Transcriber's Note: Inconsistent hyphenation and spelling in the original document have been preserved. Three obvious typographical errors were corrected in this text. For a complete list, please see the end of the book.
A BOOK OF QUAKER SAINTS
BY THE SAME AUTHOR. PILGRIMS IN PALESTINE. [Out of print.] THE HAPPY WORLD. CONTRIBUTIONS TO 'THE FELLOWSHIP OF SILENCE.' SILENT WORSHIP: THE WAY OF WONDER. (Swarthmore Lecture, 1919.)
A BOOK OF QUAKER SAINTS
L. V. HODGKIN (Mrs. John Holdsworth)
Illustrated By F. Cayley-Robinson, A.R.A.
MacMillan and Co., Limited St. Martin's Street, London 1922 Copyright First Edition 1917 Reprinted 1918 Transferred to Macmillan & Co. and reprinted 1922 Printed in Great Britain
DEDICATED TO THE CHILDREN OF THE SOCIETY OF FRIENDS AND TO THE GRANDCHILDREN OF THOMAS HODGKIN
The following stories are intended for children of various ages. The introductory chapter, 'A Talk about Saints,' and the stories marked with an asterisk in the Table of Contents, were written first for an eager listener of nine years old. But as the book has grown longer the age of its readers has grown older for two reasons:
First: because it was necessary to take for granted some knowledge of the course of English History at the period of the Civil Wars. To have re-told the story of the contest between King and Parliament, leading up to the execution of Charles the First and the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell, would have taken up much of the fresh, undivided attention that I was anxious to focus upon the lives and doings of these 'Quaker Saints.' I have therefore presupposed a certain familiarity with the chief actors and parties, and an understanding of such names as Cavalier, Roundhead, Presbyterian, Independent, etc.; but I have tried to explain any obsolete words, or those of which the meaning has altered in the two and a half centuries that have elapsed since the great struggle.
Secondly: because the stories of the persecutions of the Early Friends are too harrowing for younger children. Even a very much softened and milder version was met with the repeated request: 'Do, please, skip this part and make it come happy quickly.' I have preferred, therefore, to write for older boys and girls who will wish for a true account of suffering bravely borne; though without undue insistence on the physical side. For to tell the stories of these lives without the terrible, glorious account of the cruel beatings, imprisonments, and even martyrdom in which they often ended here, is not truly to tell them at all. The tragic darkness in the picture is necessary to enhance its high lights.
My youngest critic observes that 'it does not matter so much what happens to grown-up people, because I can always skip that bit; but if anything bad is going to happen to children, you had better leave it out of your book altogether.' I have therefore obediently omitted the actual sufferings of children as far as possible, except in one or two stories where they are an essential part of the narrative.
It must be remembered that this is not a History of the Early Quaker Movement, but a book of stories of some Early Quaker Saints. I have based my account on contemporary authorities; but I have not scrupled to supply unrecorded details or explanatory speeches in order to make the scene more vivid to my listeners. In two stories of George Fox's youth, as authentic records are scanty, I have even ventured to look through the eyes of imaginary spectators at 'The Shepherd of Pendle Hill' and 'The Angel of Beverley.' But the deeper I have dug down into the past, the less need there has been to fill in outlines; and the more possible it has been to keep closely to the actual words of George Fox's Journal, and other contemporary documents. The historical notes at the end of the book will indicate where the original authorities for each story are to be found, and they will show what liberties have been taken. The quotations that precede the different chapters are intended mainly for older readers, and to illustrate either the central thought or the history of the times.
Many stories of other Quaker Saints that should have been included in this book have had to be omitted for want of room. The records of William Penn and his companions and friends on both sides of the Atlantic will, it is hoped, eventually find a place in a later volume. The stories in the present book have been selected to show how the Truth of the Inward Light first dawned gradually on one soul, and then spread rapidly, in ever-widening circles, through a neighbourhood, a kingdom, and, finally, all over the world.
I have to thank many kind friends who have helped me in this delightful task. The Book of Quaker Saints owes its existence to my friend Ernest E. Taylor, who first suggested the title and plan, and then, gently but inexorably, persuaded me to write it. Several of the stories and many of the descriptions are due to his intimate knowledge of the lives and homes of the Early Friends; he has, moreover, been my unfailing adviser and helper at every stage of the work.
No one can study this period of Quaker history without being constantly indebted to William Charles Braithwaite, the author of Beginnings of Quakerism, and to Norman Penney, the Librarian at Devonshire House, and Editor of the Cambridge Edition of George Fox's Journal with its invaluable notes. But beyond this I owe a personal debt of gratitude to these two Friends, for much wise counsel as to sources, for their kindness in reading my MS. and my proofs, and for the many errors that their accurate scholarship has helped me to avoid, or enabled me to detect.
To Ethel Crawshaw, Assistant at the same Library; to my sister, Ellen S. Bosanquet; and to several other friends who have helped me in various ways, my grateful thanks are also due.
The stories are intended in the first place for Quaker children, and are written throughout from a Quaker standpoint, though with the wish to be as fair as possible not only to our staunch forefathers, but also to their doughty antagonists. Even when describing the fiercest encounters between them, I have tried to write nothing that might perplex or pain other than Quaker listeners; above all, to be ever mindful of what George Fox himself calls 'the hidden unity in the Eternal Being.'
L. V. HODGKIN.
29th July 1917.
PREFACE page vii
* A TALK ABOUT SAINTS 1
* I. 'STIFF AS A TREE, PURE AS A BELL' 19
* II. 'PURE FOY, MA JOYE' 33
* III. THE ANGEL OF BEVERLEY 57
* IV. TAMING THE TIGER 79
* V. 'THE MAN IN LEATHER BREECHES' 97
VI. THE SHEPHERD OF PENDLE HILL 111
VII. THE PEOPLE IN WHITE RAIMENT 121
VIII. A WONDERFUL FORTNIGHT 131
IX. UNDER THE YEW-TREES 149
X. 'BEWITCHED!' 163
XI. THE JUDGE'S RETURN 175
* XII. 'STRIKE AGAIN!' 185
* XIII. MAGNANIMITY 197
* XIV. MILES HALHEAD AND THE HAUGHTY LADY 209
XV. SCATTERING THE SEED 223
XVI. WRESTLING FOR GOD 239
XVII. LITTLE JAMES AND HIS JOURNEYS 255
XVIII. THE FIRST QUAKER MARTYR 271
* XIX. THE CHILDREN OF READING MEETING 285
* XX. THE SADDEST STORY OF ALL 301
* XXI. PALE WINDFLOWERS 321
XXII. AN UNDISTURBED MEETING 343
XXIII. BUTTERFLIES IN THE FELLS 353
XXIV. THE VICTORY OF AMOR STODDART 367
* XXV. THE MARVELLOUS VOYAGE OF THE GOOD SHIP 'WOODHOUSE' 379
* XXVI. RICHARD SELLAR AND THE 'MERCIFUL MAN' 403
* XXVII. TWO ROBBER STORIES—WEST AND EAST 427
XXVIII. SILVER SLIPPERS: OR A QUAKERESS AMONG THE TURKS 441
* XXIX. FIERCE FEATHERS 465
* XXX. THE THIEF IN THE TANYARD 479
XXXI. HOW A FRENCH NOBLE BECAME A FRIEND 489
XXXII. PREACHING TO NOBODY 509
HISTORICAL NOTES 539
Note.—An Asterisk denotes stories suitable for younger children.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
reproduced from water-colour drawings by F. CAYLEY-ROBINSON
I. LOIS AND HER NURSE Frontispiece
II. THE BOYHOOD OF GEORGE FOX page 36
III. 'DREAMING OF THE COT IN THE VALE' 114
IV. 'THE VOICE OF THE SILENCE' 306
V. PALE WINDFLOWERS 324
VI. FIERCE FEATHERS 474
VII. A FRIENDS' MEETING 534
A TALK ABOUT SAINTS
'What are these that glow from afar, These that lean over the golden bar, Strong as the lion, pure as the dove, With open arms and hearts of love? They the blessed ones gone before, They the blessed for evermore. Out of great tribulation they went Home to their home of Heaven-content; Through flood or blood or furnace-fire, To the rest that fulfils desire.'
St. Patrick's three orders of Saints: 'a glory on the mountain tops: a gleam on the sides of the hills: a few faint lights in the valleys.'
'The Lord is King in His Saints, He guards them, and guides them with His mighty power, into His kingdom of glory and eternal rest, where they find joy, and peace, and rest eternal.'—GEORGE FOX.
A TALK ABOUT SAINTS
'What is a Saint? How I do wish I knew!'
A little girl asked herself this question a great many years ago, as she sat looking up at a patch of sunset cloud that went sailing past the bars of her nursery window late one Sunday afternoon; but the window was small and high up, and the cloud sailed by quickly.
As she watched it go, little Lois wished that she was back in her own nursery at home, where the windows were large and low down, and so near the floor that even a small girl could see out of them easily. Moreover, her own windows had wide window-sills that she could sit on, with toy-cupboards underneath.
There were no toy-cupboards in this old-fashioned nursery, where Lois was visiting, and not many toys either. There was a doll's house, that her mother used to play with when she was a little girl; but the dolls in it were all made of wood and looked stiff and stern, and one hundred years older than the dolls of to-day, or than the children either, for that matter. Besides, the doll's house might not be opened on Sundays.
So Lois turned again to the window, and looking up at it, she wished, as she had wished many times before on this visit, that it was rather lower down and much larger, and that the window ledge was a little wider, so that she could lean upon it and see where that rosy cloud had gone.
She ran for a chair, and climbed up, hoping to be able to see out better. Alas! the window was a long way from the ground outside. She still could not look out and see what was happening in the garden below. Even the sun had sunk too far down for her to say good-night to it before it set. But that did not matter, for the rosy cloud had apparently gone to fetch innumerable other rosy cloudlets, and they were all holding hands and dancing across the sky in a wide band, with pale, clear pools of green and blue behind them.
'What lovely rainbow colours!' thought the little girl. And then the rainbow colours reminded her of the question that had been puzzling her when she began to watch the rosy cloud. So she repeated, out loud this time and in rather a weary voice, 'Whatever is a Saint? How I do wish I knew! And why are there no Saints on the windows in Meeting?'
No answer came to her questions. Lois and her nurse were paying a visit all by themselves. They spent most of their days up in this old nursery at the top of the big house. Nurse had gone downstairs a long time ago, saying that she would bring up tea for them both on a tea-tray, before it was time to light the lamps. For there was no gas or electric light in children's nurseries in those days.
If Lois had been at home she would herself have been having tea downstairs in the dining-room at this time with her father and mother. Then she could have asked them what a Saint was, and have found out all about it at once. Father and mother always seemed to know the answers to her questions. At least, very nearly always. For Lois was so fond of asking questions, that sometimes she asked some that had no answer; but those were silly questions, not like this one. Lois felt certain that either her father or her mother would have explained to her quite clearly all about Saints, and would have wanted her to understand about them. Away here there was nobody to ask. Nurse would only say, 'If you ask me no questions, I'll tell you no lies.' Somehow whenever she said that, Lois fancied it meant that nurse was not very sure of the answer herself. She had already asked Aunt Isabel in church that same morning, when the puzzle began; and Aunt Isabel's answer about 'a halo' had left the little girl more perplexed than ever.
Lois had heard of people 'going to church' before, but she had never understood what it meant until to-day. At home on Sundays she went to Meeting with father and mother. She liked walking there, in between them, holding a hand of each, skipping and jumping in order not to step on the black lines of the pavement. She liked to see the shops with their eyes all shut tight for Sunday, and to watch for the naughty shops, here and there, who kept a corner of their blinds up, just to show a few toys or goodies underneath. Lois always thought that those shops looked as if they were winking up at her; and she smiled back at them a rather reproving little smile. She enjoyed the walk and was sorry when it came to an end. For, to tell the truth, she did not enjoy the Meeting that followed it at all.
Long before the hour was over she used to grow very tired of the silence and of the quiet room, tired of kicking her blue footstool (gently of course, but still kicking it) and of counting her boot buttons up and down, or else watching the hands of the clock move slowly round its big calm face. 'Church' was a more interesting place than Meeting, certainly; but then 'Church' had disadvantages of its own. Everything there was strange to Lois. It had almost frightened her, this first time. She did not know when she ought to stand up, or when she ought to kneel, and when she might sit down. Then, when the organ played and everybody stood up and sang a hymn, Lois found to her surprise that her throat was beginning to feel tight and choky. For some reason she began to wonder if father and mother were sitting in Meeting alone, and if they had quite forgotten their little girl. Two small tears gathered. In another minute they might have slipped out of the corners of her eyes, and have run down her cheeks. They might even have fallen upon the page of the hymn-book she was carefully holding upside down. And that would have been dreadful!
Happily, just in time, she looked up and saw something so beautiful above her that the two tears ran back to wherever it was they came from, in less time than it takes to tell.
For there, above her head, was a tall, pointed, glass window, high up on the wall. The glass in the window was of wonderful colours, like a rainbow:—deep purple and blue, shining gold, rich, soft red, and glowing crimson, with here and there a green that twinkled like young beech-leaves in the woods in spring. Best of all, there was one bit of purest white, with sunlight streaming through it, that shone like dazzling snow. At first Lois only noticed the colours, and the ugly black lines that separated them. She wondered why the beautiful glass was divided up into such queer shapes. There are no black lines between the colours in a real rainbow.
Gradually, however, she discovered that all the different colours meant something, that they were all part of a picture on the window, that a tall figure was standing there, looking down upon her—upon her, fidgety little Lois, kicking her scarlet hassock in the pew. But Lois was not kicking her hassock any longer. She was looking up into the grave, kind face above her on the window. 'Whoever was it? Who could it be? Was it a man or a woman? A man,' Lois thought at first, until she saw that he was wearing a robe that fell into glowing folds at his feet. 'Men never wear robes, do they? unless they are dressing-gowns. This certainly was not a dressing-gown. And what was the flat thing like a plate behind his head?' Lois had never seen either a man or a woman wear anything like that before. 'If it was a plate, how could it be fastened on? It would be sure to fall off and break....'
The busy little mind had so much to wonder about, that Lois found it easy to sit still, until the sermon was over, as she watched the sunlight pour through the different colours in turn, making each one more beautiful and full of light as it passed.
At length the organ stopped, and the last long 'AH-MEN' had been sung. 'Church sings "AH-MEN" out loud, and Meeting says "Amen" quite gently; p'raps that's what makes the difference between them,' Lois thought to herself wisely. As soon as the last notes of music had died away, she nestled close to Aunt Isabel's side and said in an eager voice, 'What is that lovely window up there? Who is that beautiful person? I do like his face. And is it a He or a She?'
'Hush, darling!' her aunt whispered. 'Speak lower. That is a Saint, of course.'
'But what is a Saint and how do you know it is one?' the little girl whispered earnestly, pointing upwards to the tall figure through which the sunshine streamed. Aunt Isabel was busy collecting her books and she only whispered back, 'Don't you see the halo?' 'I don't know what a halo can be, but a Saint is a kind of glass window, I suppose,' thought Lois, as she followed her aunt down the aisle. Afterwards on her way home, and at dinner, and all the afternoon, there had been so many other things to see and to think about, that it was not until the rosy patch of cloud sailed past the nursery window-pane at sunset that she was reminded of the beautiful colours in church, and of the puzzle about Saints and haloes that till then she had forgotten.
'At least, no, I didn't exactly forget', she said to herself, 'but I think p'raps I sort of disremembered—till the sunset colours reminded me. Only I haven't found out what a Saint is yet, or a halo. And why don't we have them on our Sunday windows in Meeting?'
Just at that moment the door opened, and nurse, who had been enjoying a long talk downstairs in the kitchen, came in with the tea-tray. 'How dark you are up here!' nurse exclaimed in her cheerful voice. 'We shall have to light the lamp after all, or you will never find the way to your mouth.'
So the lamp was lighted. The curtains were drawn. The sunset sky, fast fading now, was hidden. And Lois' questions remained unanswered.
* * * * *
A few days later, the visit came to an end. The next Sunday, Lois was at home again, 'chattering like a little magpie,' as her mother said, about everything she had seen and done. She had so much to think about, that even Meeting did not seem as long as usual, though she thought the walls looked plainer than ever, and the glass windows very empty, till the sight of them reminded her that she could find out more about Saints now. At home in the afternoon she began. Drawing her footstool close to the big arm-chair, she put her elbows on her father's knee and looked up searchingly into his face. 'Father, please tell me, if you possibly can,' pleaded an earnest little voice, 'for I do very badly want to find out. Do you know what a Saint is?' Her father laughed. 'Know what a Saint is? I should think I did! No man better!' he answered. Lois wondered why he glanced across to the other side of the fire where her mother was sitting; and why she glanced back at him and shook her head, meeting his eyes with a happy smile. Then her father jumped up, and from the lowest shelf of one of his book-cases he fetched a fat, square volume, bound in brown leather and gold. This he put carefully on a table, and drawing Lois on to his knee and putting his arm round her, he showed her a number of photographs. Lambs were there, and running fountains, and spangly stars, and peacocks, and doves. But those pages he turned over quickly, until he came to others: photographs of men and women dressed in white, carrying palms and holding crowns in their hands.
He told Lois that these people were 'Saints,' that they formed a long procession on the walls of a big church at Ravenna, far away in Italy; and that they were made of little pieces of a sort of shining glass called 'mosaic.' 'Saints have something to do with glass then. But these photographs are not a bit like my beautiful window,' Lois thought to herself, rather sadly. 'There are no colours here.' She turned over the photographs without much interest, until her father, exclaiming, 'There, that is the one I want!' showed her one portrait of a little girl standing among all the grown-up people, carrying just as big a palm and crown as any of the others. He told Lois that these crowns and palms were to show that the people who carried them had all been put to death or 'martyred,' because they would not worship heathen gods. He made Lois spell out the letters 'SCA. EULALIA' written on the halo around the little girl's head, 'That is Saint Eulalia,' her father explained. 'She was offered her freedom and her life if she would sacrifice to idols just one tiny grain of corn, to show that she renounced her allegiance to Jesus Christ; but when the corn was put into her hands she threw it all back into the Judge's face. After that, there was no escape for her. She was condemned to die, and she did die, Lois, very bravely, though she was only a little girl, not much older than you.' Here Lois hid her face against her father's coat and shivered. 'But after that cruel death, when her little body was lying unburied, a white dove hovered over it, until a fall of snowflakes came and hid it from people's sight. So you see, Lois, though Eulalia was only twelve years old when she was put to death, she has been called Saint Eulalia ever since, though it all happened hundreds of years ago. Children can be Saints as well as grown-up people, if they are brave enough and faithful enough.'
'Saints must be brave, and Saints must be faithful,' Lois repeated, as she shut up the big book and helped to carry it back to its shelf. 'But lots of other children have died since Sancta Eulalia was killed and her body was covered by the snow. Surely some of those children must have been brave and faithful too, even though they are not called Saints? They don't stand on glass windows, or wear those things that father calls haloes, and that I call plates, round their heads, with their names written on them. So Saints really are rather puzzling sort of people still. I do hope I shall find out more about them some day.'
Thus Lois went on wondering, till, gradually, she came to find out more of the things that make a Saint—not purple robes, or shining garments, or haloes; not even crowns and palms; but other things, quite different, and much more difficult to get.
* * * * *
'It is enough to vex a Saint!' her kind nurse exclaimed when Lois spilled her jam at tea, all down her clean white frock. Or, on other days, 'Oh dear! my patiences is not so good as they once were!' and, 'These rheumatics would try the patience of a Saint!' nurse would say, with a weary sigh.
'Then the reason my Nanny isn't a Saint is because she gets vexed when I'm naughty, and because she isn't patient when she has a pain,' reasoned Lois. 'What a number of things it does seem to take to make a Saint! But then it takes eggs and milk and butter and sugar and flour and currants and raisins too to make a cake. Saints must be brave and faithful; never get vexed; have patience always. Mother said patience was the beginning of everything, when I stamped my foot because I broke my cotton. Do Saints have to begin with patience too? If only I could see a real live one with my own eyes and find out!'
Yet, strange to say, when Lois was told that she was looking at a 'real live Saint' at last, the little girl did not even wish to believe it. This happened one Saturday afternoon. She was walking with her governess to a beautiful wooded Dene, through which a clear stream hurried to join the big black river that flowed past the windows of Lois' home. On the way to the Dene they passed near a broad marsh with stepping-stones across it. Close to the river Lois saw, in the distance, the roofs of some wretched-looking cottages. Evidently on her way to these cottages, balancing herself on the slippery stepping-stones, was a little old lady in a hideous black bonnet with jet ornaments that waggled as she moved, and shiny black gloves screwed up into tight corkscrews at the finger ends. She carried a large basket in one hand, and held up her skirts with the other, showing that she wore boots with elastic sides, which Lois particularly disliked.
'Look there!' her governess said to Lois, 'actually crossing the marsh to visit that den of fever! Old Miss S ... may not be a beauty, but she certainly is a perfect Saint!'
'Oh no, she's not!' cried Lois with much vehemence. 'At least, I mean I hope she isn't,' she added the next minute. 'You see,' she went on apologetically, 'I have a very special reason for being interested in Saints; I don't at all want any of my Saints to look ugly like that. And, what is more, I don't believe they do!'
* * * * *
Many months passed before the time came, when she was least expecting it, that Lois saw, she actually did see, a 'real live Saint' for herself.
How did she know it was a Saint? Lois could not tell how she knew; but from the very first moment that she found herself looking up into one of the kindest, most loving faces that she had ever seen, she was perfectly sure that she had found a Saint at last. She saw no halo—at least no golden halo; but the white hair that tenderly framed the white face looked almost like a halo of silver, the little girl thought. It was not a beautiful face; at any rate not what Lois would have called beautiful beforehand. It had many wrinkles though the skin was fresh and clear. The eyes looked, somehow, as if they had shed so many tears long ago, that now there were no tears left to shed; nothing remained but smiles. Perhaps that was the reason they were nearly always smiling. As Lois looked up and saw that gentle old face bending over her, it gave her the same sort of mysterious feeling that she had when she gazed up into the cloudless blue sky at noonday, or into a night sky full of stars. She seemed to be looking up, as high as ever she could, into something infinitely far above her; and yet to be looking down into something as well, deep down into an endless depth. Or rather, she felt that she was neither looking up nor down, but that she was looking through....
'Why, Saints are a sort of window after all,' Lois said to herself, as she gave a jump of joy,—'real windows! Only not the glass kind! I have found out at last what makes a Saint, and what real live Saints look like. It is not being killed only; though I suppose they must always be ready to be killed. It is not being made of all the difficult things inside only; though, of course, they must always be full of them. It certainly isn't wearing ugly clothes or anything horrid. I know now what really and truly, and most especially, makes a Saint, and that is
LETTING THE SUNLIGHT THROUGH!'
So Lois had found out something for herself at last, had she not? Those are always the best sort of discoveries; but there are a great many more things to find out about Saints that Lois never thought of, in those days long ago. Most interesting things they are! That is one comfort about Saints—they are always interesting, never dull. Dull is the one thing that real Saints can never be, or they would stop being Saints that very minute. Even when Saints are doing the dullest, dreariest, most difficult tasks, they themselves are always packed full of sunshine inside that cannot help streaming out over the dull part and making it interesting.
This is one thing to remember about Saints; but there are many other things to discover. See if you can find out some of them in the stories that follow.
Only a few Saint stories are written here. You will read for yourself, by and by, many others: stories of older Saints, and perhaps of brighter Saints, or it may be even of saintlier Saints than these. But in this book are written the stories of some of the Saints who did not know that they were Saints at all: they thought that they were just quite ordinary men and women and little children, and that makes them rather specially comforting to us, who are just quite ordinary people too.
Moreover, these Quaker Saints never have been, never will be put on glass windows, or given birthdays or haloes or emblems of their own, like most of the other Saints. They have never even had their stories told before in a way that it is easy for children to understand.
That is why these particular stories have been written now, in this particular book
I. 'STIFF AS A TREE, PURE AS A BELL'
'I am plenteuous in ioie in all oure tribulacione.'—ST. PAUL (Wiclif's Translation).
'Stand firm like a smitten anvil under the blows of a hammer; be strong as an athlete of God, it is part of a great athlete to receive blows and to conquer.'—IGNATIUS.
'He was valiant for the truth, bold in asserting it, patient in suffering for it, unwearied in labouring in it, steady in his testimony to it, immoveable as a rock.'—T. ELLWOOD about G. FOX.
'George Fox never lost his temper—he left that to his opponents: and he had the most exasperating way of getting the best of an argument. His Journal ... is like a little rusty gate which opens right into the heart of the 17th Century, so that when we go in by it—hey presto! we find ourselves pilgrims with the old Quaker in the strangest kind of England.'—L.M. MACKAY.
'And there was never any persecution that came but we saw it was for good, and we looked upon it to be good as from GOD. And there was never any prisons or sufferings that I was in, but still it was for bringing multitudes more out of prison.'—G. FOX.
I. 'STIFF AS A TREE, PURE AS A BELL'
When the days are lengthening in the spring, even though the worst of the winter may be over, there is often a sharp tooth in the March wind as it sweeps over the angry sea and bites into the north-eastern coast of England.
Children, warm and snug in cosy rooms, like to watch the gale and the damage it does as it hurries past. It amuses them to see the wind at its tricks, ruffling up the manes of the white horses far out at sea, blowing the ships away from their moorings in the harbour, and playing tricks upon the passers-by, when it comes ashore. Off fly stout old gentlemen's hats, round like windmills go the smart ladies' skirts and ribbons; even the milkman's fingers turn blue with cold. It is all very well for children, safe indoors, to laugh at the antics of the mischievous wind, even on the bleak north-eastern coast nowadays; but in times long ago, that same wind could be a more cruel playfellow still. Come back with me for two hundred and fifty years. Let us watch the tricks the wind is playing on the prisoners in the castle high up on Scarborough cliff in the year of our Lord 1666.
Though the keen, cutting blast is the same, a very different Scarborough lies around us from the Scarborough modern children know. There is a much smaller town close down by the water's edge, and a much larger castle covering nearly the whole of the cliff.
Nowadays, when children go to Scarborough for their holidays in the summer, as they run down the steep paths with their spades and buckets to dig on the beach, they are too busy to pay much attention to the high cliff that juts out against the sky above the steep red roofs of the old town. But if they do look up for a moment they notice a pile of grey stones at the very top of the hill. 'Oh, that is the old ruined castle,' they say to themselves; and then they forget all about it and devote themselves to the important task of digging a new castle of their own that shall not crumble into ruins in its turn, as even sand castles have an uncomfortable way of doing, if they are unskilfully made.
Those children are only modern children. They have not gone back, as you and I are trying to do, two hundred and fifty long years up the stream of time. If we are really to find out what Scarborough looked like then, we must put on our thinking caps and flap our fancy wings, and, shutting our eyes very tight, not open them again until that long-ago Scarborough is really clear before us. Then, looking up at the castle, what shall we see? The same hill of course, but so covered with stately buildings that we can barely make out its outline. Instead of one old pile of crumbling stones, roofless, doorless, windowless, there is a massive fortress towering over us, ringed round with walls and guarded with battlements and turrets. High above all stands the frowning Norman Keep, of which only some of the thick outer stones remain to-day. Scarborough Castle was a grand place, and a strong place too, in the seventeenth century.
In order to reach it, then as now, it was necessary to climb the long flights of stone steps that stretch up from the lower town near the water's edge to the high, arched gateway upon the Castle Hill. We will climb those steps, only of course the stones were newer and cleaner then, and less worn by generations of climbing feet. Up them we mount till we reach the gateway with its threatening portcullis, where the soldiers of King Charles the Second, in their jackboots, are walking up and down on guard, determined to keep out all intruders. Intruders we certainly are, seeing that we belong to another generation and another century. There is no entrance at that gateway for us. Yet except through that gateway there is no way into the castle, and all the windows on this side are high up in the walls, and barred and filled with strong thick glass.
Now let us go round to the far side of the cliff where the castle overlooks the sea. Here the fortress still frowns above us; but lower down, nearer our level, we can see some holes and caves scooped out of the solid rock, through which the wind blows and shrieks eerily. As these caves can only be reached by going through the castle, some of the prisoners are kept here for safety. The windows have no glass. They are merely holes in the rock, open to fog and snow and bitter wind. Another hole in the cliff does duty for a chimney after a fashion, but even if the prisoners are allowed to light a fire they are scarcely any warmer, for the whole cave becomes filled with smoke. And now we must flap our fancy wings still more vigorously, until somehow we stand outside one of those prison holes, scooped out of the cliff, and can look down and see what is to be seen inside it.
There is only one man in this particular prison cave, and what is he doing? Is he moving about to keep himself warm? At first he seems to be, for he walks from side to side without a moment's rest. Every now and then he stretches his arm out of the window, apparently throwing something away. He is certainly ill. His body and legs are badly swollen, and there are great lumps in the places where his joints and knuckles ought to be. Well then, if he is ill, why does he not lie still in bed and rest and get well? For even in this wretched cave-room there is something that looks like a bed in one corner. It has no white sheets or soft blankets, but still it has four legs and a sort of coverlet, and at least the prisoner could rest upon it, which would be better for him than dancing about. Look again! The bed stands under a gaping hole in the roof, and a stream of water is dripping steadily down upon it. The coarse coverings must be soaked through already, and the hard mattress too. It is really less like a bed than a damp and nasty little pond. No wonder the prisoner does not choose to lie there. But then, why not move the bed somewhere else? And what is that round thing like a platter in his hand, and what is he doing with it? Is he playing 'Turn the Trencher' to keep himself warm?
Look again! How could he move the bed? He is in a tiny cave, and all its walls are leaky. The bed must stand in that particular corner because there is nowhere else that it could be placed. Now look down at the floor. Notice how uneven it is, and the big pools of water standing on it, and then you will understand what the prisoner is doing. Indeed he is not playing 'Turn the Trencher'; he is trying to scoop up some of the water in that shallow platter, because he has nothing else in the room that will hold it. If he can do this fast enough, and can manage to pour enough of the water away out of one of the holes in the walls, he may be able to keep himself from being flooded out, and thus he may preserve one little dry patch of floor, dry enough for his swollen feet to stand on, till the storm is over. But it is like trying to bale water out of a very leaky boat; for always faster than he can scoop it up and pour it away, more rain comes pouring in steadily, dripping and drenching. The wind shrieks and whistles and the prisoner is numb with cold.
What a wicked man he must be, to be punished by being put in this dreadful place! Certainly, if he has committed some dreadful crime, he has found a terrible punishment. But does he look wicked? See, at last he is too stiff and weary to move about any longer. In spite of the rain and the wind he sinks down exhausted upon a rickety chair and draws it to the spot where there is the best chance of a little shelter. There he sits in silence for some time. He is soaked to the skin, as well as tired and stiff and hungry. There is a small mug by the door, but it is empty and there is not a sign of food. Some bitter water to drink and a small piece of bread are all the food he has had to-day, and that is all gone now, for it was so very little. In this place a small threepenny loaf of bread has sometimes to last for three weeks. This poor man must be utterly miserable and wretched. But is he? Let us watch him.
Do you think he can be a wicked man after all? Is not the prisoner being punished through some dreadful mistake? He looks kind and good, and, stranger still, he looks happy, even through all his sufferings in this horrible prison. His face has a sort of brightness in it, like the mysterious light there is sometimes to be seen in a dark sky, behind a thunderstorm. A radiance is about him too as if, in spite of all he is enduring, he has some big joy that shines through everything and makes it seem worth while.
He is actually 'letting the sunlight through,' even in this dismal place. Any one who can do that must be a very real and a very big saint indeed. We must just find out all that we can about him. Let us take a good look at him now, while we have the chance. Then we shall know him another time, when we meet him again, having all sorts of adventures in all sorts of places. It is impossible to see his eyes, as he sits by the bed, for they are downcast, but we can see that he has a long, nearly straight nose, and lips tightly pressed together. His hair is parted and hangs down on each side of his head, stiff and lank now, owing to the wet, but in happier days it must have hung in little curls round his neck, just below his ears. He is a tall man, with a big strong-looking body. In spite of the coarse clothes he wears, there is a strange dignity about him. You feel something drawing you to him, making you want to know more about him.
You feel somehow as if you were in the presence of some one who is very big, and that you yourself are very small, smaller perhaps than you ever felt in your life. Yet you feel ready to do anything for him, and, at the same time, you believe that, if only you could make him know that you are there, he would be ready to do anything for you. Even in this wretched den he carries himself with an air of authority, as if he were accustomed to command. Now, at last he is looking up; and we can see his eyes. Most wonderful eyes they are! Eyes that look as if they could pierce through all sorts of disguises, and read the deepest secrets of a man's heart. They are kind eyes too; and look as if they could be extraordinarily tender at times. They are something like a shepherd's eyes, as if they were accustomed to gazing out far and wide in search of strayed sheep and lost lambs. Yet they are also like the eyes of a Judge; thoroughly well able to distinguish right from wrong. It would be terrible to meet those eyes after doing anything the least bit crooked or shabby or untrue. They look as if they would know at the first glance just how much excuses were worth; and what was the truth. No wonder that once, when those eyes fell on a man who was arguing on the wrong side, he felt ashamed all of a sudden and cried out in terror: 'Do not pierce me so with thine eyes! Keep thine eyes off me!' Another time when this same prisoner was reasoning with a crowd of people, who did not agree with him, they all cried out with one accord: 'Look at his eyes, look at his eyes!' And yet another time when he was riding through an angry mob, in a city where men were ready to take his life, they dared not touch him. 'Oh, oh,' they cried, 'see, he shines! he glisters!'
Then what happened next? We do not want to look at the prisoner in fancy any longer. We want really to know about him: to hear the beginnings and endings of those stories and of many others. And that is exactly what we are going to do. The prisoner is going to tell us his own true story in his own real words. There is no need for our fancy wings any longer. They may shrivel up and drop off unheeded. For that prisoner is GEORGE FOX, and he belongs to English history. He has left the whole story of his life and adventures written in two large folio volumes that may still be seen in London. The pages are so old and the edges have worn so thin in the two hundred and fifty years since they were written, that each page has had to be most carefully framed in strong paper to keep it from getting torn. The ink is faded and brown, and the writing is often crabbed and difficult to read. But it can be read, and it is full of stories. In olden times, probably, the book was bound in a brown leather cover, but now, because it is very old and valuable, it has been clothed with beautiful red leather, on which is stamped in gold letters, the title:
GEORGE FOX'S JOURNAL.
Now let us open it at the right place, and, before any of the other stories, let us hear what the writer says about that dismal prison in Scarborough Castle: how long he stayed there, and how he was at last set free.
'One day the governor of Scarborough castle, Sir Jordan Crosland, came to see me. I desired the governor to go into my room and see what a place I had. I had got a little fire made in it, and it was so filled with smoke that when they were in it they could hardly find their way out again.... I told him I was forced to lay out about fifty shillings to stop out the rain, and keep the room from smoking so much. When I had been at that charge and had made it somewhat tolerable, they removed me into a worse room, where I had neither chimney nor fire hearth.'
(This last is the room in the castle cliff that is still called 'George Fox's prison,' where we have been standing in imagination and looking in upon him. We will listen while he describes it again, so as to get accustomed to his rather old-fashioned English.)
'This being to the sea-side and lying much open, the wind drove in the rain forcibly, so that the water came over my bed, and ran about the room, that I was fain to skim it up with a platter. And when my clothes were wet, I had no fire to dry them; so that my body was benumbed with cold, and my fingers swelled, that one was grown as big as two. Though I was at some charge in this room also, yet I could not keep out the wind and rain.... Afterwards I hired a soldier to fetch me water and bread, and something to make a fire of, when I was in a room where a fire could be made. Commonly a threepenny loaf served me three weeks, and sometimes longer, and most of my drink was water, with wormwood steeped or bruised in it.... As to friends I was as a man buried alive, for though many came far to see me, yet few were suffered to come to me.... The officers often threatened that I should be hanged over the wall. Nay, the deputy governor told me once, that the King, knowing that I had a great interest in the people, had sent me thither, that if there should be any stirring in the nation, they should hang me over the wall to keep the people down. A while after they talked much of hanging me. But I told them that if that was what they desired and it was permitted them, I was ready; for I never feared death nor sufferings in my life, but I was known to be an innocent, peaceable man, free from all stirrings and plottings, and one that sought the good of all men. Afterwards, the Governor growing kinder, I spoke to him when he was going to London, and desired him to speak to Esquire Marsh, Sir Francis Cobb, and some others, and let them know how long I had lain in prison, and for what, and he did so. When he came down again, he told me that Esquire Marsh said he would go a hundred miles barefoot for my liberty, he knew me so well; and several others, he said, spoke well of me. From which time the Governor was very loving to me.
'There were among the prisoners two very bad men, who often sat drinking with the officers and soldiers; and because I would not sit and drink with them, it made them the worse against me. One time when these two prisoners were drunk, one of them (whose name was William Wilkinson, who had been a captain), came in and challenged me to fight with him. I seeing what condition he was in, got out of his way; and next morning, when he was more sober, showed him how unmanly a thing it was in him to challenge a man to fight, whose principle he knew it was not to strike; but if he was stricken on one ear to turn the other. I told him that if he had a mind to fight, he should have challenged some of the soldiers, that could have answered him in his own way. But, however, seeing he had challenged me, I was now come to answer him, with my hands in my pockets: and, reaching my head towards him, "Here," said I, "here is my hair, here are my cheeks, here is my back." With that, he skipped away from me and went into another room, at which the soldiers fell a-laughing; and one of the officers said, "You are a happy man that can bear such things." Thus he was conquered without a blow.
'... After I had lain a prisoner above a year in Scarborough Castle, I sent a letter to the King, in which I gave him an account of my imprisonment, and the bad usage I had received in prison; and also I was informed no man could deliver me but he. After this, John Whitehead being at London, and being acquainted with Esquire Marsh, went to visit him, and spoke to him about me; and he undertook, if John Whitehead would get the state of my case drawn up, to deliver it to the master of requests, Sir John Birkenhead, and endeavour to get a release for me. So John Whitehead ... drew up an account of my imprisonment and sufferings and carried it to Marsh; and he went with it to the master of requests, who procured an order from the King for my release. The substance of this order was that the King, being certainly informed, that I was a man principled against plotting and fighting, and had been ready at all times to discover plots, rather than to make any, therefore his royal pleasure was, that I should be discharged from my imprisonment. As soon as this order was obtained, John Whitehead came to Scarborough with it and delivered it to the Governor; who, upon receipt thereof, gathered the officers together, ... and being satisfied that I was a man of peaceable life, he discharged me freely, and gave me the following passport:—
'"Permit the bearer hereof, GEORGE FOX, late a prisoner here, and now discharged by his majesty's order, quietly to pass about his lawful occasions, without any molestation. Given under my hand at Scarborough Castle, this first day of September 1666.—JORDAN CROSLAND, Governor of Scarborough Castle."
'After I was released, I would have made the Governor a present for his civility and kindness he had of late showed me; but he would not receive anything; saying "Whatever good he could for me and my friends, he would do it, and never do them any hurt." ... He continued loving unto me unto his dying day. The officers also and the soldiers were mightily changed, and became very respectful to me; when they had occasion to speak of me they would say, "HE IS AS STIFF AS A TREE, AND AS PURE AS A BELL; FOR WE COULD NEVER BOW HIM."'
II. 'PURE FOY, MA JOYE'
'Outwardly there was little resemblance between George Fox and Francis of Assisi, between the young Leicestershire Shepherd of the XVIIth Century and the young Italian merchant of the XIIIth, but they both felt the power of GOD and yielded themselves wholly to it: both left father and mother and home: both defied the opinions of their time: both won their way through bitter opposition to solid success: both cast themselves "upon the infinite love of GOD": both were most truly surrendered souls; but Francis submitted himself to established authority, Fox only to the spirit of GOD speaking in the single soul.'
'In solitude and silence Fox found GOD and heard Him. He proclaimed that the Kingdom of GOD is the Kingdom of a living Spirit Who holds converse with His people.'—BISHOP WESTCOTT.
'Some place their religion in books, some in images, some in the pomp and splendour of external worship, but some with illuminated understandings hear what the Holy Spirit speaketh in their hearts'—THOMAS A KEMPIS.
'Lord, when I look upon mine own life it seems Thou hast led me so carefully, so tenderly, Thou canst have attended to none else; but when I see how wonderfully Thou hast led the world and art leading it, I am amazed that Thou hast had time to attend to such as I.'—AUGUSTINE.
II. 'PURE FOY, MA JOYE'
'He is stiff as a tree and pure as a bell, and we could never bow him.' So spoke the rough soldiers of Scarborough Castle of their prisoner, George Fox, after he had been set at liberty. A splendid thing it was for soldiers to say of a prisoner whom they had held absolutely in their power. But a tree does not grow stiff all at once. It takes many years for a tiny seedling to grow into a sturdy oak. A bell has to undergo many processes before it gains its perfect form and pure ringing note. And a whole lifetime of joys and sorrows had been needed to develop the 'stiffness' (or steadfastness, as we should call it now) and purity of character that astonished the soldiers in their prisoner. There will not be much story in this history of George Fox's early days, but it is the foundation-stone on which most of the later stories will be built.
* * * * *
It was in July 1624, the last year in which James the First, King of England, ruled in his palace at Whitehall, that far away in a quiet Leicestershire village their first baby was born to a weaver and his wife. They lived in a small cottage with a thatched roof and wooden shutters, in a village then known as 'Drayton-in-the-Clay,' because of the desolate waters of the marshlands that lay in winter time close round the walls of the little hamlet. Even though the fens and marshes have now long ago been drained and turned into fertile country, the village is still called 'Fenny Drayton.' The weaver's name was Christopher Fox. His wife's maiden name had been Mary Lago; and the name they gave to their first little son was George.
Mary Lago came 'of the stock of the martyrs': that is to say, either her parents or her grand-parents had been put to death for their faith. They had been burnt at the stake, probably, in one of the persecutions in the reign of Queen Mary. From her 'martyr stock' Mary Lago must have learned, when she was quite a little girl, to worship God in purity of faith. Later on, after she had become the mother of little George, it was no wonder that her baby son sitting on her knee, looking up into her face, or listening to her stories, learned from the very beginning to try to be 'Pure as a Bell.'
Mary Lago's husband, Christopher Fox, did not come 'of the stock of the martyrs,' but evidently he had inherited from his ancestors plenty of tough courage and sturdy sense. Almost the only story remembered about him is that one day he stuck his cane into the ground after listening to a long dispute and exclaimed: 'Now I see that if a man will but stick to the truth it will bear him out.'
When little George grew old enough to scramble down from his mother's knee and to walk with unsteady steps across the stone-flagged floor of the cottage, there was his weaver father sitting at his loom, making a pleasant rhythmic sound that filled the small house with music. As the boy watched the skilful hands sending the flying shuttle in and out among the threads, he learned from his father, not only the right way to weave good reliable stuff, but also how to weave the many coloured threads of everyday life into a strong character. The village people called his father 'Righteous Christer,' which shows that he too must have been 'stiff as a tree' in following what he knew to be right; for a name like that is not very easily earned where village eyes are sharp and village tongues are shrewd.
Less than a mile from the weaver's cottage stood the Church and the Manor House side by side. The churchyard had a wall of solid red bricks, overshadowed by a border of solemn old yew-trees. The Manor House was encircled by a moat on which graceful white swans swam to and fro. For centuries the Purefoy family had been Squires of Drayton village. They had inhabited the Manor House while they were alive, and had been buried in the churchyard close by after they were dead. The present Squire was a certain COLONEL GEORGE PUREFOY. It may have been after him that 'Righteous Christer' called his eldest son George, or it may have been after that other George, 'Saint George for Merrie England,' whose image killing the Dragon was to be seen engraved on each rare golden 'noble' that found its way to the weaver's home. Christopher and Mary Fox were both of them possessed of more education than was usual among country people at that time, when reading and writing were still rare accomplishments. 'Righteous Christer' was an important man in the small village. Besides being a weaver, he was also a churchwarden, and was able to sign his own name in bold characters, as may still be seen to-day in the parish registers, where his fellow-churchwarden, being unable to read or write, was only able to sign his name with a cross. Unfortunately this same register, which ought to record the exact day of July 1624 on which little George was baptized here in the old church, no longer mentions him, since, more than a hundred years after his time, the wife of the Sexton of Fenny Drayton, running short of paper to cover her jam-pots, must needs lay hands on the valuable Church records and tear out a few priceless pages just here. So, although several other brothers and sisters followed George and came to live in the weaver's cottage during the next few years, we know none of their ages or birthdays, until we come to the record of the baptism of the youngest sister Sarah. Happily her page came last of all, after the Sexton's jam was finished, and thus Sarah's name escaped being made into the lid of a jam-pot. But we will hope that the weaver and his wife remembered and kept all their children's birthdays on the right days, even though they are forgotten now. However that may have been, George's parents 'endeavoured to train him up, as they did their other children, in the common way of worship—his mother especially being eminent for piety: but even from a child he was seen to be of another frame of mind from his brethren, for he was more religious, retired, still and solid, and was also observing beyond his age. His mother, seeing this extraordinary temper and godliness, which so early did shine through him, so that he would not meddle with childish games, carried herself indulgent towards him.... Meanwhile he learned to read pretty well, and to write as much as would serve to signify his meaning to others.'
When he saw older people behaving in a rowdy, frivolous way, it distressed him, and the little boy used to say to himself: 'If ever I come to be a man, surely I will not be so wanton.'
'When I came to eleven years of age,' he says himself in his Journal, 'I knew pureness and righteousness; for while I was a child I was taught how to walk so as to be kept pure, and to be faithful in two ways, both inwardly to God, and outwardly to man, and to keep to Yea and Nay in all things.'
At that time there was a law obliging everybody to attend Church on Sundays, and as the services lasted for several hours at a time, the weaver's children doubtless had time to look about them, and learned to know the stones of the old church well. When the Squire and his family were at home they sat in the Purefoy Chapel in the North Aisle. From this Chapel a door in the wall opened on to a path that led straight over the drawbridge across the moat to the Manor House. It must have been interesting for all the village children to watch for the opening and shutting of that door. But up in the chancel there was, and still is, something even more interesting: the big tomb that a certain Mistress Jocosa or Joyce Purefoy had put up to the memory of her husband, who had died in the days of good Queen Bess.
'PURE FOY, MA JOYE,' the black letters of the family motto, can still be read on a marble scroll. If George in his boyhood ever asked his mother what the French words meant, Mary Fox, who was, we are told, 'accomplished above her degree in the place where she lived,' may have been able to tell him that they mean, in English, 'Pure faith is my Joy'; or that, keeping the rhyme, they might be translated as follows:—
'MY FAITH PURE, MY JOY SURE.'
Then remembering what had happened in her own family, surely she would add, 'And I, who come of martyr stock, know that that is true. Even if you have to suffer for it, my son, even if you have to die for it, keep your Faith pure, and your Joy will be sure in the end.'
Then Righteous Christer would take the little lad up on his shoulder and show him the broken spear above the tomb, the crest of the Purefoys, and tell him its story. Hundreds of years before, one of the Squires of this family had defended his liege lord on the battle-field at the risk of his own life, and even after his weapon, a spear, had been broken in his hand. His lord, out of gratitude for this, had given his faithful follower, not only the right to wear the broken spear in token of his valour ever after as a crest, but also by his name and by his motto to proclaim to all men the PURE FAITH (PUREFOY) that had given him this sure and lasting joy. Ever since, for hundreds of years, the Purefoy family had handed down, by their name, by their motto, and by the broken spear on their crest, this noble tradition of loyalty and allegiance—enshrined like a shining jewel in the centre of the muddy village of Drayton-in-the-Clay.
This was not the only battle story the boy must have known well. A few miles from Fenny Drayton is 'the rising ground of Market Bosworth,' better known as Bosworth Field. As he grew older George loved to wander over the fields that surrounded his birthplace. He 'must have often passed the site of Henry's camp, perhaps may have drunk sometimes at the well at which Richard is said to have quenched his thirst.' But although his home was near this old battlefield, the boy grew up in a peaceful England. Probably no one in Fenny Drayton imagined that in a very few years the smiling English meadows would once more be drenched in blood. George Fox in his country home was brought up to follow country pursuits, and was especially skilful in the management of sheep. He says in his Journal: 'As I grew up, my relations thought to have made me a priest, but others persuaded to the contrary. Whereupon I was put to a man who was a shoemaker by trade, and dealt in wool. He also used grazing and sold cattle; and a great deal went through my hands. While I was with him he was blest, but after I left him, he broke and came to nothing. I never wronged man or woman in all that time.... While I was in that service, I used in my dealings the word "Verily," and it was a common saying among those that knew me, "if George says Verily, there is no altering him." When boys and rude persons would laugh at me, I let them alone, but people generally had a love to me for my innocence and honesty.
'When I came towards 19 years of age, being upon business at a Fair, one of my cousins, whose name was Bradford, a professor, having another professor with him, asked me to drink part of a jug of beer with them. I, being thirsty, went with them, for I loved any that had a sense of good. When we had drunk a glass apiece, they began to drink healths and called for more drink, agreeing together that he that would not drink should pay for all. I was grieved that they should do so, and putting my hand into my pocket took out a groat and laid it on the table before them, saying, "If it be so, I will leave you." So I went away, and when I had done my business I returned home, but did not go to bed that night, nor could I sleep, but sometimes walked up and down and prayed and cried unto the Lord, who said to me: "Thou must forsake all, young and old, keep out of all and be a stranger to all."
'Then at the command of God, the 9th of the 7th month, 1643, I left my relations, and broke off all familiarity or fellowship with young or old.'
The old-fashioned English of the 'Journal' makes this story rather puzzling at the first reading, because several words have changed in meaning since it was written. The name 'professors,' did not then mean learned men who teach or lecture in a University, but any men who 'professed' to be particularly religious and good. These 'professionally religious people' are generally known as 'the Puritans,' and it was meeting with these bad specimens among them who 'professed' a religion they did not attempt to practise, that so dismayed George Fox. Here at any rate 'Pure Faith' was not being kept either to God or men. He must find a more solid foundation on which to rest his own soul's loyalty and allegiance. Over the porch of the Church at Fenny Drayton is painted now, not the Purefoy motto, but the words: 'I will go forth in the strength of the Lord God.' It was from this place that George Fox set forth on the long search for a 'Pure Faith' that, when he found it, was to bring both to him and to many thousands of his countrymen a 'Sure Joy.'
Why Righteous Christer and his wife did not help George more at this time remains a puzzle. They may have been afraid lest he was making a terrible mistake in leaving the worship they knew and followed, or they may have guessed that God was really calling him to do some work for Him bigger than they could understand, and may have felt that they could help their boy best by leaving him free to follow the Voice that spoke to him in the depths of his own heart, even if he had to fight his own battles unaided. Or possibly their thoughts were too full of all the actual battles that were filling the air just then to think any other troubles important. For our Quaker Saints are not legendary people; they are a real part of English History.
All through the years of George's boyhood the struggle between King Charles the First and his Parliament had been getting more tense and embittered. The abolition of the Star Chamber (May 1640), the attempted arrest of the five Members (October 1642), the trial and death, first of Strafford (May 1641) and then of Laud (January 1645)—all these events had been convulsing the great heart of the English nation during the long years while young George had been quietly keeping his master's sheep and cattle in his secluded Leicestershire village.
A year before he left home the long-dreaded Civil War had at last broken out. But the Civil War that broke out in the soul of the young shepherd lad, the struggle between good and evil when he saw his Puritan cousin tempting other people to drink and carouse, was to him a more momentous event than all the outward battles that were raging. His Journal hardly mentions the rival armies of King and Parliament that were marching through the land. Yet in reading of his early struggles in his own spirit, we must always keep in the background of our minds the thought of the great national struggle that was raging at the same time. It was not in the orderly, peaceful, settled England of his earliest years that the boy grew to manhood, but in an England that was being torn asunder by the rival faiths and passions of her sons. Men's minds were filled with the perplexities of great national problems of Church and State, of tyranny and freedom. No wonder that at such a time everyone was too busy to spare much sympathy or many thoughts for the spiritual perplexities of one obscure country lad.
Right into the very middle, then, of this troubled, seething England, George Fox plunged when he left his home at Fenny Drayton. The battle of Marston Moor was fought the following year, July 1644, and Naseby the summer after that. But George was not heeding outward battles. Up and down the country he walked, seeking for help in his spiritual difficulties from all the different kinds of people he came across; and there were a great many different kinds. The England of that day was not only torn by Civil War, it was also split up into innumerable different sects, now that the attempt to force everyone to worship according to one prescribed fashion was at length being abandoned. In one small Yorkshire town it is recorded that there were no less than forty of these sects worshipping in different ways about this time, while new sects were continually arising.
Perhaps it was a generous wish to give the professors another chance and not to judge the whole party from the bad specimens he had met, that made George go back to the Puritans for help. At first they made much of the young enquirer; but, alas! they all had the same defect as those he had met already. Their spoken profession sounded very fine, but they did not carry it out in their lives.
'They sought to be acquainted with me, but I was afraid of them, for I was sensible they did not possess what they professed.' In other words, their faith did not ring true. The professors were certainly not 'Pure as a Bell.'
George Fox's test was always the same, both for his own religion and other people's: 'Is this faith real? Is it true? Can you actually live out what you profess to believe? And do you? Is your faith pure? Is your joy sure?'
Finding that, in the case of the professors, a sorrowful 'No' was the only answer that their lives gave to these questions, George says: 'A strong temptation to despair came over me. I then saw how Christ was tempted, and mighty troubles I was in. Sometimes I kept myself retired in my chamber, and often walked solitary in the Chace to wait upon the Lord.'
It must not be forgotten that part of the Puritan worship consisted in making enormously long prayers in spoken words, and preaching sermons that lasted several hours at a time. George Fox became more and more sure that this was not the worship God wanted from him, as he thought over these matters in solitude under the trees of Barnet Chace.
After a time he went back to his relations in Leicestershire. They saw the youth was unhappy, and very naturally thought it would be far better for him to settle down and have a happy home of his own than to go wandering about the country in distress about the state of his soul.
'Being returned into Leicestershire, my relations would have had me married; but I told them I was but a lad and must get wisdom.' Other people said: 'No, don't marry him yet. Put him into the auxiliary band among the soldiery. Once he gets fighting, that will soon knock the notions out of his head.'
Young George would not consent to this plan either. He had his own battle to fight, his own victory to win, unaided and alone. He did not yet know that it was useless for him to seek for outward help. Being still only a lad of nineteen he thought that surely there must be someone among his elders who could help him, if only he could find out the right person. Having failed with the professors, he determined next to consult the priests and see if they could advise him in his perplexities. 'Priests' is another word that has changed its meaning almost as much as 'professors' has done. By 'priests' George Fox does not mean Anglican or Roman Catholic clergy, but simply men of any denomination who were paid for preaching. At this particular time the English Rectories and Vicarages were mostly occupied by Presbyterians and Independents. It was they who preached and who were paid for preaching in the village churches, which is what he means by calling them 'priests' in his Journal.
In these stories there is no need to think of George Fox as arguing or fighting against real Christianity in any of the churches. He was fighting, rather, against sham religion, formality and hypocrisy wherever he found them. In that great fight all who truly love Truth and God are on the same side, even though they are called by different names. So remember that these old labels that he uses for his opponents have changed their meaning very considerably in the three hundred years that have passed since his birth. Remember too that the world had had at that time nearly three hundred years less in which to learn good manners than it has now. The manners and customs of the day were much rougher than those of modern times. However much we may disagree with people, there is no need for us to tell them so in the same sort of harsh language that was too often used by George Fox and his contemporaries.
To these Presbyterian priests, therefore, George went next to ask for counsel and help. The first he tried was the Reverend Nathaniel Stephens, the priest of his own village of Fenny Drayton. At first Priest Stephens and young George seemed to get on very well together. Another priest was often with Stephens, and the two learned men would often talk and argue with the boy, and be astonished at the wise answers he gave. 'It is a very good, full answer,' Stephens once said to George, 'and such an one as I have not heard.' He applauded the boy and spoke highly of him, and even used the answers he gave in his own sermons on Sundays. This was a compliment, but it cost him George's friendship and respect, because he felt it was a deceitful practice. The Journal says: 'What I said in discourse to him on week-days, he would preach of on first days, which gave me a dislike to him. This priest afterwards became my great persecutor.'
Priest Stephens' wife was also very much opposed to Fox, and it is said that on one occasion she 'very unseemly plucked and haled him up and down, and scoffed and laughed.' Fox always felt that this priest and his wife were his bitter foes; but other people described Priest Stephens as 'a good scholar and a useful preacher, in his younger days a very hard student, in his old age pleasant and cheerful.' So, as generally happens, there may have been a friendly side to this couple for those who took them the right way.
After this, Fox continues, 'I went to another ancient priest at Mancetter in Warwickshire, and reasoned with him about the ground of despair and temptations; but he was ignorant of my condition; he bade me take tobacco and sing psalms. Tobacco was a thing I did not love, and psalms I was not in a state to sing; I could not sing. Then he bid me come again and he would tell me many things; but when I came he was angry and pettish; for my former words had displeased him. He told my troubles, sorrows and griefs to his servants so that it got among the milk-lasses. It grieved me that I should have opened my mind to such a one. I saw they were all miserable comforters, and this brought my troubles more upon me. Then I heard of a priest living about Tamworth, which was accounted an experienced man, and I went seven miles to him; but I found him like an empty hollow cask. I heard also of one called Dr. Craddock of Coventry, and went to him. I asked him the ground of temptations and despair, and how troubles came to be wrought in man? He asked me, "Who was Christ's Father and Mother?" I told him Mary was His Mother, and that He was supposed to be the son of Joseph, but He was the Son of God. Now, as we were walking together in his garden, the alley being narrow, I chanced, in turning, to set my foot on the side of a bed, at which the man was in a rage, as if his house had been on fire. Thus all our discourse was lost, and I went away in sorrow, worse than I was when I came. I thought them miserable comforters, and saw they were all as nothing to me; for they could not reach my condition. After this I went to another, one Macham, a priest in high account. He would needs give me some physic, and I was to have been let blood; but they could not get one drop of blood from me, either in arms or head (though they endeavoured to do so), my body being, as it were, dried up with sorrows, grief and troubles, which were so great upon me that I could have wished I had never been born, or that I had been born blind, that I might never have seen wickedness or vanity; and deaf, that I might never have heard vain and wicked words, or the Lord's name blasphemed. When the time called Christmas came, while others were feasting and sporting themselves, I looked out poor widows from house to house, and gave them some money. When I was invited to marriages (as I sometimes was) I went to none at all, but the next day, or soon after, I would go to visit them; and if they were poor, I gave them some money; for I had wherewith both to keep myself from being chargeable to others, and to administer something to the necessities of those who were in need.'
Three years passed in this way, and then at last the first streaks of light began to dawn in the darkness. They came, not in any sudden or startling way, but little by little his soul was filled with the hope of dawn:
Silently as the morning Comes on when night is done, Or the crimson streak, on ocean's cheek, Grows into the great sun.
He says, 'About the beginning of the year 1646, as I was going into Coventry, a consideration arose in me how it was said, "All Christians are believers, both Protestants and Papists," and the Lord opened to me, that if all were believers, then they were all born of God, and were passed from death unto life, and that none were true believers but such, and though others said they were believers, yet they were not.'
Possibly George Fox was looking up at the 'Three Tall Spires' of Coventry when this thought came to him, and remembering in how many different ways Christians had worshipped under their shadow: first the Latin Mass, then the order of Common Prayer, and now the Puritan service. 'At another time,' he says, 'as I was walking in a field on a first day morning, the Lord opened to me "That being bred at Oxford or Cambridge was not enough to fit and qualify men to be ministers of Christ:" and I wondered at it because it was the common belief of people. But I saw it clearly as the Lord had opened it to me, and was satisfied and admired the goodness of the Lord, who had opened the thing to me this morning.... So that which opened in me struck I saw at the priests' ministry. But my relations were much troubled that I would not go with them to hear the priest; for I would go into the orchard or the fields with my Bible by myself.... I saw that to be a true believer was another thing than they looked upon it to be ... so neither them nor any of the dissenting people could I join with.
'At another time it was opened in me, "That God who made the world did not dwell in temples made with hands." This at the first seemed strange, because both priests and people used to call their temples or churches dreadful places, holy ground and the temples of God. But the Lord showed me clearly that He did not dwell in these temples which men had made, but in people's hearts.'
In this way George Fox had found out for himself three of the foundation truths of a pure faith:—
1st. That all Christians are believers, Protestants and Papists alike.
2nd. That Christ was come to teach His people Himself.
3rd. That the Temple in which God wishes to dwell is in the hearts of His children.
Now that George Fox was sure of these three things, it troubled him less if he was with people whose beliefs he could not share.
The first set of people he came among believed that women had no souls, 'no more than a goose has a soul' added one of them in a light, jesting tone. George Fox reproved them and told them it was a wrong thing to say, and added that Mary in her song said, 'My soul doth magnify the Lord, My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour,' so she must have had a soul. George by this time had learned to know his Bible so well in the long quiet hours out of doors, when it had been his only companion, that it was easy to him to find the exact quotation he wanted in an argument. It was said of him, later on, by wise and learned men, that if the Bible itself were ever to be lost it might almost be found again in the mouth of George Fox, so well did he know it.
The next set of people he came to were great dreamers. They guided their lives in the daytime according to the dreams they had happened to dream during the night. And I should think a fine mess they must have made of things! George helped these dreamers to know more of realities, till, later on, many of them came out of their dream-world and became Friends.
After this at last he came upon a set of people who really did seem to understand him and to care for the same things that he did. They were called 'Shattered Baptists,' because they had broken off from the other Baptists in the neighbourhood who 'did the Lord's work negligently' and did not act up to what they professed. This was the very same fault that had driven George forth from among the professors at the beginning of his long quest. It is easy to imagine that he and these people were happy together. 'With these,' he says, 'I had some meetings and discourses, but my troubles continued and I was often under great temptations. I fasted much, walked abroad in solitary places many days, and often took my Bible and sat in hollow trees and lonesome places till night came on, and frequently in the night walked about by myself.... O the everlasting love of God to my soul, when I was in great distress! when my troubles and torments were great, then was His love exceeding great.... When all my hopes in all men were gone so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could I tell what to do, then, O then, I heard a Voice which said, "There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition." When I heard it, my heart did leap for joy.'
This message was like the rising of the sun to George Fox. The long night of darkness was over now, the sun had risen, and though there might be clouds and storms ahead of him still he had come out into the full clear light of day.
'My desires after the Lord grew stronger,' he writes, 'and zeal in the pure knowledge of God and of Christ alone, without the help of any man, book, or writing.... Then the Lord gently led me along and let me see His love which was endless and eternal, surpassing all the knowledge that men have in the natural state or can get by history and books. That love let me see myself as I was without him.... At another time I saw the great love of God, and was filled with admiration at the infiniteness of it.'
The truths that George Fox is trying to express are difficult to put into words. It is the more difficult for us to understand what he means because his language is not quite the same as ours. Other words besides 'priest' and 'professor' have altered their meanings. When he speaks of having had things 'opened' to him, we should be more likely to say he had had them revealed to him, or had had a revelation. Perhaps these 'openings' and 'seeings' that he describes, though they meant much to him, do not sound to us now like very great discoveries. They are only what we have been accustomed to hear all our lives. But then, whom have we to thank for that? In large measure George Fox himself.
In the immense bush forests that cover an unexplored country or continent the first man who attempts to make a track through them has the hardest task. He has to guess the right direction, to cut down the first trees, to 'blaze a trail,' to help every one who follows him to find the way a little more easily. That man is called a Pioneer. George Fox was a pioneer in the spiritual world. He discovered a true path for himself, a path leading right through the thick forest of human selfishness and sin and out into the bright sunshine beyond. In his lonely Quest through those years of struggle he was indeed 'blazing a trail' for us. If the track we tread nowadays is smooth and easy to tread, that is because of the pioneers who have gone before us. Our ease has been gained through their labours and sufferings and steadfastness.
The track was not fully clear even yet to George Fox. He had more to learn before he could make the right path plain to others; more to learn, but chiefly more to suffer. To strengthen him beforehand for those sufferings, he was given an assurance that never afterwards entirely left him. 'I saw the Infinite Love of God. I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death; but an infinite ocean of light and love which flowed over the ocean of darkness. In that also I saw the infinite love of God, and I had great openings.' The Quest was ended. Faith was pure, and Joy was sure at last.
'Now was I come up in spirit, through the flaming sword, into the Paradise of God. All things were made new, and all the creation gave another smell to me beyond what words can utter. I knew nothing but pureness, innocency, and righteousness, being renewed up to the image of God by Christ Jesus.... Great things did the Lord lead me into, and wonderful depths were opened to me, beyond what can by words be declared; but as people come into subjection by the Spirit of God, and grow up in the Image and Power of the Almighty they may receive the word of wisdom that opens all things, and come to know the hidden unity in the Eternal Being.'
'Thus travelled I in the Lord's service, as He led me.'
 The 7th month would be September, because the years then began with March.
III. THE ANGEL OF BEVERLEY
'To instruct young lasses and maidens in whatever things was useful in the creation.'—R. ABRAHAM.
'It was the age of long discourses and ecstatic exercises.'—MORLEY'S CROMWELL.
'George Fox's preaching, in those early years, chiefly consisted of some few, but powerful and piercing words, to those whose hearts were already in some measure prepared to be capable of receiving this doctrine.'—SEWEL'S HISTORY.
'But at the first convincement when friends could not put off their hats to people, nor say you to a particular but thee and thou; and could not bowe nor use the world's fashions nor customs ... people would not trade with them nor trust them ... but afterwards people came to see friends honesty and truthfulness.'—G. FOX.
'The light which shows us our sins is that which heals us.'—G. FOX.
'GOD works slowly.'—BISHOP WESTCOTT.
III. THE ANGEL OF BEVERLEY
Among all the children of Drayton village who watched eagerly for the door to open into the Purefoy Chapel on Sundays, when the Squire's family were at home, none watched for it more intently than blue-eyed Cecily, the old huntsman's granddaughter. Cecily's parents were both dead, and she lived with her grandfather in one of the twin lodges that guarded the Manor gates. Old Thomas had fought at the Squire's side abroad in years gone by. Now, aged and bent, he, too, watched for that door to open, as he sat in his accustomed place in the church with Cecily by his side. Old Thomas's eyes followed his master lovingly, when Colonel Purefoy entered, heading the little procession,—a tall, erect, soldierly-looking man, though his hair was decidedly grey, and grey too was the pointed beard that he still wore over a small ruff, in the fashion of the preceding reign.
Close behind him came his wife. The village people spoke of her as 'Madam,' since, although English born, and, indeed, possessed of considerable property in her own native county of Yorkshire, she was attached to the Court of Queen Henrietta Maria, and had caught something of the foreign grace of her French mistress.
But it was the two children for whose coming Cecily waited most eagerly, as they followed their parents. Edward Purefoy, the heir, a tall, handsome boy, came in first, leading by the hand his dainty little sister Jocosa, who seemed too fairy-like to support the stately family name, and who was generally known by its shorter form of Joyce.
Last of all came a portly waiting-maid, carrying a silky-haired spaniel on a cushion under each arm. These petted darlings, King Charles' own special favourites, were all the rage at Court at this time, and accompanied their masters and mistresses everywhere, even to church, where—fortunate beings—they were allowed to slumber peacefully on cushions at their owners' feet throughout the long services, when mere human creatures were obliged at any rate to endeavour to keep awake.
Cecily had no eyes to spare, even for the pet-dogs, on the eventful Sunday when the Squire and his family first appeared again at church after an unusually long absence. For there was little Mistress Jocosa, all clad in white satin, like a princess in a fairy tale, and as pretty as a picture. And so the great Court painter, Sir Anthony Vandyck, must have thought, seeing he had chosen to paint her portrait and make a picture of her himself in this same costume, with its stiff, straight, shining skirt, tight bodice, pointed lace collar, and close-fitting transparent cap that covered, but could not hide, the waves of dark crisp hair. When Cecily discovered that a string of pearls was clasped round the other little girl's neck, she gave a long gasp of delight, a gasp that ended in an irrepressible sigh. For, a moment later, this dazzling vision, with its dancing eyes, delicate features, and glowing cheeks, was lost to sight. All through the remainder of the service it stayed hidden in the depths of the high old family pew, whence nothing could be seen save the top of the Squire's silver head, rising occasionally, like an erratic half moon, over the edge of the dark oak wood.
Not another glimpse was to be had of the white satin princess; there was no one to look at but the ordinary village folk whom Cecily could see every day of her life: young George Fox, for instance, the Weaver's son, who was staring straight before him as usual, paying not the smallest heed to the entrance of all these marvellous beings. Fancy staring at the marble tomb erected by a long dead Lady Jocosa, and never even noticing her living namesake of to-day, with all her sparkles and flushes! Truly the Weaver's son was a strange lad, as the whole village knew.
A strange boy indeed, Joyce Purefoy thought in her turn, as, passing close by him on her way out of church, she happened to look up and to meet the steady gaze of the young eyes that were at the same time so piercing and yet so far away. She could not see his features clearly, since the sun, pouring in through a tall lancet window behind him, dazzled her eyes. Yet, even through the blurr of light, she felt the clear look that went straight through and found the real Joyce lying deep down somewhere, though hidden beneath all the finery with which she had hoped to dazzle the village children.
Late that same evening it was no fairy princess but a contrite little girl who approached her mother's side at bed-time.
'Forgive me, mother mine, I did pick just a few cherries from the tree above the moat,' she whispered hesitatingly 'I was hot and they were juicy. Then, when you and my father crossed the bridge on our way to church and asked me had I taken any, I,—no—I did not exactly forget, but I suppose I disremembered, and I said I had not had one.'
'Jocosa!' exclaimed her mother sternly: 'What! You a Purefoy and my daughter, yet not to be trusted to tell the truth! For the cherries, they are a small matter, I gave you plenty myself later, but to lie about even a trifle, it is that, that I mind.'
The little girl hung her head still lower. 'I know,' she said, 'it was shameful. Yet, in truth, I did confess at length.'
'True,' answered her mother, 'and therefore thou art forgiven, and without a punishment; only remember thy name and take better heed of thy Pure Faith another time. What made thee come and tell me even now?'
'The sight of the broken spear in church,' stammered the little girl. 'That began it, and then I partly remembered....'
She got no further. Even to her indulgent mother (and Madam Purefoy was accounted an unwontedly tender parent in those days), Joyce could not explain how it was, that, as the glance from those grave boyish eyes fell upon her, out of the sunlit window, her 'disremembering' became suddenly a weight too heavy to be borne.
Jocosa Purefoy never forgot that Sunday, or her childish fault.
* * * * *
The visits of the Squire and his family to the old Manor House were few and far between. The estates in Yorkshire that Madam Purefoy had brought to her husband on her marriage were the children's real home. It was several years after this before Cecily saw her fairy princess again. The next glimpse was even more fleeting than their appearance in church, just a mere flash at the lodge gates as Jocosa and her brother cantered past on their way out for a day's hunting. Old Thomas, sitting in his arm-chair in the sun, looked critically and enviously at the man-servant who accompanied them. 'Too young—too young,' he muttered. His own hunting days were long past, but he could not bear, even crippled with rheumatism as he was, that any one but he, who had taught their father to sit a horse, should ride to hounds with his children.
Cecily had some envious thoughts too. 'I should like very well to wear a scarlet riding-dress and fur tippet, and a long red feather in my hat, and go a-hunting on old Snowball, instead of having to stop at home and take care of grandfather and mind the house.'
After she had closed the heavy iron gates with a clang, she pressed her nose between the bars and looked wistfully along the straight road, carried on its high causeway above the fens, down which the gay riders were swiftly disappearing.