Page images

200,000 acres. In a letter from Mr. Thompson to his friend Mr. Derry of Birmingham, the rural pursuits of the Doctor are thus described :

“ Dr. Priestley's reply to Tom Paine, will reach you before it can be printed in England, and therefore will be a treat to his friends. The good man is happy in his retirement in this land of freedom, nor can the earnest entreaties of his friends, nor the most splendid offer from the university of this State, draw him again into the busy world. He is busied in the most rural scenes, and now superintending the building of his house on the banks of the Susquehannah,

“ I have been thus particular respecting Dr. Priestley, because I know the esteem in which you hold him. Calumnies, I doubt not continue to be raised against him in Birmingham; they followed him here, in a most scandalous pamphlet published upon his arrival ; and said to be written by an Englishman purposely sent by *********, who destroyed his hive of literary treasure in Birmingham. The motive for the publication was seen through, and treated with the contempt it deserved, by

the people of this country. We are, in truth, no respecters of persons. --- Come from whatever country, virtue is cherished in America.

“I am, &c. Philadelphia, Dec. ?

« John THOMPSON.” 17th, 1794. S

Notwithstanding this bright picture of American liberality, the fact is, Dr. Priestley's reception among these hewers of wood was by no means flattering. Had he been a mechanic the people of Columbia, would have received him with open arms.

Indeed it was not to be expected, that a philosopher, whose scientific attainments were superior to the combined acquirements of the learned professors of an American college, should be received with much sympathy or respect by a people whose ideas are contracted by agriculture and commerce. America it is true has produced a Franklin, but undoubt. edly that philosopher acquired much of his knowledge in Europe; and if we may judge of the intellects of his countrymen by their literary productions, they are the most phlegmatic people upon earth. In the little arts of cunning and commercial address, however, they are more than a match for even European Jews. Witness “ the Metallic Tractors," or base metal exchanged for gold.

In America, the serenity of our philosopher was disturbed by domestic misfortunes. Mrs. Priestley died of a fever, after a short illness, at Northumberland Town, September 17th, 1796, in the 53d year of her age; and this stroke was followed by the death of a son.

His eldest son, however, who married Miss Ryland, of Birmingham, and had, with his family, accompanied the Doctor to the Western Continent, still remained to console his venerated father.

We now come to the contemplation of an event, which will long be regretted by the lovers of science—the death of one of the most extraordinary men of the age. It could not be supposed that a climate so different from that of his native country, could be salutary to a man who arrived in America in the 61st year of his age. A severe illness at Philadelphia in 1801, rendered his constitution still more liable to sink under the influence of the climate; and

we are informed, that he never was perfectly restored to his accustomed good health. His complaint was indigestion, which produced a general relaxation of the system. But notwithstanding this debility of body, his mind continued vigorous ;* and he continuedhis literary pursuits with constant assiduity. His time was engaged in printing his “ Church History,” & the first volume of his annotations on the Scriptures. He also reprinted an Essay on Phlogiston; wrote his pamphlet of “ Socrates and Jesus compared,” and made several philosophical experiments. Thus the two last years of his ex istence may be said to have been two of the busiest ; and like Newton, Johnson, and several other great men, his intellectual faculties remained unimpaired to the last moment of his life.

In the beginning of November 1803, his complaint became more alarming, but by judicious medical treatmen, and a strict attention to regimen, he seemed, if not gaining strength, at least not getting worse. He continued in this uncertain state till the middle of January 1804 ; and his friends hoped that his health would improve with the return of spring. The Doctor himself considered his life as very precarious, but his delight in intellectual pleasure continued; for “ besides his miscellaneous reading, he read through the works quoted in his • Comparison of the different systems of the Grecian Philosophers with Christianity,' composed the work, and transcribed the whole of it in three months; so that he has left it ready for the press. During this period, he wrote in one day, his second · Reply to Doctor Linn.'

* A strong proof against materialism,

Towards the end of January, his indigestion became more alarming, his legs swelled, and he daily became weaker; insomuch, that two days previous to his death he could scarcely walk. On the 4th of February he was unable to speak for some time; but, on recovering, he told his friends, that he never felt happier than during the time he was deprived of the power of speech. He expressed his thankfulness to the great Disposer of events at being permitted to die quietly in his family, without pain, and with every comfort he could wish for. Like a Christian Philosopher, he expatiated with pious gratitude upon the happy situation in which it had pleased the Divine Being to place him in this life; the great advantage he had enjoyed in

« PreviousContinue »