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controversy, and reposing on the bosom of social
“Being aware of my natural infirmity,” says he, “which is too great a promptness to write, I never read at all; because if I have any controversy (except it be of a perfectly amicable nature), I prefer having it with persons at a distance, and with whom I have no particular connection.”
His only daughter, who had received a genteel education, and was taught music, played upon the harpsichord, but it does not appear that the Doctor was attached to the science of sounds. Miss Priestley was afterwards married to a Mr. Finch, and died in the year 1803. +
These authentic particulars, respecting the domestic habits of our philosopher were communicated to the author of this Bioghraphical Sketch, by Mrs. Dalton, of Highgate, near Bir: mingham, to whom he was induced to apply, in consequence of her having lived a year and *
half in the Doctor's family, during his residence at Fair-Hill.
This place, once the abode of a philosopher, might with more propriety be called Fair-Vale, as the elevation above the vale is scarcely perceptible. Dr. Priestley rented this mansion and premises of Mr. Humphries, who after the riots rebuilt and sold it to Dr. Withering. There is nothing interesting in its appearance. It is built of brick, two stories high, and surrounded by an inclosure, containing a grass plot in front, and a garden and green-house in the rear. The situation is rural, at the distance of about two hundred yards on the left of the highway from Birmingham to Stratford.
It is impossible, however, to walk on the path once trod by the philosopher or the poet, without feeling momentary enthusiasm. It is consecrated ground, and the traveller who may be induced to visit Fair-Hill, will easily discower the Doctor's favourite walk, which is a pathway, shaded by “hedge-row elms and oaks,” and communicating with the main road. Here wrapt in meditation, he often inhaled the pure breezes, with the properties of which he became so well acquainted, and often hasted home to realize some new discovery conceived by his prolific and comprehensive mind.
Dr. Priestley was an ungraceful orator; his voice was low and faultering, and he had a custom of shrugging up his shoulders.
He performed the pastoral duties, however, with the most consciencious attention to the morals of his flock. The youthful part of his congregation shared his particular care, and he inculcated the principles of virtue and piety by his catachetical lectures.
Few Christian teachers knew the important duties of the pastoral office better than Dr. Priestley, and his advice to ministers in “A Free Address to Protestant Dissenters;” is, “Let it appear by the whole of your behaviour, that you are serious christians. Let it be seen that the doctrines of christianity have a real and happy effect upon your hearts and lives, and that, by virtue of a practical faith in its great principles, you are possessed of an uniform cheerfulness of mind, and enabled to live in a firm confidence in divine providence, under all the events of life, and prepared to die with composure and good hope.
“Let no taste you may have for any of the polite arts, as music, painting, or poetry, nor a capacity for improvement in science, engage you to make them more than an amusement to you, or at the most, any more than an object of secondary consideration. Let not even the study of speculative theology prevent your applying yourself chiefly to the advancement of virtue among your hearers.
“Endeavour to be cheerful, polite (as far as that term conveys the idea of a reasonable desire to please), and free from affectation. Take no pains to conceal any natural peculiarity of manner, that is innocent in itself, and not offensive to others; for above all things, simplicity of character, and the greatest freedom from artifice and disguise, become the teachers of the religion of Jesus Christ.”
Such were the principles, and such the practice of this extraordinary man; but we must regret indeed, that he turned his attention too much to the investigation of “speculative theology,” and the revival of obsolete opinions concerning the soul, in his “Disquisitions relating to Matter and Spirits,” in which he supported the material system, and considered the soul as homogeneous with the body.
As an author, Dr. Priestley is distinguished for the versatility of his talents, the perspicuity of his style, and the sagacity of his remarks. Neglecting or disdaining the elegant ornaments of the rhetorician, he wrote in a plain, familiar, and clear flow of language, equally intelligible to the man of taste and the illiterate. It is the sterling language of good sense, and when he occasionally calls in the aid of illustration, his figures are obvious, at once elucidating and adorning the subject.
It would be difficult to name another author in the long and illustrious list of English writers, who wrote with equal candour, simplicity, and energy. Truth was to him more precious than worldly emolument, or the praise of others, and even those who disapprove of his creed must venerate his virtues.
A critical analysis of the multifarious productions of Dr. Priestley would require a combination of talents, of which few human beings are in possession. If, according to the principle laid down by Pope, they were to be investigated “With the same spirit as the author writ,” it would require the united judgment of even our best critics, the Monthly Reviewers themselves,