restricted access The Man In Leather Breeches: The Life and Times of George Fox (review)
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Book Reviews The Man In Leather Breeches: The Life and Times of George Fox. By Vernon Noble. New York: Philosophical Library. 1953. 295 pages. $6.00. TO write a life of George Fox is a courageous undertaking which few persons have ever ventured. The fact that he left a journal of his own may be in itself a deterrent and this material with its mass of details and omissions together with the multitudinous but unmanageable other data would give any biographer pause. Vernon Noble fortunately is an experienced and skillful writer and is willing not to try to include everything . Eight of his twenty-two chapters are not biography of Fox at all but are fully justified by the term "times" in the title. For if Fox "dominated Quakerism as long as he lived," the aspects of Quakerism discussed in the chapters on Nayler, Penn, and Quaker missions overseas are important background for Fox himself. Furthermore, the biographer has chosen some very good guides, especially the two remarkably objective and accurate volumes of W. C. Braithwaite. His indebtedness to these is greater than appears, including what he quotes from older works. Of more recent works I find traces of a few, like Fogelklou's James Nayler, Isabel Ross's Margaret Fell, and Ernest Taylor's Valiant Sixty. Quotations are not given page references, and errors in sources are usually repeated. There is very little evidence of independent inquiry, though direct quotation from the pamphlet literature of Fox's time was facilitated by the author's access to one of the better local collections of such material — the Midgley Reference Library in Manchester. The purpose of the book was not, however, very ambitious. Assuming that Fox was sufficiently known among Friends, the author believed that he was too little known among others and that he was an Englishman of whom later generations might be proud. He sets out the salient facts of Fox's life with a very high degree of accuracy. This in itself is an achievement for the non-specialist, and is, as I have said, due to his careful adherence to the Journal of Fox and to sound modern books. The proportion is good for such a volume, and historical background is effectively used. In his judgment of Fox, the author aims to be quite fair. Some questions puzzle him—why Fox was so admired by his friends, why so condemned by his enemies, why he allowed or encouraged fanatical excesses among his followers, why he took such notice of disasters that befell his opponents, and even why he married Widow Fell. Quaker readers are likely to be sensitive to any word of apparent criticism but they will have to admit that a substantial amount of discriminating approval has been intermingled. Here is a quotation from the first paragraph: He was a dreamer and a man of action, his head in the clouds and his feet firmly fixed on the ground; a prophet and a visionary and yet a man of tremendous organising ability, never at a loss for words or puzzled about the right thing to do in any situation; an egotist but only insomuch as he considered himself a spokesman for God. Buffeted and beaten with sticks and stones on innumerable occasions, 42 Book Reviews43 thrown into some of the wotst prisons the country has ever known, he hit back only with his tongue and his powerful personality and yet subdued his adversaries and enabled his movement to survive all persecutions. Or again: One may think of George Fox as a prig, a bigot, a crank, a religious fanatic, conceited, intolerant, ridiculous, but one must also admit that there must have been something extraordinarily attractive about him to bring out the sacrifice and devotion of such an assorted company. If he were to be judged entirely on his own writings it would be easy to appreciate the reasons for respect but hard to find why he was so greatly loved. Now we can begin to see him through other people's eyes (p. 76). The minor testimonies of Friends the author regards as niggling and unfortunate and yet he recognizes their relation to conscientiousness and to...