restricted access Whittier and Clarkson
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Notes and Documents33 WHITTIER AND CLARKSON By C. Marshall Taylor * One of the most popular books of the last century among Friends—The Portraiture of Quakerism—was written by a nonQuaker , Thomas Clarkson, who was in his own language "thrown frequently into the company of the people called Quakers . . . when I began to devote my labors to the abolition of the Slavetrade . ... It seemed, therefore, from the circumstance of my familiar intercourse with the Quakers, that it devolved upon me particularly to write their history. . . . But though I am confessedly partial to the Quakers on account of their hospitality to me, and on account of the good traits in their moral character, I am not so much so as to be blind to their imperfections. Quakerism is of itself a pure system; and, if followed closely, will lead toward purity and perfection."1 In many ways Clarkson gave the most complete survey that has ever been made and published by one person. To give an idea of how wide his coverage was, it is only necessary to enumerate the chapter headings: Moral Education, Discipline, Peculiar Customs, Religion, Great Tenets, Character, Miscellaneous Particulars. One interesting comment in the last chapter is the query, "Does not a man who devotes his time to the instruction of youth, deserve to be made as comfortable as the man who sells silver utensils, or bracelets, or ear-rings, or articles of trade? Is there any profession more useful than that which forms the youthful mind? or rather, is it not the most important profession in the state?" In the early 1870's apparently Friends were taking inventory of the state of the Society. In some areas reprints of the complete Portraiture were made, but in New England it was arranged to reprint only the chapter on "The Religion of the Society of Friends." This was published by S. G. Jones and Company of Boston in 1876. * Collector and student of Whittier, C. Marshall Taylor is a VicePresident of Friends Historical Association. 1 Excerpts from the Introduction to A Portraiture of Quakerism, by Thomas Clarkson, M.A. (My copy published in Indianapolis by Merrill & Freed, for the Society of Friends of Western Yearly Meeting, 1870.) 34Bulletin of Friends Historical Association No doubt Whittier had a prominent part in this move. It has just come to light that the preface to the Boston 1876 issue was undoubtedly written though not signed by Whittier. Proof of this fact comes from the finding of the original manuscript in Whittier's handwriting, in his purple ink and with his corrections as later incorporated in the printed edition.2 The Preface reads as follows: Under a profound conviction of the vital importance of the principles herein set forth, and, with an earnest desire that they may be more fully appreciated and maintained by members of our religious society, it has been deemed advisable by the Trustees of the "Obadiah Brown Benevolent Fund" to republish in a form convenient for circulation, the following pages from the elaborate treatise entitled "A Portraiture of Quakerism," by the author of the "History of the Slave-Trade" and the "Memoirs of William Penn." Of Thomas Clarkson, the writer so widely known by his successful labors for the Abolition of the Slave-Trade, it is, perhaps, safe to say that no man, not a member of the Society of Friends, ever enjoyed more ample opportunities for a thorough comprehension of its principles and practice. During a long life, devoted to works of Christian benevolence, he was closely associated with members of our Religious Society, in whom he everywhere found his readiest and most reliable co-laborers. He was naturally led to trace the stream back to its fountain, to inquire into the faith which so manifested itself in works of practical righteousness. He had the faculty of seeing clearly and describing accurately the things seen; and his scrupulous truthfulness, patient and conscientious research, and, above all, his own deep religious experience, which, if outside of the Society whose faith he describes, was yet in close sympathy with it, fitted him in an especial manner for the task of delineating the underlying principles of that body and their outgrowth...