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of the purity or fitness for respiration which he expressed some doubts of the of air generally. This paper obtained immateriality of the sentient principle for him the Copleian medal, in pre
He had previously, it should senting which to him, Sir John Pringle, be observed, declared himself a believer the president of the Royal Society, in the doctrine of philosophical necessaid, " ! present you, sir, with this sity. Opinions so favourable to inmedal, the palm and laurel of this com fidelity, brought upon him much obmunity, as a faithful and unfading tes- loquy; but, regardless of all consetimonial of their regard, and of the just quences in the pursuit of truth, he sense they have of your merit, and of pushed his inquiries more closely and the persevering industry with which assiduously than ever. These investi. you have promoted the views, and gations terminated in his entire conthereby the honour, of this society; version to the material hypothesis, or and, in their behall, I must earnestly that of the homogeneity of man's nature, request you to continue your liberal and led to his publication, in 1777, of and valuable inquiries, whether by | Disquisitions on Matter and Spirit, in farther prosecuting this subject, pro- which he gave a history of the doctrines bably not yet exhausted, or by inves- concerning the soul, and openly suptigating the nature of some other of ported the ideas he had adopted. It the subtile fluids of the universe. These, was followed by A Defence of Unita. sir, are, indeed, large demands ; but rianism, or the simple Humanity of the Royal Society have hitherto been Christ, in opposition to his Pre-exfortunate in their pneumatic researches; istence, and of The Doctrine of Neand were it otherwise, they have much cessity. to hope from men of your talents and The publication of these works was applications, and whose past labours have followed by a manifest coolness on the been crowned with so much success." part of Lord Shelburne towards the
After Priestley had been engaged for subject of our memoir, but whether in six years in his ministry at Leeds, he consequence of the odium which the accepted an offer made to him by Lord author incurred by them, or of the Shelburne (afterwards Marquess of sentiments which they contained, is Lansdowne), to reside with him in the doubtful. To all appearance, however, nominal capacity of librarian, but, in the parties separated on amicable terms, reality, as a literary companion to his and the public heard of nothing to the lordship. The offer was made in so contrary; but yet, when, as Priestley handsome a manner, and upon such informs us, he came to London, and advantageous terms, to one whose fa- proposed to call on the noble lord, the mily was fast increasing, that Priestley latter declined his visits. He also tells at unce accepted it; and removed, in us, that during his connexion with his consequence, to a house at Calne, in lordship, he never once aided him in Wiltshire, near his lordship's seat. His his political views, nor ever wrote a connexion with this nobleman lasted political paragraph. Lord Shelburne for seven years ; during which, he not he admits, treated him in every respect only continued his investigations of the as he could wish ; left him under no subject of his former researches, but restraint with respect to his pursuits ; greatly distinguished himself as a me and occasionally took him with him in taphysical and polemical writer. As his excursions, one of which, in 1774, the works which he wrote in this cha was a tour to the continent. The man. racter, probably led to his separation ners and society of a nobleman's house from Lord Shelburne, we shall, in this were not, however, quite congenial to place, enumerate some of them. In one, whose tastes were simple, and 1775, he published, preparatory to his whose address was plain and uncerepurpose of introducing to public notice monious; yet, it must be confessed, the Hartleian theory of the human that posterity is somewhat indebted to mind, his Examination of the Doctrines Lord Shelburne, for having afforded of Common Sense, as held by the three to Priestley opportunities of pursuing Scotch writers, Drs. Reid, Beattie, and his scientific researches, which he could Oswald. His edition of Hartley shortly not have enjoyed as a dissenting niinisafterwards appeared, in his preface to He allowed, also, Priestley to
retain an annuity of £150, which was suits. Various theological works canie, honourably paid to the last; and, it is in succession, from his pen, and, in said, that when the bond for securing | particular, his History of the Corrup: to him this sum was burnt at the riots tions of Christians, and History of of Birmingham, his lordship presented Early Opinions concerning Jesus Christ. him, in the handsomest manner, with They gave rise, as he had anticipated, another. It may not, perhaps, be un to much controversy, into which he interesting to mention, that whilst entered, without reluctance, and in the Priestley was in Paris, with his noble course of which he displayed neither patron, the celebrated infidel philoso- anger nor spleen. When the dissenters phers and politicians to whom he was renewed their application to parliament introduced, told him, that he was the for the repeal of the test and corporafirst person they had met with, of whose tion acts, he resorted to his pen in their understanding they had any opinion, behalf; and at the same time took who was a believer in Christianity. the opportunity of declaring his hosUpon interrogating them closely, how: tility to all ecclesiastical establishments, ever, he found that none of them had which he regarded as inimical to the any knowledge either of the nature or rights of private judginent, the propaprinciples of the Christian religion ! gation of truth, and the spirit of Chris
In 1774–7, Dr. Priestley published, tianity. He predicted their downfal in succession, three volumes, entitled in his publications on the subject, which Experiments and Observations on dif at length caused him to be considered ferent kinds of Air, which were after as the most dangerous and inveterate wards extended, by him, to six ortavo enemy of the established church in its volumes. The important matter which connexion with the state. The clergy they contained, has rendered the name of Birmingham were amongst the foreof the author familiar in all the en most in opposing the claims, so ably lightened countries of Europe ; and their advocated by him in behalf of the dispublication formed an era in that know- senters, and displayed not a little irritaledge of aëriform Auids, which is the tion in repelling his attack upon their basis of modern chemical science. His own righis. Priestley answered them other works, relating to chemistry, are in a series of familiar letters to the in100 numerous to mention; and we shall habitants of Birmingham, which added therefore proceed with a detail of that still more to the anger of his oppo. part of his life in which he figured as a nents, in consequence, no less, of ihe theologian and politician.
ironical style in which they were written, On leaving 'Lord Shelburne, Dr. | than of the matter which they conPriestley removed to Birmingham, on tained. In this state of things, the account of the advantages he might de- party feeling that prevailed upon the rive there from able workmen, in pur- subject received additional excitement suing his experimental inquiries. The from the circumstances of the French defalcation of his income was supplied revolution; an event with respect to by a subscription among, some noble which people were yet most oppositely and generous friends, which he, with and powerfully influenced. The anniout hesitation, accepted; considering it versary of the capture of the Bastile on as more honourable to himself than a the 14th of July, had been kept as pension from the crown, which, it is a festival, by the friends of the cause, said, might have been obtained for him, and its celebration was announced to if he had desired it, during the brief take place, at Birmingham, in 1791. administration of the Marquess of Rock - The subject of our memoir declined ingham, and the early part of that of attending the meeting, but in the riots Mr. Pitt. His stay at Birmingham had which ensued, the populace marked not been long, when he was unani- him out as the object of their fury. mously appointed to the charge of the They set fire to his house, from which principal dissenting congregation in he narrowly escaped with life, and that town. He entered into the duties destroyed his fine library, manuscripts, of his office with his accustomed zeal, and apparatus, amidst the most brutal performing them all without interrupt- exultations. It was some time before ing his philosophical and literary pur- he could reach a place of sately, being
tracked in his fight with all the ardour labour and difficulty, in consequence of of a blood-hound, and hunted like a the remote situation of his place of proclaimed criminal. In aggravation abode. He was soon after offered, but of the circumstances of this outrage, thought fit to decline, a chemical prowhich was attended with the conflagra- fessorship in Philadelphia ; but he was tion of many other houses and places of by no means idle at home. He purworship, it appears, upon undoubted sued with ardour his philosophical authority, that it was rather favoured experiments; but theology, which was than controlled by some, whose duty always his favourite study, was the ought to have led them to active inter subject nearest his heart, and his sense ference for the preservation of the of its importance increased with his public peace. That they did not do so, years. He was not altogether free from however, is less surprising, than that the effects of political animosity, even party fury should have been specially in America, being regarded, by the go. directed against one, who had made vernment, with suspicion and dislike himself so conspicuous a champion on during the administration of Mr. the opposite side, and who had directed Adams. Under that of Mr. Jefferson, his atiаcks without any regard to the however, he was treated in a friendly dictates of caution or worldly policy. manner, and he survived all disquiet His appeal to government for indem on that head. The greatest trials of his nification from the loss which he had fortitude in the latter part of his life sustained, was not altogether in vain; were his domestic calamities, which he though the compensation awarded him bore in a manner worthy of his temper fell far short of what he had a right, in and his principles. Those which he justice, to expect. He bore his calamity most acuiely felt were the death of his with great resignation, and had the youngest son, a very promising young satisfaction to witness the exertions of man, and afterwards of his truly estimamany to support him under it, who ble wife. He was himself suffering from admired his virtue and talents, and re a debility of his digestive organs, which garded him as a sufferer for his prin- at length brought on such a state of ciples. Removing to Hackney, he was bodily weakness, as made it manifest shortly afterwards chosen to succeed he had not long to live. Of this, his Dr. Price, as minister to the dissenting disease gave decided warnings, in congregation of that place; and, at the | January, 1804, and the effect upon him same time, connected himself with the was to cause him to lose no time in new dissenting college lately established finishing the literary tasks in which he there. Here, resuming his usual occu was engaged, and particularly in prepations, he passed some time in ease and paring for the press some works in serenity; no man, as it has been said which he was greatly interested. Among of him, being ever blessed with a mind these were, a continuation of his Church more disposed to view every event on History, and Notes on all the Books in the favourable side, or less clouded by the Bible, which, he learned with great care and anxiety. But the malignity of satisfaction, that his friends in England party dissension had not yet subsided, had raised a subscription to enable him and public prejudice continuing to ope to print, without any risk to himself. rate still strongly against him, he found Like a man setting his affairs in order, himself and his family so much mo- previously to a long journey, he is relested, that he, at length, determined to presented to have continued, to the last quit a country so hostile to his person hour of his life, giving, with the utmost and principles.
calmness and self-collection, directions He chose America for the place of relative to his posthumous publications his retreat, and accordingly embarked | intermixed wiih discourses expressive for that country in the month of April, of the fullest confidence in those cheer1794. On his arrival, he took up his ing and animating views of a future residence at the town of Northumber existence, that the Christian faith opened land, in Pennsylvania, where his first to its disciples. He died on the 6th of care was to get together a well-fur- February, 1804, so quietly, that those nished library and chemical laboratory. who sat beside him did not perceive This he effected, but not without great the last moment of his existence.
Aware, possibly, that the solemn period in all subsequent investigations, and it, was at hand, and unwilling to shock in a great measure, led the way to our his children, who were siling by his present knowledge of the constitution bed-side, by his departure, he had of the atmosphere. His next grand distaken the precaution of putting his covery was oxygen gas, which was achand before his face.
counted as one of the most important Dr. Priestley is to be considered in revolutions in chemistry. This substance, the quadruple character of a philoso. | however, is said to have been previously pher, theologian, metaphysician, and discovered by Scheele ; and Lavoisier politician. Of his philosophical writings, likewise laid claim to it; but the French those containing his Observations on philosopher was undoubtedly preceded Air are the most important, though not by Priestley, who showed Lavoisier the so popular as his History of Electricity. method of procuring it during the year This, however, Dr. Thompson, in his | 1774, a considerable time before his Annals of Philosophy, gives good rea- | pretended discovery was made. We sons for not thinking deserving of are likewise indebted to Dr. Priestley the great reputation which it acquired for the discovery of most of the other for its author. The chief merit he gaseous bodies at present known, and awards to it, is that of collecting, in for the investigation of their properties. one view, the scattered facts which Among these may be mentioned sulwere spread through a great variety of phuric acid, fluoric acid, muriatic acid, preceding books, and which, at that ammoniacal, carbureted hydrogen, carume, it was difficult to obtain. Dr. bonic oxide, and nitrous oxide. It was Priestley's two principal discoveries in he who first discovered the acid proelectricity were, that charcoal is a per- duced when the electric spark is taken fect conductor of elecuricity; and that for some time in common air; a fact all metals may, without exception, be which led afterwards to the knowledge oxydized, by passing through them a of the constituents of nitric acid, which sutriciency sirong electrical charge. He contributed so essentially to the estabmade no additions nor improvements | lishment of the new chemical doctrine. to the theory of electricity; whilst so To hiin also we are indebted for a many have taken place since his his knowledge of the great decrease of bulk tory appeared, that his work in no de which takes place when electric sparks gree represents the present state of that are passed through ammoniacal gas; science. His History of the Disco to say nothing of his curious experiveries relative to Light and Colours, has ments on the freezing of water; on added nothing to his reputation; his the amelioration of atmospherical air, deficiency in mathematical knowledge by the vegetation of plants ; on the unfitted him for such a work, and his oxygen gas given out by them in the treatise on the subject, had he not dis- sun; and on the respiration of animals. tinguished himself in ocher departments, “To enumerate, indeed," as Mr. Kirwan would scarcely have brought him into says, “ Dr. Priestley's discoveries, would notice. Of his Elementary Treatise on be to enter into a detail of most of those Electricity and Natural Philosophy, and that have been made within the last his book on perspective, it will suffice to fifteen years. How many invisible fluids, say, that they are written in a very whose existence evaded the sagacity of lively and entertaining manner, and foregoing ages, has he made known to well calculated for enticing young men us? The very air we breathe he has to their respective studies.
taught us to analyze, to examine, to We now come to consider his dis. improve : a substance so little known, coveries in pneumatic chemistry, of that even the precise effect of respirawhich, however, it will be incompatible tion was an enigma, until he explained with the design of this work to give it. He first made known to us the anything but a general outline. The proper food of vegetables, and in what first of his great discoveries was nitrous ihe difference between them and animal gas, the properties of which he ascer- substances consisted. To him phartained with great sagacity, and almost macy is indebted for the method of imniediately applied it to the analysis making artificial mineral waters, as well of air. Its assistance was most material as for a shorter method of preparing
other medicines ; metallurgy, for more being necessary to produce the greatest powerful and cheap solvents; and che possible quantity of happiness. These mistry, for such a variety of discoveries opinions he proposed and defended in as it would be tedious to recite-dis various publications, written for the coveries which have new modelled that most part hastily, and marked rather science, and drawn to it, and to this by force and acuteness, than by accountry, the attention of all Europe. curacy or profundity. His conversion It is certain, that, since the year 1773, to Unitarianism is one of the proudest the eyes and regards of all the learned boasts of its followers; but though no bodies in Europe have been directed to man could be more sincere in his conthis country by his means. In every version, he has not left the grounds of philosophical treatise his name is to be the adoption of this system less dislound ; and in almost every page they putable, or more generally convincing all own that most of their discoveries than before. are due either to the repetition of his As a metaphysician, he is chiefly discoveries, or to the hints scattered distinguished as the strenuous advocate through his works." This is, un of Dr. Hartley's theory of association, doubtedly, true; for Lavoisier availed upon which he founded the doctrine of himself of all the discoveries of Priest- materialism and of necessity as legitiley, repeated and arranged them, and, mate inferences. Dr. Aikin, and other by means of them chiefly, and of the of his biographers, give him credit for discoveries of Mr. Cavendish, succeeded treating these abstruse subjects with in establishing his peculiar opinions. great perspicuity and acuteness, qualiPriestley, it should be added in this ties which characterize the chief porplace, continued, till the end of his life, tion of his writings. We join not the an advocate for the phlogistic theory; | cry which they raised against him, but and, the year before his death, pub- cannot forbear deprecating the manner lished a curious paper, in which he in which he has treated Dr. Reid, in summed up all his objections to the his Examination of the Doctrine of Lavoiserian theory.
Common Sense as held by Dr. Reid, As a theologian, Dr. Priestley may | Oswald, and Beautie. He has there rank among the most zealous opponents commented upon the writings of the of atheism, as well as of trinitarian former in a tone quite at variance with Christianity. He considered Moses his usual moderation, and by no means and Jesus Christ as divine instructors, proper towards one who was, beyond endowed with the power of working all doubt, a better mathematician and miracles, in order to prove the truth metaphysician, and whose doctrines, of their mission, and who each in on the above subject, he is generally culcated the system of morality best allowed to have failed in his attempts suited to the particular times in which to overthrow. they lived. He denies the sacred his. His political principles were similar torians to have been inspired; but con to those afterwards advocated by Godsiders, upon the whole, the evidence win; he was an advocate for the for their fidelity and veracity to be so perfectibility of the human species, strong, that it would be a greater or, at least, its continually increasing miracle to admit the possibility of their tendency to improvement. In his accounts being forgeries, than to admit Essay on the First Principles of Civil the truth of the Christian religion. Government, he lays it down as the Christ, he considers, as a mere man, foundation of his reasoning, that it must and, in consequence, denies the im be understood, whether it be expressed maculate conception, together with the or not, that all people live in sodoctrine of the atonement, of election, ciety for their mutual advantage; so and reprobation, and of the eternity that the good and happiness of the of a future punishment. He believed members, that is, the majority of the in the existence of a God, infinite in members of any state,- is the great wisdom, power and goodness, and con standard by which everything relating sidered the system of the universe, the to that state must be finally deterbest possible; the apparent imperfec- mined; and though it may be supruas and the evil which exists in it posed that a body of people may be