Thursday, November 05, 2015

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2015 - O for Open

Advices and Queries poses the question  - Are you open to new light, from whatever source it may come? (A&Q 7). We are asked whether we are open to the healing power of God's love (A&Q 2) and whether we try to set aside times of quiet for openness to the Holy Spirit? (A&Q 3). We are also reminded that when experiencing great happiness or great hurt we may be more open to the working of the Spirit (A&Q 21).

For me being open is not always a comfortable state. Routine, doing things in the same way at the same time, can be comforting. The familiar is cheering and I am not always looking for the new and different. My main experience of making myself open comes in meeting for worship. There I try to be open to whatever comes, even if it is disturbing to my settled view of life and people. That kind of openness is a sort of love and acceptance of difference.

Sometimes, if I can be open, things that have puzzled me may resolve themselves, the way ahead may become clear. To use the old Quaker phrase, way will open. George Fox called the revelations which sent him out into the Quaker way his openings and although it is still possible to have that kind of experience today being faithful and open in small things may be enough to be going on with.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2015 - N for Emilia Fogelklou Norlind

Emila aged 14
Emilia Fogelklou was born in 1878 in Skane, Sweden, into a large family. Her childhood was spent in the countryside which, together with the influence of her grandmother, had a great effect on Emilia's spiritual development. She would climb up on the garden gate to gaze at the sea or the sunset and lose herself  'in endless beholding.' However, when she was twelve the family moved to the town when her father got a better job, and although she found it difficult at first Emilia appreciated the intellectual stimulation of her new school.

In 1896, when she was eighteen, Emilia went to teacher training college for three years and then took up a succession of teaching posts. She enjoyed the work but felt under-qualified, especially in her chosen subject of religion. She was oppressed by the failure of her search for the reality of God and felt despairing and like an empty shell but then in 1902 she experienced something that was for her the central event of her life. While sitting quietly under trees preparing for her class she says 'she experienced the great releasing inward wonder. It was as if the "empty shell" burst. All the weight and agony, all the feeling of unreality dropped away. She perceived living goodness, joy, light like a clear, irradiating, uplifting, enfolding, unequivocal reality from deep inside.'[QF&P 26.05] Whatever happened to her after that she never lost the certainty of the reality of God that came to her that day.

She enrolled in the University of Uppsala in 1906, first taking a liberal arts degree and then studying theology. She also began to publish books and to write poetry. Her reading and also her life experience led her to grapple with the 'woman question'. In 1909 she became the first woman in Sweden to be awarded a degree in theology. This distinction led to a great deal of misunderstanding and hostility as it was apparently difficult for many to see why anyone would take such a degree unless they intended to enter the ministry and this path was still closed to women at the time.

Emilia next travelled to England, France and Italy in order to study religious movements and in 1910 she attended her first Quaker meeting. In 1911 she returned to Sweden and took up a teaching post. She was uncomfortably aware of the difference in salary between men and women staff and tried to make a stand on the issue but with no success.

Emilia (centre) at The Hague in 1915
During the First World War, although Sweden remained neutral, Emilia became involved in the international effort that women were making for peace. She attended the Women's Peace Conference in The Hague in 1915 from which emerged the Womens International League for Peace and Freedom and through this work again came into contact with Quakers.

Emilia continued to support herself by teaching and writing but in 1920 she became ill with eye trouble which forced her to stop her research work. Her mother was ill and Emilia went home to care for her, only to find that her sister was dying of cancer. These sorrows all brought Emilia to a low ebb but then  she met Arnold Norlind, a distinguished scholar and geographer with whom she had been carrying on a friendly and literary correspondence for several years.

Emila and Arnold
They agreed that what they felt now had slowly become more than friendship and they were married in 1922, when Emilia was 44 and Arnold 39. Their years together were happy but full of anxiety about Arnold's health. He had been diagnosed as having tuberculosis of the throat and there were several crises. In 1920 they were encouraged to hope that he was cured but in fact his disease had entered its final phase and Arnold died early in 1929.

They had lived a life full of books and writing and after the first devastating shock of grief Emilia's way forward came through writing Arnold's story. She continued to teach and write and was also becoming more involved in Quakerism. She joined a group in Stockholm which met for silent worship and in 1931 she applied for membership as a foreign member of London Yearly Meeting and was accepted. In the same year she published a book about James Nayler that led to her being invited to take up a fellowship at Woodbrooke in Birmingham. She spent a year there in 1933 researching a book on William Penn and in 1939 she visited America and spent some months at Pendle Hill.

Travelling to America was one way in which Emilia tried to get over one of the greatest disappointments of her later years. In 1938 she was encouraged to apply for the post of professor of history and religion at Uppsala university. Not only was she passed over in favour of a man younger and less qualified than herself but because her main expertise was in the psychology of religion rather than history the authorities felt it necessary to publicly declare her incompetent to hold the post. This led to a loss of income as her lecturing work dried up.

The outbreak of the Second World War however meant that Emilia put her personal worries aside and engaged in practical work for peace. She helped to set up the IAL (International work camps) and as soon as the war ended was involved in relief work in Germany. Working in Hamburg she wrote in her diary, ' Now I feel I've got work. All daylight hours are filled and [I feel] an almost constant inner joy, right through the thickening darkness out there...I walk in a whirlwind of life, and I reach out for more'.

Emilia aged 90
As she grew older Emilia became a well-known public figure in Sweden. Her writings were very popular and she was still called upon to pass on her wisdom. She longed to retire quietly but her public was reluctant to let her go. When she was past ninety she was troubled with increasing deafness and longed to die. 'Hope to be out of school soon' was one of her frequent expressions. At the last a severe fall and broken hip meant that she had to go into hospital where she suffered on untill she died in 1972 at the age of 94. Even in her last uncomfortable weeks, a friend said, she 'influenced people to the very end just by existing, without words'.

Emilia Fogelklou Norlind is buried beside her husband in a quiet village churchyard. On her headstone are three words in Swedish meaning - There is light still.

For many years most of Emilia's writings were only available in Swedish but extracts are now available in translation and there is also a biography of her, translated into English by the Swedish author.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2015 - M for Mistaken

One much repeated 'Quaker saying' among British Friends is 'Think it possible that you may be mistaken'. It even appears at the back of Quaker Faith and Practice in the 'Index of well-loved phrases' where it is only attributed to A&Q or Advices and Queries.

The sentence certainly appears as part of A&Q and indeed also in the Advices in Christian Faith and Practice, the former version of Britain Yearly Meeting's book of discipline. So it has some pedigree as a 'Quaker saying' but who originally said it?

In fact it comes from the era of early Friends but not from a Quaker. The original, fuller, version was written by Oliver Cromwell to the General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland in 1650 imploring them to step away from their pledge of allegiance to the royalist cause. His words were 'I beseech you in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken'.

I can see the difficulty for the modern reader of 'the bowels of Christ' although in contemporary usage this was not biological but meant 'the pity or tenderness of Christ'. It is understandable that this part of the phrase should be omitted but I think it is a mistake not to acknowledge Cromwell as its author.

Is it a less powerful phrase if it cannot be truthfully claimed as a Quaker saying? I think not and even if taken out of context it can still give us food for thought. However I hope that in any future edition of Quaker Faith and Practice in which it appears as a well-loved phrase we will give Old Noll his due.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2015 - L for Josiah Langdale

Josiah Langdale was born in 1673 at Nafferton in Yorkshire and baptised into the Church of England in August of that year. In 1681 Josiah's father died and, as the eldest and possibly only son, Josiah had to give up his full time education in order to support his family.

He went to work on a farm, caring for livestock and learning how to plough, work which was obviously congenial to his nature. He was proud of his skill and found the solitary nature of the work conducive to religious contemplation. This contemplation was usually about the state of his own soul. In the spiritual autobiograhy which Josiah wrote later in life he confesses his failings and temptations, among them the troubling feelings aroused in him by a violent game of football and by his enjoyment of dancing. He longed to be a better person but found that outward ceremonies, such as confirmation by the bishop and receiving the Lord's Supper, did not have the immediate, amost magical, transforming effect he hoped for.

The second great change in Josiah's life happened in 1688 when he was fifteen and his mother, after seven years as a widow, decided to marry again. She would no longer be dependent on her son and Josiah felt that it was time to leave home. He hired himself out to a farmer as a ploughman, probably at one of the hiring fairs which were held each year throughout the country at this time. Martinmas, November 11th, was the usual date in the north when master and man would mutually agree on a verbal contract which bound them for a year.

Nafferton Church
Josiah was happy with his first master but when the year ended could not agree on wages so decided to hire himself instead to a Quaker, David Milner, who, with his wife Sarah and their family lived at Carnaby, a village a few miles from Nafferton. Josiah's family and his local priest were very worried that these Quakers might influence or even bewitch him into becoming one of them, but as it turned out the greatest influence on him initially was not Quakerism but another servant of the Milners. Thomas Hewson, a blind thresher about fifteen years older than Josiah, was a self-educated man who had thought deeply about religion but had retained his independence. In him Josiah found an intimate friend and confidant with whom he could explore all his doubts and fears about what was the right way in religion.

It was mainly in order to stay with his friend that Josiah hired himself to David Milner for another year in 1690. When he went home for a visit during the winter of 1690-91 Josiah's relations teased him that he seemed so serious that he was in danger of turning Quaker, but Josiah was only made uncomfortable by such remarks and hurried back to his friend Thomas.

In fact the Milners had been extremely careful not to exert any influence on Josiah or indeed to talk to him about religion at all. Only when Sarah Milner's brother, Timothy Towse, an impetuous young man of twenty five, came for a visit in 1691 and urged Josiah to go to a meeting to hear the well known travelling minister James Dickinson was any pressure put on him. The whole episode was altogether counter-productive too as even though his friend Thomas Hewson went with him and approved of James Dickinson, Josiah was so anxious about the effect the Quaker might have on him that he could derive no benefit from it.

Map showing Nafferton, Carnaby and Bridlington
Josiah went on with his spiritual searching, quietly observing and approving the behaviour of the Quakers he
encountered at the fairs and markets he attended as his master's foreman, but it was not until two years later, in May 1693 when he was nineteen, that the greatest change in his life came about. One Sunday David Milner had gone into Bridlington early and later in the day Josiah's mistress Sarah asked him if he would escort her into town and come with her to meeting if he felt he could. This time he was content to go and after sitting in silence for several hours he was moved to tears. He was not derided, as he had been a few years before when the same thing had happened during a church service, but accepted. He knew that he had found what he had been seeking - the people of God with whom he could join.

In a closeknit rural society the change in Josiah did not remain a secret. His mother was told of it and came at once to see for herself. When he met her Josiah felt that he had to be true to his new profession and act on the testimony to plain speech which would mark him out as a Quaker. He therefore addressed her as 'thou', without any of the respectful forms which she would have expected from her son. She was offended and went home, but six weeks later Josiah felt that he should visit his family to try to heal the breach. This time he was better received by his mother and step-father and also by his uncle and aunts. Josiah might have changed his behaviour but they accepted that he was their Josiah still.

Bridlington harbour
When Josiah reached the age of twenty in 1693 the land left to him by his father came into his possession. He was able to be more independent and although still earning his keep as a ploughman could give more of his time to Quaker work. When Josiah became a member of Bridlington meeting (then called Burlington and Keys) it was in the middle of a revival, particularly among the young people. Another Bridlington Quaker, John Richardson, said of it 'Friends grew so in the ministry that it became a proverb that Bridlington was become a school of prophets'. Josiah grew close to other young men such as Timothy Towse, of whom he had initially been so wary, and Thomas Thompson, with whom he later travelled in the ministry.

Josiah felt called to the ministry within a year of his convincment and felt that one day he might be called to visit America. Eventually in 1700, when he was twenty-seven, he fufilled this calling, travelling mainly with Thomas Thompson and remaining abroad for nearly five years. The two young men gave a report of their journey to Yearly Meeting in London in 1705.

About five years later Josiah married Margaret Burton when he was 37 and she was 26. They lived in Bridlington and were both active as ministers, travelling independently when called to do so. In 1715 Josiah travelled to America again with Thomas Thompson. This was a much shorter visit than the first and the pair were sent off by Friends meeting in Philadelphia in June 1716 to return homr by way of the West Indies, which they did in a leisurely fashion, not arriving back until later in the year. While Joseph was away Margaret Langdale had undertaken a religious visit on her own account to Ireland and continued her travels after his return, visiting Europe in 1717 and Wales in 1718.

Josiah, meanwhile, was feeling more and more drawn to move permanently to America. He went again in 1720 and stayed for a year mainly in Philadelphia where he is reported as diligently attending religious meetings. This time though he had not come primarily as a minister and spent most of his time buying land and making arrangements to move his family and himself to the New World. Early in 1723 Josiah, Margaret and their two surviving children, Mary aged ten and John aged eight, set sail for America on the ship London Hope but during the voyage Josiah died at the age of 49.

Margaret had no choice but to contiue on the course they had set themselves. She and her children were welcomed by Philadelphia Friends and she at once embarked on her work as a minister but she could not continue to rely on the charity of Friends so resolved her problems by marrying again. After the accepted mourning period of a year and a day Margaret married Samuel Preston, a useful citizen of Philadelphia and a valuable Friend twenty years her senior. Thomas Chalkley, one of Josiah's old travelling companions was present and reported that  'The meeting was large, and the parable of the virgins and the bridegroom's coming at midnight, was opened'.

In the years that followed Margaret was much occupied as a travelling minister until she died in 1742 aged 58. Her son and daughter both married and settled in America and there are Langdale descendants living there to this day.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2015 - K for Keep

I seem to have got stuck with my Quaker Alphabet posts again. For a while I couldn't think of anything beginning with K that I hadn't written about already. Then I had an idea suggested to me by someone else but somehow I couldn't make that work. I fretted about the restrictions I had imposed on myself by deciding to write in alphabetical order. I worried that other people were much better at this than me. I procrastinated. I looked at Pinterest a lot.

Then, as has often happened before, during meeting for worship a word, an idea, was given to me. All I had to do was Keep going, Keep on, not worry about Keeping up and Keep awake!

So here I am - and here is something I found on Pinterest.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2015 - J for Joy

Still rather stuck with my blog, even after I for Interruption, at last I found a subject for J but have found it difficult to write. 

What do Quakers have to say about Joy? Friends through the centuries have found joy for themselves in the Quaker way but have often seemed to others grave and serious in their demeanour to the point of joylessness.

In many passages in Quaker Faith & Practice joy is mentioned and we are urged to share our joys as well as our sorrows, but how often do we do this? When there are so many troubles in the world and we are aware of and trying to assuage the troubles in the lives of those we know, do we hold back from sharing the joy in our own lives for fear of making others feel worse?

When I thought about this I realised that in not expressing my joy I am falling short. True friendship, which is such an important part of a true Quaker community, means being free to share anything - not just serious concerns and troubling problems but small happinesses and deep joys. William Blake perhaps puts it best in this short poem.

Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine,
Under every grief and pine,
Runs a joy with silken twine.
It is right it should be so,
We were made for joy and woe,
And when this we rightly know,
Through the world we safely go.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2015 - I for Interruption

It has been almost a month since I wrote for this blog and I was behind with my schedule before that. In itself that should not be a problem but this time there was more to it than just my usual procrastination. I was interrupted by a computer crash.

Most of my research and photo files were backed up or could be recovered so it wasn't such a devastating event as it might have been, but I still felt bereft and helpless. It made me realise how much of my daily life and well-being depends on my computer and forced me re-assess my priorities.

Luckily this interruption coincided with a Facebook request (yes I could still access Facebook via my tablet) from a friend facing chemotherapy for soft knitted hats to wear when she lost her hair, so I had a project which needed doing at once. I also got out of the house more in order to look at art, to appreciate the world around me and even to do some gardening.

Now that the interruption is over and I am back in front of my computer the lesson I have learned is not simply to spend less time in front of a screen but to try to balance my life better so that I do not invest my computer with such an overwhelming importance.

I thought that I would end this post by quoting from Advices and Queries 41 about simplicity, but when I considered further it seems to me that number 11 is more relevant -
'Be honest with yourself. What unpalatable truths might you be evading? When you recognise your shortcomings, do not let that discourage you...'

Friday, May 08, 2015

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2015 - H for Hope

Speaking as someone who has often been tempted to give in to depression and despair, part of me is surprised that I now find myself called to hope -  and not just to stand still in that hope but to travel hopefully.

Britain Yearly Meeting this year was particularly inspiring and we wrote minutes that committed us to work for peace, justice and  equality. It is easy to be cynical and think of these as just words but I am convinced that there is a spirit alive among us that will lead us on to action. I hope there is.

For me the decision to hope, while still acknowledging the despair around us and the obstacles that we will have to overcome, is one I can unite with. I found it best expressed in the concluding minute to Yearly Meeting.

"'I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness. And in that also I saw the infinite love of God.'
(George Fox, 1647)

We have set off once again from this Yearly Meeting on the long journey illumined by the Love of God, to challenge the principalities and powers of this world, and to work towards the establishment of the peaceable Kingdom. May we travel in hope, loving both our fellow travellers and those who will oppose us, and pray that in our travellings the light may break in upon us more and more."

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2015 - G for Priscilla Hannah Gurney

Priscilla Hannah Gurney was born on 22 June 1757 in Norwich, the elder of the two daughters of Joseph Gurney, a merchant, and Christiana Barclay. Priscilla's father died when she was four, but when she was ten her mother married John Freame, her first cousin, and the family moved from Norfolk to Bush Hill, Enfield. A son was born but John Freame's poor health led him and his wife to leave their children with relatives and travel on the continent. In 1770 he died and the family moved again, this time to Bath, which Priscilla saw as a 'vortex of dissipation'. About two years later her mother married for a third time, to William Watson of Bath, a physician, scientist and non-Quaker. This was the second time that Priscilla's mother had married against the rules of the Society of Friends, marriage with first cousins and non-Quakers both being frowned upon. On both occasions she had escaped with a loving reprimand rather than disownment, but she was determined that her daughters should not offend in this way and kept a close eye on their suitors.
Company At Play from The Comforts of Bath by Rowlandson 1798

In 1775, when she was 18, Priscilla went on an extended visit to her Norfolk relations and while she was there refused a marriage proposal from a young Quaker. This visit also brought into focus the spiritual dilemmas she was facing. For several years afterwards she was torn between the influence of her Quaker relations and that of her worldly friends in Bath, one of whom was zealous in urging Priscilla to convert to the Church of England. Eventually Priscilla, wanting to please her friend, was baptized and attended church services but was still unsatisfied. Her Quaker relations talked and wrote to her and gave her Quaker books to read. She tried to blot out the inner voice she heard saying "I must be a Quaker" by going to balls, concerts and plays in Bath, but the mental anguish of her spiritual struggle made her ill.

Barclay's Apology title-page
At last Priscilla decided to read some Quaker books and found to her surprise that she agreed with everything in her ancestor Robert Barclay's Apology, a standard work of Quaker theology. She told her family that she was now a Quaker. Her mother asked Priscilla not to change her appearance and Priscilla tried to oblige but eventually felt compelled to dress and speak as a 'plain Friend'. She was still stuggling spiritually and felt more comfortable with other Quakers than with her family.

When Priscilla was 27 she turned down another proposal from a young Quaker to whom she had at first been attracted. He refused to accept her rejection, trying to hold her to an 'understanding' which she did not feel they had, and harassing her both personally and through his family and friends. This emotional pressure made her ill and she took to her bed where she was visited by several weighty Friends. Among them was Mary Davis of Minehead, who befriended Priscilla, introduced her to Richard Reynolds and his wife Rebecca and took her to visit them at their home in Coalbrookdale.

Dale House, Coalbrookdale
Mary and Priscilla planned to set up home together, and even after Mary's marriage to John Merryweather in 1788 they still pursued their intention. But Mary's death, after the birth of her second child in 1791, put paid to this and Priscilla made her home instead with the Reynolds, who she called her 'parental friends', at Dale House, Coalbrookdale. The close-knit Quaker circle of families at Coalbrookdale, enlivened by a constant stream of visitors, at last gave Priscilla a secure base in which she felt at home and to which she could contribute. She became a Quaker minister in 1792 and travelled both locally and as far afield as Scotland and the Scilly Isles.

Priscilla, described by a friend as 'small in person, beautiful in countenance, elegant in manner', was the ideal person for her young cousin Elizabeth Gurney (later Fry) to be sent to visit in 1798 when she too was going through a spiritual struggle. Priscilla acted as a calm and sympathetic influence and introduced Elizabeth to Deborah Darby, who prophesied her future service.

Mary Ann Schmmelpenninck
In 1804 Richard Reynolds, after the death of his wife, decided to leave Coalbrookdale for Bristol and Priscilla also moved away, back to Bath where her sister still lived. There she made a striking figure in her old-fashioned plain Quaker dress and black silk hood. Her friend Mary Ann Schimmelpenninck recalls, 'She had what is called a helmeted eyelid, and a beautiful and serenely arched eyebrow, which contributed to her devout and tranquil expression, beautifully formed nose indicated at once strength and acuteness of intelligence and great delicacy of taste'. For the rest of her life Priscilla, in increasingly delicate health, lived in Bath, sometimes travelling in the ministry, and cultivated her talent for friendship. She was 'constant, ardent and faithful in attachment, earnestly persevering in the endeavour to serve her friends'. Eventually confined to her house by an extreme susceptibility of the lungs, but still welcoming small groups of friends, she died in Bath on 17 November 1828 at the age of 71.

In spite of Priscilla's misgivings about publishing her spiritual autobiography Memoirs of the Life and Religious Experience of Priscilla Hannah Gurney edited by S. Allen was issued in 1834, only six years after her death. Much of its interest lies in what it tells us about the struggles of one brought up both among Friends and 'in the world'. Priscilla Hannah is referred to by both her names because there was a contemporary Priscilla Gurney who was also a minister.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2015 - F for Caroline Fox

A drawing of Caroline Fox in 1846 by Samuel Lawrence
Caroline Fox, the youngest of the three children of Robert Were and Maria Barclay Fox, was born at Penjerrick, near Falmouth in Cornwall in 1819. her parents both came from long lines of Quaker forebears and were themselves devoted to the Society of Friends, although they remained untouched by the evangelical trends of the time. Robert was an amateur scientist of repute, conducting chemical experiments on his living-room table, and the family home was a cultured and literary one.

Caroline and her brother and sister were educated at home - writing essays, reading, learning domestic skills and taking plenty of exercise.They were concerned with the welfare of the local people from an early age and conceived the idea for the foundation of the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society in 1832 when Anna Maria, Barclay and Caroline were 17, 16 and 13, respectively. This became more than an idea as their parents, uncles and aunts and their friends took up the proposal with enthusiasm and made it a reality.

Anna Maria Fox in old age
Caroline also began to keep a journal in 1832 in which she recorded the comings and goings of the household including several vivid character sketches. After Caroline's death a selection from her journals was put together and published by Horace Pym, a friend of the family. He concentrated on her portrayal of famous people such as Wordsworth, Tennyson, Elizabeth Fry and John Bright and omitted most of the references to Caroline's own life.

Until she was twenty-one Caroline's life was placid. Her time was spent at home, with occasional visits to London and Bristol. However in 1840 she made the acquaintance of John Sterling, a writer, radical and friend of Coleridge and Carlyle. The two became friends, even though he was twelve years older than Caroline, married and the father of five children. Then in 1843 Sterling's wife died after giving birth to their sixth child and he and Caroline grew closer.

The couple entered into an engagement but the match was strenuously opposed by Caroline's family, who disapproved of Sterling's lack of Christian belief. Caroline regretfully withdrew from the engagement and a further blow fell when, less than a year later, Sterling died of the consumption he had suffered from all his life.

From now on Caroline gave up all thought of personal happiness. At first she suffered from depression and then threw herself into good works. She found that her experience of suffering enabled her to enter into the feelings of the poor and the bereaved. She became much more serious in her approach to religion and was influenced by the writings of the Christian Socialist, Frederick Denison Maurice. She formulated a broader definition of Quakerism for herself and wrote in 1846
'I have assumed a name today for my religious principles - Quaker-Catholicism - having direct spiritual teaching for its distinctive dogma, yet recognising the high worth of all other forms of Faith: a system, in the sense of inclusion, not exclusion; an appreciation of the universal and the various teachings of the Spirit,, through the faculties given to us, or independent of them.'

More family sorrows afflicted Caroline. In 1855 her brother Barclay died of consumption in Egypt, in 1858 her mother died and in 1860 her sister-in law, Barclays widow, Jane Fox died, also of consumption, in France. This last loss brought Caroline and her sister Anna Maria an added responsibility in the shape of their nephews Robert, George, Henry and Gurney, then aged 14, 13, 11 and 9, whose guardians they became.

Caroline and Anna Maria Fox's gravestone
It was not long, however, before the boys grew up and left their aunts' care and Caroline's health began to fail. In 1871 she caught a cold while out delivering New Year gifts which turned to bronchitis and after a few days illness she died in her sleep at the age of 53. Caroline's sister Anna Maria oversaw the publication of Caroline's journals after her death and made sure that the originals were destroyed as requested in her will. She lived on until 1897 and was buried in the same grave in Budock Quaker Burial ground near Falmouth.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2015 - E for Eclipse

Photograph of the solar eclipse taken by A S Eddington 29 May 1919
My Facebook feed this morning has been full of pictures of Ffriends watching, or trying to watch, the partial solar eclipse. Some found elaborate ways of not looking directly at the sun, some were frustrated by cloud cover and many remarked, as I did, on the strange quality of the fading light and the confused behaviour of birds.

Arthur Stanley Eddington 1882-1944
Thinking back to past eclipses I wondered whether Quakers had been interested in them and I found one particularly important example. In 1919 Arthur Stanley Eddington, born in Kendal in 1882, led an expedition to Principe, off the West coast of Africa in order to observe and photograph the eclipse. Eddington, a Cambridge professor,  hoped to find proof of Einstein's theory of relativity which the two men had discussed before the war. As a Quaker, Eddington was determined to show that science could be an international endeavour, free from war-time hatreds and prejudices and with this expedition he succeeded.

There is much more to say both about Eddington and about the expedition but for now I will refer you, dear reader, to an article by Matthew Stanley 'An Expedition to Heal the Wounds of War: the 1919 Eclipse Expedition and Eddington as Quaker Adventurer' which can be downloaded from and leave you with your own thoughts about eclipses.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2015 - D for Dear Friends

Every Yearly Meeting Clerk has their own style and few have been more distinctive in recent years than Christine Davis. When I heard of Christine's death last month the first thing that came into my mind was the sound of her voice addressing the Yearly Meeting in the early 1990s as 'Dear Friends' in a warm but also authoritative tone. From her they were the perfect words to assure us of her love but also to remind us of our responsibility and to gently take us to task when we were in danger of neglecting our discipline.

As a description 'dear' is mild and understated but often heartfelt. Through the years many friends have earned the epithet - for example Grace Chamber and Abiah Darby, as well as George Fox himself. It is often to be found not in the official record but in the letters and diaries of their contemporaries.

The phrase also reminds me of a Quaker song which I have sung many times as a round. The music can be found in an instrumental arrangement here but it is the words which are most important.

Dear Friends, dear Friends,
Let me tell you how I feel.
You have given me such treasure.
I love you so.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2015 - C for Annie Elizabeth Clark

Annie Clark was born in 1844, fifth of the twelve children of James and Eleanor Clark of Street, Somerset. Annie's father was one of the founders of the firm C & J Clark and it was his idea to make slippers out of the offcuts left from the sheepskin rugs which were the original goods made by the firm. These proved so popular that the business switched to producing them and later other types of shoe.
The Clark family dressed in 'free-labour' cotton in 1858. James and Eleanor (1st and 3rd from left), Annie (8th from left).

Annie was educated privately at a girl's school in Bath and then lived at home, taking her full share in the work and duties necessary to her large family circle. Her mother was active in good causes, supporting the Abolition movement by selling and dressing her family in 'free-labour' cotton, produced by freed slaves. Annie did social service among the girls employed in the family factory, worked for the Bible Society and espoused the cause of temperance. From the mid 1860s she was an ardent supporter of Womens Suffrage, although in common with most Quaker women of her time she was a suffragist rather than a suffragette, seeking to advance the cause through argument rather than through confrontation.

It was not until Annie was in her late twenties that she began to study for a university entrance examination with a view to taking up a medical career. At that time no hospital or medical school in England would admit women as students. There was however an open door in Scotland at Edinburgh and Annie Clark was one of the small band of women students who entered. Their only possible route to qualification was by way of the licentiate examination of the Society of Apothecaries.

Sophia Jex-Blake
Suddenly, in 1874, the hospital authorities changed their policy, deciding that women should no longer be permitted to share in the teaching, and at the end of that year they were obliged to leave. Sophia Jex-Blake, who had been a pioneer at Edinburgh in 1869, organised the Women's School of Medicine in London and Annie Clark went there. It was, however, still impossible for a woman to obtain a medical degree from any British university, so Annie was compelled to turn to Europe and to pursue her studies in a foreign language. She selected the University of Berne, which was German speaking, and after a two-year course she took her MD in 1877.

It was still impossible for her to practice in the British Isles but just then Dublin adopted a more liberal view and she and twelve other women took the membership examination of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland. Annie then spent some time in postgraduate work in Paris, Vienna and America before returning to England in 1878 to take up an appointment as house surgeon at the Birmingham and Midland Hospital for Women which had just moved to extended premises in Yardley. She remained associated with this hospital and with the Children's Hospital for the rest of her working life. She also built up a large private practice, gaining to a special degree the friendship and regard of  a wide circle of patients, to whom she was affectionately known as 'Dr Annie'.

Hilda Clark
The causes she had worked for when she was young remained important to her throughout her life. Annie Clark was convinced that the scientific truth about alcohol showed that its use as a drug was harmful. She recognised it as a depressant which lessened the chance of recovery in dangerous illness and so, in defiance of much criticism, she refused to order alcoholic treatment, a pioneering stance at the time. She also continued to support the suffragist movement in different ways and encouraged younger women, including Hilda Clark, her niece, and Maida Sturge, her cousin, to follow her into the medical profession.

Quakerism was always an important part of Annie's life. She was described as 'an earnest Friend, laying stress on the value of regular attendance at meetings for worship and discipline. Except in cases of urgent necessity she never saw her patients until the hour of worship was over'.

Maida Sturge
Annie Clark was nearly seventy years old when she retired in 1913. For many years travelling was one of her greatest pleasures and she made frequent journeys to Switzerland and the Tyrol. In 1920 her cousin Maida Sturge had set up a Birmingham Children's Home in the healthy air of the Tyrol and it is possible that Annie Clark took as much of an interest in that as she did in the rarer alpine flowers that were always an absorbing delight to her. She died in 1924 in her eightieth year.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2015 - B for William Charles Braithwaite

W.C. Braithwaite
William Charles Braithwaite was born in Camden, London on 23 December 1862, eighth of the nine children of Joseph Bevan Braithwaite and Martha Gillett. He was a pretty child, 'very fair, with a captivating smile, his golden hair arranged in one long curl on the top of his head', and was doted on by his older sisters. He showed an early love of books and learned to read when he was three.

William was brought up in a close, contented Quaker family but had little contact with others of his own age. Both his parents travelled in the ministry and were often away from home, but their absences were accepted as normal. William grew particularly close to his father with whom he shared a love of study.

William was educated at home until he was eleven when he was sent away to Quaker schools, first in Weston-super-Mare and then in Scarboroough. Leaving school at seventeen, William went to University College London, graduating in 1881. He was active in sport but also in the Bunhill Adult School and the Friends Christian Fellowship Union.

J.B. Braithwate, William's father
William next turned his attention to the law, studying mostly at home or in his father's chambers. After qualifying in 1887 William lived at home and worked for ten years with his father in his conveyancing practice at Lincoln's Inn, a happy arrangement for them both. William explored London, studied, wrote poetry and did peace work with his uncle and neighbour, George Gillett.

His friend George Newman, who met him at this time, says he was 'a reserved, imperturbable man, of quiet but exceptional power...He never failed you. He was circumspect, seeing all sides and sympathizing with many...possessing a delightful sense of humour and a well-developed faculty of imagination.'

William's life changed in 1896 when he became engaged to Janet Morland and accepted the offer of a partnership in Gillett's Bank in Banbury, Oxfordshire. He had to give up the legal profession and move away from home, but banking gave him a more settled income and more leisure for study and for his work with the Society of Friends.

Banbury Quaker Meeting House in 1910s
He settled happily in Banbury with Janet and the couple had four children, three boys and a girl. There was a shift in attitude towards family life from one generation to another. William's father had encouraged his children to join him in his study, but had expected them to do so in absolute quiet. In contrast it was a source of wonder to William's friends how he could calmly collate an ancient manuscript or prepare an Adult School lesson while his small children played around the room, asking questions and demanding his help in their games.

As well as his other interests William became involved in public life in Banbury. He was a magistrate from 1906 until his death and chairman of the Education Committee for many years. He was also very involved with the local Quaker school, Sibford.

John Wilhelm Rowntree
William was much influenced by his friendship with John Wilhelm Rowntree who he had met at Yearly Meeting 1893. They shared a belief in the need for education for Friends and for strengthening the Society and developing its ministry. One of John Wilhelm's projects was the writing of a standard history of Quakerism and he had begun collecting thousands of books and pamphlets for the necessary research when he died suddenly and unexpectedly in 1905. William took up the project and worked on it in his leisure time for the next fourteen years. He sometimes became so absorbed in the work 'that he seemed to be living in the seventeenth century, far removed from the events that were passing around him.' The Beginnings of Quakerism and The Second Period of Quakerism were completed in 1919 and have not yet been surpassed.

At the beginning of 1922 several of William's long-term projects were nearing completion. The histories had been finished eighteen months earlier, the new Yearly Meeting Book of Discipline, which William was much concerned with compiling, had been agreed and Gilletts Bank had been amalgamated with Barclays after negotiations in which William had taken a major role.

In the last week of January William ministered at Banbury Meeting, took a leading part in a conference on Ministry in Oxford, began a series of Adult School evening talks and worked in the bank. On Friday he felt unwell but went to London by the early train to attend an educational meeting. He became much worse and only just managed to get to Paddington and onto the train home. He arrived in Banbury in a state of collapse, sank into a diabetic coma and died the next day, 28 January 1922, aged fifty nine.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2015 - A for Alphabet Again

As I have found the discipline of following the alphabet through the year helpful I have decided to continue with it into 2015.

I'm intending to post alphabetically at the same rate as in 2014, once every two weeks or as near to that as I can manage. I want to continue my Quaker biographical posts, introducing some less well known Friends, but I will throw in some other alphabetic posts as before.

If I have other things to say I will slip them into my blog without the Quaker Alphabet heading.

I shall continue to put up links to my own and others' posts on the Facebook page for Quaker Alphabet Blog 2014 and beyond but I am also intending to use Twitter [@gilskidmore] more to spread the word.

I hope, dear reader, that you will find something to interest and engage you here in the coming year and I hope that you will tell me what you think.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2014 - Z for Zzzzz (Sleeping in Meeting)

The possibility of falling asleep during meeting for worship has been seen as something to be guarded against from the early days of the Quaker movement. As early as 1656 George Fox writes in one of his epistles, 'All Friends everywhere take heed of slothfulness and sleeping in your meetings, for in so doing you may be bad examples to others'.

One charitable excuse given by a modern commentator for being overtaken by sleep is that 'Drowsiness at these meetings may have arisen from people who led physically active lives, usually outdoors or in unheated rooms, having an opportunity to sit at ease in a room which was probably heated by a fireplace'. Perhaps another reason was that they, like the young Samuel Bownas in the late 1690s, were at meeting because it was expected of them rather than because of their own conviction.

Throughout the 18th century travelling ministers and other 'weighty Friends' urged Quakers to guard against sleep both for their own sake and to avoid giving a bad impression to others. A letter written to New Jersey Friends in 1704 advises 'Friends all take heed of sleeping, sottishness and dullness in Meetings for it is an illsavoury thing to see one sit nodding in a Meeting,and so to lose the sense of the Lord and shamefacedness both; and it grieveth the upright and watchful, that wait upon the Lord, to see such things, and for the Priests, people and others that come into your Meetings, to see you that come together to worship God and wait upon him, to have fellowship in His Spirit, for you to sit nodding is a shame and unseemly thing.’

In 1776 Catherine Payton Phillips, writing to Friends in Ireland after travelling among them, condemns drowsiness in meeting in no uncertain terms but also suggests a remedy. 'It is not improbable that the drowsiness beforementioned may, in some, proceed from eating and drinking more than nature requires; this most certainly unfits the mind for spiritual exercises; for, when the body is still, the mind sinks into rest. Under this consideration, it becomes the duty of all to watch, lest their table becomes a snare to them, and wine and strong drink be so indulged in their feasts, as to unfit them for Communion with God, and the participation of the New Wine of his Kingdom. And, young People should, especially, be careful not to indulge themselves in the use of much wine, etc. lest the prevelance of custom grow upon them as they advance in years.'

Is sleeping in meeting something which we should still worry about today? It certainly still happens as we relax in our usually well-heated meeting rooms. Indeed Ben Pink Dandelion in his 1986 book The Quakers; a Very Short Introduction states ‘In terms of the inward, studies show that Friends are engaged in many different kinds of activity, often in parallel or tandem in any one Meeting. They may be praying or praising or seeking communion or guidance, thinking or sleeping.'  

So is sleep just one of our options or should we guard against it? Perhaps if we look upon this drowsiness as a metaphor as well as an actuality it might help us to address the question. As Jacob Ritter, a 19th century minister, put it, 'Friends, we must try to keep one another awake, or else we shall lose the life. To lose the life would be losing everything; the life is more than meat, and the body than raiment.'

Friday, January 09, 2015

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2014 - Y for Yes

'Yes' was what I said when I started writing Quaker Alphabet blog posts back in 2013. I needed a prompt to keep me writing and the alphabetical discipline has been good for me and has led me into some unexpected subject areas.

In life and among Friends I have often fallen into the trap of saying 'Yes' to too many things. I have been so happy to be asked that I have often taken on too much and have sometimes become overwhelmed and failed to fulfill my obligations.

For a long time my remedy for this condition was to learn to say 'No', to pause for thought before I made any commitment and to look honestly at what I could manage and at the direction I felt my Inward Guide to be pushing me in.

So far, so good. But now I am looking at the whole question again in a different way. In a new place and learning to fit in to a new community I began by holding back, not wanting to appear to push myself forward. Opportunities arose and I began saying 'Yes' again but, more importantly, I have decided to go forward in a positive way. From now on I will look for the 'Yes' I can say, however small that 'Yes' may be, and stop worrying about saying 'No' sometimes.