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in any denomination. Every thing shows it. The very character of his mind was to scrutinize and question. He did scrutinize and question every subject that he approached. And the more he scrutinized revelation, the more closely and boldly he tested its evidences and influences, the stronger was his faith, the more devoted and disinterested his attachment. We say disinterested, in view not only of the trials and losses to which his faith subjected him, and the further trials and losses to which he exposed himself by adherence to that faith, but also in view of the temptations, if not solicitations, thrown in his way by politicians and philosophers. His position was not a common one. Persecuted by loyalists for being a radical, reviled by Churchmen for being a Dissenter, reprobated by Dissenters as a leader of heretics, exiled from his own country for advocating liberty and toleration, vilified and threatened as a seditious alien in the country to which he fled, regarded as an unbeliever by most Christians, and ridiculed as a Christian by unbelievers, – it required some firmness of conviction, some power and blessing of conscience, to keep him true to himself and his God. Did he ever waver? He clung the more to that which man could not wrest from him. Denounced more loudly than the most notorious infidels, he calmly went on opposing those infidels, and challenging them singlehanded to the combat. While repelling the assaults of Volney in Philadelphia, he says, « The prevalence of infidelity is astonishing ; and yet, notwithstanding all I have done to oppose its progress, in which I am single, I was last Sunday (and I believe frequently am) preached against in this very place as a deist; and lie under much greater odium than any professed unbeliever.” The adherence of such a man to Christianity, in such circumstances, is worth tenfold more, if not as an argument for the religion, as a proof of his sincerity, than the uninquiring, all-devouring faith of the most orthodox. The very mildness with which he answers the charge of infidelity, when made in conversation, is delightful and convincing. “If sincerely believing in the divine mission of Moses is deism, then I am a deist; if believing in the inspiration of the Prophets is deism, then the charge is just; or if believing that Jesus Christ was the Messiah foretold by the Prophets, and that he died and rose again from the dead, is deism, then do I merit the appellation."
suckold more, incerity, iba. The verhen made
Priestley's connexion with philosophical unbelievers, and their friendship and respect for him, gave him peculiar opportunities of presenting to them the reasons of his own faith. He used those opportunities, as we have seen, particularly as he advanced in life, and felt the power and joy of religious belief. In the Preface to one of his last works,* he speaks thus of some eminent and prosperous unbelieyers, as Voltaire and Frederick of Prussia.
“No Christian, in the humblest and most afflicted situation in life, need to envy them. I would not exchange my own feelings even in those situations in which they would have thought me an object of compassion, for all the satisfaction they could have enjoyed in the happiest scenes of their lives.
“ I wish it were possible for me to convey to my philosophical, unbelieving friends, the feeling I have of the value of Christianity, a value which is enhanced by the experience of a pretty long and various life, in which Christian principles have been of the most substantial use to me, both in prosperity and in adversity; and, as they have supported me through life, they will, I doubt not, afford consolation in the hour of death. But it is not in the power of language to express all I feel on this subject.”
And to Volney he appeals with a simplicity and tenderness, that ought to touch the heart of Christians at least.
“ But religion is not only the guide of life, but supplies the best support under the troubles of it, and at the approach of death; and of this your principles would deprive men. And what have you to give them in its place? Being a much older man than you, I have had more experience of the value of religion in this respect than you can have; I have had many trials and some heavy losses, which have left a void which nothing in the world can fill; and yet I would not exchange my sorrows for your joys. Were you in my situation, I should regard you with compassion ; for I bear you no ill will. Could you, Sir, have the feelings that I sometimes have, you would give all the world, if you had it, to be a Christian.” ť
It was this that crowned Priestley's faith with its peculiar strength and brightness. It was his experience of its support and full blessings. Religion was to him an habitual comforter. No one can read his letters without seeing that his
* Observations on the Increase of Infidelity : Preface. Works, Vol. XVII.
| Letters to Volney.
mind flies to it perpetually, and stays itself upon this rock as upon God. It reveals God to him in every thing, and makes the doctrine of a universal and particular providence one of the most familiar associations of life, a part of the life, blending itself with ordinary incidents, and having power over all feelings. We believe his own convictions and habits prompted in him the strong sentiment, and led him to fix the high standard, which the following declaration contains. “A person of an habitually pious disposition, who regards the hand of God in every thing, will not take up a newspaper without reflecting that he is going to see what God has wrought, and considering what it is that he is apparently about to work.”
Such, so far as we have been able here to present such a character, was Dr. Priestley. Of the many tributes that have been paid to his memory, there are two of great value, because from great and good men, differing widely in opinion from the subject of their eulogy, - Dr. Parr and Robert Hall. The testimony of the former to Priestley's "superla.tive talents” and “exemplary morals,” we suppose to be more familiar to our readers than that of the latter, for which alone we will ask room. Robert Hall, in his remarks on “ Christianity consistent with a Love of Freedom," from which we have already quoted, thus speaks of Priestley and the persecutions he encountered.
“ The religious tenets of Dr. Priestley appear to me erroneous in the extreme; but I should be sorry to suffer any difference of sentiment to diminish my sensibility to virtue or my admiration of genius. From him the poisoned arrow will fall pointless. His enlightened and active mind, his unwearied assiduity, the extent of his researches, the light which he has poured into almost every department of science, will be the admiration of that period when the greater part of those who have favored, or those who have opposed him, will be alike forgotten. Distinguished merit will ever rise superior to oppression, and will draw lustre from reproach. The vapors which gather round the rising sun, and follow it in its course, seldom fail at the close of it to form a magnificent theatre for its reception, and to invest with variegated tints, and with a softened effulgence, the luminary which they cannot hide.”
We see in Gregory's “Life of Robert Hall,” that these and similar noble sentiments drew upon their author the serious displeasure of his friends. And when he even publicly declared, that, if he were the Judge of all, he could not condemn Dr. Priestley,” some of his elders in the ministry earnestly remonstrated with him, as exposing himself to the guilt and danger of admitting, that a “ Socinian might see the kingdom of God!” We regret, that magnanimity so rare should be rebuked by a spirit so narrow. It may be, that the generous and fearless defender of an injured man was in less danger and less need of forgiveness, than those who reproved his Christian charity. We rejoice in the persuasion, that Priestley and Hall have already found that the communion of heaven is larger than that of earth, and that its peace is never jarred by the harsh sound of Socinian or Baptist, as it annexes to its privileges but one condition, a condition which they had both observed, — the devotion of the heart and the consecration of the life to truth, Christ, and God.
9 and fearneed of forgle rejoice in that the
As we were finishing this article, we were directed to a Letter in the late “ Spirit of the Pilgrims,” addressed to the Conductors of the Examiner by Mr. Cheever, and containing another assault on Dr. Priestley. Mr. Cheever is either a very weak and vain, or an unprincipled man. Neither our self-respect por our consciences will permit us to give him more than this brief notice, having already sinned in noticing him at all. The amount of his apology or explanation now, in regard to his having called Priestley and others infidels, is, that to write in favor of Christianity is no proof of piety. No one said it was. The question had no reference to degrees of piety, but to infidelity; and if Mr. Cheever cannot see the distinction, he ought never to mention either. We are fully aware, that to defend Christianity is not, necessarily, to be a Christian. We are also aware, that to defend Orthodoxy is not, necessarily, to be a Christian. We know, to our grief, that to hold all the doctrines called Evangelical, and advocate them vehemently, is compatible with a temper and a faith as far from the Christian,, as the east is from ihe west. Mr. Cheever has come precisely to the point to which we said he was coming. He has defined Christianity to be Orthodoxy, and infidelity antiorthodoxy. We therefore have less cause of complaint, as all he means when he calls us infidels, is that we are not Orthodox, - a reproach which we can bear.
ART. II. - Memoir and Poems of Phillis Wheatley, a
native African and a Slave. Dedicated to the Friends of the Africans. Boston. Published by George W. Light. 1834. 12mo. pp. 103.
The work before us is a neat duodecimo volume, fairly printed on good paper, and ornamented with a lithographic likeness of the (we had almost said fair) authoress. It com· prises upwards of a hundred pages. The Memoir prefixed is ably and feelingly written, and contains all, as we suppose, that is now known of Phillis Wheatley. We shall endeavour to give a brief abstract of it.
In the year 1761 she was selected, sick and almost literally naked, from a group of slaves who were publicly sold in Boston market, by Mr. John Wheatley, whose wife wanted a young domestic. She was apparently about seven years old, spoke no English, and, when she did acquire it, could recollect nothing of her early life, save the single fact that her mother had been accustomed to pour water on the ground at the rising of the sun. The excellent lady of her purchaser treated her in the most exemplary manner, and her daughter undertook to teach Phillis to read and write. Her progress was truly extraordinary. Within sixteen months of her arrival, she could read the most difficult parts of the sacred writings understandingly, and in 1765 she wrote a letter to Mr. Occum, an Indian Minister then in England. Such proofs of talent, together with her humble and affectionate disprisition, won the heart of her mistress, whose companion she became, instead of a menial, as was at first intended.
The developement of her mind outstripped her growth so much, that she attracted the notice of the literary characters of the time, many of whom furnished her with books. These stimulated her thirst for knowledge, and she attempted to acquire the Latin tongue, and actually made considerable progress in it. Neither these advantages, nor the notice she constantly received, appear to have had any effect on her excellent disposition. She continued grateful, humble, and loving. .
Her mind seems to have been peculiarly susceptible of religious impressions, as, indeed, we have observed most of
VOL. XVI. - N. S. VOL. XI. NO. II.
teen menthe sacred. Mr. Occuent, togelart of her, as was
e wrote a 4 sacred arrival
proofs of ccum, an indingly, most difficult