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LEARNING and talents, have ever commanded the respect and the admiration of mankind. In the dawn of science, indeed, the inventors of the useful arts were deified by those to whom they became benefactors by their discoveries; and the skilful in agriculture, were considered as super-human.
Even in the more enlightened ages of Greece and Rome, their poets and philosophers were venerated by the people as persons under the influence of divine inspiration; and although the
Athenians in an evil hour sacrificed the immortal Socrates to their unjustifiable prejudices, they afterwards evinced the conviction of error by the erection of a statue in honour of his memory.
If polite heathens, thus persecuted and thus honoured an illustrious character; shall more polite and polished christians refuse to do jus. tice to the memory of the greatest philosopher of the age? Shall Englishmen so long celebrated for their liberality to men of science, of whatever clime, refuse the wreath of immortality to their own countryman, who was an ornament to their literature, and an honour to their nation. Shall the inventor of the most trifling utensil be protected by a patent and rewarded by the public for his useful invention, while Priestley, the man who analysed the most subtle of the elements, is suffered to slumber in the tomb without one honorary memorial, except his own imperishable works? Forbid it national justice, patriotism, and science!
Yorkshire claims the honour of being the birth place of Joseph Priestley, the subject of the following memoirs. He was born on the 24th of March, 1733, at Field-head, near Bir
stall, eight miles from Leeds. His father was a respectable and opulent manufacturer of broad cloth, but Joseph was destined for higher pursuits. In the seventh year of his age he was taken into the protection of Mrs. Keighley, his aunt, who being childless adopted him. Under the
eye of this lady, who was a strict Calvanist, our philosopher received his first religious impressions: he daily read a portion of the scriptures to her, and his mind was thus imbued with the purest moral precepts, which had a powerful influence on his conduct through life.
His aunt, for whom he felt the utmost affection, even to filial reverence, engaged to pay the expence of his education, and he received the first rudiments of learning from the Rev. Mr. Scott, a dissenting minister, who was master of the Grammar Shool at Battley, a village near Leeds. His proficiency in study, and his attainments in this seminary, even at the age of eleven, excited the admiration of his friends. When not engaged in the study of languages, the books which he most delighted to peruse were on religion, particularly the allegories of the ingenious Bunyan; and this early inclination to read the works of pious men, induced his friends to look forward with high
expectations that he would become a distinguished Calvanistic teacher.
To qualify him for the important task of instructing others in the most important of all knowledge, young Priestley was sent hy his pious aunt to the academy at Daventry to study divinity, under the care of Dr. Ashworth. At the time he entered the academy he was very sincere in his belief of the Doctrine of the Tri.. nity, but in his twentieth year, when engaged in a course of theological studies, he became an Arian.
In the year 1753 Mr. Priestley was chosen pastor to a congregation at Needham in Suffolk; but his Arian sentiments were so offensive to his flock that they gradually deserted him. An impediment in his speech, also, contributed to render him unpopular as a preacher, and al
ugh he afterwards in some measure corrected this defect, his voice continued low and faultering.
Deserted by his flock, Mr. Priestley circulated proposals for opening a school, and his “ Miscellaneous Thoughts on Education" prove how well he was qualified for the task of a preceptor. But notwithstanding his multifarious
attainments and the solicitations of those friends who knew his worth, he could not obtain a single pupil! such was the effect of prejudice, and such the dread that he would inculcate impious sentiments, that the common reply was, “What! send my son to an Arian!”
Mr. Priestley afterwards removed to Nantwich, in Cheshire, where he officiated as minister to a small congregation of dissenters, at a salary of 301. per annum. This necessitated him to open an academy, where he gave proofs of his excellent qualifications for the instruction of youth, and his pupils made an admirable proficiency under his tuition. While engaged in this two-fold charge, of preceptor to youth, and pastor to those of riper years, Mr. Priestley accidentally became acquainted with a clergyman of the established church; of whom he speaks with cordial friendship: "At Nantwich" says he,
the Vicar of Acton, at the distance of one mile, had a room in his house which he called mine, and which I always made use of whenever it was convenient to me to spend an evening and sleep from home, which I never did, except with him. He said that he had never known a dissenter before me, but a common love of science brought us acquainted, and I have now in