Friday, 24 September 2010

Friendly Quaking at Swarthmoor Hall

My week at Swarthmoor Hall, a 16th-century country house where the first Quaker meetings were held, has produced more material than I could possibly use in my next novel. Guess that's how authors end up writing trilogies.

I was given access to a collection of 17th-century printed journals and soon lost myself in the adventures of Margaret Fell, rendered in a wonderfully clear, fresh and vivid style; a reminder that good writing ages well. Margaret lived at Swarthmoor with her husband, Judge Fell. She hosted the first Quaker meetings in the 1650s and was later imprisoned for refusing to take the oath of obedience to the king (Quakers don't swear but try to be truthful at all times - "let thy yea be yea" and all that).
As Margaret herself put it: "But I answer'd the Judge, That I rather choose a Prison for obeying of God, than my liberty for obeying of Men, contrary to my Conscience."

Apart from the worthy religious tomes there were several modern booklets that showed the lighter side of Quaker life. "Laughter in Quaker Grey", a collection of Quaker anecdotes, was published by W.H. Sessions in York in 1952. Here's a cute little passage from the book - a conversation between a typically sweet, shy Quaker boy and his girlfriend:

"Martha, dost thou love me?"

"Why Seth, we are commanded to love one another."

"Aye Martha, but dost thee regard me with the feeling the world calleth love?"

"I hardly know what to tell thee, Seth; I have greatly feared my heart was an erring one. I have tried to bestow love on all, but I have sometimes thought that thee wast getting more than thy share."

(Image: Frontispiece, "Margaret Fox of Swarthmore Hall", by Helen Crosfield, London Headley Brothers, 1913, University of Tasmania Library. [Swarthmoor is also known as Swarthmore])

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