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A Portraiture of Quakerism, Volume 1 by Clarkson

Are not congenial with the Quaker system


we were to go among persons of another class in the metropolis, we should probably find them collecting their entertainment from other topics. One would talk on the subject of some splendid route. He would expatiate on the number of rooms that were opened, on the superb manner, in which they were fitted up, and on the sum of money that was expended in procuring every delicacy that was out of season. A second would probably ask, if it were really known, how much one of their female acquaintance had lost at faro. A third would make observations on the dresses at the last drawing room. A fourth would particularize the liveries brought out by individuals on the birth-day. A fifth would ask, who was to have the vacant red ribbon. Another would tell, how the minister had given a certain place to a certain nobleman's third son, and would observe, that the whole family were now provided for by government. Each of these topics would be enlarged upon, as successively started, and thus conversation would be kept going during the time of the visit.

These and other subjects generally constitute the pleasures of conversation among certain classes of persons. But among the Quakers, they can hardly ever intrude themselves at all. Places and pensions they neither do, nor can, hold. Levees and drawing rooms they neither do, nor would consent to, attend, on pleasure. Red ribbons they would not wear if given to them. Indeed, very few of the society know what these

insignia mean. As to splendid liveries, these would never occupy their attention. Liveries for servants, though not expressly forbidden, are not congenial with the Quaker-system; and as to gaming, plays, or fashionable amusements, these are forbidden, as I have amply stated before, by the laws of the society.

It is obvious then, that these topics cannot easily enter into conversation, where Quakers are. Indeed, nothing so trifling, ridiculous, or disgusting, occupies their minds. The subjects, that take up their attention, are of a more solid and useful kind. There is a dignity, in general, in the Quaker-conversation, arising from the nature of these subjects, and from the gravity and decorum with which it is always conducted. It is not to be inferred from hence, that their conversation is dull and gloomy. There is often no want of sprightliness, wit, and humour. But then this sprightliness, never borders upon folly, for all foolish jesting is to be avoided, and it is always decorous. When vivacity makes its appearance among the Quakers; it is sensible, and it is uniformly in an innocent and decent dress.

In the company of the Quakers a circumstance sometimes occurs, of so peculiar a nature, that it cannot be well omitted in this place. It sometimes happens, that you observe a pause in the conversation. This pause continues. Surprized at the universal silence now prevailing, you look round, and find all the Quakers in the room apparently thoughtful. The history of the circumstance is this. In the course of the conversation the mind of some one of the persons present has been so overcome with the weight or importance of it, or so overcome by inward suggestions or other subjects, as to have given himself up to meditation, or to passive obedience to the impressions upon his mind. This person is soon discovered by the rest on account of his particular silence and gravity. From this moment the Quakers in company cease to converse. They become habitually silent, and continue so, both old and young, to give the apparently meditating person an opportunity of pursuing uninterruptedly the train of his own thoughts. Perhaps, in the course of his meditations, the subject, that impressed his mind, gradually dies away, and expires in silence. In this case you find him resuming his natural position, and returning to conversation with the company as before. It sometimes happens, however, that, in the midst of his meditations, he feels an impulse to communicate to those present the subject of his thoughts, and breaks forth, seriously explaining, exhorting, and advising, as the nature of it permits and suggests. When he has finished his observations, the company remain silent for a short time, after which they converse again as before.

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