Joseph Priestley – pamphleteer?


This passage appeared in a pamphlet by Joseph Priestley, dissenter and minister of the Old Meeting House in Birmingham. Priestley's enemies took his words as a 'covert threat of a new Gunpowder Plot'. Priestley explained that in fact he referred to the 'powerful force of argument' but made no impression on his critics. The words 'Damn Priestley' were chalked on walls around Birmingham.

Priestley had at the time written another booklet, 'An Illustration of the Rights of Man: Being an Answer to Mr Burke's attack on the French Revolution' . Burke was a conservative statesman and political thinker portrayed by Priestley as 'the polished and playful courtier'. This pamphlet incensed Priestley's opponents and convinced them of his revolutionary aims. His opponents circulated an inflammatory handbill falsely attributed to him. The pamphlet expressed provocative sentiments designed to make him appear volatile and threatening:

But is it possible to forget that our own Parliament is venal? Your minister hypocritical? Your clergy legal oppressors? The Reigning Family extravagant? The crown of a certain great personage becoming everyday too weighty for the head that wears it?...

Taken from: Old and New Birmingham
Author / Creator: Robert Dent
Publisher: Houghton & Hammond
Date: 1879
Copyright: By permission of the British Library Board
Shelfmark: 10351.k.2