- George Fox’s Journal and the Practice of Self-Observation in Restoration England
And then the Lord did gently lead me along and did let me see his love, which was endless and eternal, and surpasses all knowledge…. And that love let me see myself as I was without him; and I was afraid of all company: for I saw them perfectly, where they were, through the love of God, which let me see myself.(George Fox Journal 1694)
An abundance of physiological accounts of the self circulated in England in the mid 1670s, around the time when George Fox, a Quaker, a religious “enthusiast,” and a non-conformist, dictated his Journal to his son-in-law, Thomas Lower. Some of these treatises were translated from French, such as Jean-François Senault’s De l’Usage des Passions (1641), René Descartes’ Les Passions de l’âme (1649), or Pierre La Chambre’s Les Charactères des Passions (1640), which were available in English by the 1660s. Many such treatises, however, were home-grown English products, from Thomas Wright’s Passions of the Minde (1604), which was reedited during the Civil War, to Walter Charleton’s History of the Passions (1674). Some of them were actually written by Anglican bishops: Edward Reynolds’ A Treatise of the Passions and Faculties of the Soule of Man; With the Severall Dignities and Corruptions thereunto belonging (1640) being the most famous case, as it was taught at Oxford until the end of the century.
These physiological accounts offered the English public a thoroughly rational and practical model of self-observation, and served as a counterpart to the writings of religious enthusiasts—many whom, as N.H. Keeble points out, by the mid-1670s, had quit preaching in the streets and were busy in their closets, writing their memoirs. George Fox’s spiritual autobiography belongs to this category: it was written by a man who had sought the seclusion of home [End Page 25] in order to write (or, in this case, dictate), in the hopes that his memoir would reach the reader in his or her own home and take its place in the library along with treatises by Senault or Reynolds. In George Fox’s account of his own model of self-observation one sees how, at the dawn of the eighteenth-century, an anonymous market of print pits Anglican philosophers and non-conformist sectarians against one another, with both sides trying to represent the self in the light of their own perceptions on the ways in which religion should fashion its subjects.1
A fresh phenomenon on the seventeenth-century print market, spiritual autobiography seemed to have “a direct and truthful quality which could be relied on to make a strong appeal to the unconverted” (Delany 81).2 Journals, such as Fox’s, showed the nonconformists’ eagerness to print out, as Robert Folkenflik argues, a mirror for other selves who, unable to see or recognize themselves otherwise, might grasp their “true self ” more easily in the story of another, and thus teach them not only how to spend their lives here but also how to prepare for the hereafter (217). On the contrary, the popularity of physiological accounts of the self demonstrates that late seventeenth-century audiences were equally if not much more interested in a practical knowledge of the “sensitive soul” and competence in a new language, the language of the passions, than in the soul’s immortality. Facility in the language of the passions, Peter Harrison argues, “brought with it power. Knowledge of the characters of the passions, it was believed, reestablished three levels of control: of self, of others, and of nature” (61).
Nevertheless, despite the fact that late seventeenth-century audiences were increasingly interested in the “here” rather than the “hereafter” and despite the fact that treatises on the passions promised to empower the self-observing subject, the model of self-observation offered by Fox’s spiritual autobiography, this paper claims, had good reasons to fascinate a seventeenth-century reading public, including, perhaps, notorious enemies of sectarianism. In what follows, I will try to explain why someone like Henry More, the author of Enthusiasmus Triumphatus (1662...