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A Portraiture of Quakerism, Volume 1 by Clarkson

The subjects of conversation among the Quakers differ


the Quakers desire their visitors to be free, and to do as they please, so they do not fail to do the same themselves, never regarding such visitors as impediments in the way of their concerns. If they have any business or engagement out of doors, they say so and go, using no ceremony, and but few words as an apology. Their visitors, I mean such as stay for a time in their houses, are left in the interim to amuse themselves as they please. This is peculiarly agreeable, because their friends know, when they visit them, that they neither restrain, nor shackle, nor put them to inconvenience. In fact it may be truly said that if satisfaction in visiting depends upon a man's own freedom to do as he likes, to ask and to call for what he wants, to go out and come in as he pleases; and if it depends also on the knowledge he has, that, in doing all these things, he puts no person out of his way, there are no houses, where people will be better pleased with their treatment, than in those of the Quakers.

This trait in the character of the Quakers is very general. I would not pretend, however, to call it universal. But it is quite general enough to be pronounced a feature in their domestic character. I do not mean by the mention of it, to apologize, in any manner for the ruggedness of manners of some Quakers. There are undoubtedly solitary families, which having lived in places, where there have been scarcely any of their own society with whom to associate,

and which, having scarcely mixed with others of other denominations except in the way of trade, have an uncourteousness, ingrafted in them as it were by these circumstances, which no change of situation afterwards has been able to obliterate.

The subjects of conversation among the Quakers differ, like those of others, but they are not so numerous, neither are they of the same kind, as those of other people.

The Quaker conversation is cramped or fettered for two reasons, first by the caution, that prevails among the members of the society relative to the use of idle words, and secondly by the caution, that prevails among them, relative to the adapting of their expressions to the truth. Hence the primitive Quakers were persons of few words.

The subjects also of the Quaker conversation are limited for several reasons. The Quakers have not the same classical or philosophical education, as those of other denominations in an equal situation in life. This circumstance will of course exclude many topics from their discourse.

Religious considerations also exclude others. Politics, which generally engross a good deal of attention, and which afford an inexhaustible fund of matter for conversation to a great part of the inhabitants of the island, are seldom introduced, and, if introduced, very tenderly handled in general among the Quaker-society. I have seen aged Quakers gently reprove others of tenderer years, with whom they happened to be in company, for having started them. It is not that the Quakers have not the same feelings as other men, or that they are not equally interested about humanity, or that they are incapable of opinions on the changeable political events, that are passing over the face of the globe, that this subject is so little agitated among them. They are usually silent upon it for particular reasons. They consider first, that, as they are not allowed to have any direction, and in many cases could not conscientiously interfere, in government-matters, it would be folly to disquiet their minds with vain and fruitless speculations. They consider again, that political subjects frequently irritate people, and make them warm. Now this is a temper, which they consider to be peculiarly detrimental to their religion. They consider themselves also in this life as but upon a journey to another, and that they should get through it as quietly and as inoffensively as they can. They believe again with George Fox, that, "in these lower regions, or in this airy life, all news is uncertain. There is nothing stable. But in the higher regions, or in the kingdom of Christ, all things are stable: and the news is always good and certain." [56]

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