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TO THE REV. T. LINDSEY. - Harriet Martineau, Retrospect of Western Travel, vol. 1 
Retrospect of Western Travel in Three Vols (London: Saunders and Otley, 1838). Vol. 1.
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“TO THE REV. T. LINDSEV.
Dec. 17, 1795.
“I think that in my last, of the 7th instant, I mentioned Harry's being indisposed, we imagined, of his attending his limekiln in the night. It proved to be a more serious illness than we or the physician imagined. He grew worse till the 11th, when he died, it is now almost certain, of an inflammation and mortification of the stomach. Having had little or no apprehension of danger till near the time of his death, the shock, you may suppose, was very great; and being the first event of the kind, I am affected more than I thought I shout have been, though I have unspeakable consolation in believing that nothing can befal us without the appointment of the best of Beings, and that we shall meet our departed children and friends in a better state.
“He had recovered from an ague, which was common in this part of the country, this summer; but after this, he had frequent colds, from exposing himself to could and wet, and not taking proper care of himself afterwards, which certainly laid the foundation of his subsequent and last illness.
“Had he been bred a farmer, he could not have been more assiduous than he was. He was admired by every body for his unremitting labour, as well as good judgement, in the management of his business, though only eighteen years old. With respect to his ardour in his pursuits, he was more like what I was at his age than any of my children, though our objects were very different. He was strictly virtuous, and was uncommonly beloved by all that worked under him; and it was always said that he was better served than any other farmer in this country. He had a sease of honour and generosity which, I am sorry to say, is not common here. I hope, therefore, that he had the foundation of something in his character, on which a good superstructure may be raised hereafter. We thought his temper, and even his looks, altered for the worse by the severe illness he had at Hackney; but it is remarkable, that some time before his death, (as his mother, who never left him, says,) and very visibly afterwards, he had the same sweet, placis, and even cheerful countenance, that he had when he was young; much like that of his sister, whom, at that time, he greatly resembled. I never saw the countenence of a dead person so pleasing; and so it continued till he was baried. Even this seemingly trifling circumstance gives me much satisfaction. I know you and Mrs. Lindsey will excuse my writing so much about myself and family. I could not write so much to any body else.
“My wife is much affected, as you will suppose by the death of Harry; but, at the same time, discovers proper fortitude. By her constant attendence upon him, she has made herself ill, but seems to be getting better.”*
This is the man whom Johnson dared to execute. At a chemical lecture, he knit his brows, and was discovered of Dr. Proestley. When excuse was made that chemical lectures could not be faithfully given without citing Priestley's discovered, “Well,” said the moral Johnson, “I suppose we must give even the devil his due.” Thus may even great men revile greater, denouncing those to whom it would be well for them to kneel.
There are some who are as blind to Priestley's merits as Johnson, without half his excuse. Before I went to American I was aware that the Unitarians ther, who ought to know every thing about the apostle of their faith who took refuge in their country, were so far in the dark about him, as that they misapprehended his philosophy, and misrepresented its tendencies in a way and to a degree which seemed irreconcileble with the means of information within their reach. I knew that Dr. Channing's celebrated note on Priestley remained unretracted,—though rebuked on the spot* with much spirit and tenderness by a then young divine, who better understood the Christian sage. I knew that the tendency of this sect in America to lean upon authority,—with some other causes,— must indispose them to do justice to Priestley. But till I was among them, I had no idea that it was possible for those of them who were not ignorant of the character of the philosopher to allow their fear and dislike of some of his convictions to render them so insensible as they arc to the majesty of the man. They themselves would deny the insensibility, and point to this and that testimony to Priestley being a well-meaning man, which may be found in their publications. But facts show what the insensibility is. Dr. Channing speaks of him now in a tone of patronage, admitting that he is under obligations to him for one or two detached admitting that he is under obligations to him for one or two detached sermons which breathe the true spirit. Another clergyman puts forth a small volume of selection from Priestley's works, with an apologetical preface, which states, that whatever Priestley's doctrines and writings may have been as a whole, there are portions which may be picked out for people to profit by. Such facts show that the character and mission of the man are not understood. Priestley was above most men, one who came at a right point of time to accomplish a particular service; to break up the reliance on authority in matters of opinion and conscience, and insensibly to show, in an age when prejudice and denial were at fierce war, how noble and touching is the free and fervent and disinterested pursuit of truth. His character is to everlasting; but his writings are, for the most part, suitable to only a particular position of affairs, a critical social state. Those who, like the Americans; are unprepared for—alienated form—his philosophy, and unprepared for—alienated form—his philosophy, and who are remarkable for their dependence on authority in matters of opinion, cannot possibly sympathise with Priestley's convictions; and a full appreciation of him ought not to be expected of them. But they had better, in such a position of circumstances, let his works alone. It is not necessary or desirable that they should study writings to which no impulse of sympathy or admiration leads them; but it is most desirable that they should not speak and write apologetically and patronisingly of one of the largest-minded and most single-hearted of sages. In the transition which the religious and philosophical society of America has to make, reliance on authority to a state of individual research and conviction, the philosopher may or may not yet become an apostle to them. In their present condition, he cannot be so. The warmest friends of both see that it cannot be so. They only desire that his reputation should be left unvisited as his remains; and that while notraveller is drawn aside from his path to seek the philosopher's tomb, no presumptuous hand should offer to endorse his merits, or push the claims to partial approbation of one who was created to command reverent discipleship; reverent discipleship in the pursuit of truth, if not in the reception of doctrine.
The first point of my travels fixed in my intentions was the retreat of Priestley; and my pilgrimage thither was accomplished within a few weeks after I landed. From Pittsburgh we crossed the Alleghanies by the road through Ebensburg, and in four days reached Youngmanstown, eighteen miles from Northumberland. We breakfasted at Lewisburg on the 11th of November, and were very glad to leave leave behind us the most fretful stage company we were shut up with in all out travels. We crossed the Susquehanna in peace in peace and quiet, and could freely enjoy our meditation, as every mile brought us nearer the philosopher's resting-place. I wish I could communicate to other of his disciples the harmony between the scenery and the man which new exists, and ever will exist, in my own mind. Priestley himself wrote, “I do not think there can be, in any part of the world, a more delightful situation than this and the neighbourhood;” and I revolved this in my thoughts as I gazed upon the broad, shoaly, and gleamy river bordered with pines, and the swelling hills and sloping fields which sometimes intervened between us and the river. The morning was one of lustrous clouds and mild gleams; and the whole scene was of the tranquil character, and dressed in the soft light, which is most accordant with the mood of those traversing the scenery with such reasons as mine. I was full of stronger emotions than when I found myself in sight of the spray of Niagara. There is nothing so sanctifying as the ideal presence of the pure in spirit; and not all the thronging images of what Niagara had witnessed since the earliest worship of an extinct race was paid there, before the ancient empires of the earth were heard of, affected me so much as the thought of the sage who came hither to forgive his enemies, and hope all things for the world, in the midst of his hourly privations and daily regrets.
Abrupt wooded rocks dignify the river banks near the town; and nothing can be much more beautiful than the situation of the place, in the fork of the Susquehanna. The town itself, however, would delight an improvement-hater. It has scarcely advanced at all since Priestley's time. Some of the inhabitants complain that this stagnation is owing to the want of enterprise among their capitalists; but there would be enterprise there as elsewhere^ if there was an average prospect of reward, Others allege that the place is not healthy. It is certainly subject to fever and ague; but the causes are thought to be removable. Sunbury, on the other shore of the eastern branch of the river, is a rival, a thriving competitor of Northumberland; but the growth of neither is to be compared with that of most American towns. The only interest connected with Northumberland still is its being Priestley's city of refuge.
We were hospitably received at the clean little inn; and I presently discovered that our hostess could give me more information about Priestley than anybody else in the place. Her father had, been intimately acquainted with the philosopher; had been his confidant in his latest and severest trials; and she herself remembered him well, and could relate many little incidents which delighted me as giving life to objects that were before my eyes. No words can convey the passionate admiration, the devoted love with which this good lady spoke of him. A power went out of him which melted his enemies, and converted those who came with hatred into his presence; and it exalted the love of his friends to the highest pitch that human affection can reach, “All that I have formerly said of Dr. Priestley is nonsense,” declared a stiff religious bigot, after an accidental interview with the philosopher. “ I have now seen him for myself, and you must let me see more of him.” Our good hostess told me how unequalled his preaching was, so simple and earnest and tender, quite unlike any other person's preaching, and his looks so bright: she dwelt on his goodness to his neighbours, and told how inexhaustible were his charties,—so thoughtful, so steady, so perpetual. she laughed again at the rememberance of his child-like gaiety, bursting out in the midst of his heart-soveness, and declared that he was never long depressed: he was so sure that all was right in reality, that he could never be dismayed at its seeming otherwise for a time. She remambered that “he was much thought of when he first came,” yet she never felt afraid of him. She was present at the only time when he was seen wholly overcome by grief, and will never forgot the oppression of heart, the anguish of seeing tears streaming down his face when no one could do anything to help him. But her recollections of him are cheifly joyous,—of his eagerness about his philosophical pursuits; the cheerful tone of his preaching; his sympathy with young people. Never was a lovelier picture of old age given,—of its virtues, nor, alas! of its privileges,—than by this affectionate observer. Her testimony is confirmed by every other that exists. I saw the gentleman who was with him when he received his Voltaic pile, and who told me how eagerly he pointed out the wire dissolving, and made his friend take a shock in his fore-finger. All who conversed with him mentioned that his feelings became more sensitive towards the end of his life; his eyes were frequently seen to glisten in conversation, and he smiled oftener. Agentleman, now well known as an unbeliver of the last degree of bigotry, who shrinks with as much hatred and fear from the very mention of religion as persons of an opposite character from infidelity, bore a singular testimony to the state of Pristley's mind in his latter days. The gentleman was observing to me that it was strange, considering how irritable Priestley's temper was by nature, and that he was emiently placis during the last few months of his life. I observed that his religion was of a substaining nature, being no supersition, but a firmly-grounded, long-tried faith; and that the natural explanation of his tranquillity was that he was in a thoroughly religious state of mind. “Religious! bless me, no!” cried the gentleman: “he was always very cheerful whenever I saw him.”
At the house of his grandson, cashier of the bank at Northumberland, i saw a delightful portrait of him. It is from a copy of this picture that the engraving in the “Gallery of Portraits,” published by the society for the Diffudion of Useful Knowledge, is taken. The face and air are worthy of the man,—gentle and venerable. The philosopher's house we found occupied by a Judge and his lady who are Quakers, while their children are orthodox: but this double difference of religious opinion does not impair their respect for the former inhabitant of their dwelling. They preserve, with an honourable reverence, every vestige of him and his pursuits. They show the willows that were planted in his time in the garden, and have preserved the round hole he made in the window shutter of his study, for the advantage of his optical experiments; and even the bit of wainscot which he scorched with his burning glasses. They took me to the corner of the library where he breathed his last, and to the balustrade on the top of the roof, where he went up to meditate at eventide. It commands a beautiful prospect of the course of the two branches of the Susquehanna, and of their junction.
Priestley's Hill is so called from its vicinity to the lands held by his family. It is pleasant to know that he was possessed of abundance during the last yeasr of his life. His own wants were few; almost all his expenditure being in charity and in his philosophical pursuits. He had enough for these, and to settle his sons on good farms. No man bestowed and accepted money with a better grace than he: his generous English friends, who had the best reasons for being aware of this, had the satisfaction of knowing that no pecuniary anxixtics mingled with the trials of this closing years.
The tombs of the three,—of Priestley, his excellent wife, and his son Harry,—are in a family graveyard, which is on the outskirts of the little town, and some way from the family residence. It is walled round, and has an iron gate. I was famliar with the account of Harry's funeral, written at the time, and could not understand how it happened that he lay in this place. It is clear, from the testimoney of persons on the spot, that his body has never been moved; and as the place of interment is described as being woodland, we must suppose that the bare place where he lies was within the verge of the verge of the forest in 1795. A resident in the neighbourhood wrote thus:—“I attened the funeral to the lonely spot. and there I saw the good old father perform the service over the grave of his son. It was an affecting sight, but he went through it with fortitude, and, after praying, addressed the attendants in a few words, assuring them that, though death had seperated them here, they should meet again in another and a better world.”
How little did I think when, some years ago, I read and re-read the narrative of Harry's death,—striving to extract from it something more, and yet something more to throw light on the character of father and son,—that I should stand by that very grave, and plant a rose upon it! Few feet have wandered that way; and no hands seem to have been busied about those graves; but I was thankful to be there, among the first of many pilgrims who will yet see the spot. For another pupil of the philopsopher's, whose homage I carried with any own, I planted a snow-berry on Priestley's grave. When that other and I were infants, caring for nothing but our baby plays, this grave was being dug for one who was to exert a most unusual influence over our minds and hearts, exercising our intellects, and winning our affections like a present master and parent, rather than a thinker who had passed away from the earth. Here I now stood by his grave, listening to tales which seemed as fresh as if he were lilving and walking yesterday, instead of having been wept before I knew any of the meanings of tears.
The insciption on Priestley's tomb is singularly inappropriate—“Return unto thy rest, O my soul, for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee. I will lay me down in peace and sleep, until I awake in the morning of the resurrection.” Pharses from the Old Testament, and about the soul, on the grave of Priestley!
I remained in the neighbourhood several days, and visited as many of the philosopher's haunts as I could get pointed out to me; and when I was at length obliged to resume my journey down the Susquehanna, it was with a strong feeling of satisfaction in the accomplishment of my object. These are the places in which to learn what are the real, in distinction from the comparatively insignificant, objects of regard;—of approbation and hatred;—of desire and fear. This was the place to learn what survived of a well-exercised and much-tried man. He made mistakes: they are transient evils, for others have been sent to rectify them. He felt certain of some things still dubious: this is a transient evil; for he is gone where he will obtain greater clearness; and men have arisen, and will arise, to enlighten us, and those who will follow us. He exploded errors: this was a real, but second-rate good, which would have been achieved by another if not by him. He discovered new truths: this is a real good, and as eternal as truth itself. He made an unusual progress towards moral perfection: this is the highest good of all, and never ending. His mistakes will be rectified; the prejudices against him on their account will die out: the hands that injured him, the tongues that wounded him, are all or nearly all stilled in death: the bitter tears which these occasioned have long since been all wept. These things are gone or going by; they have reached, or are tending to the extinction which awaits all sins and sorrows. What remains? Whatever was real of the man and of the work given him to do. Whatsoever truth he discovered will propagate itself for ever, whether the honour of it he ascribed to him or not. There remain other things no less great, no less real, no less eternal, to be reckoned among the spiritual treasures of the race; things of which Priestley, the immortal, was composed, and in which he manifestly survives: a love of truth which no danger could daunt, and no toil relax: a religious faith which no severity of probation could shake: a liberality proof against prejudice from within and injury from without: a simplicity which no experience of life and men could corrupt: a charity which grew tenderer under persecution, and warmer in exile: a hope which flourished in disappointment, and triumphed in the grave. These are the things which remain, bearing, no relation to country or time; as truly here as there; now as hereafter.
These realities are the inheritance of those who sit at home, as well as of those who wander abroad: yet it may be forgiven to the weak, whose faith is dim-sighted, and whose affections crave a visible resting-place, if they find their sense of privilege refreshed by treading the shores of the exile's chosen Susquehanna.
Rutt's Life, Correspondence, and Works of Priestley, Vol. i. Part ii. p. 327.
In the “Christian Disciple.”