Letters to the Right Honourable Edmund Burke

Letters to the Right Honourable Edmund Burke


Letters to the Right Honourable Edmund Burke 1791 Second Edition First State

By Joseph Priestly

Printed In London by Thomas Pearson For J. Johnson

he Volume is in Very Good Condition disbound, with generally clean and amply margined leaves, with some mild toning at the initial leaves, with ome mild fox marks throughout.
he Volume is Complete in All Respects with the miss-numbering of page vii as vi. See below for pagination & dimensions.

Title - Letters to the Right Honourable Edmund Burke

Of Joseph Priestley

Joseph Preistly could rightly be considered a universal controversialist, given his defence of phlogiston theory, his dissenting in the Church and his support of the French revolution. Dissenters such as Priestley who supported the French Revolution came under increasing suspicion as scepticism regarding the revolution grew. In its propaganda against “radicals”, Pitt’s administration used the “gunpowder” statement to argue that Priestley and other Dissenters wanted to overthrow the government. Burke, in his famous Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), tied natural philosophers, and specifically Priestley, to the French Revolution, writing that radicals who supported science in Britain “considered man in their experiments no more than they do mice in an air pump”. Burke also associated republican principles with alchemy and insubstantial air, mocking the scientific work done by both Priestley and French chemists. He made much in his later writings of the connections between “Gunpowder Joe”, science, and Lavoisier—who was improving gunpowder for the French in their war against Britain. Paradoxically, a secular statesman, Burke, argued against science and maintained that religion should be the basis of civil society, whereas a Dissenting minister, Priestley, argued that religion could not provide the basis for civil society and should be restricted to one’s private life. Priestley’s 1791 “Letters to the Right Honourable Edmund Burke” served as a catalyst setting off what became known as the Priestley Riots.

The animus that had been building against Dissenters and supporters of the American and French Revolutions exploded in July 1791. Priestley and several other Dissenters had arranged to have a celebratory dinner on the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, a provocative action in a country where many disapproved of the French Revolution and feared that it might spread to Britain. Amid fears of violence, Priestley was convinced by his friends not to attend. Rioters gathered outside the hotel during the banquet and attacked the attendees as they left. The rioters moved on to the New Meeting and Old Meeting churches—and burned both to the ground. Priestley and his wife fled from their home; although their son William and others stayed behind to protect their property, the mob overcame them and torched Priestley’s house “Fairhill” at Sparkbrook, destroying his valuable laboratory and all of the family’s belongings. Twenty-six other Dissenters’ homes and three more churches were burned in the three-day riot. Priestley spent several days hiding with friends until he was able to travel safely to London. The carefully executed attacks of the “mob” and the farcical trials of only a handful of the “leaders” convinced many at the time—and modern historians later—that the attacks were planned and condoned by local Birmingham magistrates. When George III was eventually forced to send troops to the area, he said: “I cannot but feel better pleased that Priestley is the sufferer for the doctrines he and his party have instilled, and that the people see them in their true light.”

Pagination & Dimensions

The volume is paginated as follows: [iii]-xiii, [iii], [1]-155, [1]. The volume collates as follows: A-K8, L6. Each leaf measures about 205 mm. By 130 mm.

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