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A Portraiture of Quakerism, Volume 1 by Clarkson

Principles of the Quaker constitution itself


hence it will be obvious that there cannot be any solid foundation for the charge, which has been made against the Quakers on the subject of dress. They are found in their present dress, not on the principle of an attachment to any particular form, or because any one form is more sacred than another, but on the principle, that an unreasonable deviation from any simple and useful clothing is both censurable and hurtful, if made in conformity with the fashions of the world. These two principles, though they may produce, if acted upon, a similar outward appearance in persons, are yet widely distinct as to their foundation, from one another. The former is the principle of idolatry. The latter that of religion. If therefore there are persons in the society, who adopt the former, they will come within the reach of the charge described. But the latter only can be adopted by true Quakers.


_Quakers are in the use of plain furniture--this usage founded on principles, similar to those on dress--this usage general--Quakers have seldom paintings, prints, or portraits in their houses, as, articles of furniture--reasons for their disuse of such articles._

As the Quakers are found in the use of garments, differing from those of others in their shape and fashion, and in the graveness of their colour, and in the general plainness of their appearance,

so they are found in the use of plain and frugal furniture in their houses.

The custom of using plain furniture has not arisen from the circumstance, that any particular persons in the society, estimable for their lives and characters, have set the example in their families, but from the, principles of the Quaker-constitution itself. It has arisen from principles similar to those, which dictated the continuance of the ancient Quaker-dress. The choice of furniture, like the choice of clothes, is left to be adjudged by the rules of decency and usefulness, but never by the suggestions of shew. The adoption of taste, instead of utility, in this case, would be considered as a conscious conformity with the fashions of the world. Splendid furniture also would be considered as pernicious as splendid clothes. It would be classed with external ornaments, and would be reckoned equally productive of pride, with these. The custom therefore of plainness in the articles of domestic use is pressed upon all Quakers: and that the subject may not be forgotten, it is incorporated in their religious discipline; in consequence of which, it is held forth to their notice, in a public manner, in all the monthly and quarterly meetings of the kingdom, and in all the preparative meetings, at least once in the year.

It may be admitted as a truth, that the society practice, with few exceptions, what is considered to be the proper usage on such occasions. The poor, we know, cannot use any but homely-furniture. The middle clashes are universally in such habits. As to the rich, there is a difference in the practice of these. Some, and indeed many of them, use as plain and frugal furniture, as those in moderate circumstances. Others again step beyond the practice of the middle classes, and buy what is more costly, not with a view of shew, so much as to accommodate their furniture to the size and goodness of their houses. In the houses of others again, who have more than ordinary intercourse with the world, we now and then see what is elegant, but seldom what would be considered to be extravagant furniture. We see no chairs with satin bottoms and gilded frames, no magnificent pier-glasses, no superb chandeliers, no curtains with extravagant trimmings. At least, in all my intercourse with the Quakers, I have never observed such things. If there are persons in the society, who use them, they must be few in number, and these must be conscious that, by the introduction of such finery[36] into their houses, they are going against the advices annually given them in their meetings on this subject, and that they are therefore violating the written law, as well as departing from the spirit of Quakerism.

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