To Joseph Priestley

    [Philadelphia]        25 April 1792

    Reverend Sir—

    Permit me, tho a stranger, and in an obscure part of the western World, to express to you my grief at the loss the world and yourself have sustained in the late Riots at Birmingham.1 Whatever might have been the cause, the effect, for some time at least, will be the same; and the true science of the mind, as well as a rational understanding of the Scriptures will be considerably retarded in their progress. If, however, the energetic causes were bigotry and persecution, I trust, as has certainly been the fact in similar cases, that the interest of Religion will eventually be promoted; and general good be made to spring from the temporary evil.

    Your observations and illustrations of [David] Hartley’s Theory of the mind, with your paraphraise and notes on most of the books of the New-Testament, are among those of your unpublished works the loss of which I most feelingly regret.2 The first, because I have no doubt but they would facilitate our enquiries into the moral phenomena, which individuals & society are daily presenting to view; and enable us to account for them in a more satisfactory manner than any principles or Theory of the human mind I have hitherto been acquainted with—The latter; because I expected to find those books, that of all others are the most important to mankind when rightly understood, explained on the principles of unitarianism, and which have been so long commented upon and paraphraised by Divines & others who believed in the Divinity & preexistance of Jesus with the orthodox notions of original sin & atonement, that very much of their usefullness has been hid from the Christian world; and perhaps I should not be wrong if I were to say from many who are not of any denomination of Christians—

    I cannot omit this opportunity of telling you that for ten years I have viewed your efforts and labors in the cause of Unitarianism (which I call pure christianity) and your endeavors to explain & recommend the doctrine of the association of Ideas as contained in Hartley’s Theory, with surprise and delight3—I have anticipated, and eagarly grasped at your sentiments as they have, from time to time, been thrown into the world; while I have lamented that your invitation to Docrs. Reid & Beattie to discuss, in a philosophical manner, a very interesting part of science was declined by them4—And that Mr. Gibbon made no reply to your strictures on his causes of the Rise, progress & establishment of Christianity.5

    Before I close I must assure you that I most heartily rejoice at hearing you are again setled in the work of the Gospel—it is a circumstance too, of additional pleasure to find you are set over the people where the great & good Docr. Price was so justly esteemed and beloved; & that your invitation, as it appears by the public papers, was almost unanimous.6

    Tho I believe I am second to none of your friends in esteem & respect; yet I cannot but differ from those of them who have requested you to dedicate the rest of your life to philosophical, in preference to theological Studies; And I hope your situation and circumstances will afford you an opportunity of recomposing (if they are entirely destroyed) and favoring the world with some illustrations of Hartley’s theory and a Commentary, with notes on the New-Testament. I can hardly imagine any human composition that will tend more to a right understanding of the mind, & its various operations, and more likely to recommend Christianity to unbelievers, than something of this kind—

    I have long been an admirer of Hartley; but certainly there is something in his manner, as well as the natural abstruseness of his subject, that has prevented his System becoming more generally the object of attention; and, before this time, having been used as an Institutional Book in Colleges and Universaties.

    With sentiments of unfeigned esteem & respect, as well as Gratitude for the pleasure and satisfaction your various writings have afforded me,

    I beg leave to subscribe myself, Reverend Sir, your unknown friend and very humble Servant

    * * *

    FC, TFP. Dated from Biddeford, although this letter was certainly written from Philadelphia, which GT did not leave until Congress adjourned on 8 May. He appears to have written as if from Biddeford in anticipation of eliciting a response posted to him where he might receive it during the subsequent recess. The letter was sent as an open enclosure in GT’s letter to James Freeman of 26 April (No. 80, below), with the request that it be forwarded in one of Boston’s “spring vessells” to London. Priestley’s reply—the first letter of many in their long, rich correspondence—assured GT that “I feel much gratified by the generous sympathy of such persons as you on my sufferings by the riot in Birmingham, and especially the loss of my MSS. Those in illustration of Hartley’s Theory I cannot recompose but so much of my Exposition of the New Testament is recovered, that I hope to be able to complete the whole, and publish it in due time” (Joseph Priestley to GT, 23 Feb. 1793, Coll. 420, John S.H. Fogg Autograph Collection, MeHi).