A Portraiture of Quakerism Volume Iii Part 8

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[Footnote 34: The Moravians, I believe, protest against war upon scriptural grounds. But how far in this, or in any other case, they bear a testimony, like the Quakers, by suffering, I do not know.]

The subjects, in which this trait is conspicuous, are of two kinds, first as they relate to things enjoined by the government, and secondly as they relate to things enjoined by the customs or fashions of the world.

In the first case there was formerly much more suffering than there is at present, though the Quakers still refuse a compliance with as many injunctions of the law as they did in their early times.

It has been already stated that they refused, from the very inst.i.tution of their society, to take a civil oath. The sufferings, which they underwent in consequence, have been explained also. But happily, by the indulgence of the legislature, they are no longer persecuted for this scruple, though they still persevere in it, their affirmation having been made equal to an oath in civil cases.

It has been stated again, that they protested against the religious observance of many of those days, which the government of the country for various considerations had ordered to be kept as holy. In consequence of this they were grievously oppressed in the early times of their history. For when their shops were found open on Christmas day, and on Good Friday, and on the different fast-days which had been appointed, they were taken up and punished by the magistrates on the one hand, and insulted and beaten by the people on the other. But, notwithstanding this ill usage, they persevered as rigidly in the non-observance of particular days and times, as in their non-compliance with oaths, and they still persevere in it. It does not appear, however, that their bearing of their testimony in this case is any longer a source of much vexation or trouble to them: for though the government of the country still sanctions the consecration of particular days, and, the great majority of the people join in it, there seems, to have been a progressive knowledge or civilization in both, which has occasioned them to become tender on account of this singular deviation from their own practice.

But though the Quakers have been thus relieved by the legislature, and by the more mild and liberal disposition of the people, from so much suffering in bearing their testimony on the two occasions which have been mentioned, yet there are others, where the laws of government are concerned, on which they find themselves involved in a struggle between the violation of their consciences and a state of suffering, and where unfortunately there is no remedy at hand, without the manifestation of greater partiality towards them, than it may be supposed an equal administration of justice to all would warrant.

Hie first of these occasions is when military service, is enjoined. The Quakers, when drawn for the militia, refuse either to serve, or to furnish subst.i.tutes. For this refusal they come under the cognizance of the laws. Their property, where they have any, is of course distrained upon, and a great part of a little substance is sometimes taken from them on, this account. Where they have not distrainable property, which is occasionally the case, they never fly, but submit to the known punishment, and go patiently to prison. The legislature, however, has not been inattentive to the Quakers even upon this occasion; for it has limited their confinement to three months. The government also of the country afforded lately, in a case in which the Quakers were concerned, an example of attention to religious scruples upon this subject. In the late bill for arming the country _en ma.s.se_, both the Quakers and the Moravians were exempted from military service. This homage to religious principle did the authors of these exemptions the highest honour. And it certainly becomes the Quakers to be grateful for this unsolicited favour; and as it was bestowed upon them upon the full belief that they were the people they professed themselves, they should be particularly careful that they do not, by any inconsistency of conduct, tarnish the high reputation, which has been attached to them by the government under which they live.

The second occasion is, when t.i.thes or other dues are demanded by the church. The Quakers refuse the payment of these upon principles, which have been already explained. They come of course again under the cognizance of the laws. Their property is annually distrained upon by warrant from justices of the peace, where the demand does not exceed the value of ten pounds, and this is their usual suffering in this case. But there have not been wanting instances where an unusual hardness, of heart has suggested a process, still allowable by the law, which has deprived them of all their property, and consigned them for life to the habitation of a prison.[35]

[Footnote 35: One died, not a great while ago, in York Castle, and others, who were confined with him, would have shared his fate, but for the interference of the king.

It is surprising, that the clergy should not unite in promoting a bill in parliament, to extend the authority of the justices to grant warrants of distraint for t.i.thes to more than the value of ten pounds, and to any amount, as this is the most cheap and expeditious way for themselves. If they apply to the ecclesiastical courts, they can enforce no payment of their t.i.thes then. They can put the poor Quaker into prison, but they cannot obtain their debt. If they apply to the exchequer, they may find themselves, at the conclusion of their suit, and this after a delay of three years, liable to the payment of extra costs, to the amount of forty or fifty pounds, with which they cannot charge the Quaker, though they may confine him for life. Some, to my knowledge, have been glad to abandon these suits, and put up with the costs, incurred in them; rather than continue them. Recourse to such courts occasion the clergy frequently to be charged with cruelty, when, if they had only understood their own interests better, they would have avoided them.]

But it is not only in cases, of which the laws of the land take cognizance, that the Quakers prefer suffering to doing that which their consciences disapprove. There are other cases, connected, as I observed before, with the opinion of the world, where they exhibit a similar example. If they believe any custom or fashion of the world to be evil in itself, or to be attended with evil, neither popular applause nor popular fury can make them follow it, but they think it right to bear their testimony against it by its disuse, and to run the hazard of all the ridicule, censure, or persecution, which may await them for so doing.

In these cases, as in the former, it must be observed, that the sufferings of the Quakers have been much diminished, though they still refuse a compliance in as many instances as formerly, with the fashions of the world.

It was stated in the first volume, that they subst.i.tuted the word Thou for You, in order that they might avoid by their words, as well as by their actions, any appearance of flattery to men. It was stated also, that they suffered on this account; that many magistrates, before whom they were carried in the early times of their inst.i.tution, occasioned their punishment to be more severe, and that they were often abused and beaten by others, and put in danger of their lives. This persecution, however, for this singularity in their language, has long ceased; and the subst.i.tution of Thou for You is now only considered as an innocent distinction between Quakers and other people.

It was stated again in the same volume, that the Quakers abstained from the usual address of the world, such as from pulling off their hats, and from bowing the body, and from their ceremonious usages. It was explained also, that they did this upon two principles. First, because, as such ceremonies were no real marks of obeisance, friendship or respect, they ought to be discouraged by a people, whose religion required that no image should be held out, which was not a faithful picture of its original, and that no action should be resorted to, which was not correspondent with the feelings of the heart. Secondly, because all such ceremonies were of a complimentary or flattering nature, and were expressly forbidden by Jesus Christ. It was stated also, that, on account of their rejection of such outward usages, their hats were forcibly taken from their heads and thrown away; that they were beaten and imprisoned on this sole account; and that the world refused to deal with them as tradesmen, in consequence of which many could scarcely supply their families with bread. But this deviation from the general practice, though it still characterizes the members of this society, is no longer a source of suffering. Magistrates sometimes take care that their hats shall be taken gently from their heads on public occasions, and private persons expect now no such homage from Quakers, when they meet them.

There is, however, a custom, against which the Quakers anciently bore their testimony, and against which they continue to bear it, which subjects them occasionally to considerable inconvenience and loss. In the case of a general illumination, they never light up their houses, but have the courage to be singular in this respect, whatever may be the temper of the mob.

They believe that the practice of general illuminations cannot be adopted consistently by persons, who are lovers of the truth. They consider it as no certain criterion of joy. For, in the first place, how many light up their houses, whose hearts are overwhelmed with sorrow?

And, in the second place, the event which is celebrated, may not always be a matter of joy to good minds. The birth-day of a prince, for example, may be ushered in as welcome, and the celebration of it may call his actions to mind, upon which a reflection may produce pleasure, but the celebration of the slaughter or devastation of mankind can afford no happiness to the Christian.

They consider the practice again, accompanied as it is with all its fiery instruments, as dangerous and cruel. For how many accidents have happened, and how many lives have been lost upon such occasions?

They consider it again as replete with evil. The wild uproar which it creates, the mad and riotous joy which it produces, the licentiousness which it favours, the invidious comparisons which it occasions, the partial favour which it fixes on individuals who have probably no moral merit, the false joys which it holds out, and the enmity which it has on some occasions a tendency to perpetuate; are so many additional arguments against it in the opinion of the Quakers.

For these and other reasons they choose not to submit to the custom, but to bear their testimony against it, and to run the hazard of having their windows broken, or their houses pillaged, as the populace may dictate: And in the same manner, if there be any other practice, in which the world may expect them to coincide, they reject it, fearless of the consequences, if they believe it to be productive of evil.

This n.o.ble practice of bearing testimony, by which a few individuals attempt to stem the torrent of immorality by opposing themselves to its stream, and which may be considered as a living martyrdom, does, in a moral point of view, a great deal of good to those, who conscientiously adopt it. It recalls first principles to their minds. It keeps in their remembrance the religious rights of man. It teaches them to reason upon principle, and to make their estimates by a moral standard. It is productive both of patience and of courage. It occasions them to be kind and attentive, and merciful to those who are persecuted and oppressed.

It throws them into the presence of the Divinity when they are persecuted themselves. In short, it warms their moral feelings, and elevates their religious thoughts. Like oil, it keeps them from rusting.

Like a whetstone, it gives them a new edge. Take away this practice from the const.i.tution of the Quakers, and you pull down a considerable support of their moral character. It is a great pity that, as professing Christians, we should not, more of us, incorporate this n.o.ble principle individually into our religion. We concur unquestionably in customs, through the fear of being reputed singular, of which our hearts do not always approve, though nothing is more true, than that a Christian is expected to be singular with respect to the corruptions of the world.

What an immensity of good would be done, if cases of persons, choosing rather to suffer than to temporize, were so numerous as to attract the general notice of men! Would not every case of suffering operate as one of the most forcible lessons that could be given to those who should see it? And how long would that infamous system have to live, which makes a distinction between political expediency and moral right?


_A fourth trait is, that, in political affairs, they reason upon principle, and not from consequences--This mode of reasoning insures the adoption of the maxim of not doing evil that good may come--Had Quakers been legislators, many public evils had been avoided, which are now known in the world--Existence of this trait probable from the influence of the former trait--and from the influence of the peculiar customs of the Quakers--and from the influence of their system of discipline upon their minds._

The next trait, which I shall lay open to the world as belonging to the Quaker character, is, that in all those cases, which may be called political, the Quakers generally reason upon principle, and but seldom upon consequences.

I do not know of any trait, which ever impressed me more than this in all my intercourse with the members of this society. It was one of those which obtruded itself to my notice on my first acquaintance with them, and it has continued equally conspicuous to the present time.

If an impartial philosopher, from some unknown land, and to whom our manners, and opinions, and history, were unknown, were introduced suddenly into our metropolis, and were to converse with the Quakers there on a given political subject, and to be directly afterwards conveyed to the west end of the town, and there to converse with politicians, or men of fashion, or men of the world, upon the same, he could not fail to be greatly surprised. If he thought the former wise, or virtuous, or great, he would unavoidably consider the latter as foolish, or vicious, or little. Two such opposite conclusions, as he would hear deduced from the reasonings of each, would impress him with an idea, that he had been taken to a country inhabited by two different races of men. He would never conceive, that they had been educated in the same country, or under the same government. If left to himself, he would probably imagine, that they had embraced two different religions.

But if he were told that they professed the same, he would then say, that the precepts of this religion had been expressed in such doubtful language, that they led to two sets of principles contradictory to one another. I need scarcely inform the reader, that I allude to the two opposite conclusions, which will almost always be drawn, where men reason from motives of policy or from moral right.

If it be true that the Quakers reason upon principle in political affairs, and not upon consequences, it will follow as a direct inference, that they will adopt the Christian maxim, that men ought not to do evil that good may come. And this is indeed the maxim, which you find them adopting in the course of their conversation on such subjects, and which I believe they would have uniformly adopted, if they had been placed in political situations in life. Had the Quakers been the legislators of the world, we should never have seen many of the public evils that have appeared in it. It was thought formerly, for example, a glorious thing to attempt to drive Paganism from the Holy Land, but Quakers would never have joined in any of the crusades for its expulsion. It has been long esteemed, again, a desideratum in politics, that among nations, differing in strength and resources, a kind of balance of power should be kept up, but Quakers would never have engaged in any one war to preserve it. It has been thought again, that it would contribute to the happiness of the natives of India, if the blessings of the British const.i.tution could be given them instead of their own. But Quakers would never have taken possession of their territories for, the accomplishment of such a good. It has been long thought again a matter of great political importance, that our West-Indian settlements should be cultivated by African labourers. But Quakers would never have allowed a slave-trade for such a purpose. It has been thought again, and it is still thought, a desirable thing, that our property should be secured from the petty depredations of individuals. But Quakers would never have consented to capital punishments for such an end. In short, few public evils would have arisen among mankind, if statesmen had adopted the system, upon which the Quakers reason in political affairs, or if they had concurred with an ancient Grecian philosopher in condemning to detestation the memory of the man, who first made a distinction between expediency and moral right.

[36]That this trait of reasoning upon principle, regardless of the consequences, is likely to be a feature in the character of the Quakers, we are warranted in p.r.o.nouncing, when we discover no less than three circ.u.mstances in the const.i.tution of the Quakers, which may be causes in producing it.

[Footnote 36: The Sierra Leone Company, which was founded for laudable purposes, ought have been filled by Quakers; but when they understood that there was to be a fort and depot of arms in the settlement, they declined becoming proprietors.]

This trait seems, in the first place, to be the direct and legitimate offspring of the trait explained in the last chapter. For every time a Quaker is called upon to bear his testimony by suffering, whether in the case of a refusal to comply with the laws, or with the customs and fashions of the land, he is called upon to refer to his own conscience, against his own temporal interest, and against the opinion of the world.

The moment he gives up principle for policy in the course of his reasoning upon such occasions, then he does as many others do, that is, he submits to the less inconvenience, and then he ceases to be a Quaker.

But while he continues to bear his testimony, it is a proof that he makes expediency give way to what he imagines to be right. The bearing therefore of testimony, where it is conscientiously done, is the parent, as it is also the bulwark and guardian of reasoning upon principle. It throws out a memento whenever it is practised, and habituates the subject of it to reason in this manner. But this trait is nourished and supported again by other causes, and first by the influence, which the peculiar customs of the Quakers must occasionally have upon their minds.

A Quaker cannot go out of doors, but he is reminded of his own singularity, or of his difference in a variety of respects from his fellow-citizens. Now every custom, in which he is singular, whether it be that of dress or of language, or of address, or any other, is founded, in his own mind, on moral principle, and in direct opposition to popular opinion and applause. He is therefore perpetually reminded, in almost all his daily habits, of the two opposite systems of reasoning, and is perpetually called upon as it were to refer to the principles, which originally made the difference between him and another citizen of the world.

Neither has the discipline of the Quakers a less tendency to the production of the trait in question. For the business, which is transacted in the monthly and quarterly and yearly meetings, is transacted under the deliberations of grave and serious men, who consider themselves as frequently under the divine influence, or as spiritually guided on such occasions. In such a.s.semblies it would be thought strange if any sentiment were uttered, which savoured of expediency in opposition to moral right. The youth therefore, who are present, see no other determination of any question than by a religious standard. Hence these meetings operate as schools, in which they are habituated to reason upon principle, and to the exclusion of all worldly considerations, which may suggest themselves in the discussion of any point.


_A fifth trait is, that they have an extraordinary independence of mind--This probable, because the result of the farmer trait--because likely to be produced by their discipline--by their peculiar custom--and by their opinions on the supposed dignity of situations in life--because again, they are not vulnerable by the seduction of governments--or by the dominion of the church--or by the power of fashion and of the opinion of the world._

The next trait, conspicuous in the character of the Quakers, and which is nearly allied to the former, is that of independence of mind.

This trait is of long standing, having been coeval with the society itself. It was observed by Cromwell, that "he could neither win the Quakers by money, nor by honours, nor by places, as he could other people." A similar opinion is entertained of them at the present day.

For of all people it is generally supposed that they are the least easily worked upon, or the least liable to be made tools or instruments in the bands of others. Who, for example, could say, on any electioneering occasion, whatever his riches might be, that he could command their votes?

There will be no difficulty in believing this to be a real feature in the character of the Quakers. For when men are accustomed to refer matters to their reason, and to reason upon principle, they will always have an independence of mind, from a belief that they are right. And wherever it be a maxim with them not to do evil that good may come, they will have a similar independence from a consciousness, that they have never put themselves into the power of the world. Hence this independence of mind must be a result of the trait explained in the former chapter.

But in looking into the const.i.tution of the Quakers, we shall find it full of materials for the production of this n.o.ble trait.

Their discipline has an immediate tendency to produce it. For in no community does a man feel himself so independent as a man. A Quaker is called upon in his own society to the discharge of important offices. He sits as a representative, a legislator, and a judge. In looking round him, he finds all equal in privileges, but none superior, to himself.

Their peculiar customs have the same tendency, for they teach them to value others, who are not of the society, by no higher standard than that by which they estimate themselves. They neither pull off their hats, nor bow, nor sc.r.a.pe. In their speech they abstain from the use of flattering words and of t.i.tles. In their letters, they never subscribe themselves the humble servants of any one. They never use, in short, any action or signature, which, serving as a mark of elevation to others, has any influence towards the degradation of themselves.

Their opinions also upon the supposed dignity of situations in life contribute towards the promotion of this independence of their minds.

They value no man, in the first place, on account of his earthly t.i.tle.

They pay respect to magistrates, and to all the n.o.bility of the land, in their capacity of legislators, whom the chief magistrate has appointed; but they believe that the mere letters in a schedule of parchment can give no more intrinsic worth to a person, than they possess themselves, and they think with Juvenal, that "the only true n.o.bility is virtue."

Hence t.i.tles, in the glare of which some people lose the dignity of their vision, have no magical effect upon Quakers.

They value no man again on account of the antiquity of his family exploits. They believe, that there are people now living in low and obscure situations, whose ancestors performed in the childhood of history, when it was ignorant and incapable of perpetuating traditions, as great feats as those, which in its greater maturity it has recorded.

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A Portraiture of Quakerism Volume Iii Part 8 summary

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