Joseph Johnson

John Bugg (ed.), The Joseph Johnson Letterbook

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pg 1514. To Joseph Priestley, 25 September 1795

Jos. Priestly

Lond. Sep. 25. 1795

Dear Sir

    I send you on the other [sic] an account of Articles ship'd for you in Aug.t on board the Bacchus, Cap.n George, in a box mark'd J. P. Sr. & consigned to Mr. Jn.° Vaughan which I hope will be with you before this Letter.1

It is natural enough for you to imagine that there are booksellers who would exchange Stock for land, no doubt there are but then the books must be of his choice & great numbers of a sort, this will never do in forming a library which ought to consist of the best books, & only one of each, such a library can only be purchased by a bookseller with ready money on his part & to have it on good terms money should be sent with the order. I applaud your idea of establishing a college in Northumberland but fear it is too early & that you have not yet a sufficient number of enlightened Men to bring it about, to omit the study of theology altogether is I think an excellent part of such a scheme, the better to secure a general support.2

To purchase Northumberland is a grand idea but no idea of purchase is a good one which involves in it the probability of much anxiety about payment. You ask me to become a sharer not considering that I want the means, connections with the poor all my life & political connections of late have prevented me from making a fortune.

I am much obliged to you for your letters of the 7th Feb. & 10 March but I wish you would describe your situation more particularly as well as that of our other friends.3

The prospect of want of bread with which we were threatened is passed, we have had a good wheat harvest well got in & immense crops of barley, that of oats good. So long and so severe a winter as the last was never known in this country perhaps, but the latter end of August & September have been delightful.4 The last news we have is that the french have crossed the Rhine & are carrying every thing before them in Germany.5 Our pg 16ministry is employed in preparing for a descent on the coast of France & sending an immense force to the West Indies, and by & by will be engaged in procuring an immense loan — these are the occupations of European Courts!6 and extermination on one side or the other the plan of ours, of course you may guess there is at present little prospect of peace, for which hardly a petition has been presented. You will oblige me in writing often, and I shall endeavor to be a better correspondent. Remember me to your whole family & believe me Dr. Sir, Yrs very truly

J Johnson

Text: JJLB 4v–r–5v. Unpublished.

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
1 John Vaughan (1756–1841), a former pupil of Priestley, also emigrated to America, establishing himself as a wine merchant in Philadelphia and serving as the Secretary and Librarian of the American Philosophical Association. Vaughan handled some of Priestley's financial affairs in America (Robert E. Schofield, The Enlightened Joseph Priestley: A Study of His Life and Work from 1773 to 1804 (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2004), 349). He was the brother of the English diplomat Benjamin Vaughan (1751–1835), also a student of Priestley, who settled in America in 1797.
Editor’s Note
2 Priestley built a house and laboratory in Northumberland in 1794. Though he hoped to found a college there, by 1797 he appeared to grow weary of the challenges of the plan. Priestley was, however, determined to stay in Northumberland, despite his friends' frequent invitations to move to cultural centres such as Philadelphia.
Editor’s Note
3 Emigrating to America in the 1790s along with Priestley were politically active figures such as Thomas Walker and Thomas Cooper.
Editor’s Note
4 Britain experienced brutally cold winters in the mid-1790s, leading to food shortages and fears of widespread famine. A significant work to emerge from this crisis was Thomas Malthus's much-debated study of the relationship between population growth and natural resources, An Essay on the Principle of Population, which Johnson published in 1798 (see Introduction).
Editor’s Note
5 Priestley often complained of the dearth of European news available in Northumberland. Johnson refers here to reports of the movement of French troops into Dusseldorf and Mannheim in the summer of 1795.
Editor’s Note
6 Britain sent approximately 35,000 soldiers to the Caribbean in 1795–6 (Phillip Harling, 'A Tale of Two Conflicts: Critiques of the British War Effort, 1793–1815', in Mark Philp (ed.), Resisting Napoleon: The British Response to the Threat of Invasion, 1797–1815 (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2006), 20).
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