“To Priestley” is a sonnet by Samuel Taylor Coleridge first published in the 11 December 1794 Morning Chronicle. Like most of the Sonnets on Eminent Characters, “To Priestley” addresses an individual Coleridge particularly admired; Joseph Priestley held many political and theological beliefs that Coleridge adopted during this time.
Coleridge completed “To Priestley” at the beginning of December 1794. Following “To Burke”, “To Priestley was published in the 11 December 1794 Morning Chronicle as the third poem in the Sonnets on Eminent Characters series. The poem was later included in Coleridge’s 1796 collection of poems and collections printed after with few changes.
After a mob burned Priestley’s Birmingham house during the summer of 1791, he left England for America. The mob that drove Priestley away were motivated by Priestley’s support of the French Revolution. Coleridge’s own views were similar to Priestley’s and even Priestley’s ideas expressed in Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of Air and Disquisitions relating to Matter and Spirit were discussed in part in Coleridge’s poetry.
Coleridge was also corresponding with Priestley at the time, to discuss Coleridge and Robert Southey’s idea of Pantisocracy. During this time, Priestley’s sons were working with Thomas Cooper to find an appropriate location for Coleridge to start up his community. In general, Coleridge viewed Priestley as both a spiritual and intellectual leader, and Coleridge’s political life was to spread Priestley’s views after Priestley left for America. However, Coleridge was to abandon Priestley’s ideas about Unitarianism and religion a decade later as he turned to Anglicanism.