Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 33 - Q for The Quaker Bishop, Joseph Bevan Braithwaite

Painting of J B Braithwaite
Joseph Bevan Braithwaite was born in Kendal, Westmoreland on 21st June 1818, the youngest, together with his twin sister Caroline, of the nine children of Isaac Braithwaite (1781-1861) and Anna Lloyd (1788-1859). Anna's sister Mary had married Isaac's brother George and her brother Charles and his wife settled in Ambleside.  Bevan therefore grew up in a close knit community of family and fellow Quakers, went to a Quaker school in Kendal and was apprenticed to a Kendal solicitor. His parents both travelled frequently and for long periods in the ministry but there were always sisters, cousins and aunts to take care of the children.

Isaac Braithwaite
Isaac and Anna were uncompromisingly evangelical in their theology, looking to the Bible for authority rather than the Inward Light, and when they visited America in the 1820s sided with Elisha Bates in vigorously and outspokenly opposing what they saw as the 'unsound' teaching of the more mystical Elias Hicks. Hicks considered the attitudes of the Braithwaites and other English visitors to be a major cause of the separations of 1827-8 which split American Quakerism for more than a century.

At home the Braithwaite family came under the influence of their cousin Isaac Crewdson, who took an extreme position, resigned from the Society of Friends and underwent a rite of baptism.  Most of  Bevan's brothers and sisters agreed with Crewdson and, when Bevan himself went to London to complete his legal training, they encouraged him to join them. He wavered and got as far as booking an appointment for a baptism but then, urged by a letter from his father, he attended the Yearly Meeting of 1840 and changed his mind. As he wrote to his cousin, George Gillett, 'I went to the Yearly Meeting expecting it to be the last I should ever attend; but as it proceeded, one sitting after another convinced me that I had not duly appreciated the views of the great body of Friends, that there was much that was excellent and much that was sound among them.' He believed it his duty to remain and could not see where else he would go, but the rift in his family and among his friends was intensely painful to him. In the end only Bevan and his brother Charles Lloyd Braithwaite remained Quakers. Having made up his mind Bevan in time became a pillar of the Society of Friends, firm and decided in his views and wary of innovation.

Martha Gillett with her father
Bevan was call to the bar in 1843. Because he had a stammer he did not practise in court but set up a conveyancing practice. From 1840 until his death Bevan belonged to Westminster Friends' meeting in which he soon started to speak (without an impediment) and who acknowledged his gift in the ministry in 1844. In 1851 he married Martha Gillett (1823-1895), the daughter of a Quaker banker of Banbury, Oxfordshire and a recognised minister herself. They made their home in Camden in North London and raised a family of nine children. In many ways Joseph Bevan Braithwaite repeated his parents' model of parenthood - a large sheltered Quaker family with both parents travelling in the ministry. Bevan travelled extensively in England, Ireland, Europe and the Near East in the service of the Society of Friends and as a representative of the British and Foreign Bible Society. In 1865, 1876 and 1878 he visited eight Yearly Meetings in America, although following his parents' example he always stayed aloof from the Hicksites.

J B Braithwaite with cravat
Bevan worked very hard as a lawyer in order to support his growing family, but he also read widely, particularly the Church Fathers whom he could, and did, quote at great length. He wore Quaker plain dress with the addition of a distinctive stiff wide white cravat which together with his natural air of authority led some, including John Bright, to call him the Quaker Bishop. No Yearly Meeting was complete without him and for forty years he was the chief author of the Yearly Meeting Epistle.

In 1887 Bevan attended the Richmond Conference in America and played a major role in composing the Richmond Declaration, a statement of Evangelical Quaker doctrine which the delegates hoped would be acceptable to 'all the Yearly Meetings in the world.' This was not to be the case and London Yearly Meeting refused to ratify it in 1888. Younger Friends saw it as the statement of a 'creed' which they felt had no place in Quakerism.

Bevan was disappointed and hurt by this rejection. Even though in 1898 London Yearly Meeting agreed to uphold their refusal to recognise Hicksite Quakers, a decision which Bevan called in his journal 'a very great relief to me', the tide was turning. Bevan viewed with dismay developments such as the Manchester Conference in 1895 which marked the beginning of Liberal Quakerism. He battled on but privately revealed, 'I often feel my solitariness.'

William Charles Braithwaite
After the death of his wife in 1895 he was looked after devotedly by his two youngest unmarried daughters, Rachel and Catherine. When his youngest son William Charles, who had worked with him for ten years, married and moved away in 1896 Bevan felt the loss keenly and gave up his legal practice. He said 'We are so bound up in our pursuits and in each other. It is almost like cutting off the right hand.'

Joseph Bevan Braithwaite continued to engage in Quaker work and to enjoy his extensive family. He wrote many letters and kept up the journal that he had written throughout his life. Old age crept upon him gradually but he retained his clarity of mind and gentleness of disposition to the last. He died on 15th November 1905 aged eighty seven, having remained unquestioning in his devotion to the vision of Quakerism he had loved and defended since his decision at Yearly Meeting 1840, sixty five years before.

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