« PreviousContinue »
The following select passages, from the writings of
Dr. Priestley, are illustrative of his character, principles, and abilities, as an author.
Extracts from “An Appeal to the Public, on the
Subject of the Riots at Birmingham.”
* I Became an inhabitant of Birmingham in the year 1780, without any other view than as a proper situation for attending to my philosophical pursuits, in which, having no original fortune of my own, I was assisted by a few liberal friends of science, who were pleased to think favourably of me in that respect. It was a plan suggested by the late Dr. Fothergill, and cheerfully adopted by Sir George Savile, Sir Stephen Theodore Janssen, Mr. Constable, of Burton Constable, and Dr. Price; all of them, it is something remarkable, of different religious persuasions, but equally lovers of experimental philosophy, and disinterested promoters of it.
“In two administrations proposals were made to assist me by a pension. But in both cases 1 declined the overture, chusing rather to be obliged to generous individuals, notwithstanding some unpleasant circumstances,occasionally attending this situation, than add to the burdens of my country.
“My original and favorite profession, how. ever, was that of a christian minister, in my opinion, the most important, useful, and honorable of all others; for which, though discontinued six years while I was tutor in the academy at Warrington, and seven years while I was with the Marquis of Lansdown, I always had the strongest predilection, and in which I never failed to officiate occasionally, when I was out of the employment.
“ It was, therefore, with equal surprize and pleasure that, on Mr. Hawkes's resignation of his office of minister at the New Meeting in Birmingham, I had an almost unanimous invitation to succeed him. This, however, I accepted, on the express condition of the congregation having no claim on me, except on Sundays; the rest of the week being devoted to my philosophical and other pursuits. The other duties of the place were discharged by my worthy colleague, Mr. Blythe.
“Such was the bigotry of the clergy of Birmingham, that long before I went thither, as well as during the whole time of my residing there, they refused to go in the same coach with the dissenting ministers at funerals, or walk with them in the procession. We had hoped that they had become ashamed of this absurd instance of clerical pride, which I had never heard before; and hoping better things of Mr. Curtis, who was of a dissenting family, Mr. Scholefield, the minister of the Old Meeting, being invited to a funeral at which he officiated, sent to know if he might be permitted to walk along with him. The answer was a civil but peremptory refusal, and the proposal was never repeated. When I gave the late bishop of St. Asaph an account of this behaviour of the clergy of Birmingham, which was long before my controversy with Mr. Madan, he expressed much concern at it, and said, that he thought such bigotry had now existed no where.
“The spirit of the high church party was conspicuous on the establishment of Sunday schools in Birmingham. At first persons of all religious persuasions acted in concert, of which an example had been set us in London ; and at a meeting of all the subscribers, convened for the purpose, it was agreed that the children should go to whatever places of public worship their parents should chuse. As there were no children of dissenters who wanted that instruction, all the Sunday scholars, without exception, went to the established church, and no com