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QUAKERISM IN FRANCE35 QUAKERISM IN FRANCE By Henry van Etten l VERY likely one of the first French writers who made known the name of Quakers is Voltaire. Of his Lettres philosophiques, published in 1734, he dedicated four to a special study of them. His remarks about William Penn and Pennsylvania are most striking, especially coming from such an antireligious writer. It must be noticed also that at the beginning of the century, Robert Barclay's Apology had been translated into French (1702) as well as William Penn's No Cross, No Crown (1700), but no indigenous movement was known to Friends in England or America. And yet there was quite a group of inspired people in the south of France, in the mountains called "Cevennes." They also ignored the existence of Quakerism, though they had much in common. They were the descendants of the Camisards who had resisted the persecutions in the Cevennes after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685). The pastors having disappeared, simple folk, men and women, used to travel about prophesying and preaching. They bore several names: "Inspirés de la Vaunage" (The Inspired of the Vaunage) or the "Gonfleurs" (the "Swellers"—gonfler, to swell)—this last name being a nickname very much of the same kind as the word "Quaker." Its origin is unknown, though perhaps we may account for it by the same reasons as for "Quaker" in England. The "Inspirés" believed in the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit, in nonresistance, in universal priesthood as well as in the ministry of women, etc., etc. One must remember that Jean Etienne Benezet (1683-1751), father of Anthony Benezet (1713-1784), belonged to that group. 1 The author of this article is Secretary of the Executive Committee of the France Yearly Meeting, and Vice-Chairman of the Friends World Conference, 1937. He writes that most of the information here given comes from Les Quakers français, a historical study published in Nismes in 1898 by Pastor Ed. Jaulmes for his degree in theology; from the Life of William Savery by Francis R. Taylor; and from the Book of Discipline of the Congenies Friends, in possession of the France Yearly Meeting. 36 BULLETIN OF FRIENDS' HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION He had been obliged to leave southern France in 1715. The rest of his life was spent in Rotterdam, in London, where he joined Friends, and finally in Philadelphia. Paul Codognan was another of those "Inspirés." He joined Friends in England in 1769 after a trip in Holland where he met some of them. It is only around 1785 that the English Society of Friends came across the little group in the south of France. Through an advertisement in the Paris papers by an English Friend named Fox, who wished to restore some prize money to the rightful owners, the French "Inspirés" discovered that there was a Society in England holding similar views to their own. Two months after this, Friend Fox received a letter (in French) addressed as follows: "The Quakers of CongéniesCalvisson to the virtuous Fox" and signed by five members of this group. Soon after, the French Quakers sent one of their members, Jean de Marsillac, to London with a long letter setting forth their religious views to "their brothers and faithful friends, the true Christians or Quakers of England, in London." Back from London, bearer of a special Epistle to the group, Jean de Marsillac organized the French Society, which had about 200 members, most of them residing in Congenies near Niâmes. Very likely the transformation of the group of the Inspired into a French Society of Friends took place in May, 1788—this according to an old register which bears the words : "Written on the 26th of 5th Month 1788." Under the influence of English Quakers, they took some of their habits, for instance to say "thee" and "thou" to everybody, to wear dark clothes, to say "First Day" and "First Month," etc. During the Great Revolution, several refused to become soldiers. A petition was even presented to the National Assembly presided over by Mirabeau, on Thursday, February 10, 1791, requesting relief from the oath and the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1934-1504
Print ISSN
0033-5053
Pages
pp. 35-38
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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