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' "Let Dr. Priestley,” he says, “ be confuted where he is mistaken ; let him be exposed where he is superficial; let him be repressed where he is dogmatical; let him be rebuked where he is censorious. But let not his attainments be depreciated — because they are numerous, almost without a parallel. Let not his talents be ridiculed - because they are superlatively great. Let not his morals be vilified — because they are correct without austerity, and exemplary without ostentation - because they present, even to common observers, the innocence of a hermit, and the simplicity of a patriarch; and because a philosophic eye will at once discover in them the deep fixed root of virtuous principle, and the solid trunk of virtuous habit.”
Indeed such was the influence of his character, that the strongest prejudices gave way on a personal acquaintance, and were changed to affection and respect. A gentleman of Philadelphia who knew him well, has recorded the two following anecdotes.*
“ The first of these anecdotes," he says, was related to me a very few years ago by the late Rev. William Rogers, D. D., a Baptist minister, whose sentiments were highly Calvinistic, but who was strongly attached to Dr. Priestley, and took pleasure in cultivating his acquaintance. The doctor, when in Philadelphia, would occasionally call on Dr. Rogers, and without any formal invitation pass an evening at his house. One afternoon he was there when Dr. Rogers was not at home, having been assured by Mrs. Rogers that her husband would soon be there. Meanwhile, Mr. Baptist minister called, and being a person of rough manners, Mrs. Rogers was a good deal concerned lest he should say something disrespectful to Dr. Priestley in case she introduced the Doctor to him. At last, however, she ventured to announce Dr. Priestley's name, who put out his hand; but
* Mr. James Taylor. See Rutt's Life and Correspondence of Priestley, Vol. II. 264, 343.
instead of taking it, the other immediately drew himself back, saying, as if astonished to meet with Dr. Priestley in the house of one of his brethren, and afraid of being contaminated by having any social intercourse with him, Dr. Joseph Priestley! I can't be cordial.'
It is easy to imagine that by this speech Mrs. Rogers was : greatly embarrassed. Dr. Priestley observing this, instantly
relieved her by saying, and with all that benevolent expression of countenance and pleasantness of manner for which he was remarkable, 'Well, well, Madam, you and I can be cordial; and as Dr. Rogers will be soon with us, Mr. and he can converse together, so that we shall all be very comfortable.' Thus encouraged, Mrs. Rogers asked Dr. Priestley some questions relative to the Scripture prophecies, to which made suitable replies; and before Dr. Rogers arrived,
was listening with much attention, sometimes making a remark, or putting a question. The evening was
passed in the greatest harmony, with no inclination e part of Mr.
to terminate the conversation. At last Dr. Priestley, pulling out his watch, informed Mr. that as it was ten o'clock, it was time that two old men like them were at their quarters. The other at first was not willing to believe that Dr. Priestley's watch was accurate ;
but finding that it was correct, he took his leave with apparent = regret, observing, that he had never spent a shorter and more
pleasant evening. He then went away, Dr. Priestley accompanying him until it became necessary to separate. Next morning he called on his friend Dr. Rogers, when he made the following frank and manly declaration : You and I well know that Dr. Priestley is quite wrong in regard to his theology ; but, notwithstanding this, he is a great and good man, and I behaved to him at our first coming together like a fool and a brute,'"
"A gentleman of New York, of excellent understanding, but a confirmed Calvinist, with whom I was in habits of friendly intercourse, although he had never seen Dr. Priest
ley, would frequently speak of him as a person of no vital religion, and as one with whom he would not choose to become intimately acquainted. Having occasion to visit Philadelphia, he called on me immediately on his arrival. Dr. Priestley was spending the afternoon with me, and my friend being seated next to the doctor, seemed so much engaged in conversation with him, that he had little to say to any one else. On taking his leave, to my astonishment he exclaimed, • Who is that delightful old gentleman I have been conversing with ?' for when introduced he had not attended to the name. As I naturally concluded that the bare mention of this would instantly destroy the charm, I was in no haste to gratify his curiosity; but when the question was repeated and answered, he replied, with his usual frankness, All that I have formerly said respecting Dr. Priestley is nonsense. I have now seen him for myself, and, remember, I will never forgive you
you do not put me in the way of seeing more of him.'
At Philadelphia, Dr. Priestley's name is often mentioned with admiration and warm feeling by those who knew his worth, and who, notwithstanding their difference of religious belief, courted his society, and cultivated his friendship. A very few years ago, when a young popular preacher spoke of Dr. Priestley in the pulpit as similar to Hume and Voltaire, the injustice of the comparison was openly complained of by many worthy persons of different denominations, who were old enough to remember with what ability and effect Dr. Priestley had pleaded the cause of divine revelation at Philadelphia, particularly in those discourses delivered in 1796."
Mr. W. Matthews, who was persuaded one Sunday afternoon to accompany a friend to Dr. Priestley's chapel in Birmingham, has told us what became of his previous impressions respecting him. He had been accustomed to hear him preached against as "a demon of heresy," "a proud and aughty scorner." “ When we entered the place,” he says, we found a man
of about the middle stature, slenderly made, remarkably placid, modest, and courteous, pouring out, with the simplicity of a child, the great stores of his most capacious mind to a considerable number of young persons of both sexes ; whom, with the familiarity and kindness of a friend, he encouraged to ask him questions, either during the lecture or after it, if he advanced any thing which wanted explanation, or struck them in a light different from his own. The impression made upon us was so strong, that we never failed afterwards to attend on such occasions in order to profit by his lessons, and we frequently went to hear him preach, until he was driven from the town in 1791.
His lectures were peculiarly instructive, and the general tenor of his sermons was practical, urging to the 'cultivation of universal benevolence, the earnest pursuit of knowledge, and the most unrestrained free inquiry upon all important subjects. He was the most unassuming, candid man I ever knew; and never did I hear from his lips, either in lecture or sermon, one illiberal sentiment, or one harsh expression concerning any persons who differed from him, not even of the individuals who were so much in the practice of abusing him and traducing his character."
“My acquaintance with Dr. Priestley,” says Mr. Taylor, in a letter recently received, “commenced early in 1797 ; it soon became intimate, and, during his subsequent visits to Philadelphia, in 1801 and 1803, I enjoyed much of his
company. He was easy of access, and his conversation was peculiarly attractive. He was neither reserved nor talkative. Although his stores of knowledge were uncommonly great, he made no display of his attainments; yet, when called on, he was never unwilling to contribute his share to the entertainment or instruction of those with whom he was associated. He exacted neither homage nor deference; it seemed as if he was utterly unconscious of having risen far above the common level. The expression of his countenance was that of sedateness and benignity, and
the whole of his deportment corresponded with his exterior. Every one felt at perfect ease in his company, yet no one would have ventured to take improper liberties in his presence. With no pretensions to artificial polish, he possessed a strong innate sense of what was proper and becoming. As regarded himself, none could be more strict; but, in speaking of other persons, he was indulgent and liberal; not because he was an unobservant spectator, but because he conscientiously spoke and acted conformably to the true spirit of Matthew vii. 1, and similar passages.
Of his utter ignorance of the most common affairs, many proofs might be given. During the many years that he was a housekeeper, he only went to market once ; this was because Mrs. Priestley was unwell. He managed so ill, that he was never asked to go there a second time. On Mrs. Priestley's death he immediately gave up housekeeping. He said, that while at Birmingham his salary was £100 sterling, and that his expenses were about £400 sterling. When I asked him how he managed to get along, he said that money always seemed to come as it was needed, and that he took good care never to run in debt. One day, having requested me to give him some account of the different public stocks of the United States, after I had made some progress, he said, in his pleasant manner, that although he doubted not that my remarks were sufficiently intelligible to almost any other person, he did not understand any part of them, and was persuaded that he was incapable of comprehending financial topics.
As his pamphlets had greatly multiplied, and as there was no bookbinder at Northumberland, during one of his visits to Philadelphia, he was taught by Mr. Birch how to stitch his pamphlets, so as to form them into olumes in boards. It is said, that he was rather a dull scholar ; but by diligence and attention he succeeded. More than a hundred volumes, were thus put in boards by him.”