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Dear Friend: Letters & Essays of Elias Hicks (review)

From: Quaker History
Volume 101, Number 1, Spring 2012
pp. 36-37 | 10.1353/qkh.2012.0001

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Historians and fans of Quaker history—not to mention the dwindling number of Hicksites around—have yet another reason to be indebted to independent scholar Paul Buckley. And his PhD is not even in history; it's some version of psychology, but we historians are an inclusive bunch and welcome all sorts and kinds, particular when they done yeoman's service. In 2009 he published a new and unexpurgated version of the Journal of Elias Hicks that is now the standard source for Hicks' life. Perhaps there's a chemist lurking out there who is longing to fill a large gap in Quaker studies and produce a new and much needed biography of the Friend who lent his name to the "Tolerant" dissidents of 1827-28. The last one appeared fifty-five years ago and unfairly tagged him as a "Quaker liberal."

The current volume of highly selected letters and essays gives the lie to that label. In fact, the quietist Hicks comes across as so conservative that he seems downright populist or radical: in three or four items here he advised his recipients to eschew all contact with voting and participation in public affairs, and in one shocking letter to a Thomas Alsop in 1826, pp. 208-09, he even plumps for a communal society as described in Acts 2. He did not like the heavy hand of tradition and worldly education to be allowed to obscure the truth that one might receive from sitting silently at the feet of Christ; learned there the truth was simple, he told Nathan Shoemaker in 1823: Christ suffered "at the hands of wicked men, and because his works were righteous and theirs were wicked." He was not sent to somehow atone for the sins of others (p. 170). Hicks opted for the leadings of God's Holy Spirit even over the words of the Bible, a sentiment that drove his evangelical opponents mad.

Yet as editor Buckley's notes make clear, Hicks knew his Bible, drawing his thoughts from it and buttressing his Quaker position from the words on its pages. But he also knew contemporary poets and was conversant with the day's news. Before there was a discipline called "sociology," he saw that leading Quakers of his day were too centered in the world's "policies, customs, fashions, vanities, pleasures, and amusements" (p. 53) to allow them to bear in honesty the name of their honored forebears. He thus spoke for a different, even traditional, group of Friends. The quietist could be radical.

These letters make Hicks' foibles plain too: his anti-Semitism ran deep, as for example on p. 170 when he ignored the fact that Jesus was crucified by Romans rather than "wicked Scribes and Pharisees and people of Israel."

For the good and the bad, we owe Paul Buckley our gratitude for his research, his careful editing—only occasionally slipping up by failing to identify a letter's recipient or a person mentioned—and the context he provides. If you know that interested chemist, buy an extra copy of this book, pass it along, and know that future reviewers will have something to shout out about.

Copyright © 2012 Friends Historical Association
Project MUSE® - View Citation
Larry Ingle. "Dear Friend: Letters & Essays of Elias Hicks (review)." Quaker History 101.1 (2012): 36-37. Project MUSE. Web. 8 Jan. 2014. <http://muse.jhu.edu/>.
Ingle, L.(2012). Dear Friend: Letters & Essays of Elias Hicks (review). Quaker History 101(1), 36-37. Friends Historical Association. Retrieved January 8, 2014, from Project MUSE database.
Larry Ingle. "Dear Friend: Letters & Essays of Elias Hicks (review)." Quaker History 101, no. 1 (2012): 36-37. http://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed January 8, 2014).
T1 - Dear Friend: Letters & Essays of Elias Hicks (review)
A1 - Larry Ingle
JF - Quaker History
VL - 101
IS - 1
SP - 36
EP - 37
PY - 2012
PB - Friends Historical Association
SN - 1934-1504
UR - http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/quaker_history/v101/101.1.ingle01.html
N1 - Volume 101, Number 1, Spring 2012
ER -


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