L’Exception Anglaise: Joseph Priestley Abroad and Romantic Poetics

  • Stephen Bygrave


Joseph Priestley only ever went abroad twice. The second time was when he sailed to exile in the United States in 1794; the first, in the autumn of 1774, was his sole trip to the continent of Europe and, apparently, not a success. On a visit to the Low Countries, Germany and France with the Earl of Shelburne, Priestley larded his platitudes about the way travel ‘enlarge[s] the mind’ with some fairly random comments on the exposed feet of French women, ‘which to me, who never saw the like before, looked slatternly and indelicate’, and on Belgian beer, of which he observed, improbably, that it ‘is by no means so good as in England’ (Works, 1:ii.198, 239, 242). Priestley and his employer returned through Paris where, in the salons of the philosophes, Priestley’s simultaneous attachment to natural philosophy and to his faith made him an exotic: ‘I was the only person they had ever met with, of whose understanding they had any opinion, who professed to believe Christianity’, he wrote; and the continual necessity for him to reply to them provoked his Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever (1780). However, Priestley continued, ‘I was soon … tired of Paris, and chose to spend my evenings at the hotel, in company with a few literary friends’ (Works, 1:ii.198–9). He returned alone to Shelburne’s seat of Bowood near Calne in Wiltshire and the next time his lordship went, he didn’t take Priestley.


Phlogiston Theory Romantic Poetics Extended Metaphor Religious Hatred Biblical Account 
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© Stephen Bygrave 2015

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  • Stephen Bygrave

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