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Two of the longest articles in the volume are political pamphlets, published during the first stages of the French Revolution. At this period, the movement seemed to be solely in behalf of civil and religious liberty, and against inveterate abuses and corruptions in church and state. It had therefore the hearty sympathy and the favoring suffrages of the great body of the dissenters in England, as well as of the more moderate and liberal party in the national church, while, on political grounds solely, and without any suspicion of the demoralizing and destructive agencies so soon to be brought into play, it encountered the most vehement opposition and abuse from the High Churchmen and the Tories. Attempts were sedulously made throughout the kingdom to suppress free discussion, and to flatter the lowest orders of the people into disorderly outbreaks of vulgar and unreasoning loyalty. Malicious prosecutions were instituted against the liberty of the press, and mobs were excited in various parts of the kingdom by the most atrocious slanders against the apologists for France and the champions of liberal principles. Hall was at this time a young minister at Cambridge, and his own sympathies conspired with the urgent entreaties of his friends in drawing him into the lists. He appeared before the public, first as an antagonist to the Rev. John Clayton, himself a dissenter, but a vehement accuser of his brethren, mainly on the ground that the liberal party had brought orthodox Christians into an unnatural and sacrilegious alliance with Priestley and other reputed heretics. His attack called out Hall's "Christianity consistent with a Love of Freedom," which for severity of rebuke, pungency of sarcasm, and honest, whole-souled indignation, can hardly find a parallel in English literature, while it is based on indisputably sound principles and conclusive arguments. After the heat of controversy had subsided, the author refused to consent to its republication, from sincere respect for Clayton's eminent private worth and ministerial faithfulness; but its popularity was so great that several editions were surreptitiously issued, the last after the lapse of more than a quarter of a century. The following passage is well worth quoting, both for the noble vindication of Priestley at the hand of a theological opponent, and as giving a specimen of the power of keen satire and withering invective, which it must have acquired no small measure of self-control to keep so entirely in abeyance, as Hall ever after held it in pursuing the functions of his sacred office.
"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 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.
"It is a pity, however, [that] our author, in reproaching characters so illustrious, was not a little more attentive to facts; for unfortunately for him, Dr. Priestley has not in any instance displayed that disaffection to government with which he has been charged so wantonly. In his Lectures on History, and his Essay on Civil Government, which of all his publications fall most properly within the sphere of politics, he has delineated the British constitution with great accuracy, and has expressed his warm admiration of it as the best system of policy the sagacity of man has been able to contrive. In his Familiar Letters to the Inhabitants of Birmingham, a much later work, where the seeds of that implacable dislike were scattered which produced the late riots, he has renewed that declaration, and has informed us, that he has been pleasantly ridiculed by his friends as being a Unitarian in religion, and a Trinitarian in politics. He has lamented, indeed, in common with every enlightened citizen, the existence of certain corruptions, which, being gradually introduced into the constitu tion, have greatly impaired its vigor; but in this he has had the honor of being followed by the prime minister himself, who began his career by proposing a reform in parliament, merely to court popularity it is true, at a time when it would not have been so safe for him to insult the friends of freedom after having be trayed their interest, as he has since found it.
"Dr. Priestley has, moreover, defended with great ability and success the principles of our dissent, exposing, as the very nature of the undertaking demands, the folly and injustice of all clerical usurpations; and on this account, if on no other, he is entitled to the gratitude of his brethren. In addition to this catalogue of crimes, he has ventured to express his satisfaction on the liberation of France; an event which, promising a firmer establishment to
liberty than any recorded in the annals of the world, is contemplated by the friends of arbitrary power throughout every kingdom of Europe with the utmost concern. These are the demerits of Dr. Priestley, for which this political astrologist and sacred calculator of nativities pronounces upon him that he is born to vex the state. The best apology candor can suggest, will be to hope Mr. Clayton has never read Dr. Priestley's political works; a conjecture somewhat confirmed from his disclaiming all attention to political theories, and from the extreme ignorance he displays through the whole of his discourse on political topics. Still it is to be wished he would have condescended to understand what he means to confute, if it had been only to save himself the trouble and disgrace of this publication.
"The manner in which he speaks of the Birmingham riots, and the cause to which he traces them, are too remarkable to pass unnoticed.
"When led, says he, speaking of the sufferers, by officious zeal, from the quiet duties of their profession into the Senator's province: unhallowed boisterous passions in others, like their own, God may permit to chastise them. For my own part I was some time before I could develop this extraordinary passage; but I now find the darkness in which it is veiled is no more than that mystic sublimity which has always tinctured the language of those who are appointed to interpret the counsels of heavens.
"I would not have Mr. Clayton deal too freely in these visions, lest the fire and illumination of the prophet should put out the reason of the man, a caution the more necessary in the present instance, as it glimmers so feebly already in several parts of his discourse, that its extinction would not be at all extraordinary. We are, no doubt, much obliged to him for letting us into a secret we could never have learnt any other way. We thank him heartily for informing us that the Birmingham riots were a judgment; and, as we would wish to be grateful for such an important communication, we would whisper in his ear in return, that he should be particularly careful not to suffer this itch of prophesying to grow upon him, men being extremely apt, in this degenerate age, to mistake a prophet for a madman, and to lodge them in the same place of confinement. The best use he could make of his mantle would be to bequeath it to the use of posterity, as for the want of it I am afraid they will be in danger of falling into some very unhappy mistakes. To their unenlightened eyes it will appear a reproach, that in the eighteenth century, an age that boasts its science and improvement, the first philosopher in Europe, of a character unblemished, and of manners the most mild and gentle, should be torn from his family, and obliged to
flee an outcast and a fugitive from the murderous hands of a frantic rabble; but when they learn that there were not wanting teachers of religion, who secretly triumphed in these barbarities, they will pause for a moment, and imagine they are reading the history of Goths or of Vandals. Erroneous as such a judgment must appear in the eyes of Mr. Clayton, nothing but a ray of his supernatural light could enable us to form a juster decision. Dr. Priestley and his friends are not the first that have suffered in a public cause; and when we recollect, that those who have sustained similar disasters have been generally conspicuous for a superior sanctity of character, what but an acquaintance with the counsels of heaven can enable us to distinguish between these two classes of sufferers, and, whilst one are the favorites of God, to discern in the other the objects of his vengeance? When we contemplate this extraordinary endowment, we are no longer surprised at the superiority he assumes through the whole of his discourse, nor at that air of confusion and disorder which appears in it; both of which we impute to his dwelling so much in the insufferable light, and amidst the coruscations and flashes of the divine glory; a sublime but perilous situation, described with great force and beauty by Mr. Gray:
"He passed the flaming bounds of place and time:
About two years later, Hall, at the earnest solicitation of highly respected friends, prepared and published his Apology for the Freedom of the Press, and for General Liberty. This treatise, though designed for the times, has ceased to be of value now only because its postulates have become axioms, and its principles the basis of English legislation and jurisprudence. In these works, there is probably no sentiment which the writer would have been disposed to retract or disavow in the latter years of his life, though he soon confessed his utter disappointment at the course of results of the French Revolution, and stood forth as a resolute and active opponent of its principles and influences, when they became more fully defined and developed.
The volume before us closes with a selection from Hall's contributions to the Eclectic Review. The best praise of such compositions is to say, as we can say of these, that in minuteness and thoroughness of criticism, range of thought
and dignity of style, they are commensurate with the merits and demands of the works to which they severally relate. Were we to make any exception to this remark, it would be with reference to the review of Belsham's Memoirs of Lindsey, in which Hall, not content to occupy the position of a candid theological opponent, entirely loses his good temper, and is betrayed into an acrid and almost scurrilous personality, which leads us to imagine, that, whatever progress he might have made in other Christian graces, he had not grown more tolerant of honest differences in the twenty years which had intervened since his defence of Priestley, with whom both Lindsey and Belsham bore as close a kindred in virtue as in reputed heresy.
As we have already hinted, Hall left a higher and dearer fame than can accrue to him from his published works. All who heard him in public, or knew him in private, deemed him one of the greatest men of the age. Wherever he preached, he drew crowded audiences, and had among his frequent and most admiring hearers men of all shades and extremes of opinion, from the beneficed Churchman to the sneering latitudinarian. While he was settled at Cambridge, he generally had fifty or sixty of the members of the University, tutors and fellows, in his afternoon audience, and an attempt to check this irregularity was earnestly and successfully resisted by Bishop Mansell, then Master of Trinity College. In his intercourse with all classes of society, he was eminently happy. His radiant benevolence of countenance and manner secured him a welcome in the houses of the poor, while the charm of his conversation made him in every place of his residence the leading mind in a circle of the highest intelligence and cultivation. Only his friend and admirer Foster shrank from his society, in his diffidence, self-isolation, and consciousness of a power which he could wield only by convulsive and exhausting efforts, unwilling to come often into mental collision with one whose resources were always at hand, and poured out with unstinted prodigality.
There was a vein of eccentricity running through Hall's private life, just enough to lead him to say and do sensible and judicious things in the oddest possible way, without vitiating his judgment or impairing his usefulness. Perhaps the strangest transaction to be referred to this head was his courtship and marriage. He had reached the age of forty-four,