To James Freeman

    Philadelphia        26 April 1792

    My dear Sir—

    I dont know but you may often have heard me express a wish that Doctor [Joseph] Priest[l]ey, or some other person equally acquainted with the subject, would explain & illustrate, by familiar examples, Hartley’s Theory1—-this has been long my wish—Because many parts of it appear to me to have been wrote with an idea that his readers would [have] understood the subject more comprehensively than they in general do—which parts are therefore lost, & render the more easy parts doubtfull—This has been the fact as to myself—And it gave me encouragement that my wishes would be gratified when I saw, a year or two ago, a declaration, in some of Docr. Priestley’s works, of his intention to publish a correspondence that took place between him & Hartley himself relative to the general Doctrine of Association of Ideas as delineated by the latter—But I lately saw an account in a paper that this correspondence being revised for the press, with notes and general observations corresponding to my wishes, were unfortunately destroyed among his other papers by the Rioters—

    the same account also sais that Doctor Priestley had prepared for the press a commentary on most of the Books of the New-Testament—but this was subject to a like fate—

    In the destruction of these two works I think the true knowledge of the mind, and unitarianism will be retarded—And on seeing an account thereof I could not help expressing my real sentiments as I have done in the inclosed Letter to Docr. Priestley2— which I send to you open, that you may read it, and suppress it if you please—I read it to a friend here, & he thought it contained too much flattery—but I assured him the expressions, however they may be such as some people make use of when they mean to express sentiments they do not feel, it was by no means the case with me—I only wished to convey to him my real ideas of the importance of making Hartley generally understood—And of the utility of an Unitarian exposition of the New-Testament—

    The world is so full of Catechisms, annotations sermons & prayers, all composed by persons hostile to Unitarianism, that it is difficult for young people to come at any notions in religion but such as they imbibe from their parents; or as soon as they can read, collect from these sort of Books—Little attention in conversing with people will shew how few take their first religious notions from the Bible; and how necessary it is, if we would have people to be rational in these things, that the catechisms, annotations, sermons &c that first engrose their attentions should be founded on clear & intelligible principles—

    I have been surprised to see the what an effect the short explanatory notes & observations, in Priestley’s Harmony,3 have had on the minds of some people—And tho I would not too readily draw a general conclusion from this, & two or three other facts of a like kind, yet I cannot but think that a paraphraise, commentary or annotation on the New-Testament by some candid & learned Unitarian would be of unspeakable service to that cause—Such a work as this I want to see in families; and unless Docr. Priestley favours the world with one, I have little expectation of ever seeing one—Hence I felt a little angry at those of his friends who advised him hereafter to turn his attention from Theological studies; whereas I rather wish him to make these his principle object, & his philosophical ones subservient thereto—

    If the inclosed Letter meets your approbation you will forward it by the first opportunity. The reason of my sending it before me is least all the Spring Vessells should sail for London before I reach Boston—

    I hope my books will arrive from London by the time I see you—tis my intention to allow myself some time this summer to read them—six or seven months close attention to politics will justify my relaxing a little upon studies more pleasing.

    I have been fortunate this winter in meeting, at vendues, with a variety of books that are rare to be found, & yet such as I have always been in pursuit of—And a circumstance that is still more luckey is that I generally purchased at what may be called less than half price—

    I have some where seen a good character of a book intitled “considerations on the theory of Religion by the Bishop of Carlile” if I mistake not4—If you know any thing of the book I allude to & think it a good performance; and if it is contained in two volumes, or less, of the octave size I wish you to procure it for me by sending to London, or elsewhere—

    I have heard nothing from our friends at Portland since I wrote you;5 I hope they will be steady to their principles, & persevere with candor & deliberation.

    We shall undoubtedly adjourn the next week on saturday, as a Resolution of the House, for that purpose, was this morning concurred in the Senate—which I view as clinching the Business.

    I am, my dear Sir, your very sincere friend—

    * * *

    ALS, James Freeman Clarke Additional Correspondence, 1787-1886 (MS Am 1569.7), Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.