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    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 superstition.’”

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 148 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 Society.

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

    “... 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. 149 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 150 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 it....”

He then goes on to show how insecure his position 151 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 152 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 153 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 154 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; an............
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