Page images
PDF
EPUB

in this view of it, is the cause of mankind. The Doctor and his friends obliged us to consider whether the French had done right or wrong, because they persuaded us to do the same thing at home; and their motions toward it alarmed the people at Birmingham, and occasioned all those disturbances, the causes of which are as well understood by the Doctor himself as by any person in this kingdom.

The French nation were at liberty, he says, to better their condition without consulting us. But here again, the Doctor's casuistry is as loose as before : for no man can be justified in bettering his condition, unless he does it by lawful means. If a man betters his condition out of the property and lives of his fellow-subjects, he is a felon and a murderer; and, as Dr. Franklin rightly observed, it makes no difference whether this be done by a single person or by a larger gang, or by one half of a nation against the other half.

There may be some worthy persons, who, although they look up to Dr. Priestley as a great political casuist, are not above being admonished. Let them consider calmly, what is in a manner self-evident, that all vice is from the liberty of human action; all virtue from the restraints either of law or conscience. So far as restraint is from the law of God, it cannot be opposed. But of this law, no account is made by Dr. Priestley or his followers : and if they are plotting to overturn establishments, as they openly profess, it is proper they should keep it out of sight; for the moment it is introduced, all their fairy edifices fall to pieces like a house of cards. That man must be an atheist or an infidel, who forgets that there is a foundation of law, by which all men are bound, in their relation to God, and to one another; and that

the ten commandments are made for men in a state of inequality. In the new subject of human Right, the ignorant may think there is a pro and a con of argument against argument: but the whole is a dispute between the duties of religion and the claims of atheism : all of which are answered for ever in this one short sentence-NO MAN HATH A RIGHT TO DO WRONG, How their plots will succeed in time, it may be impossible to foresee; but, I think, before the party of Republicans and Unitarians will succeed in this country, they must provide a political manager not so much given to betray and contradict himself as Dr. Priestley : who in one page assures us, that Unitarians are as good subjects as Trinitarians; and in an adjoining page, that they are laying gunpowder, grain by grain, under the old building of error and superstition, which a single spark may hereafter enflame *. This open unguarded temper, which lays a plot, and then tells it to every body, has brought the Doctor into great miscarriages, and was undoubtedly the cause of all the losses he suffered at Birmingham.

III. OF THE FEELINGS OF DR. PRIESTLEY.

The Doctor's feelings are very unaccountable, being totally disproportionate, and sometimes quite of a

ontrary nature to their causes. He tells us how the sudden union of Mr. Burke and Lord North filled him with horror, (Lett. to Mr. Burke, p. 6.) If an unlooked-for coalition in the ministry goes to court, to manage public business, he is troubled with the horrors; but he can hear of captive kings, of plots, massacres, confiscations, and sacrilege, and find all

* Free Inq. p. 40–45.

these things not only agreeable, but consistent with celebrity and festivity. He mocks at the humanity of Mr. Burke, for being alarmed and disturbed at the late horrible commotions in France. This worthy gentleman, blessed with the tender feelings of a polished mind, and concerned for the peace of the Christian world, did look with abhorrence on the confusion, inhumanity, and felony of the French Revolution; and therefore justly and pathetically exclaimed against it, as a most wicked and cruel transaction. At all this Dr. Priestley wonders; and says-you are alarmedyou are not coolyour mind is heated, &c. &c. The contrast here is a little striking : The one, with the heart of a man and a Christian, feels, as the attending chaplain would, at a miserable execution; while the other stands by with all the indifference of the hangman; considering only what he and his party may get by it; and how the catastrophe may serve to promote his own political ideas. The

power of kings and rulers is designed by Providence as a terror to evil doers; so the Gospel teaches: and a terror it is, which seems to lie very hard upon Dr. Priestley; but if the law of Providence be inverted, and the terror happen to fall backwards, upon kings and rulers themselves, then he has his wish. He rejoices when they are made to tremble, as if it were a delicious circumstance: “ It is time,” says he, “ that they who have made others tremble, (i. e. who have been a terror to evil-doers) should in their turn tremble themselves. But let the people rejoice. (Lett. to Mr. Burke, p. 40.) The two great red-letter festivals of Dr. Priestley's year (kalendered with blood) are the 30th of January and the 14th of July. “ Let all tyrants read the history of both,” says he," and tremble.We shall rarely meet with any instance of

a flaming advocate for liberty, who does not, through all the disguise of his fair words, discover the spirit of a tyrant. If I had no other reason for detesting our Doctor's politics, this alone would be sufficient, that they deliver us over to an unmerciful mind, and even invert the passions natural to man: so that when the world is in tears, we are preparing for a feast; like vultures, when they smell slaughter at a distance: and, in the sunshine of peaceable times, like Spenser's fiend, which chews a toad, we weep, that cause of weeping there is none.

When a man denies his own conduct to those who are witnesses of it, and expects to be believed; whatever that man may call himself, we generally agree to call him impudent. Has not our Doctor, for many years past, been libelling the religion and the clergy of the Church of England; predicting ruin to the government, and recommending a new one after the model of France; calling our religious establishment a fungus, a sloth, a glutton: and threatening it with a destructive explosion from the gunpowder, which he and his friends have been conveying under the fabric? Yet the man who had said all these things, and many more, (for which see the collection in the Appendix,) tells the inhabitants of Birmingham, they had uniform experience of his peaceable behaviour for eleven years. (See Thoughts on the late Riots at Birmingham, p.7.)

His Letter to Mr. Pitt displays a degree of assurance rarely to be met with. When a man, in this country, writes a saucy letter to a minister of state, there is nothing prodigious in the case : but if he does this in defiance of all decency, and puts his name to it, as Dr. Priestley did, he glories in his shame; which a man seldom does, till he is past the feeling of it. Tell him his creed gives him a near alliance to the Turks ;

he is not abashed at it; but considers it rather as a favourable circumstance; telling us how the Turks are in a fair way to become Christians, because they are Unitarians. “ You are mistaken,” says he, in his Letter to Mr. Parkhurst, “ if you think that I am ashamed to avow my agreement with the Mahometans, or any other of the human race, in the doctrine of the divine unity, and to worship together with them the one God and Father of all, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Letters, p. 185.) Whether it be the Reverend Mr. Parkhurst then, or any other worthy gentleman, who shall suspect that the Doctor is weak enough to be ashamed; he has reason, from the Doctor's own authority, to retract his suspicions.

IV. THE LOGIC OF DR. PRIESTLEY.

WHEN a writer has a good cause, and understands it well, his defence of it will be plain and rational : but if his cause be bad, and too weak to support itself, he will apply to the arts of false logic, which we call sophistry; and, as we say, will try to persuade people out of their senses. Dr. Priestley has been celebrated for his abilities: and I am convinced he is a man of parts, when I see the ingenuity and variety of his subterfuges. When the case is desperate, and we see him sinking; he is never at a loss for some shift to keep his head above water. One of his artifices is, to dazzle the eyes of his readers with a splendid idea of his own powers. The multitude of his volumes, and the expedition with which he writes, are favourite topics, and frequently alluded to; whence the public is to believe, that he is greater than other men, because he writes faster;and that he writes unanswerably, because he writes without end. It is a common evasion with him, to find fault with the qualifications of his antago

« PreviousContinue »