Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 46.djvu/370

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
Priestley
Priestley
364

allowed himself to be driven in a chaise to his friend Russell's, at Showell Green, a mile further from town. After watching the fires from the meeting-houses, he proceeded to Thomas Hawkes's, at Moseley Wake Green, half a mile further. Here he was within earshot of the shouts of the wreckers of his own house. It seems they tried to get fire from his electrical machine, to burn the building, 'with that love for the practical application of science which is the source of the greatness of Birmingham' (Huxley). At four o'clock in the morning he was retiring to bed at Showell Green, when the mob approached, and he drove to the house of William Finch, his son-in-law, at Heath Forge, five miles beyond Dudley. He made up his mind, if it were a fine Sunday, to preach in the ruins of his meeting-house, and chose his text. On Friday night he was roused from sleep, and rode to Bridgnorth, Shropshire, driving back thence to Kidderminster. Thinking all was safe, he rode back to Heath Forge on Saturday evening, but was persuaded at once to retrace his steps. From Kidderminster he made his way to Worcester, and, catching the London coach, reached Lindsey's house in Essex Street at five o'clock on Monday morning. Next day he wrote an expostulatory letter to the inhabitants of Birmingham, and at once began his discourse on the duty of forgiveness of injuries. This sermon did not convert his spirited wife. 'I do not think,' she writes (26 Aug.) to Mrs. Barbauld, 'that God can require it of us as a duty, after they have smote one cheek, to turn the other. . . . They will scarcely find so many respectable characters a second time to make a bonfire of. So much for King and Church for ever.' Four or five of the rioters were tried at Worcester ; one was executed on 19 Aug., and another subsequently. Twelve were tried at Warwick on 22 and 23 Aug. by Sir Richard Perryn [q. v.] ; four were convicted ; of these, two were executed on 8 Sept. A moderate compensation was awarded to the sufferers. Priestley's compensation (paid in 1793) fell short of his losses by some 2,000/. Some of his private papers, which fell into the hands of Curtis, were sent by him to Henry Dundas, afterwards first viscount Melville [q. v.], then home secretary, and not returned. Addresses of sympathy reached him from the French Academy of Sciences and many other public bodies.

For a few months Priestley was the guest of William Vaughan at Missenden, Buckinghamshire. He preached for the first time after the riots on 26 Sept. in a Calvinistic baptist chapel at the neighbouring town of Amersham, by the unanimous request of minister and people. This was probably through the influence of Robert Hall (1764-1831) [q. v.] Two other congregations of orthodox dissenters requested his services. Even among methodists he had sympathisers. 'The curse of God,' said Samuel Bradburn [q.v.] in a sermon (1793) at Birmingham, 'hangs over your town for the infamous treatment Dr. Priestley experienced among you.' He was invited to Paris and Toulouse, but resolved to settle in London ; a house was taken for him at Clapton in a friend's name. 'He has taken,' writes Hutton, 'a house near London for twenty-one years, provided he lives and the house stands so long.' He wished, however, to return to Birmingham and continue his ministry till Christmas ; his congregation begged him not to run the risk, and asked him to nominate his successor. His 'forgiveness' sermon was delivered at Birmingham by John Coates (d. 2 April 1826, aged 73), of the Old Meeting. The first part of his 'Appeal' on the subject of the riots is dated 1 Nov. On 7 Nov., by fifty-one votes to nineteen, he was elected to succeed Price as morning preacher at the Gravel Pit Chapel, Hackney, and entered on his pastoral duties on 4 Dec. No fixed salary was guaranteed, but his receipts were at the rate of a hundred and fifty guineas a year. A section of Price's friends left, but there was a large accession of new- comers.

At Hackney his life went on 'even more happily' than at Birmingham. His pecuniary losses were more than made up by his friends. Wilkinson, his brother-in-law, gave him 500/., transferred to him a nominal sum of 10,000/. in the French funds, and, as this was unproductive, paid him 200/. a year. His catechetical classes, contrary to expectation, attracted many outsiders. Lindsey and Belsham were near neighbours; he had superior advantages for his scientific pursuits ; he gave lectures at Hackney College on history and chemistry. In September 1792 he was made a citizen of France, and elected a member for the department of Orne in the National Convention. Other departments followed suit, but, while he accepted citizenship, he declined election (Works, xxv. 118). The majority of members of the Royal Society fought shy of him. Finding that they were rejecting eligible candidates on political grounds, he withdrew from attendance (1793), and ceased to publish in the 'Philosophical Transactions.'

As early as 1772 he had contemplated a removal to America for the sake of his children. His wife's first thought after the riots was 'for trying a new soil.' His three sons