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A Portraiture of Quakerism, Volume 1 by Clarkson

Toasts both illiberal and indelicate


It

is recorded of the great Sir Matthew Hale, who is deservedly placed among the great men of our country, that in his early youth he had been in company, where the party had drunk to such excess, that one of them fell down apparently dead. Quitting the room, he implored forgiveness of the Almighty for this excessive intemperance in himself and his companions, and made a vow, that he would never drink another health while he lived. This vow he kept to his dying day. It is hardly necessary for me to remark that he would never have come to such a resolution, if he had not believed, either that the drinking of toasts had produced the excesses of that day, or that the custom led so naturally to intoxication, that it became his duty to suppress it.

The Quakers having rejected the use of toasts upon the principles assigned, are sometimes placed in a difficult situation, in which there is an occasion for the trial of their courage, in consequence of mixing with others, by whom the custom is still followed.

In companies, to which they are invited in regular families, they are seldom put to any disagreeable dilemma in this respect. The master of the house, if in the habit of giving toasts, generally knowing the custom of the Quakers in this instance, passes over any Quaker who may be present, and calls upon his next neighbour for a toast. Good breeding and hospitality demand that such indulgence and exception should be

given.

There are situations, however, in which their courage is often tried. One of the worst in which a a Quaker can be placed, and in which he is frequently placed, is that of being at a common room in an inn, where a number of other travellers dine and sup together. In such companies things are seldom conducted so much to his satisfaction in this respect, as in those described. In general as the bottle passes, some jocose hint is conveyed to him about the toast; and though this is perhaps done with good humour, his feelings are wounded by it. At other times when the company are of a less liberal complexion, there is a determination, soon understood among one another, to hunt him down, as if he were fair game. A toast is pressed upon him, though all know that it is not his custom to drink it. On refusing, they begin to teaze him. One jokes with him. Another banters him. Toasts both illiberal and indelicate, are at length introduced; and he has no alternative but that of bearing the banter, or quitting the room. I have seen a Quaker in such a company (and at such a distance from home, that the transaction in all probability never could have been known, had he, in order to free himself from their attacks, conformed to their custom) bearing all their raillery with astonishing firmness, and courageously struggling against the stream. It is certainly an awkward thing for a solitary Quaker to fall in such companies, and it requires considerable courage to preserve singularity in the midst of the prejudices of ignorant and illiberal men.

This custom, however, of drinking toasts after dinner, is, like the former of drinking healths at dinner, happily declining. It is much to the credit of those, who move in the higher circles, that they have generally exploded both. It may be probably owing to this circumstance, that though we find persons of this description labouring under the imputation of levity and dissipation, we yet find them respectable for the sobriety of their lives. Drunkenness indeed forms no part of their character, nor, generally speaking, is it a vice of the present age as it has been of former ages; and there seems to be little doubt, that in proportion as the custom of drinking healths and toasts, but more particularly the latter, is suppressed, this vice will become less a trait in the national character.


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