|The Presence in the Midst by J Doyle Penrose 1916|
George Fox had a very definite 'puritan' view of the arts. To him these 'jests and toys' were nothing but a distraction from God and Truth and as such were to be entirely avoided by Friends. The only purpose of sports, games, poetry, plays and music as far as he and other early Quakers were concerned was to while away time that should be dedicated to a higher and more serious end. Another objection to the arts was that they were not true. Plays were particular offenders here as not only was the story being told not real but actors dressed up and pretended to be someone else!
Although poetry was allowed to sometimes have a serious purpose, composing it for any but a private audience was frowned upon. The works of Mary Southworth Mollineux (1651-1696) for example were only published after her death, although Fruits of Retirement: or Miscellaneous Poems, moral and divine did go into six editions in the course of the 18th century. Religious poetry was popular among Friends but was not often published, usually being privately circulated and copied into personal commonplace books and journals - which is how much of it survives.
|John Pemberton 1727-95|
As time went on however a different attitude to the arts began gradually to spread among Friends. As with other changes in Quaker practice much evidence of this change comes from the attempts by official bodies to stop it! In 1846 for example London Yearly Meeting minuted "We believe [music] to be both in its acquisition and its practice, unfavorable to the health of the soul. . . . Serious is the waste of time of those who give themselves up to it." At about the same time the influential journal The Friend (Philadelphia) expounded "Sorrowful it is, that even some in conspicuous and influential stations, have actually "sat" for their portraits; and this, not for the hasty moment of the daguerreotypist (questionable as even this prevalent indulgence is), but patiently awaiting the slow business of the limner. Shallow indeed must be the religion of him who knows not that in himself, as a man, dwelleth no good thing."
On the other side some spoke up for the seriousness and spiritual value of the arts. In 1895 William Charles Braithwaite wrote "It needs to be recognized that our Society has not escaped the tendency to narrow down spiritual action to certain prescribed ways as a substitute for the reality of the spiritual life. For example, while Friends have been among the pioneers of modern science they have, until recent years, repressed all taste for the fine arts. These, at their greatest, always contain some revelation of the Spirit of God, which is in the fullest harmony with our spiritual faith. In the fields of music, art, and literature, as in others, Friends may witness to the glory of God and advance that glory by their service."
|Penn's Treaty with the Indians by Benjamin West|
In the 1970s and 1980s British Quakers set up a Quaker Fellowship of the Arts and The Leaveners continue to encourage Friends to engage in both music making and theatrical performance. There are now many Quaker artists, both amateur and professional, expressing their faith through what they make and what they do.
|Quaker Silence by John Perkin|