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The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 8


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At the ensuing assizes in August, those rioters who had been apprehended were tried; some for participating in the outrages near Birmingham, at Worcester, where, however, only one was committed. Of those tried at Warwick, on the 25th of that month, four received sentence of death. Of these five rioters condemned, only three actually suffered; two received his majesty's pardon. The sufferers by this riot thought the penalty much too trivial. Hutton tells us that the solicitor of the treasury, who was sent down to conduct the trial, very civilly showed him the list of the jurymen summoned, and told him he and his friend might select any twelve men from it that they chose; but, on looking it over, he found them all church-and-king tories to a man, and returned the paper, saying, u They are all of a sort; you may take what you please."

Such, indeed, was the state of public feeling in and around Birmingham, that the sufferers in the riots were regarded as men seeking the lives of innocent men, who had only shown their loyalty to church and king. They were declared to be no better than selfish murderers. Whilst they attended at the assizes, their lives scarcely seemed safe. They were publicly abused in the streets, or wherever they appeared, menaced and cursed. In the very assize-hall there were persons who, on seeing Priestley, cried, " Damn him! there is the cause of all the mischief!" He was followed in the streets, especially by an attorney, who cursed him furiously, and wished he had been burned with his house and books. The favourite toast of the church-and- king party was, "May every revolutionary dinner be followed by a hot supper!" and sermons were preached of the most rampant kind, in which all the old passive obedience and non-resistance principles were revived, as if the days of the Stuarts and Sacheverel were come back.

The damages awarded to the sufferers were, in most cases, far below their real amount. Hutton was a heavy loser: Priestley received three thousand and ninety-eight pounds, but he complained that this was two thousand pounds short of the extent of his loss. But this deficiency was made up by the contributions of many sympathising friends. His brother-in-law settled on him an annuity of two hundred pounds a-year, and made over to him ten thousand pounds invested in the French funds - a very doubtful security, notwithstanding the doctor's admiration of French principles. Priestley became, through this persecution, the central object of two violently-opposed parties. On one hand, he was regarded as a martyr by those of Iiis own religious and political views. Addresses poured in upon him filled with terms of the warmest condolence and admiration. There were addresses from the committee of deputies at Birmingham; from the members of his own congregation at the new meeting-house; from the young people belonging to it; from the congregation of Mill Hill, Leeds, where he had once officiated, and from many other places. But those which gratified him most were from the Philosophical Society, at Derby, of which Dr. Darwin was president, and from the Academy of Sciences, in Paris, the address of which was written by Condorcet. In this he was termed their " most illustrious associate," and he was treated as a great and dauntless opposer of the tyranny of kings and aristocrats. The address of the Academy of Sciences was speedily followed by similar ones from almost all parts of France; from the jacobins of Nantes, of Lyons, of Marmande, on the Garonne, of Clermont, in Auvergne, of Toulouse, and from the great mother-club of the Rue St. Honore, in Paris. When the national convention met, one of its first acts was to name him a citizen of the French republic. The revolutionary societies in London and the provincial towns were equally enthusiastic in hailing the great martyr of Birmingham in most eulogistic addresses.

These, on the other hand, inflamed all the more the hatred of the rampant church-and-king party; and the most bitter philippics were fulminated against him. Even the methodists, who were always very loyal, and always professed themselves part of the church, took up the cry against him. He was accused of having said that he would never rest till he had pulled down Jesus Christ, as his admirers in France had done. It was natural that the Birmingham patriot should feel complimented by the vast importance into which he was raised, but it is difficult to imagine, at this time of day, how far even persecution could have blinded him to the real character of the French revolution. We find him writing, " How different are the spectacles that are now exhibited in France and in England! Here bigotry has been potent, and has acquired new strength. There it is almost extinct. Here the friends of the establishment are burning the meeting-houses of the dissenters with all the rage of crusaders; while in Paris one of the churches has been obtained by the protestants. It was opened by one of their ministers to a crowded audience, among whom were many catholics, all in tears of joy for the happy change. The preacher's text was, 'The night is far spent; the day is at hand.' Here we must rather preach from Isaiah lx. 2: 'Behold, darkness shall cover the land, and gross darkness the people.'"

The ignorance and bigotry of the English populace, and the gross bigotry of the church-and-king party in this country, were disgraceful enough, but they stopped short of blood. The intolerance of the French mob had already made many sanguinary exhibitions, and was on the eve of making many more. The French legislators, though they could melt into momentary fits of weeping sentiment, held their king with an iron grasp, that was far from an example of generous liberality; and everything portended a night of terrors, instead of a joyful morning - portended this in symptoms so unequivocal that they did not require the prescience of a Burke to perceive them.

Priestley quitted Birmingham and its bigotry, and became the successor of his deceased friend, Dr. Price, at Hackney: there he did not find it much better. His opinions were not acceptable to the learned and scientific in London, especially to the members of the Royal Society, who shunned him. He determined, therefore, to quit England, and take up his residence in America, where he expected more sympathy. In this, however, he was deceived. He found very little religious sentiment in the States; and few, especially, were inclined to his ultra-unitarian notions. His enthusiasm for France and French democracy were as little responded to. The Americans had won their independence, and the democratic ardour had subsided. France had shed its blood and spent its money for their enfranchisement, when France had really no money to spare; but all this seemed already forgotten, and Priestley was regarded as a spy in the interest of France. " The change," he wrote, in a letter dated September, 1798, " that has taken place is, indeed, hardly credible, as I have done nothing to provoke resentment; but being a citizen of France, and a friend to that revolution, is sufficient. I asked one of the more moderate party whether he thought if Dr. Price, the great friend of their own revolution, was alive, he now would be allowed to come into this country. He said, he believed he would not." Priestley's latter years were thus darkened: he lost his wife in 1796, as well as his youngest son; his own health soon after failed, and he died in 1804; expressing, on his death-bed, his satisfaction in the consciousness-of having led a useful life, his confidence in a future state and a happy immortality. An eloge was read by Cuvier before the National Institute, on the news of his death reaching Paris.

Whilst these things had been passing in England, the revolution in France had made great strides. The assembly having passed the decree that the clergy should take an oath, serment civique, binding them to obey the civil constitution in all things, proceeded on the 2nd of January of this year to enforce it. A violent discussion took place. The bishops, and vast numbers of the cures, refused to take the oath. The bishops contended that the assembly, in abolishing the old provinces and re-adjusting the country in departments, had no right to interfere with the ancient boundaries of the bishoprics. The bishop of Clermont proposed a clause being introduced into the oath expressly exempting the clergy from swearing to obey the civil power in spiritual matters-, but, though the assembly declared that it was not interfering with spirituals, it would not consent to this, and passed an order that the bishops and clergy should take the oath pure and simple. Four bishops only took the oath, of whom were Lomenie de Brienne, archbishop of Sens, and Talleyrand; all the rest, one hundred and thirty-two in number, refused, as well as about eighty thousand cures, and other ecclesiastics, professors in colleges, teachers in schools, and other functionaries. The abbé Georgel asserts that not above one in ten of the priests would abandon what he believed to be his conscientious duty to the church, and take the serment civique. Amongst the abbés who took the oath were Gregoire, who became bishop of Blois; Lindet, who became bishop of Evreuse; Gouttes, one of the fiercest democrats in the assembly, who soon succeeded Talleyrand as bishop of Autun; and Lamourette, who, though he had written "Meditations of the Soul with its God," was not supposed to be very strict in his religious notions. The bishops being elected, it was necessary that they should be consecrated, but here arose a difficulty. It had always been considered necessary that bishops should be consecrated by a metropolitan or archbishop; and of these, only one, Brienne, had taken the oath; and this man, who had scraped together, during his premiership, an enormous fortune by the most unscrupulous means, but was not by any means satiated with wealth or dignity, demanded that, in reward for this service, he should be made primate of the new-modelled church. The assembly, which did not contemplate any such dignity, refused, and decreed that the services of a metropolitan were not at all necessary, but that any bishop who had taken the oath might consecrate the newly elected ones; for every district elected under this arrangement its own bishop and cures. Talleyrand was selected to perform this function, and, as he had no fancy for making a laborious journey into every quarter of France for this purpose, he ordered them all to attend in Paris; and there, having a tricoloured sash over his canonicals, and the bishops elect the same, he consecrated them, and sent them down to their new dioceses to ordain the cures who had sworn. The whole matter was carried through in good earnest. The bishops were installed in their cathedrals and their palaces, and the cures in their parishes, by detachments of national guards. Once installed, they issued pastoral letters, and, in their sermons, praised the national assembly, and represented its proceedings as inspired by God.

But it is not to be supposed that the ejected prelates and cures submitted to all this without resistance. They were all in motion to agitate the people, and raise a party amongst them to maintain them in their livings, or to restore them when ejected. They hawked about pamphlets from house to house; they entreated, conjured, threatened. To some they represented the clergy triumphant, the assembly dissolved, the prevaricating ecclesiastics stripped of their benefices, and confined in their houses of correction; the faithful ones covered with glory and loaded with wreaths. The pope was about to launch his anathemas at a sacrilegious assembly, and at the apostate priests. The people, deprived of the sacraments, would rise; the foreign powers would enter France; and that structure of iniquity and villany would crumble to pieces. And, indeed, the pope soon issued his anathema against the innovation.

The assembly had decreed that the new bishops should not apply to the pope for his bull of recognition of their new appointments; but it permitted them, on the recommendation of Cannes, to send a formal letter to the holy see, announcing the fact, recognising the papacy as the centre of catholic unity, and demanding its sanction. To prevent the effect of an adverse reply, the assembly interdicted all appeals to Rome without the authorisation of itself, and declared that all bulls, briefs, or rescripts coming from Rome without such authorisation, were null and void. But the expelled clergy had sent a vehement appeal to Rome against their ejection; and the pope, in " a doctrinal answer," had promptly replied that the serment civique was impious; that the whole of the new civil constitution of the clergy was heretical and destructive of the authority of the church; that the new jurisdictions and appointments were utterly out of order, and the consecrations by the bishop of Autun sacrilegious. The ejected bishops printed this doctrinal answer, and circulated it throughout their dioceses. The national assembly ordered the suppression of this document, under the severest penalties against all such as dared to circulate it. The interdicted clergy declared that the pope was in the hands of the emperor of Austria, and that these were not his real sentiments; but the doctrinal letter was not without effect. A considerable number of country cures, on reading it, declared that they had been deceived, and retracted the oath they had taken. On a proposition of Mirabeau's, it was decreed that all such priests as took the oath, and then abjured it, should be treated as traitors, and deprived of their curds; and, accordingly, they were seized by the municipalities and thrown into prison. This occasioned a fresh rush of emigration, and the ejected bishops, abbes, and cures were soon scattered all over Europe, many of them came to England, seeking their bread by teaching their language. In La Vendee, in some of the southern departments, and remote districts, where the old church and royalist notions prevailed, the people resisted the new law and the soldiers, and maintained their pastors in their pulpits, where they continued to declaim fiercely against the sworn clergy as heretical intruders, and to maintain the good old cause of monarchy. Even in Paris the ejected clergy obtained the church of the Theatin monks, which order, like all the rest, had been suppressed; and those priests who had not taken the baths officiated. This excited the jacobin club and the mob, who looked on all unsworn priests as rank rebels; and, though the assembly assented to this use of the Theatin church, and granted a guard of militia to protect the worshippers, they broke in, setting the guards at defiance, and insulted and abused those who persisted in going there. This was probably the church which Dr. Priestley averred that the dissenters had obtained, citing it as a brilliant example of French toleration.

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