Editorial and Transcription Procedures


Choice and Arrangement of Letters
The collection contains all the known surviving letters written by Joseph Priestley to Theophilus Lindsey between 1769 and 1794 when Priestley left England for America. The letters are arranged in chronological order. In cases where the MS is undated and the postmark has not survived Rutt’s dating has been followed. Discrepancies between Rutt’s dating and notes on the MSS, postmarks and internal evidence have been detailed in the footnotes.

The manuscript letters have provided the copy text. 113 of the letters have been transcribed from MS 12.12 at Dr Williams’s Library, London, one is from MS 655 at the Royal Society, London, and one is from the Priestley Collection by Samuel Timmins, at the Birmingham City Archives, IIR10/73499. J. T. Rutt’s edition contains 24 letters to Lindsey from the period 1769-1794, the MSS of which do not appear to have survived. These letters are not included in this collection. MS 12.12 contains a further 5 letters to Caleb Rotheram, Thomas Belsham, and William Smith. There are a further 90 MS letters written by Priestley from New York, Philadelphia and Northumberland from the years 1794 to 1803 contained in MS 12.13 at Dr Williams’s Library. The letters to Belsham, Rotheram and Smith and the letters written after 1794 are not included in this edition.

The MSS have been printed to correspond to the originals as closely as is feasible in the medium of type. Thus, original spelling and punctuation and crossings out, as they appear in the MSS, have been retained throughout. Priestley’s contractions have been left as they appear in the MSS. Where necessary for interpretation, footnotes have been provided. The following editorial conventions have been imposed silently:

Where they have survived the addresses as written on the MSS have been given in the header. Elements appearing on separate lines in the MSS are run together. The original punctuation has been retained.

The date has been left aligned regardless of its place on the MS. Many of the MSS contain dates in hands other than Priestley’s (usually Rutt’s or Thomas Belsham’s). These have been given in square brackets.

The handwriting is Lindsey’s unless otherwise specified. Some of the MSS contain notes by Lindsey in shorthand and longhand. Even the longhand text is often impossible to decipher and for this reason only dates and occasional passages of interest have been given in the header.

Lacunae and Conjectural Readings
Words and letters missing through a tear or obscured by a blot are given in square brackets. Most of these are derived from Rutt; conjectural readings are indicated with a question mark in square brackets. Inadvertent omissions are added in double square brackets. Again, most of these are from Rutt’s edition. Words added as an afterthought above the original line of text have been given between two double slashes.

Capitalisation and paragraphing
Original capitalisation and paragraphing have been retained. Priestley often uses a long dash to signify a new paragraph which in this edition is left as it appears in the MSS. Although every effort has been made to reproduce capitalisation as it appears in the MSS some margin of error is unavoidable.

Illegible Text
An illegible word in the MS is indicated by [-?-]. An illegible word crossed out is indicated by  ? .


At the head of each letter is a record of the location of the MS, any previously printed editions, and, where they have survived, the address, the postmark, and the endorsement. Postmarks, although partly illegible on some letters, are left unbracketed when not in doubt. Marks on the letters other than addresses, postmarks and endorsements have been ignored.

Preference has been given to identifying people, texts, and historical contexts where these aid an understanding of the letter. Footnotes from Rutt’s edition have only been retained where they conform to these categories and where it has not been possible to improve upon them. All reference titles in the footnotes are sufficiently complete to enable identification. For each letter texts and people are identified at their first occurrence but are not referenced in subsequent occurrences. In the case of those people featured in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, a minimum of biographical information is given. [ODNB] subsequent to a biographical reference indicates that a full entry is available. Passages from the ODNB which illustrate specifically the context of the letter have been quoted and referenced in full. Significant omissions and variant readings in Rutt’s edition of the letters have also been footnoted.

Reference to all letters is made by date.
Each citation to a previous letter refers to the first
place where a person or incident has been referenced.