Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 46.djvu/367

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Priestley
Priestley
361


in his 'Disquisitions relating to Matter and Spirit' (December 1777), which Shelburne's friends (but not Shelburne) tried to dissuade him from publishing. It led to correspondence with John Henderson (1757-1788) [q. v.] and Augustus Montague Toplady [q. v.], and to an amicable discussion (1778) with Price (cf. The Sadducee, a poem, 1778, anon.) A supplemental volume on 'philosophical necessity' was the occasion of his first controversial encounter with Samuel Horsley [q. v.] Priestley called his system by the name of 'materialism,' but by 1772 he had adopted from Ruggiero Giuseppe Boscowich (1711-1787) the theory that matter consists only of points of force ; the doctrine of the penetrability of matter had independently suggested itself (before 1772) to his friend Michell. Rutt supposes that Boscowich was the 'priest of the catholic communion,' having 'a taste for science,' who met Priestley in Paris (1774), and embraced him 'with tears' as the first philosopher among his acquaintance who made profession of Christianity (Works, xv. 366, xix. 310).

A more strictly professional work of his Shelburne period was his Greek 'Harmony' of the Gospels, projected in 1774, and published in 1777. It shows no appreciation of the real difficulties of the problem, and is chiefly remarkable as adopting the theory of Nicholas Mann [q^. v.], who limited the ministry of our Lord to little more than a single year. On this topic Priestley had a friendly controversy (1779-81) with William Newcome [q. v.], then bishop of Waterford. During its progress he began his 'Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever' (1780-2), directed primarily against Hume.

After quitting Shelburne's service he remained at Calne till Michaelmas 1780, and then removed to Birmingham, partly to be nearer his brother-in-law, John Wilkinson (d. 14 July 1808) of Castle Head in the parish of Cartmel, Lancashire,who provided himwith a house. A wealthy widow, Elizabeth Rayner (d. 11 July 1800, aged 86), of Sunbury, Middlesex, gave him one hundred guineas towards his removal, the first instalment of many benefactions from the same quarter. A handsome addition to his income was made by the annual subscriptions of his friends. William Heberden the elder [q. v.] contributed largely in aid of his theological as well as his scientific research. On Fothergill's death his contritution was continued by Samuel Galton, a Birmingham quaker, who was disowned (1795) 'for fabricating and selling instruments of war.' Josiah Wedgwood, the potter, besides an annual benefaction, furnished him with apparatus made to his instructions. Samuel Parker (d. 1817), a London optician (a Calvinistic dissenter), supplied him with every instrument he required in glass, including his burning lenses, twelve and sixteen inches in diameter. Soon after 1772 he was elected one of the eight associates of the French Academy of Sciences. In December 1780 he was made a member of the Imperial Academy of Sciences at St. Petersburg. Similar honours reached him from Turin, Haarlem, and elsewhere.

Before Christmas 1780 William Hawkes (1732-1796) resigned his office as junior minister of the New Meeting, Birmingham. Priestley was at once elected colleague with Samuel Blyth (1719-1796), and began his duties on 31 Dec. He was without pastoral charge, being engaged only for Sunday duty. He pursued the plan of catechetical instruction which he had introduced at Leeds, adding the practice of expounding the scripture lessons. His salary was 100/. ; but his congregation, led by his friend William Russell (1740-1818) [q. v.], was liberal in gifts. A donation of 200/., in acknowledgment of his catechetical work, he insisted on dividing with Blyth. Early in 1781 he declined a call to George's Meeting, Exeter. Twice he was sounded in vain about accepting a government pension ; by Lee when solicitor- general (1782), and again (1784) 'by a bishop,' probably Edmund Law, a member with Priestley of a 'society for promoting the knowledge of the Scriptures' (1783) [see Jebb, John, M.D.] He preferred the aid of 'lovers of science and slso lovers of liberty.' Brougham remarks that 'different men entertain different notions of independence.' Huxley, with more reason, refers to 'the generous and tender warmth with which his many friends vied with one another in rendering him substantial help.' Edmund Burke [q. v.], who visited him at Birmingham at the close of 1782, 'reported him to all his friends as the most happy of men, and most to be envied' (Letter from Lindsey, Memoirs, i. 354). Early in his Birmingham ministry his social relations, even with the established clergy, were pleasant enough. Once a month be dined with the 'Lunar Society,' meeting Matthew Boulton [q. v.], James Keir [q. v.], James Watt, William Withering, M.D. [q.v.], the botanist, and, for a time, Erasmus Darwin [q. v.] (see, for 'Lunar Society,' Carrington Bolton's Scientific Correspondence of Priestley, 1892, app. ii.) Every fortnight he discussed theology at tea with his clerical comrades. He continued his periodic visits to London. It has been said that Dr. Johnson refused to meet Priestley, the fact being that it was Priestley who repeatedly declined an