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History, Biography, and Travels.
It is easy enough in a retrospect of the history of English free churches, especially with our modern lights, to hit upon defects, to demonstrate incongruities of theory and principle, accidental results into which men blundered, ex post facto systems, men inconsistent with principles but half understood, ignorant men, coarse-minded men, men guilty of great extravagancies in every department of church thought and life, free churches vulgarized by the increasing preponderance of the plebeian 'element,' great contrasts in culture and power even among ministers. We may well afford to disregard such like reproaches, they have their parallels or equivalents in every history; and if reminiscences of this kind are to be indulged in, Nonconformists will hardly be at a disadvantage. It is, moreover, somewhat ungenerous to inflict social and educational disabilities, and then reproach us with them. If, moreover, notwithstanding these disabilities, Nonconformists in England have multiplied like the Israelites in Egypt, the à fortiori argument is very obvious; if, notwithstanding all these advantages, Established churches have not been able to compete with Free churches, it only makes the indictment against them the more damnatory; Wo hear, too, a great deal about the greater degree of real spiritual' freedom in Established churches. It is, to say the least, a great anomaly if it be so; while in fact all the liberalism of the country during the last two centuries has been among the Free churches. Å Nonconformist Tory is as rare as a Radical bishop, much more rare than a Liberal rector. Somehow or other Nonconformist ministers are not conscious of any want of liberty, may it not be because they have no fetters to gall them? There are, of course, characteristic evils and disabilities in Nonconformist churches, but somehow or other they are rarely those that, according to the theorists of the Establishment, ought to be prominent and painful. Most Nonconformists, we imagine, simply smile when men like Dean Stanley speak of the lack of freedom to think and act that there must be in Nonconforming churches. Mr. Skeats's history will help to dispel many such illusions; it is the record of generations of brave, manly, successful struggle for freedom of thought and life against both creeds and churches; of men with noble instincts of liberty commonly doing a greater work than they suspected. Mr. Skeats has done a great service in bringing together into one compact volume the course of this struggle from the Revolution to the present time, introducing it by an able retrospect of the various forms and degrees of ecclesiastical freedom that had been previously asserted. He has done his work with very great ability; his research has been minute, his breadth of view is comprehensive, his estimates fair and philosophical, and his presentation simple, lucid, and elegant. He neces
cessarily passes over the ground rapidly, but with sufficient leisure to give completeness of outline, while ample references enable more extended investigation if it be desired. The men who fill his canvas are admirably sketched with equal succinctness and vividness; a few touches and the characteristics of each are conveyed to the mind. It is interesting just now to examine under Mr. Skeats's guidance the great Comprehension scheme of 1689, and the lesser endeavours that preceded it. Men who think that union is more important than truth or liberty, may well regret their failure, but men who think that ostablishments are per se inimical to both, have abundant cause to rejoice therein. We care but little for organized union; almost uniformly truth, liberty, and life have suffered from it. The essential condition of freedom and health is diversity-diversity of belief, church, and worship-and we shall do well to remember just now that the only thing worth striving for is a true brotherhood of churches, a determination that no diversities of belief or practice shall disturb our confidence or lessen our esteem and affection, even while we strenuously contend for what we may deem the truth.
A fatality has always demented men in power :--a determination to concede nothing to right or conscience, but to enforce conformity if possiblo-if not, to disqualify Nonconformity. Mr. Skeats shows how often great opportunities have thus been lost. Calamy affirms that at least two-thirds of the Nonconformists at the Revolution were anxious for comprehension upon reasonable terms. So before, in 1662, the Act of Uniformity called thousands of Nonconformists into existence, while subsequently the movement of Whitfield and Wesley was driven out, like Hagar and Ishmael, only to multiply in the desert. More by its intolerance than by its opinions the Establishment has made Dissenters; and it is so still. The village clergyman, sometimes the town clergyman, may feel himself in a position to treat the Nonconformist with condescension, hauteur, or scorn; but if he imagines that thereby he diminishes his dissent he is greatly mistaken ; he repeats the folly of the north wind in the fable. Dissent, like all other forms of conviction, prospers under oppression, and by-and-by the Nemesis comes, in a population leavened with it: the clergyman in his deserted dignity in the parish church, and the Nonconformist chapel crowded with vulgar tradesmen and peasants ; pretty much, we suppose, as it was in the upper room at Jerusalem, to the great indignation and contempt of the Jewish priests. Mr. Skeats's history of modern dissent from the time of Wesley is full of vivid interest, and is narrated for the first time. Several histories of Dissenters have been written, but they are such as only determined students will read. Mr. Skeats has produced a volume that will be interesting to the general reader. He has skilfully unfolded the motives and the course of action of the various champions of Free church life, and has thus furnished a philosophy as well as a history of Dissent. In Nonconformist families this will, we trust, be a household book, and will make their younger members familiar with their glorious principles and no less glorious ancestry; while in the crisis of their present perplexities, churchmen may ponder its pages with advantage.
QUAKER LITERATURE. The Fells of Swarthmoor Hall and their Friends. By MARIA
2nd Edition. London: F. B. Kitto. 1867. The Penns and Penningtons of the Seventeenth century. By
MARIA WEBB. London: F. B. Kitto. 1867. Thomas Shillitoe, the Quaker Missionary. By WILLIAM TALLACK.
London: S. W. Partridge. 1867. Peter Bedford, the Spitalfields Philanthropist. By WILLIAM
TALLACK. London: S. W. Partridge. 1865. Hannah Lightfoot; Queen Charlotte and the Cheralier D'Eon.
By W. J. Thoms. London: W. G. Smith. 1867. We have been made familiar in the Chronicles of the Schönberg-Cotta Family,' and its companion volumes by Mrs. Charles, with the domestic life of religious sections of the community, both in this country and Germany, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In the first two History, Biography, and Travels.
volumes in our list, got up in an equally attractive style, Mrs. Webb introduces us to another phase of religious biography, the family life of the early Quakers. The real internal life of Quakerism is a terra incognita even to many who are well-read in the various aspects of Christian life ; this singular people are even now almost as little understood by the world generally as are the American Shakers, or some of the other peculiar sects introduced to us by Mr. Hepworth Dixon in his · New America.' This no doubt is due in great measure to the awkward and almost unintelligible phraseology, in which not only their doctrinal works, but also the majority of their biographies are written, rendering them very unprofitable reading to all except members of their own society; That some of the best of their own writers are not unaware of this defect in their literature was shown by the different style adopted by Mr. Seebohm in his · Memoir of Stephen Grellet,' which ensured for that admirable biography a general popularity hitherto unknown in Quaker literature. Mrs. Webb has still further improved upon this example, and her two interesting volumes are admirably free from any conventionality of style. It must not, however, be supposed that, like Mrs. Charles's works, they are fiction founded on fact; we have here nothing but genuine history, based to a considerable extent upon letters and other private documents laboriously hunted up and never before published.
The • Fells of Swarthmoor Hall’is a sketch of the lives of some of the earliest members of the Quaker body, grouped round the central figure of Margaret Fell, the wife of George Fox, the founder of the sect. Mar. garet Fell was herself of the seed of the martyrs; her maiden name was Askew, and she was lineally descended from Ănne Askew, who suffered martyrdom in 1546, and who was the last woman burnt at the stake for heresy in this country. Her first husband was Judge Fell,--a man not without mark in his day,--the owner of Swarthmoor Hall in Lancashire, Justice of the Peace, and Member of Parliament for Lancaster. During the Civil War he attached himself to the Parliamentary party; but in the latter part of Cromwell's administration, he became dissatisfied with some of the proceedings of the government, and retired from active public life.
Judge Fell appears to have been a man of high personal character, and an honest, upright magistrate; and though he never joined the 'Friends of Truth,' his house was always open to George Fox and his fellow professors; and his efforts to shield the members of the obnoxious sect from unjust persecution, involved him in much obloquy with his brother magistrates. His wife was very early 'convinced of the truth' by George Fox's preaching, and, being a woman gifted with remarkable powers of mind, soon became a shining light among the Quakers.
The student of religious history will read with interest Mrs. Webb's account of the rise and tenets of the early Quakers. Partaking to the full the religious zeal, the excitement, and the controversial spirit of the age, the 'Friends of Truth' nevertheless presented some peculiarities, which made them as remarkable at that time as their suc
The 'plainness of speech, behaviour, and apparel,' as their 'Advices' have it, is regarded in the present day as a mere harmless eccentricity; and the majority of their younger members, still attached to the distinguishing principles of the body, are now abandoning these peculiarities, as having no foundation in their religious faith. In those days, however, it was very different. To such an extent did men then carry subserviency in manner and language towards those higher in station than themselves, that a firm stand was needed to be taken by those who held as an article of their creed the perfect equality of all men in the sight of their Maker. At a period when it was customary to wear a covering to the head, indoors as well as out, the hat honour' was no mere expression of the courtesies of good breeding, as it is now; it was a most oppressive exaction of the deference required by every class from those in a lower station of life; and the early Friends were but carrying out their principles in making a decided practical protest against it, as well as against the use of the plural instead of the singular pronoun, then employed only towards those to whom flattery was intended. We read of Thomas Ellwood's hats and caps being taken from him one after another till he had none left, because he would persist in wearing them in his father's presence; and of William Penn's father, the cholerie old Admiral, declaring that his son might thee or thou whom he pleased, * except the king, the Duke of York, and himself; these he should not • thee or thou.'
cessors are now:
Judge Fell died in 1658, one month after Oliver Cromwell breathed his last; and in 1669 his widow was married to George For. Their married life was by no means one of uninterrupted repose. George For took his share of the missionary labours of the early Quakers, which were then of so extensive and varied a character, that we read of members of the body being employed at the same time in this way, 'in Italy,—at • Florence, Mantua, Tuscany, and Rome; in Turkey, Jerusalem, France, • the Palatine, Geneva, Norway, Barbadoes, Bermuda, Antigua, Jamaica, • Surinam, and Newfoundland;' and we must bear in mind the difference in the facilities of travel between those days and our own. Besides the ' perils by the heathen,' these faithful soldiers also shared the apostolic experience of perils by their own countrymen,' .in stripes above measure, • in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. George Fox was at one time imprisoned for fourteen months, and then liberated by order of the chief justice, his imprisonment having been altogether illegal; and Margaret Fell had already, before her marriage, been sentenced to the penalty of præmunire, to be outlawed, condemned to imprisonment for life, and to forfeit all her property to the king. The means by which this sentence was obtained was one very common in those days. When the persecutors of the Friends failed to prove against them any infraction of the law, they would instigate the judge to tender the oath of allegiance to the prisoners, not that any one entertained the least suspicion of their loyalty; but, because, by their refusal to take any oath whatever, they rendered themselves liable to the heaviest penalties. The severity and barbarity of the sentences that were sometimes inflicted on honest peaceful citizens, whose only crime was worshipping God in the way that their rulers called heresy, cannot fail to strike us with astonishment. We read that at one time,' four women Friends were sentenced to eleven months' imprison. * ment, or £40 fine, they having husbands; twelve or thirteen men and * women were sentenced to be transported to any of the foreign plantations. • At the Old Bailey, about forty-six Friends were called, and sixteen of
them would not answer according to the form, and so yesterday they • were sentenced by the Recorder, those that had husbands to Bridewell • for twelve months, or £20 fine; the men were sentenced to Barbadoes, . and the women-maids to Jamaica."
In the midst of these harrowing details, it is pleasant to come now and then upon lighter episodes, which show that in those days even Quakeresses, at all events those of the station in life of Margaret Fox, were not insensible to the attractions of personal adornment, and to such delicate attentions as it is the wont of good husbands to bestow upon their wives. Thus, 'On one occasion, George Fox writes to his wife that with
History, Biography, and Travels.
the money she had given him to buy clothes for himself, he had pur*chased a piece of red cloth for a mantle, believing she required that * more than he needed the coat;' and in one of his letters written to his wife from Worcester prison, he tells her he had got a friend to purchase as much black Spanish cloth as would make her a gown, with what she had given him, adding, 'It cost a great deal of money, but I will save.' In an inventory which has been preserved from “The Swarthmoor Hall • Housekeeping Book,' we find the following amusing and significant items: By money pd. Thomas Benson for dying two pair stockings • sky colour, of mine, and a petticoat red, of mine'-(defaced ;) — By 'money paid for a black alamode whiske for sister Rachel, 23. — By 'money paid for a round whiske for sister Susanna, 4s. 4d.'— Ditto for "a little black whiske for myself, ls. 10d.'
Margaret Fox died in 1702, in the 88th year of her age, full of years and honour. She had long been regarded by her co-religionists with something amounting to veneration; to which her clear judgment, her stedfast endurance of persecution, her unwearied activity in assuaging the trials of her friends, and the unwavering constancy of her religious fervour, amply entitled her. We wish our space had permitted our transcribing at length the 'Revival of her Testimony,' issued by this Mother in Israel a few months before her death,-a document worthy of a Miriam or a Deborah.
In · The Penns and Penningtons,' the same biographer introduces us to what we may call the aristocracy of early Quakerism. We have here some account of William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, the intimate friend of Algernon Sydney, and son of Admiral Penn, who was high in favour in the Court of the Stuarts, and to whom a peerage had been offered; of Isaac Pennington, son of Alderman Pennington, a wealthy citizen, and a warm partizan of the Parliament, who had served the offices of Lord Mayor and High Sheriff, had been elected Member of Parliament for London, and had received the honour of knighthood ; of his wife Mary, the widow of Sir William Springett, a distinguished Parliamentary general ; and of Thomas Ellwood, the friend and secretary of Milton. The book is interesting as illustrating the further development of Quakerism, and giving some insight into the character of the men and women who upheld it after the first generation had passed away. Mrs. Webb repeats the oft-told story of the trial of William Penn and William Meade, at the Old Bailey, in 1670, already graphically described by Mr. Hepworth Dixon, in his · Life of Penn,' which has, perhaps, served more than any other single incident to establish and confirm the incorruptibility of our system of trial by jury. Those who look upon the Society of Friends as mere harmless enthusiasts must not forget the eminent services they have rendered to the cause of civil and religious liberty. It would scarcely be going beyond the mark to say that every step which we have made in advance during the last two centuries, in removing religious disabilities and allowing freer play for individual conscience, has been to a great extent due to their quiet persistent energy, almost more • than to the efforts of any other body of Protestant Dissenters. When others would have wavered or held back, the Friends have boldly scaled the breach. In this famous trial, William Penn and William Meade were charged with aiding and abetting in an unlawful and riotous assembly. During the trial the prisoners were subjected to the most rancorous illtreatment from the Recorder, Judges, and Sheriffs. When, however, after three hours' consultation, the foreman delivered the verdict of Guilty of speaking in Gracious-street,' the rage of the bench was trans