By Chuck Fager
Editor’s Introduction: In Tenth Month 2002, some very interesting people gathered at Swarthmore College for a Conference on George Fox’s Legacy. Numerous papers were delivered, many of which will be published presently in Quaker History, the journal of the Friends Historical Association.
Both in the papers and in personal conversation, many intriguing historical-theological questions and issues were raised, more than the published version of the papers can hope to answer fully. Thus your Editor decided to follow up some of them with a tape recorder.
Here are three of these interviews, with persons both familiar and new to the Quaker historical and theological scene:
First is Thomas Hamm, Archivist at Earlham College and award-winning author of The Transformation of American Quakerism.
He is followed by Thomas Kennedy, professor of history at the University of Arkansas and author of the stunning new study British Quakerism: 1860-1920, which was reviewed in our Issue Number 6.
Finally, we hear from Erin Bell, a doctoral graduate student from England’s York University, whose dissertation takes up very challenging issues of how and why some important early Quaker writings were altered by later editors, and what we can learn about the evolution of Quaker conviction from this discovery.
When interviewed, Hamm had recently completed a book on contemporary Quakerism, part of a series published by Columbia University Press.
QT: Congratulations on finishing your book on contemporary Quakerism. Tell us a little more about that project.
TH: Naturally, being a historian I had to start with a firm historical basis. I opened the book by describing my visits to four Yearly Meetings in the state of Ohio in 2001: Ohio Conservative, Eastern Region [Evangelical Friends Church-Eastern Region], Wilmington [FUM], and sessions of Lake Erie Yearly Meeting. I used these as an introduction to the diversity of contemporary American Quakerism.
Then I spent two chapters on historical foundations, then chapters on Quaker commonalities, ranging from ministry in the Spirit to simplicity, to education; then Quaker issues, ranging from universalism to sexuality to evangelism and declining numbers; then a chapter on evangelism and Quakerism in the world, which included treatments of Quakers in politics, the peace testimony, and the AFSC and FCNL. Then finally a chapter on contemporary Quaker women and the family.
QT: What’s the title, and when will it actually be on the shelves?
TH: It will have the very imaginative title, The Quakers, and if all goes well, it will be out late 2003 or early 2004.
QT: When you went to the four Yearly Meetings, to get your sketch–Ohio and North Carolina are the two places where you could find that much Quaker variety in a single state– are there highlights of those gatherings that were strikingly different or strikingly similar that stuck out for you as you visited among them?
TH: There were some things that stood out. I didn’t actually get to Lake Erie because of a last-minute household emergency, so I had to rely on statements from people who were there and the Yearly Meeting minutes.
What struck me most about Barnesville and Ohio Conservative was the sense of deliberateness, above all a desire not to do anything that was in human will or wisdom, not to act until Friends were clear that this really was the direction that the Lord wanted them to take. I found that quite moving, that sense of the absolute necessity of being led.
What was absolutely overwhelming about Eastern Region was just the sheer volume of it, the overwhelming sense of joy in salvation through Christ. One of the things I noted was that even a teenager there, apparently bored by the Superintendent’s opening address, was doodling, and she was doodling an elaborate “Jesus Saves” design. It’s just central to everything there.
What I noted about Wilmington is really in some ways sort of a combination of what I saw at the other two Yearly Meetings: certainly a strong sense of Christian mission, but more subdued–more of a desire to be grounded in Quaker tradition, more of a sense of distinctiveness than you find in Eastern Region, but not the same distinctiveness that you find in Barnesville. And as for Lake Erie, there was certainly more of an emphasis on social testimonies than you would find in any of the other three Yearly Meetings, but with an equally strong spiritual grounding for those. This is an accusation that Evangelical Friends often make against liberal and universalist Friends that their faith is simply a cover for their politics, and that’s certainly not what you find there, the social testimonies grow out of that faith.
QT: You said your book will also deal with some Quaker “issues,” what are some of the issues?
TH: I began with a long discussion of the question of whether Quakerism is necessarily Christian, because certainly Evangelical Friends would see that as a central issue, and certainly maybe the most notable development in Quaker theology in the last fifty years has been the rise of Quaker universalism. You would have found relative-ly few Friends before 1950 who would have said that Quakerism was not necessarily Christian, though they certainly would have differed on what it meant for Friends to have a “clear Christian identity.”
Sexuality is another obvious issue, perhaps the most explosive of all in terms of the sheer emotion that it arouses among all varieties of Friends. This partly involves questions of heterosexual relations, should they be confined to marriage. And then the whole range of issues relating to gays and lesbians, and particularly same sex unions.
Then another issue that I think characterizes Friends of almost all persuasions today is that of authority. I looked at that in two ways, in terms of abstract authority, the leadings of the Spirit, “That of God Within,” versus the authority of scripture, and the other sense in which I think you find authority is an issue, is the whole question of to what extent Yearly Meetings have authority over Monthly and Quarterly meetings, whether there really is still such a thing among Friends as subordination. I think that’s a very live issue.
I sense that leadership’s also an issue among Friends. Among pastoral Friends there is a constant worry over where their next generation of pastors is going to come from. And among unprogrammed Friends I also sense that worry, obviously not for pastors, but in terms of the myriad Quaker institutions that they have created. Where is the next generation of Meeting secretaries, Yearly Meeting superintendents, teachers in Quaker schools, staff for AFSC or FCNL, or whatever organization you want to talk about.
And then there’s the question of relative stagnation and maybe even absolute decline in numbers among Friends. Depending on what statistics you look at, we’re about the same as we were a century ago, or maybe somewhat smaller, while the country has tripled in population. That’s an obvious concern.
QT: The matter of the numbers, seems to be one that is very unevenly experienced. For instance, Baltimore Yearly Meeting, many liberal unprogrammed meetings in North Carolina seem to be flourishing. By contrast, the pastoral NCYM-FUM is down 25-30% in the last twenty-five years. The difference in atmosphere between groups like that is palpable. You can sense a chronic feeling of worry in the groups where the numbers are going down: how are they going to pay the bills, provide pensions for retired pastors, cope with health insurance costs, and so forth.
TH: Yes, well when you look at the statistics, the only unprogrammed YM that has shown a significant decline over the past thirty years has been Philadelphia.
QT: And even there the numbers have leveled off in the past few years. And they’re quite proud of that.
TH: Yes, but it’s still a lot smaller than it was thirty years ago. That’s not true of say, New England YM, or Baltimore, or especially some of the newer [unprogrammed] Yearly Meetings, which have grown. Part of that may reflect a kind of thinning or dispersal: as Friends have spread out across the country, some of the older yearly meetings have declined in membership, but that’s because of Friends moving to places where Friends didn’t exist before. Among EFI [Evangelical Friends International] Friends you see a kind of an unevenness. Mid-America and Rocky Mountain [YMs] have seen a significant decline in the past thirty years, Eastern Region has grown significantly, Southwest and Northwest have grown a bit, although not really a significant change.
QT: Isn’t the growth within those EFI YMs, somewhat unevenly divided, between several large churches that have been burgeoning, and then a cluster of smaller ones that are just getting along?
TH: I think that’s true, particularly in Southwest. And certainly if you look at a lot of the growth in Eastern Region, it’s coming in a few super-churches like Canton First Friends, or the Jackson Friends Church in a suburb of Canton. Certainly Eastern Region has a lot of older rural meetings which aren’t experiencing that kind of growth. Although they also have churches in relatively small towns, like Salem, which are large –say five or six hundred– for those towns.
The huge declines, of course, have come in the pastoral FUM meetings. Indiana YM was 20,000 members a century ago, now it’s around 5000. That is the biggest percentage decline I know of, but as you pointed out there’s been a decline in North Carolina, and there’s been a decline in Western [Yearly Meeting, in Indiana]; there’s been decline in Iowa. That’s the biggest change.
QT: What about the thesis that many of those pastoral FUM meetings, along with some unprogrammed groups like Philadelphia, in a real sense hitched their wagon to the Mainline Protestant/National and World Council of Churches movement after World War II, and as that Mainline project has come upon very difficult days, that this is paralleled by the decline in the FUM and Philadelphia orbits. Does that connection seem at all relevant from your perspective?
TH: I really can’t comment on Philadelphia, I don’t know that well enough. But if you look at the decline in the FUM pastoral yearly meetings, I’m best qualified to talk about Western and Indiana, which were the two largest, there the decline in membership has been pretty much even. You have seen declines in meetings in, say, Richmond or Muncie where the worship is very much like that of the Mainline. But you’ve also seen similar declines in a lot of Meetings or churches which always regarded Mainline Christianity with horror and would not have anything to do with it.
My own sense is that this trend probably more reflects processes of social change. For a couple generations after 1900, membership in the pastoral Yearly Meetings in the Midwest remained relatively stable, because you had Friends from rural areas moving into small cities, like Richmond or Muncie or Anderson, Indiana, Indianapolis, Kokomo, Marion, places like that. So while rural and small-town Meetings declined in numbers, that was balanced by growth in Meetings in the smaller or medium-sized cities.
But now Friends are no longer coming from the country into those cities; and in turn, as those cities have fallen on hard times, very often related to the decline of the automobile industry, there’s nobody taking the place of the Friends who are moving on to other parts of the country.
QT: Your speaking of Indiana leads me to change the focus here. You’re a historian with special background in Indiana Quakerism. So let me put you on the spot: When are we going to get a Quaker historian to do a serious job on the story of Quakerism and the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana during the Klan heyday there in the 1920s?
TH: (Chuckles) Well, that is a project I sort of see for myself someday. That is a project that somebody needs to do. In some ways, it should have been done twenty or thirty years ago, when there were still a lot of people living who could have shared personal memories on that. I’ve gathered some information on that, and the other thing we can hope for is that sources on that will keep turning up in unexpected places.
[For instance] about ten years ago all of the membership records for the Klan in Hamilton County, Indiana, which was a major Quaker center, were found in private hands. When we go through those, that will tell us a lot about to what extent Friends were joining [the Klan] and who the Friends were who were joining.
QT: It seems to me from reading that the Indiana Klan leadership managed to “package” the Klan in the 1920s as a kind of Rotary Club-All American sort of thing, even though all the evil stuff was still in their handbooks. I guess the Hoosiers really went for all that.
TH: Right. One study we’ve had up till now was a general history of the Klan in Indiana which was done by a historian named Leonard Moore, published about ten years ago [Citizen Klansmen: The Ku Klux Klan in Indiana, 1921-1928. University of North Carolina Press, 1991–Ed.]. And he focused in large part on Richmond and Wayne County Indiana, because we have actual Klan membership records from there. And his estimate was that somewhere between a quarter and a third of all the adult male Quakers in Richmond between 1920 and 1925 paid Klan membership fees at one time or another.
His speculation – and I think he’s probably right about this– is that those people were drawn into the Klan largely by its commitment to “traditional morality” and especially Prohibition. Because if there was any cause that ever united midwestern Friends generally in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it was fighting “Demon Rum.” And the Klan was the most vigorous political force you would have found in Indiana between 1920 and 1925 upholding the Volstead Act and the Eighteenth Amendment.
What I think Quaker membership says is how Friends’ testimonies to racial equality pretty much reached a nadir in the 1920s. And not just in Indiana; you would have seen it in a lot of other places as well. I don’t think we can assume that the Friends who were not joining the Klan were necessarily more enlightened than the ones who did. I think it just shows generally how relatively few Friends were much concerned about this in the 1920s.
QT: We’ll look forward to that account. It seems there is a lot to be learned from this episode.
TH: It’s definitely not one of the bright points of Indiana Quaker history; no question about that. If anything, I think that the good that came out of it may have been that it made at least a few Friends, particularly at Earlham, realize just how weak Quaker commitments to racial equality had become, and so it may have energized them to start reexamining that, and take some action beginning in the late 1920s. Certainly I don’t think it was a coincidence that Clarence Pickett, who was mainly responsible for moving the AFSC toward an interest in racial matters, was teaching at Earlham between 1923 and 1929, so he would have been there at the height of this.
QT: Tom, thank you for talking with us.
Thomas Kennedy, Professor of History, University of Arkansas.
QT: We’d like to talk about your book, British Quakerism 1860-1920 (Oxford). In particular, can you reflect for us about the sections of your book dealing with the long struggle in London Yearly Meeting over the dominance of evangelical theology, and the group’s transition out of that. Is it possible to pick out two or three of what you thought were the key theological and institutional issues which were at stake there?
TK: The chief problem that emerges is the Light, attitudes toward the Inward Light, and the emerging evangelical attitude that this idea was a seventeenth-century delusion of some sort. Connected with that is a sort of theological question about the Bible, its inerrancy and whether the Bible’s authority diminished that of the Light to the extent that it effectively became an irrelevancy. It [the Inward Light] wasn’t something that nineteenth-century evangelical Friends were very concerned about, or felt was a part of their continuing tradition. So that struggle lasted a long time, and even lingers to some extent into this century.
QT: When you say that the struggle was over whether the biblical perspective made the Light Within perspective irrelevant or inapplicable, what bearing did this view have on the idea that the Light Within had been a universal human thing? Wasn’t that part of it?
TK: Yes it was part of it, and the business of “Is the Light available to — or to put it a different way — if the Light is something that’s available to the unconverted, to the heathen, for instance —
QT: – Which Robert Barclay said it was —
TK: Yes, and this was a very strong point for those who were resisting the evangelical domination in London Yearly Meeting. This affected a whole range of things: for instance, the idea of “imputed righteousness,” the idea of the substitutionary atonement [by Christ on the cross], that it was necessary to be “washed in the blood” in order to be saved. Also the second experience conversion [idea, or “holiness” theology], which arrived later in England than it did in the United States. But it was one of the things that deeply concerned many conservative Friends–that’s one of the interesting juxtapositions: there was a strong Conservative Quaker tradition in England —
QT: – Was that “Conservative” in the American “Wilburite” sense?
TK: –Yes, very much so; it remained intact [rather than producing a separation], but it was not a tradition that was very intellectually stimulating, in fact, what it wished to do was to keep things exactly as they believed they had been and should be. But this tradition was appalled by many of the attitudes and, as they saw, doctrines that were being brought into Friends from outside by evangelical Quakers.
On the opposite side were those who might be called the proto-liberal Quakers, and that group really emerges as a problem in Manchester in the early 1860s, around this local here whose name is David Duncan, a convinced Friend who came into Friends from the Presbyterians, and who was very much interested in the latest ideas, and who had easily been incorporated into the Quaker perspective, because of the whole tradition of the authority from the Light allowed Quakers to accept ideas which were outside of traditional religious vision.
The “Duncanite” uprising or rebellion was a kind of tempest in a teapot, but maybe because of the pressure put on the Duncanites by local evangelicals – there certainly was a Unitarian tinge about it– but many of the things that Duncan talked about in the 1860s become views that are articulated by younger men a generation later in the 1880s, the makers of what has been called the “Quaker renaissance.”
QT: Did you find any evidence that these insurgents of the 1880s remember David Duncan, or is this just something that historians would come upon later?
TK: I think that’s a good question, and I don’t think that there was a lot of personal recollection of David Duncan. But a little bit later, when John Wilhelm Rowntree–who was perhaps the most important, the most articulate, the most admired of the leaders of this transformation that was then taking place–when he went to write up his plan for a history of Quakerism, his outline includes a whole chapter on David Duncan and the Duncanite rebellion. Now, after Rowntree’s death, Rufus Jones [who wrote The Later Periods of Quakerism as part of this history] says not a word about it, there’s no mention of it in his book. The reason for that is not clear.
But Duncan had been disowned, and he was going to appeal his disownment and then he died very suddenly of smallpox, and his disownment and that of Alfred Bennett really focused a lot of even moderate evangelical Friends’ minds on the question of “Is this the direction that our Society really wants to take? Are we now going to demand that there are certain things that you must believe, and eliminate those who don’t believe these things?”
QT: A purge.
TK: A purge — well, you can call it that, but someone like Joseph Bevan Braithwaite, who was the leading spokesman for the evangelicals, was deeply concerned about these ideas which he felt would entirely undermine his own conception of what Friends were and should be. And of course, anything therefore that had a sort of hint of modernity about it he was deeply concerned with and resisted, not in any kind of aggressive way, but simply to use the power he had within the Meeting to push this sort of ideas and the individuals associated with them to the side as much as possible, and to keep Quakerism moving in the direction in which he wished to go.
And of course, the whole incident of the Richmond Declaration [of Faith, 1887] was one which I think marks an important turning point, because —
QT: — Let me just say here that Braithwaite was a principal author or compiler of the Richmond Declaration, in Indiana. But when he brought it home to London, he couldn’t sell it —
TK: — That’s right. But there is a Braithwaite connection that goes behind the Richmond Declaration, because he was the leader of a Yearly Meeting committee which actually went to Manchester to deal with the Duncanite problem. And in the aftermath of this, he and the committee issued a declaration of certain Christian truths, and that declaration– if you compare it to the Richmond Declaration, there is a great similarity between them. So in the early 1870s, he tried to sell that earlier declaration to London Yearly Meeting, but they wouldn’t buy it, they simply printed it as a report in the minutes.
So seventeen years later he came back from Richmond with the Declaration and asked London Yearly Meeting to adopt this as its sort of standard. And of course it caused a lot of consternation among the younger people– but not only among these younger people. And that’s a point I think which is often missed: that many, even evangelical Quakers, at least most of the moderate evangelicals, were not ready to accept some document which implied at least that what was included in this document was what each Friend must believe, and that if you didn’t believe that you would not be sound.
But it was an important event because it set the stage for the 1890s when the rejection of any creed opened the possibility of change in London Yearly Meeting. The Yearly Meeting’s evangelical leadership was getting older then, though they were still in charge, but all kinds of possibilities emerged, including the Manchester Conference of 1895, which was actually arranged through a Home Mission Committee, but a Home Mission Committee dominated by the younger, more progressive minded Friends, who really manipulated the agenda for that meeting.
It’s very interesting that they managed that, so that when the meeting came about, it was overwhelmingly one which reflected NOT the ideas that had been dominant in London Yearly Meeting for over fifty years, but ideas which were just finding their way into the Meeting.
There was a Friend at the conference who stood up and at the end of one session and said [in effect], “Now any of you who are visitors here, I want you to know that what’s being spoken about here is not necessarily what all Friends believe,” and he certainly was right about that. It was a loaded agenda and one which reflected the future but didn’t reflect the present among the majority of British Friends at the time.
QT: I want to switch here from theology as such, to ecclesiology, because it seems as if, when your book ends, at the All-Friends Conference of 1920, it was only a few years later, that London YM lays down the institution of recorded ministers. Looking at this from the American side, that seems to have been a landmark event in ecclesiological terms. I’m interested in getting a sense of what your studies suggest was going in this earlier period along these lines, as far as the nature of the Society of Friends as a church is concerned.
TK: The role of recorded minsters is something that was certainly talked about earlier. And certainly Joseph Bevan Braithwaite did not want to lay down the recording of ministers; but neither did John Wilhelm Rowntree; Rowntree wanted to keep up the tradition of recording ministers. The problem of the ministry is one of the central controversies of this whole matter. There was a problem: there’s no question about the weakness of ministry in many Meetings. And when the ministry is weak, the Meeting is weak, no question about it.
So if you have a Meeting in which week after week it’s almost entirely silent, and whoever does speak, speaks in ways that are not considering the condition of the Friends in the Meeting, you’ve got a serious problem. What evangelicals wished to do was to establish a tradition of trained pastors who in fact would direct the Meeting and ensure that each time the Meeting was gathered there would be some purpose, some thrust to what was said. And of course their theological basis would be the Bible, and the Meeting would be programmed.
Of course, this was anathema to the newer, more progressive or liberal Friends. This idea would undermine one Quaker tradition that they thought could not be questioned, that is that hireling ministers had been condemned by the first Friends, and the traditions demanded that hireling ministers not become part of that system. And that fight was fought out in London Yearly Meeting in the 1880s and the 1890s, and the pastoral tradition was suppressed.
Now, the whole question of ceasing to record ministers is one which seems to me– the reasons for it are not entirely clear, except that it’s egalitarian in a way, the idea is you don’t single out individuals–I know that in many Meetings, the recorded ministers were the only ones who ministered, whether out of fear or respect for the ministers, almost nobody else spoke in the Meeting. So it came to be felt that there was a loss there; that was probably the most important reason there.
QT: In the US, the move away from recording ministers was accompanied by a move away from a church structure specifying subordination of Meetings, from lower to higher levels, to one that was quite clearly and explicitly congregational. They were moving away from the traditional idea, which was written into the older Disciplines, that the Yearly Meeting was the central and authoritative body, toward a structure in which the Monthly Meeting is the central body, and Quarterly and Yearly Meeting structures were essentially free associations, like Baptist conventions. It’s not clear whether there was a similar move in English Quakerism.
TK: In the period I studied, there was a strong sense of autonomy of Monthly Meetings; but there was also oversight, so the Yearly Meeting was a powerful institution in Britain, and so long as Monthly Meetings remained quiet, and nothing emerged from them that troubled the Yearly Meeting, or its leadership in Meeting for Sufferings which was the executive committee of the Yearly Meeting, there wasn’t much interference with what went on there. But if there was a disturbance in a Monthly Meeting, then a Yearly Meeting delegation would be appointed to visit that Meeting, and to determine what steps might be taken to resolve the problem.
I will say also that in that light, in 1902, after the Anglo-Boer War, in which the Society was split in a very serious way in England– there were many prominent Friends who supported the war and the government’s position on the war, including Thomas Hodgkin, who was probably the most renowned Friend of his day–in the aftermath of that, a committee, a peace deputation, was appointed by the Yearly Meeting, to visit every Monthly Meeting in the Yearly Meeting to ensure that that Monthly Meeting was sound with regard to the peace testimony. And while the report of this group is not very impressive in its text, it’s mainly pious platitudes, they do mention the attachment of younger Friends to the peace testimony. And it seems to me that this was an important instance of Yearly Meeting acting to establish or re-establish the idea that This is something that is one of our traditions, and this is something that we should be sound on. We shouldn’t forget that this is the case.
So up until the early twentieth century, as other scholars like Ben Dandelion has said, the Society of Friends had a testimony against war. Only beginning in the early twentieth century, and with the First World War, it becomes a real Peace Testimony. That is, it’s a double-edged thing, not just, We won’t fight, but Not only won’t we fight, but it is our duty to stop the war, and if we can’t do that, then it’s our responsibility to suffer the results of our dissent from the national position on the war. And that really establishes in London Yearly Meeting this connection, which throughout the twentieth century has been so strong, and has led to the public identification of Quakers with peace and with social reform. The peace testimony, it seems to me, is at the base of all that.
QT: Last topic: During World War I, there crept into the language of the militant Quaker war resisters and peace activists, apocalyptic language, terminology from the book of Revelation, which I think was new for them, certainly it was not typical of modern Quaker liberal thought. What do you make of that?
TK: Yes, there is an aspect of that. It’s not broadly-based, any more than the absolutist draft resistance, [only] 145 members were absolutist [draft resisters]. But it represents a response to what was a crisis of faith, the sense that This is the moment for which we – and this Society– had been preparing, we’ve been preparing for this for 250 years, and now is the moment when we have to act. There’s a quote in my book from some statement made in yearly meeting in 1916 or 1917, that their testimony was a war against the dark forces, with which we have to struggle and which we have to overcome.
Now, most of the Society was on either side of this, about one third were supporting the war openly, and maybe two-thirds of them weren’t. But only a very few were among the absolute resisters; most others were in some more moderate position. But that does emerge and it is a very interesting thing. For some, it’s connected with a kind of guild socialism, a kind of egalitarian view which they associated with the early Friends.
QT: Part of this apocalyptic language, it seems to me, reflected a dawning awareness that the modern warfare state represented a phenomenon that was an order of magnitude beyond anything they had thought about before. I’ve seen elsewhere, in American sources, a collapse of nineteenth-century optimism, the belief that modern wars would be so awful that no reasonable statesman would allow them to happen anymore. And then here comes a modern war, and it turns out to be even more horrible than anyone thought.
TK: That’s certainly true. There was a sense there that those ideas which have somehow held sway in the past can no longer speak to our condition or the condition of the world. Somehow we have to get beyond these, and they were very, very hard on the [supporters of the British political party the] Liberals for instance.
They said that in fact that Liberalism had been a kind of half-way house that simply accommodated rulers, accommodated militarism, accommodated imperialism, with only a slight bow toward controlling these things.
[The radical independent Quaker journal] The Ploughshare certainly is the best reflection of that kind of apocalyptic vision. [Their message was] This won’t work anymore: we cannot go on doing and acting and thinking as we have for 250 years even as Quakers. We have to strike out a new path, go in a new direction. And in many cases, that is why they looked upon guild socialism as a possible answer, because it [in theory] effectively undermined the modern state, and turned the operation of societies over to small groups of self-governing people. It was an idea which was very fuzzy in its conception, but it’s one that reflected the crisis of the war and the terrible effect of the war and the fact that they couldn’t see an answer in what had gone before. They had to find an answer in what lay ahead, and in the possibility that the Society of Friends might lead toward a more peaceful and a more prosperous world.
QT: Thank you, and I think we’ll leave it there. Events in our country and the world make this discussion all too resonant – even to the point of reviving the use of apocalyptic thinking and language. Among liberal Friends.
Erin Bell, York University, England
QT: We’re now talking with Erin Bell, a doctoral graduate student from York University in England. Erin, please tell us a bit about your own background and your research interests.
EB: I’m not a Quaker, but I became very interested in researching Quaker history after I read Witnesses for Change [Witnesses for Change: Quaker Women Over Three Centuries. Edited. by Elizabeth Potts Brown and Susan Masher Stuard, Rutgers University Press,1989–Ed.] about Quaker female preachers.
One reason this interested me is because at about the same time the Anglican Church in England was debating whether to allow women priests. And it seemed as if a lot of the issues that were playing out in the late twentieth century in England had been played out during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with Quaker women preachers. I decided to do my Ph.D. research on early Quakers in Coun-ty Durham, which is my home county in the northeast of England, and on masculinity, because I was interested in gender and religion.
QT: The paper you gave at this Fox conference had to do with how the work of James Naylor got to be published by British Friends, the changes that Quaker editors made in these works in the publications process, and what some of these changes might indicate about conditions and issues among Friends then. One of the things we wanted to ask you about for background, was a phrase you used, which is perhaps common enough among scholars in your field, but which is new to us, namely “polite religion.” Can you tell us something about “polite religion,” where it came from and what it meant, because it’s clearly important to understanding Quakerism in the period you were looking at.
EB: The term “polite religion” is not my own, it comes from a book called Men and the Emergence of Polite Society, [Philip Carter, Longman, 2000–Ed.] and it considers the ideas of masculinity and the emergence of “polite society” and ideas of “civility.” . . . And what it means for the Quakers, and for many denominations, is instead of rancorous debates between, say, Quakers and Anglicans, which had begun to be rejected after the Restoration [of Charles II in 1660], these were replaced by what might be represented as more reasoned debate, as for example represented by the works of William Penn. He was obviously classically influenced and took on board what people like Shaftesbury [Anthony Ashley Cooper, the third Earl of Shaftesbury, 1671-1713–Ed.] thought, which was in summary, that dissenters wouldn’t get anywhere if they frightened people, by seeming to be too rancorous in their arguments. If they toned their arguments down but have the same content, then they will get further in their desire to achieve religious tolerance, which was one of the key issues for them before 1689 in Britain.
QT: So is this interpreted as being part of social evolution after all the militancy and fires of the English Revolution and then the Restoration died down? Or was there more to it? Some scholars suggest that when Penn comes along, he has an upper-class background, and he was more familiar with “civilized ways,” courtly ways, and this began to be imported into Quakerism with Penn and his generation. Or was it a broader thing?
EB: Yes, “polite religion” was a broader thing, in the research I mentioned earlier, it’s traced in Christianity in general in Britain in the early eighteenth century; it doesn’t just occur in Quakerism. I think it means that the writers favored by orthodox Quakerism changed, and became more in line with the broader ideas of “polite religion.” Obviously Naylor is a special case because he did ride into Bristol in imitation of Christ, but writers writing in a similar vein to him seem by the 1670s to have gone out of fashion. And writers like Penn, who certainly profited from a classical background, and wrote short, pithy statements which were classically influenced, and would, therefore, be more easily picked up on and understood by outsiders, came into favor. And I think this is how we see polite religion affecting the Friends at the time.
QT: Now your paper looked specifically at the works of James Naylor, and what a hard time they had getting published as Quakerism went from being very contentious to learning how to be polite, is how I would summarize it. And as a result, these works had to be actually edited and changed; you cited many examples where language was changed. It was very striking. Can you say a bit more about that?
EB: Leo Damrosch [author of The Sorrows of the Quaker Jesus, Harvard U. Press, 1996–Ed.] picked up on the way in which the language was changed when Nayler’s works were republished in 1716. And he’s considered it and I’ve only developed his work slightly.
I really think that the works that are more representative [of this evolution] are the works that missed out [entirely on being published]. Some of the works that were missed out were incredibly rancorous, and a few changes would not cover that up. The contents of some of the works, for instance, describing Anglican priests as essentially spawn of the devil–well, obviously this is not ideal for a group who were trying before [the Toleration Act in] 1689 to help end their sufferings at the hands of the Anglican clergy. And even after 1689, they are still suffering as a result of the tithes testimony [a form of tax resistance], even though they have a limited measure of religious freedom. So what’s more crucial is not the writings that were changed, but the works that were left out entirely.
QT: But could you give us a few examples of phrases that were changed?
EB: George Whitehead said in the Introduction [to Naylor’s works], trying to appeal to the charity of the eighteenth-century reader, to really think about what Naylor was writing, and that perhaps Naylor hadn’t written things as clearly as he might have done. So one example is: “the letter” is replaced by “the scriptures,” to make it entirely obvious what Naylor was talking about.
Other changes weren’t just to clarify; a comment like, in the original, it was something like, “so the Maker might be well-pleasing to his creation,” and for the sake of orthodoxy, eighteenth-century Friends changed this to “the creation might be well-pleasing to the Maker.” Which of course is a fundamental inversion of what Naylor originally wrote.
QT: As you have looked through these works, what about the extent of these changes–are there tens, dozens, hundreds?
EB: It’s very hard to put a number on it. It’s easier to say that there were twenty-three controversial tracts that were left out. So yes, there were probably dozens and dozens of changes throughout what was published, and they differ in form and content. They can be hard to count: how do you count the deletion of a paragraph, is it to count every word in the missing paragraph?
QT: And as you read these works, there are all these changes that have been made, but are you told that they have been changed?
EB: No, you [the reader] aren’t told at all.
QT: Now, have you done any comparative work, putting Naylor’s writings alongside those of any other of these early Friends? I know some scholars have looked at Fox and found that there were many changes in the Journal.
EB: No, I haven’t done work on Fox. But one of the most significant examples that I have studied is what was done to William Sewel’s History of the Rise and Progress of the People Called Quakers. Because when you compare the 1717 Dutch edition [of Sewel] with the 1722 English edition, the changes made to the section on Naylor are very significant indeed.
QT: And what is the significance of some of those changes?
EB: The 1722 English edition has footnotes; the Dutch edition does not. The English footnotes stress, for instance, that Naylor came from honest parents, and that his father was a husbandman [or farmer].
Now the husbandman is an absolutely key figure of identity in eighteenth-century Quakerism. The figure of the husbandman appears throughout journals along with the imagery of husbandry. It represents prudence, not living beyond your means; these are key ideal Quaker traits in the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and they stress that Naylor was like this.
Also in the Dutch edition, it says that Naylor did resemble the depiction of Jesus in the letter of Publius Lentilus to the Senate of Rome, and the English edition leaves this out entirely. [This letter] was a spurious description that was believed in by early Christians, and early Quakers often carried around this description, including some of Naylor’s followers. Unsurprisingly it was removed from the English edition, because it seemed as if it was still saying, actually Naylor did look like Jesus and all of that they wanted to avoid so much, [because] it recalls the accusation [against Naylor] of blasphemy.
QT: When I look at this “editing” from my twenty-first-century perspective, I’m troubled by it. I like to have documents that I can regard as authentic, meaning containing the words that the author wrote. Also, as a Quaker, I like to think that earlier Friends, especially very early Friends, told the truth. And in terms of my values, this “editing” constitutes altering the “truth” of the original documents, never mind distorting what actually happened. You may be doing what sounds like technical textual work here, but does your dissertation look at issues like this as well?
EB: It does to some extent. I think one of the main lessons to learn is the one Leo Damrosch drew which is: beware. Eighteenth-century documents may not represent seventeenth-century viewpoints. In a way this is really surprising. But to be fair, in the nineteenth century you do get the republication of some seventeenth-century Quaker journals, which are word-for-word — bar the occasional misspelling and the removal of capital letters — exactly the same as the first edition. So given that [early] Quakerism was going through so many changes up and into the early eighteenth century, I don’t really think it’s surprising that they altered things.
And I don’t believe they’re shown to be “lacking in truth.” Rather, it’s been pointed out that by reworking things, the later Friends believed they were getting at more of the truth. And if you believe that the written word is faulty because it can’t express what’s going on inside, then you will try to write and rewrite it if you think that’s the best thing to do to get at the truth.
QT: So it sounds like you’re saying that if we could eavesdrop on the early editors of these works, such as George Whitehead, we might find them saying to themselves, “What Naylor really meant to say was this . . .” or “When he wrote that paragraph he was, what–? Clouded in his mind? Or “Naylor would really have liked it better if it was said this way . . .”?
EB: Yes. I think that must have been one of Whitehead’s motivations because his comment was, Please read this with charity, because Naylor was sometimes clouded in his judgment. But that’s not the only motivation, especially for leaving out works entirely. There we can perhaps see some political reasons: Naylor may have been superseded by someone else writing in the same area who was more orthodox, or that simply the tone [of the work] was just too rancorous for it to be reprinted. There wasn’t just one reason why the works were published and why they were published in the condition that they were.
QT: I recall something, I think, from Christopher Hill, in which he said that when Fox prepared his Journal, he very much minimized and de-emphasized Naylor’s role in the early movement, particularly in contrast to his own work.[See Christopher Hill, The Experience of Defeat, Penguin, 1985; cf especially Chapter 5–Ed.]
QT: Is that something that would have been continued by Whitehead and company?
EB: I don’t think so. For Whitehead, enough years had passed after Naylor’s and Fox’s deaths, for the works to be republished. There is a case to be made that George Fox stopped publication of Naylor’s works when it was initially suggested in 1676. But I don’t think that Whitehead was trying to downplay Naylor’s role in relation to Fox. I think he was trying to downplay the very difficult aspects [of Naylor’s career] for eighteenth century readers, such as the ride into Bristol. I think it’s Leo Damrosch who comments that Whitehead never goes into these details; it’s like a blank. It’s as if the pages are being torn out and self-edited. He’s edited Naylor’s works, and he’s [also] self-edited his own account of Naylor.
QT: That’s still disturbing to me as a twenty-first-century person with a contemporary outlook and a journalistic background.
Now, this is all from your dissertation. Give me an idea what else your research deals with, and how this Naylor material fits into the rest of your work.
EB: Since I’m looking mainly at County Durham Friends, I’ve got a chapter on the discipline, and the gendering of discipline among County Durham Friends. This is from the County Durham minutes that I’ve looked at. [There’s] a chapter on the socio-economic background of County Durham Friends, like their occupation, where were they, that sort of thing.
I’ve also got a chapter on Sufferings, which fits most closely with the chapter on Naylor. It does look at how County Durham sufferings, as collected by County Durham Friends, compares – group for group, women-men, town-rural, rich Friends-poor Friends– to the way these sufferings are represented in Besse’s Sufferings, [a multi-volume compilation first published in 1753–Ed.] and Besse’s earlier attempts to collect the sufferings in the 1730s. And what I come out with is, again, Quakerism is being remodeled, between the time the sufferings are being collected, and the time they make it into Besse’s 1753 work.
Quaker sufferings have been remodeled, so that the center stage is given to rural dwelling men, preferably husbandmen, or people who are near husbandmen in occupation because again it’s to maintain the hard-working, prudent, productive, spiritual and economic view of Quakerism.
This can be seen in the remodeling of Naylor; they’re trying to make him fit into the suffering category, although they never say he’s a Quaker martyr, they don’t say explicitly certainly up to and including 1722 that he was martyred. They do say that his punishment was over the top, it was excessive for what he had done. So he fits into the suffering category, and he also fits into the husbandman category, and these two are difficult to separate. This is part of how I’ve looked at the development of ideas of ideal Quaker manhood.
QT: “Ideal Quaker manhood,” eh?
EB: (Chuckles) Yes, you can gather ideas from journals, especially when they begin with the testimonials of Friends about the journal writer, the adjectives they list come up again and again and again. And they stress Old Testament patriarchal values, and again, the idea of husbandry is absolutely key to it.
QT: Husbandry. How would merchants, or people who lived in town fit into this?
EB: Well this is the thing. I suppose you could aspire to be like a husbandman but not actually be one, because this is a spiritual category. You don’t actually have to be a husbandman, but it helps. If you wanted your suffering to appear in Besse, for instance, you have a substantially better chance if you actually are a husbandman. At least in County Durham, you have a much better chance if you actually are a rural dwelling male involved in agricultural work. At least you do compare to the original sufferings [as collected by County Durham Friends], which actually show a pretty even balance between urban and rural sufferers.
QT: What about men and women?
EB: [As I recall] it’s almost half and half [in the Durham original], slightly more male sufferers are listed, which isn’t surprising, because the head of the household would go declare the sufferings–although widows and women whose husbands were in prison would go and give their sufferings themselves. Whereas in Besse, I can’t recall precisely, but it’s a far, far smaller proportion of women who appear there, for County Durham, than there is in the locally kept records.
QT: Wow, this is fascinating stuff. When do you expect to be finished?
EB: I have to be finished by the end of December.
QT: Well, we’ll look forward eagerly to fuller publication of your work and its results. Thank you for talking with us.