Definitions

Priestley

Priestley

[preest-lee]
Priestley, J. B. (John Boynton Priestley), 1894-1984, English author. An extraordinarily prolific writer, Priestley worked in a variety of genres. He first wrote literary criticism as a student at Cambridge, thereafter producing such celebrated volumes as The English Novel (1927) and Literature and Western Man (1960). His many novels include The Good Companions (1929), Angel Pavement (1930), Bright Day (1946), It's an Old Country (1967), and The Image Men (1969). In his plays he experimented with expressionist forms and psychological themes; see Time and the Conways (1937), and with social criticism in dramas like Dangerous Corner (1932). Other plays include An Inspector Calls (1945), The Glass Cage (1957), and When We are Married (1938), revived with great success in 1986. Priestley also wrote mystery stories, personal history, and social criticism, English Journey (1934), Rain upon Gadshill (1939), Thoughts in the Wilderness (1957), and The Happy Dream (1976). His works of history include The Edwardians (1970) and Victoria's Heyday (1972). His reminiscences, published between 1962 and 1977, cover the full spectrum of British 20th Century culture.

See study by D. Hughes (1958, repr. 1979).

Priestley, Joseph, 1733-1804, English theologian and scientist. He prepared for the Presbyterian ministry and served several churches in England as pastor but gradually rejected orthodox Calvinism and adopted Unitarian views. He settled in London in 1765 and moved to Birmingham some years later. In both cities he became associated with some of the outstanding figures of his day, such as Benjamin Franklin, James Boswell, James Watt, Josiah Wedgwood, and Erasmus Darwin. Priestley's Essay on Government (1768) suggested the idea of "the greatest happiness of the greatest number" to Jeremy Bentham. In 1769 he founded the Theological Repository for critical discussion. In his History of Electricity (1767), he explained the rings (known as Priestley's rings) formed by a discharge upon a metallic surface. His improvements in the manipulation of gases enabled him to investigate the properties of gases and to discover new ones, including sulfur dioxide, ammonia, and what Priestley called "dephlogisticated air," the gas that Lavoisier named oxygen and made the basis of experiments that were the foundation of modern chemistry. Priestley himself, however, failed to realize the importance of his discovery of oxygen.

Priestley's Examination of Scottish Philosophy appeared in 1774; his History of the Corruptions of Christianity, published in 1782, was officially burned in 1785; and his History of Early Opinions concerning Jesus Christ appeared in 1786. In 1790 he wrote two volumes of a General History of the Christian Church to the Fall of the Western Empire, and four volumes of the later history of the church appeared between 1802 and 1803. In the meantime he pursued his scientific and philosophical studies; opposed orthodox doctrines, the government's colonial policy, and slave trade; advocated the repeal of the Test Act and Corporation Act; and carried on a seven-year controversy (1783-90) with the Rev. Samuel Horsley.

Priestley's sympathy with the aims of the French Revolution aroused popular prejudice against him, which led in 1791 to the wrecking of his house and the destruction of his library and scientific apparatus. Priestley emigrated to the United States in 1794 and lived at Northumberland, Pa., for the remainder of his life. He became friendly with many of the nation's founders, forming a particularly close tie with Thomas Jefferson, and continued his chemical experimentation, engaging in a controversy on the phlogiston theory with leading American chemists. Priestley, who was fluent in seven languages, wrote a total of nearly 500 books and pamphlets.

See his letters, ed. by R. E. Schofield (1966); his memoirs (2 vol., 1806, repr. 1970); L. Kieft and B. R. Willeford, Jr., Joseph Priestley: Scientist, Theologian, and Metaphysician (1979); J. J. Huecher, Joseph Priestley and the Idea of Progress (1987); S. Johnson, The Invention of Air (2008); bibliography by R. E. Crook (1966).

Priestley is an English surname. It may refer to:

  • Dennis Priestley - a two-time World Darts Champion and the first player to win both BDO and WDC World Championship Crowns.
  • Jason Priestley - an American actor who starred in the TV show, Beverly Hills, 90210
  • Joseph Priestley - (13 March 1733 – February 6, 1804), an 18th-century British theologian, Dissenting clergyman, natural philosopher, educator, and political theorist
  • John Boynton Priestley - (13 September 1894 - 14 August 1984), an English writer and broadcaster

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