« AnteriorContinuar »
opinions both religious and philosophical of his early education, and he left the institution an Arian and a Necessarian. His diligence in study may be inferred from the fact, that, besides his stated duties, he read in company with a fellowstudent, ten folio pages of Greek every day, besides a Greek play every week, and composed the first copy of his "Institutes of Religion."
On leaving the Academy he took charge of a small congregation at Needham. But an impediment in his speech rendered him unpopular in the pulpit, and his heretical opinions caused him to be shunned when he attempted to open a school; and at the end of three years he removed to Nantwich, in Cheshire, where the congregation was still smaller than in Needham, consisting of only about sixty persons. Here he remained three years, teaching a school of about thirty-six pupils from seven in the morning till four in the afternoon, and then giving instruction in a private family till seven in the evening. He appears to have obtained no small reputation as a teacher, and in September, 1761, he was removed to the office of Tutor in the languages at the Academy in Warrington.
Here he married in 1762, and lived happily for six years. As a teacher he was indefatigably laborious, not confining himself to his own department, that of the languages; but lecturing also on oratory, history, civil law, and anatomy. His lectures on oratory and on history were afterwards published. It was during this period, that, in one of his annual visits to London, he became acquainted with Dr. Franklin, and was induced to compose the "History of Electricity," and to interest himself more than he had ever yet done in philosophical experiments. It is one among a multitude of proofs of his versatility and power of despatch, that he composed and printed this large and valuable work in less than twelve months, though engaged five hours daily in lecturing in the Academy.
In 1767 Dr. Priestley accepted an invitation to take the
pastoral charge of Mill-hill Chapel at Leeds, whither he removed in September, and where he remained for six years. Here he was as indefatigable a minister as he had been a tutor at Warrington. "I continued six years," he says, "very happy with a liberal, harmonious, and friendly congregation, to whom my services, of which I was not sparing, were very acceptable. Here I had no unreasonable prejudices to contend with, so that I had full scope for every kind of exertion; and I can truly say that I always considered the office of a Christian minister the most honorable of any on earth, and in the studies proper to it I always took the greatest pleasure." These studies he had never remitted in the midst of his previous occupations; but he now devoted himself to them with more exclusive attention, and pursued them widely. From this time his publications became more frequent, and on a great variety of subjects. Now it was that he planned and commenced the publication of his " Theological Repository." And as if all this variety of labor was nothing, he here entered on that course of patient and ingenious experiments in Natural Philosophy which were attended with so brilliant success, and have given him a high place among the great discoverers and philosophers of modern times. His first publication on the subject was a small pamphlet in 1772. The next year he communicated an account of his experiments to the Royal Society, and received the honor of the gold medal. He mentions in his Memoirs the pleasant circumstance, that the person in Leeds who alone gave him any aid in his experiments was a zealous methodist, Mr. Hey, who had written against him on some theological questions.
At this time it was proposed to him as a man of science that he should accompany the second expedition of Captain Cook to the South Seas, and he began to make arrangements for the voyage; but some clergymen in the Board of Longitude objected on account of his religious principles, and Dr. Forster received the appointment; — "a person," says Priestley with a characteristic candor, "far better qualified for the purpose."
In May, 1773, Dr. Priestley resigned his charge at Leeds. His labors had been various and successful, and evidently conducted on the principle which he lays down in these words: "The greatest ambition of Christian ministers should be to render their respective churches examples to others in regularity of discipline, and in the most effectual modes of instruction adapted to every age, and especially to persons in younger life." In order to effect this end, he had instituted in his own congregation a series of measures, of which his sermon gives a brief occount, and which we quote as furnishing a good idea of the manner in which he executed his important functions.
"Perceiving, upon my first coming among you, that very few, in proportion to the number of the congregation, received the Lord's Supper, I published "A Free Address " to you upon the subject, calculated, as I thought, to explain the nature of that institution, to answer the objections you might have to the celebration of it, especially those which remained from the ignorance and superstition of the dark ages of Christianity, and to set the advantage and obligation of communicating in a clear and strong light. I have had the satisfaction to find that my endeavours, in this respect, have not been wholly without effect, though by no means so great as I wished, or indeed expected." * # *
"Being sensible how much is incumbent upon masters of families, and how much is in their power, with respect to the care of their children and servants, in instructing them, attending to their morals, and keeping up the worship of God in their families, I published a plain and earnest Address to you on this subject also, together with short "Forms of Prayer," for all the usual occasions of a family; and I took what care I could to have it put into the hands of every mas
ter of a family among you. Whether this attempt has had
any good effect, is known to God and your own consciences."
• • •
"The great profligacy of the present age being manifestly owing to a want of moral and religious principles, imbibed in early years, and it being impossible to inculcate these principles with sufficient force and effect by discourses from the pulpit, which are almost necessarily miscellaneous and unconnected, I formed, and have carried into execution, a pretty extensive plan of Religious Instruction, advancing, in a regular progress, from infancy to years of perfect manhood. For this purpose I thought it convenient to divide the younger part of my hearers into three classes. The first consisted of children, for whose use I printed a short and very plain Catechism, containing such a view of the principles of religion as, I think, the youngest children that have attained to the use of speech, may be made to understand. The second consisted of young persons more advanced in years, for whom I drew up another Catechism, consisting of a set of questions only, peculiarly calculated, as I think, to bring them very early, and pretty thoroughly acquainted with the Scriptures, the genuine source of all religious knowledge.
The third class consisted of young men, from the age of sixteen or eighteen, to about thirty, for whose use I composed a set of Lectures, which I delivered in the way of conversation, in which I endeavoured to demonstrate to them, in a regular manner, the principles of natural religion, the evidences, and the doctrines of revelation, and which I concluded with a view of the corruptions of Christianity, historically deduced. By this means, I am satisfied, from the trial that I have now made of it, that young persons may most easily be brought to understand their religion as Christians, Protestants, and Dissenters.
The peculiar advantages of this mode of instruction, and a more distinct account of the nature of it, I explained in an "Essay on the best Method of communicating Religious Knowledge to the Members of Christian Societies." Part of this Course of Lectures I have already published, under the title of" Institutes of Natural and Revealed Religion," and I intend, God willing, to publish the remainder in due time.
In part, to avoid obvious inconveniences, and partly for want of a room sufficiently large for the purpose, I confined these lectures, for the first time of reading them, to young men; but I should have been glad if, at the second time of reading them, I could have contrived to instruct the young women, either at the same time or separately.
It is with great satisfaction that I can say, with respect to most of the young men of this congregation, that they have given due attendance on these lectures; and I flatter myself that, by the attention which they gave to them when they were delivered, and which, I hope, they will still continue to give to them when they are printed, they will find their time and pains not ill bestowed.
With respect to children of the first class, I must own that I had not all the encouragement that I wished, and still less with respect to the second; owing, perhaps, to the parents not sufficiently entering into the nature of a thing so new to them as this was; for I am unwilling to suppose that they were averse to taking the pains, which they must, at least at the first, have necessarily done, to prepare their children for this kind of exercise.
It is acknowledged by all, that the general plan and discipline of our societies has deviated very far indeed from that of the primitive churches, which consisted of persons whose object it was to watch over and edify one another, and especially that a very unequal part of the burden is now thrown upon the minister; since he is generally so situated, that he cannot, with the least probability of success, interpose his advice or admonition where it may be most wanted. I therefore wrote and published an Address