QUAKERS IN LITERATURE

Portraits of Quakers in AmWalt Whitman (1819–1892), reminiscing some sixty years later, wrote of hearing the resonant preaching of Elias Hicks, whom he admired for his attacks on evangelical doctrines. Whitman appreciated the inwardness of Hicks’s thought, which would submit to no outward creed, scripture, or theology of blood atonement. Hicks would have been surprised by some of Whitman’s praise: “Always E[lias] H[icks] gives the service of pointing to the fountain of all naked theology,all religion, . . . namely yourself and your inherent relations. . . . This he incessantly labors to kindle,nourish, educate, bring forward and strengthen. He is the most democratic of the religionists” (2:627).erican literature from 1820 to 1870 range from the unsympathetic to the idealized.Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864) was not especially appreciative of seventeenth-century Quakers, but then his literary works do not reveal much appreciation for any religion in that era. In “The Gentle Boy,” from Twice-Told Tales, as “unbridled fanaticism” (1:104) and an “enthusiasm heightened almost to madness” that “abstractly considered, well deserved the moderate chastisement of the rod” (1:86). Yet the Quakers in this tale are chiefly a vehicle for comparison with the cold brutality of the Puritans who persecuted and martyred them. Quakers appear as victims of persecution in Hawthorne describes early QuakerismThe Scarlet Letter (chapter 6), and in “Young Goodman Brown” the devil informs the protagonist that Brown’s grandfather, who persecuted Quakers, was the devil’s partner in so doing. In “Main Street” the narrator suggests a more positive regard, noting that the itinerant Quaker preachers in Salem had “the gift of a new idea” (3:461)

Herman Melville’s (1819–1891) Moby-Dick includes Quakers, since Nantucket was a whaling as well as a Quaker community. Peleg and Bildad, the ship owners, seem more like caricatures, the former being the Quaker by culture who wears a plain coat but has no real use for religion and the latter a pious but hypocritical tightwad who will not pay Ishmael a decent wage if he can get away with it. Both of them Melville calls “fighting Quakers” (p. 71) who profess pacifism against humans but have no quarrel with the brutal killing of the noble monsters of the deep. Starbuck, the virtuous but cautious first mate, also a Quaker, is courageous enough to face any natural danger and to stand up to Ahab, only to give in ultimately.He ponders but then resists the urge to save the crew by killing Ahab. Melville’s point may be that Starbuck’s weakness is that, in spite of knowing good from evil, he cannot summon the strength to act decisively.Near the end Starbuck questions the justice of it all if his life of devotion leads only to a watery grave. 
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) held a genuine appreciation for Quakers, including Lucretia Mott, whom he knew personally. He wrote that much of the best thought of his day had been anticipated by early Friends. In his essay “Natural Religion,” Emerson praised Friends for their likeness to the earliest Christians’ ideals: “The sect of Quakers in their best representatives appear to me to come nearer to the sublime history and genius of Christ than any other of the sects. They have kept the traditions perhaps for a longer time, kept the early purity” (p. 57). 
Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811–1896) has numerous Quaker characters in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, some (as mentioned above) perhaps inspired by Levi and Catherine Coffin. Through them she pictured a religious life without ostentatious self-righteousness or racial bigotry. Her Quakers are idealized, as were Whitman’s memories of Elias Hicks, but genuine Quakers would have recognized the ideas as their own.
only Quaker of literary renown in this period was the poet John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892). He was an ardent abolitionist and a friend of William Lloyd Garrison, with whom he faced mob violence from opponents of abolition. Later the two came to differ over the issue of political involvement, when Whittier became an enthusiastic supporter of the antislavery Liberty Party. Whittier once aspired to a life in politics and was elected to the state legislature in Massachusetts, but frail health and his outspoken abolitionist views put an end to his hopes for election to Congress. He worked as an editor for abolitionist newspapers and composed antislavery poems, such a “The Christian Slave,” “The Hunters of Men,” and “Ichabod,” and lived on the edge of poverty until the publication of Snow-Bound (1866) and “The Tent on the Beach” (1868) brought him popular fame. These collections of poetry captured the spirit of the age and spoke to the inner needs of a society struggling to recover from the trauma of a civil war. Late in his life he achieved such popularity that his birthday was a school holiday in his native Massachusetts. Whittier was a friend of the poets James Russell Lowell, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. In his poetry, as in his life, Whittier sought to integrate the inward life of quiet receptivity to the divine presence with a devoted effort to better human society. In this he reflected the ideals of Quakerism.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Primary Works

Coffin, Levi. Reminiscences of Levi Coffin. Cincinnati: Robert Clark, 1876.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Uncollected Lectures by Ralph Waldo Emerson; Reports of Lectures on American Life and Natural Religion, Reprinted from the Commonwealth. Edited by Clarence L. F. Gohdes. New York: W. E. Rudge, 1932.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Complete Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne.13 vols. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1882–1883.

Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick; or, The Whale. 1851. New York: Norton, 1967.

Mott, Lucretia. Lucretia Mott: Her Complete Speeches and Sermons. Edited by Dana Greene. New York: Edward Mellen Press, 1980.

Whitman, Walt. Walt Whitman: Prose Works 1892. 2 vols. Edited by Floyd Stovall. New York: New York University Press, 1964.
 
Whittier, John Greenleaf. The Complete Poetical Works of John Greenleaf Whittier. Edited by Horace E. Scudder. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1894.

Secondary Works

Bacon, Margaret Hope. Valiant Friend: The Life of Lucretia Mott. New York: Walker, 1980.

Barbour, Hugh, and J. William Frost. The Quakers. Richmond,Ind.: Friends United Press, 1994.
 
Hamm, Thomas D. The Transformation of American Quakerism: Orthodox Friends, 1800–1907. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988.

Ingle, H. Larry. Quakers in Conflict: The Hicksite Reformation.Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1986 Jones,

Rufus M. Later Periods of Quakerism. 2 vols. London:Macmillan, 1921.
                                                                                               Michael L. Birkel 

Work Cited: Gale American History Throught Literature 2

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