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in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.
It is many years ago that the idea of the present publication occurred to me. In looking at some of the works of this voluminous writer, I perceived that there were many passages, now unknown, which, if collected together, would form a valuable volume of religious instruction, acceptable to devout readers and honorable to the memory of the distinguished author. Various circumstances delayed the execution of the design, and I had finally committed it to the charge of a friend who proposed to do it at his leisure. Meantime some recent abusive notices of Priestley recalled my attention to the subject, and seemed to present a fitting occasion for a work which would at once instruct and animate religious readers, and do something toward vindicating the character of an injured man; a man, who, with all his errors, and they seem to me to have been many, was yet distinguished for a pure and unalienable devotion to the cause of Christianity, a strong piety, an incorruptible love of truth, and an integrity and simplicity truly apostolic. Little as I can sympathise with many of his favorite views, I can still less sympathise with the injustice which consigns so much excellence to calumny and disgrace.
I am not insensible to the hazard which he runs who attempts to shield a name which has been abandoned to theological reproach. He is quite as likely to draw the obloquy on himself as to remove it from the former victim. But, notwithstanding, it seems to me that true goodness ought to be honored wherever found, and that he who honors ought to be ready to vindicate it at whatever hazard. They who can admire Fenelon with all his Catholic errors, ought not to be ashamed of their admiration for Priestley with all his Protestant errors. It is not the error, in either case, which is admired; it is the virtue which is seen to exist in the midst of and in spite of the error. If my love of Fenelon does not cause me to be identified with his Romanism, neither ought my respect for Priestley to make me responsible for his obnoxious peculiarities. And while the beautiful writings of the Catholic Archbishop are familiarly read among us in spite of his adherence to the Pope, let the simple pages of the English Divine, less beautiful indeed but not less true and wholesome, find an entrance equally unprejudiced to our tables and our hearts. It is but the demand of common justice. I cannot believe that the Christian world will be deterred for ever from giving heed to it.
With these few words of explanation, I commend this humble effort to the candor of the Christian public, and the blessing of Almighty God.
H. W. JR. Cambridge, April 26, 1834.