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Memoirs of William Hazlitt
Ch. II: 1791-95
William Hazlitt to the editor of the Shrewsbury Chronicle [Summer] 1791

Chap. I 1778-1811
Ch. II: 1791-95
Ch. III 1795-98
Ch. IV 1798
Ch. V 1798
Ch. VI 1792-1803
Ch. VII 1803-05
Ch. VIII 1803-05
Ch. IX
Ch. X 1807
Ch. XI 1808
Ch. XII 1808
Ch. XII 1812
Ch. XIV 1814-15
Ch. XV 1814-17
Ch. XVI 1818
Ch. XVII 1820
Ch. XX 1821
Ch. I 1821
Ch. II 1821-22
Ch. III 1821-22
Ch. IV 1822
Ch. V 1822
Ch. VI 1822
Ch. VII 1822-23
Ch. VIII 1822
Ch. IX 1823
Ch. X 1824
Ch. XI 1825
Ch. XII 1825
Ch. XIII 1825
Ch. XIV 1825
Ch. XV 1825
Ch. XVI 1825-27
Ch. XVII 1826-28
Ch. XVIII 1829-30
Ch. XX
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“Mr. Wood,

“Tis really surprising that men—men, too, that aspire to the character of Christians—should seem to take such pleasure in endeavouring to load with infamy one of the best, one of the wisest, and one of the greatest of men.

“One of your late correspondents, under the signature of ΟΥΔΕΙΣ, seems desirous of having Dr. Priestley in
chains, and indeed would not perhaps (from the gentleman’s seemingly charitable disposition) be greatly averse to seeing him in the flames also. This is the Christian! This the mild spirit its great Master taught. Ah! Christianity, how art thou debased! How am I grieved to see that universal benevolence, that love to all mankind, that love even to our enemies, and that compassion for the failings of our fellow-men that thou art contracted to promote, contracted and shrunk up within the narrow limits that prejudice and bigotry mark out. But to return;—supposing the gentleman’s end to be intentionally good, supposing him indeed to desire all this, in order to extirpate the Doctor’s supposedly impious and erroneous doctrines, and promote the cause of truth; yet the means he would use are certainly wrong. For may I be allowed to remind him of this (which prejudice has hitherto apparently prevented him from seeing), that violence and force can never promote the cause of truth, but reason and argument or love, and whenever these fail, all other means are vain and ineffectual. And as the Doctor himself has said, in his letter to the inhabitants of Birmingham, ‘that if they destroyed him, ten others would arise, as able or abler than himself, and stand forth immediately to defend his principles; and that were these destroyed, an hundred would appear; for the God of truth will not suffer his cause to lie defenceless.’

“This letter of the Doctor’s also, though it throughout breathes the pure and genuine spirit of Christianity, is, by another of your correspondents, charged with
sedition and heresy; but, indeed, if such sentiments as those which it contains be sedition and heresy, sedition and heresy would be an honour; for all their sedition is that fortitude that becomes the dignity of man and the character of Christian; and their heresy, Christianity. The whole letter, indeed, far from being seditious, is peaceable and charitable; and far from being heretical, that is, in the usual acceptance of the word, furnishing proofs of that resignation so worthy of himself. And to be sensible of this, ’tis only necessary, that any one laying aside prejudice read the letter itself with candour. What, or who, then, is free from the calumniating pen of malice, malice concealed, perhaps, under the specious disguise of religion and a love of truth?

“Religious persecution is the bane of all religion; and the friends of persecution are the worst enemies religion has; and of all persecutions, that of calumny is the most intolerable. Any other kind of persecution can affect our outward circumstances only, our properties, our lives; but this may affect our characters for ever. And this great man has not only had his goods spoiled, his habitation burned, and his life endangered, but is also calumniated, aspersed with the most malicious reflections, and charged with everything bad, for which a misrepresentation of the truth and prejudice can give the least pretence. And why all this? To the shame of some one, let it be replied, merely on account of particular speculative opinions, and not anything scandalous, shameful, or criminal in his moral character. ‘Where I see,’ says the great and admirable Robinson,
‘a spirit of intolerance, I think I see the great Devil.’ And ’tis certainly the worst of devils. And here I shall conclude, staying only to remind your anti-Priestlian correspondents, that when they presume to attack the character of
Dr. Priestley, they do not so much resemble the wren pecking at the eagle, as the owl, attempting by the flap of her wings, to hurl Mount Etna into the ocean; and that while Dr. Priestley’s name ‘shall flourish in immortal youth,’ and his memory be respected and revered by posterity, prejudice no longer blinding the understandings of men, theirs will be forgotten in obscurity, or only remembered as the friends of bigotry and persecution, the most odious of all characters.