A Portraiture of Quakerism, Volume III (of 3)
by Thomas Clarkson
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In political matters there is no safe reasoning but upon principle. No man is to do evil that good may come. The policy of the Gospel is never to be deserted, whatever may be the policy of the world.

Trade is an employment, by means of which we are permitted to gain a livelihood. But all trades are not lawful. Men are responsible, as Christians, for engaging in those which are immoral, or far continuing in those which they may carry on either to the moral detriment of themselves or of others. Abstinence from hazardous enterprises by the failure of which innocent persons might be injured, and honesty in dealing, and punctuality to words and engagements, are essentials in the prosecution of trade.

Having made observations on the customs, and brought to the view of the reader some of the prominent principles of the Quakers, a third advantage will arise from knowing the kind of character, which these in conjunction will produce.

On this subject we might be permitted our conjectures. We might insist upon the nature and immediate tendencies of these customs and principles, and we might draw our conclusions from thence, or we might state how they were likely to operate, so as probably not to be far from the truth. But we are spared both the trouble of such a task, and are relieved from the fear of having the accuracy of our conclusions doubted. The Quaker character has been made up from the acknowledgments of others. It has been shewn that they are a moral people; that they are sober, and inoffensive, and quiet; that they are benevolent to man in his religious and temporal capacity; that they are kind or tender-hearted to animals; that they do not make sacrifices of their consciences to others; that in political affairs they reason upon principle; that they are punctual to their words and engagements; and that they have independence of mind, and courage. Their character, as it is defective, has been explained also. It has been probed, and tried by a proper touchstone. Appearances have been separated from realities. The result has been, that a deficiency in literature and science, and that superstition, and that an undue eagerness after money, has been fixed upon a portion of them. The two former, however, it is to be recollected, are only intellectually defective traits, and maybe remedied by knowledge. The latter, it is to be presumed, belongs rather to individuals than to the society at large. But whatever drawbacks may be made from the perfect by the imperfect qualities that have been stated, there is a great preponderancy on the side of virtue. And where, when we consider the evil propensities of our nature, and the difficulty of keeping these in due order, are we to took for a fairer character? That men, as individuals, may be more perfect, both in and out of the society, is not to be denied. But where shall we find them purer as a body? and where shall we find a faulty character, where the remedy is more easily at hand?

The next advantage will be in seeing the manner of the operation of these customs and principles, or how they act. To go over the whole character of the Quakers with this view would be both tedious and unnecessary. I shall therefore only select one or two parts of it for my purpose. And first, how do these customs and principles produce benevolence? I reply thus: The Quakers, in consequence of their prohibitions against all public amusements, have never seen man in the capacity of a hired buffoon or mimic, or as a purchasable plaything. Hence they have never viewed him in a low and degrading light. In consequence of their tenet on war, they have never viewed him as an enemy. In consequence of their disciplinary principles, they have viewed him as an equal. Hence it appears, that they have no prejudices against him from causes which often weigh with others, either on account of rank, or station, or many of the customs of the world. Now I conceive, that the dereliction of prejudice against man is as necessary, as a first measure, to the production of benevolence towards him, as the dereliction of vice towards the production of virtue. We see then their minds free from bias on this subject. But what is there on the other side to operate actively towards the promotion of this trait? They view man, in the first place, as the temple in which the Divinity may reside. This procures him respect. Secondly, as a being for whose spiritual welfare they ought to be solicitous. This produces a concern for him. And thirdly, as a brother. This produces relationship. We see then the ground cleared. We see all noxious weeds extirpated. We see good seed sown in their places; that is, we see prejudices removed from the heart, and we see the ideas of respect, concern, and relationship implanted in it. Now it is impossible that these ideas, under these circumstances, should not as naturally and immediately produce a general benevolence to man, as common seeds, when all obstructive weeds are removed, should produce their corresponding saplings or flowers.

How again are these customs and principles of the Quakers promotive of independence of mind? I answer thus: There is a natural independence of mind in man, but it is often broken and weakened. Some men injure it by the solicitation and acceptance of honours, and pensions, and places; others by flattery and falsehood; others by customs of obeisance; others by their obedience to fashion. But the independence of mind of the Quakers is not stunted in its growth by the chiding blasts of such circumstances and habits. It is invigorated, on the other hand, by their own laws. No servility is allowed either in word or gesture. Neither that which is written, nor that which is uttered, is to please the vanity of the persons addressed, or to imply services never intended to be performed. The knee is not to be bent to any one. It is strengthened again and made to shoot by their own maxims. Is it possible to be in the habit of viewing all men as equal in privileges, and no one as superior to another but by his virtue, and not to feel a disposition that must support it? Can the maxim of never doing evil that good may come, when called into exercise, do otherwise than cherish it? And can reasoning upon principle have any other effect than that of being promotive of its growth?

These then are the ways in which these customs and principles operate. Now the advantage to be derived from seeing this manner of their operation, consists in this: First, that we know to a certainty, that they act towards the production of virtue. Knowing again what these customs and principles are, we know those which we are bound to cherish. We find also, that there are various springs which act upon the moral constitution for the formation of character. We find some of these great and powerful, and others inferior. This consideration should teach us not to despise even those which are the least, if they have but a tendency to promote our purity. For if the effect of any of them be only small, a number of effects of little causes or springs, when added together, may be as considerable as a large one. Of these again we observe, that some are to be round where many would hardly have expected them. This consideration should make us careful to look into all our customs and principles, that we may not overlook any one which we may retain for our moral good. And as we learn the lesson of becoming vigilant to discover every good spring, and not to neglect the least of these, however subtle its operation, so we learn the necessity of vigilance to detect every spring or cause, and this even the least, whether in our customs or our principles, if it should in its tendency be promotive of vice.

And in the same manner we may argue with respect to other productions of these customs and principles of the Quakers. As we have seen the latter lead to character, so we have seen them lead to happiness. The manner of their operation to this end has been also equally discernible. As we value them because they produce the one, so we should value them because they produce the other. We have seen also which of them to value. And we should be studious to cherish the very least of these, as we should be careful to discard the least of those which are productive of real and merited unhappiness to the mind.

And now, having expended my observations on the tendencies of the customs and principles of the Quakers, I shall conclude by expressing a wish, that the work which I have written may be useful. I have a wish, that it may be useful to those who may be called the world, by giving them an insight into many excellent institutions, of which they were before ignorant, but which may be worthy of their support and their patronage. I have a wish also, that it may be useful to the Quakers themselves, first, by letting them see how their own character may be yet improved; and secondly, by preserving them, in some measure, both from unbecoming remarks, and from harsh usage, on the part of their fellow-citizens of a different denomination from themselves. For surely when it is known, as I hope it is by this time, that they have moral and religious grounds for their particularities, we shall no longer hear their scruples branded with the name of follies and obstinacies, or see magistrates treating them with a needless severity, but giving[58] them, on the other hand, all the indulgences they can, consistently with the execution of the laws. In proportion as this utility is produced, my design will be answered in the production of the work, and I shall receive pleasure in having written it. And this pleasure will be subject only to one drawback, which will unavoidably arise in the present case; for I cannot but regret that I have not had more time to bestow upon it, or that some other person has not appeared, who possessing an equal knowledge of the Quakers with myself, but better qualified in other respects, might have employed his talents more to the advantage of the subjects upon which I have treated in these volumes.

[Footnote 58: Some magistrates, much to their honour, treat them with tenderness; and no people are more forward than the Quakers in acknowledging any attention that may be shewn them, but particularly where their religious scruples may be concerned.]


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