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A Portraiture of Quakerism Volume I Part 16

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I have now given to the reader the objections, that are usually made to the alterations, which the Quakers have introduced into the language of the country, as well as the replies, which the Quakers would make to these objections. I shall solicit the continuance of his patience a little longer, or till I have made a few remarks of my own upon this subject.

It certainly becomes people, who introduce great peculiarities into their system, to be careful, that they are well founded, and to consider how far they may bring their minds into bondage, or what moral effects they may produce on their diameter in a course of time.

On the reformed language of the Quakers it may be observed, that both advantages and disadvantages may follow according to the due or undue estimation in which individuals may hold it.

If individuals should lay too great a stress upon language, that is, if they should carry their prejudices so far against outward and lifeless words, that they should not dare to p.r.o.nounce them, and this as a matter of religion, they are certainly in the way of becoming superst.i.tious, and of losing the dignified independence of their minds.

If again they should put an undue estimate upon language, so as to consider it as a criterion of religious purity, they may be encouraging the growth of hypocrisy within their own precincts. For if the use of this reformed language be considered as an essential of religion, that is, if men are highly thought of in proportion as they conform to it rigidly, it may be a covering to many to neglect the weightier matters of righteousness; at least the fulfilling of such minor duties may shield them from the suspicion of neglecting the greater: and if they should be reported as erring in the latter case, their crime would be less credited under their observance of these minutiae of the law.



These effects are likely to result to the society, if the peculiarities of their language be insisted on beyond their due bounds. But, on the other hand, it must be confessed, that advantages are likely to follow from the same system, which are of great importance in themselves, and which may be set off as a counterbalance to the disadvantages described.

The Quakers may say, and this with the greatest truth, "we have never cringed or stooped below the dignity of men. We have never been guilty of base flattery; we have never been instrumental in raising the creature, with whom we have conversed, above his condition, so that in the imagination of his own consequence, he should lose sight of his dependence on the Supreme Being, or treat his fellow-men, because they should happen to be below him, as worms or reptiles of the earth."

They may say also that the system of their language originated in the purest motives, and that it is founded on the sacred basis of truth.

It may be said also, that the habits of caution which the different peculiarities in their language have introduced and interwoven into their const.i.tution, have taught them particularly to respect the truth, and to aim at it in all their expressions whether in speech or letters, and that it has given them a peculiar correctness in the expression of their ideas, which they would scarcely have had by means of the ordinary education of the world. Hobbes says[54] "animadverte, quam sit ab improprietate verborum p.r.o.num hominibus prolabi in errores circa res,"

or "how p.r.o.ne men are to fall into errors about things, when they use improper expressions." The converse of this proposition may be observed to be true with respect to the Quakers, or it may be observed, that the study of proper expressions has given them correct conceptions of things, and has had an influence in favor of truth. There are no people, though the common notion may be otherwise, who speak so accurately as the Quakers, or whose letters, if examined on any subject, would be so free from any double meaning, so little liable to be mistaken, and so easy to be understood.

[Footnote 54: Hobbesii Examen. et Emend. Hod. Math. P. 55. Edit.

Amstel.]

It may be observed also on the language of the Quakers, that is, on that part of it, which relates to the alteration of the names of the months and days, that this alteration would form the most perfect model for an universal calendar of any that has yet appeared in the world. The French nation chose to alter their calendar, and, to make it useful to husbandry, they designated their months, so that they should be representatives of the different seasons of the year. They called them snowy, and windy, and harvest, and vintage-months, and the like. But in so large a territory, as that of France, these new designations were not the representatives of the truth. The northern and southern parts were not alike in their climate. Much less could these designations speak the truth for other parts of the world: whereas numerical appellations might be adopted with truth, and be attended with usefulness to all the nations of the world, who divided their time in the same manner.

On the latter subject of the names of the days and months, the alteration of which is considered as the most objectionable by the world, I shall only observe, that, if the Quakers have religious scruples concerning them, it is their duty to persevere in the disuse of them. Those of the world, on the other hand, who have no such scruples, are under no obligation to follow their example. And in the same manner as the Quakers convert the disuse of these ancient terms to the improvement of their moral character, so those of the world may convert the use of them to a moral purpose. Man is a reasonable, and moral being, and capable of moral improvement; and this improvement may be made to proceed from apparently worthless causes. If we were to find crosses or other Roman-Catholic relics fixed in the walls of our places of worship, why should we displace them? Why should we not rather suffer them to remain, to put us in mind of the necessity of thankfulness for the reformation in our religion? If again we were to find an altar, which had been sacred to Moloc, but which had been turned into a stepping stone, to help the aged and infirm upon their horses, why should we destroy it? Might it not be made useful to our morality, as far as it could be made to excite sorrow for the past and grat.i.tude for the present? And in the same manner might it not be edifying to retain the use of the ancient names of the days and months? Might not thankful feelings be excited in our hearts, that the crime of idolatry had ceased among us, and that the only remnant of it was a useful signature of the times? In fact, if it be the tendency of the corrupt part of our nature to render innocent things vicious, it is, on the other hand, in the essence of our nature, to render vicious things in process of time innocent; so that the remnants of idolatry and superst.i.tion may be made subservient to the moral improvement of mankind.

CHAP. IV.

_Address--all nations have used ceremonies of address--George Fox bears his testimony against those in use in his own times--sufferings of the Quakers on this account--makes no exception in favor of royalty--his dispute with Judge Glynn--modern Quakers follow his example--use no ceremonies even to majesty--various reasons for their disuse of them._

All nations have been in the habit of using outward gestures or ceremonies, as marks of affection, obeisance or respect. And these outward ceremonies have been different from one another, so much so, that those, which have been adjudged to be suitable emblems of certain affections or dispositions of the mind among one people, would have been considered as very improper emblems of the same, and would have been even thought ridiculous by another, yet all nations have supposed, that they employed the most rational modes for these purposes. And indeed, there were probably none of these outward gestures and ceremonies, which, in their beginning, would not have admitted of a reasonable defence while they continued to convey to the minds of those, who adopted them, the objects, for which they were intended, or while those, who used them, persevered with sincerity in their use, little or no objection could be made to them by the moralist. But as soon as the ends of their inst.i.tution were lost, or they were used without any appropriate feeling of the heart, they became empty civilities, and little better than mockery or grimace.

The customs of this sort, which obtained in the time of George Fox, were similar to those, which are now in use on similar occasions. People pulled off their hats, and bowed, and sc.r.a.ped with their feet. And these things they did, as marks of civility, friendship, or respect to one another.

George Fox was greatly grieved about these idle ceremonies. He lamented that men should degrade themselves by the use of them, and that they should encourage habits, that were abhorrent of the truth. His feelings were so strong upon this subject, that he felt himself called upon to bear his testimony against them. Accordingly he never submitted to them himself, and those, who received his religious doctrines, followed his example.

The omission of these ceremonies, however, procured both for him and his followers, as had been the case in the change of thou for you, much ill-will, and harsh treatment. The Quakers were derided and abused.

Their hats were taken forcibly from their heads, and thrown away. They were beaten and imprisoned on this sole account. And so far did the world carry their resentment towards them for the omission of these little ceremonies, that they refused for some time to deal with them as tradesmen, or to buy things at their shops, so that some Quakers could hardly get money enough to buy themselves bread.

George Fox, however, and his a.s.sociates, persevered, notwithstanding this ill usage, in the disuse of all honours, either by the moving of the hat, or the usual bendings of the body; and as that, which was a right custom for one, was a right one for another, they made no exception even in favour of the chief magistrate of the land. George Fox, when he visited Oliver Cromwell as protector, never pulled off his hat; and it is remarkable that the protector was not angry with him for it.

Neither did he pull off his hat to the judges at any time, notwithstanding he was so often brought before them. Controversies sometimes took place between him and them in the public court, upon these occasions, one of which I shall notice, as it marks the manner of conducting the jurisprudence of those times.

When George Fox, and two other friends, were brought out of Launceston gaol, to be tried before judge Glynn, who was then chief justice of England, they came into court with their hats on. The judge asked them the reason of this, but they said nothing. He then told them, that the court commanded them to pull off their hats. Upon this George Fox addressed them in the following manner. "Where, says he, did ever any magistrate, king or judge, from Moses to Daniel, command any to put off their hats, when they came before them in their courts, either amongst the Jews, who were G.o.d's people, or among the heathen? And if the law of England doth command any such thing, shew me that law, either written or printed." Judge Glynn upon this grew angry, and replied, that "he did not carry his law-books upon his back." But says George Fox, "tell me where it is printed in any statute-book, that I may read it" The judge, in a vulgar manner, ordered him away, and he was accordingly taken away, and put among thieves. The judge, however, in a short time afterwards ordered him up again, and, on his return put to him the following question, "Come, says he, where had they hats from Moses to Daniel?

Come, answer me. I have you fast now." George. Fox replied, that "he might read in the third chapter of Daniel, that the three children were cast into the fiery furnace by Nebuchadnezzar's command, with their coats, their hose, and their hats on." The repet.i.tion of this apposite text stopped the judge from any farther comments on the custom, and he ordered him and his companions to be taken away again. And they were accordingly taken away and they were thrust again among thieves. In process of time, however, this custom of the Quakers began to be known among the judges, who so far respected their scruples, as to take care that their hats should be taken off in future in the courts.

These omissions of the ceremonies of the world, as begun by the primitive Quakers, are continued by the modern. They neither bow nor sc.r.a.pe, nor pull off their hats to any, by way of civility or respect, and they carry their principles, like their predecessors, so far, that they observe none of these exterior parts of politeness even in the presence of royalty. The Quakers are in the habit on particular occasions of sending deputies to the king. And it is remarkable that his present majesty always sees them himself, if he be well, and not by proxy. Notwithstanding this, no one in the deputation ever pulls off his hat. Those, however, who are in waiting in the anti-chamber, knowing this custom of the Quakers, take their hats from their heads, before they enter the room, where the king is. On entering the room, they neither bow nor sc.r.a.pe, nor kneel, and as this ceremony cannot be performed for them by others, they go into the royal presence in a less servile, or more dignified manner, than either the representatives of sovereigns, or those, who have humbled nations by the achievement of great victories.

The ground, upon which the Quakers decline the use of the ordinary ceremonies just mentioned, is, the honours are the honours of the world.

Now, as that these of the world, they consider them as objectionable on several accounts.

First, they are no more the criterions of obeisance and respect, than mourning garments are the criterions of sorrow. But Christianity is never satisfied but with the truth. It forbids all false appearances. It allows no image to be held out, that is not a faithful picture of its original, or no action to be resorted to, that is not correspondent with the feelings of the heart.

In the second place the Quakers presume, that, as honours of the world, all such ceremonies are generally of a complimentary nature. No one bows to a poor man. But almost every one to the rich, and the rich to one another. Hence bowing is as much a species of flattery through the medium of the body, as the giving of undeserved t.i.tles through the medium of the tongue.

As honours of the world again the Quakers think them censurable, because all such honours were censured by Jesus Christ. On the occasion, on which he exhorted his followers not to be like the Scribes and Pharisees, and to seek flattering t.i.tles, so as to be called Rabbi Rabbi of man, he exhorted them to avoid all ceremonious salutations, such as greetings in the market-places. He couples the two different customs of flattering t.i.tles and salutations in the same sentence, and mentions them in the same breath. And though the word "greetings" does not perhaps precisely mean those bowings and sc.r.a.pings, which are used at the present day, yet it means, both according to its derivation and the nature of the Jewish customs, those outward personal actions or gestures, which were used as complimentary to the Jewish world.

With respect to the pulling off the hat the Quakers have an additional objection to this custom, quite distinct from the objections, that have been mentioned above. Every minister in the Quaker society takes off his hat, either when he preaches, or when he prays. St Paul[55] enjoins this custom. But if they take off their hats, that is, uncover their heads, as an outward act enjoined in the service of G.o.d, they cannot with any propriety take them off, or uncover their heads to men, because they would be giving to the creature the same outward honour which they give to the creator. And in this custom they conceive the world to be peculiarly inconsistent. For men go into their churches, and into their meetings, and pull off their hats, or uncover their heads, for the same reason as the Quaker-ministers when they pray (for no other reason can be a.s.signed) and, when they come out of their respective places of worship, they uncover them again on every trivial occasion, to those whom they meet, using to man the same outward mark of homage, as they had just given to G.o.d.

[Footnote 55: 1 Cor. Chap. xi.]

CHAP. V.

_Manners and conversation--Quakers esteemed reserved--this an appearance owing to their education--their hospitality in their own houses--the freedom allowed and taken--their conversation limited--politics generally excluded--subjects of conversation examined in our towns--also in the metropolis--no such subjects among the Quakers--their conversation more dignified--extraordinary circ.u.mstance that takes place occasionally in the company of the Quakers._

The Quakers are generally supposed to be a stiff and reserved people, and to be a people of severe and uncourteous manners. I confess there is something in their appearance that will justify the supposition in the eyes of strangers, and of such as do not know them: I mean of such, as just see them occasionally out of doors, but do not mix with them in their own houses.

It cannot be expected that persons, educated like the Quakers, should a.s.similate much in their manners to other people. The very dress they wear, which is so different from that of others, would give them a stiff appearance in the eyes of the world, if nothing else could be found to contribute towards it. Excluded also from much intercourse with the world, and separated at a vast distance from it by the singularity of many of their customs, they would naturally appear to others to be close and reserved. Neither is it to be expected that those, whose spirits are never animated by music, or enlivened by the exhibitions of the theatre, or the diversions which others follow, would have other than countenances that were grave. Their discipline also, which calls them so frequently to important duties, and the dispatch of serious business, would produce the same feature. I may observe also, that a peculiarity of gait, which might be mistaken for awkwardness, might not unreasonably be expected in those, who had neither learned to walk under the guidance of a dancing, master, nor to bow under the direction of the dominion of fashion. If those and those only are to be esteemed really polished and courteous, who bow and sc.r.a.pe, and salute each other by certain prescribed gestures, then the Quakers will appear to have contracted much rust, and to have an indisputable right to the t.i.tle of a clownish and inflexible people.

I must observe however that these appearances, though they may be substantial in the estimation of those who do not know them, gradually vanish with those, who do. Their hospitality in their own houses, and their great attention and kindness, soon force out of sight all ideas of uncourteousness. Their freedom also soon annihilates those of stiffness and reserve. Their manners, though they have not the polished surface of those which are usually attached to fashionable life, are agreeable, when known.

There is one trait in the Quaker-manners, which runs through the whole society, as far as I have seen in their houses, and which is worthy of mention. The Quakers appear to be particularly gratified, when those, who visit them, ask for what they want. Instead of considering this as rudeness or intrusion, they esteem it as a favour done them. The circ.u.mstance of asking, on such an occasion, is to them a proof, that there visitors feel themselves at home. Indeed they almost always desire a stranger who has been introduced to them "to be free." This is their usual expression. And if he a.s.sures them that he will, and if they find him asking for what he wishes to have, you may perceive in their countenances the pleasure, which his conduct has given them. They consider him, when he has used this freedom, to have acted as they express it "kindly." Nothing can be more truly polite than that conduct to another, by which he shall be induced to feel himself as comfortably situated, as if he were in his own house.

As the Quakers desire their visitors to be free, and to do as they please, so they do not fail to do the same themselves, never regarding such visitors as impediments in the way of their concerns. If they have any business or engagement out of doors, they say so and go, using no ceremony, and but few words as an apology. Their visitors, I mean such as stay for a time in their houses, are left in the interim to amuse themselves as they please. This is peculiarly agreeable, because their friends know, when they visit them, that they neither restrain, nor shackle, nor put them to inconvenience. In fact it may be truly said that if satisfaction in visiting depends upon a man's own freedom to do as he likes, to ask and to call for what he wants, to go out and come in as he pleases; and if it depends also on the knowledge he has, that, in doing all these things, he puts no person out of his way, there are no houses, where people will be better pleased with their treatment, than in those of the Quakers.

This trait in the character of the Quakers is very general. I would not pretend, however, to call it universal. But it is quite general enough to be p.r.o.nounced a feature in their domestic character. I do not mean by the mention of it, to apologize, in any manner for the ruggedness of manners of some Quakers. There are undoubtedly solitary families, which having lived in places, where there have been scarcely any of their own society with whom to a.s.sociate, and which, having scarcely mixed with others of other denominations except in the way of trade, have an uncourteousness, ingrafted in them as it were by these circ.u.mstances, which no change of situation afterwards has been able to obliterate.

The subjects of conversation among the Quakers differ, like those of others, but they are not so numerous, neither are they of the same kind, as those of other people.

The Quaker conversation is cramped or fettered for two reasons, first by the caution, that prevails among the members of the society relative to the use of idle words, and secondly by the caution, that prevails among them, relative to the adapting of their expressions to the truth. Hence the primitive Quakers were persons of few words.

The subjects also of the Quaker conversation are limited for several reasons. The Quakers have not the same cla.s.sical or philosophical education, as those of other denominations in an equal situation in life. This circ.u.mstance will of course exclude many topics from their discourse.

Religious considerations also exclude others. Politics, which generally engross a good deal of attention, and which afford an inexhaustible fund of matter for conversation to a great part of the inhabitants of the island, are seldom introduced, and, if introduced, very tenderly handled in general among the Quaker-society. I have seen aged Quakers gently reprove others of tenderer years, with whom they happened to be in company, for having started them. It is not that the Quakers have not the same feelings as other men, or that they are not equally interested about humanity, or that they are incapable of opinions on the changeable political events, that are pa.s.sing over the face of the globe, that this subject is so little agitated among them. They are usually silent upon it for particular reasons. They consider first, that, as they are not allowed to have any direction, and in many cases could not conscientiously interfere, in government-matters, it would be folly to disquiet their minds with vain and fruitless speculations. They consider again, that political subjects frequently irritate people, and make them warm. Now this is a temper, which they consider to be peculiarly detrimental to their religion. They consider themselves also in this life as but upon a journey to another, and that they should get through it as quietly and as inoffensively as they can. They believe again with George Fox, that, "in these lower regions, or in this airy life, all news is uncertain. There is nothing stable. But in the higher regions, or in the kingdom of Christ, all things are stable: and the news is always good and certain." [56]

[Footnote 56: There is always an exception in favour of conversation on politics, which is, when the government are agitating any question, their interests or their religious freedom is involved.]

As politics do not afford matter for much conversation in the Quaker-society, so neither do some other subjects, that may be mentioned.

In a country town, where people daily visit, it is not uncommon to observe, whether at the card, or at the tea-table, that what is usually called scandal forms a part of the pleasures of conversation. The hatching up of suspicions on the accidental occurrence of trivial circ.u.mstances, the blowing up of these suspicions into substances and forms, animadversions on character, these, and such like themes, wear out a great part of the time of an afternoon or an evening visit. Such subjects, however, cannot enter where Quakers converse with one another.

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A Portraiture of Quakerism Volume I Part 16 summary

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