Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Joseph Priestley, 21 December 1780

From Joseph Priestley

ALS: American Philosophical Society

Birmingham 21 Decr 1780.

Dear Sir

I was much affected with your very friendly letter, and the advice which accompanied it.6 This I should have followed if it had depended upon myself. But not long after Ld. Shelburne told Dr Price, that I was of no use to him, and that he wished to fix me in an academy which he talked of establishing in Ireland. This being communicated to me, I replied, that, if I was dismissed from his service, I should prefer its being done on the terms of our original agreement, and I would endeavour to provide for myself in England. He acceded to this proposal, promising to fulfil his agreement, by giving me a sufficient security for the .£150 that he is to allow me for my life; so that we part amicably. This was in June last, However the security is not yet made out, and I much question his ability to do it at all.

The world being once more before me, I made choice of the neighbourhood of Birmingham, where I had several friends, and where I could pursue my philosophical studies to advantage.7 London would have been much too expensive for me. Here, by the help of my friends, I have built a laboratory, and I am about to enter on a larger field of experiments than ever.

I am just sending to the press another volume of Experiments, of which I shall not fail to send you a copy the first opportunity:8 tho’ I imagine things of this nature cannot interest you much at present.

Since I have been here, I have received an invitation to a congregation of Dissenters in Birmingham,9 which I shall accept of. On the whole, I have a prospect of being agreeably settled.

Since I troubled you with my last,1 I have had a dangerous illness, from which I several times had no hope of recovery. I am now, I thank God, much better, but incapable of digesting any animal food. In time I hope to be as well as usual.

I am much affected at the dark prospect of public affairs, and I fear there is no near prospect of any desirable settlement, and consequently none of ever seeing you in England.

Be the issue what it will, you will always have a place in the high esteem and affection of many persons here, and among others not the least in that of, Dear Sir, Yours most sincerely

J Priestley

Addressed: To / Doctor Franklin

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

6Probably BF’s letter of Feb. 8: XXXI, 455–7. For the background of Lord Shelburne’s termination of Priestley’s employment with him see also XXXI, 454–5; XXXII, 606–7; XXXIII, 325.

7In September Priestley and his family had moved to Fair Hill, on the outskirts of Birmingham: F.W. Gibbs, Joseph Priestley: Adventurer in Science and Champion of Truth (London and Edinburgh, 1965), p. 135.

8Undoubtedly the second volume of Experiments and Observations relating to various Branches of Natural Philosophy; with a Continuation of the Observations on Air (London, 1781). The first volume was published in 1779 and the third appeared in 1786. See Gibbs, Joseph Priestley, p. 106; Robert E. Schofield, ed., A Scientific Autobiography of Joseph Priestley (1733–1804) (Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1966), pp. 384–6. BF’s copies of the first two volumes are now in the Yale University Library. The first one was inscribed “From the author,” and the second one “G.L. ex. dono Autoris Curanti Magellan” (by gift of the author, care of Magellan).

9See Autobiography of Joseph Priestley, intro. by Jack Lindsay (Bath, England, 1970), p. 120.

1Priestley’s most recent extant letter was dated Sept. 27, 1779: XXX, 407–8. See also XXXI, 454–5.

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