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Memoirs of the Rev. Samuel Parr
Ch. XX. 1791-1792

Ch. I. 1747-1752
Ch. II. 1752-1761
Ch. III. 1761-1765
Ch. IV. 1765-1766
Ch. V. 1767-1771
Ch. VI. 1771
Ch. VII. 1771-1776
Ch. VIII. 1771-1776
Ch. IX. 1776-1777
Ch. X. 1779-1786
Ch. XI. 1779-1786
Ch. XII. 1779-1786
Ch. XIII. 1780-1782
Ch. XIV. 1786-1789
Ch. XV. 1786-1790
Ch. XVI. 1776-1790
Ch. XVII. 1787
Ch. XVIII. 1789
Ch. XIX. 1790-1792
‣ Ch. XX. 1791-1792
Ch. XXI. 1791-1796
Ch. XXII. 1794-1795
Ch. XXIII. 1794
Ch. XXIV. 1794-1800
Ch. XXV. 1794-1800
Ch. XXVI. 1800-1803
Ch. XXVII. 1801-1803
Ch. XXVIII. 1800-1807
Vol. II Contents
Ch I. 1800-1807
Ch II. 1807-1810
Ch III. 1809
Ch IV. 1809-1812
Ch V. 1810-1813
Ch VI. 1811-1815
Ch VII. 1812-1815
Ch VIII. 1816-1820
Ch IX. 1816-1820
Ch X. 1816-1820
Ch XI. 1816-1820
Ch XII. 1816-1820
Ch XIII. 1816-1820
Ch XIV. 1819
Ch XV. 1820-1821
Ch XVI. 1816-1820
Ch XVII. 1820-1824
Ch XVIII. 1820-1824
Ch XIX. 1820-1824
Ch XX. 1820-1825
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Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Produced by CATH
A.D. 1791—1792.
Birmingham riots—Hatton-parsonage threatened—Dr. Parr’s opinions—on the causes of the riots—on Burke’s “Reflections”—on Paine’s “Rights of Man”—on Mackintosh’s “Vindiciæ Gallicæ”—on the French Revolution—on the wars with France—on the defection of the Whigs—Character of Mr. Burke—of Mr. Wyndham.

The course of the narrative has brought the reader into the midst of those disgraceful and direful scenes—the Birmingham riots. It is a subject, which the writer reluctantly approaches; and from which he wishes, as speedily as possible, to retire. He can truly say with Eneas, animus meminisse horret luctuque refugit; with Eneas, he may also say, quæque ipse miserrima vidi; and to the extent of threatened violence and dreaded danger at the time, and of painful annoyance from reproach and insult long afterwards, he may add, et quorum magna pars fui. In touching upon these horrible transactions, fearful of speaking with deeper feelings of indignation, and in stronger terms of reprobation, than at this distance of time, and under the very different circumstances of the present period, may seem proper or necessary, he will endeavour to say little; and what little he may find occasion to say, shall be said more in the words of Dr. Parr than in his own.

Never in the history of modern times, as the
reader is no doubt aware, did the spirit of party rage more furiously, among all ranks of people in this country, than at the era of the French Revolution. By that astonishing event, the hopes and the fears of the friends and the enemies of popular freedom were equally and intensely excited. The high Tories both in church and state, supported by a powerful administration, assumed a terrific aspect, and set themselves in fierce and formidable array, against all the advocates for the rights of men and of nations. Most strenuous efforts were exerted, and most determined measures were adopted, not merely to foil, but to crush, every matured plan, or even distant proposal, which had for its object the reform of abuses, or the amelioration of law and government. At last, a dreadful project was concerted and carried into execution, of which the intent was to beat down, by one mighty blow, the rising spirit of liberty, and to lay it prostrate in the dust for years, if not for ages to come.

Of this horrible project, Birmingham was the chosen place;—the anniversary of the taking of the Bastile, July 14, 1791, intended to be celebrated by a public dinner, was the selected time;—and the dissenters, ever identified with the steadiest friends of civil and religious freedom, were the devoted victims. The passions and the prejudices of the vulgar, by every possible means, were previously aroused and inflamed. On the day appointed, a rabble was easily collected, and as easily incited to acts of violence and outrage, by the instigation of artful leaders; among whom
some even of the clergy, and some even of the magistracy were found. Not only the chapels, but the dwelling-houses, the elegant villas and spacious mansions belonging to the dissenters, were laid in ashes, and the owners were obliged to fly in every direction for safety. All social feeling, all moral obligation, seemed to be at once suspended or abjured; and not only in Birmingham, but through the whole surrounding neighbourhood, to the distance of many miles, for the space of four or five days and nights, by the mad fury of churchmen acting on the drunken delirium of a mob—the reign of terror was complete.

For his well-known attachment to the great cause of liberty, and for his firm adherence to one of its most zealous and intrepid advocates, Dr. Parr, in these dreadful times, was exposed to much obloquy, to much serious inconvenience, and often to much alarming apprehension. “His principles were on a sudden gnawed at,” as he himself expresses it, “by vermin whispers, and worried by brutal reproaches: his house was marked for conflagration; his books were threatened with destruction; and for three days and three nights his family was agitated with consternation and dismay.” Well might he exclaim—“In what age, or in what country, do I live? Whither, as an unoffending citizen, shall I flee, for the protection of the laws? and where, as a diligent and faithful teacher of Christianity, shall I look for its salutary influence, even amongst those, who make their boast of being its most zealous defenders? ‘O superbiam inauditam! Alios in facinore gloriari,
aliis ne dolere quidem impunitè licere!’ But the ways of Providence are unsearchable: and among all the anomalies, which baffle conjecture and afflict sensibility, in the moral world, the follies, the ficklenesses, and the passions of man are the most inexplicable and the most deplorable. He is a tyrant, in defence of liberty. He is a plunderer, in support of law. He is an oppressor, for the honour of government. He is a savage, in the very bosom of society. He becomes the unrelenting persecutor of his species, for the imaginary glory of his God.”1

The reader will be glad to learn, that the distance of Hatton from the scene of riot saved the parsonage-house; and that the arrival of the military, at the end of the fourth day, removed the apprehension of further mischief. Those who had the means of knowing how widely the evil spirit of Birmingham extended itself around, and with what malignant influence it acted, even on good minds, will think that no small praise is conferred by the following statement, which Dr. Parr has put upon record:—“I have great satisfaction in saying, that the sentiments of my parishioners, though very friendly, as I trust they always will be, to the interests and the honour of our ecclesiastical and civil establishments, were, in one or two instances only, marked by that sanguinary spirit of violence, which had pervaded other parts of the country. I am bound also to add, that the strenuous and kind assistance, which many of them gave my family in the hour of danger, will ever endear them to their

1 Sequel, p. 103.

minister, and entitle them to commendation from every well-wisher to the church and the state, in whom zeal is united with knowledge, and knowledge has been productive of charity and vital religion.”1

Of the dreadful outrages themselves, Dr. Parr thus delivers his opinion:—

“I know that the Birmingham riots were distinguished from the London riots, in 1780, by many singular and many hideous circumstances—by a seeming regularity of contrivance—by a strange chaos of levity and ferocity in the execution—by reports of the debility, reluctance, and outrageous partiality, in the administration of public justice—by the temporary extinction of common prudence, common justice, and common humanity in private companies—by the most shameless language of triumph in some diurnal and monthly publications—and by vestiges of such remorseless and ill-disguised approbation in certain well-educated men, here and elsewhere, as in times past would have steeled the heart, for participation in the massacre of St. Bartholomew, in the fires of Smithfield, and in those human sacrifices which the Christian world has often seen exhibited, as acts of faith, by the holy order of St. Dominic.—Pudet hæc opprobria!”2

The low and malignant passions, which kindled the fires of Birmingham, by no means subsided when those fires were extinguished, but continued long afterwards to exist; assuming a thousand

1 Sequel, p. 114. 2 lb. p. 113.

frightful shapes—in the form of songs, satires, anonymous letters, caricature-prints, allegorical medals, paragraphs in newspapers, toasts and speeches at convivial or political meetings—all expressive of hate and insult towards the sufferers, and of complacency or exulting joy in their sufferings.

It happened, at this period, that, dining in a public company, Dr. Parr was called upon to drink “Church and King”—the watch-word of a party, and the reigning toast of the times. At first, he resolutely declined. But the obligation of compliance being urgently pressed upon him—rising, at length, with firmness and dignity—with a manner of impressive solemnity, and with a voice of powerful energy, he spoke thus—“I am compelled to drink the toast given from the chair; but I shall do so, with my own comment. Well, then, gentlemen—Church and King.—Once it was the toast of Jacobites; now it is the toast of incendiaries. It means a church without the gospel—and a king above the law!” The wit of this cutting reproof may claim to be admired; but the manly and the noble spirit which dared, at this season of popular fury and frenzy, to espouse the cause of the persecuted, and to rebuke the insolent triumph of the mad persecutors, demands to be gratefully and fervently applauded.

A few months prior to the Birmingham riots, a most extraordinary work appeared; and to the political and religious animosities, excited and fomented by it, those dreadful outrages may, in no small degree, be attributed. This was the cele-
Mr. Burke’sReflections on the French Revolution:” a work, which, however greatly it may be admired as a composition, must be for ever detested for its spirit, and for its tendency and its effects for ever deplored. Almost from the instant of its appearance, the whole nation was suddenly divided into two opposite and fiercely-contending parties. High toryism, under its protection, once more reared, with bold assurance, its portentous front; whilst the better principles of whiggism seemed for a time to shrink from before it. Never, indeed, was there a publication sent forth from the press, more wonderfully calculated by its delusive statements, its specious reasonings, its eloquent and vehement declamation, its loud and confident tone, to flatter the pride of royalty and of greatness, to foster the prejudices of ignorance and of error, to check the spirit of inquiry and of freedom, and to stop the progress of reform and of improvement. Thus Dr. Parr describes the effect it produced on his mind.

“Upon the first perusal of Mr. Burke’s book, I felt, like many other men, its magic force; and, like many other men, I was at last delivered from the illusions which had ‘cheated my reason,’ and borne me on from admiration to assent. But though the dazzling spell be now dissolved, I still remember with pleasure the gay and celestial visions, when ‘my mind in sweet madness was robbed of itself.’ I still look back, with a mixture of piety and holy awe, to the wizard himself, who, having lately broken his wand, in a start of frenzy, has shortened the term of his sorceries; and of drugs
so potent, as ‘to bathe the spirits in delight,’ I must still acknowledge that many were culled from the choicest and ‘most virtuous plants of paradise itself.’”1

But powerful as was the production of Mr. Burke, on the one side, it was soon followed, on the other, by a still more powerful production in Paine’sRights of Man.” Though an attack directed not merely against the absurdities of Mr. Burke, and the corruptions of the English constitution, but against the principles of the constitution itself; it is impossible to deny the wonderful force of intellect, and strength of language, with which the work is written. Being addressed more to the reason, and less to the passions, than the “Reflections on the French Revolution,” it was calculated to make a deeper and more lasting impression on the public mind; and though it could not fail to offend all the privileged orders, whom it sometimes justly exposes and sometimes unjustly asperses; yet it was eagerly read, and extravagantly admired by the great body of the people, for whose rights and liberties it pleads, always with bold confidence, often with energy scarcely to be resisted, and sometimes with arguments never to be refuted. Of its far-famed author, thus happily has Dr. Parr caught the likeness, and sketched the portrait:

“I recognise, in Mr. Paine, a mind, not disciplined by early education, nor softened and refined by various and extensive intercourse with the

1 Sequel, p. 63.

world, nor enlarged by the knowledge which books supply; but endued by nature with great vigour, and strengthened by long and intense habits of reflection. Acute he appears to me, but not comprehensive; and bold, but not profound. Of man, in his general nature, he seems only to have grasped a part; of man, as distinguished by local and temporary circumstances, his views are indistinct and confined. His notions of government are, therefore, too partial for theory, and too novel for practice; and under a fair semblance of simplicity, conceals a mass of most dangerous errors.”1

But of the numerous answers to which Mr. Burke’s book gave rise, there was one, entitled “Vindiciae Gallicae,” the production of his friend, Mr., now Sir James, Mackintosh, which Dr. Parr, in a high degree, admired. Thus in a fine, animated, commendatory strain, he describes the author and his work:

“In the rapid and eccentric motions of Mr. Burke’s mind, through the vast and trackless space of politics, it often loses the power of attraction upon my own: and as to Mr. Paine, upon my first approaching him, I was instantly repelled to an immeasurable distance; and, for a time, was content to view him, as philosophers look through a telescope, at some dim and sullen planet, whose orbit is at the remotest extremity from the centre. But in the middle and more temperate path, which Mr. Mackintosh has generally pursued, I could often accompany him with pleasure: for, like the earth

1 Sequel, p. 78.

in the solar system, he seems neither to approach too near to the dazzling fountain of light, nor to recede from it too far. My friend, for I have the honour to hail him by that splendid name, will excuse me for expressing in general terms what I think of his work. In Mackintosh, then, I see the sternness of a republican, without his acrimony, and the ardour of a reformer, without his impetuosity. His taste in morals, like that of Mr. Burke, is equally pure and delicate with his taste in literature. His mind is so comprehensive, that generalities cease to be barren, and so vigorous, that detail itself becomes interesting. He introduces every question with perspicuity, states it with precision, and pursues it with easy, unaffected method. Sometimes, perhaps, he may amuse his readers with excursions into paradox; but he never bewilders them by flights into romance. His philosophy is far more just, and far more amiable than the philosophy of Paine; and his eloquence is only not equal to the eloquence of Burke. He is argumentative without sophistry, fervid without fury, profound without obscurity, and sublime without extravagance.”1

The reader is aware that this narrative, in its progress, has reached to the astonishing and eventful period of the French Revolution—so auspicious in its commencement—so disastrous in its course—and terminating so mournfully to the disappointment of all the true friends of human improvement and happiness. For scarcely more mortifying to the

1 Sequel, p. 82.

wishes and the hopes of the wise and the good was the military despotism of
Buonaparte, than the forced and almost unconditional restoration of the Bourbons—still retaining too much of the arbitrary spirit, which has ever characterised that despotic race of princes.

In contemplating this stupendous transaction in the history of the modern world, Dr. Parr’s sentiments were those of approbation or disapprobation, according to the different points to which his attention was directed; and if he saw much in the conduct of the early revolutionists to lament and condemn, he found much, also, to admire and applaud. He thought that the old government of France was no longer fit to be endured; that “it was morbid in its aspect, morbid in its extremities, morbid in its vitals;” and that it was therefore absolutely necessary to contrive and to adopt some new form, better calculated to answer the true end of all just governments, in securing the liberties, and promoting the happiness of the people.

To the last moment of his life, Dr. Parr held the opinion that the great though unsuccessful attempt, to throw down despotic rule, and to establish a free constitution in France, cannot fail to be productive of much present, and still more future good, because many wise and useful institutions formed at the revolution, still remain; and because the spirit then aroused, and the information then diffused, still continue, in some degree, and will increase, operating as a salutary check on arbitrary power, and either gradually introducing the
principles of civil and religious liberty, or preparing the way for a second revolution, in which the crimes and errors of the first will be avoided, and the whole conducted under better auspices, to a happy and glorious issue. “Great events have happened,” said he in reference to these times, “and events yet greater will, perhaps, ere long, burst from the womb of greater causes; and happy is the man, who, mingling the love of freedom with the love of peace, and order, and social union, surveys, with philosophic calmness and religious awe, the gracious designs of Providence, magnificently unfolding themselves in the intellectual, the civil, and the moral improvement of mankind.”1

But, however in some instances he might disapprove and regret the conduct of the French themselves, nothing could exceed the high and utter abhorrence with which he regarded “the counsels and the conduct of those sanguinary fanatics who would unblushingly and unfeelingly rouse the unsparing sword of foreign potentates, and point it without provocation, without precedent, without any other plea than will, without any other end than tyranny, against the bosom of Frenchmen, contending with Frenchmen alone, upon French ground alone, about French rights, French laws, and French government alone.”2

“If, indeed,” continues he in a style of peculiar energy and solemnity, “the threatened crusade of ruffian despots should be attempted, it will be, in my opinion, an outrageous infringement upon the laws of nations; it will be a savage conspiracy

1 Sequel, p. 84. 2 Ib. p. 73.

against the written and unwritten rights of mankind; and therefore, in the sincerity of my soul, I pray the righteous Governor of the universe, the Creator of men, and the King of kings; I pray Him to abate the pride, to assuage the malice, and to confound the devices of all the parties, directly or indirectly leagued in this complicated scene of guilt and horror; this insult upon the dignity of human nature; this treason against the majesty of God’s own image—rational and immortal man!”1

The war thus solemnly deprecated by Dr. Parr, and by many of the wisest and best men of the country, begun, however, with the too general concurrence of the nation, was continued, with one short interval, for more than twenty-two years, and drew after it a long train of dreadful consequences, from which England, though now in the twelfth year of peace, has not yet recovered. Indeed, so incurable seems the mischief she then sustained, especially in the complete derangement of her finances, that the evil will probably be felt not only by the whole present, but also by many succeeding generations.

The horrible enormities, which attended the progress of the revolution in France, and the brilliant successes, which every where followed the march of her armies, united to produce the most unhappy effects on the public mind in England, by creating unreasonable fears for the national security and independence; and still more, by exciting a suspicious dread of every measure favourable to liberty, and even of liberty itself. The general alarm,

1 Sequel, p. 13.

proceeding from these causes, many of the great leaders of the Whigs themselves either really or pretendedly caught; among whom were the
Duke of Portland, Lords Fitzwilliam, Spencer, and Loughborough, in the upper house; and Mr. Burke, Mr. Wyndham, and Sir Gilbert Elliot, in the lower.1 All these persons not only deserted their own, but unblushingly joined the opposing party, eagerly proffered to them their active services, and soon obtained an ample recompense for the support they now gave to measures which they had before vehemently condemned. The Duke of Portland, in particular, was dishonourably distinguished by accepting the office of third secretary of state; an office which he himself had strenuously laboured to abolish, both as superfluous, and as increasing the means, before too abundant, of corrupt influence. Dr. Parr said of him, with taunting severity, “Virtue in the noble Duke certainly has not been left to its own reward.”

But of all the alarmists, as they were popularly named, none excited more seriously the disapprobation of Dr. Parr, and that of every right-minded man in the nation, than Mr. Burke; who, in some well-known debates in parliament, in an unfeeling and insulting manner, not only renounced the party, but also abjured the friendship of Mr. Fox and Mr. Sheridan; and, from that time, not content with condemning their politics, he went the length

1History of the Political Life of Mr. Fox, &c. This book was ascribed to the very celebrated Dr. Lawrence, and was written while he adhered to Whig principles, and to his faithful friend and warm admirer, Mr. Fox. S. P.”—Bibl. Parr. p. 401.

of aspersing their characters, sometimes by artful insinuations, and sometimes, too, by open and calumnious charges.

In a letter to a friend, Dr. Parr thus gives vent to the sorrow and the anger, which then agitated and distressed his mind: “I am most fixedly and most indignantly on the side of Mr. Sheridan and Mr. Fox against Mr. Burke. It is not merely French politics which produced the dispute. No! no! There is jealousy lurking underneath—jealousy of Mr. Sheridan’s eloquence—jealousy of his popularity—jealousy of his influence with Mr. Fox—jealousy, perhaps, of his connexion with the Prince. Mr. Sheridan was not, I think, too warm; at least, I should myself have been warmer. Why! Burke accused Mr. Fox and Mr. Sheridan of acts leading to rebellion; and he made Mr. Fox a dupe, and Mr. Sheridan a traitor!”1

In the same letter, Dr. Parr expresses the unfavourable opinion of Mr. Burke, which was then first fixing itself, and which afterwards gathered strength in his mind: “I know his violence of temper, and obstinacy of opinion, and—; but I will not speak out; for though I think him the greatest man upon earth—yet in politics I think him, what he has been found to be, to the sorrow of those who, have acted with him. He is incorrupt I know; but his passions are quite headstrong; and age, disappointment, and the sight of other men rising into power and consequence sour him.”

Of Mr. Wyndham, another of the Whig alarmists, the following sketch of character, drawn by Dr. Parr, is in his happiest manner:

1 Moore’s Life of Sheridan, vol. ii. p. 127.


“With Mr. Wyndham, though I lament his violence and abhor his apostasy, I am very unwilling to come to an open rupture. I remember with delight those happier days, when he sustained a better part, with better men; when the charms of his conversation were not counteracted by the errors of his politics; when he was animated, but not ferocious; and when his refinements, instead of being dangerous in practice, were, in theory, only amusing. But I know well, as I long have known, the peculiarities which have lately burst on the public eye: nor can I assign any limits to the fury of his passions, or the stubbornness of his prepossessions. He is proud by nature; he is visionary by habit; by accident he was made treacherous; and, by station, he will be made imperious, intolerant, and inexorable.”