Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Joseph Priestley, 10 December 1781

From Joseph Priestley

ALS: American Philosophical Society

Birmingham 10 Decr 1781.

Dear Sir

Having a peculiarly good opportunity, by means of my brother in law,5 I could not forbear sending you a few lines; tho, as you cannot now give much attention to philosophical matters, I have nothing to communicate that will much interest you. It will give you pleasure, however, I know, to be informed that my health is now perfectly restored,6 and that my present situation is, in all respects, a very agreeable one; leaving me very much at liberty to attend to all my pursuits, and being peculiarly favourable to all my philosophical ones.7

Besides prosecuting the experiments relating to air,8 I have lately been employed in the examination of several mineral substances, especially with respect to the quality and quantity of the air they yield in fusion; and some of the results are pretty remarkable, but the particulars are too many for a letter. I find that a large rock, which is the basis of a great part of that country, near this town, is the very same with the basaltes of Scotland and Ireland, tho it has not the same configuration.9

At presents my experiments are a little suspended till I finish a theological work, which I have long had in hand, on the History of the Corruption of christianity.1 It is pretty large, but I hope to have it ready for the press early the next spring, and then I shall give my time chiefly to philosophical pursuits, having more objects of inquiry before me than ever. I find it, indeed, convenient to take a pupil or two into my house, but I hope it will be no great hindrance to me in my experiments, as they will be of an age to receive the most instruction by assisting me in them. My eldest son2 will also be of the party with us.

I cannot say but that, amidst all my pursuits, pleasurable as they are, I am much oppressed with the idea of the long continuance of this destructive war; tho my prospects are naturally more chearful than those of our friend D Price.3 It is to be lamented they who are the authors of all this mischief are not the greatest sufferers by it— Wishing a speedy and happy termination of these troubles, and, if possible, more happy interviews on this side the water, I remain, Dear Sir as ever yours sincerely

J Priestley.

Addressed: To / Dr Franklin / Paris

Endorsed: London

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

5William Wilkinson, brother of Mary Priestley (XXIX, 260n). See his Jan. 8 letter to BF, below.

6He had at last recovered from a “bilious disorder” which first afflicted him in the spring of 1780 and appears to have been gallstones: XXXII, 381, 433, 607; XXXIII, 325n; XXXIV, 198.

7Since September, 1780, Priestley had lived in a comfortable home near Birmingham. There he enjoyed a £150 annuity from his previous employer, the financial support of numerous benefactors, the availability of skilled craftsmen, and the stimulating company of other scientists: XXXII, 606–7; XXXIII, 325n; XXXIV, 197; F. W. Gibbs, Joseph Priestley: Adventurer in Science and Champion of Truth (London and Edinburgh, 1965), pp. 135–9; Robert E. Schofield, A Scientific Autobiography of Joseph Priestley (1733–1804) (Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1966), p. 200.

8In 1781 he published the second volume of Experiments and Observations relating to various Branches of Natural Philosophy; with a Continuation of the Observations on Air (3 vols., London and Birmingham, 1779–1786).

9The rock, Rowley rag-stone, was common in the hills of southern Staffordshire. Priestley made similar observations in an Oct. 1, 1781, letter published by the Royal Society, introducing an article by mineralogist William Withering entitled “An Analysis of Two Mineral Substances, viz. the Rowley-rag-stone and the Toad-stone.” Phil. Trans., LXXII (1782), 327–36.

1Ultimately entitled An History of the Corruptions of Christianity (2 vols., Birmingham, 1782), it traced alterations of doctrine and discipline, and would become one of Priestley’s best-known and most controversial theological works: Schofield, A Scientific Autobiography, p. 199; F.W. Gibbs, Joseph Priestley, pp. 170–3; DNB.

2Joseph Jr. (1768–1833), despite this instruction, did not pursue a scientific career. He emigrated to Northumberland, Pa., where he farmed, established a brewery and nursery, and cared for his father in his final years: F. W. Gibbs, Joseph Priestley, p. 235; DNB under Joseph Sr.

3Dr. Richard Price, a vocal critic of the ministry’s prosecution of the war with America.

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