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My father, Dr. Priestley, having taken the trouble of writing down the principal occurrences of his life, to the period of his arrival in this country, that account is now presented to the public in the state in which he left it, one or two trifling alterations excepted. The simple unaffected manner in which it is written, will be deemed, I have no doubt, far more interesting, than if the narrative itself had been made the text of a more laboured composition.
Independently of the desire, so universal among mankind, to know somewhat of the private as well as the public history
of those who have made themselves eminent among their fellow citizens, the life of my father is likely to be more useful as well as more interesting, than those of the generality of literary men; not only as it is an account of great industry combined with great abilities, successfully exerted for the extension of human improvement, but because it affords a striking proof of the value of rational Christianity, adopted upon ma
ture reflection, and practised with habitual perseverance.
Few men have had to struggle for so many years with circumstances more straitened and precarious than my father; few men have ventured to attack so many or such inveterate prejudices respecting the prevalent religion of his country, or have advanced bolder or more important opinions in opposition to the courtly politics of the powers that be; few have had to encounier more able
opponents in his literary career, or have been exposed to such incessant and vindictive obloquy, from men of every description, in return for his unremitting exertions in the cause of truth; yet none have more uniformly proceeded with a single eye, regardless of consequences, to act as his conviction impelled him, and his conscience dictated. His conduct brought with it its own reward, reputation, and respect, from the most eminent of his contemporaries, the affectionate attachment of most valuable friends, and a cheerfulness of disposition arising in part from conscious rectitude which no misfortunes could long repress. But to me it seems that conscious rectitude alone would hardly of itself have been able to support him under some of the afflictions he was doomed to biar.
He had a farther resource, to him never failing and invaluable, a firm persuasion of the benevolence of the Alınighty towards all his creatures, and the conviction that every part of his own life, like every part of the whole system, was preordained for the best upon the whole of existence. Had he entertained the gloomy notions of Calvinisin, in which he was brought up, this cheering source of contentment and resignation would probably have failed him, and irritation and despondency would have gained an unhappy ascendancy. But by him the deity was not regarded as an avenging tyrant, punishing, for the sake of punishing his weak and imperfect creatures, but as a wise and kind parent, inflicting those corrections only that are necessary to bring our dispositions to the proper temper, and to fit us for the highest state of happiness of which our natures are ultimately capable.
With these views of the present and the future, it is no wonder that he submitted with perfect resignation to the inevitable vicissitudes of hunian life, and looked forward to futurity as a period of existence when his capacity for receiving happiness would be greater, because his capacity for communicating it would be enlarged.
My father's narrative closing with his arrival in this country, where he has done so much for the promotion of useful knowledge of all kinds, I have completed the account of his life from that period to the termination of it.
The work might have been made more interesting as well as entertaining, had I deemed myself at liberty to liave published letters addressed to my father by persons of eminence in this country, as well as in Europe. But those communications that were intended to be private, shall remain so; as I do not think I have a right to amuse the public either against, or without, the inclinations of those who confided their correspondence to his care.
I regret that more of the present work is not the production of my father's pen; and I hope the reader will make allowance for the imperfection of that portion of it, for which I have made myself responsible.
May 1, 1805.