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A Portraiture of Quakerism, Volume 1 by Clarkson

And an impropriety in falsehood


weakness, it is said again, is manifested by the Quakers, in quarrelling with a few words in the language, and in living at peace with others, which are equally objectionable. Every reason, it is said, must be a weak one, which is not universal. But if some of the reasons, given by the Quakers, were universally applied, they would throw language into as much confusion as the builders of Babel. The word Smith for example, which is the common name of many families, ought to be objected to by this rule, if the person, to whom it belongs, happens to be a carpenter. And the word carpenter which is likewise a family-name, ought to be objected to, if the person so called should happen to be a smith. And, in this case, men would be obliged to draw lots for numbers, and to be called by the numerical ticket, which they should draw."

"It is objected again to the Quakers, that, by attempting to steer clear of idolatry, they fall into it. The Quakers are considered to be genuine idolaters, in this case. The blind pagan imagined a moral being, either heavenly or infernal, to inhere in a log of wood or a block of stone. The Quakers, in like manner, imagine a moral being, truth or falsehood, to exist in a lifeless word, and this independently of the sense in which it is spoken, and in which it is known that it will be understood. What is this, it is said, but a species of idolatry and a degrading superstition?"

The Quakers

would reply to these observations, first, that they do not charge others with idolatry, in the use of these names, who know nothing of their origin, or who feel no impropriety in their use.

Secondly, that if the principle, upon which they found their alterations in language, cannot, on account of existing circumstances, be followed in all cases, there is no reason, why it should not be followed, where it can. In the names of men it would be impossible to adopt it. Old people are going off, and young people are coming up, and people of all descriptions are themselves changing, and a change of names to suit every persons condition, and qualification, would be impossible.

Thirdly, that they pay no more homage or obeisance to words, than the obeisance of truth. There is always a propriety in truth, and an impropriety in falsehood. And in proportion as the names of things accord with their essences, qualities, properties, character, and the like, they are more or less proper. September, for example, is not an appropriate name, if its meaning be enquired into, for the month which it represents: but the ninth month is, and the latter appellation will stand the test of the strictest enquiry.

They would say again that this, as well as the other alterations in their language has had a moral influence on the society, and has been productive of moral good. In the same manner as the dress, which they received from their ancestors has operated as a guardian, or preservative of virtue, so has the language which they received from them also. The language has made the world overseers of the conduct of the society. A Quaker is known by his language as much as by his dress. It operates, by discovering him, as a check upon his actions. It keeps him also, like the dress distinct from others. And the Quakers believe, that they can never keep up their Christian discipline, except they keep clear of the spirit of the world. Hence it has been considered as of great importance to keep up the plain language; and this importance has been further manifested by circumstances, that have taken place within the pale of the society. For in the same manner as those, who begin to depart from the simplicity of dress, are generally in the way to go off among the world, so are those who depart from the simplicity of the language. Each deviation is a sign of a temper for desertion. Each deviation brings them in appearance nearer to the world. But the nearer they resemble the world in this respect, the more they are found to mix with it. They are of course the more likely to be seduced from the wholesome prohibitions of the society. The language therefore of the Quakers has grown up insensibly as a wall of partition, which could not now, it is contended, be taken away without endangering the innocence of their youth.

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