
  are now all expectation at the opening of every packet from

  “My piece on Perspective is nearly ready for the press. Come and see
  us before it is quite printed, and I will engage to teach you the
  whole art and mystery of it in a few hours. If you come a month after
  I may know no more about the matter than anybody else. I am about to
  make a bolder push than ever for the _pillory_, the _King’s Bench
  Prison_, or something worse. Tell Mr Aikin he may hug himself that I
  have no connection with the Academy. On Monday next Mr Turner and I
  set out on a visit to the Archdeacon at Richmond.

  “With all our compliments to all your worthy family, I am, with the
  greatest cordiality, your friend and admirer,

                                                         “J. Priestley.”

Pasquale de Paoli, the Corsican patriot, whose struggles to secure the
independence of his native island had excited warm sympathy in England
and had enlisted the pen of Boswell, was at that time a refugee in this
country, having been defeated, after a stubborn resistance, by the
French under Count Vaux. The poem on “Corsica,” one of the earliest and
most beautiful of Miss Aikin’s productions, was written in 1768, at
about the period of the appearance of Boswell’s _Account of Corsica_,
but it was first published in 1773 in a collection of her poems, of
which four editions, the first in 4to, the three others in 8vo were
printed in that year.

The copy seen by Priestley was in manuscript. Whether it was shown to
Boswell or to Paoli is not recorded.

The piece on Perspective was published in 1770, under the title of “_A
Familiar Introduction to the Theory and Practice of Perspective_. With
copperplates.” He gave as his reason for writing it that, having
occasion to make drawings of philosophical instruments and apparatus he
had felt the need of a work treating of perspective. It will be seen in
the various editions of his works that the words “Priestley del” are
engraved at the left-hand corner of the copperplates of the
illustrations. The book had a considerable sale and was frequently
recommended by drawing-masters. A second edition appeared in 1782 and it
continued to be used well into the nineteenth century.

It is interesting to note that the first printed account of the use of
india-rubber for the purpose of erasing lead pencil marks occurs in the
preface to this work. It ran thus:—

  “Since this work was printed off I have seen a substance excellently
  adapted to the purpose of wiping off from paper the marks of black
  lead pencil. It must therefore be of singular use to those who
  practise drawing. It is sold by Mr Nairne, mathematical instrument
  maker, opposite the Royal Exchange. He sells a cubical piece of about
  half an inch for three shillings, and he says it will last several

The “bolder push than ever for the _pillory_, the _King’s Bench Prison_,
or something worse,” probably refers to the anonymous pieces which he
published in support of “Wilkes and Liberty” in the course of the
memorable struggle between the freeholders of Middlesex and the House of
Commons concerning the rights of free representation by parliamentary
constituencies which at that time agitated the country. Wilkes had
shortly before the date of this letter been fined by the King’s Bench
£1000 and sentenced to twenty-two months’ imprisonment for publishing an
impious libel, and had been expelled from the House of Commons—to which,
however, he was repeatedly returned by the electors of Middlesex.

The Richmond visit to Archdeacon Blackburne, whose son had been at the
Warrington Academy, is memorable from the circumstance that on its
occasion Priestley first met Theophilus Lindsey, with whom he contracted
an intimate and lasting friendship, which greatly influenced the lives
and fortunes of both, and of which Priestley subsequently wrote that it
had been a source of more real satisfaction to him than any other
circumstance in his whole life.

The busy pamphleteer found time, however, to put together more ambitious
works than _Wilkes and Liberty_. The success of his _History of
Electricity_ induced him to attempt the compilation of the history of
all the branches of experimental philosophy, and he made proposals to
publish a _History of Discoveries Relating to Vision Light and Colours_.
The subscription to this work was not, however, sufficient to induce him
to proceed, and after a considerable outlay in the purchase of books and
other material the project was abandoned.

Priestley was, perhaps, the most industrious bookmaker of his age.
Boswell indeed dubbed him a “literary Jack-of-all-Trades,” and he was
busy with proof-sheets even to the day of his death. In fact, the
closing act of his life, before he put his hand to his face to hide the
last flicker of the vital spark, was to make a correction in a
proof-sheet. He usually composed in shorthand, and much of this work was
done in the family circle, sitting by the parlour fire. Conversation
never disturbed him. Although his style is somewhat prolix, his language
is simple and direct and his meaning invariably clear. Charges that his
writings were hasty performances in nowise disturbed him. Indeed, he was
wont to say that some of those that were most hurriedly done were among
those that were best received. Whatever might have been the time he
spent on their composition he was confident that more would not have
contributed to their perfection in any essential particular, and about
anything farther he was never very solicitous. His object, he said, was
not to acquire the character of a fine writer but of a useful one.
Pecuniary gain was never the chief object of his work; several of his
books, indeed, were written with the prospect of certain loss. Many
writers before and since the great lexicographer have left us what they
have imagined to have been the secret of their success as literary
craftsmen, and have told us of the means by which they gained their
proficiency of composition and mastery of style. Priestley has no
pretensions to be considered a master of style; nevertheless, it is of
interest to learn how he acquired facility in writing the simple,
unaffected English which characterises his literary work. It came, he
said, from a practice of committing to writing as much as he could of
the sermons he heard, and of composing much in verse. With regard to the
sermons, he says:—

  “This practice I began very early, and continued it until I was able
  from the heads of a discourse to supply the rest myself. For, not
  troubling myself to commit to memory much of the amplification, and
  writing at home almost as much as I had heard, I insensibly acquired a
  habit of composing with great readiness, and from this practice I
  believe I have derived great advantage through life, composition
  seldom employing so much time as would be necessary to write in long
  hand anything I have published.”

As regards the verses, he says:—

  “I was myself far from having any pretension to the character of a
  poet, but in the early part of my life I was a great versifier, and
  this, I believe, as well as my custom of writing after preachers,
  mentioned before, contributed to the ease with which I always wrote

If Priestley was not himself a poet, he was at least the cause of poetry
in another. Miss Aikin once told him that it was the perusal of some
verses of his that first induced her fledgling muse to soar—so that, he
adds, “this country is in some measure indebted to me for one of the
best poets it can boast of.” No example of Priestley’s abilities as a
“versifier” has come down to us, but in that dainty little sketch of the
Warrington society, by Miss Lucy Aikin, from which we have already
quoted, allusion is made to his accomplishment.

  “Both _bouts rimés_ and _vers de société_ were in fashion with the
  set. Once it was their custom to slip anonymous pieces into Mrs
  Priestley’s work-bag. One ‘copy of verses,’ a very eloquent one,
  puzzled all guessers a long time; at length it was traced to Dr
  Priestley’s self.”

To the man of science the special interest of Priestley’s connection
with Leeds arises from the fact that he began there that fruitful series
of inquiries, relating to what he called “the doctrine of air,” which
eventually raised him to the position of one of the greatest chemical
discoverers of his time. The house in which he first lived whilst at
Leeds was in Meadow Lane and adjoined the public brew house of Jakes and
Nell. He was thereby led, in the outset, to amuse himself by making
experiments on the “fixed air,” or carbonic acid, which is largely
produced in the process of fermentation. When he removed to his second
house in Basinghall Street, on the site where the schools now stand, he
was under the necessity of making the fixed air for himself; and, as he
distinctly and faithfully notes in his various publications on the
subject, he was led to make one experiment after another until he
became, what he does not state, the greatest master of pneumatic
chemistry of his age.

When he began these experiments he tells us he knew very little of
chemistry. Indeed, he says he had in a manner no idea on the subject
before his attention was drawn to it in a course of lectures delivered
in the Warrington Academy by Dr Turner of Liverpool. But, as he says, on
the whole, this circumstance was no disadvantage to him, as in the
situation in which he found himself he was led to devise an apparatus
and processes of his own adapted to his peculiar views. If he had been
previously accustomed to the usual chemical processes he might not have
so easily thought of any other; and without new modes of operation he
thinks he should hardly have discovered anything materially new. His
means did not permit him to purchase expensive apparatus. Indeed, this
very circumstance materially contributed to his success by making his
apparatus so simple that his experiments could be readily repeated and
their accuracy thereby ensured.

His first contribution to Pneumatic Chemistry was published in 1772. It
was a small pamphlet on a method of impregnating water with fixed air,
which, being immediately translated into French, excited a great degree
of attention to the subject, and this was much increased by the
publication of his first experimental paper in the _Philosophical
Transactions of the Royal Society_.

Priestley’s earliest method of impregnating water with carbonic acid
consisted in exposing it to the gas above the surface of fermenting
wort. This process was no doubt accompanied with many disadvantages and
the resulting solution could not have been very palatable. Later on he
adopted the method originally employed by Lane in 1709, although
apparently in ignorance of Lane’s paper in the _Philosophical
Transactions_, of making the gas from chalk and sulphuric acid and
leading it directly into the water by means of a flexible tube provided
with an intercepting bladder to retain any solid or acid substance
projected from the effervescent materials in the generating flask. At
about this period increased attention was being paid to the question of
the supply of drinking water in the Navy, owing to the publication of
Irving’s plan of making fresh water from sea-water by distillation, and
Priestley conceived the idea that if some ready means could be devised
of impregnating water with carbonic acid on shipboard the solution might
be useful as a preventive of sea scurvy.

Priestley brought his idea to the knowledge of the Duke of
Northumberland, and showed a sample of the impregnated water to Sir
George Savile, who introduced him to Lord Sandwich, at that time First
Lord of the Admiralty in Lord North’s Administration. The Board of
Admiralty thought the matter was of sufficient importance to ask for a
report from the College of Physicians, and Priestley was requested to
appear before that body in order to explain and illustrate his process.
The report from the College was favourable, and in consequence two
war-ships were fitted with the apparatus.

The idea that scurvy, in common with other so-called putrid diseases,
was due to an insufficient supply of “fixed air” in the animal economy,
and that it might be cured by the administration of that gas, originated
with Dr Macbride about the middle of the eighteenth century, shortly
after Black had established the individuality of the gas, and it was
current doctrine with the faculty at the time of Priestley’s
experiments. The reasons which Macbride gave in support of his
hypothesis are contained in his _Essays on Medical and Philosophical
Subjects_, and are sufficiently ingenious to be worth stating as
characteristic of much of the therapeutics of the time. Macbride assumed
that substances held together, and acquired the quality of firmness, by
virtue of containing a “cementing principle,” which ensured the perfect
cohesion of their constituent particles, and that as putrefaction
resulted in the decomposition and disintegration of substances,
putridity was connected with the loss or disappearance of this cementing
or cohering principle. He found that “fixed air” was invariably produced
when animal and vegetable substances putrefy, that a greater amount of
fixed air is produced from vegetable substances than from animal
substances, and that animal and vegetable matters putrefy more rapidly
when mixed than when separate, and yield more fixed air in conjunction
than apart.

On the basis of these observations Macbride proceeded to explain the
well-established fact that a diet mainly composed of animal food is apt
to produce sea scurvy, the remedy for which is a sufficient supply of
fresh vegetables, by assuming that the virtue of the vegetables was due
to the evolution of a greater amount of carbonic acid in the process of
digestion, the fixed air so liberated in the body counteracting, by its
antiseptic powers, putridity in the circulating fluids.

We are not here concerned with the subsequent history of so-called
ærated or soda-water, as it came to be called, but it is worth noting
that Priestley’s account of his process contains one remark which is not
without significance in view of latter-day developments. He says:—

  “I do not doubt but that, by the help of a condensing engine, water
  might be much more highly impregnated with the virtues of the Pyrmont
  spring, and it would not be difficult to contrive a method of doing

The manufacture of these waters was subsequently taken up by Priestley’s
friend and _satellite_, as he called himself, Richard Bewley, of Great
Massingham, an apothecary, and the inventor of the well-known “mephitic
julep.” Bewley appears to have discovered that the addition of a small
quantity of carbonate of soda to the water enabled it to absorb and
retain an increased quantity of carbonic acid, and to him, therefore, is
due the credit of first making what was long called “acidulous
soda-water.” The receipt for its manufacture and use, given by Henry of
Manchester, is sufficiently quaint to be worth reproduction:—

  “To prepare Mr Bewley’s julep dissolve three drachms of fossil alkali
  in each quart of water, and throw in streams of fixed air till the
  alkaline taste be destroyed. This julep should not be prepared in too
  large quantities, and should be kept in bottles very closely corked
  and sealed. Four ounces of it may be taken at a time, drinking a
  draught of lemonade or water acidulated with vinegar or weak spirit of
  vitriol, by which means the fixed air will be extricated in the

It is hardly to be supposed that the Royal Society Club in 1773 adopted
all the social manners and customs of the period. Nevertheless, its
members, who were among the most influential fellows of the Society,
were evidently greatly impressed with the merits of Priestley’s
soda-water, since the Council of the Society were moved to reward its
discoverer with the Copley Medal.

In making the award on St Andrew’s Day 1773, Sir John Pringle, then
President of the Royal Society, said:—

  “For having learned from Dr Black that this fixed or mephitic air
  could in great abundance be procured from chalk by means of diluted
  spirits of vitriol; from Dr Macbride that this fluid was of a
  considerable antiseptic nature; from Dr Cavendish that it could in a
  large quantity be absorbed by water; and from Dr Brownrigg that it was
  this very air which gave the briskness and chief virtues to the Spa
  and Pyrmont waters; Dr Priestley, I say, so well instructed, conceived
  that common water impregnated with this fluid alone might be useful in
  medicine, particularly for sailors on long voyages, for curing or
  preventing the sea scurvy.”

To-day the Copley Medal is regarded as the highest award which it is in
the power of the Society to bestow, and certainly no man starts his
scientific career by acquiring it—not even for so signal an invention as
that of soda-water.

Whilst Priestley was at Leeds a proposal was made to him that he should
accompany Captain Cook in his second voyage to the South Seas. It
probably arose from his connection with the Admiralty in the matter of
his invention. He tells us that as the terms were very advantageous he
consented to it, the heads of his congregation agreeing to keep an
assistant to supply his place during his absence. But Mr Banks informed
him that he was objected to by some clergymen in the Board of Longitude,
who had the direction of this business, on account of his religious
principles. “Whether,” said Huxley, in commenting on this circumstance
in the course of his speech at the unveiling of the Priestley statue in
Birmingham in 1874, “these worthy ecclesiastics feared that Priestley’s
presence among the ship’s company might expose his Majesty’s sloop
_Resolution_ to the fate which aforetime befell a certain ship that went
from Joppa to Tarshish, or whether they were alarmed lest a Socinian
should undermine that piety which in the days of Commodore Trunnion so
strikingly characterised sailors, does not appear.” The appointment was
given to Reinhold Forster, a man, as Priestley fully admitted, far
better qualified for the position.

                               CHAPTER VI

  Becomes literary companion to Lord Shelburne—Goes abroad—His visit to
  Paris—His scientific work at Calne and in London—Continues his
  theological and metaphysical studies—His growing unpopularity—Leaves
  Lord Shelburne.

Priestley continued at Leeds for about six years. Although very happy
there he was tempted to leave Mill Hill Chapel to enter the service of
Lord Shelburne. How he was regarded by his flock may be gleaned from the
addresses which were presented to him on the eve of his departure;
these, together with his own farewell letter, are still preserved among
the Chapel books of Mill Hill. But a stipend of one hundred guineas a
year, and a house which was not adequate to contain a family now
increased by the birth of two sons, and with no possibility of making
any provision for them in the event of his death, induced him to accept
Lord Shelburne’s proposals.

Lord Shelburne, afterwards first Marquis of Lansdowne, one of the most
enlightened of the many politicians who sought to direct the destinies
of this kingdom during the stormy times of the last thirty years of the
eighteenth century, had been Secretary of State in Pitt’s administration
of 1766, but had been dismissed from office in 1768 on account of his
conciliatory policy towards America, and at this particular time was
living in retirement at Bowood. Under these circumstances his lordship,
a man of culture and fond of literature, sought the companionship of
some kindred spirit. Through the good offices of Dr Price, a mutual
friend, he was led to make Priestley so generous an offer—viz., two and
a half times his Leeds salary, a pleasant house at Calne in the summer
and a house in town during the winter, and a retiring allowance for life
should their connection be dissolved—that our philosopher was
constrained to accept a position which, despite its perils and possible
constraints, was so alluring. The engagement seems to have given
satisfaction also to Priestley’s friends, if we may judge from the
following extract from one of Wedgwood’s letters to his partner at
Etruria, Thomas Bentley of Liverpool, one of the founders of the
Warrington Academy:—

  “I am glad to hear of Dr Priestley’s noble appointment, taking it for
  granted that he is to go on writing and publishing with the same
  freedom he now does, otherwise I had much rather he still remained in
  Yorkshire.” Meteyard, II. 451.

In their political sentiments, and in their views on the great questions
which at that time divided parties, the two men had much in common. Lord
Shelburne was certainly not unaware of Priestley’s political
proclivities, and the pamphlet he had written at Franklin’s instigation
on the American question probably expressed his Lordship’s own
sentiments. At the same time Priestley was under no obligation to serve
Lord Shelburne politically, and there is no evidence that any such
service was either expected or rendered. His office was nominally that
of librarian, but he had little to do in that capacity beyond arranging
and cataloguing the books and numerous manuscripts at Bowood and
Lansdowne House and making an index of Lord Shelburne’s private papers.
Indeed, Lord Shelburne treated him rather as a companion and friend than
as a servant, taking him, in the second year of his engagement, on a
journey through Flanders, Holland and Germany as far as Strasburg, and
spending a month in Paris. The time he spent on the Continent made him
sensible of the benefit of foreign travel, even without the advantage of
much conversation with foreigners. Indeed, he says the very sight of new
countries, buildings and customs of an unfamiliar type, even the very
hearing of a fresh language, however unintelligible, stimulates and
widens the mind and gives it new ideas. He saw everything to the best
advantage and without any anxiety or trouble, and he had an opportunity
of meeting and conversing with every person of eminence wherever he
went, the political characters by Lord Shelburne’s connections and the
literary and scientific ones by his own. One of these was Magellan, or
Magalhæns, a Portuguese Jesuit descended from the great navigator of
that name. He resided in England, where he died in, or shortly before,
1790. He had early information on scientific matters from abroad, and
was frequently employed in procuring English instruments for foreigners.
He was a Fellow of the Royal Society and an active correspondent of
Lavoisier’s, to whom he sent all scientific memoirs published in
England, Priestley’s among the number. Magellan was the subject of a
notable trial at law—one of the last indeed of its kind in England. He
was indicted at the suit of a common informer under the statute against
saying Mass, but the suit, which was heard before Lord Mansfield, was
dismissed on some point of legal informality.

It was, no doubt, mainly through Magellan that Priestley was brought
into the society of that brilliant galaxy of men of science which at
that period was the glory of France. In some respects he was out of
sympathy with this environment, and, as he confesses, soon tired of
Paris. Priestley never obtruded his religious convictions on any company
he might be in; at the same time he never forgot that he was a Christian
and a minister of religion. What is now called Agnosticism was at least
as prevalent during the latter half of the eighteenth century as at any
period of the history of Europe. Priestley tells us that a great part of
the company he saw at Lord Shelburne’s did not really know what
Christianity was, and Lord Shelburne numbered among his friends and
political associates almost all who were intellectually eminent at that
time in this country. He was not unprepared, therefore, to find that all
the philosophers to whom he was introduced at Paris were unbelievers in
Christianity and even professed Atheists. He was told, indeed, by some
of them that he was the only person they had ever met with, of whose
understanding they had any opinion, who professed to believe
Christianity. It was this experience which caused Priestley to write his
_Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever_. He says that as he had
conversed so much with unbelievers at home and abroad he thought he
should be able to combat their prejudices with advantage. Indeed, he was
wont to say that the greatest satisfaction he received from the success
of his philosophical pursuits arose from the genuine weight it gave to
his attempts to defend the principles of Christianity and to free it
from those corruptions which prevent its reception with philosophical
and thinking persons.

Of the many advantages he enjoyed through his connection with Lord
Shelburne, Priestley was always fully sensible. It came to him at the
most opportune period of his career, and in the full tide of his
intellectual vigour. The years he spent in this association were, so far
at least as science is concerned, the most fruitful of his life. Lord
Shelburne was a generous patron, and particularly encouraged Priestley
in his chemical inquiries, affording him ample opportunity for their
prosecution and defraying much of the expense they occasioned. He had
pleasure in witnessing his experiments, and frequently requested him to
exhibit them to his guests, particularly to foreigners, by whom a
knowledge of Priestley’s work was thus spread abroad.

Priestley’s energies were, however, not wholly engrossed by his
scientific labours. Theology and metaphysics still claimed much of his
time, and to this period belongs the concluding portion of his
_Institutes of Natural and Revealed Religion_ and his _Harmony of the
Gospels_, and his _Disquisitions relating to Matter and Spirit_. He also
at this time wrote some _Miscellaneous Observations relating to
Education_, and published his Warrington _Lectures on Oratory and
Criticism_, which he dedicated to his patron’s eldest son, Lord

Certain of these publications occasioned considerable uproar at the time
of their appearance: the outcry indeed was such, he says, as could
hardly have been imagined. He was attacked in almost every newspaper,
and in the greater number of the periodicals, as an unbeliever in
revelation and no better than an Atheist. In the preface to his
_Institutes of Natural and Revealed Religion_ he had been led to
question the principles of Reid, Beattie and Oswald with respect to
their doctrine of _common sense_, which they had made to supersede all
rational inquiry into the subject of religion, and he subsequently
developed the attack in a separate publication. He expressed his belief
in the doctrine of philosophical necessity and his admiration of
Hartley’s theory of the human mind. He had uttered some doubt of the
immateriality of the sentient principle in man, and after giving, as he
says, the closest attention to the subject, he was firmly persuaded that
man is wholly material, and that our only prospect of immortality is
from the Christian doctrine of a resurrection.

Priestley clearly recognised that many of these publications were not
calculated to improve his relations with Lord Shelburne. Indeed, he says
several attempts were made by Lord Shelburne’s friends, though none by
himself, to dissuade him from persisting in them.

He goes on to say that:—

  “In order to proceed with the greatest caution in a business of such
  moment I desired some of my learned friends, and especially Dr Price,
  to peruse the work before it was published, and the remarks that he
  made upon it led to a free and friendly discussion of the several
  subjects of it, which are afterwards published jointly, and it remains
  a proof of the possibility of discussing subjects mutually considered
  as of the greatest importance with the most perfect good-temper and
  without the least diminution of friendship.”

Lord Shelburne’s political enemies were not slow to take advantage of
the outcry raised against Priestley by the orthodox and to strike at the
patron through the philosopher.

It is obvious, from Priestley’s letters to his friends at about this
period, that he was sensible that his relations with Pitt’s Secretary of
State had become somewhat strained, and when he received an intimation
through Dr Price that Lord Shelburne wished to give him an establishment
in Ireland, where he had large property, he interpreted this as
signifying that the Minister desired that their connection should be
severed. They parted amicably, Lord Shelburne continuing to pay him the
promised annuity of £150 until the end of his days, paying it, too,
contrary to the insinuation of his enemies, with perfect punctuality.
That there was no unfriendly feeling on the part of Lord Shelburne at a
separation which seemed to be dictated solely by considerations of
political exigency would appear from the circumstance that a few years
later he sent a common friend to Priestley, who was then settled in
Birmingham, to invite him to resume his old position, accompanying his
request with expressions which left no doubt of the value he set upon
the companionship. Sensible as Priestley was of Lord Shelburne’s
feelings towards him, he was in no mind to return to a situation which
experience had shown might be incompatible with independence.

                              CHAPTER VII

  Removes to London—Declines a pension—Renews his acquaintance with
  Franklin—Goes to Birmingham—Becomes a member of the Lunar Society.

On leaving Calne, Priestley repaired to London. His position was
somewhat precarious, as he had practically nothing but his allowance
from Lord Shelburne to support him. This, although larger than the
stipend he had enjoyed at Leeds, was barely sufficient for his growing
family. Friends however were not wanting to come to his assistance.
Indeed, during his residence at Calne, some of them observing, as they
said, that many of his experiments had not been carried to their proper
extent on account of the expense that would have attended them, proposed
to supply him with whatever sums he should want for that purpose and
named a hundred pounds per annum.

  “This large subscription I declined,” he says, “lest the discovery of
  it (by the use that I should, of course, make of it) should give
  umbrage to Lord Shelburne; but I consented to accept forty pounds per
  annum, which from that time he (Dr Fothergill) regularly paid me from
  the contribution of himself, Sir Theodore Jansen, Mr Constable and Sir
  George Savile.”

This sentence is characteristic of Priestley and of much of his
autobiography. Probably no man with so many enemies had such troops of
friends, and certainly none had so many and such generous benefactors.
And the measure of their beneficence was only equalled by that of
Priestley’s gratitude and sense of obligation. Indeed, he says the chief
object he had in putting together his memoirs was that he thought it
right to leave behind him some account of his friends and benefactors,
and accordingly we find that the incidents in his career are dwelt upon
by him rather with the idea of illustrating his indebtedness to others
than as records of his own achievements.

On his removal to London, where he contemplated resuming his profession
as a teacher, Dr Fothergill and his co-subscribers considerably
increased his allowance for experiments, whilst at the same time other
friends were not less zealous that he should have the means to pursue
his theological studies and to publish the fruits of his labours.

Indeed, all who could in any way assist seemed to vie with one another
in help. Parker, the optician of Fleet Street, supplied him with every
instrument that he wanted in glass, and Wedgwood, the potter, sent him
innumerable retorts, tubes and other articles of clay. Without such
assistance he could not have carried on his experiments, except on a
very small scale and under great disadvantages.

During Lord Rockingham’s administration, and subsequently at the
beginning of that of Mr Pitt, some suggestions were made to provide
Priestley with a pension to assist in defraying the expense of his

He however declined all overtures of this kind, wishing, as he said, to
preserve himself independent of everything connected with the court, and
preferring the assistance of individuals who were lovers of liberty as
well as of science.

His winter’s residence in London threw him constantly into the society
of his old friend Franklin; indeed, he says, as members of the same club
few days passed without their seeing one another, and their friendship
ripened into the closest intimacy.

There can be no doubt that this intercourse with Franklin not only led
Priestley to the study of natural science, but quickened and fostered
his love of civil and political liberty. Priestley in his autobiography
does ample justice to Franklin’s efforts to maintain the union of the
American Colonies with this country.

  “But Franklin,” says Mr Choate (Inaugural address as President of the
  Birmingham and Midland Institute, October 23, 1903), “was more than a
  staunch Loyalist. He was an Imperialist in the most stalwart sense of
  the word, and on a very broad gauge.”

His biographer, Parton, truly says:—

  “It was one of Franklin’s most cherished opinions that the greatness
  of England and the happiness of America depended chiefly upon their
  being cordially united. The ‘country’ which Franklin loved was not
  England nor America, but the great and glorious Empire which these two
  united to form.”

In writing to Lord Kames, he said:—

  “I have long been of opinion that the foundations of the future
  grandeur and stability of the British Empire lie in America; and
  though, like other foundations, they are low and little now, they are
  nevertheless broad and strong enough to support the greatest political
  structure that human wisdom ever yet erected.”

In 1774 he wrote:—

  “It has long appeared to me that the only true British policy was that
  which aimed at the good of the whole British Empire, not that which
  sought the advantage of one part in the disadvantage of the others;
  therefore all measures of procuring gain to the Mother Country arising
  from loss to her colonies, and all gain to the Colonies arising from
  or occasioning loss to Britain, especially where the gain was small
  and the loss was great ... I in my own mind condemned as improper,
  partial, unjust and mischievous, tending to create dissensions and
  weaken that union on which the strength, solidity and duration of the
  Empire greatly depended; and I opposed, as far as my little powers
  went, all proceedings, either here or in America, that in my opinion
  had such tendency.”

Priestley’s testimony is no less explicit. He says:—

  “The unity of the British Empire in all its parts was a favourite idea
  of his. He used to compare it to a beautiful china vase which, if ever
  broken, could never be put together again, and so great an admirer was
  he of the British constitution that he said he saw no inconvenience
  from its being extended over a great part of the globe.”

In the autobiography we further read:—

  “I can bear witness that he (Franklin) was so far from promoting, as
  was generally supposed, that he took every method in his power to
  prevent a rupture between the two countries. He urged so much the
  doctrine of forbearance, that for some time he was unpopular with the
  Americans on that account, as too much a friend to Great Britain. His
  advice to them was to bear everything for the present, as they were
  sure in time to outgrow all their grievances, as it could not be in
  the power of the Mother Country to oppress them long.

  “He dreaded the war, and often said that if the difference should come
  to an open rupture it would be a war of _ten years_, and he should not
  live to see the end of it. In reality the war lasted nearly eight
  years, but he did not live to see the happy termination of it. That
  the issue would be favourable to America he never doubted. The
  English, he used to say, may take all our great towns, but that will
  not give them possession of the country. The last day that he spent in
  England, having given out that he should leave London the day before,
  we passed together without any other company; and much of the time was
  employed in reading American newspapers, especially accounts of the
  reception which the ‘Boston Port Bill’ met with in America; and as he
  read the addresses to the inhabitants of Boston from the places in the
  neighbourhood the tears trickled down his cheeks.”

What Franklin thought of Priestley may be gathered from the following
extract from one of his letters to Vaughan, one of Priestley’s
Warrington pupils, written in October 1788 after his return to America:—

  “Remember me affectionately to the good Dr Price and to the honest
  heretic, Dr Priestley. I do not call him honest by way of distinction,
  for I think all the heretics I have known have been virtuous men. They
  have the virtue of fortitude, or they would not venture to own their
  heresy; and they cannot afford to be deficient in any of the other
  virtues, as that would give advantage to their many enemies; and they
  have not, like orthodox sinners, such a number of friends to excuse or
  justify them. Do not, however, mistake me. It is not to my good
  friend’s heresy that I impute his honesty. On the contrary ’tis his
  honesty that has brought upon him the character of heretic.”

In 1780, at the suggestion of his brother-in-law, John Wilkinson, one of
his truest friends, Priestley was led to take up his residence in
Birmingham. There were many circumstances which made this step
desirable. In Birmingham he had friends prepared to welcome him and
society in every way sympathetic and congenial. Moreover, he was
desirous of resuming his ministerial duties, which had been intermitted
for the past six or seven years, and an opportunity of doing so, with a
congregation not less liberal than he had served at Leeds, offered
itself, owing to the approaching retirement of Mr Hawkes from the charge
of the New Meeting. As regards his philosophical pursuits he had the
convenience of good workmen of every kind and he could count upon the
practical sympathy and interest of men like Watt, his partner Boulton,
Keir, Withering, Wedgwood, Erasmus Darwin, and the Galtons, all at that
time living in Birmingham or in its vicinity. These men and their
friends constituted indeed a cultured society without a parallel in any
other town in the kingdom, except possibly in the Metropolis. The more
eminent of them formed themselves into an association, to which frequent
reference is made in the biographical literature of the period, on
account of the part which it played in the social and intellectual life
of the Midlands.

The Lunar Society of Birmingham appears to have been formed about the
year 1766 by Matthew Boulton and Erasmus Darwin, at that time resident
in Birmingham. The members were about ten or a dozen in number and met
at each other’s houses for dinner once a month on the Monday nearest to
the full moon, in order to have the benefit of its light in returning
home. They were in the habit of sitting down to dinner at two o’clock
and their meeting lasted until eight.

Each member was allowed to bring a friend, and thus it happened that
many distinguished men were recipients, at various times, of the Club’s
hospitality. Among them we find Wedgwood, Sir Joseph Banks, Sir William
Herschel, Smeaton, the builder of the Eddystone Lighthouse; Dr Samuel
Parr, the critic; Afzelius, the teacher of Berzelius; Solander, the
well-known naturalist and traveller; De Luc and other names eminent in
the literary and scientific annals of the century.

As might be supposed from what we know of its founders and their friends
the constitution of the society was on the broadest possible basis. “We
had nothing to do,” says Priestley, “with the _religious_ or political
principles of each other; we were united by a common love of _science_,
which we thought sufficient to bring together persons of all
distinctions—Christians, Jews, Mahometans and heathens, Monarchists and

The invitations issued by the host were usually accompanied by some
intimation of the nature of the impending symposium. Thus Watt writes to
Darwin, under date Jan. 3, 1781:—

  “I beg that you would impress on your memory the idea that you
  promised to dine with sundry men of learning at my house on Monday
  next, and that you will realise the idea. For your encouragement there
  is a new book to be cut up, and it is to be determined whether or not
  heat is a compound of phlogiston and empyreal air, and whether a
  mirror can reflect the heat of the fire. I give you a friendly warning
  that you may be found wanting whichever opinion you adopt in the
  latter question, therefore be cautious. If you are meek and humble,
  perhaps you may be told what light is made of, and also how to make
  it, and the theory proved both by synthesis and analysis.”

The discussions of the philosophic _convives_ were not, however,
confined exclusively to chemistry.

  “The period,” says Mr Carrington Bolton, “was one of great activity in
  the world of science; Laplace was applying his mathematical genius to
  the problems of astronomy; Herschel was sweeping the heavens with his
  gigantic telescopes; Galvani and Volta were laying the foundations of
  a revolution in electricity; Count Rumford in Bavaria was devoting his
  great energy to industrial and social economy; Hatton and Werner were
  geologising in their respective countries; Haüy was systematising the
  innumerable crystalline forms occurring in nature; the Montgolfier
  brothers were experimenting with air-balloons and prophesying the yet
  unsolved problem of aërial navigation; Captain James Cook returned
  from his memorable voyages around the world, full of adventures and
  novelties in nature: the application of steam to the driving of land
  carriages and the propelling of boats was gradually being perfected by
  patience and genius. These, together with the metaphysical and even
  the political questions of the day, must have engrossed the attention
  of the talented friends who dined together at the full moon.”

A picturesque account of the Club is given in Mrs Schimmelpenninck’s
_Memoirs_. Mary Ann Schimmelpenninck (_née_ Galton) was the daughter of
Mr Samuel Galton, a wealthy patron of letters and a man of considerable
intellectual ability. He was interested in scientific pursuits and was a
fellow of the Royal Society. His house at Barr, about seven or eight
miles from Birmingham, was a notable place in the social life of the
district, and the Lunar Society held some of its most delightful
meetings under his hospitable roof, as Mrs Schimmelpenninck recalls. She
thus writes of Dr Priestley:—

  “A man of admirable simplicity, gentleness and kindness of heart,
  united with great acuteness of intellect. I can never forget the
  impression produced on me by the serene expression of his

In his _Memoirs_ Richard Lovell Edgeworth says of the Society that it
consisted of—

  “Men of very different characters, but all devoted to literature and
  science. This mutual intimacy has never been broken but by death, nor
  have any of the number failed to distinguish themselves in science or
  literature. Some may think I ought, with due modesty, to except
  myself. Mr Keir, with his knowledge of the world and good sense; Dr
  Small, with his benevolence and profound sagacity; ... Boulton, with
  his mobility, quick perception and bold adventure; Watt, with his
  strong inventive faculty, undeviating steadiness and bold resources;
  Darwin, with his imagination, science and poetical excellence; and
  Day, with his unwearied research after truth, his integrity and
  eloquence, proved altogether such a society as few men have had the
  good fortune to live with; such an assemblage of friends as fewer
  still have had the happiness to possess and keep through life.”

There can be no doubt that Priestley’s coming to Birmingham contributed
greatly to the interest of the meetings of the Lunar Society and reacted
beneficially on Priestley himself by stimulating his activity and
affording him the sympathy of congenial minds not less interested than
he was in the study of natural science. As each meeting came round he
was certain to find a gathering curious to hear of his latest
experiments and eager to discuss with him their bearing upon the
chemical doctrine of the period.

Priestley’s influence and position in the Society may be inferred from
the circumstance that almost immediately after he joined it Pneumatic
Chemistry became one of the chief topics of discussion. This is amply
demonstrated in the correspondence of its various members, which has
been preserved to us in the biographies of Watt, Wedgwood and others,
and in the scientific letters of Priestley, which have been collected
and edited by Mr H. Carrington Bolton. One direct outcome of this
interest is seen in Watt’s connection with the History of the Discovery
of the Composition of Water. It is reasonably certain that if Watt and
Priestley had not foregathered round the festive board of the Lunar
Society, Watt would not have been stimulated to theorise on the meaning
and true significance of Priestley’s experiments, and as to their
bearing upon the fact that Priestley’s dephlogisticated air (oxygen) and
inflammable air (hydrogen) enter into the composition of water. Watt’s
claim to be considered as the discoverer of the composition of water
rests upon his interpretation of the experimental phenomena made known
to him by Priestley shortly after his arrival in Birmingham. The Water
Controversy—a controversy which keenly excited the entire scientific
world a generation or so ago—may be said to have arisen from the
accident of Priestley’s removal to Birmingham and to his association
with the Lunar Society.

Priestley’s connection with the Society influenced the progress of
chemistry in this country both directly and indirectly. As already
stated, he himself was greatly stimulated to accumulate chemical facts
by his association with men like Boulton, Watt, Wedgwood, Keir, Darwin,
who loved knowledge for its own sake, but who were at the same time
quite alive to the material benefits which they and their fellow-men
might derive from the pursuit of scientific inquiry. The measure of
their interest may be gauged by the extent of their support, and by the
readiness with which they furnished Priestley with the means to carry on
his investigations. Priestley not only freely communicated to them the
results of his labours, but he incidentally fixed their attention on a
class of phenomena which, more than any other, were calculated to afford
an insight into the real nature of chemical change, and to lead to a
rational explanation of chemical phenomena.

Priestley was not consciously a casuist, but there can be no question
that the interpretation which his active and ingenious mind occasionally
led him to place upon his work not only served to blind himself, but was
the means of obscuring the truth for a time from others. We have only to
read the correspondence, already more than once alluded to, to find
ample proof that such was the case. In a letter to Wedgwood, of March
30, 1781, Boulton writes:—

  “We have long talked of phlogiston without knowing what we talked
  about; but now that Dr Priestley hath brought the matter to light we
  can pour that element out of one vessel into another; can tell how
  much of it by accurate measurement is necessary to reduce a calx to a
  metal, which is easily done, and without putting that calx into
  contact with any visible thing. In short, this goddess of levity can
  be measured and weighed like other matter. For the rest, I refer you
  to the doctor himself.”

In the following year (March 21, 1782) we find Priestley also writing to

  “Before my late experiments, phlogiston was indeed almost given up by
  the Lunar Society, but now it seems to be re-established.”

How difficult it was to convince Priestley may be seen from the
following extract from a letter to his friend Franklin, who was then in
Paris, written at about the same time:—

                                           “Birmingham, _June 24, 1782_.

  “Please to inform the Duc de Rochefoucauld, whose civilities to me I
  remember with pleasure, that my experiments are certainly inconsistent
  with Mr Lavoisier’s supposition of there being no such thing as
  phlogiston, and that it is the addition of air, and not the loss of
  anything, that converts a metal into a calx. In their usual state
  calces of metals do not contain air, but that may be expelled by heat,
  and after this I reduce them to a perfect metallic state by nothing
  but inflammable air, which they imbibe _in toto_, without any
  decomposition. I lately reduced 101 ounce measures of this air to two
  by calx of lead, and that small remainder was still inflammable. I
  explain Mr Lavoisier’s experiments by supposing that _precipitate per
  se_ [mercuric oxide] contains all the phlogiston of the metal mercury,
  but in a different state; but I can show other calces which also
  contain more phlogiston than the metals themselves. That mercury in
  its metallic state does contain phlogiston or inflammable air is
  evident from the production of nitrous air by the solution of it in
  spirits of nitre, and I make _nitrous air_ from nothing but _nitrous
  vapour_ and inflammable air; so that it indisputably consists of these
  two ingredients. I have already ascertained the proportion of
  inflammable air that enters into the composition of lead, tin, copper
  and silver, and am proceeding with the other metals as fast as I can.
  When the whole is completed I shall give you a further account of it.

  “I am exceedingly concerned to find that it is so difficult a thing to
  make _peace_; but I hope before the campaign is over all parties will
  have had enough of _war_, and be sensible that they will gain nothing
  by continuing it. If I had any voice in the business, the prospect of
  seeing you in this country would be a strong additional motive to
  accelerate the negotiations.

  “With the greatest respect and every good wish.—I am, dear sir, yours
                                                          J. Priestley.”

There were already many indications prior to 1780 that men were
beginning to be troubled as to the sufficiency of Stahl’s generalisation
to account for the rapidly-accumulating mass of facts which the
application of quantitative chemistry to the study of natural phenomena
was bringing to light. Priestley’s advent in Birmingham certainly
retarded by the weight of his authority the growth in heterodoxy in that
particular among the members of the Lunar Society, and indirectly
therefore all whom they could influence.

The following letter from Keir is typical of many which passed between
the members of the Society in reference to Priestley’s work and of the
discussions which it occasioned.

                              Keir to Priestley.

  “The more we discover of Nature, the further we are removed from the
  conceit of our being able to understand the operations.

  “I wish M. Berthollet and his associates would relate their facts in
  plain prose, that all men might understand them, and reserve their
  poetry of the new nomenclature for their theoretical commentaries on
  the facts.

  “I have wished much to call on you to hear of the progress of your
  experiments, but have been much indisposed with the rheumatism. I long
  to know what acids you get with the other inflammable airs. If you get
  different acids from the inflammable air made from sulphur and water,
  that made from marine acid and copper (for I would avoid iron on
  account of its plumbago and carbon), and that made from charcoal and
  water:—I say, if these acids are different (suppose, according to my
  notions, vitriolic, marine and fixed air), then will you not be
  obliged to admit that there is not one inflammable but many
  inflammables, which opinion you now think as heterodox as the
  Athanasian System.

  “However, there are wonderful resources in the dispute about
  Phlogiston, by which either party can evade, so that I am less
  sanguine than you are in my hopes of seeing it terminated. One
  consolation remains, that in your experiments you cannot fail of
  discovering something perhaps of as great or greater importance for us
  to know.”

Nevertheless, even in the Club itself there was at least one man who
came under the influence of Priestley, but who eventually emancipated
himself, and this was Withering, who, we are informed, read to them “a
humorous piece in verse entitled ‘The Life and Death of Phlogiston,’
which was long remembered for its clever treatment and pointed wit.”

That Priestley’s influence still reigned in the Club, even down to 1803,
may be inferred from the introduction to his essay, “The Doctrine of
Phlogiston Established”—the last of his scientific papers—in which he
says, “And now that Dr Crawford is dead, I hardly know of any person,
except my friends of the Lunar Society of Birmingham, who adhere to the
doctrine of Phlogiston.”

As regards the history of the Lunar Society there is little more to
tell. One by one its members submitted themselves to the arrest of the
“fell sergeant,” and eventually Keir, Watt, and Boulton, the founder,
were the only survivors, and its meetings were gradually discontinued.

  “But,” says its historian, “the influence exerted by the Society did
  not die; it had stimulated inquiry and quickened the zeal for
  knowledge of all who had come within its influence, and this spirit
  diffused and propagated itself in all directions.”

Leonard Horner, who visited Soho in 1809, thus refers to the continued
moral influence of the association:—

  “The remnant of the Lunar Society,” he says, “and the fresh
  remembrance in others of the remarkable men who composed it, are very
  interesting. The impression which they made is not yet worn out, but
  shows itself to the second and third generation, in a spirit of
  scientific curiosity and free inquiry, which even yet makes some stand
  against Toryism and the love of gain.”

                              CHAPTER VIII

  Priestley at Birmingham—His theological work there—His love of
  literature—His catholicity—His personal characteristics.

In 1784 Priestley brought out a revised edition of the work on which his
fame as a man of science mainly rests, under the title of “_Experiments
and Observations on Different Kinds of Air_; and other branches of
Natural Philosophy connected with the Subject. In three volumes, being
the former six abridged and methodised. With many Additions. London,
1790. 3 vols. 8vo.”

In a letter to his friend Keir we find an allusion to this matter. He

  “I am working like a horse at the new arrangements of my _6 vols. of
  Experiments_. It is a tedious business.

  “What do you think of an attempt to dedicate this work to the Prince
  of Wales? The King I shall never think of in any such light, nor the
  Prince, unless it be possible that he will be a real patron of science
  and could look upon it in some other light than that of an honour to

An interesting account of Priestley at this period of his life is to be
found in the Memoirs of the French geologist, Faujar St Fond, who
visited Birmingham some time after Priestley’s settlement there. He

  “Dr Priestley received me with the greatest kindness. He presented me
  to his wife and his daughter, who were distinguished by vivacity,
  intelligence and gentleness of manner. The young lady spoke to me of
  one of her brothers, who was then finishing his education at Geneva
  and to whom she seemed very much attached.

  “The building in which Dr Priestley made his chemical and
  philosophical experiments was detached from his house to avoid the
  danger of fire. It consisted of several apartments on a ground floor.
  Upon entering it we were struck with a simple and ingenious apparatus
  for making experiments on inflammable gas extracted from iron and
  water reduced to vapour. The tube, which was thick and long, was made
  of red copper and cast in one piece to avoid joinings. The part
  exposed to the fire was thicker than the rest. Into this tube he
  introduced cuttings or filings of iron, and instead of dropping in the
  water he preferred making it enter in vapour. The furnace destined for
  this operation was supplied with coke made of coal, which is the best
  of all combustibles for the intensity and equality of its heat. By
  these means he obtained a considerable quantity of inflammable gas of
  great lightness and without any smell. He observed to me, that by
  increasing the apparatus and using iron or copper tubes of a large
  calibre, aerostatic balloons might be filled with far less trouble and
  expense than by vitriolic acid. Dr Priestley allowed me to take a
  drawing of this new apparatus for the purpose of communicating it to
  the French chemists who are engaged in the same pursuit....

  “Dr Priestley did not regard the experiments made relative to the
  decomposition of water as satisfactory. He could not admit the fact to
  be demonstrated so long as the gas was only obtained through the
  medium of iron, a metal which is itself susceptible of inflammability;
  but he waited with impatience for the result of the experiments of the
  French chemists, particularly those of Lavoisier, who had invented and
  caused to be constructed an extensive apparatus for the same object.

  “‘The decomposition of water,’ said this indefatigable philosopher,
  addressing himself to me, ‘is of so much importance in Natural
  Philosophy, and would occupy so distinguished a place among the
  phenomena of the universe, that far from admitting the fact upon
  slight evidence, and as it were from enthusiasm, it were rather to be
  wished that all objections that may be made, and which will still long
  continue to be made against this theory were completely refuted; in
  the conflict of opinions, truth may at last be obtained. But I have
  still so many doubts upon this subject, and I have so many experiments
  to make, both _pro_ and _con_, that I can as yet regard the greatest
  as only started.’

  “Dr Priestley has embellished his solitude with a philosophical
  cabinet, which contains all the instruments necessary for his
  experiments, and a library rendered valuable by a choice of excellent
  works. The learned possessor employs himself in a variety of studies:
  History, Moral Philosophy and Religion have all in their turn engaged
  his pen. An active, intelligent mind and a natural avidity for
  knowledge gave him a passion for experimental philosophy; but the
  sensibility and gentleness of his disposition have sometimes directed
  his attention to pious and philanthropic studies, which do honour to
  the goodness of his heart, since they always have for their object the
  happiness of mankind.”

Priestley’s time in Birmingham was not, however, wholly devoted to
science and the social joys of the Lunar Society. Much of it was given
to his beloved theology and to editing the _Theological Repository_,
which he revived some time after he had settled there. A few months
after his arrival he was invited to take charge of the congregation of
the New Meeting. With the consent of the congregation his services were
mainly confined to Sunday duty and to catechising and lecturing.

Of his preaching Miss Hutton has left us an account. She says:—

  “I look upon his character as a preacher to be as amicable as his
  character as a philosopher is great. In the pulpit he is mild,
  persuasive and unaffected, and his sermons are full of sound reasoning
  and good sense. He is not what is called an orator; he uses no
  actions, no declamation; but his voice and manner are those of one
  friend speaking to another.”

His congregation is described as the most liberal in England, and with
many of its members, particularly Mr Russell, he was on the most
intimate and affectionate terms. During this period he completed his
friendly controversy with the Bishop of Waterford on the duration of
Christ’s ministry, and he published a volume of sermons. To the same
period belongs his _History of the Corruptions of Christianity_, which
he composed and published shortly after his settlement at Birmingham.
This work, which he spoke of as the most valuable of all his writings,
he dedicated to his “dear friend,” Theophilus Lindsey, in the hope that
their names may ever be connected as closely after death as they were
connected by friendship during life. To Lindsey’s example of a pure love
of truth, and of the most fearless integrity in asserting it, as
evidenced by the sacrifices he had made to it, Priestley says that he
owed much of his own wishes “to imbibe the same spirit.”

The work, as originally planned, was to be the concluding part of his
_Institutes of Natural and Revealed Religion_, but as the matter of it
grew it became extended into a separate treatise, larger, indeed, than
the whole of the Institutes. Its object was to show that modern
Christianity was a departure from the original scheme, and that the
innovations have debased its spirit and almost annihilated all the happy
effects which it was eminently calculated to produce. Although it had
begun to recover itself from its corrupted state, and the Reformation
was advancing apace, abuses still continued in many places, even
although their virulence was very generally abated and the number was
greatly increased of those who were most zealous in the profession of
Christianity, whose lives were the greatest ornament to it, and who hold
it in such purity that if it was fairly exhibited and universally
understood it could hardly fail to recommend itself to the acceptance of
the whole world.

  “But so long as all the Christianity that is known to Heathens,
  Mahometans and Jews is of a corrupted and debased kind, and
  particularly while the profession of it is so much connected with
  _worldly interest_, it is no wonder that mankind in general refuse to
  admit it, and that they can even hardly be prevailed upon to give any
  attention to the evidence that is alleged in its favour. Whereas, when
  the system itself shall appear to be less liable to objection, it is
  to be hoped that they may be brought to give proper attention to it,
  and to the evidence on which it rests.”

In this work Priestley attempted to trace every “corruption”—that is
every innovation or departure from what he conceives to be the original
scheme—to its proper source and “to show what circumstances in the state
of things, and especially of other prevailing opinions and prejudices,
made the alteration, in doctrine or practice, sufficiently natural, and
the introduction and establishment of it easy.” Priestley hoped as a
true rationalist that this historical method would be found to be one of
the most satisfactory modes of argumentation, in order to prove that
what he objected to was no part of the original scheme.

  “For after the clearest refutation of any particular doctrine that has
  been long established in Christian churches it will still be asked,
  how, if it be no part of the scheme, it ever came to be thought so,
  and to be so generally acquiesced in; and in many cases the mind will
  not be perfectly satisfied till such questions be answered.”

We are mainly concerned with this remarkable work as illustrating the
character and attributes of its author, and it is not within our
province to give any analysis of its contents. It must be remembered in
connection with it that Priestley was no longer an Arian; he was not
even a Socinian, as that term was understood by the immediate followers
of Faustus Socinus, who thought it their duty as Christians, and,
indeed, essential to Christianity, to pray to Jesus Christ,
notwithstanding they believed him to be, in Priestley’s phrase, a mere
man. Priestley was at this time what he remained until his death—a
strict Humanitarian, although he believed in the supernatural power and
divine mission of Christ.

Of the reception which awaited his book he could not be altogether
unprepared. It was received by the orthodox with a storm of disapproval,
and a dozen pens were immediately set to work to demolish its doctrine
and to defend the principles he so boldly assailed. Among those who
entered the lists the most formidable was Dr Horsley, then Archdeacon of
St Albans, whose _Animadversions_ were described as “at once nervous,
animated and evangelical, but in some passages too sarcastic.”

It says something for Priestley’s position and influence in the
theological world that his book should have met with the sternest
disapprobation in Lutheran, and especially Calvinistic, circles abroad.
It was ordered to be burnt by the hands of the common hangman at
Dordrecht, in 1785—a sign that the spirit of the Synod of Dort had
survived even two centuries.

Priestley thereupon undertook to collect from the original writers the
state of opinion on the subject in the age succeeding that of the
apostles, and he published the results of his investigation in his
“_History of Early Opinion concerning Jesus Christ_.” In four volumes.

This bringing him still more antagonists he retaliated by writing a
pamphlet annually in defence of the Unitarian doctrine, until it
appeared to himself and his friends that his antagonists produced
nothing to which it was of any consequence to reply. The pains that he
took to ascertain the state of early opinions concerning Jesus Christ,
and the great misapprehensions that he says he perceived in all the
ecclesiastical historians, led him to undertake a _General History of
the Christian Church to the Fall of the Western Empire_.

  “If you ask me,” says the Rev. Alexander Gordon, “what I should reckon
  Priestley’s greatest service to theological science, I should say that
  it is to be found in his adoption of the historical method of
  investigating the problems of doctrine and in his special handling of
  that method. The faith of Priestley was the precursor of the modern
  theme of theological development, though I do not think he used the
  term. His term was ‘corruption,’ a term which, it may be said, begs a
  very important question. At any rate it throws into strong relief the
  fact, on which all are agreed, that there is, and must be, some
  primitive nucleus whence developments proceed. Now it is the object of
  all who, for any reason, are interested in the origin of Christianity
  to reach this primitive nucleus at its first, undeveloped and
  uncorrupted stage. Where are we to seek it? By universal consent we
  must go to the New Testament. There, if anywhere, we shall come upon
  its traces. Here the agreement begins and ends. The New Testament is
  in all hands. But one man finds the Trinity in it; another the
  simplest Monotheism; a third, the papacy; a fourth, the supremacy of
  the illuminating spirit. The same words yield opposite results,
  because the principles of interpretation differ. The New Testament is
  to be interpreted by the voice of the Church; or by the testimony of
  the Creeds; or by the opinions of the Fathers of the first centuries
  before the age of dogmatic creeds began at Nicæa. These had been the
  expedients proposed by the Catholic, the Anglican, the Arian
  respectively. Socinus had rejected them all. It cannot matter to me
  (so, in effect, he contended) what any Church, or any Creed, or any
  Father may have said; I go to the New Testament myself, to read it
  with my own eyes, to understand it with my own mind.

  “This was not the position of Priestley. He thought this as irrational
  a proceeding as any of those which it superseded. Even if, by good
  luck, the true sense were reached, there was no means of proving it to
  be such. The New Testament, in Priestley’s view, is not to be
  construed as a book of enigmas which might belong to any age. It is
  not dropped straight out of heaven into the hands of the man of to-day
  for him to make what he will of it. It belongs to a specific period;
  it was written for a given class of persons; it was written to be
  understood. ‘Therefore,’ said Priestley, ‘it will be an unanswerable
  argument _a priori_ against any particular doctrine being contained in
  the Scriptures, that it was never understood to be so by those persons
  for whose immediate use the Scriptures were written, and who must have
  been much better qualified to understand them, in that respect at
  least, than we can pretend to be at the present day.’ (_Works_, vi.

  “Accordingly it is the whole object of Priestley’s histories of
  doctrine to get at the mind of the common Christian people in the
  first age; to make their primary understanding of Scripture the norm
  for its true interpretation; and then to trace the process by which
  this first impression, this real meaning, suffered transmutation by
  the speculative genius of philosophising divines. Of the Nicene
  Council he quaintly says, ‘there was no House of Commons in that
  assembly.’ It ‘represented the Christian Church in no other sense than
  the House of Lords might be said to represent the English nation.’ He
  conceived that he could penetrate to this unsophisticated sense of the
  primitive believers through the very writings of the Fathers whereby
  it had been overlaid and obscured. Their admissions, their rebukes,
  their appeals, their laboured arguments, their surviving
  conservatisms: all were materials to his purpose.

  “The plan was novel, the conception original, the whole endeavour
  strictly scientific in its method and basis. And I do not think that
  Priestley’s work in this department has received the full recognition
  which it rightly claims from us, whether we regard its spirit or its
  execution. The progress of biblical knowledge implies, no doubt, a
  readjustment of his argument and a revision of his conclusions. But
  the readjustment and revision are effected by the use of principles
  which he was the first to set forth and apply. We now go behind the
  New Testament just as he went behind the Fathers. The New Testament
  itself is, to us, largely a record by help of which we may reach the
  first impression made by the life, and work, and word of Christ. In so
  doing we do but carry out his suggestions and carry on his method. He
  is the genuine precursor of the properly historic treatment of
  biblical and theological questions.”

Priestley’s action with respect to the Sunday school movement was
another rock of offence to the Established clergy. This movement began
in Birmingham in 1784, and was supported by all denominations. The High
Church party, however, insisted that all children, irrespective of the
religious persuasion of their parents, should attend the worship of the
Established Church and no other. After some time, and mainly at the
instigation of Priestley, the Dissenters opened their separate Sunday
schools, the Old Meeting in 1787, and the New Meeting in 1788, and
Priestley preached the first sermon on behalf of the New Meeting Schools
in November 1789, and with his son Joseph took an active share in the

Priestley was a sincere lover of literature, and no man was more
sensible of its value to the moral and intellectual life of communities.
In his own case he had derived so much benefit from a ready access to
books which were beyond his means to purchase that he was ever willing
to lend himself to any well-considered attempt to open the storehouses
of literature, in its widest sense, as freely as possible, and to do all
in his power to foster the love of reading and the spirit of inquiry
among all classes of persons. In each succeeding situation—Needham,
Nantwich, Warrington, Leeds—he left evidences of his efforts to make
books as accessible as possible to the community of which he was for the
time a member. Leeds still enjoys a striking example of these efforts in
its proprietary library, and much of its reputation and character is
owing to the wise and enlightened spirit which he infused into its

As to the library at Birmingham, he eventually succeeded in giving to
it, as Hutton says, “that stability and method without which no
institution can prosper.” We are further told that “the Society are
under many and great obligations to the learned Doctor; it was him who
altered its original plan and put it on a more extensive scale; he
amended and enlarged the laws and has paid a great attention to its
welfare and growing interests.”

Priestley’s action, and more especially the catholicity he displayed in
the selection and admission of such books as in his judgment tended to
the spread of rationalism, whether in religion or in politics, drew down
upon him the wrath of the Court party, and more particularly of the
beneficed clergy of the town and district, and the library was
vigorously denounced as “a fountain of erroneous opinions, spreading
infidelity, heresy and schism through the whole neighbourhood.”

This catholicity is reflected in almost every circumstance of his daily

  “If liberality of sentiment,” he wrote on one occasion, “be the result
  of general and various acquaintance, few men now living have had a
  better opportunity of acquiring it than myself. This has arisen from
  the great variety of my pursuits, which has naturally brought me
  acquainted with persons of all principles and characters. One day, I
  remember, I dined in company with an eminent popish priest; the
  evening I spent with philosophers, determined unbelievers; the next
  morning I breakfasted, at his own request, with a most zealously
  orthodox clergyman, Mr Toplady, and the rest of that day I spent with
  Dr Jebb, Mr Lindsey and some others, men in all respects after my own
  heart. I have since enriched my acquaintance with that of some very
  intelligent Jews; and my opponents, who consider me already as half a
  Mahometan, will not suppose that I can have any objection to the
  society of persons of that religion.”

Dr Samuel Parr, the Prebend of St Paul’s, a staunch friend and true
admirer of Priestley, who wrote the inscription on the tablet to his
memory in the New Meeting House at Birmingham, related the following
characteristic anecdote to Mrs Robert A. Wainwright, who died in 1891,
in her 84th year:—

  “Now remember this. I knew your grandfather, Dr Priestley. He once
  invited me to dinner at Fair Hill, and I never was at a more agreeable
  party in my life. Your grandfather was at the head of the table. I sat
  at the bottom. At your grandfather’s right hand was Mr Berington, the
  Roman Catholic, and Mr Galton, the Quaker, on his left. Next to me was
  Robert Robinson, the Baptist, and Mr Proud, minister of the New
  Jerusalem Church.”

All the five guests were remarkable men and distinguished in their
several Churches. Dr Parr, one of the most erudite scholars of his time
and an acute critic, an inveterate Whig, and a political ally of Fox,
Burke and North, was Vicar of Wadenhoe in Northamptonshire, although he
resided, as assistant curate, at Hatton, near Warwick, where he had an
excellent library. Berington wrote a _Literary History of the Middle
Ages_, and the _History of Abelard and Heloise_. Robert Robinson, of
Cambridge, was the author of the _History of Baptism_, _Ecclesiastical
Researches_, _Village Sermons_ and other books. The Swedenborgian
minister was the chief defender of the New Jerusalem Church in England,
and was engaged in controversy with Priestley.

A contemporary account of Priestley at this period of his life describes
him as about the middle stature, or five feet eight inches high; slender
and well proportioned; of fair complexion, eyes grey and sparkling with
intelligence, and his whole countenance expressive of the benignity of
his heart. He often smiled, but seldom laughed. He was extremely active
and agile in his motions; he walked fast and very erect, and his
deportment was dignified. His usual dress was a black coat without a
cape, a fine linen or cambric stock, a cocked hat, a powdered wig, shoes
and buckles. He commonly walked with a long cane in his right hand, and
was an excellent pedestrian. “The whole of his dress was remarkably
clean, and this purity of person and simple dignity of manners evinced
that philosophic propriety which prevailed throughout his conduct as a
private individual.”

He rose about six o’clock and commonly retired to his study, where he
continued until eight, when he met his family at breakfast. He
breakfasted on tea, and after breakfast again went to his study,
accompanied by his amanuensis. He often devoted the whole of his morning
to composition, or divided his morning between the study and the
laboratory. When engaged in experimental work he commonly wore a white
apron and canvas covers drawn over his sleeves. He dined at one o’clock
and was very abstemious. He seldom drank wine or beer. In the afternoon
he usually took a walk, frequently to Birmingham, and spent some time at
the office where his works were being printed. He supped at eight, the
meal usually consisting of vegetables, and retired to rest shortly after
ten. He was extremely methodical in his habits and a rigid economist of

At Daventry he began the practice, which he continued up to within three
or four days of his death, of keeping, in Peter Annet’s system of
shorthand, a diary in which he noted where he had been, the nature of
his employment, what he had been reading, and any hints or suggestions
of future work which had occurred to him, when he rose and the hour at
which he went to bed. He was very methodical in his reading and in the
alternation of his studies and relaxation. He never read a book without
determining in his own mind when he would finish it. Had he a work to
transcribe, he would fix a time for its completion. At the beginning of
each year he arranged the plan he intended to pursue, and at the close
he reviewed the general situation of his affairs and took stock of the
progress he had made, noting whether the execution of his plan exceeded
or fell short of his expectations. It was this regular apportionment of
his time, and the habits of method and order in the arrangement of his
business which he adopted in early life, and from which he never
materially deviated, together with his uniformly good health, his
industry and aptitude for rapid work, which enabled him to achieve what
he did. It was, he says, a great advantage to him that he never was
under the necessity of retiring from company in order to compose
anything. Being fond of domestic life he got a habit of writing on any
subject by the parlour fire with his wife and children about him, and
occasionally talking to them without experiencing any inconvenience from
such interruptions. When he was a young author (although he did not
publish anything until he was about thirty) strictures on his writings
gave him some disturbance, though he believed even then less than they
do most others; but after some time things of that kind hardly affected
him at all, and on this account he thinks he may be said to have been
well formed for public controversy. But what always made him easy in any
controversy in which he was engaged was his fixed resolution frankly to
acknowledge any mistake that he might perceive he had fallen into. “That
I had never been in the least backward to do this in matters of
philosophy can never be denied.”

Though he has been considered as fond of controversy, and that his chief
delight consisted in it, yet it was far from being true. He was more
frequently the defendant than the assailant. His controversies, as far
as it depended upon himself, were carried on with temper and decency. He
was never malicious, nor even sarcastic or indignant, unless provoked.

Priestley was a very busy man and a very industrious man, but he had not
the power of sustained and concentrated application to a single subject
which is the characteristic of men of great intellectual eminence. In
this respect he was far inferior to his contemporaries Watt and
Cavendish. His quick and active mind enabled him rapidly to assimilate
the ideas of others, but it may be doubted, even in theology, whether he
pushed his convictions and doctrinal beliefs beyond the limits reached
by previous thinkers. His philosophy, as Huxley has pointed out,
contains little that will be new to the readers of Hobbes, Spinoza,
Collins, Hume and Hartley. “It does not appear,” says his son, “that he
spent more than six or eight hours per day in business that required
much mental exertion.” In his diary he laid down the following daily
arrangements of time for a minister’s studies:—Studying the Scriptures,
one hour. Practical writers, half-an-hour. Philosophy and History, two
hours. Classics, half-an-hour. Composition, one hour—in all five hours.
“All which,” he adds, “may be conveniently dispatched before dinner,
which leaves the afternoon for visiting and company, and the evening for
exceeding in any article if there be occasion.”

His son tells us that for many years of his life he never spent less
than two or three hours a day in games of amusement, as cards and
backgammon, but particularly chess, at which he and his wife played
regularly three games after dinner and as many after supper. As his
children grew up, chess was laid aside for whist or some round game at
cards, which he enjoyed as much as any of the company. He was fond, too,
of bodily exercise, and was particularly attached to his garden, in
which he worked constantly. His laboratory also afforded him exercise,
as he never employed an assistant, and never allowed anyone even to
light his fire.

The attention, he says, which he paid to the phenomena of his own mind,
made him sensible of some great defects in its constitution. He was, he
says, from an early period, subject to a “most humbling failure of
recollection,” so that he sometimes lost all ideas of both persons and
things that he had been conversant with. He says, “I have so completely
forgotten what I have myself published, that in reading my own writings
what I find in them often appears perfectly new to me, and I have more
than once made experiments the results of which had been published by

Apprised of this defect he never failed to note down as soon as possible
everything that he wished not to forget. The same failing led him to
devise and have recourse to a variety of mechanical expedients to secure
and arrange his thoughts, which were of the greatest use to him in the
composition of large and complex works, and what he says excited the
wonder of some of his readers would only have made them smile had they
seen him at work. “But by simple and mechanical methods one man shall do
that in a month which shall cost another, of equal ability, whole years
to execute. This methodical arrangement of a large work is greatly
facilitated by mechanical methods, and nothing contributes more to the
perspicuity of a large work than a good arrangement of its parts.”

What he learned to know with respect to himself tended much, he says, to
lessen both his admiration and his contempt of others.

  “Could we have entered into the mind of Sir Isaac Newton, and have
  traced all the steps by which he produced his great works, we might
  see nothing very extraordinary in the process. And great powers with
  respect to some things are generally attended with great defects in
  others; and these may not appear in a man’s writings. For this reason,
  it seldom happens but that our admiration of philosophers and writers
  is lessened by a personal knowledge of them.”

Great defects may, however, be more than counter-balanced by great
excellences, and accordingly he hopes that his defect of recollection,
possibly due to a want of sufficient coherence in the association of
ideas formerly impressed, might arise from a mental constitution more
favourable to new associations, so that what he lost with respect to
memory may have been compensated by what is called invention, or new and
original combinations of ideas.

In the domestic relations of life he was uniformly kind and
affectionate. As was truly said of him on Darton’s portrait, “Not malice
itself could ever fix a stain on his private conduct or impeach his

                               CHAPTER IX

  The Birmingham riots of 1791.

The picture which Priestley drew of his life in Birmingham at this
period, as given in the autobiographical sketch published after his
death, is almost dramatic in its pathos when we bear in mind that it was
written almost on the eve of that maniacal outburst of popular passion
which eventually drove him from our shores. He said he considered his
settlement at Birmingham as the happiest event in his life, as being
highly favourable to every object he had in view, philosophical or
theological. He thanks God that his prospects are better than they have
ever been before, that his own health, and that of his dear wife, is
better established, and his hopes as to the disposition and future
settlement of his children are satisfactory. He has particular reason to
be grateful for the happy temperament of body and mind he owes to his
parents, and for the fundamentally good constitution of body to which
was due an even cheerfulness of temper which had but few interruptions.
Another great subject of thankfulness to a good Providence was his
perfect freedom from any embarrassment in his circumstances, for his
supplies had been always equal to his wants, and his indifference to an
increase of fortune was the means of attaining it.


  “When,” he says, “I began my experiments I expended on them all the
  money I could possibly raise, carried on by my ardour in philosophical
  investigations, and entirely regardless of consequences, except so far
  as never to contract any debt.... But having succeeded, I was in time
  more than indemnified for all that I had expended.

  “Yet frequently, as I have changed my situation, and always for the
  better, I can truly say that I never wished for any change on my own
  account. I should have been contented even at Needham if I could have
  been unmolested and had bare necessaries. This freedom from anxiety
  was remarkable in my father, and therefore is in a manner hereditary
  to me; but it has been much increased by reflection, having frequently
  observed, especially with respect to Christian ministers, how often it
  has contributed to embitter their lives without being of any use to
  them. Some attention to the improvement of a man’s circumstances is no
  doubt right, because no man can tell what occasion he may have for
  money, especially if he have children, and therefore I do not
  recommend my example to others. But I am thankful to that good
  Providence which always took more care of me than ever I took of

This serene contentment is reflected in his correspondence at this
period, and we find further evidence of it in the letters of his

  “I esteem it a singular happiness to have lived in an age and country
  in which I have been at full liberty both to investigate, and by
  preaching and writing to propagate, religious truth; that though the
  freedom I have used for this purpose was for some time disadvantageous
  to me, it was not long so, and that my present situation is such that
  I can, with the greatest openness, urge whatever appears to me the
  truth of the Gospel, not only without giving the least offence, but
  with the entire approbation of those with whom I am particularly

Dr Aikin, visiting him in 1784, says in a letter to Mrs Aikin:—

  “The great philosopher, with his simple, bland, unaffected manners,
  contented and happy, and declaring that he had not a wish on earth
  unsatisfied, gave me infinite delight.”

These halcyon days were, however, but as the calm before the storm, and
the contented and happy philosopher had soon need of all his philosophy,
and of all his Christianity too, in face of the ungoverned fury of the
mob which, to use Wedgwood’s words, swept like a hurricane over him and
his friends.

The 14th of July 1791—the anniversary of the French Revolution—was
celebrated in several towns in England without interruption or any
untoward circumstance; that day, however, was long remembered by the
inhabitants of Birmingham with feelings akin to horror. It is certain
that the popular rising which then took place in that town was in the
outset mainly directed against Priestley. The course of events proves
this. As it happened, the appetite in the mob for mischief grew by what
it fed upon, and many others, his friends and political and religious
associates, were involved in the disaster which overtook him. For it
would appear that those who, in the first instance, instigated and
directed the outrage lost all control over the forces which they
invoked, and the rising, which in the beginning was intended to visit
Priestley with the vengeance which the Cracow mob inflicted on his
prototype Socinus, developed into a wild anarchical riot, confused and
purposeless except as gratifying a wanton lust for rapine and
destruction. Many contemporary accounts exist of the Birmingham riots of
1791, and although, as might be expected from the temper of the times,
some of the narratives are not wholly uncoloured by prejudice and the
partisan spirit of political and religious feeling, it is not difficult
to put together a true view of an episode which profoundly affected all
parties and sent a thrill of apprehension and alarm throughout the
country. Political feeling at the period ran high. Europe had recently
witnessed the spectacle of a revolution which had filled the governing
classes of every state with awe and even terror, and the great masses of
the people in this and other countries, to whom all political power was
denied, were beginning to realise what might be possible to concerted
action properly organised and vigorously pressed. Every bureaucracy was
in a state of trepidation. The political atmosphere was heavily charged
with electricity and no one could foretell where and when the next
thunderbolt would descend. Naturally enough the great vested interests
in Church and State looked askance at, and were disquieted by, these
periodical celebrations of such an event as the destruction of the
Bastile and all that it symbolised, with their odes to Liberty,
Fraternity and Equality, and their impassioned appeals to Demos, and the
rising hopes of a people grown restive and impatient under what they
were taught to believe was political thraldom. It required but a small
spark to bring about a conflagration, and designing and unscrupulous men
saw in the approaching anniversary of the memorable 14th of July an
opportunity of which they were determined to take advantage. Priestley
had himself, unwittingly, laid the train which brought about the

  “Dr Priestley,” says Corry, writing in 1804, “from the commencement of
  his residence at Birmingham, had undoubtedly turned his attention too
  much from the luminous field of philosophic disquisition to the
  sterile regions of polemic divinity and the still more thorny paths of
  polemic politics. His tracts on these subjects amounted to upwards of
  thirty, and from his celebrity they had a very general circulation. As
  a philosopher he clearly saw defects in the most perfect of human
  institutions, and expressed himself with a boldness and freedom which
  alarmed the neighbouring clergy of the Established Church, and excited
  their resentment. The labouring classes in Birmingham certainly looked
  upon him as a disaffected and dangerous man. Incapable of deep
  reflection themselves, they abhorred his Unitarian principles as
  subversive of Christianity, and the idea that the Church was in danger
  was propagated among them by men of deeper discernment, who wished to
  render Dr Priestley odious and unpopular. A very considerable number,
  however, of the more enlightened inhabitants, who were convinced of
  the Doctor’s integrity as a man, sincerity as a preacher, and
  superlative merit as a philosopher, were his strenuous advocates and
  admirers. The collision of parties became every day more violent, and
  the events which were daily transacting in France kept alive the
  jealousy arising from uncongenial opinions.”

A contemporary account states: The vigorous and repeated attempts of the
Dissenters to obtain a repeal of the Corporation and Test Laws [repealed
in 1828], excited much alarm and apprehension amongst many of the
Established clergy, and were most forcibly felt by those residing in
Birmingham. The name and writings of Dr Priestley were as much dreaded
by his opponents as they were admired by his friends; and as he long
resided near this town, and was eminently conspicuous in his endeavours
to procure a repeal of these laws, and in the promulgation of Unitarian
doctrines, it is not surprising that his sentiments should have been
represented to the lower classes of the people as dangerous to the
Church and State.

Attacks made upon his principles and motives in different pulpits were
answered from the Press, and produced among other things his _Familiar
Letters Addressed to the Inhabitants of Birmingham_, in which his
opponents are combated with much force and severity. In the course of
his controversial publications Priestley had made a comparison of the
progress of free inquiry to the action of gunpowder. The conclusion of
the passage ran thus:—

  “The present silent propagation of truth may even be compared to those
  causes in Nature which lie dormant for a time, but which in proper
  circumstances act with the greatest violence. We are, as it were,
  laying gunpowder, grain by grain, under the old building of error and
  superstition, which a single spark may hereafter inflame, so as to
  produce an instantaneous explosion; in consequence of which that
  edifice, the erection of which has been the work of ages, may be
  overturned in a moment, and so effectually as that the same foundation
  can never be built upon again.”

This paragraph became to the enemies of the Dissenters a common topic of
allusion, and was read in the House of Commons as an unquestionable
proof of the dangerous designs of that body with respect to the
constitution of this country. Hence the mischievous thinkers found no
difficulty in persuading the unthinking actors that the real intentions
of the Dissenters were to destroy the churches.

That mischief was being deliberately planned in view of the coming
anniversary was certainly known to not a few of those in authority, some
of whom from their position were responsible for the order and good
government of the town. Some days before the outbreak a number of copies
of a seditious hand-bill had been left in a public-house by an unknown
person, and this had been copied and circulated throughout the town,
causing a general ferment in the minds of the lowest class of the
people. Its character was such that the magistrates promptly offered a
reward of one hundred guineas for the discovery of the Writer, Printer,
Publisher or Distributer of the inflammatory hand-bill. But
notwithstanding that the Dissenters themselves afterwards offered an
additional reward of one hundred guineas, and the Government also
proclaimed a further reward of one hundred pounds, no clue was ever
obtained to the persons concerned in its preparation or distribution.
Such, however, was the feeling of apprehension in the minds of those who
were about to take part in the proposed celebration that it was
determined to publish the following advertisement in the _Birmingham

              Birmingham Commemoration of the French Revolution.

  “Several hand-bills having been circulated in the town which can only
  be intended to create distrust concerning the intention of the
  meeting, to disturb its harmony and inflame the minds of people, the
  Gentlemen who proposed it think it necessary to declare their entire
  disapprobation of all such hand-bills and their ignorance of the
  authors. Sensible themselves of the advantages of a Free Government,
  they rejoice in the extension of Liberty to their Neighbours, at the
  same time avowing, in the most explicit manner, their firm attachment
  to the Constitution of their own Country, as vested in the Three
  Estates of the King, Lords and Commons. Surely no _Free-born
  Englishman_ can refrain from exulting in this addition to the general
  mass of human happiness. It is the cause of _Humanity_, it is the
  cause of the People.

  “Birmingham, _July 13, 1791_.”

We learn from a letter in the same newspaper, written a few days later
by Mr William Russell, Priestley’s friend, and himself, with his family,
a sufferer in the events which followed, that in spite of this
disclaimer there was still good grounds for believing that evil was
brewing. He says that on the morning of the 14th many rumours of the
probability of a riot were brought to the friends of the meeting; and as
there was too much reason to think that means had been used to promote
one, they determined to postpone the intended dinner and prepared a
notice to that effect.

  “This,” says Mr Russell, “was sent to the printer, but before he had
  composed it, Mr Dadley, the master of the hotel, attended, in
  consequence of having the Dinner countermanded, and represented that
  he was sure there was no danger of any tumult, and recommended that
  the Dinner might be held as was intended; only proposing that the
  gentlemen should take care to break up early, and then all danger
  would be avoided. This measure was then adopted, and orders given to
  the printer to suppress the hand-bill. Accordingly there was a meeting
  of eighty-one gentlemen, inhabitants of the town and neighbourhood, at
  the great room in the hotel, where they dined and passed the afternoon
  with that social, temperate and benevolent festivity which the
  consideration of the great event that has diffused liberty and
  happiness among a large portion of the human race inspired.”

Mr Russell continues:—

  “It is but justice to the liberality and public spirit of an
  inglorious artist of this town to mention that he decorated the room
  upon this occasion with three elegant emblematic pieces of sculpture,
  mixed with painting, in a new style of composition. The central piece
  was a finely executed medallion of His Majesty, encircled with a
  Glory, on each side of which was an alabaster Obelisk; one exhibiting
  Gallic Liberty breaking the bands of Despotism, and the other
  representing British Liberty in its present enjoyment.

  “A truly respectable gentleman [Captain Keir], a member of the Church
  of England, was chairman; others of that profession were of the
  company, nor was a single sentiment uttered, or, I believe, conceived,
  that would hurt the feelings of any one friend to liberty and good
  government under the happy constitution we are blessed with in this

The mob, if they thought at all, thought otherwise. Although, we are
told, the utmost harmony prevailed at the festive board, and the company
dispersed without the least disturbance, they found a considerable
number of the populace assembled in the neighbourhood of Temple Row,
evidently bent on mischief. The crowd remained in the vicinity of the
hotel, their numbers gradually increasing, for a couple of hours after
Captain Keir and his friends had left. Whether the people expected
Priestley to be of the company, and fancied he was being detained in the
hotel on account of their threatening attitude, is uncertain. As a
matter of fact he had not been at the dinner. Suddenly the cry of
“Church and King!” was raised, and at that signal every window in the
front of the hotel was promptly broken. Thereupon, as if by a common
impulse, or if as acting under direction, the crowd swept onwards to the
New Meeting, where Priestley preached; this they assailed, we are told,
with incredible fury. The New Meeting was erected in 1730: it was
described as a considerable pile, “more remarkable for plainness and
simplicity than for any uncommon elegance of workmanship or superb style
of decoration. The vestry contained a valuable collection of books for
the use of the Society which assembled there.” The gates and doors were
soon burst open, the pews demolished, the cushions and fragments carried
out and burnt in front of the building, and at length fire was carried
in which consumed it to the outer walls. The mob was now roused to
frenzy. Some of the magistrates strove to quell the riot, and even those
who had connived at the outrage grew alarmed at the dangerous temper
which they had roused. But the infuriated rabble by this time was
thoroughly out of control, and no sufficient force was at hand to cope
with it. The Old Meeting-House was next demolished with the regularity
of workmen employed for the purpose. A party armed with crow-bars,
bludgeons, etc., tore down the pulpit, pews and galleries, and burnt
them in the burying-ground, afterwards setting fire to the body of the
Meeting-house. The cry of “Church and King!” was again raised, and the
rioters marched in a body to Fair Hill, about a mile from the town,
where Priestley resided. His house was described by Aikin as “a most
comfortable and pleasing retreat.” “Although,” we are told, “it belonged
to a gentleman who was deservedly a favourite of the poor, yet because
it was the dwelling of Dr Priestley it was doomed to destruction,” and
was “attacked with the most savage and determined fury.” Priestley, when
the news was brought to him by his friend, Samuel Ryland, of the
destruction of the Meeting-Houses and of the impending attack on Fair
Hill, was playing backgammon with his wife, as was his custom after
supper. He could hardly be persuaded of the danger in which he stood,
and it was with difficulty that Ryland hurried him and Mrs Priestley
into the chaise which was waiting at the door. He and his wife were then
quickly driven to Showell Green, the residence of his friend, William
Russell, leaving his son William Priestley, and some other young
persons, with the servants to protect the property. What followed may
best be gleaned from the graphic narrative of Miss Martha Russell,
written within a few days of the occurrence, but first published in _The
Christian Reformer_ of 1835, Vol. II. p. 293:—

  “As we were at supper, Tolley, our footman, came in with a countenance
  as pale as ashes, and told my father a messenger was just arrived to
  inform him that a mob had collected and set fire to the New
  Meeting-House, and were then employed in destroying the Old
  Meeting-House also, and they declared their intention to come from
  thence to Dr Priestley’s house and then to ours, and that no
  magistrate appeared or could be found to disperse them. Consternation
  and alarm now filled our minds. My father ordered his horse, intending
  to go and meet the mob, and search out the justices to quell it.
  Whilst he was loading his pocket-pistols to carry with him, a chaise
  drove up to the door with Dr and Mrs Priestley and Mr Samuel Ryland.
  The latter had taken the alarm, and, procuring a chaise, had hurried
  the Doctor and Mrs P. away from their house, fearing the mob would be
  there immediately. So great was the panic he had felt and inspired
  them with that they had secured nothing, but seemed as if happy and
  fortunate in escaping with their lives. We all united in begging my
  father not to leave the house, and urged the danger he would be in by
  meeting such an ungovernable concourse of people, and that, being
  alone, he could do nothing towards quelling them, and no doubt but our
  friends in Birmingham would some of them exert themselves and stir up
  the magistrates without his running such a risk. He would, however,
  hear nothing of it, but declared ‘he would be his own master that
  night.’ Seeing him resolved to go, Mrs Priestley requested him to
  bring her a small box of money she had in her chamber, and Dr P.
  wished for his pocket-book, which contained something of value, and
  which he had left on the table in the parlour, so great was their
  hurry and alarm.... We walked up and down the foot-road leading to
  town in a dreadful state of suspense and apprehension, clearly
  discerning the fire from the two Meeting-Houses, and distinctly
  hearing the shouts of the mob....

  “In about three hours my father returned and informed us he went first
  to Dr Priestley’s house, where he found William Priestley, whom he
  instructed to begin and move all the Doctor’s manuscripts he thought
  most likely to be valuable, by means of persons in the neighbourhood
  whom my father had brought for that purpose, and on whom he could
  rely, to a place in the vicinity he had fixed upon as secret and
  secure. This he urged him to do as expeditiously and quietly as
  possible, and to continue this employ, including also any other
  valuables he recollected, till my father should send him word to stop,
  not attending to any reports that might be brought him. My father then
  rode on to town as far as Digbeth, and there meeting the mob, he tried
  in vain to proceed. He met many of his friends, all of whom requested
  him to return, telling him he did not hear the threats that were
  uttered against him. At length, one of them, I believe Mr J. F——,
  suddenly turned his horse, and giving him a cut with his whip, the
  press was so great and the spirit of the horse so roused my father
  found himself obliged in a manner to return. Arriving at Dr
  Priestley’s gate before the mob, he stationed himself withinside till
  the mob came up, and then addressed them, endeavouring to induce them,
  by fair words and money, to desist and return home. At first they
  seemed a little pacified and inclined to listen, till one more loud
  than the rest, and who had the appearance of a ringleader, cried out,
  ‘Don’t take a sixpence of his money: in the riots of ’80 in London a
  man was hanged for only taking sixpence.’ They all then vociferated,
  ‘Stone him, stone him!’ and began to fling stones. My father then,
  finding it rashness to brave two or three thousand men, turned his
  horse and rode up to the house, telling William Priestley that he must
  desist and take as much care of the house as he could, and advising
  him to make all the doors and windows as secure as possible. He then
  rode off home and informed us he did not think our house yet in
  danger, but thought we had better remove with Dr and Mrs P. to Mr
  Thomas Hawkes, about half a mile off, for fear we should be suddenly
  surprised. During this time several messages were sent, and friends
  came to warn us of our danger. All seemed to apprehend the mob would
  visit us, and we had been advised to set out a barrel of ale on the
  lawn, thus attempting to pacify them and persuade them to desist. This
  done, and proper persons left to watch, we all walked up to Mr
  Hawkes’s. Here we found the family up and under great apprehension;
  and here we soon heard the shouts of the mob at Dr Priestley’s house
  (and I shall never forget what dreadful and hideous shouts they were),
  intermingled with a loud noise of battering against the walls, and
  such a confusion of cries, huzzas, etc., as cannot be imagined. Soon
  the flames burst forth, and then all seemed quiet. What were the
  emotions of our minds at this moment no one can imagine unless they
  had beheld our countenances and heard the broken, short sentences that
  formed all the conversation which passed amongst us: yet the extreme
  agitation of our minds did not prevent us from admiring the divine
  appearance of the excellent Dr Priestley. No human being could, in my
  opinion, appear in any trial more like divine, or show a nearer
  resemblance to our Saviour, than he did then. Undaunted he heard the
  blows which were destroying the house and laboratory that contained
  all his valuable and rare apparatus and their effects, which it had
  been the business of his life to collect and use. All this apparatus,
  together with the uses he had made of them, the laborious exertions of
  his whole life, were being destroyed by a set of merciless, ignorant,
  lawless banditti, whilst he, tranquil and serene, walked up and down
  the road with a firm yet gentle pace that evinced his entire
  self-possession, and a complete self-satisfaction and consciousness
  which rendered him thus firm and resigned under the unjust and cruel
  persecution of his enemies; and with a countenance expressing the
  highest devotion, turned as it were from this scene and fixed with
  pure and calm resignation on him who suffered the administration of
  this bitter cup. Not one hasty or impatient expression, not one look
  expressive of murmur or complaint, not one tear or sigh escaped him;
  resignation and a conscious innocence and virtue seemed to subdue all
  these feelings of humanity.

  “About four o’clock my father returned and informed us that as the
  fire had consumed the doctor’s house the mob were nearly dispersed,
  half drunk, having been up to their ankles in wine in his cellar,
  where they had broke the necks off all the bottles and inundated the
  cellar with that portion of their contents they could not drink; that
  the fields round were now covered with these fiends sleeping from
  drunkenness and fatigue, and that as day was now come he thought it
  most likely they would disperse entirely, and that consequently we
  might return home again. Accordingly we set off, and never shall I
  forget the joy with which I entered our own gates once more.... A room
  was prepared for the Doctor and Mrs P. We all looked and felt our
  gratitude; but the Doctor appeared the happiest amongst us. Just as he
  was going to rest, expressing his thankfulness in being permitted to
  lie down again in peace and comfort, my father returned from Fair Hill
  with the intelligence that they were collecting again, and their
  threats were more violent than ever, that they swore to find Dr P. and
  take his life. The chaise was now ordered with all speed, and instead
  of the much-desired rest the Doctor and Mrs P. were obliged to dress
  again and get into it, scarcely knowing whither to go. Mr Ryland
  accompanied them, and it was thought most advisable to take a by-road
  to Heath, where Mrs Finch, the Doctor’s daughter, lived, near Dudley.”

  “He remained at Heath Forge,” says another account, “until Saturday,
  July 16th, meanwhile writing to Lindsey and to his sister, Mrs Crouch,
  then living at Gildersome, fearing that she would receive false
  accounts through the newspapers. On the afternoon of that day he set
  off on horseback, with a servant, for Worcester, intending to catch
  the London mail that evening. But the fugitives lost their way on the
  Morfe, a common between Heath Forge and Bridgenorth, and wandered
  about all night. They, however, reached Kidderminster safely in the
  morning, and were met by Mr Ryland, who offered Priestley his own wig
  and coat by way of disguise. But the doctor declined. He had on a coat
  buttoned up to the chin, a wig and a cocked hat, with the point in
  front, his usual dress out of doors. Mr Ryland accompanied Priestley
  as far as Worcester, and arrived just in time to take a place for him
  in the mail to London. He travelled all night, reaching London between
  six and seven in the morning of Monday, July 18th, and went to his
  friend Lindsey’s in Essex Street, Strand.”

Miss Russell’s apprehensions proved to be only too well-founded. Showell
Green was destroyed, as were Bordesley Hall and Moseley Hall, and other
houses in the vicinity of Moseley; Mr Ryland’s house at Easy Hill, and
Mr Hutton’s house in High Street and his country seat at Wash Wood

On Sunday the rioters proceeded to King’s Wood, seven miles from
Birmingham, and destroyed the meeting-house and the dwelling of the
Dissenting minister. For the greater part of three days the town was in
a state of siege, the majority of the shops were closed and business was
at a stand-still. Attempts were made to organise a force of constables,
but the number got together was insufficient to cope with the mob, and
in an effort to protect Mr Ryland’s house the police were beaten after a
severe contest, and many were wounded. A number of the rioters lost
their lives; one man was killed by the fall of a coping stone from
Priestley’s house and a number were wounded. At Easy Hill the drunken
wretches in the cellars were overwhelmed by the falling in of the
flaming roof, six were got out alive, but terribly burnt and bruised,
whilst ten dead bodies were dug out of the ruins.

Late on Sunday night three troops of dragoons reached the town:—

  “Their arrival,” says a contemporary chronicler, “was announced by the
  sound of their trumpets and the acclamations of the inhabitants.
  Anxiety, which had been strongly depicted in every face during the
  day, was succeeded by the smiles of joy and the congratulations of
  neighbours. The town was illuminated, the rioters, conscious of their
  delinquency, soon dispersed, and order was happily restored without

The King, writing to Mr Secretary Dundas in approval of dragoons having
been sent to Birmingham to quell the tumult, thus continues:—

  “Though I cannot but feel better pleased that Priestley is the
  sufferer for the doctrines he and his party have instilled, and that
  the people see them in their true light, yet I cannot approve of their
  having employed such atrocious means of showing their discontent.”

From Mr Lindsey’s house Priestley sent the following letter to the
_Birmingham Chronicle_:—

                “To the Inhabitants of the Town of Birmingham.

  “My late Townsmen and Neighbours,—After living with you eleven years,
  in which you had uniform experience of my peaceful behaviour, in my
  attention to the quiet studies of my profession and those of
  philosophy, I was far from expecting the injuries which I and my
  friends have lately received from you. But you have been misled. By
  hearing the Dissenters, and particularly the Unitarian Dissenters,
  continually railed at, as enemies to the present government in Church
  and State, you have been led to consider any injury done to us as a
  meritorious thing, and, not having been better informed, the means
  were not attended to. When the _object_ was right you thought the
  _means_ could not be wrong. By the discourses of your teachers, and
  the exclamations of your superiors in general, drinking confusion and
  damnation to us (which is well known to have been their frequent
  practice), your bigotry has been excited to the highest pitch, and
  nothing has been said to you to moderate your passions, but everything
  to inflame them; hence, without any consideration on your part or on
  theirs, who ought to have known and taught you better, you were
  prepared for every species of outrage, thinking that whatever you
  could do to spite and injure us was for the support of Government, and
  especially the Church. In _destroying us_ you have been led to think
  _you did God_ and your country the most substantial _service_.

  “Happily the minds of Englishmen have a horror of _murder_, and
  therefore you did not, I hope, think of _that_, though by your
  clamorous demanding of _me_ at the hotel it is probable that at that
  time some of you intended me some personal injury. But what is the
  value of life when everything is done to make it wretched? In many
  cases there would be greater mercy in dispatching the inhabitants than
  in burning their houses. However, I infinitely prefer what I feel from
  _the spoiling of my goods_ to the disposition of those who have misled

  “You have destroyed the most truly valuable and useful apparatus of
  philosophical instruments that perhaps any individual in this or any
  other country was ever possessed of, in my use of which I annually
  spent large sums, with no pecuniary view whatever, but only in the
  advancement of science, for the benefit of my country and of mankind.
  You have destroyed a library corresponding to that apparatus which no
  money can re-purchase, except in a course of time. But what I feel far
  more, you have destroyed _manuscripts_, which have been the result of
  the laborious study of many years, and which I shall never be able to
  recompose; and this has been done to one who never did, or imagined
  you, any harm.

  “I know nothing more of the _hand-bill_, which is said to have enraged
  you so much, than any of yourselves, and I disapprove of it as much,
  though it has been made the ostensible handle of doing infinitely more
  mischief than anything of that nature could possibly have done. In the
  celebration of the French Revolution, at which I did not attend, the
  company assembled on the occasion only expressed their joy in the
  emancipation of a neighbouring nation from tyranny, without intimating
  a desire of anything more than such an improvement of our own
  Constitution, as all sober citizens, of every persuasion, have long
  wished for. And though, in answer to the gross and unprovoked
  calumnies of Mr Madan and others, I publicly vindicated my principles
  as a Dissenter, it was only with plain and sober argument, and with
  perfect good-humour. We are better instructed in the mild and
  forbearing spirit of Christianity than ever to think of having
  recourse to _violence_; and can you think such conduct as yours any
  recommendation of your religious principles in preference to ours?

  “You are still more mistaken if you imagine that this conduct of yours
  has any tendency to serve your cause or to injure ours. It is nothing
  but _reason_ and _argument_ that can ever support any system of
  religion. Answer your arguments and your business is done; but your
  having recourse to _violence_ is only a proof that you have nothing
  better to produce. Should you destroy myself, as well as my house,
  library and apparatus, ten more persons of equal or superior spirit
  and ability would instantly rise up. If these ten were destroyed one
  hundred would appear; and believe me, that the Church of England,
  which you now think you are supporting, has received a greater blow by
  this conduct of yours than I and all my friends have ever aimed at it.

  “Besides, to abuse those who have no power of making resistance is
  equally cowardly and brutal, peculiarly unworthy of Englishmen, to say
  nothing of Christianity, which teaches us to do as we would be done
  by. In this business we are the sheep and you are the wolves. We will
  preserve our character, and hope you will change yours. At all events,
  we return you blessings for curses, and pray that you may soon return
  to that industry and the sober manners for which the inhabitants of
  Birmingham were formerly distinguished.—I am, your sincere
                                                           J. Priestley.

  “London, _July 19, 1791_.

  “_P.S._—The account of the first toast at the Revolution Dinner in the
  _Times_ of this morning can be nothing less than a malicious lie. To
  prove this a list of the toasts, with an account of all the
  proceedings of the day, will soon be published. The first of these was
  _The King and Constitution_, and they were all such as the friends of
  liberty, and of the true principles of the Constitution, would

One of the earliest letters of sympathy he received was from his
steadfast friend and benefactor, Wedgwood. It was written from Weymouth,
at that time the most fashionable seaside watering-place in England, and
condoled with him on the “irreparable loss” he had “sustain’d from the
brutality, or rather let us hope the temporary insanity” of his

  “If they had arisen merely from the ungovern’d madness of a mob from
  the lowest order of our species, one would then lament all its effects
  like those of a storm or hurricane, but if there is reason to believe
  that the rabble were acted upon and encouraged to such proceedings by
  those who should be their superiors, one cannot but perceive the too
  evident spirit of the times, or of the place at least, by which you
  and so many of your worthy neighbours have suffered.”

Wedgwood then earnestly begs his friend to let him know how he can be of
service to him:—

  “Instruct me in the means of doing it and I shall esteem it as one of
  the strongest instances of your friendship.”

Priestley’s reply was written from the house of his son-in-law, William
Finch, Heath Forge, Birmingham, and was as follows:—

  “Your very kind and sympathising letter was very acceptable to me. The
  shock was no doubt very great, but I thank God I have been able to
  bear it without any loss of health, or, indeed, of spirits. I begin to
  suffer most from want of employment and absence from my family, which
  indeed is irksome to me. My wife behaved with the greatest heroism at
  the time, but continuing in the neighbourhood, and hearing continually
  of the bad spirit that prevails in the place, I perceived that her
  mind began to be affected by it. She cannot remove, as my daughter
  expects to be brought to bed in about a month, and she cannot bear
  that her mother should be absent at the time. This circumstance adds
  much to my difficulty. Could we go together to some distant place for
  a month we should be much more comfortable. One good thing has already
  come out of this evil—I have a kind letter from Mr John Wilkinson
  inviting us to any house of his, and bidding me not to regard any
  losses that money can repair.”

His brother-in-law promptly sent him £500 after the riots, and
subsequently transferred to him £10,000 in the French funds. As these
were afterwards nonproductive he afterwards gave him an annuity of £200.

Immediately after the riots he received a great number of addresses and
testimonials from his theological and philosophical admirers, and an
address transmitted by Condorcet was sent to him from the French Academy
of Sciences.

One of the earliest letters he dispatched from London was to Keir, under
date July 22, 1791.

                              Priestley to Keir.

  “I am very happy to see a copy of your letter to the printer of the
  _Birmingham Chronicle_, and in return enclose copies of my ‘Address to
  the Inhabitants of Birmingham,’ and of Mr Russell’s ‘Account of the
  Proceedings on July 14th.’ Both these have been in the London papers
  and I have just sent yours to the printer of the _Morning Chronicle_.

  “I am happy to hear that all is quiet with you now, but when it will
  be proper for me to come to you I cannot tell. I fear not before the
  next Lunar Society. Whether I shall ever have it in my power to
  collect another apparatus for experiments is quite uncertain, as
  indeed is, in a great measure, my settling again at Birmingham, though
  there is no place in the world that I should prefer to it.

  “The extra copies of my last paper for the _Philosophical
  Transactions_ are printed, and I shall soon send some to Mr Galton to
  be presented to each of the members of the Lunar Society.

  “I beg my compliments to them, and as long as I live I shall with much
  satisfaction think of our many happy meetings.”

In a letter to Wedgwood, dated four days later, he sends two copies of
his paper, and says:—

  “I fear I shall not soon be able to furnish materials for another.
  Indeed, what I shall do, or where I shall settle, is uncertain. I
  shall, however, continue at Birmingham _if possible_, and resume all
  my pursuits, in which case I must thank you for a fresh stock of
  _retorts_, tubes, etc., etc., etc. This invasion of the Goths and
  Vandals I little foresaw, and hope it will never be repeated, as I
  fancy the _experiment_ will not be found to answer.”

The next letter to Keir, dated July 29, 1791, is interesting as throwing
further light upon the causes of the riots:—

  “I never thought of returning to Birmingham till my friends there
  should think it safe and, on their accounts, advisable; and this, I
  now begin to fear, will not be so soon as you intimate. However, I am
  ready to attend the first summons, and earnestly wish it may be before
  the next Lunar Society. But your meeting must not depend upon this

  “With this I send each of you a copy of my late, and I fear _last_,
  paper for the _Philosophical Transactions_. I shall always recollect,
  with peculiar satisfaction and regret, our many cheerful and improving
  meetings; and if not a constant, shall indulge the hope of being an
  occasional, attendant.

  “You were certainly a better judge than I was of the _spirit of the
  times_. But even you could not have expected such brutal excesses as
  have taken place; and yet I am willing to hope much from _time_, from
  your seasonable letter, and the representations of the more calm and
  reasonable members of the Church of England, if not from the
  interposition of Government and the execution of the laws, in which I
  _wish_ for moderation.

  “I lately dined with Mr Sheridan, who said I should meet Mr Fox.[15]
  He, however, was prevented from attending, but desired Mr Sheridan to
  say that he wished to take the matter up in whatever manner we should
  think proper, by motion in the House on the subject. They conceive
  that the encouragement given to this High Church spirit by the Court
  arises from their willingness to crush Mr Fox, who has taken our part,
  and that they hoped by these measures to intimidate us into silence.

  “This I can hardly think to be the case, and I am unwilling to connect
  our cause with that of any political party; since upon the face of it,
  as you have clearly shown, it is wholly of a religious nature.
  However, I said there would be time enough to take our measures before
  the next meeting of Parliament.”

Dr Withering, himself a sufferer, hastened to express his sympathy.
Priestley replied to his letters as follows:—

  “Your generous contribution towards the re-establishment of my
  philosophical apparatus cannot but give me satisfaction, though I am
  sorry to be so burdensome to my friends, especially my
  fellow-sufferers, among whom you are ranked. But what the country will
  do towards indemnifying us appears very distant and uncertain, and my
  claims will be liable to the greatest uncertainty, as the _proof_ that
  may be required of my losses cannot be given.

  “I am happy to find that your alarms and sufferings have no more
  affected your spirit and health than my own did mine, and that we may
  so soon expect your third volume.[16]

  “It will be a considerable time, with every assistance that money can
  afford, before I can be at work again, and hardly ever to so much
  advantage as at Birmingham. Such assistance from philosophical friends
  I should in vain look for here, and as long as I live I shall look
  back with pleasure and regret to our Lunar meetings, which I always
  enjoyed so much and from which I derived so much solid advantage. If I
  could find the same _intelligence_ in any club of Philosophers here, I
  could not find the same _frankness_ which is the charm of all society.

  “I have nearly printed _An Appeal to the Public_ on the subject of the
  late riot, and shall direct the printer to deliver you a copy.

  “I am sensible that it will more exasperate my enemies, but it is
  addressed to our common judges, and may conciliate _them_, at least in
  a course of time.

  “I have lately written to Mr Watt, and desired him, or the Lunar
  Society as a body, to make a proposal to those who act for the
  country. I hope you will see the propriety of it and contribute to its

The _Appeal_ evidently cost Priestley much pains in its composition.
Part of it was sent in sheets to his intimate friends in Birmingham,
notably Dr Withering, Mr Galton and Mr Russell, who conferred together
and with Captain Keir as to the advisability of publishing it. Like him
they were sensible that it would certainly more exasperate his enemies.
Captain Keir endeavoured to dissuade him from its publication, at least
in its proposed form, saying that it would “irritate his professed
enemies, and furnish them with a new source of abuse,” and that he
feared that “Government would become more remiss in prosecuting the
magistrates and in protecting the Dissenters in future if they should
meet with any passage that would give them offence.”

On learning the opinion of his friends Priestley wrote to Wedgwood:—

  “I have desired the printer to send you a copy of my _Appeal_ on the
  subject of the riots, in order to have your opinion and advice with
  respect to publishing of it. Several of my friends in Birmingham,
  viz., Dr Withering, Mr Keir and Mr Galton, think that it had better be
  suppressed, or published with many alterations by way of softening.
  Others, and especially my friends here, are for its speedy
  publication, or about the time of the meeting of Parliament. In this
  state of suspense I beg your perusal of it and your free opinion. I
  think that if I write at all it should not be with less spirit than I
  have usually shown, and that there is nothing more violent or
  offensive in _this_ than in several of my preaching publications. But
  as others are interested in the event of this publication I am willing
  to be advised by them.”

On August 24, 1791, at the Warwick Assizes, John Green, John Clifton and
Bartholomew Fisher were indicted for that they, with one William Jones,
at large, with others, to the number of fifty and more, did, on the 15th
of July, unlawfully and riotously assemble and with force of arms begin
to pull down the dwelling-house of Joseph Priestley, LL.D. The jury
found Green and Fisher guilty and Clifton not guilty.

John Stokes, for beginning to pull down the Old Meeting-House in
Birmingham, was acquitted, on account of the defects in the indictment.
The following was Baron Perryn’s sentence:—

  “Prisoners, you have been convicted by very human and attentive juries
  of the enormous crimes of setting fire to and destroying the houses
  and property of your fellow-subjects in a manner as wanton as it was
  unprovoked. Your cry of ‘Church and King!’ was nothing but a pretext
  to commit depredation and robbery. The Law and Constitution is a
  sufficient shield to protect the Church and the sacred person of His
  Majesty and all his good subjects in their lives and property.

  “At the same time the Law possesses sufficient energy and vigour to
  make examples of those bad citizens who wickedly and wantonly violate

  “You, miserable criminals, are of that number, and it is necessary
  that your lives should atone for your crimes, as a public example. You
  must therefore be removed from this world; and I most earnestly
  recommend you to employ the short space of time which will be allowed
  to you to make your peace with your offended Creator, who alone can
  grant that mercy which you must not expect from your country.”

Priestley’s own account of these proceedings, as given in his _Memoirs_,
is very naïve and even studiously dispassionate. He says:—

  “About two years before I left Birmingham, the question about the
  ‘Test Act’ was much agitated both in and out of Parliament. This,
  however, was altogether without any concurrence of mine. I only
  delivered, and published, a sermon on the 5th of November 1789,
  recommending the most peaceable method of pursuing our object. Mr
  Madan, however, the most respectable clergyman in the town, preaching
  and publishing a very inflammatory sermon on the subject, inveighing
  in the bitterest manner against the Dissenters in general and myself
  in particular, I addressed a number of ‘Familiar Letters to the
  Inhabitants of Birmingham’ in our defence. This produced a reply from
  him and other letters from me. All mine were written in an ironical
  and rather a pleasant manner, and in some of the last of them I
  introduced a further reply to Mr Burn, another clergyman in
  Birmingham, who had addressed to me ‘Letters on the Infallibility of
  the Testimony of the Apostles concerning the Person of Christ,’ after
  replying to his first set of letters, in a separate publication.

  “From these small pieces I was far from expecting any serious
  consequences. But the Dissenters in general being very obnoxious to
  the Court, and it being imagined, though without any reason, that I
  had been the chief promoter of the measures which gave them offence,
  the clergy, not only in Birmingham but through all England, seemed to
  make it their business, by writing in the public papers, by preaching
  and other methods, to inflame the minds of the people against me. And
  on occasion of the celebration of the anniversary of the French
  Revolution, on July 14, 1791, by several of my friends, but with which
  I had little to do, a mob, encouraged by some persons in power, first
  burned the meeting-house in which I preached, then another
  meeting-house in the town, and then my dwelling-house, demolishing my
  library, apparatus and, as far as they could, everything belonging to
  me. They also burned, or much damaged, the houses of many Dissenters,
  chiefly my friends.

  “The criminality of the magistrates and other principal High Churchmen
  at Birmingham in promoting the riot remains acknowledged. Indeed, many
  circumstances which have appeared since that time show that the
  friends of the Court, if not the Prime Ministers themselves, were the
  favourers of that riot, having, no doubt, thought to intimidate the
  friends of liberty by the measure.”

“The years following the riot of 1791,” wrote Mr Matthew Devonport Hill,
“witnessed various displays of hostile sentiment. In preparation for a
municipal dinner shortly after that event, of which a member of the
powerful and wealthy party opposed to French principles bore the cost,
the list of guests accustomed prior to the outbreak to be invited on
public occasions had been sedulously cleared of adverse elements. By
inadvertence, however, the name of Dr Parr was retained; and the sturdy
divine, although he must have surmised that he would be the only
representative of his opinions, duly obeyed the summons. The cloth being
drawn, the Chairman proposed, as the Doctor no doubt expected, the toast
of ‘Church and King.’

“Parr instantly started to his feet, proclaiming in a stern voice his
dissent. ‘No, sir,’ said he, ‘I will not drink that toast. It was the
cry of Jacobites; it is the cry of incendiaries. It means a Church
without the Gospel, and a King above the Law!’”

                               CHAPTER X

  Determines to leave England—His arrival in America—Settles at
  Northumberland—His closing days—His death.

Priestley’s position in London for some time after his arrival there was
very insecure, and so apprehensive were his friends of further outrage
that it was thought necessary to provide him with a disguise and to
arrange a plan of escape in case the house should be attacked. At first
he was not allowed to appear in the streets. Ultimately he was moved to
Tottenham, where he spent a month.

In the middle of October a house was taken for him in Hackney, but it
was with difficulty that the landlord, who feared his property would be
demolished, was persuaded to accept him as a tenant. Here, however, he
proceeded to build himself a laboratory, and in a letter to Thomas
Wedgwood, of October 18, 1791, he says:—

  “As soon as convenient I shall be obliged to your father if he will
  supply me, as usual, with such retorts as you make, viz., earthen
  tubes closed at the end and open, and some with two necks. Small
  _retorts_, _evaporating-dishes_, _mortars_ and _levigators_. Perhaps
  your servants here can tell me the price at which I must estimate
  those that were destroyed by the riot. I must soon give in an account
  of my losses, and I fear that some person on your part must attend at
  Warwick to attest the value. Mr Nairn, Mr Parker and others have
  promised to attend. But I have prepared [proposed] a conference
  between my appraiser and those for the county in London, which, if
  they be disposed to do justice, will save much trouble and expense.

  “Whether I shall be invited to succeed Dr Price is uncertain. Many
  apprehend public disturbance in consequence of my coming. I could not
  get a house let in my own name. A friend took it in his. I have,
  however, very handsome proposals from France, particularly the offer
  of a house completely furnished, two miles from Paris, and another
  polite invitation from Toulouse, to take up my residence in the South
  of France in ‘a monastery which reason has recovered from

Priestley’s claim for damages amounted to £3628, 8s. 9d. Hutton says his
real loss was upwards of £4500 (Jewitt’s _Life of Hutton_, p. 255). The
Court allowed £2502, 18s. In the town of Birmingham property to the
value of £50,000 was destroyed, of which sum £26,961, 2s. 3d. was
finally paid by a rate on the Hundred, in which Birmingham is included
(Sam Timmins, _Trans. Midl. Inst._, 1875).

Lindsey, writing to his friend, Alexander of Yarmouth, under date
October 15, 1791, mentioning Priestley, says:—

  “He is very well, and with his wonted cheerfulness, which has never
  forsaken him. Sunday last he preached for me for the first time since
  he has been expelled by fire and destruction out of his own place of
  worship, and he does me that favour to-morrow again. He has at last,
  though very reluctantly, and much to the concern of his late beloved
  people, given up the thought of continuing the pastoral office among
  them, as the exercise of it would not probably be consistent with his
  personal safety and liberty; such is the temper of his many
  adversaries still, and so hostile to him.”

The managers of other Dissenting chapels had not the courage of Lindsey
and begged that he would refrain from preaching to their congregations.
Eventually he was invited to take the position formerly occupied by his
friend Price.

The rancour of his enemies now broke out afresh, and the most persistent
efforts were made to damage and disparage him in the eyes of his
congregation. His friends in the neighbourhood were advised to move
their effects to some place of greater safety, as it was common rumour
that his house was to be attacked on the succeeding anniversary of the
Birmingham riot. His servants were afraid to remain for any length of
time with him, and the tradespeople hesitated to take his custom. He was
several times burnt in effigy along with Tom Paine. Coloured caricatures
of him, of the grossest and coarsest kind, in which he was described as
“the treacherous rebel and Birmingham rioter” were scattered broadcast.
Insulting letters, in some of which he was likened to Guy Fawkes or the
devil himself, were sent to him from all parts of the country, even from
men calling themselves ministers of the Gospel. In one of these he was
threatened with being burned alive before a slow fire. The Rev. Dr
Tatham, Rector of Lincoln College, Oxford, whose biographer compared him
with Warburton (“There is much of the same rough, unpolished strength in
his language”), thus addressed him:—

  “Long have you been the Danger of this country, the Bane of its
  Polity, and the Canker-worm of its Happiness. Long, too long, have
  your Principles tended to bereave it of its Religion, its
  Constitution, and consequently of its King.”

Burke, to his everlasting shame, inveighed against him in the House of
Commons, and many of his associates in the Royal Society shunned him.

His position in the Society became eventually so irksome that he
withdrew from it, as he explains in the preface to his _Observations and
Experiments on the Generation of Air from Water_, which he published in
pamphlet form at Hackney, with a dedication to the members of the Lunar

In a letter to Withering, written from Clapton, October 2, 1792, he

  “... One of the things that I regret the most in being expelled from
  Birmingham is the loss of your company and that of the rest of the
  Lunar Society. I feel I want the spur to constant exertion which I had
  with you. My philosophical friends here are cold and distant. Mr
  Cavendish never expressed the least concern on account of anything I
  had suffered, though I joined a party with which he was, and talked
  with them some time. I do not expect to have much intercourse with any
  of them.

  “I have, however, nearly replaced my apparatus, and intend not to be
  idle. I have already made some experiments relating to the _doctrine
  of phlogiston_, and when I have made a few more shall probably write
  something on the subject. I am surprised at the confidence with which
  the French chemists write; but I cannot yet learn what they have to
  object to my last paper in the _Philosophical Transactions_....

  “I was in hopes to have been able to pay my friends of Birm. a visit
  long before this time, but was always discouraged, so that I have now
  given up the thoughts of it, and must content myself with seeing as
  many of them as I can here.... I do not, however, think I shall
  continue here long. Though unwillingly, I shall some time hence follow
  my son to France. But as I can _do_ nothing there I will stay here as
  long as I can.”

To what lengths the Government were determined to go was seen in their
banishment, in 1793, of Thomas Fyshe Palmer, a gentleman of a highly
respectable and opulent family in Bedfordshire, to Botany Bay for seven
years, because he had been concerned in publishing a paper in favour of
Parliamentary Reform; and in their treatment of Mr Winterbotham, a
Calvinistic minister of Plymouth Dock, on account of his political
opinions. The mock trial of Mr Winterbotham at Newgate and the four
years’ imprisonment which followed it, created a wide-spread feeling of
indignation and alarm, and many families were constrained to leave the
country in disgust. Among them was Priestley’s friend and
fellow-sufferer, the worthy Mr Russell, who on his way to Boston, New
England, was captured with his family by a French privateer and thrown
into prison in Brest.

Priestley, at length, also determined to follow them. It was however
with the greatest reluctance that he came to that decision. It meant
parting from affectionate and devoted friends to whom he was warmly
attached, whose zeal to serve him and to minister to his wants far
outweighed the hatred of those who sought to cover him with oblivion. It
meant too the relinquishment in large measure of his philosophical
pursuits since he could not hope to procure elsewhere the same
facilities for inquiry that he enjoyed here. More than all it seemed to
mean the relinquishment of what was still dearer to him—his active
efforts in the propagation of Unitarianism. Lastly it meant in all human
probability a lasting severance from the daughter to whom he was so
tenderly attached. He was largely guided to his decision by
consideration for his sons, since, as he says, he found that the bigotry
of the country in general made it impossible for him to place them here
with any advantage. His second son, William, had been some time in
France, but on the breaking out of the troubles in that country he had
embarked for America, where his two brothers, Joseph and Henry, met him.
They had a project of founding a settlement near the head of the
Susquehanna in Pennsylvania, and several of Priestley’s friends at home,
among them Mr William Russell of Birmingham, a leader of the New
Meeting-House, were directly interested in the scheme.

Priestley at length decided to throw in his lot with his sons, and in
the preface to his _Fast and Farewell Sermons_, which he delivered to
his Hackney congregation on the eve of his departure, he gave his
reasons for leaving the country:—

  “After the riots in Birmingham it was the expectation, and evidently
  the wish of many persons, that I should immediately fly to France or
  America. But I had no consciousness of guilt to induce me to fly from
  my country. On the contrary, I came directly to London, and instantly,
  by means of my friend, Mr Russell, signified to the King’s ministers
  that I _was_ there and ready, if they thought proper, to be
  interrogated on the subject of the riots.

  “Ill-treated as I thought I had been, not merely by the populace of
  Birmingham, for they were the mere tools of their superiors, but by
  the country in general, which evidently exulted in our sufferings, and
  afterwards by the representatives of the nation, who refused to
  inquire into the cause of them, I own I was not without deliberating
  upon the subject of emigration; and several flattering proposals were
  made to me, especially from France, which was then at peace within
  itself and with all the world; and I was at one time much inclined to
  go thither, on account of its nearness to England, the agreeableness
  of its climate, and my having many friends there.

  “But I likewise considered that if I went thither I should have no
  employment of the kind to which I had been accustomed; and the season
  of active life not being, according to the course of nature, quite
  over, I wished to make as much use of it as I could. I therefore
  determined to continue in England, exposed as I was not only to
  unbounded obloquy and insult, but to every kind of outrage; and after
  my invitation to succeed my friend Dr Price I had no hesitation about

He then goes on to show how insecure his position was, and how
impossible it was to follow his avocations in peace, in face of the
odium and insult he continually met with:—

  “These facts not only show how general was the idea of my particular
  insecurity in this country, but what is of much more consequence, and
  highly interesting to the country at large, an idea of the general
  disposition to rioting and violence that prevails in it, and that the
  Dissenters are the objects of it. Mr Pitt very justly observed, in his
  speech on the subject of the riots at Birmingham, that it was ‘the
  effervescence of the public mind.’ Indeed, the effervescible matter
  has existed in this country ever since the civil wars in the time of
  Charles I., and it was particularly apparent in the reign of Queen
  Anne. But the power of Government under the former princes of the
  House of Hanover prevented its doing any mischief. The late events
  show that this power is no longer exerted as it used to be, but that
  on the contrary there prevails an idea, well or ill founded, that
  tumultuary proceedings against Dissenters will not receive any
  effectual discouragement.

  “After what has taken place with respect to Birmingham, all idea of
  much hazard for insulting and abusing the Dissenters is entirely
  vanished; whereas the disposition to injure the Catholics was
  effectually checked by the proceedings of the year 1780. From that
  time they have been safe, and rejoice in it. But from the year 1791
  the Dissenters have been more exposed to insult and outrage than ever.

  “The necessity I was under of sending my sons out of this country was
  my principal inducement to send the little property that I had out of
  it too; so that I had nothing in England besides my library, apparatus
  and household goods.

  “By this I felt myself greatly relieved, it being of little
  consequence where a man already turned sixty ends his days. Whatever
  good or evil I have been capable of is now chiefly done; and I trust
  that the same consciousness of integrity which has supported me
  hitherto will carry me through anything that may yet be reserved for
  me. Seeing, however, no great prospect of doing much good, or having
  much enjoyment here, I am now preparing to follow my sons; hoping to
  be of some use to them in their present unsettled state, and that
  Providence may yet, advancing in years as I am, find me some sphere of
  usefulness with them.”

He then goes on to deal with the charge that he was a factious,
political parson who preached sedition:—

  “As to the great odium that I have incurred, the charge of _sedition_,
  or my being an enemy to the constitution or peace of my country, is a
  mere pretence for it; though it has been so much urged that it is now
  generally believed, and all attempts to undeceive the public with
  respect to it avail nothing at all. The whole course of my studies
  from early life shows how little _politics_ of any kind have been my
  object. Indeed, to have written so much as I have in _theology_, and
  to have done so much in _experimental philosophy_, and at the same
  time to have had my mind occupied, as it is supposed to have been,
  with factious politics, I must have had faculties more than human.”

It is true, he says, he wrote a pamphlet “On the State of Liberty in
this Country” at the time of Wilkes’s election for Middlesex, and at the
request of Franklin he wrote an address to the Dissenters on the subject
of the approaching rupture with America; but he has nothing to reproach
himself with on that score, and posterity agrees with him. His
connection with the Marquis of Lansdowne was in no sense political.
“Although,” he says, “I entered into almost all his views, as thinking
them just and liberal, I never wrote a single political pamphlet, or
even a paragraph in a newspaper, all the time that I was with him, which
was seven years.”

He had never preached a political sermon in his life, unless such as he
believed all Dissenters usually preached on the 5th of November in
favour of civil and religious liberty may be said to be political. Even
on those occasions he had never advanced any sentiment that would have
made him until then obnoxious to the administration of this country. The
doctrines he adopted when young, and which were even popular then
(except with the clergy, who were at that time generally disaffected to
the family on the throne), he could not now abandon merely because the
times were so changed that they had become unpopular and the expression
of them hazardous.

Although he did not disapprove of societies for political information,
he never was a member of one, nor did he ever attend any public meeting
if he could decently avoid it.

  “If, then, my real crime has not been _sedition_, or _treason_, what
  has it been? For every _effect_ must have some adequate _cause_, and
  therefore the odium that I have incurred must have been owing to
  something in my declared sentiments or conduct that has exposed me to
  it. In my opinion it cannot have been anything but my open hostility
  to the doctrines of the Established Church, and more especially to all
  civil establishments of religion whatever. This has brought upon me
  the implacable resentment of the great body of the clergy; and they
  have found other methods of opposing me besides _argument_ and that
  use of the _press_ which is equally open to us all. They have also
  found an able ally and champion in Mr Burke, who (without any
  provocation except that of answering his book on the French
  Revolution) has taken several opportunities of inveighing against me
  in a place where he knows I cannot reply to him, and from which he
  also knows that his accusation will reach every corner of the country
  and consequently thousands of persons who will never read any writings
  of mine. They have had another, and still more effectual vehicle of
  their abuse in what are called the _treasury newpapers_, and other
  popular publications.

                                . . . . . . .

  “I could, if I were so disposed, give my readers many more instances
  of the bigotry of the clergy of the Church of England with respect to
  me which could not fail to excite in generous minds equal indignation
  and contempt: but I forbear. Had I, however, foreseen what I am now
  witness to, I certainly should not have made any attempt to replace my
  library or apparatus, and I soon repented of having done it. But this
  being done, I was willing to make some use of both before another
  interruption of my pursuits.... I hoped to have had no occasion for
  more than one, and that a final, remove. But the circumstances above
  mentioned have induced me, though with great and sincere regret, to
  undertake another, and to a greater distance than any that I have
  hitherto made.... And I trust that the same good Providence which has
  attended me hitherto, and made me happy in my present situation, and
  all my former ones, will attend and bless me in which may still be
  before me. In all events the will of God be done.

  “I cannot refrain from repeating again that I leave my native country
  with real regret, never expecting to find anywhere else society so
  suited to my disposition and habits, such friends as I have here
  (whose attachment has been more than a balance to all the abuse I have
  met with from others), and especially to replace one particular
  Christian friend, in whose absence I shall, for some time at least,
  find all the world a blank. Still less can I expect to resume my
  favourite pursuits with anything like the advantages I enjoy here. In
  leaving this country I also abandon a source of maintenance which I
  can but ill bear to lose. I can, however, truly say that I leave it
  without any resentment or ill-will. On the contrary, I sincerely wish
  my countrymen all happiness; and when the time for reflection (which
  my absence may accelerate) shall come they will, I am confident, do me
  more justice. They will be convinced that every suspicion they have
  been led to entertain to my disadvantage has been ill founded, and
  that I have even some claim to their gratitude and esteem. In this
  case I shall look with satisfaction to the time when, if my life be
  prolonged, I may visit my friends in this country; and perhaps I may,
  notwithstanding my removal for the present, find a grave (as I believe
  is naturally the wish of every man) in the land that gave me birth.”

As the time of his departure drew near his friends vied with each other
in their expressions of esteem and affection and many evidences of their
regret were offered to him. Among these was a silver inkstand from some
of his admirers in the University of Cambridge, on which was an
inscription of their sorrow “that this expression of their esteem should
be occasioned by the ingratitude of their country.”

On April 8, 1794, Priestley and his wife set sail from London, and
arrived at New York on June 4.

On the way out he wrote some _Observations on the Cause of the Present
Prevalence of Infidelity_, which he prefixed to a new edition of his
_Letters to the Philosophers and Politicians of France_.

Alas! one of the most distinguished of those philosophers and
politicians was even then no more. Coffinhal had pronounced his
judgment, declaring “the Republic has no need of men of science,” and
whilst Priestley was on the high seas his great protagonist, Lavoisier,
more unfortunate even than he, met his death on the scaffold.

  “Such was the treatment bestowed upon the best of their citizens by
  two nations which considered themselves as without exception the most
  civilised and enlightened in the world!”

Priestley was well received in New York, many people meeting him on
landing, and he was presented with addresses of welcome from various
societies. After a stay of about a fortnight he proceeded to
Philadelphia and received an address from the American Philosophical
Society, and by a unanimous vote of the trustees was offered the
Professorship of Chemistry in the University of Philadelphia.

In the following July, in order to escape from the heat of the city, he
moved to Northumberland, a town about a hundred and thirty miles
north-west of Philadelphia and situated at the confluence of the
north-east and west branches of the Susquehanna, near to which place his
eldest son, together with certain other persons, mainly Englishmen,
projected a settlement. Priestley himself had no pecuniary interest, as
has been stated, in the undertaking, and he was not consulted in its
formation, nor had he even decided to join it if carried into effect. We
learn from his son’s account that the scheme of settlement was not to be
confined to any particular class or character of men, religious or
political. It was set on foot to be, as it were, a rallying point for
the English, who were at that period emigrating to America in great
numbers, and who, it was thought, would be more happy in society of the
kind they had been accustomed to than they would be if dispersed through
the whole of the States.

Owing to disagreements among the projectors, the scheme of the
settlement fell through. Priestley, however, who was charmed with the
beauty of its situation and the nature of its surroundings, determined
to settle at Northumberland. Although at that time remote from any
considerable town it was obviously destined to become a great
thoroughfare. It was apparently healthy and less enervating, at least in
summer time, than Philadelphia. Living was cheaper there than in that
city, and he would be more free from care and more at liberty to follow
his own pursuits than if burdened with the responsibilities of teaching.
Lastly, his poor wife, who had never recovered from the shock of the
Birmingham riots, needed rest and quiet. On these grounds, therefore, he
decided to decline the offer of the Professorship at Philadelphia, as
well as an invitation to take charge of an Unitarian congregation at New
York, and to spend his remaining days in peace and retirement on the
beautiful spot he had chosen. The year before his death he was offered
the principalship of the University of Pennsylvania in succession to Dr
Euen, but this office also he declined.

On his first settling at Northumberland in 1795 he was mainly occupied
with his theological and metaphysical studies. During this year he
published the work which had occupied him during his voyage from
England, his _Fast and Farewell Sermons_, some tracts in defence of
Unitarianism, and the third part of his _Letters to a Philosophical
Unbeliever_, in answer to Paine’s _Age of Reason_, and he continued his
_Church History from the Fall of the Western Empire to the Reformation_.
In the house he had first occupied, which was barely sufficient in size
to contain the family, he had little opportunity or convenience for
doing experimental work.

Still, he made some observations on the analysis of air, and continued
his inquiries on the generation of air from water.

Having determined to make Northumberland his home, he proceeded to build
a house more suitable to his needs and pursuits, and, as his letters of
the period show, its planning and arrangement gave him much thought and
greatly interested him.

The house, which still exists, is similar in character to many
middle-class American houses built in the country, a plain substantial
erection, covered with match-boarding and fitted with jalousies, and to
the front a loggia or verandah. The laboratory is a small building to
the side, partially shaded by a large, wide-spreading tree.

In the autumn of this year he lost his youngest son, Henry, a bright and
intelligent youth, of whom he was remarkably fond. This loss greatly
affected him, for he had hopes that the young man would follow him in
his theological and philosophical pursuits, to which he had shown an
inclination. The death of his son was even more profoundly felt by his
wife, whose health and spirits now began rapidly to decline, and she too
passed away a few months later.

  “Through life,” says her son, “she had been truly a helpmeet for him;
  supporting him under all his trials and sufferings with a constancy
  and perseverance truly praiseworthy, and who, as he himself, in noting
  the event in his diary, justly observes, ‘was of a noble and generous
  mind, and cared much for others and little for herself through life.’”

At about this period he preached and printed another of his defences of
Unitarianism and completed his _Church History_, and began the
compilation of his last treatise in defence of phlogiston.

He spent the spring of 1796 in Philadelphia, where he delivered a series
of lectures on the evidences of revelation to crowded audiences,
including most of the members of the United States Congress, at that
time sitting in Philadelphia, and of the executive officers of the
Government. He delivered a second series on the same subject in the
spring of the following year, but with less success, partly owing, his
son imagines, to the novelty of the thing having passed away, and partly
from prejudices that began to be excited against him on account of his
supposed political principles. In reality Priestley took even less
interest in the politics of America than he had done in those of his own
country. He seldom read the debates in Congress, and beyond Adams and
Jefferson he knew few of the leading politicians. He never attended a
political meeting or took part directly or indirectly in an election,
and excepting an article in a newspaper called “Aurora,” or “Maxims of
Political Arithmetic,” and signed “A Quaker in Politics,” he wrote
nothing on the subject of politics. At that period political feeling ran
high and politics were the one subject of conversation, and to some
extent, therefore, he could not escape their discussion, but it was
noticed that he always argued on the side of liberty. As regards British
politics his speculations went no further than a reform in Parliament,
such as that which was accomplished less than thirty years after his
death. He had no desire to see changed the constitution of the kingdom
as vested in King, Lords and Commons.

  “He used frequently to say,” says his son, “and it was said of him,
  that though he was an Unitarian in religion he was in that country a
  Trinitarian in politics. When he came to America he found reason to
  change his opinions, and he became a decided friend to the general
  principles and practice of a completely representative Government,
  founded upon universal suffrage, and excluding hereditary privileges,
  as it exists in this country. This change was naturally produced by
  observing the ease and happiness with which the people lived, and the
  unexampled prosperity of the country.”

But in his feelings he was still an Englishman. He never was
naturalised, saying that as he had been born and had lived an Englishman
he would die one, let what might be the consequence.

Towards the end of 1797 his new library and laboratory were finished,
his books once more arranged and much of his old apparatus installed. He
found workmen in Northumberland who could repair his instruments and
make such new ones as he wanted. He was thus able to resume the kind of
life he led at Birmingham, spending much of the day in the laboratory or
alternately in his study, sometimes engaged on experimental philosophy,
at other times in the composition of the theological works which seemed
to flow in an unending stream from his pen. He delighted to walk in his
garden and to view the beautiful prospect it afforded him of the river
and the distant landscape. He had, too, a kindly interest in the whole
community, and noted with pleasure the many little improvements going
forward in and about the town. There was no apparent abatement in the
vigour of his mind or in the keenness and enthusiasm with which he
followed the extraordinary expansion of the science he loved so well
during the opening years of the nineteenth century. In a letter to
Humphry Davy, then at the outset of his brilliant career, he says:—

  “It gives me peculiar satisfaction that, as I am far advanced in life
  and cannot expect to do much more, I shall leave so able a
  fellow-labourer of my own country in the great fields of experimental
  philosophy.... I rejoice that you are so young a man; and perceiving
  the ardour with which you begin your career I have no doubts of your

The following letter to his old friend Mrs Barbauld, with whom he kept
up a correspondence to the last, gives some account of his condition at
this time:—

  “Dear Madam,—This will, I hope, be delivered, as it will be conveyed
  by my son. How happy should I think myself to wait on you and Mr
  Barbauld in person. Should there be a _peace_, I do promise myself
  that pleasure, but at present this great blessing seems to be at a
  great distance. How many melancholy changes have taken place since I
  left England, and among these is the death of Dr Enfield, a man at
  least ten years younger than me, and to appearance more healthy. I am
  also much alarmed at the accounts I receive of your brother [Dr John
  Aiken], whom I left in perfect health, but the last were rather more
  favourable. His life is of great value, both to his relatives,
  acquaintances and the world at large, few men having been more
  usefully employed. I am willing to hope he is yet reserved for more

  “When I compare the perturbed state of Europe with the quiet of this
  place I wish all my friends were here, provided they could find
  sufficient employment to be happy; but if they be like myself they
  must be content to be idle, except so far as they can make themselves
  employment in their closets. My library and laboratory sufficiently
  occupy me, and of common society I have as much as I want. A few more
  _rational Christians_ to form a society would make this place a
  paradise to me, and this would be wanting in many parts of England.

  “It is a pleasure to be in a place that is continually and visibly
  improving, and this is the case here to an astonishing degree. In
  every year we find a very sensible difference, and in all probability
  improvements of all kind will go on more rapidly than ever. Nature has
  done everything that can be done for any place. Perhaps you have seen
  the views of it taken by Miss Daich. They are not by any means too

  “Could I have my daughter here I should be happy indeed. But this, I
  fear, is not likely to be accomplished, owing to the strange obstinacy
  and prejudice of Mr Finch. Her trials must be very great, but she is
  naturally cheerful, and has a strong sense of _religion_, which, I
  hope, will support her. This, sufficiently impressed, will make us
  equal to everything. Your kindness to her affects me much. _A friend
  in need is a friend indeed._ Something will, I hope, be done for her
  before my son returns, but what it can be I do not know. Her uncle has
  some proposal to make to my son in her favour, but the obstinacy of Mr
  Finch may defeat everything.

  “You have obliged me very much by the exquisite little poem you sent
  me. I hope you will add to the obligation by the communication of the
  fragment on the ‘Game of Chess,’ or any other little piece you may
  think proper to send me. You had no copy of your first poem to my
  wife, or I should value _that_ above any other, and also the little
  poem you wrote on the birth of Joseph.

  “I shall always be very happy to hear from you; and, with my best
  respects to Mr Barbauld, I am, dear Madam, yours sincerely,
                                                           J. Priestley.

  “Northumberland, _Dec. 23, 1798_.
  “Mrs Barbauld, Hampstead,
        near London.”

His son has given us a faithful picture of his closing years and of the
serenity of the evening of his life.

  “For the last four years of his life he lived under an administration,
  the principles and practice of which he perfectly approved, and with
  Mr Jefferson, the head of that administration, he frequently
  corresponded, and they had for each other a mutual regard and esteem.
  He enjoyed the esteem of the wisest and best men in the country,
  particularly at Philadelphia, where his religion and his politics did
  not prevent his being kindly and cheerfully received by great numbers
  of opposite opinions in both, who thus paid homage to his knowledge
  and virtue.”

In 1800 he put together his last scientific work, and the one which he
regarded as the crown of all his efforts, _viz._, his _Doctrine of
Phlogiston Established_. It can never be said of Priestley that he was
to one thing constant never: versatile as he was, and with an
extraordinary capacity for adaptation and change in matters of
philosophy and theological doctrine, he was ever constant to phlogiston.

During the spring of 1801, whilst on a visit to Philadelphia, he had an
attack of fever from which he never wholly recovered. It left him
predisposed to the fever and ague at that time prevalent at
Northumberland and he had a succession of attacks which weakened him
greatly. Nevertheless, his spirits were uniformly good and his
complacency and cheerfulness of manner never left him; and although he
was incapable of taking much physical exercise and had to give up
working in his garden, he spent a considerable amount of time in his
laboratory, experimenting with all the enthusiasm and eagerness of his
most active period with the newly-discovered pile of Volta, and sending
his results to _Nicholson’s Journal_.

In 1802 he was enabled to send his _Church History_ to press, owing to
the action of his friends in England, who, unknown to him, had set a
subscription on foot sufficient to cover the expense of publication.

Although he was obviously failing in strength, owing to gastric
troubles, he continued to work on either in his study or in his
laboratory. He sent a couple of papers to the American Philosophical
Society on scientific subjects, and he published an essay on _Jesus and
Socrates Compared_. In the November of 1803 it was evident that his end
was approaching. Still he struggled on, hoping by careful attention to
his diet he might still see the spring. He told the physician who
attended him that if he could but patch him up for six months longer he
should be perfectly satisfied, as he should in that time be able to
complete the printing of his works. So precarious did he consider his
life that he took the precaution of transcribing one day in longhand
what he had composed the day before in shorthand, that he might by that
means leave the work complete as far as it went should he not live to
finish the whole.

With the beginning of 1804 his weakness had greatly increased. In his
diary for January 31 he notes:—“Ill all day—not able to speak for nearly
three hours.” Still he rose, dressed and shaved himself (which he never
omitted doing every morning till within two days of his death), went to
his laboratory and lit his fire, but found his weakness so great that he
was obliged to get back to his study. During the next and following days
he was better, and was able to see to the correction of his
proof-sheets, but on February 4 he took to his bed, although he was able
to read and look over a sheet of proof and to check the Greek and Hebrew

  “In the course of the day,” says his son, “he expressed his gratitude
  in being permitted to die quietly in his family, without pain, with
  every convenience and comfort he could wish for. He dwelt upon the
  peculiarly happy situation in which it had pleased the Divine Being to
  place him in life, and the great advantage he had enjoyed in the
  acquaintance and friendship of some of the best and wisest men in the
  age in which he lived, and the satisfaction he derived from having led
  a useful as well as a happy life.”

In the evening he had his grandchildren brought to his bedside, saying
it gave him great pleasure to see the little things kneel. After prayers
they wished him a good-night and he gave each his blessing, exhorting
them all to continue to love each other.

  “And you, little thing,” speaking to the youngest, “remember the hymn
  you learned: ‘Birds in their little nests agree.’ I am going to sleep
  as well as you; for death is only a good long sleep in the grave, and
  we shall meet again.”

He lingered through the night, and in the early morning requested his
son to take down some additions and alterations he wished inserted in
his proofs, dictating as clearly and distinctly as he had ever done in
his life. When these were read to him he said, “That is right; I have
now done.” Shortly afterwards he put his hand to his face and breathed
his last so easy that those who were sitting close to him hardly
perceived he had passed away.

What was mortal of him now rests in a little hill-side cemetery
overlooking the beautiful river. The spot is marked with a simple
headstone on which is engraven—

                           the memory of the
                       Revd. Dr JOSEPH PRIESTLEY,
                         who departed this life
                         on the 6th Feby. 1804.
                           Anno. Ætatis LXXI.

  “Return unto thy rest, O my soul, for the
  Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee.
  I will lay me down in peace and sleep till
  I awake in the morning of the resurrection.”

                               CHAPTER XI

  Priestley as a man of science—His characteristics as a
  philosopher—_Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of
  Air_—His discovery of the influence of vegetation on vitiated
  air—Atmospheric air not elementary—His researches on nitric
  oxide—Eudiometry—Nitrous oxide—Discovers hydrogen chloride—Prepares
  oxygen from nitre (1771)—Isolates ammonia gas—Discovers sulphur
  dioxide—Dephlogisticated air (oxygen)—Discovers silicon
  fluoride—Intra-diffusion of gases—Respiration—Priestley’s opinions of
  the value of experimental science in education—Discovers
  nitrosulphuric acid—Notes the constancy of composition of the
  atmosphere—Prepares chlorine—Sound in “air”—Experiments relating to
  phlogiston—The seeming conversion of water into air—Watt and the
  compound nature of water—Discovers sulphuretted hydrogen—Priestley’s
  confession of faith in phlogiston.

Priestley’s position in the history of science mainly rests on his
discoveries in pneumatic chemistry. The course of inquiry which he began
at Leeds was continued by him, with characteristic assiduity and
conspicuous success, at Calne, and his labours added largely to the
number of the aeriform bodies which were clearly recognised as distinct
substances, essentially differing from each other, and not merely
modifications of a common principle, modified or affected by properties
more or less fortuitous and accidental. The old idea of the nature of
“air” had its origin in the doctrine of the Four Elements. It is
Priestley’s merit that he, more than any man of his time, contributed to
the overthrow of this conception as the basis of a philosophical system
of the constitution of the material universe. Although Priestley could
not be unmindful that his claim to scientific fame was to be found in
the succession of volumes which he called _Experiments and Observations
on Different Kinds of Air_, the very title suggests that he, at all
events in the outset, was hardly conscious of the magnitude and true
significance of his work. Priestley was in no real sense a speculative
philosopher: he was indeed pre-eminently the type of man whom Hobbes
disparaged as an “experimentarian philosopher,” and an experimentarian
philosopher he remained to the end of his days. He was aware of his
limitations, and many passages from his works, and especially from his
correspondence, might be quoted in proof of this fact. His simple,
unaffected candour was indeed one of the charms of his character and the
secret of much of his influence. It is reflected in every page of his
scientific writings. His own discoveries, taken collectively, did more
than those of any one of his contemporaries to uproot and destroy the
only generalisation by which his immediate predecessors had sought to
group and connect the phenomena of chemistry, but he was wholly unable
to perceive this fact. A patient and industrious observer, absolutely
truthful, and, as he hoped and believed, unbiassed and impartial, he was
nevertheless entirely lacking in the higher qualities of the imagination
or in that power of divination which is the characteristic of men of the
type of Newton. The contrast between Priestley—the social, political and
theological reformer, always in advance of his times, receptive,
fearless and insistent; and Priestley the man of science—timorous and
halting when he might well be bold, conservative and orthodox when
almost every other active worker was heterodox and progressive—is most
striking. And yet, such is the irony of circumstance, Priestley’s name
mainly lives as that of a chemical philosopher. When men have desired to
do him honour, and have sought to perpetuate his memory by statues in
public places, he is generally represented as making a chemical
experiment. In reality, great as Priestley’s merit is as an
experimentarian philosopher, his greater claim on our regard and esteem
rests upon his struggles and his sufferings in the cause of civil,
political and religious liberty.

The years which Priestley spent at Calne constitute the most fruitful
period of his scientific career. Practically all that he did in the way
of solid achievement and of addition to the armoury of science was
effected during that time. Although, after leaving Lord Shelburne, he
continued to pursue scientific inquiry with his wonted zeal and
industry, doubtless adding thereby to his fame among his contemporaries,
posterity has set the true measure of appreciation to his later efforts.
He doubtless made many hundreds of experiments in connection with more
or less well-defined trains of inquiry; nevertheless, it cannot be
maintained that during his subsequent period he added many first-rate
facts to our knowledge, or indeed discovered any facts at all comparable
in importance with those he ascertained during his life in Wiltshire. On
the contrary, what he did observe—as for example the seeming conversion
of water into air—too frequently led him astray and was the cause of
error to himself and others. Thus Watt’s claim to be considered as an
independent, if not the first and true, discoverer of the real chemical
nature of water is based upon Priestley’s experimental blunders. Watt
was undoubtedly accurate in his surmise, but the surmise was right in
spite of, and not by reason of, Priestley’s experimental evidence.
Priestley recorded his experiments with such fulness that it is now easy
to perceive where he went wrong. He was constantly on the verge of a
discovery, sometimes indeed of a discovery of cardinal importance, but
as constantly it eluded his grasp. The experiments on the seeming
conversion of water into air might have led him, when he got over his
chagrin on the detection of the real cause of his error, to the
recognition of the underlying truth in it, namely, the principle of the
diffusion of gases. He was, of course, familiar with the fact that the
various gases he discovered, or which were known to him, differed in
relative density, and he knew perfectly well that they tended to escape
from the bottles in which they were contained if these were uncovered
and freely exposed to the air. But, so far as we can learn, he never
seems to have pondered on these facts, or noted their connection with
the phenomena he observed in the course of his many experiments with
Wedgwood’s retorts, and of the interchange of the water vapour he
introduced into them with the gases of the fire which heated them. And
yet, had he perceived even a glimmer of the truth he had sufficient
means at his disposal, and sufficient knowledge from his own work and
that of his contemporaries, to make the great step which it was reserved
to Graham to accomplish half a century later.

Whilst the chief importance of the _Experiments and Observations on
Different Kinds of Air_ is that it is Priestley’s _magnum opus_, to his
biographer it has the additional interest of affording an insight into
the personal character and intellectual attributes of its author. Few
writers on scientific subjects have ever taken their readers so
completely into their confidence as Priestley. Whatever he knows or
thinks he tells: doubts, perplexities, blunders are set down with the
most refreshing candour; one forgives the prolixity and occasional
tediousness, even the little touches of self-satisfaction, in view of
the transparent honesty of purpose, the single-minded pursuit of truth
for its own sake, wholly apart from preconception or bias of dogma which
shine on every page. As key-notes to character, even the dedications and
prefaces to the several volumes have their peculiar value and charm, as
evidence of the workings of an ingenuous mind.

The publication of the six volumes comprising the original work—the
edition of greatest value to Priestley’s biographer—extended from 1775
to 1786. Although the space at our disposal precludes any attempt at a
full account of the contents, it is necessary to set these out in such
detail as may serve to afford a just idea of their value, and with such
comment as may be necessary to elucidate their significance.

In the preface to the first volume, which made its appearance in 1775,
with a dedication to Lord Shelburne, Priestley thinks it necessary to
explain why he has decided, contrary to his original intention, but with
the approbation of the President and of his friends in the Royal
Society, not to send them any more papers on the subject of “Air” at
present but to make immediate publication of all he has done with
respect to it. In view, he says, of the rapid progress that has been
made and may be expected to be made in this branch of knowledge,
“unnecessary delays in the publication of experiments relating to it are
peculiarly unjustifiable.”

  “When, for the sake of a little more reputation, men can keep brooding
  over a new fact, in the discovery of which they might possibly have
  very little real merit, till they think they can astonish the world
  with a system as complete as it is new, and give mankind a prodigious
  idea of their judgment and penetration, they are justly punished for
  their ingratitude to the fountain of all knowledge, and for the want
  of a genuine love of science and of mankind in finding their boasted
  discoveries anticipated and the field of honest fame pre-occupied by
  men who, from a natural ardour of mind, engage in philosophical
  pursuits, and with an ingenuous simplicity immediately communicate to
  others whatever occurs to them in their inquiries.”

Priestley’s productions, from the very nature of the case make no
pretensions to completeness.

  “In completing one discovery we never fail to get an imperfect
  knowledge of others of which we could have no idea before, so that we
  cannot solve one doubt without creating several new ones.”

He farther observes that a person who means to serve the cause of
science effectually must hazard his own reputation so far as to risk
even _mistakes_ in things of less moment.

  “Among a multiplicity of new objects and new relations some will
  necessarily pass without sufficient attention; but if a man be not
  mistaken in the principal objects of his pursuits he has no occasion
  to distress himself about lesser things.

  “In the progress of his inquiries he will generally be able to rectify
  his own mistakes; or if little and envious souls should take a
  malignant pleasure in detecting them for him and endeavouring to
  expose him, he is not worthy of the name of a philosopher if he has
  not strength of mind sufficient to enable him not to be disturbed at
  it. He who does not foolishly affect to be above the failings of
  humanity will not be mortified when it is proved that he is but a

He made it a rule to disclose the real views with which he made his
experiments. Although, he says, by following a contrary maxim he might
have acquired a character of greater sagacity, he thought that two good
ends were secured by his method—one as tending to make his narrative
more interesting, and the other as encouraging other adventurers in
experimental philosophy by showing them that by pursuing even false
lights real and important truths may be discovered, and that in seeking
one thing we often find another. He believes, however, that he writes
more concisely than is usual with those who publish accounts of their
experiments, and in thus refraining from swelling his book “to a pompous
and respectable size” he trusts he will earn the gratitude of those
philosophers who, having but little time to spare for _reading_, which
is always the case with those who _do_ much themselves, will thereby be
kept not too long from their own pursuits. He then comments on what he
justly considers the amazing improvements in natural knowledge which
have been made within the century, and contrasts these with the
comparative poverty as regards scientific results of the many preceding
ages, which yet abounded with men who had no other object but study; and
he rejoices to think that this rapid progress of knowledge, extending
itself not this way or that way only, but in all directions, will be the
means of extirpating all error and prejudice and of putting an end to
all undue and usurped authority in the business of religion as well as
of science.

  “It was ill policy in Leo the Tenth to patronise polite literature. He
  was cherishing an enemy in disguise. And the English hierarchy (if
  there be anything unsound in its constitution) has equal reason to
  tremble even at an air-pump or an electrical machine.”

He regrets that the rich and great in this country, unmindful of the
example of Bacon, give less attention to these matters than do men of
rank and fortune in other countries: he contrasts the pleasure of the
pursuit of science with the pains and penalties of the pursuit of

  “If extensive and lasting fame be at all an object, literary, and
  especially scientifical, pursuits are preferable to political ones in
  a variety of respects.... If extensive usefulness be the object,
  science has the same advantage over politics. The greatest success in
  the latter seldom extends farther than one particular country and one
  particular age, whereas a successful pursuit of science makes a man
  the benefactor of all mankind and of every age. How trifling is the
  fame of any statesman that this country has ever produced to that of
  Lord Bacon, of Newton, or of Boyle; and how much greater are our
  obligations to such men as these than to any other in the whole
  _Biographia Britannica_.”

It would be interesting to know the sentiments of Lord Shelburne, then
in the cold shade of retirement, as he perused these passages, and
whether he realised the truth of the little homily from his “tame

The preface is followed by an introduction, in which Priestley gives a
rapid and confessedly imperfect survey of the state of knowledge
concerning “air” prior to 1774. He gives to Boyle the credit of first
clearly recognising that elastic fluids exist differing essentially from
the air of the atmosphere, but agreeing with it in the properties of
weight, elasticity and transparency. But he also points out that two
remarkable kinds of factitious air had long been known to miners, viz.,
_choke damp_, which is heavier than air, which lies at the bottom of
pits, extinguishes flame and kills animals; and the other, called _fire
damp_, which is lighter than common air, is found, therefore, near the
roofs of subterraneous places and is liable to take fire and explode
like gunpowder. “The word _damp_ signifies _vapour_ or _exhalation_ in
the German and Saxon languages.”

  “Air of the former kind, besides having been discovered in various
  caverns, particularly the Grotta del Cane in Italy, had also been
  observed on the surface of fermenting liquors, and had been called
  _gas_ (which is the same with _geist_, or _spirit_) by Van Helmont and
  other German chemists; but afterwards it obtained the name of _fixed
  air_, especially after it had been discovered by Dr Black of Edinburgh
  to exist, in a fixed state, in alkaline salts, chalk, and other
  calcareous substances.”

Black’s work is dealt with in half a dozen lines, and a passing
reference is made to Macbride and Brownrigg. A very imperfect account is
given of the work of Hales, although it is stated that “his experiments
are so numerous and various that they are justly esteemed to be the
solid foundation of all our knowledge of this subject.” This section
concludes with the mention of Cavendish’s determinations of the relative
weights of fixed air (carbon dioxide), and inflammable air from metals
(hydrogen), and of Lane’s observations that water charged with carbonic
acid will dissolve iron, “and thereby become a strong chalybeate.”

Priestley was the last man in the world to seek to disparage the work of
his predecessors or to minimise what was due to them. In reality he had
the intention, as he distinctly states, to write at his leisure the
history and present state of discoveries relating to air, in a manner
similar to his _History of Electricity_, and of the _Discoveries
Relating to Vision, Light and Colours_, when no doubt he would have done
full justice to all concerned. In the meantime he gives only such
particulars as are necessary, in his judgment, to the understanding of
his own work.

The remaining section of the introduction deals with his method of
experimenting and with the apparatus he employed. It is of historical
interest as containing a description of that most useful article of
chemical furniture, his well-known pneumatic trough. He explains its use
and gives details of his modes of manipulation. What an advance these
were in simplicity, ingenuity and convenience can only be fully realised
by comparing his methods with those of Hales. Not the least of
Priestley’s services to science were the improvements he effected in
that section of operative chemistry which is concerned with the
preparation, collection and storage of gaseous substances.

The main body of the volume is divided into two parts—the first dealing
with observations made in and before 1772, the second with observations
made in the year 1773 and in the beginning of 1774. In the outset
Priestley finds himself at a disadvantage in regard to the only terms at
that time in vogue for the factitious airs, viz., _fixed_, _mephitic_
and _inflammable_, which, he rightly says, are not sufficiently
characteristic and distinct. Strictly speaking, any two of these terms
might be applied to any one of the “airs” then known. The inflammable
air from metals, as well as choke damp, is noxious, and therefore
mephitic, as is fixed air, and since the inflammable airs are,
apparently, capable of being imbibed by certain substances they may
equally be considered fixable. The term _fixed air_ had, however,
acquired a distinctive meaning, and rather than introduce a new term or
change the signification of an old one, he would, with his
contemporaries, restrict the term to the air which had been made the
subject of Black’s memorable investigation. The first paper in this
section deals with fixed air; it is practically a reprint of that in the
_Phil. Trans._ and which has already been described in sufficient
detail. In the course of his experiments he says he once thought that
the readiest method of procuring fixed air, and in sufficient purity,
would be to heat pounded lime-stone in a gun barrel, “making it pass
through the stem of a tobacco pipe or a glass tube carefully luted to
the orifice of it.”

  “In this manner I found that air is produced in great plenty; but,
  upon examining it, I found to my great surprise that little more than
  one half of it was fixed air, capable of being absorbed by water; and
  that the rest was inflammable, sometimes very weakly, but sometimes
  pretty highly so.”

He surmised that this “air” must come from the iron, and yet, he noted,
it differed from the ordinary inflammable air from iron by the
remarkable blue colour of its flame, and he concludes that “this
inflammable principle may come from some remains of the animals from
which it is thought that all calcareous matter proceeds.” Priestley, we
now know, had incidentally converted some of the fixed air into the only
other oxide of carbon, but he failed to appreciate the significance of
his observation, and the credit of the discovery of carbon monoxide
belongs to Cruikshank.

In his next paper on “Air in which Candles have burned,” Priestley made
a discovery of the very highest importance. He had attempted to verify
without success the allegation by the Count de Saluce, made in the
memoirs of the Philosophical Society of Turin, that air vitiated by the
combustion of candles could be restored by exposure to cold.

  “Though this experiment failed,” he says, “I have been so happy as by
  accident to have hit upon a method of restoring air which has been
  injured by the burning of candles, and to have discovered at least one
  of the restoratives which Nature employs for this purpose. It is
  _vegetation_. This restoration of vitiated air, I conjecture, is
  effected by plants imbibing the phlogistic matter with which it is
  overloaded by the burning of inflammable bodies. But whether there be
  any foundation for this conjecture or not, the fact is, I think,

He then proceeds to give an account of his observations on the growing
of plants in confined air which led to his discovery.

  “One might have imagined,” he says, “that since common air is
  necessary to vegetable as well as to animal life, both plants and
  animals had affected it in the same manner; and I own I had that
  expectation when I first put a sprig of mint into a glass jar standing
  inverted in a vessel of water: but when it had continued there for
  some months I found the air would neither extinguish the candle, nor
  was it at all inconvenient to a mouse, which I put into it.... Finding
  that candles would burn very well in air in which plants had grown a
  long time, and having had some reason to think that there was
  something attending vegetation which restored air that had been
  injured by respiration, I thought it was possible that the same
  process might also restore the air that had been injured by the
  burning of candles.

  “Accordingly, on the 17th of August 1771, I put a sprig of mint into a
  quantity of air in which a wax candle had burned out, and found that
  on the 27th of the same month another candle burned perfectly well in
  it. This experiment I repeated, without the least variation in the
  event, not less than eight or ten times in the remainder of the

  “Several times I divided the quantity of air in which the candle had
  burned out into two parts, and putting the plant into one of them left
  the other in the same exposure, contained also in a glass vessel
  immersed in water, but without any plant, and never failed to find
  that a candle would burn in the former but not in the latter.... This
  remarkable effect does not depend upon anything peculiar to _mint_,
  which was the plant that I always made use of till July 1772; for on
  the 16th of that month I found a quantity of this kind of air to be
  perfectly restored by sprigs of _balm_, which had grown in it from the
  7th of the same month.

  “That this restoration of air was not owing to any aromatic effluvia
  of these two plants not only appeared by the _essential oil of mint_
  having no sensible effect of this kind, but from the equally complete
  restoration of this vitiated air by the plant called _groundsel_,
  which is usually ranked among the weeds and has an offensive smell.
  Besides, the plant which I have found to be the most effectual of any
  that I have tried for this purpose is _spinach_, which is of quick
  growth, but will seldom thrive long in water.”

The next paper on “Inflammable Air” is of slight importance, and indeed
is full of errors. Priestley made no distinction between the inflammable
air obtained by the action of acids on metals (hydrogen) and that formed
by the destructive distillation of coal and other organic substances
(marsh gas or carbonic oxide, or mixtures of the two), and his inability
to distinguish these different gases accounts for many of the phenomena
he observed and which he confesses himself unable to explain. The most
sagacious observation in the memoir has reference to the colour of the
electric spark in the different gases which he accurately describes.

The paper on “Air Infected with Animal Respiration or Putrefection” may
be considered as the complement of that on “Air in which a Candle has
burned out,” and is no less valuable.

  “That candles will burn only a certain time in a given quantity of air
  is a fact not better known than it is that animals can live only a
  certain time in it; but the cause of the death of the animal is not
  better known than that of the extinction of flame in the same
  circumstances; and when once any quantity of air has been rendered
  noxious by animals breathing in it as long as they could, I do not
  know that any methods have been discovered of rendering it fit for
  breathing again. It is evident, however, that there must be some
  provision in Nature for this purpose, as well as for that of rendering
  the air fit for sustaining flame; for without it the whole mass of the
  atmosphere would, in time, become unfit for the purpose of animal
  life; and yet there is no reason to think that it is, at present, at
  all less fit for respiration than it has ever been. I flatter myself,
  however, that I have hit upon two of the methods employed by Nature
  for this great purpose. How many others there may be I cannot tell.”

One of these methods he eventually finds to be, as in the first case,
the action of vegetation, and he proves by a number of decisive

  “that plants, instead of affecting the air in the same manner with
  animal respiration, reverse the effects of breathing and tend to keep
  the atmosphere sweet and wholesome when it is become noxious in
  consequence of animals either living and breathing, or dying and
  putrefying in it.”

The other method he conceived to be the action of water, since he found
that by vigorous agitation with water, air which breathing had rendered
noxious could again be breathed for a further period.

  “I do not think it improbable but that the agitation of the sea and
  large lakes may be of some use for the purification of the atmosphere,
  and the putrid matter contained in water may be imbibed by aquatic
  plants, or be deposited in some other manner.”

When a confined volume of common air is placed in contact with a mixture
of iron filings and sulphur made into a paste with water, a certain
portion of the air is imbibed by the paste. This fact was first observed
by Hales. Priestley repeated the observation and found that about a
fifth or rather more of the volume of the air was thus absorbed. He
noted that the residual “air” was rather lighter than common air, it had
no action on lime-water and was exceedingly noxious to animals, by which
is meant that it could not be breathed by them. Priestley had thus
prepared nitrogen, but he failed to recognise the individuality of this

In his _Statical Essays_ Hales makes mention of an experiment in which
common air and air generated from pyrites by spirit of nitre made a
turbid red mixture, and in which part of the common air was absorbed.
This phenomenon “particularly struck” Priestley, who, acting upon
Cavendish’s hint that the red appearance was probably dependent “upon
the spirit of nitre only” and that the metals might answer as well as
pyrites, proceeded to investigate the action of nitric acid upon a
number of the metals, and as the result of his inquiries he succeeded in
isolating the gas we now know as _nitric oxide_, but which he termed
_nitrous air_.

  “Though,” he says, “I cannot say that I altogether like the term,
  neither myself nor any of my friends, to whom I have applied for the
  purpose, have been able to hit upon a better.”

This paper exhibits Priestley at his best. In it he describes all the
main properties of nitric oxide.

  “One of the most conspicuous properties of this kind of air,” he says,
  “is the great diminution of any quantity of common air with which it
  is mixed, attended with a turbid red, or deep orange colour, and a
  considerable heat.... The diminution of a mixture of this and common
  air is not an equal diminution of both the kinds, which is all that Dr
  Hales could observe, but of about one fifth of the common air, and as
  much of the nitrous air as is necessary to produce that effect; which,
  as I have found by many trials, is about one half as much as the
  original quantity of common air.

  “I hardly know any experiment that is more adapted to amaze and
  surprise than this is, which exhibits a quantity of air which, as it
  were, devours a quantity of another kind of air half as large as
  itself, and yet is so far from gaining any addition to its bulk that
  it is considerably diminished by it....

  “It is exceedingly remarkable that this effervescence and diminution,
  occasioned by the mixture of nitrous air, is peculiar to common air,
  or _air fit for respiration_, and, as far as I can judge from a great
  number of observations, is at least very nearly, if not exactly, in
  proportion to its fitness for this purpose; so that by this means the
  goodness of air may be distinguished much more accurately than it can
  be done by putting mice or any other animals to breathe in it.

  “This was a most agreeable discovery to me, as I hope it may be a
  useful one to the public; especially as from this time I had no
  occasion for so large a stock of mice as I had been used to keep for
  the purpose of these experiments.”

Priestley here suggests the basis of a method of _Eudiometry_, or method
of measuring the goodness of air, which in his hands, but more
especially in those of Cavendish, led to most important results. The
quantitative analysis of the air may be said to have taken its rise from
the publication of Priestley’s paper.

In the course of subsequent work on nitrous air Priestley had occasion
to study its action on iron, whereby he says:—

  “A most remarkable and most unexpected change was made in the nitrous
  air,” the iron “makes it not only to admit a candle to burn in it, but
  enables it to burn with an _enlarged flame_.... Sometimes I have
  perceived the flame of the candle, in these circumstances, to be twice
  as large as it is naturally, and sometimes not less than five or six
  times larger; and yet without anything like an _explosion_, as in the
  firing of the weakest inflammable air.”

Priestley in this manner obtained _nitrous oxide_, the properties of
which he subsequently studied in some detail.

In the paper which follows, _viz._, “On Air infected with the Fumes of
Burning Charcoal,” he incidentally gains further insight into the nature
of atmospheric air. By what he called throwing the focus of a burning
mirror on charcoal suspended in air contained in a glass tube standing
over water or mercury—a favourite method of his when he had occasion to
heat a substance in a gas—he could observe the phenomena with great
precision. He noticed the formation of the fixed air and determined the
degree of diminution when the burning took place over water or over

  “In this manner,” he says, “I diminished a given quantity of air
  one-fifth. Air thus diminished by the fumes of burning charcoal not
  only extinguishes flame, but is in the highest degree noxious to
  animals; it makes no effervescence with nitrous air, and is incapable
  of being diminished any farther by the fumes of more charcoal.... All
  my observations show that air which has once been fully diminished ...
  is not only incapable of any further diminution ... but that it has
  likewise acquired _new properties_, most remarkably different from
  those which it had before....”

By heating pieces of lead and tin in air by means of a burning glass he
observed the formation of a metallic calx, the volume of air was
diminished, and it also “was in the highest degree noxious and made no
effervescence with nitrous air.”

The real significance of these phenomena was, however, wholly
unperceived by Priestley, and phlogiston, as usual, led him astray. He
had, of course, in all these experiments prepared _nitrogen_, and in a
state of sensible purity. He imagined, however, that he had simply
“phlogisticated” the air, the phlogiston coming from the charcoal and
the metals, and that this phlogisticated air was imbibed by the water.

An experiment described by Cavendish led Priestley to study the action
of “Spirit of Salt” (hydrochloric acid) upon copper. As Cavendish had
already stated, the gas so evolved “lost its electricity by coming into
contact with water.” By collecting the gas over mercury Priestley was
able to study its properties more exactly. From certain anomalies in the
experiments he says:—

  “I concluded that this subtle air did not arise from the copper, but
  from the spirit of salt; and presently making the experiment with the
  acid only, without any copper, or metal of any kind, this air was
  immediately produced in as great plenty as before; so that this
  remarkable kind of air is, in fact, nothing more than the vapour, or
  fumes of spirit of salt, which appear to be of such a nature that they
  are not liable to be condensed by cold, like the vapour of water and
  other fluids, and therefore may be very properly called an _acid air_,
  or more restrictively the _marine acid air_.”

The new gas discovered by Priestley we now call hydrogen chloride.
Ordinary hydrochloric acid is simply an aqueous solution of it.

  “Water impregnated with it makes the strongest spirit of salt that I
  have seen, dissolving iron with the most rapidity.... Iron filings,
  being admitted to this air, were dissolved by it pretty fast, half of
  the air disappearing and the other half becoming inflammable air, not
  absorbed by water. Putting chalk to it, fixed air was produced.”

He subsequently found that the marine acid air was more conveniently
made by the action of oil of vitriol upon common salt.

From the “miscellaneous observations” with which this section of the
volume concludes, there can be little doubt that Priestley, without
knowing it, had prepared oxygen gas from nitre as far back as 1771. The
accounts he gives of the behaviour of the gas obtained by heating nitre
in a gun-barrel plainly indicate this fact.

  “A candle,” he says, “not only burned but the flame was increased, and
  something was heard like a hissing similar to the decrepitation of
  nitre in an open fire.” He also noted the effect of nitrous air upon
  it and concludes that “this series of facts relating to air extracted
  from nitre appear to me to be very extraordinary and important, and in
  able hands may lead to considerable discoveries.”

The second section of the volume deals with experiments and observations
made in 1773 and the beginning of 1774, and opens with an account of the
discovery of _ammonia gas_.

  “After I had made the discovery of the _marine acid air_, which the
  vapour of spirit of salt may properly enough be called ... it occurred
  to me that by a process similar to that by which this _acid_ air is
  expelled from the spirit of salt an _alkaline_ air might be expelled
  from substances containing volatile alkali.

  “Accordingly I procured some volatile spirit of sal ammoniac, and
  having put it into a thin phial, and heated it with the flame of a
  candle, I presently found that a great quantity of vapour was
  discharged from it; and being received in a vessel of quicksilver,
  standing in a basin of quicksilver, it continued in the form of a
  transparent and permanent air, not at all condensed by cold; so that I
  had the same opportunity of making experiments upon it as I had before
  on the acid air, being in the same favourable circumstances....
  Wanting, however, to procure this air in greater quantities, and this
  method being rather expensive, it occurred to me that alkaline air
  might probably be procured, with the most ease and convenience, from
  the original materials, mixed in the same proportions that chemists
  had found by experience to answer the best for the production of the
  volatile spirit of sal ammoniac. Accordingly I mixed one-fourth of
  pounded sal ammoniac with three-fourths of slaked lime; and filling a
  phial with the mixture, I presently found it completely answered my
  purpose. The heat of a candle expelled from this mixture a prodigious
  quantity of alkaline air; and the same materials ... would serve me a
  considerable time without changing....”

He next studied the properties of the alkaline air. He found, of course,
it was readily soluble in water.

  “Having satisfied myself with respect to the relation that alkaline
  air bears to water, I was impatient to find what would be the
  consequence of mixing this new air with the other kinds with which I
  was acquainted before, and especially with _acid_ air; having a notion
  that these two airs, being of opposite natures, might compose a
  _neutral air_, and perhaps the very same thing with common air. But
  the moment that these two kinds of air came into contact a beautiful
  white cloud was formed, and presently filled the whole vessel in which
  they were contained.... When the cloud was subsided there appeared to
  be formed a solid _white salt_, which was found to be the common _sal
  ammoniac_, or the marine acid united to the volatile alkali....

  “_Fixed air_ admitted to alkaline air formed oblong and slender
  crystals.... These crystals must be the same thing with the volatile
  alkalis which chemists get in a solid form by the distillation of sal
  ammoniac with fixed alkaline salts....

  “Alkaline air, I was surprised to find, is slightly inflammable....

  “That alkaline air is lighter than acid air is evident from the
  appearances that attend the mixture, which are indeed very beautiful.
  When acid air is introduced into a vessel containing alkaline air, the
  white cloud which they form appears at the bottom only and ascends
  gradually. But when the alkaline air is put to the acid the whole
  becomes immediately cloudy quite to the top of the vessel.”

Up to now Priestley had mainly confined himself to the narration of the
new _facts_ which he had discovered, barely mentioning any _hypotheses_
that occurred to him.

  “The reason why I was so much upon my guard in this respect was lest,
  in consequence of attaching myself to any hypothesis too soon, the
  success of my future inquiries might be obstructed. But subsequent
  experiments having thrown great light upon the preceding ones, and
  having confirmed the few conjectures I then advanced, I may now
  venture to speak of my hypotheses with a little less diffidence.
  Still, however, I shall be ready to relinquish any notions I may now
  entertain if new facts should hereafter appear not to favour them.”

In a paper on “Common Air Diminished and made Noxious by Various
Processes” he attempts to apply the current doctrine of phlogiston to
account for the various phenomena he has observed, and with what success
may be inferred from his conclusion

  “that in the precipitation of lime by breathing into lime-water, the
  fixed air, which incorporates with lime, comes not from the lungs but
  from the common air, decomposed by the phlogiston exhaled from them,
  and discharged, after having been taken in with the aliment, and
  having performed its function in the animal system.”

Priestley’s attempts at theorising brought little satisfaction to him or
to his readers. Indeed he says:—

  “I begin to be apprehensive lest, after being considered as a _dry
  experimenter_, I should pass into the opposite character of a
  _visionary theorist_.... In extenuation of my offence let it, however,
  be considered that _theory and experiments_ necessarily go
  hand-in-hand, every process being intended to ascertain some
  particular _hypothesis_, which, in fact, is only a conjecture
  concerning the circumstances or the cause of some natural operation;
  consequently that the boldest and most original experimenters are
  those who, giving free scope to their imaginations, admit the
  combination of the most distant ideas; and that though many of these
  associations of ideas will be wild and chimerical, yet that others
  will have the chance of giving rise to the greatest and most capital
  discoveries, such as very cautious, timid, sober and slow-thinking
  people would never have come at.

  “Sir Isaac Newton himself, notwithstanding the great advantage which
  he derived from a habit of _patient thinking_, indulged bold and
  eccentric thoughts, of which his queries at the end of his book of
  Optics are a sufficient evidence. And a quick conception of distant
  analogies, which is the great key to unlock the secrets of Nature, is
  by no means incompatible with the spirit of _perseverance_ in
  investigations calculated to ascertain and pursue those analogies.”

After this _apologia_, Priestley gives the reins to his imagination, or
rather he allows phlogiston to drive the halting, ambling thing for him,
with the result that he utterly loses his way and is eventually landed
into an impassable quagmire. It is not too much to say that not one of
the “Queries, Speculations and Hints” with which the volume closes has
stood the test of time.

The second volume, which made its appearance towards the end of 1775, is
dedicated to Sir John Pringle, at that time President of the Royal
Society. It opens, as usual, with a somewhat prolix but characteristic
preface. But to his biographer Priestley’s prefaces are not the least
interesting or valuable of his literary productions.

  “In a preface,” he says, “authors have always claimed a right of
  saying whatever they pleased concerning themselves, and not to lose
  this right it must now and then be exercised.”

In this respect Priestley has championed the prerogatives of authors for
all time. This particular preface begins with an expression of
self-laudation for the little delay the writer made in putting the first
volume to the press.

  “In consequence of this considerable discoveries have been made by
  people of distant nations; and this branch of science, of which
  nothing, in a manner, was known till very lately, indeed now bids fair
  to be farther advanced than any other in the whole compass of natural
  philosophy.... And it will not now be thought very assuming to say
  that by working in a tub of water or a basin of quicksilver we may
  perhaps discover principles of more extensive influence than even that
  of _gravity_ itself, the discovery of which, in its full extent,
  contributed so much to immortalise the name of Newton.

  “Having been the means of bringing so many champions into the field, I
  shall, with peculiar pleasure, attend to all their achievements, in
  order to prepare myself, as I promised in the preface to my last
  volume, for writing the _history_ of the campaign.”

After a delightfully _naïve_ compliment to his own ability as an
accumulator of facts, and to his merits as an “instrument in the hands
of Divine Providence ... concerning which I threw out some further hints
in my former preface, which the excellent French translator was not
permitted to insert in his version,” he advances this testimony to his
impartiality as an historian:—

  “I even think that I may flatter myself so much, if it be any
  flattery, as to say that there is not, in the whole compass of
  philosophical writing, a history of experiments so truly _ingenuous_
  as mine, and especially the section on the discovery of
  dephlogisticated air, which I will venture to exhibit as a model of
  the kind. I am not conscious to myself of having concealed the least
  hint that was suggested to me by any person whatever, any kind of
  assistance that has been given me, or any views or hypotheses by which
  the experiments were directed, whether they were verified by the
  result or not.”

There is much else in the preface that might be quoted as illustrative
of the character and mental attributes of its author. Priestley, the
natural philosopher, never forgot that he was a minister of religion,
and that to him theology was the greatest and most important of all the
sciences, and he cannot forbear even, in what he intended to be a
scientific disquisition on purely natural phenomena, from inculcating
his belief in the divine origin of Christianity and his opinion
concerning the doctrine of purgatory and the worship of the dead.

The first chapter is concerned with the discovery of what its author
called _Vitriolic Acid Air_, but which we now know as sulphur dioxide.

Priestley imagined that as the liquid marine acid—that is hydrochloric
acid—readily yielded an “air” on heating it might be that vitriolic
acid, or oil of vitriol, would also afford a characteristic “air” when
treated in a similar manner. Acting upon a suggestion of Mr Lane he
heated oil of vitriol with olive oil, when he readily obtained a new
species of air, which he collected over mercury as he “had been used to
do it with the marine acid air; and the whole process was as pleasing
and as elegant.” Priestley at once surmised that the olive oil worked by
transferring its phlogiston to the vitriolic acid, and he naturally
concluded that any substance rich in phlogiston would bring about the
same result. He next tried charcoal.

  “I put some bits of charcoal into my phial instead of the oil or other
  inflammable matter which I had used before, and applying the flame of
  a candle I presently found that the vitriolic acid air was produced as
  well as in the former process, and in several respects more
  conveniently, the production of air being equable, whereby the
  disagreeable effect of a sudden explosion is avoided.... Finding that
  a great variety of substances containing phlogiston enabled the oil of
  vitriol to throw out a permanent acid air, I had some suspicion that
  mere _heat_ might do the same, but I did not find that there was any
  foundation for that suspicion.... But though I got no air from the oil
  of vitriol by this process, air was produced at the same time in a
  manner that I little expected, and I paid pretty dearly for the
  discovery it occasioned. Despairing to get any air from the longer
  application of my candles, I withdrew them, but before I could
  disengage the phial from the vessel of quicksilver a little of it
  passed through the tube into the hot acid, when instantly it was all
  filled with dense white fumes, a prodigious quantity of air was
  generated, the tube through which it was transmitted was broken into
  many pieces, and part of the hot acid being spilled upon my hand
  burned it terribly, so that the effect of it is visible to this day.
  The inside of the phial was coated with a white saline substance, and
  the smell that issued from it was extremely suffocating.

  “This accident taught me what I am surprised I should not have
  suspected before, viz., that some _metals_ will part with their
  phlogiston to hot oil of vitriol, and thereby convert it into a
  permanent elastic air, producing the very same effect with oil,
  charcoal, or any other inflammable substance.

  “Not discouraged by the disagreeable accident above mentioned, the
  next day I put a little _quicksilver_ into the phial with the ground
  stopple and tube, along with the oil of vitriol, when, long before it
  was boiling hot, air issued plentifully from it, and being received in
  a vessel of quicksilver appeared to be genuine vitriolic acid air,
  exactly like that which I had procured before, being readily imbibed
  by water and extinguishing a candle in the same manner as the other
  had done....

  “After this I repeated the experiment with several other metals....
  Copper treated in the same manner yielded air very freely, with about
  the same degree of heat that quicksilver had required, and the air
  continued to be generated with very little application of more heat.”

The theory apart, this paper is as important as these on ammonia and the
marine acid air, and exhibits Priestley at his best. The observations he
makes concerning the main properties of the new gas and its solubility
in water, its inability to burn and to support flame, its heaviness, its
power to unite with ammonia, to be absorbed by charcoal and to liquefy
camphor, are all accurate.

  “Having hit upon a method of exhibiting some of the acids in the form
  of air, nothing could be easier than to extend this process to the

Accordingly he attempted to procure what he called the _vegetable acid
air_ by heating “exceedingly strong concentrated acid of vinegar,” and
states that he succeeded in obtaining an air which extinguished the
flame of a candle and was soluble in water. The paper is very short and
is full of contradictions. In reality, as he subsequently found, he was
dealing with vinegar largely adulterated with oil of vitriol. The
“vegetable acid air” had no real existence.

The next paper in the series is the most important of the whole, and the
one of all others that has contributed most largely to Priestley’s
reputation. It is entitled “Of Dephlogisticated Air, and of the
Constitution of the Atmosphere,” and deals with the discovery of oxygen.
It begins in the following characteristic fashion:—

  “The contents of this section will furnish a very striking
  illustration of the truth of a remark which I have more than once made
  in my philosophical writings, and which can hardly be too often
  repeated, as it tends greatly to encourage philosophical
  investigations, viz., that more is owing to what we call _chance_—that
  is, philosophically speaking, to the observation of _events arising
  from unknown causes_ than to any proper _design_ or preconceived
  _theory_ in this business. This does not appear in the works of those
  who write _synthetically_ upon these subjects, but would, I doubt not,
  appear very strikingly in those who are the most celebrated for their
  philosophical acumen did they write _analytically_ and ingenuously.

  “For my own part, I will frankly acknowledge that at the commencement
  of the experiments recited in this section I was so far from having
  formed any hypothesis that led to the discoveries I made in pursuing
  them that they would have appeared very improbable to me had I been
  told of them; and when the decisive facts did at length obtrude
  themselves upon my notice it was very slowly, and with great
  hesitation, that I yielded to the evidence of my senses. And yet, when
  I reconsider the matter, and compare my last discoveries relating to
  the constitution of the atmosphere with the first, I see the closest
  and the easiest connection in the world between them, so as to wonder
  that I should not have been led immediately from the one to the other.
  That this was not the case I attribute to the force of prejudice
  which, unknown to ourselves, biases not only our _judgments_, properly
  so called, but even the perceptions of our senses; for we may take a
  maxim so strongly for granted that the plainest evidence of sense will
  not entirely change, and often hardly modify, our persuasions; and the
  more ingenious a man is, the more effectually he is entangled in his
  errors, his ingenuity only helping him to deceive himself by evading
  the force of truth.”

He then points out that there are few maxims in philosophy that have
laid firmer hold upon the mind than that air, meaning atmospherical air
... is a _simple elementary substance_, indestructible and unalterable,
at least as much so as water was supposed to be. Priestley, in the
course of his inquiries, was soon satisfied that atmospherical air was
not an unalterable thing; that bodies burning in it, and animals
breathing it and various other chemical processes, so far alter and
deprive it as to render it altogether unfit for the purposes to which it
is subservient; and he had discovered methods, particularly the process
of vegetation, which tended to restore it to its original purity.

  “But,” he says, “I own I had no idea of the possibility of going any
  further in this way and thereby procuring air purer than the best
  common air.”

As this paper is one of the classics of chemistry, as well as the chief
corner-stone in the monument which Priestley erected to himself, it is
necessary to examine it, as well as certain other papers which grew
immediately out of it, in some degree of detail.

After a reference to a hypothesis of the origin and constitution of the
atmosphere which occurs among the “Queries, Speculations and Hints”
above referred to, and which is on a par with much in Priestley’s
speculations, he proceeds to relate the circumstances which more
immediately led to the most important of all his discoveries. It was the
accident of possessing a burning lens of “considerable force,” for want
of which he could not possibly make many of the experiments that he had

  “But having afterwards procured a lens of twelve inches diameter and
  twenty inches focal distance, I proceeded with great alacrity to
  examine, by the help of it, what kind of air a great variety of
  substances, natural and factitious, would yield, putting them into
  vessels [short, wide, round-bottomed phials], which I filled with
  quicksilver and kept inverted in a basin of the same. Mr Warltire, a
  good chemist, and lecturer in Natural Philosophy, happening to be at
  that time in Calne, I explained my views to him, and was furnished by
  him with many substances, which I could not otherwise have procured.

  “With this apparatus, after a variety of other experiments, an account
  of which will be found in its proper place on the 1st August 1774, I
  endeavoured to extract air from _mercurius calcinatus per se_;[17] and
  I presently found that, by means of this lens, air was expelled from
  it very readily. Having got about three or four times as much as the
  bulk of my materials, I admitted water to it, and found that it was
  not imbibed by it. But what surprised me more than I can well express
  was that a candle burned in this air with a remarkably vigorous flame,
  very much like that enlarged flame with which a candle burns in
  nitrous air exposed to iron or liver of sulphur,[18] but as I had got
  nothing like this remarkable appearance from any kind of air besides
  this particular modification of nitrous air, and I knew no nitrous
  acid was used in the preparation of mercurius calcinatus, I was
  utterly at a loss how to account for it.

  “In this case also, though I did not give sufficient attention to the
  circumstance at that time, the flame of the candle, besides being
  larger, burned with more splendour and heat than in that species of
  nitrous air; and a piece of red-hot wood sparkled in it, exactly like
  paper dipped in a solution of nitre, and it consumed very fast; an
  experiment which I had never thought of trying with nitrous air.

  “At the same time that I made the above-mentioned experiment I
  extracted a quantity of air with the very same property from the
  common _red precipitate_[19] which, being produced by a solution of
  mercury in spirit of nitre (nitric acid), made me conclude that this
  peculiar property, being similar to that of the modification of
  nitrous air above mentioned, depended upon something being
  communicated to it by the nitrous acid; and since the _mercurius
  calcinatus_ is produced by exposing mercury to a certain degree of
  heat, where common air has access to it, I likewise concluded that
  this substance had collected something of _nitre_, in that state of
  heat, from the atmosphere.

  “This, however, appearing to me much more extraordinary than it ought
  to have done, I entertained some suspicion that the mercurius
  calcinatus on which I had made my experiments, being bought at a
  common apothecary’s, might, in fact, be nothing more than red
  precipitate; though, had I been anything of a practical chemist, I
  could not have entertained any such suspicion. However, mentioning
  this suspicion to Mr Warltire, he furnished me with some that he had
  kept for a specimen of the preparation, and which, he told me, he
  could warrant to be genuine. This being treated in the same manner as
  the former, only by a longer continuance of heat, I extracted much
  more air from it than from the other.

  “This experiment might have satisfied any moderate sceptic; but,
  however, being at Paris in the October following, and knowing that
  there were several very eminent chemists in that place, I did not omit
  the opportunity, by means of my friend Mr Magellan, to get an ounce of
  mercurius calcinatus prepared by Mr Cadet, of the genuineness of which
  there could not possibly be any suspicion; and at the same time I
  frequently mentioned my surprise at the kind of air which I had got
  from this preparation to Mr Lavoisier, Mr le Roy, and several other
  philosophers, who honoured me with their notice in that city, and who,
  I daresay, cannot fail to recollect the circumstance.”

This last remark is significant in reference to a claim which was
subsequently put forward that the real discoverer of oxygen was
Lavoisier, and that he obtained it by heating mercuric oxide.[20]

Priestley also obtained the same air from _red lead_, which, he says,

  “confirmed me more in my suspicion that the _mercurius calcinatus_
  must get the property of yielding this kind of air from the
  atmosphere, the process by which that preparation and this of red lead
  is made being similar. As I never make the least secret of anything
  that I observe, I mentioned this experiment also, as well as those
  with the mercurius calcinatus and the red precipitate, to all my
  philosophical acquaintance at Paris and elsewhere, having no idea, at
  that time, to what these remarkable facts would lead.” [Nitrous

Priestley, on his return to England, made an experiment with Cadet’s
preparation, which he found to behave precisely like that he had
procured from Warltire. He observed that the new gas was only sparingly
soluble in water and that its power of causing a candle to burn with a
strong flame was in nowise diminished by agitation with water—facts
which he said convinced him

  “that there must be a very material difference between the
  constitution of the air from mercurius calcinatus and that of
  phlogisticated nitrous air, [nitrous oxide] notwithstanding their
  resemblance in some particulars.”

It was not, however, until the following March (1775) (he having
meanwhile been intent upon his experiments on the vitriolic air [sulphur
dioxide]), that he ascertained the real nature of the new air, and was
led “though very gradually ... to the complete discovery of the
constitution of the air we breathe.” By trials with the nitrous air and
with mice he found that the new gas was eminently fit for respiration:
nitrous air reduced its volume to a greater extent than in the case of
common air, and a mouse lived longer in it than it would in the same
volume of common air.

  “Thinking of this extraordinary fact upon my pillow, the next morning
  I put another measure of nitrous air to the same mixture, and to my
  utter astonishment found that it was farther diminished to almost
  one-half of its original quantity.”

Priestley now utterly missed his way for a time. He sought to get the
new air from the various oxides of lead, but the fetish of phlogiston
again led him wrong, and eventually by a train of reasoning which is
fully set forth in the paper, but which need not here be repeated, there
remained, he says, no doubt in his mind

  “but that _atmospherical air_, or the thing that we breathe, _consists
  of the nitrous acid and earth_, with so much phlogiston as is
  necessary to its elasticity; and likewise so much more as is required
  to bring it from its state of perfect purity to the mean condition in
  which we find it.”

Priestley’s “complete discovery of the constitution of the air we
breathe” was thus wholly erroneous: he was very far indeed from having a
clear conception of its real nature.

Priestley’s description of the main properties of oxygen is however
accurate, and lecturers in chemistry are indebted to him for some
striking experimental illustrations of them.

  “I easily conjectured,” he says, “that inflammable air would explode
  with more violence and a louder report by the help of dephlogisticated
  than of common air; but the effect far exceeded my expectations, and
  it has never failed to surprise every person before whom I have made
  the experiment.... The dipping of a lighted candle into a jar filled
  with dephlogisticated air is alone a very beautiful experiment. The
  strength and vivacity of the flame is striking, and the heat produced
  by the flame in these circumstances is also remarkably great....
  Nothing would be easier than to augment the force of fire to a
  prodigious degree by blowing it with dephlogisticated air instead of
  common air.... Possibly _platina_ might be melted by means of it.

  “From the greater strength and vivacity of the flame of a candle, in
  this pure air, it may be conjectured that it might be peculiarly
  salutary to the lungs in certain morbid cases.... But perhaps we may
  also infer from these experiments that though pure dephlogisticated
  air might be very useful as a _medicine_, it might not be so proper
  for us in the usual healthy state of the body: for, as a candle burns
  out much faster in dephlogisticated than in common air, so we might,
  as may be said, _live out too fast_, and the animal powers be too soon
  exhausted in this pure kind of air. A moralist, at least, may say that
  the air which Nature has provided for us is as good as we deserve....
  Who can tell but that, in time, this pure air may become a fashionable
  article in luxury. Hitherto only two mice and myself have had the
  privilege of breathing it.”

An experiment which Priestley says “I had the pleasure to see at Paris,
in the laboratory of Mr Lavoisier, my excellent fellow-labourer in these
inquiries, and to whom, in a variety of respects, the philosophical part
of the world has very great obligations,” led him into a train of
inquiry upon the action of nitric acid upon a wide range of organic
substances, from which however no general results followed, in spite of
much experimenting. He had at one time the idea that a fundamental
difference existed in the behaviour of animal and vegetable matter with
respect to nitric acid, but the observations were contradictory, and
although it is readily possible to interpret the phenomena in the light
of our present knowledge, they led Priestley to no definite conclusions.

Of more importance is the work on the “Fluor Acid Air”—a substance
discovered by “Mr Scheele, a Swede; from which circumstance the acid is
often distinguished by the name of the _Swedish acid_.” Priestley sought
to make the air by heating Derbyshire spar (fluor spar) with oil of
vitriol in glass vessels,

  “as in the process of making spirit of nitre from saltpetre; and the
  most remarkable facts that have been observed concerning it are, that
  the vessels in which the distillation is made are apt to be corroded;
  so that holes will be made quite through them; and that when there is
  water in the recipient, the surface of it will be covered with a crust
  of a friable stony matter.”

What Priestley actually produced by this method of experimenting was
more or less pure _silicon fluoride_, which he proceeded to collect, in
his usual fashion, over quicksilver.

  “I had no sooner produced this new kind of air but I was eager to see
  the effect it would have on _water_, and to produce the stony crust
  formed by their union, as described by Mr Scheele; and I was not
  disappointed in my expectations. The moment the water came into
  contact with this air the surface of it became white and opaque by a
  _stony film_.... Few philosophical experiments exhibit a more pleasing
  appearance than this, which can only be made by first producing the
  air confined by quicksilver, and then admitting a large body of water
  to it. Most persons to whom I have shown the experiment have been
  exceedingly struck with it.... The union of this acid air and water
  may also be exhibited in another manner, which to some persons makes a
  still more striking experiment, _viz._, by admitting the air, as fast
  as it is generated, to a large body of water resting on
  quicksilver.... It is, then, very pleasing to observe that the moment
  any bubble of air, after passing through the quicksilver, reaches the
  water, it is instantly, as it were, converted into a stone; but
  continuing hollow for a short space of time, generally rises to the
  top of the water.... I have met with few persons who are soon weary of
  looking at it; and some could sit by it almost a whole hour, and be
  agreeably amused all the time.”

Priestley’s attempts to explain the real nature of the _fluor acid air_
were, as may be expected, not very happy.

  “These appearances I explain by supposing that the vitriolic acid, in
  uniting with the spar, is in part volatilised by means of some
  phlogiston contained in it, so as to form a vitriolic acid air; and
  there is also combined with this air a portion of the solid earthy
  part of the spar, which continues in a state of solution till, coming
  into contact with the water, the fluid unites with the acid, and the
  earth is precipitated.”

The third volume of the work was published in the early part of 1777,
with a dedication to Lord Stanhope. It opens, as usual, with the
characteristically discursive preface, extending to thirty pages, in
which the author apologises for the character of much in the volume. He
is constrained to admit that numerous as his _facts_ are, “few of them
will appear so brilliant in the eye of the _general scholar_” as in
either of the two former volumes, although he trusts they will “be
thought no less valuable by philosophers and chemists.” Priestley, it
would seem, was conscious that he was beginning, as the phrase goes, “to
write himself out.”

  “Lest my readers should be alarmed at this addition of one volume
  after another on the same subject, I do assure them that I shall now
  certainly give them and myself some respite, and deliver the torch to
  anyone who may be disposed to carry it, foreseeing that my attention
  will be sufficiently engaged by speculations of a very different
  nature.... It will be a great satisfaction to me, after the part that
  I have taken in this business, to be a _spectator_ of its future
  progress, when I see the work in so many and so good hands, and
  everything in so rapid and so promising a way.

  “On taking leave of this subject I would entreat the candour and
  indulgence of my readers for any oversights they may discover in me as
  a _philosopher_, or imperfections as a _writer_. I am far from
  pretending to infallibility; but I have the satisfaction to reflect
  that, imperfect as my works may be found to be, they are each as
  perfect as I was able to make them....

  “Upon this, as upon other occasions, I can only repeat that it is not
  my _opinions_ on which I would be understood to lay any stress. Let
  the _new facts_, from which I deduce them, be considered as my
  _discoveries_, and let other persons draw better inferences from them
  if they can. This is a new and a wide field of experiment and
  speculation, and a premature attachment to hypothesis is the greatest
  obstruction we are likely to meet with in our progress through it; and
  as I think I have been pretty much upon my guard myself, I would
  caution others to be upon their guard too.”

These passages evidently were written under the influence of the feeling
of resentment with which he viewed the criticism to which his
speculations were subjected abroad. Fontana, Lavoisier and others were,
indeed, zealously engaged in using Priestley’s own _facts_ to destroy
the conception by which he explained them. An appeal to the balance was
felt to be necessary, and Priestley, as a logician, could not resist it.
But he was no quantitative chemist: the habits of a Cavendish were quite
foreign to his genius: patient, scrupulous attention to numerical
accuracy was not one of his characteristics: he was one of the most
industrious of experimenters—delighting, indeed, in manipulation for the
mere sake of it, but withal hasty and superficial. It is nowhere evident
in his writings that his problems were attacked according to any
carefully-thought-out plan. He confesses indeed, on more than one
occasion, he tested the inflammability of one of his numerous “airs”
_because_ he had a lighted candle near him: had the candle not been
lighted it would not have occurred to him to do it. Priestley was, in
fact, a pioneer: he showed the existence of a new world for science, and
he himself roamed over a portion of it, like a second Joshua; but he had
not the experience or the aptitude to accurately map out even that

There is little in the third volume of permanent value. It is largely an
account of a series of disconnected observations on the action of nitric
acid upon a variety of substances, which, however, led to no general
conclusions. It is, however, certain that if Priestley could have
induced himself to follow up certain of his observations he would have
arrived at _facts_ of far greater importance than those he actually
narrates. “_Speculation_,” he said, by way of rejoinder to Lavoisier,
“is a cheap commodity. _New and important facts_ are most wanted, and
therefore of most value,” and the new and important facts were within
his grasp if he had only reached out for them.

Another portion of the work is concerned with supplementary observations
on the gases treated of in the preceding volumes, partly by way of
correction and partly additional. Here and there we have a suggestive
passage, as in the paper on “Experiments on the Mixture of Different
Kinds of Air that have no Mutual Action,” in which he thus clearly
indicates the principle of the intra-diffusion of gases.

  “The result of my trials has been this general conclusion: that when
  two kinds of air have been mixed it is not possible to separate them
  again by any method of _decanting_ or pouring them off, though the
  greatest possible care be taken in doing it. They may not properly
  _incorporate_, so as to form a _third species of air_, possessed of
  new properties; but they will remain equally diffused through the mass
  of each other; and whether it be the upper or the lower part of the
  air that is taken out of the vessel, without disturbing the rest, it
  will contain an equal mixture of them both.”

Another suggestive paper is on “Respiration and the Use of the Blood,”
which was read to the Royal Society on January 25, 1776, and appears in
the _Phil. Trans._, vol. lxvi. Priestley, of course, regarded
respiration as a _phlogistic process_, and “that the use of the lungs is
to carry off a putrid _effluvium_, or to discharge that phlogiston,
which had been taken into the system with the aliment, and has become,
as it were, _effete_, the air that is respired serving as a menstruum
for that purpose.” This he thinks he has “proved to be effected by means
of the _blood_, in consequence of its coming so nearly into contact with
the air in the lungs, the blood appearing to be a fluid wonderfully
formed to imbibe and part with that principle which the chemists call
phlogiston, and changing its colour in consequence of being charged with
it or being freed from it.” The _facts_ in this paper are for the most
part correctly stated, but the discoverer of oxygen led the world
woefully astray as to the part played by that gas in the phenomena of

The fourth volume made its appearance in March 1779, with a dedication
to Sir George Savile, who had rendered Priestley the service of
introducing him and his invention of soda-water to the notice of the
Admiralty. In the preface, which is commendably short, he makes some
reference to the respite which he had promised himself and his readers,
but trusts, by way of extenuation, “it may be sufficient to allege the
instability of human purposes and pursuits.” He had intended to devote
himself to metaphysics.

  “But that kind of writing,” he says, “is a thing of a very different
  nature from this. I can truly say ... that single sections in this
  work have cost me more than whole volumes of the other; so great is
  the difference between writing from the head only and writing, as it
  may be called, from the hands.”

The fact was Priestley could not keep away from his laboratory.

  “Having acquired a fondness for experiments, even slighter inducements
  than I have had would have been sufficient to determine my conduct.”

The preface is noteworthy for its plea for the position of experimental
science in the scheme of general education.

  “If we wish to lay a good foundation for a philosophical taste, and
  philosophical pursuits, persons should be accustomed to the sight of
  experiments and processes in early life. They should, more especially,
  be early initiated in the theory and practice of _investigation_, by
  which many of the old discoveries may be made to be really _their
  own_; on which account they will be much more valued by them. And, in
  a great variety of articles, very young persons may be made so far
  acquainted with everything necessary to be previously known as to
  engage (which they will do with peculiar alacrity) in pursuits truly

In the course of some observations on the effect “of impregnating oil of
vitriol with nitrous acid vapour” he discovered _nitrosulphuric acid_,
the so-called “Leaden Chamber Crystals,” whose properties and behaviour
with water he describes with accuracy and even eloquence. Of these
crystals he says: “A more beautiful appearance can hardly be imagined,
and I am afraid I shall never see the like again.” He also noticed the
formation of the dark brown compound which nitric oxide forms with a
solution of green vitriol, and adds:—

  “To determine whether the phenomena attending the impregnation of the
  solution of green vitriol with nitrous air depended in any measure
  upon the seeming _astringency_ of that solution ... I impregnated a
  quantity of _green tea_, which is also said to be astringent, with
  nitrous air, but no sensible change of colour was produced in it.”

He several times noticed the deep blue liquid which nitrogen peroxide
forms with cold water. He made many attempts to use nitric oxide as an
antiseptic, especially for culinary purposes. But the gastronomic
results with fowls and pigeons were not to his liking, although he says,
“my friend Mr Magellan ... had not so bad an opinion of this piece of
cookery as I had.” One cannot read Priestley’s description of his
multifarious experiments without being struck with the number of
occasions in which he just missed making discoveries of first-rate
importance. It is obvious that he had obtained chlorine without
recognising it, even before the news of Scheele’s discovery reached this
country. He had also prepared, without knowing it, phosphoretted
hydrogen and phosphorous acid. At times, however, he can follow a clue
with remarkable perspicacity; as in his observation of the cause of the
“flouring” of mercury, and in his discovery of a method of removing lead
and tin from that metal.

The subject of “dephlogisticated air” naturally continued to interest
him, and he again returns to it in this volume, for he says:—

  “As it sometimes amuses myself it may perhaps amuse others to look
  back with me to the several steps in the actual progress of this
  investigation, some of which I overlooked in my last account of it.”

He points out, as already stated, that he must have had the new gas in
his hands as far back as November 1771, having obtained it from nitre.
He admits that he had no particular view in making his crucial
experiment of August 1, 1774,

  “excepting that of extracting air from a variety of substances by
  means of a burning lens in quicksilver, which was then a new process
  with me, and which I was very fond of.”

He explains how he was led to his speculation that “this kind of air,
and consequently of atmospherical air, which is the same thing but in a
state of inferior purity,” consists “of earth and spirit of nitre.”

  “But,” he adds, “I have since seen reason to suspect that hypothesis,
  plausible as it appears. Indeed, some of my late experiments would
  lead me to conclude that there is no acid at all in pure air.”

He then experiments with manganese, which Scheele, who independently
discovered oxygen, had already employed, and finds that it yields the
new air both when heated alone or with oil of vitriol. The production of
oxygen from manganese was contrary to his expectations as the substances
he had hitherto used, the _precipitate per se_ and the _red lead_ and
the nitre, had all been subjected to “the influence of the atmosphere,”
whereas “here was pure air from a substance which for anything that
appeared had always been in the bowels of the earth, and never had had
any communication with the external air.” This led to the surmise that
possibly the expulsion of dephlogisticated air from such mineral

  “might assist in sustaining subterraneous fires.... The solution of
  the phenomena of subterraneous fires would certainly be much easier on
  the supposition of their supplying their own _pabulum_, by means of
  dephlogisticated air contained in substances exposed to their heat. I
  therefore desired Mr Landriani, who being in Italy had a good
  opportunity of making inquiries on the subject, to inform me whether
  any of those substances, and particularly _manganese_ be found in
  their volcanoes; and his answer makes it rather probable that those
  fires are, in part, sustained by this means.”

The ease with which nitre parts with its oxygen on heating furnished
Priestley with the true explanation of its so-called “detonation,”
“concerning which,” he says, “the most improbable conjectures have been
advanced by the most eminent philosophers and chemists.” After a
reference to the hypothesis of Macquer, who assumes that what he calls
“a _nitrous sulphur_” is produced, Priestley points out that

  “the doctrine of dephlogisticated air supplies the easiest solution
  imaginable of this very difficult phenomenon. Let any person but
  attend to the phenomena of the detonation of charcoal in nitre, and
  that of dipping a piece of hot charcoal into a jar of dephlogisticated
  air, and I think it will be impossible for him not to conclude that
  the appearances are the very same and must have the same cause.”

Of all the quantitative exercises performed by Priestley, by far the
most numerous depended upon his application of nitric oxide to measure
the “goodness” of air.

  “When,” he says, “I first discovered the property of nitrous air as a
  test of the wholesomeness of common air, I flattered myself that it
  might be of considerable practical use, and particularly that the air
  of distant places and countries might be brought and examined together
  with great ease and satisfaction; but I own that hitherto I have
  rather been disappointed in my expectations from it.... I gave several
  of my friends the trouble to send me air from distant places,
  especially from manufacturing towns, and the worst they could find to
  be actually breathed by the manufacturers, such as is known to be
  exceedingly offensive to those who visit them; but when I examined
  those specimens of air in Wiltshire, the difference between them and
  the very best air in this county, which is esteemed to be very good,
  as also the difference between them and specimens of the best air in
  the counties in which these manufacturing towns are situated, was very
  trifling.... I have frequently taken the open air in the most exposed
  places in this country at _different times of the year_, and in
  different states of the _weather_, etc., but never found the
  difference so great as the inaccuracy arising from the method of
  making the trial might easily amount to or exceed.”

Other observers, less careful or more sanguine than Priestley, were,
however, successful in detecting the differences which prejudice led
them to anticipate. Thus Signor Marsilio Landriani of Milan, whose name
has already been mentioned in connection with the theory of
subterraneous fires, in the course of a tour through Italy had the
satisfaction of convincing himself

  “that the air of all those places, which from the long experience of
  the inhabitants has been reputed unwholesome, is found to be so to a
  very great degree of exactness by the _eudiometer_.... The air of the
  Pontine lakes, that of the Sciroccho at Rome (so very unwholesome),
  that of the Campagna Romana, of the Grotto del Cane, of the Zolfatara
  at Naples, of the baths of Nero at Baja, of the seacoast of Tuscany,
  were all examined by me and found to be in such a state as daily
  experience led me to expect.”

Modern eudiometry, making use of methods of far greater precision than
were possible to Priestley, has confirmed his supposition that
atmospheric air is remarkably constant in composition, and that its
wholesomeness depends upon other causes than the relative amount of the
dephlogisticated air contained in it.

Perhaps the most important of the many papers contained in this volume
are those which relate to the “Melioration of Air by the Growth of
Plants,” a subject to which Priestley gave attention, even whilst at
Leeds, in 1771. In these papers he clearly proves that this
“melioration” is connected with the green matter of leaves and that it
is dependent upon sunlight. This observation is of fundamental
importance and attracted much attention.

In the fifth volume, which was published in the spring of 1781, with a
dedication to Dr Heberden, when Priestley had moved to Birmingham, he
again returns to this subject. Practically all the experimental work to
which it relates was done whilst he was with Lord Shelburne, and mainly
at Calne. During the former parts of the summer of 1780 he suffered from
an illness which greatly interfered with his work, although he thinks
that during his incapacity for making experiments his “hints for the
farther prosecution of them are greatly accumulated.” It cannot be said
that the five papers on the relations of vegetation to air, with which
the volume opens, added very materially to the fundamental fact which
Priestley had discovered. They furnished, however, additional evidence
of it and no doubt stimulated further inquiry. If his facts could not be
controverted, his explanations and surmises were at least open to
attack, and a number of observers, both here and abroad, busied
themselves with the problems of physiological botany thereby suggested.

As regards the subject of “air” in general, although a large number of
isolated observations are recorded in somewhat tedious detail, no new
fact of first-rate importance is apparent. The experiments are largely
supplementary to those in the preceding volumes and are for the most
explanatory or corroborative of them. Perhaps the most important are
those dealing with “the production of nitrous air in which a candle will
burn,” by which is signified the gas we now know as nitrous oxide, but
which Priestley eventually termed _dephlogisticated nitrous air_. The
process he employed is no longer used in the production of this gas, but
it sufficed in his hands to determine its individuality without doubt.

Priestley’s methods of experiment with his various “airs” were very
uniform. He tried their solubility in water, their power of supporting
or extinguishing flame, whether they were respirable, how they behaved
with acid and alkaline air, and with nitric oxide and inflammable air,
and lastly how they were affected by the electric spark. He occasionally
made attempts to weigh them, but his determinations of their relative
density were altogether untrustworthy. Indeed, it is evident from the
terms in which he speaks of these efforts that he was conscious of their
inadequacy. The result of submitting alkaline air (ammonia) to the
electric spark, whereby it is resolved into nitrogen and hydrogen,
surprised him not a little.

  “There are few experiments the _rationale_ of which I less pretend to
  understand than the production of genuine and permanent inflammable
  air from alkaline air by means of the electric spark.... One query on
  this subject is, whence comes the phlogiston, which is certainly a
  principal ingredient in the constitution of inflammable air. Alkaline
  air, indeed, contains phlogiston, because in the manner in which I
  have generally produced it, it is itself partially inflammable; but it
  is not nearly so much so as the inflammable air which is produced by
  means of it. Besides, it will appear by the following experiments that
  the quantity of the inflammable air far exceeds that of the alkaline.”

Although Priestley clearly recognised the production of the inflammable
air, “in no respect to be distinguished from that which is extracted
from metals by acids,” and inferred it must come from the alkaline air
(“the production having its limits”), he failed to detect the other
constituent of ammonia. His determination of the actual increase in
volume was inaccurate, and his attempt to explain the phenomenon wholly

At the instigation of Mr Woulfe, whose name mainly lives in connection
with a useful piece of chemical apparatus, Priestley was encouraged to
hope that he would

  “find something remarkable in the solution of _manganese_ in spirit of
  salt. Mr Woulfe, however, in a very friendly manner, at the same time,
  cautioned me with respect of the vapour that would issue from it, as
  from his own experience he apprehended it was of a very dangerous
  nature.... I cannot say that it was the apprehension of danger, but
  rather having other things in view, that prevented my giving much
  attention to the subject.”

Priestley’s experiments led to no decisive result: he of course
recognised the

  “peculiar smell, exactly resembling that which is procured by
  dissolving _red lead_ in the same acids.... On the application of heat
  it was easy to perceive that air, or vapour, was expelled; but it was
  instantly seized by the quicksilver.... This is a new field that is
  yet before me.”

Priestley never occupied that field. It is tolerably certain that both
Woulfe and he had unknowingly prepared _chlorine gas_, but the glory of
its discovery belongs to Scheele.

The paper “Of Sound in Different Kinds of Air” is worth quoting as
showing Priestley at his best:—

  “Almost all the experiments that have hitherto been made relating to
  _sound_ have been made in common air, of which it is known to be a
  vibration, though it is likewise known to be capable of being
  transmitted by other substances. There could be little doubt, however,
  of the possibility of sound _originating_ in any other kind of air, as
  well as being _transmitted_ by them; but the trial had not been
  actually made, and I had an easy opportunity of making it.

  “Besides, the experiments promised to ascertain whether the
  _intensity_ of sound was affected by any other property of the air in
  which it was made than the mere _density_ of it. For the different
  kinds of air in which I was able to make the same sound, besides
  differing in specific gravity, have likewise other remarkable chemical
  differences, the influence of which with respect to sound would, at
  the same time, be submitted to examination.

  “Being provided with a piece of clock-work, in which was a bell, and a
  hammer to strike upon it (which I could cover with a receiver, and
  which, when it was properly covered up, I could set in motion by the
  pressure of a brass rod going through a collar of leather), I placed
  it on some soft paper on a transfer. Then taking a receiver, the top
  of which was closed with a plate of brass, through which the brass rod
  and collar of leathers was inserted, I placed the whole on the plate
  of an air-pump, and exhausted the receiver of all the air that it
  contained. Then removing this exhausted receiver, containing the piece
  of clock-work, I filled it with some of those kinds of air that are
  capable of being confined by water.... Then by forcing down the brass
  rod through the collar of leathers I made the hammer strike the bell,
  which it would do more than a dozen times after each pressure. And the
  instrument was contrived to do the same thing many times successively
  after being once wound up.

  “Everything being thus prepared, I had nothing to do, after filling
  the same receiver with each of the kinds of air in its turn, but
  receding from the apparatus, while an assistant produced the sound, to
  observe at what distance I could distinctly hear it. The result of all
  my observations, as far as I could judge, was that the intensity of
  sound depends solely upon the _density_ of the air in which it is
  made, and not at all upon any chemical principle in its constitution.

  “In inflammable air the sound of the bell was hardly to be
  distinguished from the same in a pretty good vacuum; and this air is
  ten times rarer than common air.

  “In fixed air the sound was much louder than in common air, so as to
  be heard about half as far again; and this air is in about the same
  proportion denser than common air.

  “In dephlogisticated air the sound was also sensibly louder than in
  common air, and, as I thought, rather more than in the proportion of
  its superior density; but of this I cannot pretend to be quite sure.

  “In all these experiments the common standard was the sound of the
  same bell in the same receiver, every other circumstance also being
  the same; the air only being changed by removing the receiver from the
  transfer and blowing through it, etc.”

The sixth and last volume appeared in 1786 with a dedication to William
Constable, Esq., of Barton Constable.

In the preface Priestley is concerned to defend himself against the
charge that he occupies himself too much with Theology to the detriment
of Natural Philosophy. Theology, he pleads, is his original and proper
province, and for which, therefore, he may be allowed to have a
justifiable predilection. But as with Metaphysics, so with Theology.
Neither subject engrossed so much of his time as some persons imagined.

  “I am particularly complained of at present as having thrown away so
  much time on the composition of my _History of the Corruptions of
  Christianity_, and of the _Opinions Concerning Christ_. But I can
  assure them, and the nature of the thing, if they consider it, may
  satisfy them, that the time I must necessarily have bestowed upon the
  experiments, of which an account is contained in this single volume,
  is much more than I have given to the _six_, of which the
  above-mentioned works consist, and to all the controversial pieces
  that I have written in defence of the former of them. The labour and
  attention necessary to enable me to write single paragraphs in this
  work have been more than was requisite to compose whole sections or
  chapters of the former.... Besides, these different studies so relieve
  one another that I believe I do more in each of them, by applying to
  them alternately, than I should do if I gave my whole attention to one
  of them only.”

But Priestley’s main defence rests “on the superior dignity and
importance of _theological studies_ to any other whatever.” The whole
preface must be read in the light of Priestley’s altered circumstances
and of his relations to the theological world, which, since his removal
to Birmingham, had greatly increased in weight and importance. As
already stated, he regarded himself as ordained to champion the cause of
religion among the persons to whom his writings as a natural philosopher
specially appealed. The author of the _Institutes of Natural and
Revealed Religion_ was the writer of the _Letters to a Philosophical
Unbeliever_ and, in an age of unbelief, the doughty antagonist of
Gibbon. Otherwise the incongruous mixture of Theology and Natural
Philosophy, of which the preface is made up, seems inexplicable.

To the historian of chemistry the last volume of the series is hardly
less interesting than any one of its predecessors, not so much as
affording knowledge of new “airs” as by reason of Priestley’s relation
to the waning doctrine of phlogiston, and on account of the part that
his own work was playing, in spite of himself, in completing its
overthrow. The volume indeed significantly opens with “Experiments
relating to Phlogiston,” a reprint with notes of his paper in the 73rd
volume of the _Philosophical Transactions_. Priestley truly says:—

  “There are few subjects, perhaps none, that have occasioned more
  perplexity to chemists than that of _phlogiston_, or, as it is
  sometimes called, the principle _of inflammability_. It was the great
  discovery of Stahl that this principle, whatever it be, is
  transferable from one substance to another, how different soever in
  their other properties, such as sulphur, wood, and all the metals, and
  therefore is the same thing in them all. But what has given an air of
  mystery to this subject has been that it was imagined that this
  principle, or substance, could not be exhibited except in combination
  with other substances, and could not be made to assume separately
  either a fluid or solid form. It was also asserted by some that
  phlogiston was so far from adding to the weight of bodies that the
  addition of it made them really lighter than they were before; on
  which account they chose to call it _the principle of levity_. This
  opinion had great patrons.

  “Of late it has been the opinion of many celebrated chemists, Mr
  Lavoisier among others, that the whole doctrine of phlogiston has been
  founded on mistake, and that in all cases in which it was thought that
  bodies parted with the principle of phlogiston, they in fact lost
  nothing, but on the contrary acquired something; and in most cases an
  addition of some kind of air; that a _metal_, for instance, was not a
  combination of two things, viz., an _earth_ and _phlogiston_, but was
  probably a simple substance in its metallic state; and that the calx
  is produced not by the loss of phlogiston, or of anything else, but by
  the acquisition of air.”

He then goes on to say that the arguments in favour of this opinion,
especially those which were drawn from the experiments of Lavoisier on
mercury, were “so specious” that he owns he was much inclined to adopt
it. But he was evidently loth to part company with a conception which
had hitherto been the central idea of his chemical creed, the very
key-stone of the structure which he was pleased to regard as his
philosophy. As an abstract conception, as the principle of levity, as
something which was the negation of mass and which gravity repelled,
phlogiston was eminently unsatisfactory. But what if phlogiston were an
entity? A ponderable substance, no matter how light? In that case
Stahl’s generalisation might still afford salvation. “My friend, Mr
Kirwan”—a clever, ingenious Irishman, with a nimble wit and a facile
pen—supplied the hint—“Phlogiston was inflammable air”—and Priestley by
a series of experiments, faultless as to execution but utterly
fallacious as to interpretation, persuades himself that Kirwan is right
and that Mr Lavoisier’s opinion and his “specious arguments” are
therefore to be discountenanced. The paper, in certain respects, is one
of the most noteworthy of Priestley’s productions. The experiments are
original, ingenious and striking, but as an example of his inductive
capacity, or as an indication of its author’s logical power, or of his
ability to try judicially the very issue he has raised, it is
significant only of the profound truth of his own words that

  “we may take a maxim so strongly for granted that the plainest
  evidence of sense will not entirely change, and often hardly modify,
  our persuasions; and the more ingenious a man is, the more effectually
  he is entangled in his errors, his ingenuity only helping him to
  deceive himself by evading the force of truth.”

The next paper in the volume, on “The Seeming Conversion of Water into
Air,” is a record of experiments which cost Priestley much labour and
the Lunar Society, for a time, much mystification. Priestley eventually
detected the fallacy in the observation which originally induced him to
believe that it was possible to transmute water into a permanently
elastic fluid, but he got no further in his explanation than that air
has a faculty of passing through the pores of an earthern vessel “by
means of a power very different from that of pressure.”

This and the third paper in the series are classical, and this partly by
reason of, and partly in spite of, their blunders, for they are the
record of the work upon which James Watt largely based his conjectures
concerning the real chemical nature of water, whereby his name has been
associated with that of Cavendish and Lavoisier as the true discoverer
of its composition. In the course of his inquiry Priestley studied the
action of steam upon red-hot iron by an arrangement generally similar to
that employed by Lavoisier, but his explanation of the phenomena is
essentially different from that of the French chemist, as may be seen
from the following quotation:—

  “Since iron gains the same addition of weight by melting it in
  _dephlogisticated air_, and also by the addition of _water_ when
  red-hot, and becomes, as I have already observed, in all respects the
  same substance, it is evident that this air or water, as existing in
  the iron, is the very same thing; and this can hardly be explained but
  upon the supposition that water consists of two kinds of air, _viz._,
  inflammable and dephlogisticated.”

This, however, is how Priestley actually does explain it:—

  “When iron is melted in dephlogisticated air we may suppose that,
  though part of its phlogiston escapes to enter into the composition of
  the small quantity of fixed air which is then procured, yet enough
  remains to form _water_ with the addition of the dephlogisticated air
  which it has imbibed, so that this _calx_ of iron consists of the
  intimate union of the pure _earth of iron_ and of _water_; and
  therefore when the same calx, thus saturated with water, is exposed to
  heat in inflammable air, this air enters into it, destroys the
  attraction between the water and the earth, and revives the iron while
  the water is expelled in its proper form.

  “Consequently, in the process with _steam_, nothing is necessary to be
  supposed but the entrance of the water and the expulsion of the
  phlogiston belonging to the iron, no more phlogiston remaining in it
  than what the water brought along with it, and which is retained as a
  constituent part of the water or of the new compound.”

No more striking illustration of how a man’s ingenuity may help him to
deceive himself could be given than is afforded by this passage.
Priestley to the end of his days never got a just conception of the real
chemical constitution of water.

The remaining papers call for little comment. In the course of some
further inquiries Priestley discovered _sulphuretted hydrogen_, termed
by him _sulphurated inflammable air_, and which he prepared by the
action of oil of vitriol upon ferrous sulphide. This gas must of course
have been frequently obtained or perceived by him, and possibly by
others, as it is produced by a number of processes. Its characteristic
smell was associated with sulphur: it was thought to be nothing but
inflammable air modified or polluted by the accidental presence of
sulphur. It cannot be held that Priestley drew the same sharp
distinctions between the various kinds of inflammable air that we draw
to-day. To us they are essentially different substances. Priestley,
however, regarded them as in the main phlogiston combined or associated
with other substances which affected the character of their flames or
gave them different properties. In his opinion they were essentially the
same. This fact serves to explain what is otherwise incomprehensible,
and accounts for many of his mistakes.

The last paper in the volume, excluding the “Supplementary
Observations,” has a special interest. It is entitled “Observations
relating to Theory,” and is in fact Priestley’s Confession of Faith in
the doctrine which enslaved and misled him throughout the whole of his
scientific career. But he makes it so hesitatingly and with so many
reservations that one wonders why he is constrained to make it at all.
He appears to think, however, that it is expected of him.

  “It is always our endeavour, after making experiments, to generalise
  the conclusions we draw from them, and by this means to form a
  _theory_, or _system of principles_, to which all the facts may be
  reduced, and by means of which we may be able to foretell the results
  of future experiments.... In my former publications I have frequently
  promised to give such a _general theory_ of the experiments in which
  the different kinds of air are concerned, as the present state of our
  knowledge of them will enable me to do. But, like Simonides with
  respect to the question that was proposed to him concerning God, I
  have deferred it from time to time; and indeed I am more than ever
  disposed to defer it still longer, as I own that I am at present even
  less able to give such a theory as shall satisfy myself than I was
  some years ago; new difficulties having arisen, which unhinge former
  theories, and more experiments being necessary to establish new ones.

  “Fluctuating, however, as the present state of this branch of
  knowledge is, I do not think that I can, on this occasion, entirely
  decline giving some observations of a theoretical nature, and though I
  cannot pretend to perform the whole of my promise, I shall give a
  summary view of what appears to me to be the constituent parts of all
  the kinds of air with which we are acquainted, and a more particular
  account of the hypothesis concerning phlogiston, which is at present
  more an object of discussion than anything else of a theoretical

Priestley then passes in review all the “airs” of which the chemistry of
his time had any knowledge, giving the _elements_ or constituent
principles of which he imagined them to be composed.

The only kind of air that he thinks to be properly _elementary_, and to
consist of a simple substance, is _dephlogisticated air_, with possibly
the addition of the principle of heat, which, as it is not probable that
it adds to the _weight_ of bodies, can hardly be called an _element_ in
their composition.

  “Dephlogisticated air appears to be one of the elements of water, of
  fixed air, of all the acids, and of many other substances which, till
  lately, have been thought to be simple. The air of the atmosphere,
  exclusive of a great variety of foreign impregnations, appears to
  consist of dephlogisticated and phlogisticated air.”

As regards _phlogisticated air_—the mephitic air of Rutherford, the
azote of Lavoisier, the nitrogen of Chaptal—Priestley, reasoning from
Cavendish’s work, concluded that it was probably not elementary, but
“that it consists of nitrous acid and phlogiston; this acid having
always been produced by decomposing it with ... dephlogisticated air.”

He is conscious, however, of the insufficiency of this hypothesis, and

  “that the _acid principle_ is supplied by the dephlogisticated air,
  while the nitrous air gives the base of the nitrous acid and
  phlogiston; and then this [phlogisticated] air may perhaps be
  considered as phlogiston combined not with all the necessary elements
  of nitrous acid, but only what may be called the base of it, _viz._,
  the dephlogisticated nitrous vapour, or something which when united to
  dephlogisticated air will constitute nitrous acid.”

“_Fixed air_ (carbonic acid) seems to be a compound of phlogiston and
dephlogisticated air.” In other words, carbonic acid and water have,
according to Priestley, “the same elementary composition.” “It is
something remarkable that two substances so different from each other as
_fixed air_ and _water_ should be analysed into the same principles. But
there is this difference between them, that water is the union not of
pure phlogiston but of inflammable air and dephlogisticated air.”

Of the true nature of _inflammable air_, Priestley, as we have more than
once had occasion to point out, had only the vaguest notions.

  “Inflammable air,” he says, “seems now to consist of water and
  inflammable air, which however seems extraordinary, as the two
  substances are hereby made to involve each other, one of the
  constituent parts of water being inflammable air, and one of the
  constituent parts of inflammable air being water; and therefore, if
  the experiments would favour it (but I do not see that they do so) it
  would be more natural to suppose that water, like fixed air, consists
  of phlogiston and dephlogisticated air in some different mode of

That Priestley to the last imagined that the various kinds of
inflammable air known to him were at bottom one and the same substance,
modified or affected by other substances, accidental and unessential,
might be proved by a number of passages. He says with respect to
inflammable air generally:—

  “There is an astonishing variety in the different kinds of inflammable
  air, the cause of which is very imperfectly known. The lightest, and
  therefore, probably, the purest kind seems to consist of phlogiston
  and water only. But it is probable that _oil_, and that of different
  kinds, may be held in solution in several of them, and be the reason
  of their burning with a lambent flame, and also of their being so
  readily resolved into fixed air when they are decomposed with
  dephlogisticated air; though _why_ this should be the case I cannot

_Nitrous air_ (nitric oxide) he conceives to be a combination of a
dephlogisticated nitrous air and phlogiston, and that by adding to it
dephlogisticated air and water it is converted into nitrous acid.

_Dephlogisticated nitrous air_ (nitrous oxide) he conceives may, like
dephlogisticated air, be an elementary substance and to be formed by
depriving nitrous air of its phlogiston.

The various _acid airs_ (_e.g._, marine acid air, vitriolic acid air,
etc.) consist of the peculiar acids as vapours combined with phlogiston.

The _Alkaline air_ (ammonia) he thought to consist of inflammable air
and phlogisticated air (nitrogen),

  “or of something capable of being converted into phlogisticated
  air.... That water enters into the composition of alkaline air seems
  necessary to be admitted, because it is decomposed into inflammable
  air, which I cannot help thinking necessarily requires water. It
  seems, however, clearly to be inferred ... that there is no occasion
  to admit the _alkaline principle_ into the number of _elements_; the
  _alkalinity_, as I may say, some way or other, arising from
  phlogiston, or phlogisticated air, as _acidity_ arises from
  dephlogisticated air.”

After these theoretical speculations, “in which,” he says, “I fear I
have not communicated much light, though it is as much as I have been
able to get,” Priestley proceeds to make some observations relating to
_phlogiston_, “the existence of which is at present a great subject of
discussion with philosophers; some maintaining that there is no such
thing, and others holding the doctrine of Stahl on the subject.”

  “According to Stahl, phlogiston is a real substance, capable of being
  transferred from one body to another; its presence or absence making a
  remarkable difference in the properties of bodies, whether it add to
  their _weight_ or not. Thus he concluded that oil of vitriol deprived
  of water, and united to phlogiston, becomes sulphur; and that the
  calces of metals, by the addition of the same substance, become
  metals.... What is now contended for is that in the oil of vitriol
  changing into sulphur something is lost and nothing gained, and also
  that a calx becomes a metal by the loss of air only. And did facts
  correspond to this theory it would certainly be preferable to that of
  Stahl, as being more simple; there being one principle less to take
  into our account in explaining the changes of bodies. But I do not
  know of any case in which phlogiston has been supposed to enter into a
  body, but there is room to suppose that something does enter into

  “What has been insisted upon, as most favourable to the exclusion of
  phlogiston, is the revival of mercury without the addition of any
  other substance from the precipitate _per se_. In this case it is
  evident that mere _heat_ ... is sufficient to revive the metal. And as
  what is expelled from this calx is the purest dephlogisticated air, it
  has been said that mercury is changed into this calx by imbibing pure
  air, and therefore becomes a metal again, merely in consequence of
  parting with that air.”

The dexterous Mr Kirwan, not long before he himself embraced the French
doctrine, furnished Priestley with an argument which satisfied him that
this cardinal fact can be accounted for without excluding phlogiston.
“Since therefore the supposition is exceedingly convenient, if not
absolutely necessary, to the explanation of many other facts in
chemistry, it is at least advisable not to abandon it.”

  “That calces do not become metals merely by parting with the air they
  contain, is evident from my experiments on heating them in contact
  with inflammable air, in which the inflammable air, or some necessary
  part of it, is undoubtedly absorbed; and though a little moisture be
  deposited in the process, it may well be supposed to be that which in
  conjunction with phlogiston constituted the inflammable air. And what
  can the other principle that is absorbed by the calx be but the same
  thing which, when united to water, is recovered again from the metal
  and found to be inflammable air having all the same properties with
  that which was employed in the revival of it. Metals therefore are not
  simple substances, but consist of their calces, and something else
  which they take from inflammable air. And as the same may also be
  taken from any combustible substance, it corresponds exactly to
  Stahl’s phlogiston, and therefore the doctrine of it is confirmed by
  these experiments; that is, we must still say that in all combustible
  substances there is a principle capable of being transferred to other
  substances, which when united to the calces of metals makes them to be
  metals, and which, united to oil of vitriol (deprived of its water)
  makes it to be sulphur.”

Thus was the ingenious man effectually entangled in his errors, his
ingenuity helping him to deceive himself by evading the force of truth.
To err is human. If Priestley saw through a glass darkly, and but dimly
discerned the truth, he at least strove, so far as in him lay, to reach
the light. Posterity forgives, and may well forget, his errors in
grateful recognition of the many noble services he rendered to our
common humanity, and in humbling recollection of the suffering and
sacrifice with which those services were requited.


[1]The Gregorian Calendar was not adopted in Great Britain until 1751.
    In 1752 eleven days were left out of the Calendar, September 3rd
    being counted the 14th. The change of style probably accounts for
    the confusion in the various dates of Priestley’s birth given by
    different writers. In Chalmers’s _General Biographical Dictionary_
    the date is given as March 18; in Allen’s _American Biographical and
    Historical Dictionary_ and in Thomson’s _History of the Royal
    Society_ as March 24; Corry, in his _Life of Priestley_, gives March
    24; Hoefer, in his _Histoire de la Chimie_, gives March 30, probably
    following Dumas’s _Philosophie de Chimie_; Cuvier, in his _Eloge_,
    says that he was born near Bristol in 1728! In a letter to Wedgwood,
    dated March 23, 1783, Priestley says in a postscript “This day I
    complete my half century.”

[2]T. Wemyss Reid, _Memoir of John Deskin Heaton_, p. 7 _et seq._

[3]The “Great Frost,” as it was called, which, beginning on December 26,
    1739, continued with the greatest intensity till February 17, 1740.
    Above London Bridge the Thames was completely frozen over, and
    numerous booths were erected on it for selling liquor, etc., to the
    multitudes who daily flocked there.

[4]_The Inquirer_, January 16, 1904.

[5]Dr Andrew Kippis, an eminent Presbyterian, was the minister of the
    Prince’s Street Chapel, Westminster, and had at his disposal funds
    which he could employ in assisting young ministers in their
    education and first settlement. Priestley enjoyed his friendship
    through life. Kippis, who was the editor of the _Biographia
    Britannia_, was elected into the Royal Society in 1779, and served
    on its council.

[6]William Eyres of Warrington, who was one of the most remarkable
    printers of his day, produced a number of works noted for their
    typographic excellence and beauty. He printed, in addition to the
    works above mentioned, the first editions of Mrs Barbauld’s poems,
    Gilbert Wakefield’s _Lucretius_, and other well-known classics.

[7]She was then sixty-two, and lived twenty years longer.

[8]The lines were the well-known stanza:—

    “Life! We’ve been long together
    Through pleasant and through cloudy weather;
    ’Tis hard to part when friends are dear,
    Perhaps ’twill cost a sigh, a tear;
    Then steal away, give little warning.
        Choose thine own time;
    Say not good-night, but in some brighter clime
        Bid me good-morning.”

[9]He lies buried near Castlehead, in Cartmel, Lancashire, where his
    monument, a pyramidal mausoleum containing some twenty tons of iron,
    is a notable feature in the landscape. On it is the following
    epitaph written by himself:—

    “Delivered from persecution of malice and envy here rests John
    Wilkinson, Iron Master, in certain hopes of a better state and
    heavenly mansion, as promulgated by Jesus Christ, in whose Gospel he
    was a firm believer. His life was spent in action for the benefit of
    man, and he trusts in some degree to the glory of God.”

[10]This portrait was formerly in the possession of Mrs Crouch,
    Priestley’s youngest sister, and, according to Mrs Bilbrough of
    Gildersome (_née_ Ellen Priestley), was brought by Mrs Crouch,
    “along with the old family clock from her father’s, Fieldhead, when
    she came to live here in 1787.” The picture was once placed in the
    window of a carver and gilder’s shop at Leeds, when Priestley
    stopped to look at it in passing by. A woman happened to be doing
    the same, and, on seeing him, exclaimed, “Why, here’s the fellow
    himself!” A photographic copy of it was presented to the subscribers
    to the Stephen Statue in the Oxford Museum.

[11]There is a pencil-drawing of the house, made by the son of Dr
    Kenrick of Warrington, among the Yates papers in the possession of
    the Royal Society.

[12]The Chapel, or “Meeting House” as it was called in Priestley’s time,
    adjoined the Alms House Garth and was erected in 1673, after the
    passage of the Act of Indulgence. It was pulled down in 1847 and the
    present Mill Hill Chapel erected on its site.

[13]“_Lectures on the Memory of the Just._ A Series of Discourses on the
    Lives and Times of the Ministers of Mill Hill Chapel, Leeds.”

[14]He had in John Lee, a native of Leeds and a man of about his own
    age, who became Solicitor-General in 1782, a friend who offered to
    further his interests in that matter. Priestley, in his
    autobiography, says: “Mr Lee showed himself particularly my friend
    at the time I left Lord Shelburne, assisting me in the difficulties
    with which I was then pressed, and continuing to befriend me
    afterwards by seasonable benefactions.”

[15]Richard Brinsley Sheridan at that time represented Stafford in the
    House of Commons. Both he and Fox sympathised with Priestley and
    sought to secure him compensation for his losses.

[16]Withering’s _Botanical Arrangement_, 2nd Ed. 3 vols. 1792.

[17]Mercuric oxide made by heating quicksilver in air.

[18]Nitrous oxide: _see_ p. 182.

[19]Mercuric oxide made by heating mercuric nitrate.

[20]See the author’s _Essays in Historical Chemistry_—“Priestley,
    Cavendish, Lavoisier and La Révolution Chimique.”


  Aikin, Anna Lætitia, 33, 43;
      her poem _Corsica_, 70, 75.
  Aikin, John, 32, 33, 36, 121.
  Aikin, Lucy, 38.
  _Air, Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of_, Priestley’s
          treatise on, 77, 103, 167 _et seq._
  Air, Fixed, 175, 176;
      Priestley’s view of its nature, 220.
  Air, Inflammable, 179, 220.
  Alkaline Air (Ammonia), Priestley’s isolation of, 185;
      its properties, 186;
      decomposition of by electricity, 210;
      nature of, 221.
  Ammonia Gas, Priestley’s discovery of, 185;
      its properties, 186.
  Ammonium Sesquicarbonate, Synthesis of, by Priestley, 186.

  Barbauld, Mrs (Anna Lætitia Aikin), 33, 160.
  Belloc, Madame, account of the Priestleys, 2;
      of the times of Priestley, 5;
      her account of Mrs Priestley, 49.
  Bewley, Richard, his mephitic julep, 79.
  Birmingham Riots of 1791, 120 _et seq._
  Bolton, H. Carrington, his account of the Lunar Society, 96.
  Boulton, Matthew, founds the Lunar Society of Birmingham, 94.
  Boyle, Robert, his recognition that different elastic fluids exist,
  Bright, Henry A., his account of the Warrington Academy, 34.
  Burke, Edmund, his denunciation of Priestley, 147.

  Canton, John, his school, 9, 62.
  “Conversion of Water into Air, Seeming,” Priestley’s work on, 216.
  _Corruptions of Christianity_, Priestley’s, 106.

  Darwin, Erasmus, his connection with the Birmingham Lunar Society, 94,
  Daventry Academy, 18.
  Dephlogisticated Air (Oxygen), Priestley’s discovery of, 184, 192 _et
  _Doctrine of Phlogiston Established_, Priestley’s last scientific
          work, 162.

  Edgeworth, Richard Lovell, his account of the Lunar Society, 96.
  Electricity, History of, Priestley’s, 63.
  Enfield, William, 33, 43.
  Eudiometry, 182, 207, 208.
  Eyres, William, of Warrington, 38.

  Faujar St Fond, his visits to Priestley, 103.
  Fieldhead, 3.
  Fluor Acid Air, 198.
  Forster, John Reinhold, 33, 81.
  Franklin Benjamin, 63, 91, 92;
      his opinion of Priestley, 93.

  Galton, Samuel, 94, 96.
  Gases, diffusion of, 202.
  “General History of the Christian Church to the Fall of the Western
          Empire,” 109, 163.
  Gordon, Rev. Alexander, his account of Priestley as a theologian, 109.

  Harrison, Frederic, on Priestley, 1.
  Horner, Leonard, his account of the Lunar Society, 102.
  Hutton, Miss, her account of Priestley as a preacher, 105.

  India-rubber, its use for erasing lead-pencil marks, 72.

  “Jesus and Socrates compared,” Priestley’s Essay, 163.

  Keighley, Mrs Sarah, 3, 8, 12.
  Keir, Captain, 94, 127.
  Kippis, Dr Andrew, 24, 26.
  Kirwan, Richard, 215, 223.

  Lavoisier, his relations to the discovery of oxygen, 195, 196, 198,
          201, 215.
  “Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever,” Priestley’s, 85.
  Lindsey, Theophilus, his friendship for Priestley, 73, 106.
  Lunar Society of Birmingham, 94 _et seq._

  Magellan, or Magalhæns, 84, 205.
  Marine Acid Air (Hydrogen Chloride), Priestley’s discovery of, 184.
  “Melioration of Air, by the Growth of Plants,” Priestley’s paper on,

  Nitrosulphuric Acid, discovery of, 204.
  Nitrous Air (Nitric Oxide), Priestley’s work on, 181;
      his application of it to Eudiometry, 182;
      nature of, 221.
  Nitrous Acid, discovery of, 182;
      nature of, 221.

  Oxygen, Priestley’s discovery of, 184, 192 _et seq._

  Paoli, Pascal, 70 _et seq._
  Parr, Dr Samuel, 113, 144.
  Phlogisticated Air (Nitrogen), Priestley’s theory of its constitution,
  Phlogiston, 98, 100, 162, 214, 222.
  Pneumatic Trough, the, 176.
  Price, Dr Richard, 61.
  Pringle, Sir John, address on award of Copley Medal to Priestley, 80.
  Priestley, Jonas, father of Joseph Priestley, 2.
  Priestley, Joseph, his birth, 1;
      ancestry, 2;
      education, 8;
      becomes an Arminian, 14;
      goes to Daventry, 17;
      his studies there, 18;
      begins his _Institutes of Natural and Revealed Religion_, 20, 68;
      his “thorn in the flesh,” 21;
      goes to Needham, 22;
      his privations there, 23;
      goes to Nantwich, 30;
      starts a school, 31;
      removes to Warrington, 32;
      marries, 47;
      is ordained, 49;
      his _English Grammar_, 32, 51;
      _Essay on Education_, 53;
      _Lectures on History and General Policy_, 55;
      his _Chart of Biography_, 60;
      is made Doctor of Laws of Edinburgh, 60;
      publishes his _History and Present State of Electricity_, 64;
      goes to Leeds, 66;
      becomes a Unitarian, 69;
      _Theory and Practice of Perspective_, 72;
      _History of Discoveries Relating to Vision, Light and Colours_,
      his literary characteristics, 74;
      his invention of soda-water, 77 _et seq._;
      is awarded the Copley Medal, 80;
      becomes librarian to Lord Shelburne, 82;
      visits the continent, 84;
      his _Disquisitions relating to Matter and Spirit_, 86;
      _Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of Air_, 77, 103;
      leaves Lord Shelburne, 88;
      removes to Birmingham, 93;
      his merits as a preacher, 105;
      his _History of the Corruptions of Christianity_, 106;
      his merits as a theologian, 109;
      his love of literature, 111;
      his physical characteristics, 114;
      his habits of life, 114;
      his mental characteristics, 117;
      destruction of his house at Birmingham, 120 _et seq._;
      his address to the inhabitants of Birmingham, 134;
      his account of the riots, 143;
      succeeds Dr Price as minister at Hackney, 146;
      withdraws from the Royal Society, 147;
      determines to leave the country, 149;
      his arrival in New York, 155;
      settles in Northumberland, 155;
      death of Mrs Priestley, 158;
      his last days, 162;
      his _Doctrine of Phlogiston Established_, 162;
      his death, 164.
  Priestley, Timothy, 2, 7.

  Respiration, and the use of the Blood, Priestley’s paper on, 203.
  Robinson, Henry Crabb, his account of Mrs Barbauld, 46.
  Russell, Martha, her account of the Birmingham Riots of 1791, 128.
  Russell, William, 105, 126, 149.

  Sal Ammoniac, Synthesis of, by Priestley, 186.
  Scheele, an independent discoverer of Oxygen, 206;
      discovers Chlorine, 211.
  Schimmelpenninck’s, Mrs, account of Priestley, 96.
  Seddon, John, 34, 42.
  Shelburne, Lord (Marquis of Lansdowne), 82.
  Silicon Fluoride, Priestley’s preparation of, 198;
      its decomposition by water, 199.
  Soda-water, invention of, 77.
  Sound in Air, 211.
  Sozzini, Fausto, 69, 108.
  Stahl, author of the hypothesis of phlogiston, 222.
  Sulphur dioxide (Vitriolic Acid Air), Priestley’s discovery of, 190.
  Sulphurated inflammable air (sulphuretted hydrogen), Priestley’s
          isolation of, 218.
  Sulphuretted hydrogen, Priestley’s isolation of, 218.

  Taylor, Dr John, of Norwich, 36.
  Theological Repository, the, 68, 105.
  Turner, Matthew, teacher of chemistry at the Warrington Academy, 51,

  Vegetation, relation of to Air, Priestley’s discovery of, 178, 208.
  Vitriolic Acid Air (sulphur dioxide), Priestley’s isolation of, 189.

  Warrington Academy, the, 33 _et seq._
  Water Controversy, the, 97.
  Watt, James, his connection with the Lunar Society, 94;
      discovery of Composition of Water, 97.
  Wedgwood, Josiah, his friendship for Priestley, 55, 83, 137.
  Wilkes and Liberty, Priestley’s pamphlet on, 73, 152.
  Wilkinson, John, 48, 138.
  Wilkinson, Mary (Mrs Priestley), 49, 158;
      Madame Belloc’s account of her, 49.
  Withering, Dr, 94, 101, 148.
  Wordsworth, William, his admiration of Mrs Barbauld’s literary work,

             _Colston & Coy. Limited, Printers, Edinburgh._

                          Transcriber’s Notes

--Retained publication information from the printed edition: this eBook
  is public-domain in the country of publication.

--Created cover and spine images based on elements in the book.

--Silently corrected a few palpable typos.

--In the text versions only, text in italics is delimited by

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