Page images
PDF
EPUB

(

his philosophical inquiries in another direction. He had written letters to Dr. Franklin, which had been published in the Philosophical Transactions,' ' On the Expectation of Lives,' and 'On the Effect of the Aberration of Light on the Time of the Transit of Venus;' and had made a communication to the Royal Society on the proper method of calculating the values of contingent reversions. It was said by some of his friends that the labour of these abstruse calculations turned his hair suddenly grey. His biographer, Mr. William Morgan,' says that in this latter paper he had corrected an error into which M. de Moivre had fallen, but thinking the mistake must be his own, rather than that of so eminent a mathematician, he 'puzzled himself so much in the correction of it, that the colour of his hair, which was naturally black, became changed in different parts of his head into spots of perfect white. All this must have arisen from his usual diffidence in his own abilities; for no other cause can be assigned for his doubts and difficulties in a case which really admitted of none.' It was in this same year 1769 that his celebrated Treatise on Reversionary Payments' was issued. It was followed up in 1772 by an Appeal to the Public on the National Debt.'

6

These publications had prepared the way for his 'Observations on Civil Liberty and the Justice and Policy of the War with America,' which was issued early in 1776. The outbreak of these fratricidal hostilities in 1774 had deeply stirred the public mind, and one of

1 Memoirs of the Life of the Rev. Richard Price, D.D., F.R.S. By William Morgan, F.R.S.

HIS FATHER'S POLITICS

33

Samuel Rogers's early recollections was, that on one evening after reading from the Bible at family prayers, his father explained to his children the cause of the rebellion in the colonies, and told them that our own nation was in the wrong and it was not right to wish that the Americans should be conquered. When the news of the battle of Lexington reached England-a battle begun by nine hundred British soldiers firing three volleys at the little troop of seventy men whom Captain John Parker, grandfather of Theodore Parker, had formed into the first line of the revolution-Thomas Rogers put on mourning. Being asked if he had lost a friend he answered that he had lost several friends-in New England. The Recorder of London put on mourning for the same event at the same time, and Granville Sharp gave up his place in the Ordnance office because he did not think it right to ship stores and munitions of war which might be used to put down self-government in the American colonies. To this very strong and widespread feeling Dr. Price's Essay gave powerful literary expression. It was written in the winter of 1775. The battles of Lexington and Bunker's Hill had taken place in the preceding summer, and the Declaration of Independence followed on the fourth of July, 1776, about six months after the issue of Dr. Price's pamphlet. The time of its publication was, therefore, most opportune. The public excitement was more intense than anything this generation has witnessed, and the book was so eagerly bought that the printers, with the slow machinery of those days, could not keep pace with the demand. Dr. Price was urged to allow a cheap edition to be

printed, and he at once consented though by doing so he sacrificed his pecuniary profits. In a few months nearly sixty thousand copies, then an almost unparalleled number, had been sold, and Dr. Price's name was in everybody's mouth. The Corporation of London—then, as in so many parts of its previous history, a really popular body, representative of the best Liberal feeling of the time-presented him with the freedom of the city in a gold box, in testimony of their approbation of his principles and of the high sense they entertained of the excellence of his observations on the justice and policy of the war with America.' Fame brought its inconveniences together with its pleasures. Anonymous letters were sent threatening his life, and he was obliged. to decline correspondence with Dr. Franklin on the ground that he had become so marked and obnoxious that prudence required him to be extremely cautious. The populace, however, loved and reverenced the courageous advocate of popular rights. As he rode in the streets of London, on his old white horse, blind in one eye, clothed, as Rogers remembered him, 'in a great coat and black spatterdashes,' Rogers says that, like Demosthenes he was often diverted by hearing the carmen and orange-women say, 'There goes Dr. Price!' Make way for Dr. Price!' The seriousness and gentle mildness of his character surprised those who only knew him from his works. When the Duchess of Bedford met him, at her own request, at Shelburne House, his quiet aspect and unassuming manners caused her great astonishment. 'I expected to meet a Colossus,' she afterwards said, 'with an eye like Mars, to threaten and command.'

6

DR. PRICE'S INFLUENCE

35

Gibbon is reported to have expressed similar surprise when he met him in Mr. Cadell's shop. The services he had rendered to freedom were acknowledged in France and the United States, and in most unexpected quarters at home. Congress passed a resolution inviting him to become a citizen of the United States, and to assist them in the regulation of their finances. In later years Turgot corresponded with him, Pitt repeatedly consulted him on great questions of national finance, and a speech of his in proposing the toast of union between England and France was read twice in the National Assembly, the members standing. He was one day at the Bar of the House of Lords, when the Duke of Cumberland came up and told him he had read his Essay on Civil Liberty' till he was blind. It is remarkable,' replied Lord Ashburton, who was standing near, that your royal highness should have been blinded by a book which has opened the eyes of all mankind.'

6

It is difficult to over-estimate the influence which this admirable and estimable person exerted over Samuel Rogers and his brothers in the early part of their lives. Dr. Price was no mere controversialist. He was content with the service he had done to freedom, and expressed the desire, after the issue of his second pamphlet, to remain an anxious spectator of the present contest with the satisfaction of having endeavoured to communicate just ideas of government, and of the nature and value of civil liberty.' He held high and serious views of the responsibilities of his profession as a preacher, and his excursions into politics and finance were only occasional divergences from pastoral work. He had left

Stoke Newington, in some depression at the smallness of his audience there, and had become morning preacher at Hackney, but remained as afternoon lecturer to his former congregation. Political celebrity, however, brought crowds to hear him at Hackney, and his sermons on the fast days of 1779 and 1781 were published and very widely read. His profound sense of the importance of the pulpit impressed itself very strongly on his young admirer and disciple Samuel Rogers, and led him to desire to adopt it as his profession. He used to tell the story of his father one day calling the boys into his room, and asking them what professions they would choose in life. Samuel replied that he should like to be a preacher. He thought there was nothing on earth so grand. The wish was entirely due to his admiration for Dr. Price and his preaching. It was afterwards overruled; but a letter is extant from the Rev. Theophilus Lindsey, the founder of Essex Street Unitarian Chapel, in which he states that he had heard an oration from Mr. Samuel Rogers, who was thinking of entering at Warrington Academy as a student for the ministry.' The choice is only now of interest as showing the bent of Samuel Rogers's mind away from business. The weakness of his voice would have disqualified him for any form of public speaking. His father probably saw, moreover, that it was his imagination rather than the imperative call of special faculties and endowments, which had led to his desire to preach; and there was no sign what

I have not seen the letter, but the Rev. Dr. Sadler, the editor of Crabb Robinson's Diary, clearly remembers reading it, and his accuracy is unquestionable.

« PreviousContinue »