Rosemary Moore, The Light in their Consciences: the early Quakers in Britain 1646-1666 (University Park, PA: Penn State Press, 2020), pp. xxiv + 326. ISBN 0271085894. Hardback, £25.98.
In Summer 2002 I was fortunate to attend the Quaker Historians and Archivists conference at Haverford College, PA. Afterwards, during long hours in Philadelphia airport’s departure lounge, I sat in a rocking chair and pulled out my newly purchased copy of The Light in their Consciences (LTC), which I had bought in the college bookshop. The volume was then nearly $30, a not inconsiderable sum for a student, but was key to my research. This is true for many historians of Quakerism of my generation, and I try to outline its significance here, to mark its twentieth anniversary and the publication of a new edition.
Before its first publication in 2000 Moore’s earlier works included an analysis of early Quaker leaders in which she noted a focus on George Fox, Margaret Fell and James Nayler and sought to rectify this by also considering ‘the many other men and women who influenced the growth of Quakerism’ (Moore 1996: 29). Thomas Aldam, Elizabeth Hooton and Richard Farnworth were identified in the article. The following year her chapter on authority and early Friends in Ambler’s Authority and Tradition (Moore 1997) also considered issues relating to leadership. Both pointed to substantial research prior to LTC’s arrival the following decade.
As is well known, LTC spans the first two decades of Quakerism, from 1646, the putative date of the first meeting between Fox and Hooton, to 1666, Fox’s ‘initiation of major organizational reforms’ (p. xii). Its geographical focus is Britain, although Friends’ travelling ministry and sufferings overseas, most notably in North America and Barbados, but also in Holland and Germany, are included, so discussion of early British Quakers is not limited; rather, they are positioned centrally in an expanding network of faith.
LTC differs from other significant works of religious history in placing individual believers, rather than a religion’s structure, at the centre. Although LTC is in some respects similar to works such as John Bossy’s Christianity in the West (1985), studies such as Bossy’s utilise theory by Foucault, Braudel and
Durkheim to better understand developments in Christian belief, whereas Moore is relatively light on theory. However, she is not light on theology by any means, discussing, for example, in her clear style, Calvinism’s influence on early Quakers (pp. 101-02). Instead of applying theory, she delves into a database of primary sources to interrogate ‘theories documented from the enormous quantity of source material’ by earlier scholars, aiming to ‘impose some order on this mass of material’ (p. xi).
LTC also differs from earlier works on the first Friends. William C. Braithwaite’s The Beginnings of Quakerism and The Second Period of Quakerism, published in 1912 and 1919 respectively and based on John Wilhelm Rowntree’s research (Doncaster 1981: v), offer detailed analyses of Friends’ global activities, but could not, of course, draw upon IT. Making the most of the technology at her disposal, Moore therefore drew out strands inaccessible to earlier scholars. For example, when discussing changes to the use of the Bible in the later 1650s she pinpoints a concentration on fewer texts and a focus on ‘Abraham’s meeting with the priest-king Melchizedek’ (pp. 60-61) that Braithwaite, although discussing tithes in detail, did not identity, instead concentrating on persecution for non-payment.
Moore additionally counsels against reliance on George Fox’s Journal, noting how controversial passages were edited for the Cambridge Journal, dating from c.1676, when compared to the 1664 Short Journal (pp. 231-32). Moore’s critical approach is an extension of her initial analysis of the reliability of early sources (1993). It should be noted, too, that, to Braithwaite’s credit, he was aware of the need to cross-reference Fox’s account of, for example, the 1659 release of Quaker prisoners by the Rump Parliament (1981: 458). However, Moore’s later analysis uses updated analytical techniques as well as careful warnings against uncritical use of parts of the Quaker canon.
Certainly, the book’s Appendixes [sic] offer an invaluable overview, informing the reader of reasons for the selection of sources and, in particular, for the rejection of others, such as Fox’s Journal and published collections, which in the main Moore avoided owing to their tendency to reflect later ideas of what made good Quakerism, rather than the ideas of those she sought to represent. Her focus on 1,300 Quaker publications of the period, ‘from single-page leaflets to substantial books’, offers, therefore, a less incomplete ‘picture of the public face of Quakerism, although undercurrents and minority views are under-represented’ (pp. 233-34). The discernment apparent in this section, and the use of works identified as appropriate, underlines the significance of the work in granting a more authentic voice to early Friends, not merely those deemed important or more acceptable in later years.
Interestingly, Moore’s reference to other historians’ work is relatively limited. Although she unpicks theological threads she does not engage to a great degree with historiography: she does, for example, note, regarding earlier scholarship about Hooton, that ‘Emily Manners[’ work] … is informative, but underrates Hooton’s early importance’ (p. 251 n14), and elsewhere refers to unnamed scholars’ theories (p. xi). Otherwise, however, the main text is dedicated to early Friends rather than historical debates. There is evidence of such debates, but they are, for example, summarised in endnotes, as in chapter 2, in which Moore outlines the expansion of Quakerism in 1653-54. In the original edition Moore noted that Braithwaite’s omission of Fell and Nayler from his overview of Quaker leadership in late 1654 ‘is typical of the older understanding of Quaker history’ (2000: 249 n1), and remarked that almost all scholars at the time of writing, apart from Larry Ingle in his First Among Friends (1994), underplayed Fell’s role. Interestingly, in the 2020 edition the note is substantially shorter, omitting Braithwaite altogether and giving even less space to the problem of missing early Quaker women (p. 254 n1). It seems a pity that Moore did not pursue this more explicitly, given her earlier work and parallels to other areas of early modern history (Jordan 2007), and indeed, in terms of the impact of the underestimation of early Quaker women on women in Quakerism more recently. Moore acknowledges this issue in her introduction to the 2020 edition, stating that overrepresentation of male leaders was due to her necessary reliance on Quaker pamphlet literature, and was the case more broadly in Quaker studies until recent years (p. xxiii). If she had made more explicit reference to the earliest female Friends, the original edition of LTC might well have heralded more recent scholarship on Quaker women, the development of which she notes in this edition (p. xviii) despite her removal of other references within the text.
At the time of its initial release LTC was reviewed in 11 learned journals between 2001 and 2003. Writing in English Historical Review, Christine Trevett (2001: 480) remarked on its bridging of theological and historical approaches, noting its division into origins, theology and praxis, and applauded the use of a database to impose order on a mass of material while enabling ideas to be compared and contrasted on a large scale. In contrast, Beverly Adams, writing in The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, saw the book as bridging theological and political approaches, and indeed cited Ingle as identifying the need for such interdisciplinary work (2001: 568-69). Helen E. Hatton’s American Historical Review review (2003: 1521-22), like Trevett’s, was approving of the scale of Moore’s database, while Douglas Gwyn’s review in Quaker Studies (2001: 118-21) was similarly appreciative of the book’s significance and the database from which it was created, applauding its recognition of Fell and Hooton, inter alia.
The reviews considered here all recognised the significance of the work, not least for its innovatory approach in using a large database but also for its interdisciplinarity, although the latter is not discussed in any great depth by Moore. This may suggest a wider interdisciplinary turn starting in the late 1990s and early 2000s, which sought to avoid the limitations of single disciplinarity and instead embraced possibilities offered by the inclusion of approaches from theology and history, for example, which influenced the book. This was not necessarily apparent to Moore, although certainly she seeks to reveal, not distort, information, which scholars promoting interdisciplinarity identify as core to their approach (Condee 2016: 14).
Quaker histories have, not surprisingly, used LTC since its publication, but so too have works not primarily about Friends’ history, demonstrating its wider significance. For the former, fascinating analyses of early Quakerism and sexuality, such as Anne G. Myles’ work (2007: 129), use LTC as a core resource when seeking to extend our knowledge of the first Friends. In this sense Moore’s work has helped to shape the field of twenty-first-century Quaker history writing, including previously underexplored fields such as gender and sexuality, by offering a new way of approaching the earliest sources, as well as reflection on the limitations of later works that claimed to reproduce early material unproblematically. More recently, that scholars such as Geoffrey Plank open a discussion of early Friends in America with reference to Moore’s work on Quaker origins (2017: 35) underlines LTC’s status as a foundational text. In addition, Moore’s work has offered useful insights for broader studies of early modern tolerance and intolerance, such as Alexandra Walsham’s Charitable Hatred (2006), as well as for philosophers recently evaluating ideas of the conscience (Komuda et al. 2010: 18). However, most works referencing LTC are, not surprisingly, Quaker histories or those including Quakers, such as those of Walsham, underlining LTC’s swift development as a core reference for the history of the earliest Friends.
The underuse of LTC by other scholars, when it could be utilised to encourage reflection on subtle interdisciplinarity and the use of databases in order to gain greater insight into a set of texts, is certainly to the detriment of their works—although this absence may reflect Moore’s understating of original aspects of her study beyond the content. Her praxis, including decisions made to research in some ways and not others, was ground-breaking, and further reflection by the author within the work may have pointed scholars working with and outside Friends’ history to different possibilities. Indeed—although that is not to suggest that she would agree with this conclusion—Robynne Rogers Healey has also commented on LTC’s employment of ‘an innovative methodology … to identify personal and corporate theological shifts’ (Rogers Healey 2018: 15). Moore herself notes in the 2020 edition how her research came ‘to be part of a surge of developments in Quaker studies’ (p. xvii), while Penn State University Press, on launching LTC as the first of its ‘New History of Quakerism’ series, stated that all the works within it use ‘critical methodologies’ (Moore 2020: ii). I would suggest this aspect should be emphasised within the work, alongside its interdisciplinarity. It would be wonderful to be able to state that LTC’s influence can be seen even in non-Quaker works, through, for example, the use of databases or interdisciplinary approaches, and perhaps this may be suggested tentatively; there has been an increase in interdisciplinarity, as well as in the creation and use of databases in early modern historical research (Brown 2018; Moore 2020: xiv) in the previous 30 years, aided partly by improved IT but also by a growing number of works leading the way, such as LTC.
In conclusion, it seems likely that LTC will continue to be a central work of early Quaker history, with later anniversaries marked by reflective reviews. I hope, also, that aspects of the work additional to its insights into the first generation of Friends will have been recognised to a greater degree, particularly interdisciplinarity and its use of a database, which might be further developed. Moore’s notes on publications are online (http://www.qhpress.org/rmoore/) and can be downloaded to a spreadsheet. A database accessible to multiple contributors, such as Pepys’ Diary (https://www.pepysdiary.com) would then be an important next step in drawing together searchable versions of early Quaker works, alongside Moore’s significant findings, which could incorporate comments by other readers. External funding would be required but, given the existence of many of the works on Early English Books Online (EEBO), a highly valuable resource, as Moore asserts (2020: p. xvii), it is not impossible, and would make a fitting tribute, accessible to scholars working within and outside the study of early Friends.
Andrew R. Murphy and John Smolenski (eds), The Worlds of William Penn (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2019), pp. vii + 428. Illustrations, maps, notes and index. ISBN 9781978801776. Paperback, $39.95.
In 1986 the University of Pennsylvania Press marked the three hundredth anniversary of William Penn’s 1682 arrival in Pennsylvania with a collection, The World of William Penn. Now we have another engaging and provocative collection of 18 chapters (with introduction) to mark the three hundredth anniversary of Penn’s death in 1718. Andrew R. Murphy and John Smolenski begin by acknowledging the earlier work, which, in their words, revolutionised scholarship on the life, career, and thought of William Penn’ (p. 1). But, 30 years later, they argue, the time has come for another look at Penn’s life and accomplishments from multiple perspectives:
William Penn was a sophisticated political thinker and religious controversialist who made important contributions to the debates of his time. But he was not only a political thinker: he was also an engaged political actor and colonial founder, a role that sets him apart from most of his contemporaries. Reflecting on Penn’s legacy—as English theorist and American colonizer, as Public Friend and royal confidant—offers an opportunity to think more broadly about the early modern contexts that gave rise to liberty of conscience, one of the foundational concepts in modern political thought and practice. (p. 3)
In the first section, Materials, History, Memory’, Elizabeth Milroy’s ‘The Elusive Body of William Penn’ looks at Penn’s burial place, at Jordans Meeting House in Buckinghamshire, and contrasts it with the massive statue atop Philadelphia’s City Hall that for many symbolises the city. In 1881 the Pennsylvania legislature formally requested the removal of Penn’s remains to Pennsylvania, to rest in a monumental crypt below the statue. That came to nothing, but Milroy sees the statue as crowning a kind of cenotaph. Catharine Dann Roeber then takes up ‘Where William Penn Slept (And Why It Matters)’, a careful analysis of Penn’s homes, the physical settings that he tried to create for himself and his family therein, and visual portrayals of Penn. The section concludes with ‘Beyond the Bounds: Exploitation and Empire in the First Map of Pennsylvania’. Here Emily Mann examines the omnipresence of maps in Penn’s life, and how he used them to present how settlement would transform Pennsylvania.
The second section looks at the impact of Ireland on Penn’s life. In ‘William Penn, William Petty, and Surveying: The Irish Connection’, Marcus Gallo argues that Penn drew on English surveys of Irish lands as a way to ‘erase the traces of his province’s previous inhabitants and make “wilderness” lands legible to educated nonlocals’ (p. 115). Audrey Horning, in ‘The Irish Worlds of William Penn: Culture, Conflicts, and Connections’, finds that Penn’s youthful years in Ireland affected him in various ways, ranging from exposure to ‘alien cultural practices’ to the need for the virtues of ‘pragmatic accommodation’, which underlay his theories of liberty of conscience (p. 135). Andrew R. Murphy develops a similar theme in ‘The Roads to and from Cork: The Irish Origins of William Penn’s Theory of Religious Toleration’. Murphy makes the point that Penn, long seen as an Atlantic figure, embraced not only England and America but also Ireland. It was in Ireland that Penn became a convinced Friend, where he first faced trial and imprisonment for his beliefs and where he produced his first major work, The Great Case of Liberty of Conscience (1670).
Part III, ‘Restoration Worlds’, deals with three very different subjects. In ‘New Worlds and Holy Experiments in the Restoration Literature of Milton, Bunyan, and Penn’, Elizabeth Sauer argues that Paradise Lost, Pilgrim’s Progress and Penn’s writings on Pennsylvania are works that early Americans employed to understand and interpret America as ‘Holy Experiment’. Scott Sowerby reworks arguments he has put forth elsewhere in ‘William Penn and James II’. He sees a friendship between the two men that grew out of James’s sincere interest in religious toleration. One of the most provocative essays in the collection is Patrick M. Erben’s ‘William Penn, German Pietist?’ Erben contends that
for much of his life and long after his death, German (radical) Pietists on both sides of the Atlantic considered William Penn a veritable early-modern rock star—a celebrity dissenter on whose name and image a host of spiritual, millenarian, radical Protestant, Philadelphian, and broadly dissenting expectations and visions could be pinned. (p. 190)
The fourth section takes Penn across the Atlantic. In ‘Ranontyn Marenit: Lenape Peacemaking before William Penn’, Michael Goode looks at how the Lenape people used a half-century of experience in negotiations with Europeans to deal with Penn in ways that would ‘temper the onslaught of colonization, or at least somehow bend it to their advantage’ (p. 228). Alexander Mazzaferro compares Penn with another colonial governor in ‘William Penn, John Winthrop, and Colonial Political Science’, concluding that Penn’s anti-empiricist spirituality ultimately made him less innovative than the Puritan Winthrop. Penn is on the sidelines in Sarah A. Morgan Smith’s ‘Religion and Revolution in Massachusetts’. But she sees continuing parallels between Puritan Massachusetts and Quaker Pennsylvania after the Glorious Revolution. Massachusetts, she argues, instead of becoming increasingly secular, continued to embrace the religious commitments of its founders.
Part V considers Penn’s ‘Quaker Worlds’. Catie Gill takes up Penn as ‘Preface Writer, Historian, and Controversialist’, focussing on the preface to George Fox’s Journal that was separately published as A Brief Account of the Rise and Progress of the People, Call’d Quakers (1694). She concludes that it remains ‘an invaluable account of this period of Quakerism’s history, and Fox’s ministry, precisely because it is firsthand’ (p. 279). In ‘Quakers, Puritans, and the Problem of Godly Loyalty in the Early Restoration’, Adrian Chastain Weimer argues that Friends presented themselves to Charles II as ‘spiritual judges’ who ‘alone could identify those men and women in his far-flung realms who gave him lip service but were secretly antagonistic’ (p. 284). Rachel Love Monroy’s ‘From Puritan to Quaker: Mary Dyer and Puritan-Quaker Conversion in the Seventeenth-Century Atlantic’ balances the story of Dyer’s Boston martyrdom with the many cases of Puritan conversions to Quakerism.
The last section looks at Pennsylvania in the context of the British Empire. In ‘Pennsylvania’s Religious Freedom in Comparative Colonial Context’, Evan Haefeli argues that Pennsylvania was neither the first nor the most radical experiment in religious toleration, but became the best known because of the capital and settlers it attracted. Patrick Cecil makes provocative arguments in ‘William Penn and Security Communities’, defining security as stability and concluding: ‘Over the course of his entire career William Penn maintained that achieving security in society rested in respecting other peoples and cultures, understanding a relationship’s dynamic, and actively pursuing peace’ (p. 371). The volume ends with Shuichi Wanibuchi’s ‘William Penn’s Imperial Landscape: Improvement, Political Economy, and Colonial Agriculture in the Pennsylvania Project’. Wanibuchi asserts that Penn was driven not just by religious motivations for colonisation but equally by ‘material and economic goals’ (p. 379). The latter, in turn, were fully informed by English experiences in Ireland, mercantilism and Penn’s interest in natural philosophy.
The picture that emerges here is of a complicated man. Relatively little attention is given to Penn’s entanglement with slaveholding, which has emerged as a major issue in 2020. Overall, however, the authors make a peace for Penn as a Quaker leader whose positive contributions outweigh his faults.
Jon Kershner (ed.), Quakers and Mysticism: Comparative and Syncretic Approaches to Spirituality, Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Study of Mysticism (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), pp. xiii + 253. ISBN 9783030216528. Hardback, £90.00.
Academic publishers are increasingly wary of edited collections based on conference proceedings, but this volume, ably edited by Jon Kershner, shows that fine books can begin in conference sessions. In this case, the success of a joint session between the Quaker Studies Unit and the Mysticism Unit at the American Academy of Religion in 2014 set this collection in motion.
This book consists of 13 chapters that approach the study of Quakers and mysticism from a range of disciplines: historical, theological, postcolonial and literary perspectives are all present. The material ranges across the four centuries of the movement and touches most of the different traditions of Quakerism. It is frequently focussed on the cases of individuals, but these are always used to make broader academic contributions.
While the selection of chapters may appear somewhat arbitrary, the advantage of this kind of collection is that authors can really play to their strengths and showcase the latest scholarship. This book includes in it work by some of the most-established Quaker studies scholars, as well as those now emerging from recent praiseworthy doctoral projects. The editorship is in fine hands and Jon Kershner writes a very helpful and thorough introduction, which includes an excellent section on the historiography of the relationship between Quakerism and continental Quietism. As a whole, the collection is undisputedly coherent, and I expect many readers will want to read all the chapters and not just dip into their topic area.
It would be easy to perhaps see this book as a vindication for Rufus Jones’ early twentieth-century assertion that Quakerism was essentially collective mysticism sitting in the tradition of Christian mystics. It is interesting that there is no chapter just on Jones, a reflection on where Jones scholarship is at present, but also because Jones himself did not claim many mystical experiences. However, while Jones’ intellectual legacy appears frequently, this volume expands and nuances his characterisation, interrogating the type and nature of mystical connection claimed by the likes of George Fox (Michael Birkel and Marie Vandenbark), James Nayler (Carole Spencer), Elizabeth Ashbridge (Michele Tarter), John Woolman (Jon Kershner), Hannah Whittall Smith (Carole Spencer) and Gideon Mweresa (Esther Mombo). It is refreshing to have material on Quakerism in Kenya from Mombo, as well as in Japan (Stephanie Midori Komashin), and that women’s experience is highlighted in some of the chapters. Esther Mombo’s chapter on ‘singing mysticism’, one of many excellent pieces in the book, is particularly noteworthy. It contextualises and charts how an indigenous Quakerism that remains true to the mystical nature of the Quaker faith, including through its own rituals and hymnody, emerges slowly from a colonial missionary church plant. This is the chapter that is most original in its empirical data and scope and a welcome compensation to the Anglo-American bias of most Quaker studies scholarship to date. I would have loved a chapter on Bolivian or Taiwanese Quaker mysticism. Perhaps Kershner will produce a second volume in due course.
Chapters that link Quakers to wider faith traditions such as Buddhism (Sallie King) and Kabbalah (Michael Birkel) add depth and breadth to the volume, and the consideration on inward and outward mysticism in a chapter by Christy Randazzo and David Russell, looking at the history of intersection between Quakerism (and Rufus Jones in particular) and Muslim seer Ibn Tufayl, is particularly helpful in this regard. Stephen Angell’s chapter on Howard Thurman, student and colleague of Rufus Jones, whose Fellowship Church modelled a progressive universalist ethic, shows how the Quaker assertion of the sufficiency of mysticism had positive consequences in other settings. The conclusion by Thomas Cattoi, co-editor of the series in which this book sits, reinforces the idea that Quakerism is essentially syncretic, building originally on early Christian ideas and later on a more interreligious dynamic, especially in its Liberal variant.
This, then, is a compelling and cohesive collection of fine international authorship, written in accessible style. It is the obvious starting point for anyone wishing to better understand the nature of Quaker mysticism, as well as a place to best explore some of its most articulate and well-known exponents, including Nayler, Ashbridge and Whittall Smith, and its lesser-known ones, such as Mweresa.
Brian Regal and Frank J. Esposito, The Secret History of the Jersey Devil: How Quakers, Hucksters, and Benjamin Franklin Created a Monster (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019), pp. x + 147. ISBN 1421436353. Paperback, £18.50.
In 1893 a New Jersey train engineer and his wife claimed to have come under attack by the ‘Leeds Devil’: a frightening monster with the face ‘of an ape or a monkey’ (p. 73), who had been banished for one hundred years but had now returned. In 1899 two men sighted the monster in some New Jersey woods. A newspaper report of the incident described the child-eating creature with cloven hoofs and batwings, reminding readers of the numerous sightings in the later eighteenth century before the monster was banished by a Christian ritual. Now, though, as the twentieth century approached, the Jersey Devil was back.
By the early twentieth century the classic image of the Jersey Devil was ‘an emaciated flying horse’ (p. 77): wings, undeveloped fore legs and a long thin tail. The legend continued and Jersey Devils were mentioned in episodes of both The X-Files (1993) and Seinfeld (1995), and in a Bruce Springsteen song of 2008. Brian Regal and Frank J. Esposito seek to discover The Secret History of the Jersey Devil by uncovering the roots of this modern myth. To achieve this, they follow the tracks of those later comments on the eighteenth century to the turbulent Quaker community centred on Burlington, New Jersey.
The central figure is Daniel Leeds (1652-1720), who travelled from England to America around 1677. Leeds published the first almanac in New Jersey—a single-sided sheet—in 1687, using astrology to generate guidance and advice on matters such as weather, agriculture and health. He soon completed The Temple of Wisdom for the Little World (1688), which embraced the philosophy and theology of Francis Bacon and Jacob Boehme. With their ‘quirky cosmology’, both works left Leeds ostracised by his fellow Quakers. The ensuing battle took place in the public realm of print, with pamphlets such as Daniel Leeds Justly Rebuked (1702) countered by The Rebuker Rebuked (1703), and Daniel Leeds denounced by some as ‘Satan’s Harbinger’ (p. 46). Establishing a faith community in a new world required unity of doctrine and the Quakers closed ranks. Though Daniel Leeds retired in 1714, the rift was shored up by his son Titan Leeds (1699-1738), who continued to publish the almanac, a business that brought him into direct competition with Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac (referred to in the subtitle to the book, Franklin is given no more than four pages of the book).
This is an ambitious book of two halves, providing a lively and detailed exploration of the social place of religion and the commercial and political rivalries in publishing in early America. The first half provides a good history of the early Quakers and tensions around that community. The second half examines the history of monsters and the creation of the ‘Jersey Devil’. The originality of the book is to try to bring these two halves together, though the attempt is not entirely successful. The authors wish to establish Daniel Leeds as the ‘Leeds Devil’ and then to restore him as the source of the ‘Jersey Devil’. Yet there are problems with both the ‘Leeds Devil’ and the ‘Jersey Devil’ in this analysis. First, the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century evidence for an ‘all but forgotten colonial era Leeds Devil’ is scanty; while the battles between Daniel Leeds and his Quaker brethren were real and significant, the ‘Leeds Devil’ itself is a nineteenth-century invention. Second, no link between the few satanic slurs against the Leeds family and the Jersey Devil monster is ever given. In the mid-nineteenth century stories did emerge of a ‘Mother Leeds’ who gave birth to a dragon who ate children, but nothing links Daniel or Titan Leeds to the ‘Jersey Devil’. Tracing the roots of myths and folklore through a written record is, of course, plagued with problems. In this case, Regal and Esposito’s valiant attempts to trace the roots of the later myths and connect a ‘Leeds Devil’ to a ‘Jersey Devil’ ultimately show that the connection was a late nineteenth-century American fiction of the pre-Revolutionary era.
Linda Palfreeman (ed. and introduction), Diary of a Ypres Nun, October 1914-May 1915: The Diary of Soeur Marguerite of the Sisters of Lamotte. Suffering and Sacrifice in the First World War (Brighton, Portland and Toronto: Sussex Academic Press, 2017), pp. viii + 100. ISBN 9781845198701. Paperback, £14.95.
Linda Palfreeman has produced something that is rare in the literature around the Friends’ Ambulance Unit (FAU)—and, indeed, in the literature surrounding overseas Quaker activities. While the title is a little jarring grammatically and in terms of the dates (the diary continues until November 1915), the book can be seen as part of the wider push in the historiography to equalise the space traditionally given to the voices and opinions of English-speaking white men about their exploits overseas. For here are the translated words of a Belgian Catholic nun, Seour Marguerite, writing about her encounters with foreigners, in this case the FAU. Translated by whom is left unclear, though the diary was published in French in 1917, but the words of this Sister allow us to see the adventures of the so-called ‘knight errant’ period of the FAU from an indigenous perspective.
Palfreeman envisaged the publication of Diary as the ‘companion volume’ (p. vii) to her 2017 monograph with the same publisher, Friends in Flanders: Humanitarian Aid Administered by the Friends’ Ambulance Unit During the First World War, which I reviewed in the June 2019 issue of Quaker Studies. Not widely marketed alongside one another, I arrived at this recently and somehow, given the unsettling of extant narratives in recent weeks and months, it feels like the right time.
This is a short book, with a three-page introduction and the valuable in-text interjections by Palfreeman—printed in a different font, much like the additions to a listed building might be made from distinctive material—interrupting Soeur Marguerite only when needed to illuminate the context or clarify factually. The diary covers that first winter in Ypres, before the First World War settled into a clearer place and pattern. The nun catalogues the destruction of the medieval city. She knows the streets and people like the back of her hand. There is something awful in the descriptions of named neighbours and friends felled by the combination of weapons and disease; this is a side of war that is often hidden, the mass of suffering and fighting humanity being too much, too difficult, to tease out.
We also see the FAU through the Sister’s eyes. Some Unit members romanticised this period as one of agile heroism, so much so that bombast can be seen as exaggeration. Marguerite underscores how vital the FAU were to the minutia of day-to-day life in the beleaguered city. Her encounters with these mostly English Friends, and the personal relationships she built with their non-Quaker commandant, Geoffrey Winthrop Young, and the doctors of the Unit especially, are recorded. The familiar FAU landmarks are all here: stories of first contact with Ypres (p. 18), of the establishment of an ambulance base at Woesten (p. 28), of the civilian hospital at Sacre Coeur (p. 30) and later the Chateau Elisabeth at Poperinghe (p. 75), the abandonment of Ypres (p. 88) and the creation of the Anglo-Italian Ambulance Unit by some FAU members (p. 96). But so too are the smaller stories of ambulances arriving at 3pm to collect and evacuate a handful of elderly women (p. 26), of a wrestle between Dr Thompson and the Sonneville family to let their daughter be removed to hospital (p. 58), of the making, preparing and distribution of clothing for refugees and ‘over 60 bags’ of straw bedding for the poor (p. 65). At each point, Soeur Marguerite writes of a collaboration between local people, like herself or young seamstresses Gabrielle Sanctorum and Marie d’Haene (p. 64), and the FAU. It is the Unit, though, who are lavished with praise for their steady, ready, workmanlike intervention in evacuations, shelling, critical public health measures, eradicating typhoid from Ypres, and all manner of small acts besides.
Guided by the nun, we can see the
Quakers [visiting] all the patients who request it, free of charge, [to] give them free medication, even accompanied by donations of money, clothing, food, as they deem necessary. Their charity, generosity and honesty are admirable! At all times and for all, rich and poor, they are ready to sacrifice themselves. (p. 36)
Nevertheless, we can also see the actions of local people. We observe that Soeur Marguerite stays in the bombarded city ‘for 27 weeks in the middle of ruins and rubble’ (p. 90), and suffers near-misses on numerous occasions; in March 1915 alone, ‘for the fifth time this week’, she ‘escaped certain death’ (p. 66).
The Diary helps rebalance the picture of the FAU during the First World War. It evidences the actions and attitude of the Unit from the side of the aid recipient, but it also demonstrates the bravery of women and of indigenous people, and their own efforts to help. Linda Palfreeman’s careful work in retrieving the activities of Quakers and nuns is Ypres in 1914/15 is vital for FAU history, yet also important in repopulating the past with people so often removed or obscured.
Pink Dandelion, The Cultivation of Conformity. Towards a General Theory of Internal Secularisation (London and New York: Routledge, 2019), pp. vi + 182. ISBN 9781138740143. Hardback, £96.00.
‘Secularisation’ has long been an obsession for sociologists of religion, and it is the basis of a continuing debate that has continued since the nineteenth century. On one side we have those who argue that religion is dying (particularly in Western industrial societies) and on the other those who argue that things are not so simple. The issue interests not only academics but also governments and members of the public. And, while much of the debate has been repetitive and theoretically naïve, it is noteworthy that, even after so long, interesting arguments still occasionally arise. Dandelion’s latest contribution is a case in point.
The book comprises three sections with a total of seven chapters. Part I, ‘Theoretical context: the conundrum facing religious groups’, is divided into two chapters, each of which present the basic arguments for and against the notion that we live in an increasingly secular society. The first chapter carefully summarises issues relating to sects and their trajectory—typically, they have been thought to develop into denominations and culminate in something like a church. Dandelion reminds us that this argument is at least contentious. Chapter Two deals with the larger issue of secularism and secularisation. The section as a whole is a useful introduction to what remain key issues in the sociology of religion. The price paid by the reader is the concentration required to tackle a very dense text. Dandelion has read widely and includes very many citations and numerous long direct quotations. This is a relatively short book that includes more than 12 pages of references. This in itself is no bad thing, except that theories come and go with extraordinary speed and confusion may result. There are sections where a longer, more substantial discussion of a newly introduced idea would have been worthwhile.
As indicated in the title—‘Theoretical complexities: religion and the world’—Part II builds on the first and begins with another useful overview, particularly for those unfamiliar with the history of Quakerism. The idea of ‘the hedge’ constructed by Quakers to differentiate themselves from ‘the world’ (non-Quakers) is very well documented and Dandelion adeptly traces its establishment, trimming and eventual removal. The final chapter in the section, ‘Modelling turbulence’, presents a metaphor for the relationship between religion and society. This model/metaphor—they are not really the same thing—is presented in considerable detail and rather too much detail for this reviewer. By the end of the chapter I felt more expert in fluid dynamics, but no more enlightened in relation to the subject at hand. Given that individuals have impacted hugely on the development of Quakerism, importing an explanatory device that is singularly devoid of agency seems odd. The metaphor is largely ignored during the rest of the book. However, Dandelion is quite right to remind us here that ‘religion’ and ‘society’ (if we allow this rather crude binary) are each in constant flux and locked in a profoundly dynamic, dialectical relationship. The new stuff, to put it simply, is revealed in Part III: ‘New theory: a future of religiosity’. Here, the writing is less dense, more relaxed; there are fewer long quotes and the argument has a clear structure—though there is still a tendency to jump hastily from one reference to another with too little development of each.
The penultimate chapter draws on terms introduced by the author in previous texts, including the concepts ‘absolute perhaps’, ‘double culture’ and ‘behavioural creed’, successfully establishing that contemporary Quakers are more concerned with what they do (especially during worship) than what they believe. In the final chapter Dandelion introduces the key element of his ‘general theory’. The argument draws on a wide range of sociological and other theories but is, at root, straightforward. Essentially, the conformity that might be particularly evident among Quakers (though present to some extent in every religious group?) is linguistically driven. That is, as accommodation theorists have long argued, Quakers, like everyone else, either consciously or not, tend to adopt speech patterns that avoid cognitive and/or social dissonance. Quakers, as part of a self-defining religious group that is becoming less explicitly religious in a secular society, adopt a way of speaking that enables them to ‘fit in with’ others who have rejected explicit religion. Conformity is down to the agency of individuals (‘popular religion’) interacting with others during everyday life, rather than to the formal structures of organised religion. Dandelion’s interesting and valuable conclusion is that it is increasingly likely that ‘secularisation’ is most likely to be generated by members of religious groups themselves rather than by non-members. The book would have benefited from a concluding chapter in which the author might have gathered together the most salient arguments from each of the chapters to provide the reader with a clear statement of the general theory he has been working to present. As a whole then, the book does not quite cohere, but its strengths outweigh its weaknesses and the author has much to say both about Quakerism and secularisation that will stimulate those interested in contemporary religion.