Chapter 18 » 18.20

The 1959 edition of Christian faith and practice contained an introduction to its opening chapter which has become much loved amongst Friends, as much for the charm of its language as for its content. We would not now write such a passage, with its heavy emphasis on men, and with women being remembered for ‘the beauty of their person as well as character’; moreover, some Friends omitted in 1959 now find a place. Yet we wish to keep this passage for its reminder of the many Friends, just as worthy to be mentioned as those in this book, who, however, have not found a place, and for its warning of our failures, which is just as necessary now as when it was written.

The Society of Friends might be thought of as a prism through which the Divine Light passes, to become visible in a spectrum of many colours; many more, in their richness, than words alone can express.

George Bradshaw made railway time-tables to the glory of God, John Bellows made dictionaries, Daniel Quare made clocks; but these we cannot quote. The labourer in the fields, the housewife sweeping her room, the faithful tradesman, have left few memorials. Scholars like Thomas Hodgkin, Frederic Seebohm and Rendel Harris have their memorials elsewhere. No voice speaks here for the long line of scientists that began before John Dalton, and stretches on after Arthur S Eddington. Let no one think, because we have omitted them, that we could forget the Quaker seamen: Robert Fowler, Thomas Chalkley, Paul Cuffee the negro captain, and all their gallant band. There is no word from the masters of industry – the Darbys of Coalbrookdale, Richard Reynolds, Joseph Rowntree or George Cadbury; or from those pioneers of social protest – John Lilburne the Leveller, John Bellers, Peter Bedford or Alfred Salter of Bermondsey. Here are no pictures of the women whom we remember for the beauty of their person as well as character – Gulielma Penn and Esther Tuke; or such glorious old men as William Tuke (who in his sixties founded York Retreat) or Theophilus Waldmeier (who in his sixties founded the Lebanon Hospital); or our children James Parnell, little Mary Samm, and those who kept the meeting while their elders lay in gaol.

Even of the ministers there are few enough: George Fox, but not Richard Farnsworth, that ‘man of parts and Champion for the Truth’; John Woolman, but not Anthony Benezet; Stephen Grellet, but not his friend and travelling companion, William Allen; Elizabeth Fry, but not Deborah Darby who foretold her career of mercy. We have shown persecution endured and overcome in seventeenth-century England and New England, but not in nineteenth-century Norway or twentieth-century Germany. Though the field of Quaker concern has stretched across the world, we have had for the most part to stay at home, naming but one or two of a great company beyond seas. If we could have shown Rachel Metcalfe mothering her orphans from her invalid chair; or George Swan, the boy from the fairground, playing his concertina through the villages of India – if only we could have shown them all!

But then in honesty we should have had to reveal also the extent of our failure; the light dimmed in narrow hearts and creeds, the baptism of grace lost in timidity and torpor, the corrosion of arrogance and self-satisfaction – for we have known these, too. May the light prevail over the darkness; may those who are here speak for all the children of the Light, to the needs of other times as well as to their own.

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