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dence of Lord Shelburne. Here he spent the summer seasons of the year, and in winter accompanied his lordship to London. This mode of life continued for about six years; during which time he continued his philosophical experiments and theological inquiries, and published frequently on various subjects. While at Leeds he had become satisfied that the Arian doctrine was untenable and had adopted the Humanitarian; he now engaged in studies relative to the nature of man, and came to the persuasion that “man is wholly material, and that the only prospect of immortality is from the Christian doctrine of a Resurrection.” The publication of these opinions increased the odium with which he was regarded, and he was represented as an unbeliever in revelation, and no better than an atheist. The question of materialism was made the subject of an amicable controversy between himself and his friend Dr. Price, “and 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.” About this time, also, he carried on a discussion in an equally friendly tone with Dr. Newcome, afterwards archbishop, on the duration of our Saviour's ministry. On relinquishing his situation with Lord Shelburne, in 1780 (who settled on him an annuity for life of one hundred and fifty pounds), Dr. Priestley took up his abode at Birmingham. He selected this place because of the facility it afforded him in his philosophical inquiries by furnishing the best workmen of every kind, and because of the distinguished chemists whose society he could there enjoy. There, too, he found a select and valuable religious circle, with whom he met statedly once a fortnight, and with whose aid he recommenced the publication of the “Theological Repository.” But he could not long continue a private man. He soon received an urgent invitation to become minister of the New Meeting, as colleague with Mr. Blythe ; an invitation which he accepted, with the understanding that Mr. Blythe should perform the duties of the pastoral care, while he himself should be limited to those of the pulpit and the instruction of the young. This last was now, as it had been at Leeds, a favorite object with him, and he gave much time to reduce it to a thorough and effective system. Few men perhaps have been more successful than he in conducting this part of duty, or have received warmer and more lasting expressions of gratitude from those whom he thus benefited. In a letter of Mr. Lindsey, during a visit to Birmingham in 1783, he says—“I was surprised on the Sunday afternoon, in going into the meeting for my hat, to see near thirty young ladies, some of them, I was told, married, seated, to be instructed in the principles of Christianity. This was the third class that had been before him that day; and this is his usual work every Sunday, added to his officiating to the whole congregation one part of it.” Another measure in which he interested himself for the advantage of the congregation was an attempt to revive some system of church discipline among them. He was strongly persuaded that great injury had resulted to the Dissenters, and to the cause of religion among them, from their negligence in this particular; and had some time before set forth his views in an Essay on Church Discipline. He now urged the subject on the attention of his congregation in a sermon, which was published at their request, and the suggestions of which he had the satisfaction of finding readily adopted. This period of his ministry in Birmingham was marked by the same industrious habits of study which had distinguished the preceding portions of his life. Among the most important of his works were the “History of the Corruptions of Christianity,” and the “History of Early Opinions respecting Jesus Christ; ” works which gave rise to that celebrated controversy in which Dr. Horsley was particularly notorious. This period was likewise distinguished by numerous publications on the Evidences of Christianity, and by an annual pamphlet entitled “Defences of Unitarianism;” hav
ing for its object to examine and reply to whatever had been written against Unitarianism during the preceding year. So much activity and perseverance on his part tended to excite the severe displeasure of his theological opponents, especially of those who were connected with the established church ; and he was attacked and answered in the most virulent style of party denunciation. Dr. Horsley especially, and two clergymen of Birmingham, Mr. Madan and Mr. Burn", gained a sad preeminence by the abusiveness of their manner, and did their full share toward exasperating the public mind, and bringing on the catastrophe which followed. The state of the times was peculiar, full of causes of convulsion and peril. The French Revolution was breaking out, and the whole English community was agitated by sympathy and alarm. Priestley, with his friends, took side with those who saw every thing to hope from this political movement, and thus made himself obnoxious to the party in power, who saw every thing to fear and abhor. At the same time the Dissenters were strenuously exerting themselves to extort from Parliament an acknowledgment of their rights and a restoration to perfect religious liberty; and here, too, Priestley made himself obnoxious to those in power, who saw nothing in the acknowledgment of these claims, but the ruin of the church and the overthrow of Christianity. Upon these subjects Priestley published very little; but that little attracted great attention from the eminence of the man, and was offensive from the plain and unguarded style of remark which
* At a public meeting in 1825, Mr. Burn took occasion to recur to his share in these controversies. He said, “that had he to live his past life over again, he should have to correct the asperity of feelings and expressions which it was his misfortune to have used in his controversies with a late respectable and highly talented individual (Dr. P.) Whatever degree of error there might have been in that procedure, he begged to say that it did not arise from any disrespect to that highly respected individual, but from what he then considered to be his duty.”
was characteristic of him. Passages were unfairly quoted and commented on in the House of Commons, and pains taken to convince the people everywhere that he, with other Dissenters, was engaged in a plot for the destruction of the church and the establishment of republican government. It consequently became a favorite toast of the day, “Damnation and confusion to the Presbyterians.” To fan the flame yet more, falsehoods of the most atrocious character respecting him were published and circulated, and caricature prints were scattered abroad to help persuade the multitude that he was an atheist. One of these was entitled, Sedition and Atheism defeated. Silas Deane is represented on his death-bed. A clergyman stands by him, holding up his hands and exclaiming, “No God who taught you that doctrine !” The dying man replies, “Dr. Priestley.” A note is annexed to the print, saying, “The particulars of this awful and interesting conversion to atheism may be seen in a pamphlet entitled Theodosius, and sold with or without the print.” This pamphlet was industriously circulated, and Dr. Priestley was obliged to publish a formal refutation of the unprincipled slander. In a ballad written and sung against the Dissenters at this time, was the following stanza.
“Sedition is their creed;
“Dr. Priestley,” said one of the pamphlets printed at this time, “seems a chaos in miniature, not worth God's notice, has neither belief nor understanding given him. For a careful analysis proves his spirit of the order of rebelling angels, his principles frothy and fiery, like fixed and inflammable air, mixed with gunpowder, his body a terra damnata,
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and the whole compound a devil incarnate.” The clergy lent themselves eagerly to this work. It was continually sounded from their pulpits in Birmingham and in other places, that he was a declared enemy to revelation and a setter up of reason in its stead; that he had publicly said, he would never rest till he had pulled down that impostor Jesus Christ; and a preacher in Bristol even reported from the pulpit, that he had said he would rather be damned than be saved by Jesus Christ. By such means was the public mind poisoned and inflamed. The passions of the vulgar were worked up to the proper pitch. On the walls of the houses, along the streets, were written in large characters, Madan for ever, damn Priestley, no Presbyterians, damn the Presbyterians; and even the boys, leaving their play as he passed by, once followed him shouting Damn Priestley, damn him, damn him, for ever, for ever, for ever. It had thus become evident that only a fit occasion was wanting, and the populace would be found prepared for any act of violence that might be desired at their hands. Such an occasion arose. It was proposed by the friends of the French Revolution in Birmingham to celebrate that great event by a public dinner, on the 14th of July, 1791. This was the occasion seized upon for unchaining the fury of the party mob. It was understood and spoken of in London beforehand. A clergyman at Worcester said “it was brewing,” the day before it happened. When the day came, between eighty and ninety gentlemen dined, as they had proposed, at the hotel. “When the company met,” says Dr. Priestley, in his own account, “a crowd was assembled at the door, and some of them hissed, and showed other marks of disapprobation, but no material violence was offered to any body. Mr. Keir, a member of the church of England, took the chair; and when they had dined, drank the toasts, and sung the songs which had been prepared for the occasion, they dispersed. This was about five o'clock, and the town remained quiet till about eight. It was evident, therefore, that the dinner was not the