JOSEPH PRIESTLEY ON LANGUAGE,
ORATORY, AND CRITICISM
ROSS STAFFORD NORTH
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE COUNCIL OF
THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE
DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
The writer gratefully acknowledges his indebtedness
to those who have made this study possible, and to whom is
due much of the credit for whatever merit it may possess.
First, he would like to acknowledge the assistance given by
his committee chairman, Dr. Douglas Ehninger, whose previous
investigations in eighteenth-century English rhetoric provided
much of the necessary groundwork for this study, and who has
given his guidance to the work from its inception. His
assistance even when on leave from the University and his
handling of many of the final details while the writer was
away from Gainesville are indicative of his unselfish con-
tributions to this endeavor.
Particular mention should also be made of Dr. Dallas
C. Dickey, who was, at first, chairman of the writer's com-
mittee, and who gave direction to his over-all program until
the qualifying examination, and who also has given valuable
assistance on this dissertation. Others serving on the
writer's committee and who have influenced this study both
by their teaching in the classroom and by their direct help
on the undertaking are: Professor H. P. Constans and
Dr. Roy E. Tew, both of the Department of Speech; and
Dr. Delton Scudder and Dr. Charles S. McCoy, both of the
Department of Religion. Two other members of the faculty
of the University of Florida have been of special service:
Dr. James E. Congleton, Department of English, and Dr.
Richard J. Anderson, Department of Psychology.
The writer would also like to express his appreciation
to the College of Arts and Sciences and the Graduate School
of the University of Florida, who have generously extended
to him a fellowship which enabled him to devote full time to
his studies during the entire period of his doctoral work.
The facilities of a number of libraries and the
assistance of many librarians have been used during the course
of this study, and the writer wishes to acknowledge his
obligation to them. Mrs. Betty Taylor, Mrs. Sue Jones, Miss
Martha Covey, and Mrs. Mary dolfe, all of the University of
Florida Inter-Library Loan Division,have been of particular
help. The writer was also extended generous aid by the
Library of Congress, dashington, D. C.; Dickinson College
Library, Carlisle, Pennsylvania; the Priestley-Forsyth
Memorial Library, Northumberland, Pennsylvania; the University
of Pennsylvania Library, the American Philosophical Society
Library, and the Library Company, all of Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania; the University of Tulsa Library, Tulsa,
Oklahoma; and the Central Christian College Library,
Bartlesville, Oklahoma. In addition to these libraries
which have been visited in person, many books have been made
available to the writer through inter-library loan,
particular from the Library of Congress, the University of
Michigan, Yale University, and the Peabody Institute.
The writer is also grateful to those whose investi-
gations into rhetoric and into the life of Joseph Priestley
have been at his disposal for this investigation. (See
Finally, the writer desires to express appreciation
to his wife, Jo Anne, who has not only been patient and
understanding during the course of this study, but who has
been of real value as a travel companion, research assistant,
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS .. . . ..... . . . ii
PREFACE . . . . . . . . . . vii
I. JOSEPH PRIESTLEY AND THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY . 1
Priestley's Connection 4ith His Age;
Biographical Sketch of Priestley.
II. PRIESTLEY'S RUDIMENTS AND UNIVERSAL GRAMMAR . 45
Introduction; aThe Rudiments f English Grmmr;
A Course of Lectures on hea Theory sq Lanouage
rnd Uni ersal Gram r; The Significance and
Influence of Priestley's Grammars.
III. PRIESTLEY'S LECTURES ON ORATORY t CRITIC . 84
Introduction; General View of the Lectures on
O Oraory Sd iticism; Priestley's Introduction
to Oratory; Priestley's Doctrine of Recollection;
Priestley's Doctrine of Method; Priestley's Doc-
trine of Style; Priestley's Doctrine of
IV. DOMINANT TRENDS IN LATER EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY
ENGLISH RHETORIC . . . . . 138
The Classical Trend; The Belletristic Trend;
The Elocutionary Trend; The Psychological-
Epistemological Trend; Summary.
V. PRIESTLEY AND CLASSICISM . .. . 170
Introduction; The Classical Features of
Priestley's Rhetorical System; The Sources of
Priestley's Classicism; Conclusion.
VI. PRIESTLEY AND THE RHETORIC OF BELLES LETTRES . 202
Introduction; Priestley and Belles Lettres;
VII. PRIESTLEY AND ELOCUTION . . . . . 236
Introduction; Priestley and the Characteristic
Doctrines of Elocution; Priestley's Elocu-
tionary Sources; Conclusion.
VIII. JOSEPH PRIESTLEY AND PSYCHOLOGICAL RHETORIC . 265
Introduction; Recollection and Association;
Method and Association; Style and Association;
Elocution and Association; Summary.
XI. CONCLUSION . . . . .. . . . 304
I. FIGURES ILLUSTRATING PRIESTLEY'S RHETORICAL
SYSTEM . . . . 316
II. JOSEPH PRIESTLEY AND LORD BACON . a . . 322
BIBLIOGRAPHY . . . . . . . . .
Joseph Priestley (1733-1804), although best known
today for his contributions to science, actually spent more
time in the pulpit and the classroom than he did in the
laboratory. Among his educational endeavors was a six-year
period (1761-1767) as "Tutor of Languages and Belles Lettres"
at darrington Academy, one of the foremost Dissenting
schools of the period. In preparing for the lectures he
delivered in this capacity, Priestley both enlarged his
study of English grammar, begun earlier in his own grammar
school, and entered upon an investigation of rhetorical
theory. As a result of these inquiries, he wrote three works
on language, oratory, and criticism: The Rudin nts of
English Grammar (1761), with an enlarged edition following
in 1768; Course e Lectures aon th Theory af LanauaGe and
universal Grammar (1762); and the work upon which this study
is particularly focused, A Course sf Lectures n Oratory
ald Criticism (1777).
Modern scholars, in discussing eighteenth-century
English rhetoric, have considered Priestley's work
significant enough to warrant their attention. 4. P.
Sandford, who surveyed English theories of public address
from 1530 to 1828, devotes several pages to a summary of
Priestley's Lectures Oratory a Criticina;1 and Harold
Harding, whose study concentrated on English rhetorical
theory between 1750 and 1800, lists Priestley's work as one
of the six most important of that period.2 The most
extensive consideration given to Priestley's rhetorical
theory, however, is found in Douglas Ehninger's doctoral
study on theories of invention in English rhetoric from
1759 to 1828. In Chapter V of this thesis, Ehninger treats
Priestley's inventional theory in detail; but, while his
study is thorough, the author does not attempt to cover more
than this one phase of Priestley's rhetorical system.3
Priestley's name also makes frequent incidental
appearances in the literature of rhetorical theory. Karl
Wallace, for example, in his study of Francis Bacon on
communication, notes the similarities between Priestley and
lWilliam Phillips Sandford, Enlish Theories f
Public Addreis, 1530-1828 (Columbus, Ohio, 1938), pp.
2Harold F. Harding, "English Rhetorical Theory,
1750-1800" (Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, Cornell
University, 1937), p. 166.
3Douglas Ehninger, "Selected Theories of Inavntio
in English Rhetoric, 1759-1828" (Unpublished Ph.D.
Dissertation, Ohio State University, 1949), pp. 221-266.
Bacon on certain theoretical points;4 Thonssen and Baird
give brief mention to Priestley's views on emotion;5 and
Thonssen and Fatherson, in their Bibliozranhy of Seech
Education, give recognition to Priestley's Lect1urs o
Oratory ad Criticism, but list only the 1781 edition,
overlooking entirely the original edition of 1777.6 Also
of importance is the fact that both Clarence Edney7 and
darren Guthrie8 give Priestley a place in their discussions
of the development of rhetorical theory in America.
From the foregoing facts, it is evident that
Priestley's work in the field of rhetoric has generally
been considered significant and deserving of attention;
but it likewise is evident that no comprehensive study of
his writings on language, rhetoric, and criticism has yet
been made. In addition to this comparative lack of
4Karl R. Wallace, Francs acon Q Communication
and Rhetoric (Chapel Hill, 1943), pp. 223-224.
5Lester Thonssen and A. Craig Baird, Seech
Criticism (New York, 1948), p. 357.
6Lester Thonsoen and Elizabeth Fatherson
Biblioaraphv f Seech Education (New York, 1939), p. 29.
7Clarence d. Edney, "English Sources of Rhetorical
Theory in Nineteenth Century America," A History af Speech
Education i America, ed. Karl R. dallace (New York, 1954),
8darren Guthrie, "Development of Rhetorical Theory
in America," Speech Monographs, XIV (1947), 44.
attention, there are also other reasons which make an
investigation of Priestley's rhetoric desirable. The
period in which Priestley wrote and lectured was the very
period in which such theorists as George Campbell, Thomas
Sheridan, and Hugh Blair were beginning to lay the foundations
of modern rhetorical theory. Moreover, Priestley's eminence
in the fields of science, religion, politics, and education
makes his comments on rhetoric of potential importance and
interest, and therefore deserving of more thorough investi-
The purpose of this study, then, is two-fold: to
analyse Priestley's works on language, oratory, and
criticism, in order that their contents may be explained and
set forth systematically, with the various relationships
among ideas made clear; and to examine his views in an effort
to determine both the sources from which they were derived,
and their connection with the dominant trends in late
eighteenth-century English rhetorical thought.
JOSEPH PRIESTLEY AND THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
I. Priestley's Connection with Hi Age.
And, if we choose one man as a type of the intellectual
energy of the century, we could hardly find a better
than Joseph Priestley, though his was not the greatest
mind of the century. His versatility, eagerness,
activity, and humanity; the immense range of his
curiosity, in all things physical, moral, or social; his
place in science, in theology, in philosophy, and in
politics; his peculiar relation to the Revolution, and
the pathetic story of his unmerited sufferings, may
make him the hero of the eighteenth century.1
This statement by Frederic Harrison well summarizes
Joseph Priestley's connection with his age, for, truly, he
was a man of the eighteenth century. He not only showed
the spirit of liberalism and revolt, so typical of the
period, but he played an important role in shaping its
science, theology, philosophy, politics, and education.
A glance at Priestley's associations with the
leaders in each of these areas gives an indication both of
his varied activities and of his stature among his
IFrederic Harrison, "A Few dords About the
Eighteenth Century," The Choice of Books And Other Literar
Pieces (London, 1886), pp. 369-370.
contemporaries. He was intimately acquainted with Benjamin
Franklin, and corresponded frequently with Sir John Pringle,
president of the Royal Society. For seven years he was
literary companion to Lord Shelburne, important Parliamentary
figure, and at one time, prime minister; was a friend, and
later an enemy of Edmund Burke; and was well acquainted with
Pitt the elder, Pitt the younger, Charles James Fox, and
Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Richard Price and Theophilus
Lindsey, noted ministers of the day, were, for many years,
his close friends. dhen in Birmingham, he met monthly with
the Lunar Society, among whose members were James d~att,
Josiah dedgwood, Erasmus Darwin, and Matthew Boulton; and,
when in London, he attended the monthly meetings of the
dhig Club at the London Coffee House. 4hile touring France,
he met and exchanged ideas with the French scientist
Lavoisier. Once he dined with Samuel Johnson, and, in the
later part of his life, was the close companion of Thomas
Cooper. During his lifetime, he engaged in written
controversies with such famous men as Sir dilliam Blackstone,
the English jurist, and Noah debster, the American
lexicographer. He was both a friend and patient of Dr.
Benjamin Rush, noted American physician. After coming to
America, he called on George dashington and preached before
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, later corresponding with
them both. Few men in history could point to such close
connections with the leaders of their age in so many varied
fields as could Joseph Priestley.
A. Priestley ag Science. The eighteenth century
witnessed tremendous advances in science, and with these the
name of Joseph Priestley is invariably and rightly connected.
He is credited with isolating nine gases, including
oxygen, carbon monoxide, and ammonia, thus earning for
himself the title "Father of Pneumatic Chemistry." Indeed,
T. E. Thorpe concludes that "there is no doubt that Priestley
did more to extend our knowledge of gaseous bodies than
any preceding or successive investigator."2 Priestley is
also credited with making significant contributions in the
fields of electricity, sound, light, and botany.3 His
great strength in scientific matters lay in experimentation
and observation, in which he was particularly adept;
although, as many have suggested, he was often unable
properly to evaluate the results of his discoveries.4
2Thomas Edward Thorpe, Essays I Historical Chemistry
(London, 1902), p. 41.
3John F. Fulton and Charlotte H. Peters, "An
Introduction to a Bibliography of the Educational and
Scientific dorks of Joseph Priestley," Zh~ Paes l the
Biblioraphical Society of America, XXIX (1936), 159-161;
John Henry Muirhead, Nine Famous Birminham Me (Birmingham,
1909), p. 29; A. dolfe, Hisory f ience Technolog, and
Philoso ihr In the Eiahteenth Century (New York, 1939), pp.
161ff., 175, 239-242, 248-255, 449.
4Lord Henry Brougham, Lives of Men af Letters Ajn
Science ho Flurished Jn th Time fl f Georce III (Paris,
Because of these outstanding contributions in
science, Priestley attained membership in the learned
societies of four countries. The British Royal Society
invited him to membership in 1766; and, seven years later,
awarded him their highest honor, the Copley Medal, for his
work on carbonated water. In 1772, the French Academy of
Science elected him as one of its eight associates. In
1780, the Imperial Academy of Science at St. Petersburg
granted him membership; and, after coming to the United
States, he was extended membership in the American Philo-
sophical Society in Philadelphia.
B. Priestle and Theolonr. In spite of his
important work in science, Priestley would undoubtedly have
pointed to theology as his favorite and most significant
pursuit.5 Preaching and religious writing occupied a large
share of his attention from the time he memorized the
catechism at his mother's knee, until he laid aside proof
1845), p. 270; dilliam Henry, An fstmte h Philo-
sophical Character Dr. PriJst (York, 1832), pp. 5-9;
T. E. Thorpe, oseh Priestl (New York, 1906), p. 168;
Alexander Gordon and Joseph Phillip Hartog, "Joseph
Priestley, LL.D. (1733-1804) Dictionarx Sa NStional
Bi2granhv (London, 1937-1938), XVI, 373.
5See Joseph Priestley, The Theologaial aLd "MiSl-
laneouns 1ork-i Josenh Priestley, ed. John Towell Rutt
(Hackney, n.d.), XIX, 360; Thomas H. Huxley, "Joseph
Priestley ," reprinted in Science nd Education
(New York, 1900}, p. 9.
sheets for a commentary on the Scriptures only an hour before
his death. For over thirty years he preached regularly, and
during his life wrote and published some twenty-five
volumes on theological subjects. In addition, he played a
vigorous and important role in the religious controversies
that made up so significant a part of eighteenth-century
In his preaching and religious writing, as in nearly
all his other activities, Priestley showed clearly those
liberal tendencies for which he is so famous. Brought up by
Calvinistic parents, by the age of eighteen he had rejected
the doctrine of original sin; and, for this reason, refused
to become a communicant of the church which he had for many
years attended.6 Gradually he progressed through Arminianism,
Arianism, then finally to Unitarianism. His views, as they
eventually developed, often appear little short of para-
doxical. He rejected both the pre-existence of Christ
and his virgin birth, but believed in his miracles and
resurrection. He accepted neither the common view of
the Trinity nor the doctrine of atonement, but did believe
in the second coming of Christ to this earth. He denied
plenary inspiration of the Bible, but believed that many
Old and New Testament prophecies were, even in his day,
6 grks -f Piustle I, Part I, 14.
being fulfilled. He believed in the homogeneity of body and
soul, which he himself termed a form of "materialism," but
he fully expected the resurrection of the righteous unto
eternal life. dhile he had a high regard for the Scriptures,
and studied them daily throughout his life, he, like many
twentieth-century modernists, believed that the reason of
man was the final tribunal of truth.7
Priestley's greatest service to theology, it has
been suggested, "is to be found in his adoption of the
historical method of investigating the problems of doctrine
and in his special handling of that method."8 He sought the
"primitive nucleus" of Christianity, which he thought would
be found not only in the New Testament, but even more in
the understanding which first-century Christians had of their
religion. In fact, both James Moffatt and Alexander Gordon
credit Priestley with being the first to use this approach.9
Thus, while Priestley's knowledge of history was not exten-
sive, and his inferences sometimes incorrect, he may be
7See John Graham Gillam, The Crucible; The stry f
Jose~h PriestlY, LL.D F.R.S. (London, 1954), pp. 105-106;
Stephen Hale Fritchman, Mbp f Liberty (Boston, 1944), p. 14;
oorka 2t Priestler, I, Part I, 14-15; James Martineau,
Essays, Rei a, and Addresses (London, 1901), I, 10-11.
8Thorpe, joIsegh Priestle, p. 109.
9Ibid., p. 111; James Moffatt, Th Historical Anoroach
to the Nw Testament (London, 1921), pp. 117-118.
regarded as a precursor of the historical treatment of
Biblical and theological questions.
Priestley's theological writings are numerous and
varied. His first important work was the three-volume
Institutes 2f 3tural Aad Reveald Relic in (1772-1774),
composed when he was a student at Daventry Academy. This
work, twice republished, was a treatment of certain funda-
mental elements of the Christian faith: the existence and
attributes of God, the duty and future expectations of
mankind, the rule of right and wrong, the passions, and
evidences of the Jewish and Christian Revelations. Another
of his major works in this field was a Hrmony 2f the
Evangelists (1777), first published in Greek, and later in
English, with critical notes. In 1782, he completed a
two-volume History f t.he Corruptions a Christianity.
employing the historical method mentioned above. This
subsequently went through four editions. Another work based
on the historical method, and which was an attempt at a
major defense of Unitarianism, was An Early History of the
Opinions Concernina Jesus Chrit (1786), in four volumes.
Still in the same vein, Priestley published between 1790 and
1803, a four-volume General History of t.he rstan Church.
Another work of considerable length, and the last of his
major compositions, was Notes on A&a the Books f Scripture
(1803-1804), consisting of four volumes of expositions of
Scriptural passages, some of which he had used in his
Birmingham pulpit.10 Priestley also edited and contributed
to Xha Theoloaical Reository, a liberal periodical
published from 1769 to 1771 and again from 1784 to 1788.
There were times in Priestley's life when he was a
scientist, times when he was an educator, and times when he
was a political theorist, but he was always a preacher. It
was for the ministry that he prepared himself from boyhood,
and in the ministry that he found his first employment.
He regularly occupied pulpits in Needham Market, Nantwich,
Leeds, Birmingham, Hackney, Philadelphia, and Northumberland.
Even at those times whsn he was primarily engaged in other
pursuits, he "never failed to officiate occasionally" in the
As a preacher, Priestley, even according to his
admirers, was not an effective speaker. Throughout life he
was a rather severe stutterer; and this, coupled with the
fact that he read his sermons and used almost no action,
would lead one to conclude that he was anything but
eloquent.12 He did, however, recognize his weakness in
10i Iks Uf Prientley. IX, 5.
l1~n orks Priestley, XIX, 360.
12See Thomas Belsham, Zeal and Fortitde n the
hriatin lAnitry (London, 1804), p. 20; John Corry, jhs
if i Janh Prieestley, with t Obserations on Him
jMrkg (Birmingham, 1804), p. 51; Thorpe, Josenh Prientley,
this respect and seems to have adapted himself to a type of
address suited to his defects. He is said by one observer
to have employed the "voice and manner . of one friend
speaking to another."13 Correspondingly, his messages were
generally "plain, simple, instructive, and practical."14
Another critic described his sermons as "mild, persuasive
and unaffected . full of sound reasoning and good
p. 105; Thomas Cooper, "Observations on the Writings of
Joseph Priestley," Memoirs of &B4 Joseph Priestler +^ the
Iar 17, written bx HBf: it A Continuation, 1 he
ime a Hi Decas, by =iX on, seh P;stl (Northumber-
land, Pa., 1806), II, 480; William Christie, "Observations
cn the writings of Joseph Priestley," Memairs gf 1. Joseph
Prietler o 12 e Year 17g ., II, 818-882. Corry, in his Life
f Joseh Priestlev, pp. 43-44, thus describes Priestley's
personal appearance: "Dr. Priestley was about the middle
stature, or five feet eight inches high. He was slender and
well proportioned; his complexion was fair, his eyes grey
and sparkling with intelligence, and his whole countenance
was expressive of the benignity of his heart. He often
smiled, but seldom laughed. He was extremely agile in his
motions. He walked fast and very erect, and his deportment
was dignified. His dress was a black coat without a cape,
a fine linen or cambric stock, a cocked hat, a powdered
wig (which, however, he laid aside in America), shoes and
buckles. The whole of his dress was remarkably clean, and
this purity of person and simple dignity of manners evinced
that philosophic propriety which prevailed throughout his
conduct as a private individual. He was an ungraceful
orator; his voice was low and faltering, and he had a custom
of shrugging up his shoulders."
13Thorpe, Joseph Priestle, p. 105.
14Belsham, Zel and Fortitude, p. 27.
15Thorpe, Joseh Priestlev, p. 105.
Many of Priestley's sermons were published as
pamphlets, later being collected to form Volumes XV and
XVI of his forks. A book of sermons by Priestley and Richard
Price, first published in 1791, went through three editions.
Through his preaching and writing, Priestley
became "one who was largely instrumental in the establish-
ment of Unitarianism in England and Amerioa."16 Fulton
and Peters call him "the chief early protagonist in the
[United States], as well as in England, of the Unitarian
Movement."17 Certainly, Priestley was among the first of
the liberal theologians, and his preaching over a forty-
year period on two continents, along with his widely read
religious writings, enabled him to exert a considerable
impact upon the theological thought of his century.
C. Priestley and Philoso] h. Closely allied with
his theology was Priestley's work in philosophy; and while
he is obviously not of the same rank as Berkeley or Hume,
his work in metaphysics certainly qualifies him to be
16Charles C. Everett, "Joseph Priestley, the Old
Unitarianism and the New," nImortality he Essays
(Boston, 1902), p. 103. See also George aillis Cooke,
Unitaiani n Amerca (Boston, 1910), pp. 71, 78, 79, 80,
81, 82, 83, 118; Condard right, Th Bginnin n
tarinis in mrica (Boston, 1955), pp. 213, 215; Walter
Prichard Eaton, The Eotion Uitai Thounht (Boston,
1925), p. 16; Thomas Belsham, Memoirs of the La t Reverend
Theonhilus Lindase (London, 1873), pp. 157, 158, 159, 164,
17Fulton and Peters, "Introduction to Bibliography,"
listed among the more important philosophers of his
century.18 Five major works from Priestley's pen, all
coming in the decade of the 1770's, belong in this classi-
fication: A& Exam nation of Dr. Reid' Inruiry, Dr.
Beattiesgf Essay, .And Q. Oswald's Appeal (1774), a long
essay strongly opposing the so-called "common sense
philosophy"; Hartlety Th eorgy t U2 Human Min (1775), an
abbreviated, simplified edition of Hartley's Observations
qS Man, with commendatory and explanatory essays supplied by
Priestley; Disauisitionse Rlatina to Matter and Sbrit
(1777), appended to the Observations, which presents
Priestley's view of the linkage of all things in a great
chain of cause and effect; and A Ftre Discussion of the
Dotrines gf Materialism (1778), a written controversy
between Priestley and Price on the doctrines presented in the
Disauisitions so Matter and Sizir t. Either implicit or
explicit in all of these philosophical inquiries, is
Priestley's strong support of Hartley's doctrine of the
association of ideas, about which more will be said below,
and which constitutes his major contribution to the philosophy
of the period.
D. PriestleY and Politics. Priestley also deserves
mention in the field of government, where, as in theology,
he exhibits the liberalism and revolt characteristic of his
18dolfe, Historr Science, Technoloav, And
Philoaou h, p. 785.
age. His first effort in political science was his Ena
.n Ith First Principlaa Government (1768), in which he
It must necessarily be understood, therefore, whether
it be expressed or not, that all people live in society
for their mutual advantage; so that the good and
happiness of the members, that is, of the majority of
the members, of any state, is the great standard by which
everything relating to that state must finally be
It was this sentiment of "the greatest happiness for the
greatest number," that gave Jeremy Bentham the idea for his
"greatest happiness" formula.20 Bentham himself said:
By an early pamphlet of Priestley's, the date of which
has fled from my recollection, light was added to the
warmth. In the phrase, 'the greatest happiness of the
greatest number,' I then saw delineated for the first
time, a plain as well as a true standard for whatever
is right or wrong, useful, useless, or mischievous in 21
human conduct, whether in the field of morals or politics.
Another of Priestley's ideas with important political
implications was his strong stand for the right of private
judgment and the principle of toleration, which, according to
Muirhead, he asserted "with a completeness and consistency
that excelled even John Locke and his own distinguished
19Joseph Priestley, ssaX SB First Pindciles f
Government (2nd ed; 1771), p. 13, quoted in Huxley, "Joseph
Priestley ," p. 31.
20Huxley, jid; MuXhead, i neafamiu Birminaham
len, PP. 31-32.
21Jeremy Bentham, The dorks o z Jeremv Bntham
(Edinburgh, 1843), X, 79.
contemporary and brother-at-arms in the same cause, Dr.
Price."22 Being a Dissenter himself, he, of course, contended
that the state had no right to require that all of its
subjects either subscribe to the Established Church or suffer
various indignities. This view is presented in Priestley's
Free Addre&a. Protestant Dissenters (1769), and in his
Letter to illiam Pitt o Toleration And th&e Etablished
Also important in this connection, is Priestley's
employment as literary companion to Lord Shelburne, one of
the leading members of the House of Lords. In this capacity,
he collected information for Shelburne on subjects of
parliamentary discussion, and kept his library in order, as
well as tutoring Shelburne's sons and carrying on extensive
scientific research. During his seven years in this position,
Priestley attended many of the parliamentary debates
involving Chatham, Fox, Burke, Sheridan, Pitt, and other
great statesmen of the era. Like Shelburne, Priestley was
favorable toward the American cause, and even went beyond
his patron in acquiescing in independence for the colonies.23
After Priestley left the service of Lord Shelburne
and moved to Birmingham, he became embroiled in the most
22Muirhead, Jin Famous Birmina n, pp. 30-31.
23See Sors f Prijstlev, I, Part I, 181, 197, 210.
heated political controversy of his career. His outspoken
opposition to the Test Acts, coupled with his defense of the
French Revolution, gave rise to the opinion that he opposed
both King and Church. In reply to attacks upon himself,
Priestley unfortunately wrote:
The present silent propagation of truth may even be
compared to those causes in Nature which lie dormant
for a time, but which in proper circumstances act with
the greatest violence. ie are, as it were, laying
gunpowder, grain by grain, under the old building of error
to produce an instantaneous explosion; in consequence of
which that edifice, the erection of which has been the
work of ages, may be overturned in a moment, and so
effectually as that the same foundation can never be built
While Priestley did not mean this to be an endorsement of
violence, and was always loyal to the King and Constitution,
his ill-chosen metaphor gave rise to still more opposition.
In addition, his reply to Burke's R~smarZ on the Revolution
In France (1791)--a work which led to his being granted
honorary French citizenship--contributed to his unpopularity
with many of his countrymen.
On July 14, 1791, the second anniversary of the
storming of the Bastille, a group in Birmingham met to
celebrate the occasion, and although Priestley chose not to
attend, he became the prime object of the mob that formed
in opposition. His meeting house was burned, his home
24Quoted in Robert Martin Caven, losnh iriestleX,
I1-l91iQ (London, 1933), pp. 12-13.
and laboratory destroyed, and he barely escaped with his
life, being warned by friends of the approaching mob.
Although he remained for about two years in London, dif-
ficulties for him and his family continued, so that he
eventually found it necessary to leave England and come to
America. It was here that he renewed his acquaintance with
John Adams, whom he had previously met in England, and came
into contact with 'ashington and Jefferson. He frequently
attended sessions of Congress in Philadelphia, and was at
one time nominated as chaplain of the House of
Priestley, therefore, played a not unimportant part
in the political drama of the eighteenth century. dhile he
never held public office, except in the French Convention,
which he chose not to attend, he was involved, to some
degree, in several of the major political issues of the
period. He not only wrote on political theory, but was a
vigorous pamphleteer, associated with the leading statesmen
of the age, and frequently attended the legislative bodies
of both England and the United States. In the end, his
liberal views in politics and religion brought violence upon
himself, his family, and his friends; not because they were
necessarily in error--for most of the causes for which he
contended were later adopted--but because his beliefs were
in advance of his times. Toleration, reform, freedom from
slavery, the well-being of the majority of the citizens, were
accomplishments of the nineteenth century, not the eighteenth;
but they were, in large measure, made possible because men
such as Priestley, both in word and action, opened the way
for their adoption.
E. PrietleY an Education. Of even greater
interest in this study than Priestley's accomplishments in
science, theology, philosophy, and politics, is his work in
the field of education. Education as a discipline made
important strides during the eighteenth century, particularly
in such matters as the broadening of the curriculum so as
to make it more utilitarian, the reduction of emphasis on
Latin and Greek with a corresponding increase of attention
to English, the improvement of methods of discipline and
instruction, and the extension of educational opportunities
to the middle and lower classes.
In each of these reforms, Priestley played a part.
He was, in one way or another, connected with educational
pursuits nearly all of his life, teaching in his own grammar
school at Nantwich, lecturing in Dissenting academies at
Warrington and Hackney, tutoring in private homes at
Nantwich and Calne, instructing in religious classes at the
various places where he preached, or advising Thomas
Jefferson concerning the organization of the University of
Virginia. Priestley's most important educational efforts,
however, came during his six-year connection with
darrington Aoademy, one of the leading Nonconformist or
Dissenting academies of the eighteenth century. Schools of
this type were operated and, in general, patronized by those
who did not choose to give assent to the thirty-nine
articles of the Established Church, and who were, therefore,
excluded from teaching in or attending the universities of
Oxford and Cambridge. While these academies did not enjoy
all the facilities and financial assistance which the
universities had at their disposal, they were not inferior
in scholarship, and had the advantage of being free from
the bounds of tradition. Being, therefore, more adaptable,
they became important centers of educational progress during
the eighteenth century.25
In his Warrington position as "Tutor of Languages
and Belles Lettres," Priestley contended strongly for an
increased emphasis on instruction in English rather than
the ancient languages, and worked diligently to broaden the
curriculum to include more utilitarian subjects, such as
history, law, and geography. McLachlan, in his account of
25Herbert McLachlan, EnLlih Education Under th
Tast A Bs; Being jhe Histor at fh onconforist academies
1662-1820 (Manchester, 1931), pp.16-44; H. C. Barnard,
Short History a Enaflish Education, Prom 172&0 fi 1944
(London, 1947), pp. 35-36; Freeman R. Butts, A Cultural
IHitorv of Education (New York, 1947), p. 339.
Priestley's efforts in this connection, calls him "the
most intrepid innovator" among the Dissenting professors,26
and a "pioneer" in curriculum development.27 Eby and
Arrowood, likewise, assert that he "did more perhaps than
any other man to modernize the curriculum of the dissenting
academies," and suggest that his "influence was felt over
all of Great Britain and the United States."28 Priestley's
work at Warrington with those who could not enter the
universities, as well as in his own private school at
Nantwich where he taught both boys and girls--in separate
rooms, of course--indicates his interest in providing
educational opportunities beyond the restrictions prevalent
in previous generations. In addition, he helped in the
trend toward more democratic and pedagogically sound
instructional methods; for besides lecturing to his classes
extemporaneously from prepared notes, he invited questions,
engaged the class in discussion, spent a part of each period
in review and examination, and even fraternized with the
students at tea in his own home.
26 cLachlan, EnUlih Eduadtion IUnder tfh Tu Aita,
57hbid. p. 35.
28Prederick Eby and Charles Flinn Arrowood, Th
Development o Modern Education (New York, 1934), pp.
606-607. See also Barnard, History of english Education, pp.
34-36; T. L. Jarman, Tandr in the History of Education
(New York, 1952), pp. 193-194.
In addition to his efforts in the classroom,
Priestley was also active as a writer of works on pedagogy.
In 1765 he published An Essay .n p Course 2f Liberal
Education f fivil and Active tif. -tith Plans f lectures
.n I. M Th udv of history and general policy. UI. The
history .d Encland*. 1*. .ha constitution sad iaws 2f
England, tfj. In 1788, this was extended into Lectures on
History And General Poli ; AS Liberal Education. Other
works dealing with the theory of education are his
Miscellaneous Observations Relatina o Education (1778), and
SThe Pror Obiets of AEducation ifla lth Preent State .f th
dorld (1791). Priestley's textbooks include: The Rudiments
2f English Grammar (1761), A Course .gf Lectures n tb& Theory
of Language and Universal Gr.amft (1762), A Chart 2f History
(1765), iA S labss d a .Course .2 Lectures 92 the Stud f
History (1765), A harX .Sa Bio graPh (1769), and A Course 2
Lectures .a Qratogy And Criticism (1777).
In education, then, as in a number of other areas,
Joseph Priestley occupies a noteworthy place. Through his
teaching and writing, he exerted a significant influence on
the strategic educational advances of his century; and, while
he does not rank with Locke, Rousseau, or Rollin, "no study
of eighteenth-century education can claim to be complete
which takes no account of the work of the Tutor in
Languages and Belles Lettres at darrington Academy,"29
F. Priestleya ad Lanawae, QratorY, and Criticism.
The eighteenth century is identified with scientific
advancement, political revolution, philosophical progress,
theological controversy, and educational reform--and with
each of these areas of activity, Joseph Priestley was, as
we have seen, closely connected. The spirit of rationalism
and enlightenment, of liberalism and revolt, so character-
istic of the age, is also typified in Priestley's life and
labors. Thus, in his attitudes as well as his achievements,
Priestley reflects the age in which he lived.
/It is the specific thesis of this study that just
as Priestley's views in these fields are, in so many
respects, representative of his century, so are his views on
language, oratory, and criticism largely representative of
the rhetorical and critical thought of his age; and, as a
result, that the best way to interpret him as a rhetorician
is by a consideration of his representativeness. More
specifically, as will be argued in detail in Chapter IV,
four dominant trends characterized English rhetorical
thought between 1758 and 1828, and each of these is
prominently reflected in Priestley's rhetorical system.
29Herbert McLachlan, Arinapton Acadev, I Hiastory
and Infliunce (n. p., 1943), p. 29.
Our study will begin with an expository review of
Priestley's system of rhetoric, as presented in his grammars
and his Lectures on Orator And Criticism, and will then
proceed through a comparison of his doctrines with each of
the four dominant trends mentioned above. Such a study
will not only help to explain the rhetoric of Priestley
himself, but will also shed additional light on this impor-
tant period in the development of modern rhetorical and
critical thought by displaying previously unobserved
relationships between Priestley and other rhetoricians and
critics of the period.
Before considering this thesis in detail, however,
it is appropriate to conclude these introductory remarks with
a brief biographical sketch of Priestley, focusing particu-
larly upon those events which have some connection with his
views of language, oratory, and criticism.
III. BioraRbhical, keltch .f Pristley. For our
purposes, Priestley's life may be divided into three periods:
education and early years, the tutorship at darrington
Academy, and the years after darrington.
A. Education nd Early Years. Joseph Priestley was
born on March 13, old style, 1733, at Fieldhead, about six
miles southwest of Leeds, in Yorkshire. His father, Jonas
Priestley, was a cloth dresser, and his mother is described
as a pious woman who attempted to train her children in
Christian principles. Priestley's mother died when he was
six years old, and three years later, in 1742, he went to
live permanently with a paternal aunt, a Mrs. Keighley, who
assumed the responsibility for his education. He attended
various schools near his home, and, in addition, did
considerable independent study, so that by the time he was
nineteen, he had learned Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Chaldee,
Syriac, Arabic, High Dutch, French, and Italian, as well as,
"geometry, algebra, and various branches of mathematics,
theoretical and practical."30 Also by this time, he had
read Gravesande's Elmenta s of Natural Philosoghv,. datt's
Logic, Locke's Esfja StIn2 HeBn Understandina, and had
made some proficiency in other areas of learning.31
From an early age, Priestley planned to enter the
ministry--except for a period when it was thought that his
health might interfere--and with this design, his relatives
agreed. Since they were all strict Calvinists, they wanted
him to attend the academy at Mile-end; but Priestley, even
at this age, was unwilling to subscribe to the ten articles
of Calvinism which students at this academy were required
to sign upon entrance and every six months thereafter.
S30 ak ai riestlex, I, Part I, 7-8, 13.
Sl31id., p. 13.
It was decided, therefore, that he should attend
the Dissenting academy at Northampton, conducted by Dr.
Philip Doddridge, a well-known scholar among the
Nonconformists. Before Priestley enrolled, however, Dod-
dridge died, and the academy was moved to Daventry to be
placed under the direction of Caleb Ashworth, Doddridge's
choice as his successor. Ashworth, who later received a
D.D. from Marischal College, Aberdeen, is described as "a
man of ability and learning,"32 and continued as Divinity
Tutor at Daventry until his death in 1775. Although
Ashworth was a Nonconformist minister, Priestley recorded
that he took "the orthodox side of every question," while
Samuel Clark, the sub-tutor, generally upheld the side of
Daventry Academy was much to Priestley's liking, for
it permitted free discussion among the pupils and tutors on
disputed questions, and the general plan of their studies--
which followed Doddridge's published lectures--"was
exceedingly favorable to free inquiry."34 In his 4Mmoirs,
Priestley recalls that while in this situation, he generally
embraced the heterodoxx" side of almost every question.35
32McLachlan, English Education Under the Test Acts,
33orks of Priestley, I, Part I, 23.
id pp. 24-25.
^Ibid., pp. 24"25.
Two events of Priestley's stay at Daventry are of
particular interest in this study. The first is that, so
far as can be determined, it was here that Priestley first
came into contact with the field of rhetorical theory.
Ashworth used as a textbook for some of his work Doddridge's
Lectures .n PreachiQ;36 and, while these twenty-five
lectures were concerned with pastoral visitation, behavior
to other ministers, conduct toward those needing particular
care, conversation, and the sacraments, as well as with the
preacher's work in the pulpit, they also contained some
suggestions on delivery which, as we shall see in Chapter
VII, may have exerted some formative influence on Priestley's
The second item of importance is that at Daventry,
Priestley first came into contact with the works of Dr.
David Hartley, the English physician and metaphysician.37
Hartley's Observations aon U attempts to explain the
psychical functions of man, by reference to the principle
called "the association of ideas," and Priestley adopted
this theory completely. Most of the philosophical works which
he wrote at later periods in his life centered in this theme.
Moreover, as we shall see later, this concept also had a
great influence on his rhetorical doctrines.
152. 36McLachlan, English Education .Ader Uhg Test cI a,
Sp I, Part 15224.
^jtoks sl ProestLeY, I, Part I, 24.
On the basis of his previous study, Priestley was
excused from nearly two years of the five-year course at
Daventry;38 and so in 1755, after three years at the academy,
he took his first ministry at Needham Market, Suffolk, where
he seems to have applied himself diligently. Here he
studied things "classical, mathematical, and theological";39
and, besides composing at least one new sermon each week,40
he oatechised the children with Dr. Watt's Catechim,
lectured on the theory of religion from his own Insitutes
lf Revealed Reliaion, and wrote on a variety of theological
subjects, in nearly every case with decidedly liberal
Although his salary at Needham Market was supposed
to have been forty pounds a year, he never received above
thirty, and with the expense of his board more than twenty
pounds, he was generally without sufficient funds.42
Of greater concern to him than finances, however, was
his stuttering. He wrote:
But what contributed greatly to my distress, was the
impediment in my speech, which had increased so much,
as to make preaching very painful, and took from me all
38Ibig., p. 13.
39Ibid., p. 34.
40Ib., p. 43.
4Ibid., p. 40.
42 ., p. 30
.lbid, p. 30.
chance of recommending myself to any better place. In
this state, hearing of the proposal of one Mr. Angier,
to cure all defects of speech, I prevailed upon my aunt
to enable me to pay his price, which was twenty guineas;
and this was the first occasion of my visiting London.
Accordingly I attended him about a month, taking an oath
not to reveal his method, and I received some temporary
benefit; but soon relapsed again, and spoke worse than
In order to supplement his meager salary, Priestley,
somewhat reluctantly, turned to teaching. In his ~emjir he
Like most other young men of a liberal education, I had
conceived a great aversion to the business of a school-
master, and had often said that I would have recourse to
anything else for a maintenance in preference to it. But
having no other resource, I was at length compelled by
necessity to make some attempt in that way; and for this
purpose I printed and distributed roosals, but without
any effect. Not that I was thought to be unqualified
for this employment, but because I was not orthodox. I
had proposed to teach-the classics, mathematics, &c.,
for half-a-guinea per quarter, and to board the pupils44
in the house with myself for twelve guineas per annum.-
He next proposed to give lectures to adults on various
branches of science, beginning with the use of globes. In
this he was more successful, and had one course of ten
hearers. Although the effort was cut short by his removal
from Needham Market, it is significant as Priestley's first
venture into the teaching profession.45
43MAi., p. 33.
"bida, p. 41.
After three years at Needham Market, Priestley moved
to Nantwich in Cheshire to minister to a congregation of
about sixty persons.46 It was here that he actually became
a schoolmaster for the first time, and contrary to his
expectation, found "the greatest satisfaction" in this
employment.47 His school, which continued from seven in the
morning until four in the afternoon, generally consisted of
some thirty boys, with a separate room for about half a
dozen young ladies. After closing his own school for the
day, he taught until seven in the family of a Mr. Tomkinson,
"an eminent attorney, and a man of large fortune, whose
recommendation was of the greatest service" to him.48 Jith
this busy schedule, Priestley had little time for reading
or even for composing new sermons,49 but he did fare better
financially than he had at Needham Market, being able to
buy a few books and some "philosophical instruments,"
including a small air-pump and an "electrical machine." 50
Priestley's stuttering grew worse during his first
two years at Nantwich, and at one time he informed the
congregation that he would give up preaching and confine
46Ibid., p. 43.
47Ibid., p. 42.
48Ibid., pp. 42-43.
49Iid., p. 43.
himself to his school. But before abandoning the work for
which he had trained, he set about once again to try to
improve his speech. He describes the method in his Memoirs9
"By making a practice of reading very loud and very slow
every day, I at length succeeded in getting, in some measure,
the better of this defect, but I am still obliged
occasionally to have recourse to the same expedient."51 Here
Editor Rutt records in a footnote a memorandum from a Mr.
Samuel Parkes who mentioned Priestley's "walking to time,
or pacing at a set step. He spoke a single word at every
step, and, by constant repetition of these practices,
acquired a habit of pacing."52
Priestley's schoolmastering at Nantwich is of especial
interest in this study, because it was here, in 1761, that
he composed his first work in the field of language, =he
Rudiments 9t English Grammar.53
B. Tutor ai jarrinron Acade In October of 1757,
while Priestley was in his first ministry at Needham Market,
an academy was opened at Warrington by the Nonconformists,
in order to train ministers for the pulpits of their churches
and laymen for various walks of life. Of the 393 students
51bid0. pp. 62-63.
53This grammar is discussed in detail in Chapter II
of this thesis.
educated at this academy during the twenty-six years it
was in operation, twenty-one followed the medical profession,
twenty-four took up law, eighteen joined the army, about a
hundred entered business, and fifty-five became ministers.54
The complete course lasted five years, but a shorter three-
year curriculum was arranged for those studying for business
darrington Academy opened with two tutors, Dr. John
Taylor in Divinity and Moral Philosophy, and John Holt in
Natural Philosophy and Mathematics. Beginning in the second
year, John Aikin was added to teach in the field of Languages
and Polite Literature.55 Although the enrollment was not
large or the prospects always bright, the school continued
with these three tutors until March 5, 1761, when Dr. Taylor
dhen the trustees of the Academy gathered for their
yearly meeting on June 25, 1761, they unanimously asked John
Aikin to take the tutorship in divinity, and he accepted.
After hearing read several letters recommending Joseph
Priestley for the tutorship in languages and literature which
54McLachlan, EnZlish Edcation Under thek lst Atsa,
55Valentine David Davis, A Histor. at Manchestar
College (London, 1932), pp. 31-35.
12501. p. 40.
Aikin's transfer thus left vacant, they drew up the following
de whose names are underwritten Trustees of the Academy
at ~Warrington, at our general yearly meeting this Day,
June 25, 1761, having taken into our mature and
impartial consideration the above mentioned recommendation,
do hereby declare our unanimous choice of the Reverend
Mr. Joseph Priestley of Naptwich [si], to be tutor in
the Languages & polite Learning, desire that this
resolution be communicated to him by Mr. Holland & Mr.
Seddon and that he be desired to accept of the invitation
proposed to him.57
When the messengers brought the proposal, Priestley
accepted, "though," as he later wrote, "my school promised
to be more gainful to me." His acceptance, he said, was
based upon the conviction that wmy employment at darrington
would be more liberal, and less painful. It was also a
means of extending my connexions. But . I should have
preferred the office of teaching the mathematics and natural
philosophy, for which I had at that time a great
Upon coming to the Academy in September, 1761,
Priestley took up his new duties with his usual vigor. He
wrote in his Memoirs:
57John F. Fulton, "The Warrington Academy (1757-1786)
and Its Influence Upon Medicine and Science," Bulletin
9 jAht Institute of ht Hlistorv q Medicine. I (1933), 61,
from a photostat of a page from the minute books of the
58~A orks Priestley, I, Part I, 47.
Though at the time of my removal to darrington I had no
particular fondness for the studies relating to my
profession then, I applied to them with great assiduity;
and besides composing courses of "Lectures on the
Theory of Language," and on "Oratory and Criticism" on
which my predecessor had lectured, I introduced lectures
on "History and General Policy," on the "Laws and
Constitution of England," and on the "History of
England." This I did in consequence of observing that,
though most of our pupils were young men designed for
situations in civil and active life, every article in
the plan of their education was adapted to the learned
During his six years at Warrington, Priestley also, at one
time or other, taught elocution, logic, Hebrew, anatomy,
civil law, Greek, French, and Italian.60
The years at darrington were dotted with important
events in Priestley's personal life. In 1762 he married
Mary dilkinson, the daughter of a 'delsh ironmaster, which
union Priestley called "a very suitable and happy
connexion."61 And indeed it was, for Joseph and Mary
Priestley enjoyed nearly forty years in a close, compatible
relationship. The Priestley's had four children--Sarah,
Joseph, dilliam, and Henry.
Also in 1762, Priestley was officially ordained as
a Dissenting minister; for, although he had not conquered
Ibid., p. 51.
o60Bid., pp. 50, 54.
61 p 48
]f ,, p. 48.
his stuttering, he had, by this time, determined to continue
in the ministry.
As a result of the publication of his Chart 2f
Bioapbry-a diagram three feet long and two feet wide,
indicating in linear fashion the duration of the lives of
significant figures between 1200 B. C. and 1800 A. D.--he was
awarded the degree Doctor of Laws from the University of
Edinburgh, December 4, 1764.62 Since this university was
in Scotland, and thus not under the jurisdiction of the Test
Acts, it could grant degrees to Dissenters.
It was also at Warrington that Priestley began his
work as a scientist. On one of his annual visits to London,
he met Benjamin Franklin, William Watson, John Canton, and
Richard Price, all of whom were members of the Royal Society;
and, after discussing the matter with them and receiving
their encouragement, he wrote a history of electricity,
including some original experiments of his own. According
to Priestley's Memoirs,63 it was these experiments, and the
recommendation of these friends, that brought his admission
into the Royal Society.64
621, . p. 58; Catalogue al Graduates Cf X Edinburgh
UIr8ait ;1 Fulton and Peters, "Introduction to
Bibliography," p. 156.
63orks of PrietleX, I, Part I, 58.
644. Cameron Walker, "The Beginnings of the
Scientific Career of Joseph Priestley," Isis, XXI (1934),
While these events of Priestley's stay at 4arrington
are important in the total picture of his life, so far as
the present study is concerned the most significant
activities of these years were his teaching and writing in
connection with his courses on the theory of language and
universal grammar, oratory and criticism, and elocution.
For the course in the theory of languages, he wrote
A course of Lectures on th Theory 91 Lanagaue and Universal
Gramm, which was privately printed for the use of his
students in 1762. This work was much broader in scope than
the Rudiments of Enlish Gram r, published the previous
year; but on topics treated in both, it is quite similar.65
Also upon becoming Tutor of Languages and Belles
Lettres, Priestley composed the work with which the present
study is principally concerned, A Course .2 Lecturea on
Oratory d Criticim. 66 Concerning these lectures, he wrote
in the Preface at the time of their publication in 1777,
This course of Lectures was composed when I was Tutor
in the Lanaaes and Belles Lettres in the Academy at
Warrington, and was first delivered in the year 1762.
95, argues convincingly that, despite Priestley's statement
in the Memoirs, he was actually admitted to the Royal Society
upon the basis of his literary work, primarily his Chart
65For a detailed discussion of this work see
Chapter II of this thesis.
66 Works of. ristle I, Part I, 51.
Considering the nature of the work, it will not be
expected, by the candid and judicious, that every thing
in it should be original. It is, on the contrary, the
business of a Lecturer, to bring into an easy and
comprehensive view whatever has been observed by others:
and in this respect I hope it will be thought that I
have not acquitted myself ill; few works of criticism,
of any value, having escaped my attention, at the time
that I was engaged in those studies.-
In explaining why the published lectures were shorter
than some might believe proper, Priestley described his
method of using the lectures in the classroom:
It may be thought by some, that these lectures are
much too short, and too concisely written, for the purpose
of public instructions but they should be apprised, that
it was my custom to write down only the outlines of what
I delivered in the class; that, for the benefit of my
pupils, I used to attend them provided with more copious
illustrations, and a greater variety of Mtad2e; and,
besides, always spent a considerable part of the time
appropriated to every lecture in examining them on the
subject of the preceding lecture, hearing their remarks
or objections, and explaining more distinctly what they
appeared not to have clearly understood.
Upon this plan (which I found by experience to be a
very useful one, and which I mention so particularly
here, with a view to recommend it to other tutors) it
was not necessary for me to write out more than a short,
though connected text, from which to discourse ;extoorj;
a method which engages the attention unspeakably more
than formally reading everything from notes. It was my
custom also to leave a fair copy of what I wrote in the
lecture-room, that the pupils might have recourse to it,
and study it at their leisure, so as to be better prepared
for examination at the ensuing lecture.68
67Joseph Priestley, A Coure Ot LeAtiZes 2a Oratory
and Critiaism (London, 1777), p. i-ii. These Legtures will
be treated in detail in Chapter III, below.
biQd-, pp. v-vi.
One of Priestley's students, a Mr. Simpson, writing
in the Monthly Repository, described this method in action:
dhat Dr. Priestley added in discoursing from his written
lectures (most of which are since published to the world)
was pointedly and clearly illustrative of the subject
before him, and expressed with great simplicity and
distinctness of language, though he sometimes manifested
that difficulty of utterance which he mentions in the
Memoirs of his Life. At the conclusion of his lecture
he always encouraged the students to express their
sentiments relative to the subjects of it, and to urge
any objections to what he had delivered without reserve.
It pleased him when any one commenced such conversation.
In order to excite the freest discussion, he occasionally
invited the students to drink tea with him, in order
to canvass the subjects of his lectures. I do not
recollect that he ever shewed the least displeasure at
the strongest objections that were made to what he
delivered; but I distinctly remember the smile of
approbation with which he usually received them; nor did
he fail to point out in a very encouraging manner the
ingenuity or force of any remarks that were made, when
they merited these characters. His object, as well as
Dr. Aikin's, was to engage the students to examine and
decide for themselves, uninfluenced by the sentiments
of any other person. His written lectures he used to
permit each student to take and read in his own lodgings.
Those on Rhetoric he gave them the liberty of copying,
those on History ?f reading only, as he intended them
This method of lecturing from notes and inviting questions,
comments, and objections from the students is also recom-
mended in Priestley's Miscellaneous Observations n
Education,70 and in his Essay a Coursa qf Libral
69 orks 21 PriestU I, Part I, 50-51, quoted from
Monthly RePasitory, VIII, p. 229.
70Joseph Priestley, Miscellaneous Observations
Relating UTo Education. More eueciallU As 1 respects J0s
mind. 12 which is added, Aa Essay .on A Course f Liberal
Eduation fr Civil ad Active Life.71
A third course which Priestley taught at darrington,
and which is of particular interest here, is a course in
Finding no public exercises at Warrington, I introduced
them there, so that afterwards every Saturday the
tutors, all the students, and often strangers, were
assembled to hear English and Latin compositions, and
sometimes to hear the delivery of speeches, and the
exhibition of scenes in plays. It was my province to
teach elocution, and also logic and Hebrew. The first
of these I retained; but after a year or two I exchanged
the two last articles with Dr. Aikin, for the civil Aw,
and one year I gave a course of lectures in anatomy.'
In the elocution course, special care was taken to form the
delivery of the young men at the Academy, particularly
through oral criticisms of their efforts.73
Although Priestley received what he termed "nothing
more than a bare subsistence,"74 he was happy during his stay
at Warrington, and enjoyed his associations with the other
tutors.75 In his opinion, however, the Academy was not
altogether successful; nor did it, primarily because of a
Ednation as Civil and ~g e Ligf (Bath, 1778), pp.
714or a PriesJtle, XXIV, 20-21.
72.hId., I, Part I, 53-54.
73For a detailed account of the procedure and
significance of this course, see Chapter VII, below.
74orks of Prinstley. I, Part I, 62.
75Ibi., p. 59.
lack of funds, show great promise for the future.76 Partly
for this reason, partly because of his wife's illness, and
also perhaps because he desired to spend his time in other
pursuits, Priestley accepted an invitation to preach at
the Mill-hill Chapel at Leeds, and moved there in September,
John Seddon, who became Rector Academicus at
Jarrington the same year, took over Priestley's courses in
oratory and grammar.78 Johann Reinhold Forster, a recent
immigrant from Danzig, replaced him in natural history and
modern languages.79 Seddon died in 1770, and was, in turn,
replaced both in the local church and at the Academy by
dilliam Enfield, who remained until the school was closed
IV. The Ygars After arrinaton. Priestley remained
in Leeds for six years, and wrote that he was "very happy
with a liberal, friendly, and harmonious congregation, to
76Ibid., p. 61.
77Ibid., pp. 61-62.
78Four volumes of his lectures in longhand are
preserved in the Manchester College Library. Davis, History
1 Manchester Collee, p. 44.
79Works t Priestlee I, Part I, 61-62.
80The connection between Priestley and Enfield is
discussed at length in Chapter VII, below.
whom my services (of which I was not sparing) were very
acceptable."81 Here he had three classes of catechumens,
"and took great pleasure in instructing them in the principles
of religion."82 While in this situation he wrote to his
friend Theophilus Lindseyt
Theology, notwithstanding my other pursuits, is my
favourite study; and if I live to complete my other
schemes, I shall with pleasure devote myself almost
entirely to the study of the Scriptures. I believe there
is in them enough to employ and reward the application
of us all.83
Leeds became the site of some of Priestley's most
significant scientific discoveries. His first home in the
city was near a brewery, and the bubbling action going on
in the large vats aroused his interest. This curiosity led
to experimentation, and in 1772 he published his first paper
on pneumatic chemistry. It described a method for
impregnating water with fixed-air (carbon dioxide), and thus
Priestley became the father of "soda-water." This paper won
for him the Royal Society's highest award, the Copley medal,
conferred in 1773.84 At the same time, he continued his
81orka of Priestley. I, Part I, 68.
82hbi., p. 73.
83Priestley to Theophilus Lindsey, Leeds, November
1, 1770, quoted in rorks of Priestley, I, Part I, 121.
84jos of Priktlej I, Part I, 77; Edgar F. Smith,
Priestle n America (Philadelphia, 1920), p. 6.
experiments in electricity, and wrote a History of
Discoveries Rlating i2 vision Liiht, and Colours.
It was also at Leeds that Priestley first became
involved in the theological and political controversies that
were to play such an important role in shaping the remaining
years of his life. He recalls:
The first of my controversial treatises was written here
in reply to some angry remarks on my Discourse on "the
Lord's Supper," by Mr. Venn, a clergyman in the
neighbourhood. I also wrote Remarks on Dr. Balguy's
Sermon on Church Authority, and on some paragraphs in
Judge Blackstone's "Commenta res on the Laws of England,
relating to the Dissenters." 0
In addition to these works, he wrote An Address 12 Protestant
Dissenters; An Appeal to he Serious and Candid Professors
So Christianity, which went through thirty thousand copies
by 1787; and the Essay So thh First Principes oj Government;
not to mention "some anonymous pieces, in favour of civil
liberty, during the persecution of Mr. dilkes, the principal
of which was an Address to Dissenters on the subject of the
difference with America, which [he] wrote at the request of
Dr. Franklin and Dr. Fothergil."86
During 1772, Priestley received repeated invitations
from Lord Shelburne to become his "librarian," to
"superintend the education of his sons," with the help of a
tutor under him, and to "collect information for him with
852orks f Priestlev, I, Part I, 73.
86 d. p. 75.
jhi. p. 75.
respect to subjects of parliamentary discussion."87 He was
to receive 250 pounds a year, plus forty pounds annually
to help in his scientific investigations. By 1773, Priestley
had accepted, and assumed the post of literary companion to
Shelburne. In this capacity he became acquainted with many
of the leading governmental figures of the day, as well as
with subjects of political interest. He divided his time
between Bowood, Shelburne's home, nearby Calne, where his
own home was located, and London, for sessions of Parliament.
In 1774, Priestley made his memorable discovery of
oxygen,88 by heating maercurX calcemnatus sa2 with a
burning glass. He observed that the gas given off greatly
enhanced the burning of a candle, and that when breathed,
it was invigorating. Through further experimentation, he
discovered the balance that nature maintains between carbon
dioxide and oxygen by the collaboration of plants and
animals. Interestingly enough, though his discovery of
oxygen was the event which ultimately proved the "phlogiston
theory" to be incorrect, Priestley never relinquished his
belief in it, his last scientific work being "The Doctrine
of Phlogiston Established."
87Priestley to Rev. T. Lindsey, no date, but probably
from Leeds, September, 1772, quoted in dzorka f Priestley,
I, Part I, 180-181.
88Smith, Priestler in America, p. 7.
dhile with Lord Shelburne, Priestley continued his
theological writings and also published the Lectures mo
Oratory ad Criticfism- Moreover, although he held no
regular pulpit, he occasionally preached in the Baptist
Chapel at Calne.90
By 1780, relations between Priestley and Lord
Shelburne had grown somewhat strained. Consequently,
Priestley left his service, and, after a brief stay in London,
moved to Birmingham. Here he preached and taught classes
for the young people of his congregation on Sundays, while
reserving the rest of the week for writing and experimenta-
tion. Each month he attended the meetings of the Lunar
Society, where "he could exchange thoughts with such men as
Watt, Wedgewood, Darwin, and Boulton."91 It was also at
Birmingham that the most tragic event of his life, the
previously mentioned destruction of his house, laboratory, and
library, occurred. Though Priestley and his family escaped
with their lives, they left Birmingham, never to return.93
89~ors sof PriestlY, I, Part I, 201.
90Gillam, Crucible, p. 103.
91Huxley, "Joseph Priestley ," p. 16.
92A.kq oLf Priestley, I, Part II, 338-340.
93Huxley, "Joseph Priestley ," p. 18.
After moving to London, where he found safety but
experienced coldness from some of his former friends,
Priestley was invited by the congregation of the Gravel Pit
Meeting to succeed the recently deceased Dr. Price as their
pastor. On December 4, 1791, he took up his new charge,
and not only preached, but taught classes for young people
at his church and lectured on "History and General Policy"
and "Experimental Philosophy" at the New College in
After remaining here for a time, Priestley, feeling
pressure from those who opposed his views, decided to follow
two of his sons who had emigrated to America. On April 8,
1794, he sailed with his wife, for New York on the Sansom
He remained in New York two weeks after his arrival on June
4, 1794, and also spent three weeks in Philadelphia.95 Then
Priestley and his wife journeyed to Northumberland,
Pennsylvania, where they made their home.
Although Priestley visited Philadelphia and other
places during the next ten years, his home was always
Northumberland. During this period, he continued his
scientific experiments, preached and lectured both in North-
umberland and Philadelphia--where Adams and Jefferson heard
94Gilliam, Crucible, p. 217.
95Snith, Priestler in Americ, pp. 47, 52.
his lectures on the "Evidences of Christianity"--and wrote
a good deal in the field of theology. Thomas Jefferson
invited him to teach at a new college he was establishing in
Virginia, and after Priestley's refusal, Jefferson wrote
for advice concerning this educational venture. Priestley
replied with four pages of "Hints Concerning Public
Education," in which he recommended that one of the nine
tutors teach "The Belles Lettres, including universal
Grammar, Oratory, criticism and bibliography"9 6
On Monday, February 6, 1804, after three years of ill
health, Priestley died. He was active until the end, and
only an hour before his death had dictated some changes in
proof sheets from the printer.
Throughout the seventy-one years of his life,
Priestley's quick, versatile mind had led to accomplishments
in many fields. While the tremendous scope of his under-
takings often made for superficiality--even in chemistry,
where his accomplishments were most notable, he failed to
recognize the theoretical implications of his own
discoveries--few men can boast so many important accomplish-
ments in so many varied fields.
96Priestley to Jefferson, Northumberland, May 8,
1800, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Manuscripts Division, Library
of Congress, CVII, 18282-18284.
Samuel Parr, the noted English divine, has left
this accurate appraisal of the character and work of Dr.
Let Dr. Priestley be confuted where he is mistaken;
let him be exposed where he is superficial; let him be
repressed where he is censorious. But let not his
attainments be depreciated, because they are numerous,
almost without parallel. Let not his talents be
ridiculed, because they are superlatively great. Let
not his morals be vilified, because they are correct
without austerity, and exemplary without ostentation;
because they present even to common observers, the
innocence of a hermit, and the simplicity of a
patriarch; and because a philosphic eye will at once
discover in them the deep-fixed root of virtuous
principle, and the solid trunk of virtuous habit.97
97Quoted in Carrington Bolton (ed.) Sientific
CorresDondence of Prientlev (New York, 1892), p. 220.
PRIESTLEY'S RUDIMENTS AND UNIVERSAL GRM R
I. Introduction. Although this study is focused
primarily upon Priestley as a rhetorician--and thus is mainly
concerned with his Lectures n2 Oratory A Criticism--for
at least two reasons it is appropriate that we begin with a
survey of Priestley as a grammarian. First, in the Preface
to the Lecturens OratorY Bd Criticism, as we shall see,
Priestley expresses the belief that one must be skilled in
grammar before rhetorical training will be of value to him;
thus, a review of his grammars will, in a sense, help prepare
the way for a better understanding of his rhetorical theory.
Second, and perhaps even more important, as will be specifi-
cally mentioned in later chapters, the grammars contain
numerous passages that bear directly upon doctrines in
Priestley's rhetorical system.
It is also interesting to note that since Priestley's
work in his own grammar school at Nantwich was largely the
reason for his being offered the tutorship at darrington,
where he actually had the occasion to develop a rhetorical
theory, had he not been a grammarian it is unlikely that
he would ever have become a rhetorician.
II. The Rudiments sIf Ealish Gramrmar. Priestley's
first and most important work as a grammarian was The
Rudiments f Enlish Grammr.
A. Facts _g Pblication. The Rudiments, as
mentioned in the previous chapter, was written in 1761 for
use in Priestley's grammar school at Nantwich. Because of
his move to darrington late in that year, however, this work
was not off the press in time for him to give it a trial in
his own school. The Rudiments, which originally sold for
one shilling, six pence, was out of print by 1766, but
Priestley did not, at that time, expect any further
There were, however, other editions. In fact, the
second came only two years later, shortly after Priestley had
left 'darrington Academy to preach at Leeds. In the Preface
to this 1768 edition, he says that he did not intend to
republish the Rudiments until he had completed an extensive
study of the language, with a view to composing a large work
on the subject. But, he explains,
being frequently importuned to republish the former
Grammar, and being so much employed in studies of a
very different nature, that I cannot accomplish what I
had proposed, I have, in this treatise, republished
1Priestley to Rev. Caleb Rotheram, darrington, May
18, 1766, quoted in Jorks f Priestle., I, Part I, 64.
that work, with improvements, and so much of the
materials I had collected for the larger, as may be of
practical use to those who write language. These
materials, therefore, I have reduced into as good an
order as I can, and have subjoined them to the former
Grammar, under the title of "Notes and Observations,
for the Use of those who have made some Proficiency in
the Language" (p. 3).2
This enlarged edition evidently met with some approval, for
it was twice reprinted the next year, 1769.3
The third and, according to both Cooper4 and Rutt,5
the last edition prepared by Priestley himself, appeared in
1772. Fulton and Peters, however, list a fourth edition,
printed at Dublin in 1784--probably an issue without revision
by the author, and perhaps even without his knowledge.6
By 1785 the grammar was no longer available, though
it was "frequently inquired for" (p. 13). On April 5, of
that year, Priestley replied to Rev. Joseph Bretland of
2All page references inserted parenthetically in the
text of this chapter are to the dorks of Priestley, XXIII.
3john F. Fulton and Charlotte H. Peters, dtorks f
Joseph Priestley 1733-1804; Preliminary Short Title List
(New Haven, 1937), p. 17.
4Thomas Cooper, "Observations on the writings of
Joseph Priestley," Memoirs 1 Drl. Joseh PrXestLse, Jto the
year 1.79, written by himself; with a continuation, o2 the
time fa hsa deceased, by hiA S Joseph Priegtley (North-
umberland, 1806), II, 378.
5rks of Priestley, XXIII, Sn.
6Fulton and Peters, Preliminary Short Title Lis,
I shall be much obliged to you if you will take my
English Grammar under your own care, as if it was your
own, and make whatever additions or alterations you think
proper; and if you choose, I will write you a short
letter, which you may insert in the preface, requesting
it as a favour that ygu would do so, I cannot attend
to these matters now.'
On July 4, 1786, he wrote Bretland, "I thank you for the copy
of the Grammar. I have no doubt that I shall like it, and
wish that it may answer your purpose."8 This somewhat
enlarged edition was twice reprinted, in 1789 and 1798.9
John T. Rutt, the collector of Priestley's Theological
and Miscellaneous aorks, made the final printing of the
grammar. It is included in Volume XXIII of that work,
published in 1824, copies being issued separately from the
complete set again in 1826 and 1833. Rutt used the text of
the 1798 printing--with Bretland's additions in brackets--
and a Preface appearing in the 1768, 1769, and 1772 editions.
Both the first and second editions of the Rudiments
were thought significant enough to deserve reviews in the
Monthly Review. The unknown author who wrote about the first
7Priestley to Bretland, Birmingham, April 5, 1785,
quoted in 4orks 2f PriestleX, I, Part I, 379-380.
8Priestley to Bretland, Birmingham, July 4, 1786,
quoted in 2orks of Priestlev, I, Part I, 391.
9Fulton and Peters, Preliminarv Short Title List,
The Rudiments of English Grammar are exhibited with
great accuracy and clearness in this little treatise,
by Mr. Priestley. Upon the whole we commend his brief
manner of explaining and laying down his Precepts; but
we could wish that he had been a little more diffuse
in the Syntactical Part.10
The remainder of this review, about two pages, deals with
the "Observations on Style," appended to the grammar.
Although the reviewer thinks Priestley is in error in his
doubts as to whether the ancient poets intended the structure
or sound of their verses to be expressive of the sense, he
commends these observations as being, "in general, judicious
The review of the second edition, in 1768, was done
by Andrew Kippis, one of Priestley's close friends. He
confines his remarks almost entirely to the "Notes and
Observations" which were added to the first edition, and his
comments on these are generally favorable. He concludes by
saying, "Such as are critics in the English language will,
we believe, generally, though, perhaps, not universally,
agree with our author in his remarks and strictures. ."12
10"The Rudiments of English Grammar, adapted to the
Use of Schools; with Observations on Style. By Joseph
Priestley," Monthly Review, 1809 ed., XXVI (January, 1762),
12[Andrew Kippis], "The Rudiments of English Grammar,
adapted to the use of Schools; with Notes and Observations,
for the use of those who have made some Proficiency in the
use of Language. By Joseph Priestley," Monthl Review,
B. Summary .f Mhae Contents of the Rudiments. The
Rudiments f English Gram ar falls naturally into three
divisions: the Preface, a systematic grammar of the English
language, and various notes and observations on grammatical
1. Mha Preface. In the Preface, particularly of
the second and third editions of the Rudiments Priestley
reveals much about the purpose of the work and his approach
to the subject. First, he makes it clear that he hopes to
contribute to a simplification of English grammar. "I own
I am surprised," he says, "to see so much of the distribution,
and technical terms of the Latin grammar, retained in the
grammar of our tongue; where they are exceedingly awkward,
and absolutely superfluous; being such as could not possibly
have entered into the head of any man, who had not been
previously acquainted with Latin" (p. 4). For example, he
suggests that since English verbs have no inflectional
variations to represent a future tense, there is no reason to
impose the future tense of the Latin upon English. He
contends, "We should no more have given a particular name to
the combination of the verb with the auxiliary shall or will,
1809 ed., XXXIX (September, 1768) 186. Kippis is identified
as the author of this article in Benjamin C. Nangle, 2he
Contri Revir 1--) a. 1749-189; 0n es 2f
Contyibutu (Ox-fo-rd, 1934), p. 180.
than to those that are made with the auxiliaries do, have,
can, must, or any other" (p. 4). Priestley recognizes that
some may think he has "leaned too much from the Latin idiom,"
but, he says, "I think it is evident, that all other
grammarians have leaned too much to the analogies of that
language, contrary to our modes of speaking, and to the
analogies of other languages more like our own" (p. 5). In
short, he states, "I cannot help flattering myself, that
future grammarians will owe me some obligation, for
introducing this uniform simplicity, so well suited to the
genius of our language, into the English grammar" (p. 5).
A second service which Priestley hoped to render to
English grammar was the detection, "in time, Lof] a very
great number of gallici~j a, which have insinuated themselves
into the style of many of our most justly admired writers"
(p. 5). He believes these "forms of speech," borrowed from
the French and incorporated into English--such as the use
of the English "of" in imitation of the French sd (p. 52),
and the substitution of the oblique case for the nominative
in some constructions (pp. 69, 71)--"tend greatly to injure
the true idiom of the English language, being contrary to
its most established analogies" (p. 5).
Also in the Preface, Priestley sets forth what he
regards as the proper standard for grammar. He says:
It must be allowed, that the custom of speaking is the
original and only just standard of any language. We
see, in all gramars, that this is sufficient to
establish a rule, even contrary to the strongest
analogies of the language with itself. Must not this
custom, therefore, be allowed to have some weight, in
favour of those forms of speech, to which our best
writers and speakers seem evidently prone; forms which
are contrary to no analogy of the language with itself,
and which have been disapproved by grammarians, only from
certain abstract and arbitrary considerations, and when
their decisions were not prompted by the genius of the
language; which discovers itself in nothing more than in
the general propensity of these who use it to certain
modes of construction. I think, however, that I have
not, in any case, seemed to favour what our grammarians
will call an irregularity, but where the genius of the
language, and not only single examples, but the general
practice of those who write it, and that almost universal
custom of those who speak it, have obliged me to do it.
I also think I have seemed to favour those irregularities,
no more than the degree of the propensity I have
mentioned, when unchecked by a regard to arbitrary rules,
in those who use the forms of speech I refer to, will
authorize me (p. 5).
Priestley, then, recognizes the usage of "the best writers
and speakers" as the real authority in the grammar of a
language. Upon this basis, he opposes those grammarians
who would fix the language by setting themselves up as
authorities to legislate the rules of language; and, by the
same token, he opposes the establishment of a public Academy,
"invested with authority to ascertain the use of words,"
and to "reform and fix a language" (pp. 9-10). While
Priestley does not hesitate to give his opinion on matters
relating to grammar, he does so realizing that this opinion
must be confirmed or refuted by time and future usage (pp.
When the usage among "good authors" is contradictory,
Priestley attempts to resolve the question by a study of
"the analogy of the language." And if this still fails to
provide a suitable answer, he believes that the question
should remain undecided, "till all-governing custom .
declare in favour of the one or the other" (p. 9).
In attempting to determine current usage--by which
to decide questions on points of grammar--Priestley says
he did not return to "' ,ft Addia n, and others, who wrote
about half a century ago, in what is generally called the
classical period of our tongue" (p. 6). Rather, he refers
to his contemporaries, so that the present character of the
language may be seen. A comparison of this current usage
with that of preceding periods makes it possible to determine
existing trends (p. 6).
Priestley also makes an appeal that Englishmen study
their own native tongue; for, he says, it is now much more
useful to students, in general, than Greek or Latin. He
further points out that even though the English language
is being more widely used and accepted, still it is not
taught in the schools. He suggests, therefore, that teachers
introduce into their schools, "English grammar, English
composition, and frequent English translations from authors
in other languages" (p. 11).
Finally, he concludes the Preface to the 1768, 1769,
and 1772 editions of the Rudimnts with an acknowledgement to
those writers whom he has found most useful. First, he
mentions Johnson, whose "admirable Dictionary" has been of
great benefit; but at the same time, he censures this author's
grammar, saying, "It is La] pity he had not formed as just and
as extensive an idea of English grammar" (p. 12). Second,
Priestley refers to Lowth's grammar:
I must, also, acknowledge my obligations to Dr. Lowth,
whose short Introduction to English Grammar was first
published about a month after the former edition of
mine. Though our plans, definitions of terms, and
opinions, differ very considerably, I have taken a
few of his examples (though generally for a purpose
different from his) to make my own more complete. He,
or any other person, is welcome to make the same use
of those which I have collected. It is from an amicable
union of labours, together with a generous emulation
in all the friends of science, that we may most
reasonably expect the extension of all kinds of
knowledge (p. 12).13
2. Systematic GrammaPr f Enalish. This second
division of the ERdaUmnts begins with a brief section titled,
"The General Distribution," in which Priestley defines and
partitions his subject. Language, he calls "a method of
conveying our ideas to the minds of other persons"; and
grammar, he defines as "a collection of observations on the
13McLachlan, darrinaton Acadeia, pp. 85-86, tells
that "Priestley, when engaged upon his Rudimants f EnallOah
Graomar . enlisted the help of Thomas Barnes, who
supplied him from his reading with examples of false gram-
matical constructions in celebrated authors."
structure of La language], and a system of rules for the
proper use of it" (p. 13). Also in this preliminary section,
he lists the letters of the English alphabet and divides them
into various types of vowels and consonants.
Moreover, it is here that Priestley distributes words
into eight parts of speech: nouns, adjectives, pronouns,
verbs, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections
(p. 14). He explains, in a footnote, that he has followed
other grammarians in this division, except that he has
replaced participles with adjectives, which he thinks are
"more evidently a distinct part of speech" (p. 14).
Following these introductory matters, Priestley
divides the subject matter of grammar into five parts, each
of which becomes a major division of the Rudiments: inflec-
tions of words, grammatical use and signification of certain
words, syntax, prosody, and grammatical figures. Each of
these he takes up in order, and in the treatment of each
he follows the catechetical, question and answer method.
a) Inflections of words. First, Priestley deals
with the inflection of nouns or substantives, which he
divides into proper and common. "The terminations of nouns,"
he says, "are changed on two accounts L,] principally, Number
and Case, and sometimes also on account of Gender" (p. 15).
He then gives examples of various nouns in the singular and
plural, nominative and genitive, and masculine and feminine.
Next, Priestley presents the inflections of
adjectives, which he defines as "words that denote the
properties or qualities of things" (p. 17). These, he says,
"change their terminations on account of Comparison only,"
and for adjectives he lists endings corresponding with the
positive, comparative, and superlative degrees (p. 17).
Pronouns, the third part of speech discussed under
inflection, are divided into personal, possessive, relative,
and demonstrative. Personal pronouns, he says, are
inflected in the first, second, and third persons, and in
the nominative and oblique cases; possessive pronouns, like
adjectives, are indeclinable, except when they are used as
substantives; relative pronouns, which include interrogatives,
are declined in the nominative, genitive, and oblique cases;
and demonstrative pronouns are declined in the singular and
By far the greatest space is given to the inflection
of verbs, which are defined as words that express "what is
affirmed of, or attributed to a thing," and which denote
"action, or being, or the modes of being" (p. 19). Priestley
divides verbs into transitive and neuter (intransitive),
and suggests two tenses, present and preter (past). Each
of these tenses has a conjunctive form for the expression
of doubts or wishes. There are also two forms of the
participle: the present, ending in "ing"; and the preterite,
generally ending in "ed."
The most complicated aspect of the inflection of
verbs occurs in connection with the use of auxiliaries.
Since Priestley eliminates all but the present and preter
tenses--on the grounds that these are the only tenses having
a corresponding termination--he makes "compound tenses"
perform all other tense functions. He explains this system,
The compound tenses of verbs may be commodiously
distributed into three distinct classes or orders,
according as the auxiliary verbs that constitute them
require the radical 19fm, the articiple present, or
the rtigl preterite to be joined with them. They
are likewise single, double, or triple, according as
Sl o', or three auxiliary verbs are made use of
Thus, what others have called the "future tense," such as
"I shall hear," Priestley "simplifies" to "the single compound
of the first order"--single because it involves the use of
only one auxiliary, and of the first order because it uses
the radical form of the verb. a single compound of the
second order, one which unites a single auxiliary with the
present participle, he illustrates with the progressive
present form, "I am hearing." "I shall be hearing," the
progressive future, Priestley calls a double compound of
the second order--two auxiliaries with the present participle;
while "I shall have been hearing," the progressive future
perfect, he terms a triple compound of the second order.
Turning to the third order, which includes those compound
forms utilizing the preterite participle, Priestley lists
the present tense in the passive voice, "I am heard," as an
example of the single type; while the double compound of the
third order is illustrated with "I shall be heard," future
passive voice. Finally, the triple compound in the third
order is exemplified by "I shall have been heard," usually
termed the future perfect, in the passive voice (see pp.
26-28). vhile the simplicity of this system may be open to
some question, it does provide a notable example of
Priestley's attempt to avoid Latin terminology.
Under this same rubric of "inflection," Priestley
defines the remaining parts of speech--adverbs, prepositions,
conjunctions, and interjections--even though he recognizes
that they have only one form. Also included in this first
division is a brief discussion of various prefixes and
suffixes which may be used with verbs, nouns, and adjectives.
b) Gramntincal Ue And Signification of Certain
Words. The complete title of this brief section of only
three pages is "QIf the grammatical hsan Aa Sinification
St certain Xords, esecially MSh Ai thi e aucitv f u
Tnflections obliges a5 o M~ae UI Ma In order o express
what, In other Lanaaes. JA effected ib a change of
termination." In this section, then, the author explains
certain English words which he believes to be adequate
substitutes for the inflectional forms found in other
Under this heading Priestley first suggests the
variations in meaning which are made possible by the use of
the articles "a," "an," and "the." In general, he says,
these suggest the "extent" of the words before which they
are placed. "A" or "an" indicates "that one only of a species
or some one single person is meant, but not any one in
particular" (p. 32). "The," on the other hand, "limits the
signification of a word to one or more of a species, or
shews that some particular person or thing is referred to"
Second, Priestley explains the use of auxiliary
verbs in expressing those ideas which other languages signify
by a change in termination. The auxiliary "to do," he says,
renders an affirmation "more emphatical." A form of "to be"
joined with the present participle, "expresses the affirma-
tion with the greater emphasis and precision"; while the
preterite participle "to be" signifies "the suffering or
receiving [of] the action expressed." "Shall" and "will"
enable one to foretell; "can" signifies a power, "may" a
right, and "must" a necessity. Moreover, "to have," employed
as an auxiliary, "signifies that what is affirmed [,] is or
was past" (pp. 33-34). In connection with verbal expressions,
then, Priestley attempts to accomplish a considerable simpli-
fication of English grammar. Without ever referring, by
name, to the emphatic and progressive forms of the present and
past, the passive voice, and the future, perfect, and
pluperfect tenses, he attempts to explain the signification
of each of these by a treatment of auxiliary verbs.
c) yntaxi. The third major section of Priestley's
systematic treatment of grammar deals with syntax, or ".th
Order At ordsa in A Sentence, And the Correasondence .21 An
Word to another. The usual order of words in a sentence,
he says, is subject, verb, and object, with adjectives
immediately before the substantive, adverbs between the
subject and the verb, and the pronoun relative immediately
after its antecedent. As to agreement, he says that "ad-
jective pronouns" must correspond with their substantives
in number, that a verb and its subject must have the same
number and person, and that the oblique case of the pronoun
is used after transitive verbs and prepositions.14
d) Prosody. Prosody, the treatment of which occupies
only one page, Priestley defines as "that part of grammar
which teaches the rules of ronunciation and of versification"
(p. 39). He asserts that pronunciation consists in
"laying the accent upon the proper syllable of a word, and
the namahaia upon the proper word of a sentence"; while
S 14oseh Bretland, evidently believing this section
not sufficiently detailed to be clear on all matters, added
three pages to the discussion, thus more than doubling the
length of this portion of the dnantaLA. orkis f Prkiestle.,
versification depends "upon arranging the syllables of words
according to certain laws, respecting anuntit or accent"
(p. 39). Following these definitions, Priestley gives a
brief explanation of various types of metre: trochaic,
iambic, spondaic, and dactylic.15
e) Figure. The final portion of Priestley's
systematic treatment of grammar consists of a mere half page
of remarks on figures, which he defines as "those deviations
from grammatical or natural propriety, which are either
allowed or admired" (p. 41). Here are mentioned ortho-
graphical figures--such as aphoeresis, syncope, and apocope--
and various types of ellipsis. Orthographical figures
he allows only in familiar writing and verse, and an overuse
of ellipsis he declares to be a fault.
Before going on to the next major portion of the
grammar, Priestley includes a four-page chart of irregularly
inflected verbs. It is also at this point that he presents
his "Observations on Style," a section which appeared in the
first edition only. dhile these remarks contain little that
is not more fully treated elsewhere in Priestley's writings,
they do include the "germs" of many ideas which appear later
in the Lectures on Oratory and CriticLism the reduction of
15Here again, Bretland augments Priestley's
discussion with a page and a half of additional material.
rorks of Priestley, XXIII, 40-41.
a discourse to a series of propositions asserting the
correspondence of a subject and predicate; the division of
discourses into narrative and argumentative; an insistence
upon perspicuity above adornment; the presence of certain
Romantic tendencies in his critical thought; and a
discussion of harmony and figures of speech (pp. 483-491).
3. Notes and observation ss Granmmr. The third
and concluding division of Priestley's Rudiments of Enalish
Graamar--appearing in all editions except the first--is
titled "Notes and Observations for the use of those who have
made some proficiency in the language." Occupying over
sixty per cent of the total number of pages, this section is
actually a collection of examples from many writers, primarily
of the eighteenth century, which demonstrate "current usage"
on certain grammatical matters.
These remarks, which, in large measure, follow the
same organizational pattern utilised in the second part of
the grammar, open with a treatment of various inflectional
matters, then move through a discussion of articles and
auxiliary verbs, and finally, to questions of syntax.
In connection with inflection, Priestley discusses
the plural of nouns; the genitive case; the feminine form
of certain nouns; the comparative and superlative degrees
of adjectives; the declension of various types of pronouns;
and the formation of different verb forms, particularly of
conjunctives, participles, and auxiliaries. Following
inflection, he speaks of adverbs and conjunctions; the
composition and derivation of certain words; the various
meanings of the article found in contemporary authors; and
the use of prepositions in general, and of certain frequently
used ones in particular. Finally, in the closing portion
of this third part of the grammar, Priestley treats various
matters of syntax, giving particular attention to the
correspondence of words expressing numbers, and to the
correspondence of particles.16
Upon the subjects treated in this section, Priestley
has collected over five hundred quotations, ranging in
length from one word to a sentence, from current works. By
far the most frequently quoted author is Hume, whose works
are cited almost two hundred times, sometimes with approval
and sometimes in censure. Rutt adds in a footnote that
Hume told Mr. Griffith, a bookseller, that by reading
Priestley's grammar he was "made sensible of the gallicisms
and peculiarities of his style" (p. 7). Other authors and
16For an analysis of Priestley's position on specific
grammatical questions of the eighteenth century, see Sterling
Andrus Leonard, The Doctrine 2f Correctness iJ Enulish Usage,
17IQ-1800 ("University of disconsin Studies in Language and
Literature," No. 25. Madison, 1929); d. F. Bryan, "Notes on
the Founders of Prescriptive English Grammar," Manly
Anniversary Studies (Chicago, 1923), pp. 383-393; and Charles
C. Fries, "The Rules of Common School Grammars," Publications
91 fh Modern Lanuage Association jo America, XLII (March,
works frequently mentioned are Addison, some fifty times;
Smollett's Voltaire, thirty; Harris' Hermeg and Three
Treaties, eighteen; the Bible, fifteen; Maoaulay's History,
fourteen; Swift, thirteen; and Bolingbroke on History,
twelve. Also he occasionally speaks of the works of Pope,
Dryden, Shakespeare, Milton, Blackstone, and Locke, as well
as those of less familiar authors.
4. ~ ar. ma = RXdimnts s o- Entlish ramar,
therefore, as the name suggests, is a presentation of the
elementary elements of the English language. In it the author
attempts to furnish a textbook for the classroom; and, at the
same time, he seeks to bring about certain simplifications
in the science of English grammar, especially by making it
more independent of Latin and French. Of considerable
importance, too, is the fact that he makes "usage," not
"authoritative pronouncements," the standard for determining
the laws of grammar. Although this work is by no means a
comprehensive treatment of the English language, it does
provide sufficient material for a beginning course in the
subject--the purpose for which it was designed.
III. A Course ef Lecture2 Outn & Theory 2f anga ge
and Universal Graar!lQ Priestley's second work on language,
written only a year after the publication of the Rudiments,
was A Course at Lectures on hfe sory at Lancuace Ad
A. ~acts of Publication. One of the courses which
Priestley taught throughout his years at Warrington covered
what he termed "the theory of language and universal grammar,"
and for this course he composed, in 1762, a series of
nineteen lectures.17 This work was privately printed for
the exclusive use of his students, with the following
Lest the following performance should, by any accident,
fall into other hands than those for whose use it is
peculiarly calculated; it is necessary to advertise
in this place, that it is only intended to furnish the
lecturer with a convenient method for discussing the
several subjects of it in a more diffuse and similar
manner, and by no means to be a full and compliat set
of lectures, that need no further enlargement.
Although Priestley intended to have this work
published,19 his plan was not accomplished during his
lifetime. These lectures were included, however, in the
Rutt collection of Mha Theological and UMiscllaneous Wrks
of Joaeh Priestle, where they appear following the Rudi-
ments in Volume XXIII--originally published in 1824, and
issued separately from the set in 1826 and 1833. On
numerous incidental matters, Rutt's edition varies somewhat
17A2&os f Priestley, I, Part I, 51.
18Joseph Priestley, i Curse .f Lctures on h
Theory of Lanuage and Universal Grammar (iarrington,
1762), p. ii.
19See orks 91 Priestlex, XXIII, 121; Priestley,
Lectures, p. 29.
from the original: the table of contents is reduced, blanks
in which the student was to write the appropriate Greek
and Hebrew words are filled in, a few sentences are re-
worded with the original meaning maintained, typographical
errors are corrected, some paragraphs are combined,
capitalization and punctuation are slightly modified, the
section on references at the end of the work is rearranged,
and Rutt includes in a footnote the advertisement mentioned
above. In addition to the original footnotes by Priestley
himself, notes by Rutt and Dr. Andrew Kippis are supplied.20
B. Summary 1 gIM LTe ture-s S h Th eory ft Lanrmagre
and Universal grammar. "Language," begins Priestley, "whether
spoken or written, is properly termed an AtE"; and as such,
it is, like all other arts, founded upon a science which
explains the basic materials that it uses. The science
underlying language as an art-ar as Priestley terms it, the
"theor or rationale of language'-is the subject of this
course of lectures. In them he takes "sounds and characters,"
his terms for phonetic and orthographic symbols, as the two
basic linguistic elements, and attempts to point out (1) the
powers of expression of which these are capable, (2) the
20The notes by Dr. Kippis contain additional material
which he supplied when using this work for a course at
the Academy in Hoxton. Works of Priestle, XXIII, 121.
connection between these symbols and the ideas which they
may be used to represent, (3) and the various modes of
expression which may be employed in different languages in
order to convey the same mental conceptions (pp. 122-124).
By comparing various languages in this manner,
Priestley believes that it is possible to discover and to
remedy deficiencies which may exist in any particular
language. Moreover, he suggests that the study of the theory
of language and universal grammar is valuable because of
the fact that language is both "that art which is the means
of preserving and bringing to perfection all other arts,"
and the faculty which is, to a great degree, "the measure
of our intellectual powers" (p. 125).
Although the nineteen lectures in this work are not
grouped into major divisions, the over-all plan is clear.
Priestley begins with a discussion of the two basic elements
of language--the first chapter dealing with articulation,
and the next two with the origin of letters, hieroglyphics,
characters, and alphabets. Having considered the phonetic
and orthographic symbols which make up words, he then
classifies words into different parts of speech, and treats
each in some detail--this task occupying six lectures.
Following the discussion of words, he turns to the combination
of words into sentences, and for three lectures deals with
various aspects of syntax. In the next five lectures he
relates the histories of various languages, particularly
the Hebrew, Latin, and Greek, in an attempt to show the
pattern by which languages develop, run their course, and
then decay. He then discloses what he believes to be the
essential characteristics of a perfect language, and makes
a final comparison of different languages. Lastly, in the
closing lecture, he gives his opinion as to how there came to
be a diversity of languages, tells of what value this has
been, and expresses the hope that some day there will be a
universal philosophical language.
Having seen the general scope and organization of
the Letures an U Theory Languae and Universal Gra r,
we turn now to a more detailed consideration of their
contents. In Lecture I, "Of Articulation," Priestley suggests
that like all animals, man has been given the power of
communicating with others of his species. This capability
not only enables him to produce sounds, but by "varying the
aperture of the mouth," and by "checking and stopping [the
sound] in a variety of ways, by the action of the tongue,
lips, palate, and teeth," he is able to produce vowels and
consonants. These, in turn, may be combined into words,
which stand as symbols for ideas. Although the particular
sounds which may be produced are relatively few, the
combinations of which they are capable are almost endless.
In connection with these sounds, man also has the ability
to convey feelings and thoughts by using "gestures and
postures of the body, and particularly motions of the hands,
and of the features of the countenance" (pp. 127-129).
Having discussed the phonetic aspect of language,
Priestley, in the next two lectures, considers the
orthographic element. After suggesting that writing is
superior to speaking from the standpoint of permanence, but
that speaking is superior to writing in variety of
expression, he attempts to establish how it was that man
came to use written symbols to stand for spoken ones. He
discounts the theory held by David Hartley and others, that
writing is of divine origin; for, he says, it is not
impossible that man himself could have invented writing.
The beginnings were, of course, crude; and, perhaps, the
first attempts utilized symbols for only a few of the more
visible consonant sounds, such as labials, dentals,
linguals, palatals, and gutterals. Vowels, according to
this view, were introduced later. Moreover, it is probable
that picture-writing preceded any sort of alphabet, and was
eventually condensed into hieroglyphics, then into characters
like the Chinese, and finally into an alphabet. Upon this
basis, Priestley presents a brief history of alphabets,
emphasizing the transition from the ancient sets of letters
into the more modern ones.
With the history and uses of alphabets now set
forth, Priestley turns to a discussion of words, and how the
various parts of speech grew out of necessary language
functions, presenting in this connection the argument common
in discussions of universal grammar. Nouns, he says, were
the first to be developed, for they are the names of things.
Adjectives probably followed nouns, for after naming
objects, man would next be likely to observe the properties
which these objects have in common, such as hardness,
softness, redness, and whiteness. Then, in order to assert
that an object possessed a certain attribute, the development
of the verb would be necessary. Following this would come,
in order, prepositions, conjunctions, pronouns, adverbs,
and interjections, thus producing a classification of the
parts of speech which is precisely the same as that found in
In Lectures V through IX, Priestley treats these
eight parts of speech in detail, defining each, and giving
its various forms and uses. In general, the treatment is
similar to that appearing in the Rudiment, except that it
includes forms from other languages as well as English. In
discussing verbs, however, a far more thorough analysis is
given, for Priestley deals not only with the "simple" forms
in English, but with the more complex forms in Latin and
Greek. Thus he gives a rather complete list of the moods
or modes appearing in various languages-including indica-
tive, imperative, subjunctive, potential, and optative, as
well as the infinitive, participle, and gerund. Tense,
likewise, is treated in considerable detail, for he explains
the "present, "imperfect," "preterperfect," preterpluper-
fect," and illustrates, though he does not name, the future
and future perfect. For some reason, Priestley makes no
mention of either the past tense or the aorist tense, both
of which are at least as significant as those named.
Lectures X and XI deal primarily with syntax. Here
the author defines and illustrates simple and oompound
sentences, and relative clauses, and briefly comments on
periods and paragraphs. In this section he also includes
some material on the development of transitions in a
language and on the general order of words in sentences in
Jith the conclusion of Lecture XI, Priestley
proceeds to a wholly new subject. He has now considered
the elements of language, and their combination into words
and sentences. The remainder of the work deals primarily
with the patterns that may be discerned in the growth and
corruption of various languages, the desirable qualities
in a perfect language, and a final comparison of languages.
If the users of a language, he writes, have many
contacts with other nations, and if they make a considerable
use of speaking and writing in their governmental, social,
and artistic functions, then their language will tend to
become enlarged and embellished. As in architecture, dress,
and even life itself, however, after a language has achieved
considerable excellence, there is a tendency for ornament
to be regarded above usefulness; and when this occurs, the
language will fall into a state of decadence. This process
is illustrated at length by references to the history of
the Latin language.
Priestley also attempts to apply this pattern to the
English language. During the reign of Queen Anne, the
English tongue became "fixed," he writes, at least to an
extent never before realized; and those works which contrib-
uted to this standardization, he calls "classical," in the
sense that they were imitated by succeeding writers. Since,
however, the English language has not reached perfection, its
progress may be considerably accelerated by the work of
grammarians and critics, so long as they keep within their
proper sphere of analyzing and recommending, and do not
attempt to become arbitrary authorities. As in the Rudiments.
Priestley insists upon custom as the supreme arbiter in
linguistic matters. "The general prevailing custom," he
says, "whatever it happens to be, can be the only standard
for the time that it prevails" (p. 198). He does state,
however, that analogy both within a language itself, and with
other languages, may be of use in its improvement.
The next three lectures, XIII, XIV, and XV, present
Priestley's theory concerning the development of Greek
and Latin into complex languages. He believes it was more
through the accidents of climate, geography, and politics,
than through design that these languages, particularly the
Greek, became so highly inflected. After his explanation
of the rise and development of these ancient languages, he
considers their gradual decay and transition into the modern
languages. Lecture XV is concluded with a few comments on
the translation of one language into another.
In connection with these remarks on the progress
of a language, Priestley undertakes to explain why in the
history of many literatures metrical compositions tend to
precede those in prose. The reason for this, he thinks,
is that before any writing takes place, verse--since it is
more easily remembered than prose--is used for the trans-
mission of legends and history. 'When literature begins to
be produced, therefore, it is only natural that the first
compositions should be in the already familiar verse of
legends and history.
Before making the final comparison of the languages
he has thus far discussed, Priestley presents what he
believes to be the criteria for determining the value of a
language. A perfect language, he asserts, must meet the
three following standards:
In the first place it is necessary there be a sufficient
coJia of words; secondly, that there be no ambiguities
of words or constructions; and, lastly, that the
pronunciation of it be not grating, but pleasing to
the ear. The two former of these criterions contribute
to clear expression, and are therefore the fundamental
properties of a good languages the latter is a matter
of ornament only (p. 227).
Having set forth these criteria, the author proceeds
to "characterize the several languages that gentlemen of a
liberal education have occasion to make themselves acquainted
with, or make use of" (p. 234). In this connection he
presents rather detailed analyses of the strengths and
weaknesses of Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, among the ancient
tongues, and French, Spanish, Italian, German, and English
among the modern languages.
The final lecture in this grammar deals with "the
origin, use, and cessation of diversities of languages."
Diversity among languages, Priestley believes, had its
beginning with the building of the Tower of Babel, and was
"brought about by the interposition of the Divine Being";
but he thinks it no impiety to suppose that this occurrence
might have been accomplished by some natural means (p. 243).
Since, he supposes, the original language was not, by that
time, highly developed, nor probably written at all, it is
not unlikely that as men were dispersed into various
climates where they followed different ways of living, they
made almost completely different developments of the few
rudiments existent at the time of their separation.
-hile admitting that this diversity of language has
provided some inconvenience, Priestley thinks it has also
had its advantages. The study of different languages, for
example, has a broadening influence upon the human mind;
and, moreover, the development of many languages has led to
a better understanding of the rationale of language as a
Priestley closes his final lecture with a few remarks
on a universal philosophical language. Although he believes
that in his day the time is not ripe for the completion of
the plan, he is favorable to the idea of such a language,
and expresses the hope that it may someday be accomplished.
Finally, the author provides a list of some of the
more important works on the subject of these lectures, to
which he would refer the student:
A general and rational Grammar, by Messieurs de Port
Royal; as also their La1n and Greek Grammars. Harris's
Hares [or Philosophical Enauiry Concernin Unaiversal
Grammar]. Bayley's"Introduction to Languages."
Robertson's Method of reading Hebrew. (Introduction.)
Hartley's "Observations on Man," Ch. iii. Sect. 1.
"Of words, and the ideas associated with them." Du
Fresne's Glossary of the Modern Greek. (Preface.)
Hadrian Rlandfs Miscellaneous Dissertations, Vol. III.
Richards Welsh Grammar and Dictionary. Wilkins'D
"Essay towards a real Character and a Philosophical
Language." Brerwood on Languages. SharPe's Two
Dissertations on the Origin, Construction, Division,
and Relation of Languages, and the Original Powers of
Letters (p. 251).
IV. Ah2 Sianificance and Influenc atf Priestlev's
Grammara. Following the publication of Johnson's epoch-
making dictionary, in 1755, great interest developed in the
grammar of the English language. While previous grammarians
had been mainly concerned with teaching the English tongue
to foreigners, the grammarians of this period desired to
settle questions of correctness for the benefit of
Englishmen themselves. Standard histories of the English
language invariably list Jospeh Priestley among the most
significant of these grammarians.
A. Priestlev'a Insist2enc o Usage as the Standard
Af Correctness. The most frequently mentioned reason for
Priestley's importance as a grammarian is his insistence
upon "usage" as the standard of correctness. The majority
of eighteenth-century grammarians--men such as Robert Lowth21
and Lindley Murray22-*attempted to be prescribers, passing
judgment or setting up rules without a careful consideration
of current usage.23 Priestley, on the other hand, vigorously
opposed this authoritarian view, and strongly championed
usage as the standard. S. A. Leonard, in his study of the
21 Short Introduction tf Grammar (1762).
22Enalish Graa (1795).
23Margaret M. Bryant, Morn lih anf UIa
Heritage (New York, 1948), p. 78.
doctrine of correctness in English usage between 1700 and
Only one writer, Joseph Priestley, appears to have
held to a clear conception of the force of usage, as
presented by Horace and Quintilian and by Locke and his
followers. His work, marred of course by his lack of
training for specifically linguistic research, is,
almost alone in the eighteenth century, a precursor
of modern study of these problems.24
Fries also has noted Priestley's protest against the general
tendency of the grammarians toward arbitrary rules,25 and
Baugh calls Priestley the person who, "more whole-heartedly
than anyone else," advocated the doctrine of usage.26 Bryan's
comparative study of Priestley, Lowth, George Campbell, and
Noah Webster, likewise, reveals that on most matters where
these writers failed to agree, Priestley was in the more
liberal position; and this writer concludes that "Priestley
had more regard for the observed facts of usage than for
the rules of grammar."27 With this sentiment Bryant concurs,
saying, "In the eighteenth century . the chief exponent
of this doctrine [of usage] was the philosopher, theologian,
and chemist, Joseph Priestley."28
24Leonard, Doctrine S Correctness, p. 14.
25Fries, "Rules of Common School Grammars," pp.
26Albert C. Baugh, 4 History Sf the U nlish LfnagMae
(New York, 1935), p. 349.
27Bryan, "Notes on the Founders of Prescriptive
Grammar," p. 387.
28Bryant, Modern Enalish and It Helritage, p. 265;
Numerous writers have also pointed out the connection
between Priestley's position and that of George Campbell,
author of the Philosophr of Rhetoric (1776). Campbell, like
Priestley, believed language to be "purely a species of
fashion," established by the consent of the people, in which
"certain sounds come to be appropriated to certain things";
and "certain ways of inflecting and combining those sounds
come to be established, as denoting the relations which
subsist among the things signified." Campbell further states,
"It is not the business of grammar, as some critics seem
preposterously to imagine, to give law to the fashions which
regulate our speech. On the contrary, from its conformity
to these, and from that alone, it derives all its authority
In explanation of usage, Campbell gives his three
famous standards: first, the use must be reputable, that
is, general, and in vogue with the well educated; second,
the use must be national, as opposed to both a provincial
and a foreign use; and third, the form must be in present
use. In presenting these views, Campbell writes, "I
see also Mario Pei, The Story f Enlish (Philadelphia,
1952), p. 329.
29George Campbell, 3g Philosophy 2 Rhetoric
(New York, 1834), p. 141. See also Bryant, Modern Enklish
ad eritae, p. 265; George H. McKnight, Moder
h the Making (New York, 1928), p. 391.
entirely agree with Dr. Priestley, that it will never be
the arbitrary rules of any man, or body of men, whatever,
that will ascertain the language, there being no other
dictator here but use."30
Although Priestley and Campbell agree on the
standard for deciding grammatical questions, Priestley
appears to apply this principle with greater consistency
than does Campbell.31 Leonard calls Campbell's work "an
amazing instance of attempted adherence to the principle
[of usage] and its utter betrayal."32 Baugh, likewise,
states, "The difference between Priestley and Campbell is
that whereas Campbell expounded the doctrine of usage with
admirable clarity and then violated it, Priestley was almost
everywhere faithful to his principles."33
B. Priestlev's Atemnt f Free Enalish from
Foreign Influnce&. Charles Fries, in his study of
eighteenth-century school grammars, concludes that, to some
30Campbell, Philo sophy f Rhetoric, p. 150.
31For discussion of the points of difference between
Priestley and Campbell, see Campbell, Philoso~hy f Rhetoric,
pp. 156, 159, 161-162, 182, 194, 208, where Campbell himself
points out certain differences; Bryan, "Notes on the Founders
of Presciptive Grammar," assgi; and Leonard, Doctrine of
32Leonard, Doctrine of Correctness, p. 16.
33Baugh, A History of th Enalish Language, p. 351.
extent, all grammarians of the period use the apparatus of
the Latin grammars. He recognizes, however, that Priestley
made a very definite attempt to "lean" as far as possible
from the Latin, and states, "This very independence of
Priestley was perhaps one reason why his grammar had so
little influence."34 Leonard, likewise, takes cognizance of
Priestley's efforts to free English grammar from unnecessary
Latin influence, and believes that he--along with William
'ard, and Robert Lowth--played an important role in winning
the "battle for independence from Latin."35 This same writer
considers Priestley and Campbell as two of the leaders in
the fight for "national" usage, as opposed to the intrusion
of Latin and French constructions and idioms.36
C. Priestlev's Classification of the Parts of
Seech It will be recalled that in his Rudiments, Priestley
states that he believes it wise to make the adjective a
separate part of speech, while classifying the participle as
merely a form of the verb. Thus, with this innovation,
Priestley designates nouns, adjectives, pronouns, verbs,
adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections as
the parts of speech. Although this classification is not
34Fries, "Rules of Common School Grammars," p. 228n.
35Leonard, Dgtrine St Correctness, pp. 52-53.
36Ibid., p. 151.
an extensive departure from that employed by previous
grammarians, it is significant because it is the distribution
which has prevailed to the present time. As Charles Fries
says, "The current conventional classification of words into
the particular eight parts of speech now common seems to
have begun with Joseph Priestley and to have been generally
accepted in the grammars since 1850."37
D. Prigstlev's Influence Aa Graftarian.
Priestley's influence as a grammarian was not so great as
that of some of his contemporaries, men such as Lowth and
Murray, nor were his grammars so widely used. As already
intimated in the statement from Fries, the very independence
and originality which make him significant today, were
probably the primary reasons why his grammars exerted rela-
tively little influence.38 dith this observation Leonard
agrees, saying that because Priestley's Rudiments was "so
remote from the general trend of thought in his time," it
was "without important influence." "It did not," he
continues, "often figure in the ireful combats in which the
other grammarians engaged, but was obscured by the brilliance
of Lowth's completely logical grammar, published only a
37Charles Carpenter Fries, 3fi. Structure .t Enalish
(New York, 1952), p. 66.
38Fries, "Rules of Common School Grammars," p. 228n.
month after Priestley's, and was completely buried under
Lindley Murray's eclectic productions."39
Priestley's grammars, however, were not entirely
without their effect, for they undoubtedly exerted some
influence on those who used them as textbooks, and probably
upon other grammarians as well. As already suggested, George
Campbell was familiar with the jRdiaenia and, since he
refers to it often, it is possible that his knowledge of
Priestley's position on the doctrine of usage had some
influence on his adoption of a similar stand. Perhaps to a
lesser degree, the same is true of Noah Webster--also a
proponent of usage as a standard--who appears to have been
familiar with Priestley's Rudiments by the time of his later
writings.40 A more positive connection may be seen between
Priestley and Lindley Murray's English ramar (1795). In
the Preface to this work, Murray wrote: "It is, however,
proper to acknowledge, in general terms, that the authors
to whom the grammatical part of this compilation is principal-
ly indebted for its materials, are Harris, Johnson, Lowth,
Priestly [iA], Beattie, Sheridan, Walker, and Coote."41
39Leonard, Doctrine f Correctness, p. 14.
408ee Bryan, "Notes on the Founders of Prescriptive
Grammar," jassmi; Fries, "Rules of Common School Grammars,"
pp. 231-232- Harry R. Warfel, Noah debaterst .hoojmaster
to America New York, 1936), p. 81.
4Lindley Murray, An Enlish Grammar (New York,
1819), I, vii.
Bryan's study corroborates Murray's use of Priestley,
saying that it was primarily to Lowth, Priestley, and Campbell
that he was indebted. Bryan also points out that, since
Murray's grammar was the "almost unquestioned authority in
England and America during the first half of the last
century," as well as the "progenitor" of most of the formal
grammars which provided the basis of English instruction for
well over a century, Priestley's influence was thus
transmitted to succeeding generations.42
In addition, therefore, to influencing those
students at darrington and elsewhere who used his grammars
as textbooks, Priestley also had some effect on subsequent
V. ,QW ir. As a grammarian, Priestley occupies
a place of considerable importance. Although his works were
not so widely used as some others in his period, he does
stand as a leader in two important trends: the movement
toward freeing the English tongue from the unnecessary
influence of Latin and French, and the establishment of usage
as the standard of correctness. As such, he may be
regarded as a precursor of many modern grammarians.
42Bryan, "Notes on the Founders of Prescriptive
Grammar," p. 393.
PRIESTLEY'S LECTURES OM RATORYAMg CRITICISM
I. Introduction. Of even greater significance in
this study than the two grammars just discussed, is
Priestley's A Course of Lectures =a Orator A d Critiism.
for it is in this work that he presents a systematic treatment
of rhetorical theory. Composed in 1762, upon his arrival at
darrington Academy, the aLetura contain the text from which
he lectured extemporaneously to his class in "Oratory and
Criticism." Although he allowed his students to copy these
lecture notes,1 they were not published until 1777, ten years
after Priestley had left Warrington, and while he was in the
service of Lord Shelburne. The reasons why he finally
decided to make thea public are given in the Preface to the
1jorka of Priestler. I, Part I, 50-51. McLachlan,
arrinAtn d p. 56, records: "'n extant letter to
[John] Seddon fro Benjamin Vaughan (25 July, 1767) speaks of
he lectures on 'Oratory and Criticisa,' which he and another
student had copied, and how he resented a letter from Mrs.
Priestley requiring them to be kept private, as, he urged,
the copies had been made by permission and at great
The plan [of these lectures] is rather more
comprehensive than anything that I have seen upon the
subject, and the arrangement of the materials, as a
system, is new, and the theory, in several respects,
For this reason I have been frequently urged to make
the Lectures public; and having postponed it so long, I
have been induced to do it at this time, partly with a
view to the illustration of the doctrine of the
association of ideas, to which there is a constant
reference through the whole work (in order to explain
facts relating to the influence of Oratory, and the
striking effect of Excellencies in Composition, upon the
genuine principles of human nature) in consequence of
having of late endeavoured to draw some degree of
attention to those principles, as advanced by Dr. Hartley
[by publishing his own edition of Hartley's Observations
2o Man in 1775). Another reason for publishing these
Lectures at this time is, for the sake of the young
Nobleman [Edmond George Petty, Lord Fitzmaurice, the son
of Lord Shelburne] to whom they are dedicated, in whose
improvement my best services are, on many accounts, due
The Lectures, then, were published for three reasons: (1)
because they were thought to be comprehensive and novel,
(2) because they afforded an opportunity for illustrating
the doctrine of association, and (3) because they might be
beneficial to Lord Fitzmaurice, whom Priestley was helping
to tutor. The novelty and comprehensiveness of these
lectures, as well as their connection with the association
psychology, will be considered in later chapters. The point
here deserving emphasis is that,at least to Priestley, these
were valid reasons for making them public.
2All page references inserted parenthetically in the
text of this chapter are to Joseph Priestley Course
Lectures Orato ry ad Criticism (London, 1777).
During the fifteen years between the composition of
the Lecture and their publication, it would appear that
Priestley had ample time for reworking and improving them.
Actually, however, he made few alterations. He admits that,
while he had studied almost all the valuable works on
criticism at the time he was composing the lectures, he knew
little of the later publications of this kind, for he had
"been generally engaged in pursuits of a different nature"
(p. ii). Essentially the same admission is contained in a
letter from Priestley to Rev. N. Cappe, dated April 13, 1777:
I hope you have received a copy of the Greek, as well
as of the Lectures, and the third volume on Air, which
I meant for your son.
I am afraid you will think I have not taken so much
pains to finish the Lectures as you could have wished;
but I did as much as I well could, without studying the
subject afresh, and I could not bring my mind to it,
it is so long since I gave any attention to things of
that nature. I struck out a good deal that I thought
My manner has always been to give my whole attention
to a subject till I have satisfied myself with respect
to it, and then think no more about the matter. I
hardly ever look into any thing that I have published;
and when I do, it sometimes appears quite new to me.3
Priestley did, however, make some changes during
these intervening years. He says, "A considerable part of
what I had composed for the use of my pupils in the first
2art of this work, which is, in its own nature, more trite
than the rest, I have here omitted; retaining only as much
3Priestley to Cappe, Calne, April 13, 1777, quoted in
Works if Priestley, I, Part I, 298-299.
as was necessary to preserve the appearance of an uniform
system in the whole, and those parts which were the most
original" (p. iv). He also states, "what I now publish is
the text [for class lectures] above mentioned, with some
improvements which have since occurred to me" (p. vi).
The first edition of the Lectures .n Orator And
Criticism was printed in London, for J. Johnson, No. 72,
St. Paul's Church Yard, and sold for 10/6 in boards, or
14. bound. This quarto volume contains 313 pages of text,
plus a dedication, a six-page Preface, a two-page Table of
Contents, and one page of errata. Appended is a catalogue
of books written by Priestley and printed for J. Johnson.
rhile Priestley believed the Lectures contained some
valuable material, he did not express his usual optimism over
their reception by the public. In a letter to Rev. Joseph
Bretland, on December 28, 1777, he wrote:
I wish, however, very often that you were nearer to me,
because, of all my acquaintance, I consider you as most
likely to enter deeply into Hartley's theory, and
contribute to the farther [sj.] investigation of that
important subject, and should like to converse with you
about such matters. I am satisfied from what you say
that you clearly understand his theory, which few do,
and are apprized of the very extensive application of
it. By this time you may observe the use that I have
made of it in the business of criticism [in the Lectures
on Oratory A Criticism.], though it is very probable
that you expected more than you found in it. It is a
very delicate subject.4
4Priestley to Bretland, Calne, December 28, 1777,
quoted in ok of Priest ley, I, Part I, 302.
Another letter to Bretland, only dated 1777, but probably
written about the same time as the one above, states:
I am glad that my "Lectures on Criticism" gave you any
pleasure; but, though I much approve of your hints for
an improved edition, I fear I shall hardly be able to
give the attention to it that will be necessary to
execute them. Besides, I do not imagine that there will
be much demand for the Work, so as to require a new
edition, at least soon.D
In 1781, however, just four years later, there was a
second edition, published at Dublin for William Hallhead,
No. 63, Dame-street. This octavo volume of 374 pages--which
may have been issued without the knowledge or consent of the
author--is, so far as can be determined, never mentioned
either by Priestley or by his editor, Rutt. Although the
date on the dedication page is omitted, typographical errors
corrected, and the catalogue of books printed by the rival
publisher left out, the text is not altered. Even the
divisions of the book, lecture numbers, paragraphing,
footnotes, italics, spacing of lists and quotations, etc.,
are exactly the same. This second edition would make it
appear that there was some demand for the book, but the
publication gives no explanation for the reprint, nor is
there any indication of how many copies were printed. The
number may have been small, however, for Fulton and Peters
located copies of the 1781 edition only in the library of
5Priestley to Bretland, 1777, quoted in ok atf
Priestley, I, Part I, 307.
Dr. J. F. Fulton, New Haven, Connecticut, and the Library
of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The 1777 edition
is somewhat more plentiful, nine copies having been located
by these authors.6
The Lecantrs an Oratory and Criticism, like the two
grammars previously mentioned, are included in Volume XXIII
of Rutt's collection of Priestley's works, printed in 1824,
and reissued separately in 1826 and 1833. For this purpose,
Rutt used the 1777 edition, keeping the text precisely the
same, except for the correction of typographical errors. He
adds many useful footnotes giving more complete references
to some of Priestley's quotations, and suggesting other works
with which to compare Priestley's ideas.
The original publication of the Lectures was believed
significant enough to warrant reviews in two of the leading
periodicals of the day. An unknown author in the Critical
Review for July, 1777, praises the work for containing many
"valuable remarks." Although he disagrees with some of
6Fulton and Peters, Preliminar Short T 9 List,
p. 6. Copies of the 1777 edition are listed as being in
the Library of Dr. J. F. Fulton, New Haven, Conn.; Yale
University Library; Library of Congress; Columbia University
Library; Harvard University Library; Library Company, and
American Philosophical Society Library in Philadelphia;
Library of Mrs. Joseph Priestley Button, Philadelphia; and
the British Museum. There is also a copy in the Library
of the University of Florida.