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mingham, caused a general ferment in the minds of the people. The magistrates offered a reward for the discovery of the author, printer, or publisher, but till this hour the dark transaction remains involved in mystery. In this state of things, on the morning of the 14th of July, the following advertisement was published in the Birmingham Chronicle:–
Birmingham Commemoration of the French
“Several hand bills having been circulated in the town which can only be intended to create distrust concerning the intention of the meeting, to disturb its harmony, and influence the minds of the people, the gentlemen who proposed it, think it necessary to declare their entire disapprobation of such handbills, and their ignorance of the authors. Sensible themselves of the advantages of a free government, they rejoice in the extension of liberty to their neighbours, at the same time avowing in the most explicit manner, their attachment to the constitution of their own country, as vested in the three estates of the king, lords, and commons. Surely no free-born Englishman can refrain from exulting in this addition to the general mass of human happiness; it is the cause of humanity, it is the cause
of the people.” “Birmingham, July 13, 1791.
In the morning of the 14th, however, as there was but too much reason to think that means had been used to excite the people to riot, the friends of the meeting determined to give up their intention of dining together; but the master of the Hotel, in consequence of having the dinner countermanded, expostulated with the gentlemen on the impropriety of not celebrating the festival as intended, and gave his opinion that there would be no danger of a tumult if they would break up early.
Accordingly on Thursday afternoon eightyone gentlemen met at the Hotel in Temple Row, where they found a considerable number of the populace assembled, who expressed their disapprobation by hisses. The dining room was decorated with a medallion of his Majesty, encircled with a glory, on each side of which was an alabaster obelisk; the one representing Gallic Liberty breaking the chains of Despotism, and the other emblematic of British Liberty. The utmost harmony prevailed at the festive board, and James Keir, Esq. of West Bromwich, a member of the Church of Eng
land, was chairman. According to a letter published by him on the occasion, the first toast was “The King and Constitution;” and one of the last, “Peace and good will to mankind.”
But while the friends of rational freedom were thus celebrating one of the most important events recorded in the history of man; the mob increased in numbers and insolence, and about two hours subsequent to the meeting, they broke every window in the front of the Hotel, and immediately proceeded to the New Meeting-house, which they set on fire and consumed.
The frenzy of riot being roused, the mob continued their depredations notwithstanding the personal interference of the magistrates. The cry of “Church & King” was re-echoed thro' the streets, and the Meeting-houses of the dissenters were doomed to destruction. The Old Meeting-house was pulled down by an enfuriated rabble; and not content with having burnt the New Meeting, where Dr. Priestley had preached, they marched in a large body to destroy his house at Fair Hill, about a mile distant from Birmingham.
Here, in perfect security, the doctor was engaged in the pleasing amusements of social relaxation with his wife and family, without the smallest suspicion of approaching ruin. His friends, solicitous for his preservation, hastened to apprise him of his danger. He was astonished—the thing appeared to him incredible— but their entreaties pravailed upon him by a timely retreat to save himself and family from the fury of enthusiasm.
Accompanied by his friends and relatives, Dr. Priestley retired to Mr. Hawkes's in the neighbourhood, and when the rioters arrived at his house he was walking about in the shrubbery. On seeing the flames of his dwelling ascend, he exclaimed with true philosophic equanimity, and an unaltered countenance, “They cannot injure me, for I never injured mortal man; I should not have the least fear to walk among them, to speak to them, and advise them to desist from violence.” A nobler instance of magnanimity is not perhaps on record; for when we reflect that at this moment the philosopher saw not only his pleasing residence, but his select library, his inestimable manuscripts, the result of numerous experiments, and his philosophical
apparatus consumed, can we sufficiently admire
that fortitude which could bear such a misfortune so nobly'
One of the deluded men who set fire to the Doctor's house was killed by the falling of a cornice stone; and our philosopher, leaving his family to the protection of his friends, escaped in disguise to Worcester. Next day he set out for the metropolis, where he arrived in safety.
It is a fact but too well authenticated, that some persons of respectability in Birmingham, who dreaded the influence of the Doctor’s decisive opinions, used their influence to induce the rioters to destroy his premises; nay, persons in the habit of gentlemen, were discovered secreting the papers and manuscripts of the philosopher; which they afterwards sent to men in power, in hopes that their contents would tend to criminate their formidable opponent.
But the depredations of the mob did notterminate with the destruction of Dr. Priestley’s property. There was no armed force in Birmingham, so that they continued their devastation with impunity. On Friday about noon they demolished the elegant mansion of Mr. Ryland,