Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 46.djvu/372

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
Priestley
Priestley
366

1796, aged 52. His children were : 1. Sarah (d. 1803), married to William Finch. 2. Joseph, born at Leeds on 24 July 1768 ; he left Northumberland in January 1812, settled at Cradley, Staffordshire, and died at Exeter on 2 Sept. 1833; he married (1792) Elizabeth (d. 8 May 1816, aged 46), elder daughter of Samuel Ryland, Birmingham ; secondly (1825), Mrs. Barton, daughter of Joshua Toulmin [q.v.] (Christian Reformer, 1833, pp. 499 sq.); his daughter Eliza married Joseph Parkes [q.v.] 3. William, who was naturalised as a French citizen on 8 June 1792, and admitted to the bar in Paris (Gent. Mag. July 1792, p. 657) ; he married Bettie Foulke, and died a planter in Louisiana before 1835. 4. Henry, who died at Northumberland on 11 Dec. 1795, aged 18.

Priestley spoke and moved rapidly ; in private converse he was vivacious and fond of anecdote, 'often smiled, but seldom laughed' (Correy) ; he would walk twenty miles before breakfast, carrying a long cane, and was a good horseman. Of his preaching Catherine Hutton [q. v.] writes (1781) : 'He uses no action, no declamation, but his voice and manner are those of one friend speaking to another.' His experiments imply great deftness of delicate manipulation with rude apparatus, but he had no mechanical readiness ; his brother says 'he could scarcely handle any tool.' From 1783, being troubled with gall-stones, he used chiefly a vegetable diet, with 'one glass of wine at dinner.' He found it easy to be very methodical in his habits, working with his watch before him, and turning immediately to another task when the allotted time was up. Hence he could say (31 Aug. 1789), 'I am far from being a close student; I never fatigue myself in the least.' He thought his main talent was a facility in arrangement, but affirms that he could do nothing in a hurry. Edward Burn reports him as saying, in refe- rence to his theological controversies, 'I set apart an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening, just to tease you a little' (Greenwwod, Journal, 1846, pp. 44 sq.) His literary work was often done at his fireside, amid conversation. He composed in shorthand ; his rapid pen never left his meaning doubtful ; a turn for epigram is the chief ornament of his style. He had little humour, but enjoyed a remarkable faculty for making the 'best of things. His home affections were strong. He provided a maintenance for his younger brother Joshua at Birstall. Domestic management he left to his wife, speaking of himself as a lodger in her house. To the faults of his memory he often alludes; it is curious that he never learned the American currency, and would say to a shopkeeper, 'You will give me the proper change, for I do not know it' (Bellas in Sprague, Annals, p. 307).

Toplady said of Priestley's character, 'I love a man whom I can hold up as a piece of crystal, and look through him.' He 'charmed away the bitterest prejudices in personal intercourse' (Huxley). Nor was this merely a triumph of amiability ; it illustrates the variety of his human interests, as well as his constitutional straight-forwardness. The history of his religious mind exhibits a 'continuous renunciation of prepossessions. He scouted ambiguity, the refuge of earlier heretics. The fearlessness and frankness of his propaganda were entirely new ; for Whiston, whom he resembled in temperament, wrote only for the learned. Like Whiston's, his nature was essentially devout, and he had a conservatism of his own which he identified with primitive Christianity, holding tenaciously to the miraculously attested mission of Moses and messiahship of Christ, whose second coming he expected by 1814 at latest (Memoirs, ii. 119). His crusade against Arians was more successful in detaching them from liberal dissent than in converting them ; his influence among Unitarians soon paled before that of Channing. It was as a pioneer of religious reform that he wished to be judged ; to his theological aims his philosophy was subsidiary : his chemistry was the recreation of his leisure time. Dr. Martineau, in an able estimate, published in 1833 (reprinted in Essays, Reviews, and Addresses, 1890, vol. i.), does justice to his 'extraordinary versatility,' his 'passion for simplicity,' and 'eager rather than patient' attention, but goes too far in claiming that 'his conclusions' were 'drawn by the absolutely solitary exercise of his own mind.' Martineau specifies his 'Analogy of the Divine Dispensations' (Theological Repository, 1771) as his finest piece. Brougham wrote rather grudgingly of his career (Lives of Men of Letters and Science, 1845, vol. i. ; cf. Turner in the Christian Reformer, 1845, pp. 665 sq.) Mr. Leslie Stephen (English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, 1876, i. 429 sq.) construes his many-sided activity as restlessness, and criticises his partial retention of the supernatural. More sympathetic is the Birmingham address (Macmillan's Magazine. October 1874, reprinted in Science and Culture, 1881), by Professor Huxley, in whose judgment 'his philosophical treatises are still well worth reading.'

In person Priestley was slim but large-