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Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 46.djvu/364

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Priestley
Priestley
358


a candidate at Heckmondwike in 1751. Walker, originally a churchman, was connected with the liberal dissenters of Dukinfield, Cheshire, and became 'an avowed Baxterian.' His reasoning made Priestley an Arminian. 'Ah, Walker,' said Priestley, when they met again in 1794, 'it was you that first led me astray from the paths of orthodoxy' (Univ. Theol. Mag. April 1804, p. 172). Before going up to Daventry he was anxious to communicate at Heckmondwike. Kirkby would have admitted him, but on examination by the 'elders' (Timothy Armitage and Joseph Hodgson) he was rejected as 'not quite orthodox.' He was 'distressed' that he could not 'feel a proper repentance for the sin of Adam.'

Ashworth was assisted in the Daventry Academy by Samuel Clark (1727-1769), eldest son of Samuel Clarke (properly Clark), (1684-1750) [q. v.] In 1751 Clark spoke of the new student as one 'who seems to be a good, sensible young fellow, though he has unfortunately got a bad name, Priestley ; those who gave him it I hope were no prophets' (Hunter's MSS. Addit. MS. 24485, p. 99). Doddridge's lectures formed the textbook of theological study, and free discussion was admitted, 'Ashworth taking the orthodox side of every question,' and Clark 'that of heresy.' Priestley was a favourite with Ashworth, but was more influenced by Clark. Thus he became an Arian, still retaining a 'qualified' belief in the atonement. Clark revised a draft which Priestley made at the academy in 1755 of his 'Institutes of Natural and Revealed Religion,' which was not published till 1772-3. Neither tutor was strong in scholarship.

Before entering the academy Priestley had corresponded with Annet on the subject of freewill, maintaining the position of 'philosophical liberty' against Annet's 'necessarian' doctrine. Annet 'importuned ' him for leave to publish the correspondence ; this Priestley withheld, though from no doubt of his own arguments. He was moved by the 'Inquiry' (1715 ; reprinted by Priestley in 1790) of Anthony Collins [q. v.], but remained unconvinced for several years. 'I gave up my liberty,' he says, 'with great reluctance' (Works, iii. 458) ; and it would appear that the instances of Annet and Collins had led him to connect determinism with 'unbelievers' (Memoirs, i. 126). From a reference in Doddridge's divinity lectures (Lect. ccxix.) he became acquainted with the 'Observations on Man' (1749) by David Hartley (1705-1757) [q. v.], a book which exercised a decisive and permanent influence on his speculations. He ranked it next to the bible (Works, iii. 10). Hartley's theory of association he embraced at once, and it carried the 'necessarian' doctrine as its consequence. His conversion to determinism probably dates from 1754. In 1757 he entered into a correspondence with Hartley, which was cut short by Hartley's death.

On Ashworth's recommendation Priestley was engaged in September 1755 as assistant and successor to John Meadows [see under Meadows, John], presbyterian minister at Needham Market, Suffolk. Meadows, who had held this charge for fifty-four years, was superannuated, and the congregation decayed. Priestley was promised 40/. a year; he got less than 30/., declining the customary subsidy from the London congregational fund, as he 'did not choose to have anything to do with the independents.' The London presbyterians helped him by the usual subsidy from their fund, and by occasional benefactions through George Benson [q. v.] and Andrew Kippis [q. v.] Though his preaching was uncontroversial, he made no secret of his Arianism, which alienated some hearers. Popularity was impossible for him, owing to an hereditary stammer. His aunt's last benefaction was a sum of twenty guineas, the fee of a London quack, one Angier, who undertook 'to cure all defects of speech' under an oath of secrecy. This business took Priestley to London for the first time, with the result that his impediment was 'worse than ever.'

To provide means for his support, Priestley issued 'proposals' for a boarding-school, but no pupils came ; this he attributes to his heterodox repute, ignoring, perhaps, the disadvantages of his bachelor situation. He gave a dozen lectures on the use of the globes to a class of adults. Meanwhile he was pursuing his theological studies. He managed to afford the luxury of subscribing for Tayler's Hebrew concordance, and set about comparing the Septuagint with the original. Soon he rejected the atonement, the inspiration of the sacred text, and all idea of direct divine action on the human soul. He wrote on the 'Doctrine of Remission,' and entrusted the manuscript to Caleb Fleming [q. v.] and Nathaniel Lardner [q. v.], who published it, with an important omission, in 1761. Lardner, who accepted Priestley's views on atonement, strongly disapproved his criticism of St. Paul's dialectics. Priestley worked the excluded section into a separate essay. Kippis advised him to publish it 'under the character of an unbeliever.' This Priestley declined. While it was at press the printing was stopped at Kippis's urgent remonstrance; the essay did not see the light till 1770 in the 'Theological Repository.'