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A Portraiture of Quakerism, Volume 1 by Clarkson

That Quakers are more upon their guard


56: There is always an exception in favour of conversation on politics, which is, when the government are agitating any question, their interests or their religious freedom is involved.]

As politics do not afford matter for much conversation in the Quaker-society, so neither do some other subjects, that may be mentioned.

In a country town, where people daily visit, it is not uncommon to observe, whether at the card, or at the tea-table, that what is usually called scandal forms a part of the pleasures of conversation. The hatching up of suspicions on the accidental occurrence of trivial circumstances, the blowing up of these suspicions into substances and forms, animadversions on character, these, and such like themes, wear out a great part of the time of an afternoon or an evening visit. Such subjects, however, cannot enter where Quakers converse with one another. To avoid tale-bearing and detraction is a lesson inculcated into them in early youth. The maxim is incorporated into their religion, and of course follows them through life. It is contained in one of their queries. This query is read to them in their meetings, and the subject of it is therefore repeatedly brought to their notice and recollection. Add to which, that, if a Quaker were to repeat any unfounded scandal, that operated to the injury of another's character, and were not to give up the author, or make satisfaction for the same, he would be

liable, by the rules of the society, to be disowned.

I do not mean to assert here, that a Quaker never says a harsh thing of another man. All, who profess to be, are not Quakers. Subjects of a scandalous nature may be in introduced by others of another denomination, in which, if Quakers are present, they may unguardedly join. But it is certainly true, that Quakers are more upon their guard, with respect to scandalizing others, than many other people. Nor is this unlikely to be the case, when we consider that caution in this particular is required of them by the laws of their religion. It is certainly true also, that such subjects are never introduced by them, like those at country tea-tables, for the sole purpose of producing conversation. And I believe I may add with truth, that it would even be deemed extraordinary by the society, if such subjects were introduced by them at all.

In companies also in the metropolis, as well as in country towns, a variety of subjects affords food for conversation which never enter into the discourse of the Quakers.

If we were to go into the company of persons of a certain class in the metropolis, we should find them deriving the enjoyments of conversation from some such subjects as the following. One of the company would probably talk of the exquisitely fine manner, in which an actress performed her part on a certain night. This, would immediately give birth to a variety of remarks. The name of one actress would bring up that of another, and the name of one play that of another, till at length the stage would become the source of supplying a subject for a considerable time. Another would probably ask, as soon as this theatrical discussion was over, the opinion of the company on the subject of the duel, which the morning papers had reported to have taken place. This new subject would give new fuel to the fire, and new discussions would take place, and new observations fly about from all quarters. Some would applaud the courage of the person, who had been killed. Others would pity his hard fate. But none would censure his wickedness for having resorted to such dreadful means for the determination of his dispute. From this time the laws of honour would be canvassed, and disquisitions about punctilio, and etiquette, and honour, would arrest the attention of the company, and supply them with materials for a time. These subjects would be followed by observations on fashionable head-dresses, by the relation of elopements, by the reports of affairs of gallantry. Each subject would occupy its own portion of time. Thus each would help to swell up the measure of conversation, and to make up the enjoyment of the visit.

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