Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

BUSINESS OF THEIR SEVERAL MEETINGS.

back;—and cases of scruples are stated and discussed. They likewise prepare answers to a series of standing queries as to the state and condition of their several congregations, which they transmit to the quarterly meeting. The quarterly meeting hears appeals, receives the reports in answer to these queries, and prepares, in its turn, a more general and comprehensive report for the great annual meeting in London. This assembly, again, hears appeals from the quarterly meetings, and receives their reports; and, finally, draws up a public or pastoral letter to the whole society, in which it communicates the most interesting particulars, as to its general state and condition, that have been collected from the reports laid before it, makes such suitable admonitions and exhortations for their moral and civil conduct, as the complexion of the times, or the nature of these reports have suggested, and recommends to their consideration any project or proposition that may have been laid before it, for the promotion of religion, and the good of mankind. The slave-trade has, of late years, generally formed one of the topics of this general epistle, which is printed and circulated throughout the society. In all their meetings, the male and female deputies assemble, and transact their business, in separate apartments; meeting together only for worship, or for making up their general reports. The wants of the poor are provided for by the monthly meetings, who appoint certain overseers to visit and relieve them: The greater part of these overseers are women: and whatever they find wanting in the course of their visits, money, clothes, or medicines, they order, and their accounts are settled by the treasurer of the monthly meeting. Where it happens that there are more poor in any one district than can easily be relieved by the more opulent brethren within it, the deficiency is supplied by the quarterly meeting to which it is subjected. The children of the poor are all taught to read and write at the public expense, and afterwards bound apprentice to trades; — the females are generally destined for service, and placed in Quaker families.

[ocr errors]

391

392

QUAKERS' RELIGIOUS TENETS

Such," says Mr. Clarkson, with a very natural exultation on the good management of his favourites, "such is the organisation of the discipline or government of the Quakers. Nor may it improperly be called a Government, when we consider, that, besides all matters relating to the church, takes cognizance of the actions of Quakers to Quakers, and of these to their fellow-citizens; and of these, again, to the state; in fact, of all actions of Quakers, if immoral in the eye of the society, as soon as they are known. It gives out its prohibitions. It marks its crimes. It imposes offices on its subjects. It calls them to disciplinary duties. This government, however, notwithstanding its power, has, as I observed before, no president or head, either permanent or temporary. There is no first man through the whole society. Neither has it any badge of office or mace, or constable's staff, or sword. It may be observed, also, that it has no office of emolument by which its hands can be strengthened--neither minister, elder, clerk, overseer, or deputy, being paid and yet its administration is firmly conducted, and its laws are better obeyed than laws by persons under any other denomination or government." I. 246, 247.

66

We have nothing now to discuss with these good people, but their religion and with this we will not meddle. It is quite plain to us, that their founder George Fox was exceedingly insane; and though we by no means suspect many of his present followers of the same malady, we cannot help saying that most of their peculiar doctrines are too high-flown for our humble apprehension. They hold that God has at all times communicated a certain portion of the Spirit, or word, or light, to mankind; but has given very different portions of it to different individuals: that, in consequence of this inward illumination, not only the antient patriarchs and prophets, but many of the old heathen philosophers, were very good Christians: that no kind of worship or preaching can be acceptable or profitable, unless it flow from the immediate inspiration and movement of this inward spirit; and that all ordination, or appointment of priests, is therefore impious and unavailing. They are much attached to the Holy Ghost; but are supposed to reject the doctrine of the Trinity; as they certainly reject the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, with all other rites, ordinances, and ceremonies, known or practised in any other Christian church. These tenets they justify by various citations from the New Testament, and the older fathers; as any one may see in the works of

AND GENERAL CHARACTER.

393

Barclay and Penn, with rather more satisfaction than in this of Mr. Clarkson. We enter not at present into

these disputations.

Upon the whole, we are inclined to believe the Quakers to be a tolerably honest, painstaking, and inoffensive set of Christians. Very stupid, dull, and obstinate, we presume, in conversation; and tolerably lumpish and fatiguing in domestic society: active and methodical in their business, and narrow-minded and ill-informed as to most other particulars; beneficent from habit and the discipline of the society; but cold in their affections, and inwardly chilled into a sort of Chinese apathy, by the restraints to which they are continually subjected; childish and absurd in their religious scruples and peculiar usages, and singularly unlearned as a sect of theologians; but exemplary, above all other sects, for the decency of their lives, for their charitable indulgence to all other persuasions, for their care of their poor, and for the liberal participation they have afforded to their women in all the duties and honours of the society.

We would not willingly insinuate any thing against the general sincerity of those who remain in communion with this body; but Mr. Clarkson has himself noticed, that when they become opulent, they are very apt to fall off from it; and indeed we do not recollect ever to have seen either a Quaker gentleman of fortune, or a Quaker day-labourer. The truth is, that ninety-nine out of a hundred of them are engaged in trade; and as they all deal and correspond with each other, it is easy to see what advantages they must have as traders, from belonging to so great a corporation. A few follow the medical profession; and a still smaller number that of conveyancing; but they rely, in both, almost exclusively on the support of their brethren of the society. It is rather remarkable, that Mr. Clarkson has not given us any sort of estimate or calculation of their present numbers in England; though, from the nature of their government, it must be known to most of their leading members. It is the general opinion, it seems, that they are gradually diminishing.

394

LIFE OF WILLIAM PENN.

(JULY, 1813.)

Memoirs of the Private and Public Life of William Penn. By THOMAS CLARKSON, M. A. 8vo. 2 vols. pp. 1020. London: 1813.

It is impossible to look into any of Mr. Clarkson's books, without feeling that he is an excellent man—and a very bad writer. Many of the defects of his composition, indeed, seem to be directly referable to the amiableness of his disposition. An earnestness for truth and virtue, that does not allow him to waste any thought upon the ornaments by which they may be recommended

and a simplicity of character which is not aware that what is substantially respectable may be made dull or ridiculous by the manner in which it is presentedare virtues which we suspect not to have been very favourable to his reputation as an author. Feeling in himself not only an entire toleration of honest tediousness, but a decided preference for it upon all occasions over mere elegance or ingenuity, he seems to have transferred a little too hastily to books those principles of judgment which are admirable when applied to men; and to have forgotten, that though dulness may be a very venial fault in a good man, it is such a fault in a book as to render its goodness of no avail whatsoever. Unfortunately for Mr. Clarkson, moral qualities alone will not make a good writer; nor are they even of the first importance on such an occasion: And accordingly, with all his philanthropy, piety, and inflexible honesty, he has not escaped the sin of tediousness,—and that to a degree that must render him almost illegible to any but Quakers, Reviewers, and others, who make public profession of patience insurmountable. He has no taste, and no spark of vivacity-not the vestige of an ear for harmony and a prolixity of which modern times have

[ocr errors]

CLARKSON'S CHARACTER AS AN AUTHOR.

395

scarcely preserved any other example. He seems to have a sufficiently sound and clear judgment, but no great acuteness of understanding; and, though visibly tasking himself to judge charitably and speak candidly of all men, is evidently beset with such an antipathy to all who persecute Quakers, or maltreat Negroes, as to make him very unwilling to report any thing in their favour. On the other hand, he has great industryscrupulous veracity—and that serious and sober enthusiasm for his subject, which is sure in the long run to disarm ridicule, and win upon inattention--and is frequently able to render vulgarity impressive, and simplicity sublime. Moreover, and above all, he is fectly free from affectation; so that, though we may be wearied, we are never disturbed or offended-and read on, in tranquillity, till we find it impossible to read any

per

more.

It will be guessed, however, that it is not on account of its literary merits that we are induced to take notice of the work before us. WILLIAM PENN, to whose honour it is wholly devoted, was, beyond all doubt, a personage of no ordinary standard-and ought, before this time, to have met with a biographer capable of doing him justice. He is most known, and most deserving of being known, as the settler of Pennsylvania; but his private character also is interesting, and full of those peculiarities which distinguished the temper and manners of a great part of the English nation at the period in which he lived. His theological and polemical exploits are no less characteristic of the man and of the times;-though all that is really edifying in this part of his history might have been given in about one twentieth part of the space which is allotted to it in the volumes of Mr. Clarkson.

William Penn was born in 1644, the only son of Admiral Sir W. Penn, the representative of an antient and honourable family in Buckingham and Gloucestershire. He was regularly educated; and entered a Gentleman Commoner at Christ's Church, Oxford, where he distinguished himself very early for his proficiency

« AnteriorContinuar »