Friday, September 20, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 38 - S for Solitude and Sociability

I am always conscious in myself of a tension between wanting to be sociable and needing solitude. This tension is present in Quakerism too. We worship together, we meet together, we act together but if we do not also have times of solitude we are in danger of being carried away by busyness and of not being able to hear our Inward Teacher.

It is finding a balance that is most difficult. Although solitude comes naturally to me I am aware that I do need other people and make an effort to connect with them - even though sometimes this is only online. Facebook can be a lifeline for me in this way and I love the sense of being part of a variety of friends' (and Friends') lives that it gives me. Writing this series of blog posts every week is one way of reaching out and I am always happy to get a reaction of any kind!

When I set out to write about solitude this week two quotations came to mind which I would like to share with you. In 1694 William Penn wrote some advice for newly convinced Friends which I find as useful now as then.

' Remember it is a still voice that speaks to us in this day, and that it is not to be heard in the noises and hurries of the mind; but it is distinctly understood in a retired frame. Jesus loved and chose solitudes, often going to mountains, to gardens, and sea-sides to avoid crowds and hurries; to show his disciples it was good to be solitary, and sit loose to the world.'

The second quotation comes from one of my favourite 18th century Quaker women friends - such friends as are often the companions of my solitude. In her seventies Lydia Lancaster, living in the Lake District, wrote to her old friend James Wilson about her own struggle between solitude and sociability. I love the way in which the letter seems to continue a long-standing conversation between them.

'I now go very little out of my own house but to meeting, and sometimes to get a breathing in the fields, and when I do it is mostly alone, for that is what I most delight in and have done most of my time, finding profit in retirement and loving solitude; there being little company that suits my taste or adds to my improvement, having gained more by meditation and application to the Inward Teacher than any other way. But methinks I hear thee saying, it is not so well, we are made to be conversable, and I do not so much service as I probably might do if I accustomed myself to company. I answer, bear with me , my friend, I have tried that way sometimes, but it hath not often answered so much to my advantage, there being so few but are full of the world in almost all their discourse, which may be well enough in them; but I look upon myself as a lonely pilgrim, whose comforts and honour have still come another way; yet I frequently go to visit any that are afflicted, and am glad of my friends' company when they visit me.'

I think that as I grow older keeping a balance between solitude and sociability may be one of my most important tasks.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 37 - S for Thomas Shillitoe

Thomas Shillitoe
Thomas Shillitoe was born in Holborn, London, in February 1754, the son of Richard  and Frances Shillitoe, both members of the established church. Richard was employed as librarian to Grays Inn but when Thomas was twelve his father moved the family to Islington where he took over the running of the Three Tuns public house. Here Thomas was exposed to much temptation and bad company but the venture failed and the family returned to Grays Inn.

Thomas was apprenticed to a grocer at the age of sixteen but his master drank and the business failed. Finding another sober master Thomas settled down and began to attend Friends' meetings, a move which enraged his father, and, when he adopted plain dress and plain speech, was not acceptable to his master either. Thomas left his situation and hoped to live with his parents but, as he reports, his father soon told him "he would rather follow me to my grave, than I should have gone amongst the Quakers; and he was determined I should quit his house that day week, and turn out and 'quack' amongst those I had joined myself in profession with."

Gracechurch Street Meeting
At the last moment Friends found Thomas a situation in a bank where most of the clerks were Quakers. He prospered as a Friend and became a member of Gracechurch Street meeting, but his faith still brought him to uncomfortable choices. Even though some Friends advised against it, he left his job at the bank because of his conscientious scruples about buying lottery tickets for clients and trained instead as a shoemaker and tailor. Although Thomas did well at his new trade his health was not good so in 1778 he left London and moved to Tottenham, then a country village, where he found a welcoming Quaker community and also a wife, Mary Pace.

Thomas Shillitoe was subject throughout his life to severe nervous depression and anxiety. His state of mind could be 'a pit of horrors'  and he says that he was twice confined to his bed from the sudden sight of a mouse. While crossing London Bridge he would run for fear that it would collapse under him. Sometimes, for weeks on end, he believed himself to be a teapot, living in dread of anyone coming near him in case they should break him.

Rural Tottenham in a 19th century painting
Although his health improved when he moved to Tottenham he still consulted doctors about his nervous complaints for another twenty years. These medical men prescribed a diet of beefsteak with a liberal supply of wine and ale at dinner and supper. When Thomas became worse they advised him to smoke and to take spirits and water but the only effect of this was to cause him to lose sleep on top of his other ailments. For this the doctors prescribed ten drops of laudanum a day which quickly became ineffective so they increased the dose little by little until  Thomas was taking 180 drops each night!

Unsurprisingly Thomas's health did not improve and he says, 'I went about day by day frighted by fear of being frighted - a dreadful situation indeed to be living in.' Eventually, around 1800, he decided to turn his back on the doctors, rely entirely on God's help, and give up all his stimulants at once as he had found that gradually changing things did not work. He became a total abstainer and also took no animal food except milk and eggs. His health improved, although he remained of a nervous disposition. He was known for walking everywhere very fast, which may have been a healthier way of releasing his nervous energy.

As his lifestyle changed and his health improved Thomas was able to retire from business in 1806 and
devote himself to his Quaker ministry. He became a tireless campaigner for temperance before many of his fellow Quakers took up the cause and in 1808 and 1811 visited Ireland where he preached against the evils of alcohol in hundreds of whiskey shops.

Drawing of Thomas Shillitoe 1830
He also travelled extensively in the ministry at home and abroad. In 1830 he visited the continent, going to the principal towns of Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Switzerland and France. In every place he visited he went first to the prison and then to the palace and was usually well received in both establishments.

Thomas  delivered several plain-spoken addresses to British monarchs and George IV never forgot his encounter with 'that little Quaker.' Thomas went with Peter Bedford to deliver an address asking for greater public morality to William IV and his Queen. He told the Friends to whom he submitted it for inspection, 'There must be no lowering it as with water, it must be all pure brandy' - an interesting choice of words for a temperance campaigner.

Thomas Shillitoe was described as being 'below the middle height, spare, if made of wire and muscle.' In 1812 he left Tottenham to be near his children, living for some time in Barnsley, Yorkshire and then for eleven years in Hertfordshire. After his continental visits in 1821 and 1825 he went to America for three years from 1826 when he was over seventy. On his return he went back to Tottenham and remained very active, living near the meeting house and regularly attending meetings there until just before his death in 1836 at the age of 82.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 36 - R for 'To the Reader'

My subject for a second post on the letter R has been particularly difficult to discern so I have decided to go off at a bit of a tangent. I have already written about  Piety Promoted and its companion volume the Annual Monitor. Here is a rather plaintive cry from the editors of the Annual Monitor of 1843, Samuel Tuke (1784-1857) and Sarah Backhouse (1803-1877) of York, to their readers, which echoes some of the feelings I have about writing an alphabetical blog every week.

'Simple and easy as the compilation of this little annual volume may appear, and limited as really is the amount of literary talent which it requires, the Editors feel that the right conducting of it calls for much judicious care and discrimination, - the responsibility for which they would gladly, if a suitable opportunity of doing so had offered, have thrown into other hands.'

Samuel Tuke
Samuel and Sarah had taken on the responsibility as executors of the co-founder (with his wife Ann) of the Annual Monitor, William Alexander. In spite of their misgivings they continued as editors until 1852 when the task was 'thrown' into the hands of Benjamin and Esther Seebohm for the next ten years.

Of course I do recognise that my task of writing this Quaker Alphabet Blog is entirely of my own choice and I really have no grounds to complain whatsoever. After all I have only committed myself to one year!

Monday, September 02, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 35 - R for Martha Winter Routh

Silhouette of Martha Routh
Martha Winter was born in 1743, the youngest of the numerous children of Henry and Jane Winter of Stourbridge, Worcestershire. She was carefully educated at home but was troubled about her religious state from an early age. Although convinced of the truths of Quakerism she found it difficult to stand by those testimonies that marked her out, in speech and dress, as different from the friends she made in the day school she attended who were not Quakers.

Around this time two Quaker travelling ministers came to visit families in her area. They reminded the children that they should not deviate from their parents' principles when their parents were not there and Martha resolved to change her behaviour and use plain speech with everyone. She wrote to  one of her best friends at school hoping that she would not be offended by the fact 'that I could not any longer give her the title of Miss, but must call her by her proper name, as well as the other girls, though I should love them no less but rather better, because I knew it was acting contrary to the mind of my parents, and the way in which friends spoke to one another.' Her schoolmates made no comment on Martha's change and treated her just the same, which greatly relieved her mind. 

Catherine Payton Phillips
From the age of fourteen Martha felt a calling to the Quaker ministry but she resisted it for many years, although some Friends were aware of her struggle. Catherine Payton Phillips, who lived locally, took a great interest in Martha and when she was seventeen recommended her for the post of assistant to Anna Coulson who had a boarding school for Friends' children in Nottingham. Eventually Martha and one of her sisters took over the running of this school.

After her father's death when she was 26 Martha's struggles with her call to the ministry affected her health and eventually became evident to all around her, although she could not confide in anyone. It was only when she was apparently at death's door that she talked to her sister and was gradually enabled to take up the burden of ministry when she was 29 years old. She began to travel in the ministry in 1775 when she accompanied Ruth Follows on a tour of the northern counties and Scotland. Martha gained much from her association with older and more experienced women Friends and in later years was glad to pass her own experience on to younger women.

In 1776 Martha married Richard Routh and the couple moved to Manchester. Richard was also a minister and the couple travelled extensively both together and separately. They had no children of their own but adopted one of Martha's nephews as a son. Unfortunately he was killed in a bathing accident while Martha and Richard were attending the Monthly Meeting at Warrington. At the time Martha told her husband, her aunt and another Friend that she knew inwardly that he was drowned, a premonition that was proved right on their return home.

Between 1794 and 1797 and from 1801 to 1805 Martha, sometimes with her husband and sometimes with a succession of female companions, was in America. In 1804 Martha came with her husband to New Bedford, Mass. with the intention of making their home there, but he died while travelling later that year in New York and she returned to England alone. Her health declined but she continued to travel and to attend the Yearly Meeting each year. In 1817 she was in London for this purpose when she was taken ill and died aged 74. She was buried in Bunhill Fields burial ground.
A Beaver Hat worn over a cap

Her experience when young led Martha Routh to adopt more moderate views than some of her contemporaries, She agreed with William Savery that in matters of dress 'no standard could be fixed, that countries differed in some small matters, but that plainness was still plainness in all places and wished Friends to keep to the true simplicity without formality.' In one matter of dress Martha even set a fashion as she is credited with the introduction of the 'plain bonnet' among American women Friends, who had until then worn beaver hats over their caps.