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Dissenters have been more exposed to insult and outrage than ever.
Having fixed myself at Clapton, unhinged as I had been, and having lost the labor of several years, yet flattering myself that I should end my days here, I took a long lease of my house, and expended a considerable sum in improving it. I also determined, with the assistance of my friends, to resume my philosophical and other pursuits; and after an interruption amounting to about two years, it was with a pleasure that I cannot describe, that I entered my new laboratory, and began the most common preparatory processes, with a view to some original inquiries. With what success I have labored, the public has already in some measure seen, and may see more hereafter.
But though I did not choose (notwithstanding I found myself exposed to continual insult) to leave my native country, I found it necessary to provide for my sons elsewhere. My eldest son was settled in a business, which promised to be very advantageous, at Manchester; but his partner, though a man of liberality himself, informed him, on perceiving the general prevalence of the spirit which produced the riots in Birmingham, that, owing to his relationship to me, he was under the necessity of proposing a separation, which accordingly took place.
On this he had an invitation to join another connexion, in a business in which the spirit of party could not have much affected him; but he declined it. And after he had been present at the assizes at Warwick, he conceived such an idea of this country, that I do not believe any proposal, however advantageous, would have induced him to continue in it; so much was he affected on perceiving his father treated as I had been.
Determining to go to America, where he had no prospect but that of being a farmer, he wished to spend a short time with a person who had greatly distinguished himself in that way, and one who from his own general principles, and his friendship for myself, would have given him the best advice and assistance in his power. He, however, declined it, and acknowledged some time after, that had it been known, as it must have been, to his landlord, that he had a son of mine with him, he feared he should have been turned out of his farm.
My second son, who was present both at the riot and the assizes, felt more indignation still, and willingly listened to a proposal to settle in France; and there his reception was but too flattering. However, on the breaking out of the war with this country, all mercantile prospects being suspended, he wished to go to America. There his eldest and youngest brother have joined him, and they are now looking out for a settlement, having as yet no fixed views.
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 of 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 any thing 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.
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. Let any person only cast his eye over the long list of my publications, and he will see that they relate almost wholly to theology, philosophy, or general literature.
I did, however, when I was a younger man, and before it was in my power to give much attention to philosophical pursuits, write a small anonymous political pamphlet, "On the State of Liberty in this Country," about the time of Mr. Wilkes's election for Middlesex, which gained me the acquaintance, and I may say the friendship, of Sir George Saville, and which I had the happiness to enjoy as long as he lived.
At the request also of Dr. Franklin and Dr. Fothergill, I wrote an Address to the Dissenters on the subject of the approaching rupture with America, a pamphlet which Sir George Saville, and my other friends, circulated in great numbers, and it was thought with some effect.
After this, I entirely ceased to write any thing on the subject of politics, except as far as the business of the "Test Act," and of "Civil Establishments of Religion," had a connexion with politics. And though, at the recommendation of Dr. Price, I was presently after this taken into the family of the Marquis of Lansdowne, and 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.
I never preached a political sermon in my life ; unless such as, I believe, all Dissenters usually preach on the fifth of November, in favor of civil and religious liberty, may be said to be political. And on these occasions, I am confident, that I never advanced any sentiment but such as, until of late years, would have tended to recommend, rather than render me obnoxious, to those who direct the administration of this country. And the doctrines which I 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), I cannot abandon, merely because the times are so changed, that they are now become unpopular, and the expression and communication of them hazardous.
Farther, though I by no means disapprove of societies for political information, such as are now every where discountenanced and generally suppressed, I never was a member of any of them; nor, indeed, did I ever attend any public meeting, if I could decently avoid it, owing to habits acquired in studious and retired life.
From a mistake of my talents and disposition, I was invited by many of the departments in France, to represent them in the present National Convention, after I had been made a citizen of France, on account of my being considered as one who had been persecuted for my attachment to the cause of liberty here. But though the invitation was repeated with the most flattering importunity, I never hesitated about declining it.
I can farther say with respect to politics, concerning which, I believe, every Englishman has some opinion or other (and at present, owing to the peculiar nature of the present war, it is almost the only topic of general conversation), that, except in company, I hardly ever think of the subject, my reading, meditation, and writing, being almost wholly engrossed by theology and philosophy; and of late, as for many years before the riots in Birmingham, I have spent a very great proportion of my time, as my friends well know, in my laboratory.
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 any thing 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 newspapers, and other popular publications.
By these and other means, the same party spirit which was the cause of the riots in Birmingham, has been increasing ever since, especially in that neighbourhood. A remarkable instance of this may be seen in a "Letter" addressed, but not sent tome, from Mr. Foley, rector of Stourbridge, who acknowledges the satisfaction that he and his brethren have received from one of the grossest and coarsest pieces of abuse of me that has yet appeared, which, as a curious specimen of the kind, I inserted in the " Appendix of my Appeal," and in which I am represented as no better than Guy Fawkes, or the devil himself. This very Christian divine recommends to the members of the established church, to decline all commercial dealings with the Dissenters, as an effectual method of exterminating them. This method has been actually adopted in many parts of England. Also great numbers of the best farmers and artisans in England, have been dismissed because they would not go to the established church. "Defoe's Shortest Way with the Dissenters," would have taught the friends of the church a more effectual method