Introduction: or, how do you solve a problem like the Maddison collection?

A big hello and welcome from Philip and Janée to the first in our series of blog posts. We are the interns working in the University of Kent’s Special Collections and Archives and are spending this scorching summer holed up in the cool, dark basement underneath the main library, poring over the books within the Maddison collection. This collection is one in need of a little love and we are privileged to be able to work with it thanks to the support of the Work Study programme at the University of Kent. This is a scheme championed by the University’s Development Office to provide opportunities for students to gain work experience alongside their studies.

Who are we?

Selfie of interns with rare books in background

We prefer the job title ‘book gremlins’

I am Philip, a recent graduate in English Literature from the University of Kent. My research interests are early modern literature and drama, eco-criticism and queer theory and somewhat surprisingly, I have been able to use the Maddison collection to indulge all three.

My name is Janee and I am a second year undergraduate at the University of Kent. Whilst I am currently studying Asian Studies and Classical and Archaeological Studies, I have a previous academic background in Biology and Chemistry. My research interests are diverse and still developing, so watch this space for future developments!

What is the Maddison collection?

Anatomical drawing of man

Mysteries of man and Maddison (4A10)

Consisting of books and documents gathered through a lifetime of study, the Maddison collection focuses on the history of science and was deposited in the library by Dr Robert E. W. Maddison, with more content following after his death in 1993. The collection includes rare printings of early modern and enlightenment texts, with scientists Joseph Priestley and Robert Boyle, (on whom Maddison wrote an authoritative biography which can be found in the collection) being particularly well represented.

Title page of Maddison's biography of Robert Boyle

Here’s your boy Robert Boyle!

What are we doing and why are we doing it?

Illustration of curiosity shop from Museum Wormarium

The Maddison collection: Like an attic, but more organised

We are entering this internship with two overarching, but linked, goals. The first is the more straightforward of the two; undertaking collections care work to aid in the maintenance and welfare of the collection. Our second goal is to make the collection more accessible. Over the past week and a half both of us have fallen in love with this collection and we are keen to see it put to further use. As we sort through the materials, we will be looking to make connections between this collection and others in the library’s care in order to expand the possible uses for it. There are a plethora of documents and books that could be useful for dissertations, academic articles and essays. We hope that our work to make these connections and improve public awareness will be useful to future scholars of all levels and will develop potential links and ideas for teaching across a broad range of subjects at the university. Our work will culminate in a pop-up display to be shown in the Special Collections & Archives Reading Room at the end of August.

Marmalade recipe

We are 100% making this. Will report back.

What are the challenges of this work?

The care of these books is a challenge, but a fun one. The state that the books are in varies wildly. Whilst some are in excellent condition, others require a little more attention and careful handling such as the texts from sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This challenge, however, pales in comparison to the linguistic difficulties we have encountered on a daily basis.

Title page from 'Emblemata Nova'

98% sure this is Latin, aka Philip wishes he could read this

Many of the books in the collection are not in English which presents a major stumbling block for us in its exploration. Besides English, Latin is the most common language found within the collection, but French is also very well represented, as is German. While both of us are able to read the French texts to a high enough standard to understand their subject matter, neither of us feels confident enough to offer anything more than a brief summary as to the content of these texts. The less said about our Latin and German skills, the better. Philip’s most common refrain is “I really need to learn Latin.” As a result of this, making this collection accessible to a wider audience is proved more complex than we originally thought. Our lack of ability to read some of the texts means that we cannot write about them with authority in these blog posts, nor can we make strong links that could be beneficial with the wider content of the special collections. This language barrier could also impede those visiting the archives, unless they are confident enough in the aforementioned languages. As one of our main goals is to promote the public outreach of this collection we are struggling to find a way to overcome this obstacle as many may find these books to be limited in their usefulness at this time.

Stay tuned for more

Row of books in the Maddison collection

5 of too many

You can find more of the treasures we unearth in the Adventures of our 2018 interns blog series posted by Senior Library Assistant Joanna every Friday. Also each week we will be taking a deep dive into a topic related to the Maddison collection, starting next week with Robert Boyle. As the summer goes on, we hope to introduce more and more of this collection to you, so stay tuned for more updates!

Adventures of our 2018 interns part one

Happy July, all! It may be quiet on campus at the moment as our lovely students have gone home for the summer, but as ever Special Collections & Archives is a hive of activity.

This year, we have interns for the first time in ages! Philip and Janee (pictured below) are working with our Maddison collection, cleaning the books and delving into the wonderful world of all things history of science related.

Philip and Janee, our summer 2018 interns, hard at work looking after our Maddison Collection.

Philip and Janee, our summer 2018 interns, hard at work looking after our Maddison Collection.

You’ll be hearing more from Philip and Janee soon, but in the meantime we’ll be showcasing some of their discoveries here! Each week, we’ll summarise some of their favourite things from the Maddison collection – so let’s get stuck in:

Illustration from 'Tyrocinium chymicum' by Jean Beguin, 1669, Amsterdam. (Maddison Collection 1A21, F10448000)

Illustration from ‘Tyrocinium chymicum’ by Jean Beguin, 1669, Amsterdam. (Maddison Collection 1A21, F10448000)

Printer's device from 'Theatrum chemicum Britannicum' by Elias Ashmole, 1652, London. (Maddison Collection 1A11, F10444300)

Printer’s device from ‘Theatrum chemicum Britannicum’ by Elias Ashmole, 1652, London. (Maddison Collection 1A11, F10444300)

Robert Boyle - Maddison's primary research subject. From ' The works of the Honourable Robert Boyle : ... epitomiz'd by Richard Boulton', 1699, London. (Maddison Collection 1A25, F10463200)

Robert Boyle – Maddison’s primary research subject. From ‘The works of the Honourable Robert Boyle : … epitomiz’d by Richard Boulton’, 1699, London. (Maddison Collection 1A25, F10463200)

Writing on vellum! ' Tentamina quaedam physiologica : ... conscripta a Roberto Boyle .... Historia fluiditatis et firmitatis', 1668, London. (Maddison Collection 1B4, F10458600)

Writing on vellum! ‘Tentamina quaedam physiologica : … conscripta a Roberto Boyle …. Historia fluiditatis et firmitatis’, 1668, London. (Maddison Collection 1B4, F10458600)

Rebound typescript alert! 'The martyrdom of Theodora, and of Didymus' by Robert Boyle, 1687, London. (Maddison Collection 1B17, F10461600)

Rebound typescript alert! ‘The martyrdom of Theodora, and of Didymus’ by Robert Boyle, 1687, London. (Maddison Collection 1B17, F10461600)

Suggested cures for cramps from ' Medicinal experiments : or, a collection of choice and safe remedies' by Robert Boyle, 1712, London. (Maddison Collection, F10463800)

Suggested cures for cramps from ‘Medicinal experiments : or, a collection of choice and safe remedies’ by Robert Boyle, 1712, London. (Maddison Collection, F10463800)

Ownership marks in 'Occasional reflections : upon several subjects' by Robert Boyle, 1848, Oxford and London. (Maddison Collection, F10465800)

Ownership marks in ‘Occasional reflections : upon several subjects’ by Robert Boyle, 1848, Oxford and London. (Maddison Collection, F10465800)

Book recommendation in 'Occasional reflections : upon several subjects' by Robert Boyle, 1848, Oxford and London. (Maddison Collection, F10465800)

Book recommendation in ‘Occasional reflections : upon several subjects’ by Robert Boyle, 1848, Oxford and London. (Maddison Collection, F10465800)

Quotation in 'Occasional reflections : upon several subjects' by Robert Boyle, 1848, Oxford and London. (Maddison Collection, F10465800)

Quotation in ‘Occasional reflections : upon several subjects’ by Robert Boyle, 1848, Oxford and London. (Maddison Collection, F10465800)

Manuscript hand in 'Occasional reflections : upon several subjects' by Robert Boyle, 1848, Oxford and London. (Maddison Collection, F10465800)

Manuscript hand in ‘Occasional reflections : upon several subjects’ by Robert Boyle, 1848, Oxford and London. (Maddison Collection, F10465800)

Check back here regularly for more Maddison Collection exploration!

A Farewell to our Gallery

This summer is going to our last in our current location and as you probably know, we’re gearing up for plenty of changes! As I type, we’re in the process of taking down our last exhibition in the Level 1 Gallery space (just outside the Level 1 office and the cafe). This exhibition focussed on Sir Howard Kingsley Wood, and you can learn more about him from the blog post ‘Wood would: the forgotten campaigner‘. In due course, we’ll provide a digital version of this exhibition on the website, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

The reason for all these changes is the ongoing Templeman Redevelopment work which will be gathering pace over the summer. Early next year, we’re due to move into the new suite of Special Collections & Archives rooms, in the extension, which is a very exciting prospect. We hope to launch the new location with an exhibition in the new gallery, which will front the office area on the new Level 2. In the meantime, the social learning space will be moving into the gallery to make sure there’s enough room while the Core Text Collection moves into the other side of the social learning space. Confused? Check out the Templeman Development webpages to have it all explained!

A lot of our work over the summer is going to be aimed at planning the Big Underground Move to get our materials into the extension, and finding ways of keeping you all informed about what we’re doing. Equally, we’re putting in place plans for teaching over the next academic year and thinking about funding and projects to keep our collections work ticking over. No doubt it will be busy, but I’ll try to keep you updated as we go.

Manuscript notes about the coronation of George IV

Manuscript notes about the coronation of George IV

The reading room is still open, so do just request items if you’d like to see anything. I thought I might just share a little gem which came out of a request yesterday. A routine request for a book in the Maddison Collection, A treatise of Oswaldus Crollius of signatures of internal things (1669), proved to contain some lovely annotations on contemporary events. In two almost page-long manuscript notes, a clergyman has written accounts of the coronation of George IV, possibly taken from newspapers at the time. The coronation, on Thursday 19th July 1821, was notable for the ommision of the Queen on the guest list. One of these accounts notes:

His Majesty was crowned without the Queen, owing to her bad conduct, at home and abroad, she came to the Abbey in the time of Service, to be admitted, but was denied entrance at either of the doors

It is, perhaps, a matter of historical debate as to whose conduct was worse, George IV’s or his Queen Caroline’s, but it’s interesting to compare this to a contemporary account from my old friend William Harris, who heard about events while on his travels around Europe.

A004208As well as the notes, the facing page has the words ‘Queen Caroline’ and an ink caricature penned after the text, perhaps drawn by the same man who wrote the accounts, one Adam Johnson. In the second account, he names himself clearly and adds:

…son of the Reverend Doctor Johnson at the Rectory of St Ruan[?] near Penzance in the county of Cornwall (England)

with ‘God Save the King’ for good measure. In the margin of the previous page, he writes: ‘For Posterity’. I don’t suppose he ever imagined that his notes would make it onto the Special Collections blog!

Meeting our public

I hope I don’t seem too self-satisfied at reporting on another very successful Special Collections event – lots of people put in lots of really hard work, so I’d like to thank them all by making the success public!

Earlier in the term, we ran our first ‘Meet Special Collections’ event, for members of the History staff. This was the brainchild of Steve Holland, and the whole team worked brilliantly to pull together various items in our collections which we hoped would engage the interest of some of our academic staff. The event went down well (as did the canapes and wine, I think) and we agreed that we should go ahead with a second session aimed at History postgraduates, and those members of staff who weren’t able to come to the first event.

Well, following the exhibition, first Special Collections lecture and a very busy term, we pulled out all of the stops to put on a (quiet and very careful) Meet Special Collections event for History postgraduates in the reading room last Wednesday. A lot of hard work and planning went into this; from discussing areas of interest with Katie Edwards, Liaison Librarian for History, investigating our collections to pull together relevant material and clearing, cleaning and decorating the reading room to give it a really festive feel. Nick Hiley, Head of the British Cartoon Archive, kindly loaned us some flat, table-top cases, to avoid any accidents with wine and rare books/archival material: once we’d found the relevant keys, we were away!

We focused on three main areas: war (since UoK’s History department has undergraduate and postgraduate courses specialising in the history of war), rare books and manuscripts (for historians of Medieval and Early Modern periods) and, of course, a Christmas themed table.

We were aided in our efforts by the re-discovery of part of a collection in the library stores: photographs of soldiers (presumably at the front) from the second world war (more to come on these in the New Year). We also used elements of the Hewlett Johnson and Bernard Weatherill Collections to illustrate twentieth century warfare, with some books and copies of the Illustrated London News for the Crimean War. Our manuscript documents from the 15th-17th centuries took pride of place on the second table, along with some of the beautifully written manuscript books on science (mostly astronomy and physics), from the Maddison Collection, which are written in anglicana and secretary hands. This table also hosted sample of the materials in Jack Johns’ Darwin Collection and our pre-1700 books section. The third table, focusing on all things seasonal, displayed some of the Melville theatre materials – pantomime scripts, flyers, books of words and images. A selection of books about Christmas carols, traditions and some of the seasonal material in our Charles Dickens Collection completed the festive theme.

We were delighted to welcome so many members of the History department to Special Collections, and to be able to introduce ourselves and our materials. It was a great opportunity to discuss materials which would be useful for teaching and in research – some of the materials were being seen for the first time by the department. It was also helpful for us to be talk to the historians to get an idea of the types of materials which might interest them, which should be prioritised and acquired by Special Collections. Steve was also able to give the Special Collections Review document – which he has spent months preparing – its first outing to the School.

Following the event (other than the tidying up), we’ve been encouraged by such enthusiasm and interest from the department. We really hope that researchers will be encouraged to look at the wealth of resources which we have in Special Collections and use them to their best advantage. So that’s something to look forward to – with great anticipation – in the New Year. Many thanks to the History department for coming in such numbers and showing such enthusiasm. If your department would like to arrange to ‘Meet Special Collections’, please do get in touch.

2011 has been a very busy year for us all and overall it’s been amazingly successful. There have been some changes and we know there are lots more changes to come. We hope that these will help us to provide  better and more efficient service to every researcher. I’m sure there will be lots of challenges (brief timescales for a Dickens exhibition in February have already been noted) but if next year is anything like this one, I’m sure we’ll look back on it with satisfaction and some bewilderment as to how we managed to cram quite so much in!

We look forward to seeing you when we reopen on 4th January.

From all of us in Special Collections, we wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and prosperous 2012.


An Utopian Revolution

Following on from the Weatherill post (which I have to say I had a lot of fun researching and writing), I am continuing my crusade to bring lesser-used collections out into the light of day. This time, it’s the turn of the Maddison Collection, which the Templeman has housed for some decades. I’ve got a soft spot for this collection, even though it’s about the history of science; I think this area is one of the most interesting parts of our early-modern past. After all, science or natural theology has only recently become a discipline in its own right. For many centuries, it was closely tied with sometimes drastic changes in society and religion and even in the way people viewed themselves and their cultures.

Portrait of Joseph Priestley from 'The Life of Joseph Priestley'

Engraving of Joseph Priestley

The Maddison Collection contains many books about influential scientists and natural theologians from the 17th to the 19th centuries. One interesting individual, many of whose works are included in this collection, is Joseph Priestley, 1733-1804. Priestley is a difficult man to pigeonhole: historians have long debated how his differing values and views contributed to his scientific, theological and reforming works. Priestley carried out experiments with air and electricity, was one of the first people to discover the existence of oxygen and also discovered that elements other than metal and water could conduct electricity. An effusive biographer described Priestley as a man ‘whose discoveries diffuse brilliancy over his age and nation’ (p. 53, Life of Joseph Preistley, 1804). However, it was not so much his scientific discoveries as his religious and political views which led to Priestley fleeing Britain in 1794 for refuge in America.

Priestley was a Dissenter; he was raised as a Calvinist but became one of the founding members of the Unitarian Church. As one of a large group of individuals whose religious beliefs fell outside the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion which contained the orthodoxy of the Church of England, Priestley was unable to attend university, vote or take part in other areas of public life. His personal beliefs were extreme even for the dissenting Christians; he believed that Christianity should be stripped back to its ‘primitive’ faith: the religion which sprang up amongst the early Church. Speaking after a mob had pulled down his house in Birmingham, Priestley told an assembly of dissenters that one of the virtues of early Christianity was as ‘a sect everywhere spoken against’, just as his own denomination was at that time (p.7, The Use of Christianity, 1794). Priestley was also a Millenarian, believing in the imminent second coming of Christ and the end of the world.

The Use of Christianity

Title page from 'The Use of Christianity...'

Although he became a dissenting minister in 1755, his radical views were perceived by some of his first congregation in Needham to be too extreme. Perhaps he would have lived a quiet life if his religious views had not underpinned his scientific work, which he believed would show the true order of the world ordained by God and expose the injustices  in society. Ironically, his belief in the divinely ordained nature of the world limited his scientific work, especially on the components of air, which Antoine Lavoisier pioneered by attacking phlogiston theory. In some ways Priestley was a true child of the Enlightenment, believing that progress could be achieved through scientific discovery, religious debate and increased freedom.

This was the spirit which initially welcomed the French Revolution, seeing the people of France rising up against their tyrannical monarchs to create a newly egalitarian society. Priestley remained a firm supporter of the French Revolution throughout his life, quoting Edmund Burke in calling it ‘the most astonishing [event] hitherto…in the world’ (p. 1, Letters to the Right honourable Edmund Burke, 1791). However, others who had initially supported the Revolution, including Burke, grew wary of the increasing radicalism which began to feel too close to Britain’s shores for comfort. Priestley was exasperated by Burke’s change of heart, claiming it was strange ‘that an avowed friend of the American revolution should be an enemy of that in France, which arose from the same general principles’ (p. iv, Letters to the Right honourable Edmund Burke). There were still a core group of dissenters who saw the French Revolution as an embodiment of the fair society which Priestley expected divine providence to lead England towards. It was the meeting of a small group of these dissenters in Birmingham on 14th July 1791, to celebrate the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille in France, which set of a series of events which drove Priestley from the country.

In John Corry’s biography of Priestley, he described the events of that evening:

While the friends of rational freedom were…celebrating one of the most important events recorded in the history of man; the mob increased in numbers and insolence. (p.26, The Life of Joseph Priestley)

Titlepage from Observations on the Emigration of Dr. Priestley

Title page from 'Observations on the Emigration of Dr. Joseph Priestley'

A pamphlet produced by an American writer, William Cobbett, and reprinted in London described the events rather differently; Priestley had organised a ‘feast’ to commemorate the French Revolution in Birmingham which caused ‘convulsions’ amongst the ‘scandalised’ people of the town for celebrating ‘events which were in reality a subject of the deepest horror’ (p. 4-5, Observations on the Emigration of Dr. Joseph Priestley, 1798) . The fear of revolution spreading and chaos, perhaps even another regicide, sweeping across a country which had suffered its own Civil War a few generations earlier, was a catalyst for a mob to descend on the celebration. The Report on the Trial of the Rioters reported around 300 people  ‘crying church and King in a riotous manner’ descending upon several houses of known dissenters, including Priestley’s, and a meeting house, destroying the furniture and the buildings (p.92, Report on the Trial of the Rioters, 1791). There were suspicions at the time that there had been some complicity on the part of the authorities in organising the attacks, and Priestley, in several angry publications on the events, stated ‘the bigotry of the High Church Party [was] the cause of the riots’ (p.59, An Appeal to the Public, 1792).

At any rate, Priestley complained that both his scientific equipment and his library had been destroyed, and that ‘some of you intended me some personal injury’ (p.42, A Letter to the Reverend Joseph Priestley, 1791). Cobbett suggested that although ‘no personal violence’ was offered by the mob, some kind of pond-ducking of the offending individuals might have caused less destruction than their leaving their homes to be ransacked (p.5, Observations on the Emigration of Dr. Joseph Priestley). Priestley fled to London initially, but after three years there was still public anger at Priestley, in particular for his dissenting and radical views. During this time, Priestley wrote to the people of Birmingham, accusing them ‘of the greatest injustice and cruelty’ (p. xi, An Appeal to the Public). The English, he said, boasted of the rule of law in their country, yet Priestley himself had been punished outside the law, without trial.

Preface to 'An Appeal to the Public'

Preface to 'An Appeal to the Public'

He added ‘my coming to Birmingham was by no means the cause [of the riots] as is now asserted’; ‘the French Revolution was not the true cause of the riots’ because if the motives had been purely political, the mob would not have burnt down the meeting house, thus singling out the Dissenting congregation(p. 50-52, An Appeal to the Public).Thomas Belsham, in an address delivered in Hackney on the occasion of Priestley’s death added, ‘he seldom meddled in politics’, echoing Priestley’s own wounded defence in his Appeal to the Public…, in which he signed himself ‘your injured Countryman’ (p. 46, Zeal and fortitude in the Christian ministry illustrated and exemplified…, 1804; p. xv, An Appeal to the Public).

Priestley’s wounded entreaties to the people of Birmingham did not go undefended: one Birmingham resident published a pamphlet soon after Priestley’s letter in which he claimed Priestley’s accusations ‘call loudly for refutation’ (p.5, A Letter to the Reverend Joseph Priestley). While the ananymous writer agreed that ‘the injuries which you [Priestley] have sustained…are…a subject of deep and sincere regret’, Priestley ought to use ‘more discriminate terms’ in his address than simply the inhabitants of Birmingham (p. 3-6, A Letter to the Reverend Joseph Priestley) . Indeed, the author went on, if the mob’s attack was deliberate, it should be taken as ‘strong proof that your character and conduct among them had been eminently obnoxious’ (p.7, A Letter to the Reverend Joseph Priestley). With slightly more humour, the American pamphleteer claimed that Priestley preached Deism amongst the people of Birmingham, ‘which no-one understood’. Furthermore, ‘those who know anything of the English dissenters know that they always introduce their political claims and projects under the mask of religion’ (p.3, Observations on the Emigration of Dr. Joseph Priestley). The Birmingham author also suspected Priestley of supporting a revolution in England in the same way as the French had carried out their own.

Very familiar letters...

Title page from 'Very familiar letters...'

The more comical, but equally anti-Priestley Very Familiar Letters, addressed to Doctor Priestley was supposedly penned by a townsman of Birmingham, John Nott, who maintained that he was ‘a little before-hand’ and ‘getting up in the world’ (p.2-3, Very Familiar Letters…, 1790). As a literate but working man, Nott represented the people whom Priestley considered as powerless as himself in the government of England. Nott’s ability to read meant that he could study Priestley’s books, and described the author as growing ‘witty in your old age’ (p.3, Very Familiar Letters…). However, the format of the pamphlet as spoof letters allowed the author to complain ‘I don’t take it mighty civil of you not answering my last two letters’ (p. 8, Very Familiar Letters…). While the general tone of this pamphlet is comical, poking fun at the comman man’s perspective, there is a serious note to its ending. Narrating how Priestley has supposedly changed the name of his home from ‘Foul-lake’ to ‘Fair-hill’, Nott comments:

“I’m afeard, as we have catch’d you at putting fair for foul…of putting darkness for light, and bitter for sweet, and evil for good.” (p. 12, Very Familiar Letters…)

Fate of the convicted rioters

The fate of the convicted rioters

These replies to Priestley’s angry addresses demonstrate that while not everyone wanted to see Priestley’s house torn down, there were real fears that the chaos and violence of the French Revolution was being invited into England by dangerous radicals.The sentence on the two men convicted of attacking Priestley’s property was severe: John Green and Bartholomew Fisher were found guilty and sentenced to death. Fisher was later pardoned, but Green was executed (p.98, Report on the Trial of the Rioters).

In 1794, Priestley addressed his congregation in Hackney in a farewell sermon, entitled ‘The Use of Christianity, especially in difficult times’. He was leaving for America, somewhat against his hopes, as he explained ‘unforeseen circumstances occur, and all our plans are deranged’ (p 4-5, The Use of Christianity, especially in difficult times). In spite of this, he urged the Dissenters to continue in their beliefs, explaining that:

The feelings of those who are merely exposed to the malignity of others, without feeling any thing of the kind themselves are serene…attended with a consciousness of superiority of character and of greater advances in intellectual improvement. (p.9, The Use of Christianity, especially in difficult times)

Although he made little reference here to the anger he expressed in 1791, it is clear that Priestley felt himself to have been targeted by the malicious bigotry of others.

Life of Joseph Priestley

'The Life of Joseph Priestley'

In America, Priestley’s attempts to stay out of politics and concentrate on his scientific and theological research were short lived. It was William Cobett’s pamphlet which accused Priestley of treason, claiming that when a man made attempts to convert individuals to his beliefs, his life, both public and private, became a fair topic for open discussion. ‘When the arrival of Dr. Priestley in the United States was first announced,’ Cobett wrote, ‘I looked upon his emigration as no more than the effect of weakness.’ (p. 1, Observations on the Emigration of Dr. Joseph Priestley) After some time, however, it became clear to the author that Priestley wanted to foment further revolution in America, where the civil wars were an even closer memory than they had been in England.

Although family tragedy struck the Priestleys in America, with Priestley’s wife and son dying within two years of their arrival, Priestley gained some success and a degree of peace in his exile. Of course, the revolution in Britain did not happen, although civil violence in France dragged on for another hundred years. Today, Priestley is remembered for his scientific discoveries while both the religion which fuelled his research and the politics which he believed to be the immediate result of his beliefs and his discoveries are largely overlooked. It probably says something about the way we view the world now that we find it difficult to understand how Priestley saw the world through the triple lens of his radical beliefs, of which his science appears to have been the most conservative.  Despite this, it’s Cobett’s pamphlet which seems to hold the most resonance for me, when he says of Priestley, which might be said for many of us:

An Utopia never existed anywhere but in a delirious brain (p. 67, ‘Observations on the Emigration of Dr. Joseph Priestley)

Priestley may never have found his utopia, but perhaps it’s trying to understand and debate people’s varying beliefs in science, politics and religion which get us closest to Priestley’s ideal of utopian society.