A Quaker Woman

“ I DON’T care who thee marries,” I. Aunt Rebecca used to say, “grave or gay, rich or poor, but he must at least have had a Quaker grandmother! ”

Aunt Rebecca’s logic was perhaps better than her grammar, at all events her heart was large enough to cover both ; but — will you believe it ? — I never once thought of her injunction the first time I met John ! And as the first time was really the last and final time so far as I was concerned, and resulted in the purchase of a lovely soleleather trunk with my initials on it, and a trip of thousands of miles across the Plains with him, I may truly be said to have forgotten it altogether, So that on arriving in this far-away San Francisco, at his father’s house, with every mark of the world’s people upon its windows and its walls, judge of my surprise to find hanging in the library, as family portraits in substantial gilt frames, a Quaker grandmother, and grandfather too, as natural as life !

Then I saw why, in spite of myself, I had married John ! That it was the Quaker in me that had found response in him. All the underlying delicacy, the inner refinement of soul which makes John, with his broad shoulders and his gay laugh, the most adorable of human beings, had its explanation in those portraits on the wall. I blessed every fold of the soft muslin kerchief that framed the full throat of Grandmother More, for I knew that the heart that once it covered was gentle and kindly to the end. And my heart went out in reverence to the clear prim border of her wondrously starched cap, for I saw in it the spotless purity of her walk in life and the mild asceticism of her ways.

The other portrait was not so distinctive ; Quaker men are not and cannot be so different from the rest of the world in garb as the sisters of their sect. Their breadth of brim is rivalled by many an English gentleman of middle age and stout proportions ; and as for the straight lappel of the coat, in these Ritualistic days one is apt to set down any peculiarity of cut to the sartorial requirements of creed, and pass it as a “vestment ” of some sort, sanctioned by the Church.

But I kiss my hand to both the dear benign faces, and thank them for my husband. Is it that the abnegation of all ceremony, the stripping from life of all those lying little conventions and easy-going forms which pass current in the world for genuine, — the moral heroism which Quaker conversation requires, — has given him in this generation his inheritance of true courtesy ? When life is reduced to the abrupt yea and nay, of necessity the graces of kindness and delicate thoughtfulness, golden consideration for the feelings of others must be cherished, or man becomes a savage again. Thus Quakerism, taking refuge in straitness from the etiquette that with all its uses is ofttimes so hollow-hearted, keeps alive and bright in its rigid setting the glow of charity and love.

Out of Philadelphia and its corresponding “ Quarterly Meetings ” the Quaker is an exceptional figure. In other places he seems like a colonist. The Quakers of New York, influential and wealthy as many of them are, — and a poor Quaker, anywhere, is a rara avis, — are still a part of the roar and the rush, and drive quite naturally from the week-day meeting to the “ Board ” at noon. A gay color slips in now and then in dress or upholstery. The Quaker bonnet is not worn so demurely, but covers unlimited business aptitude, a talent for subscription getting and for a wider field of worldly intercourse than the traditions of the sect justify. But the charities are comprehensive and wisely administered, which justifies the subscriptions, and the essential qualities of the peculiar people are only merged, not lost, but hidden in the dust of Broadway.

Quakerism, though it lives on the southeast coast, never has taken kindly to New England soil, and the New England Quaker of to-day has a strong flavor of Puritanism, a dash of the salt, sharp spray about him, that would go far to reconcile the ancient grudge. There has been an interchange ; Yankee philosophy has become tinctured with Quaker inspiration, and the “Friend” in his lymphatic way has absorbed the keen, driving qualities of the people he lives among. Despite some few dramatic figures, Quakerism in New England does not seem intact as a unit; and it is a question if Lucretia Mott, Nantucket born though she be, apart from the fostering influence of Philadelphia, would have reached the serene prophetic height of her gracious womanhood.

In the West the Quakers are of the Philadelphia type, primitive and simple, save that the exigencies of the new, rapid life compel sometimes a trivial departure from the ordered ways : where drab alpaca is not to be had, a blue or green cotton print must take its place ; and if there is nobody to take care of the babies at home, they must be brought to “ meeting,” albeit an occasional cry disturb the sweet serenity. The vexed question of maternity versus a public career was calmly settled in one of these “ meetings ” not so very long ago. The clerk of the meeting—it was a weekday gathering for business purposes — sat calmly at her table taking “minutes ” and putting questions. The meeting-house was a barn-like structure with an adjoining chamber devoted apparently to rafters and darkness. From this crypt, at one interval of the proceedings, a crying child was handed in to the clerk, who hushed it in motherly fashion and handed it back to its obscurity again. Nobody was disturbed, no one was impatient at the episode ; it made not a ripple on the calm tide of the morning’s business, and nobody laughed save a few visiting Philadelphians, who had not anticipated, in attending country “ meeting,” the easy solution of a problem which bids fair to rend the world. But this was on the “ women’s side ” of the house ; tor in the wise ordering of the Quaker church, each sex has its own peculiar province, its own business and discipline, and its own “concerns” as to what is going on in the society.

The Quakers of Baltimore are also slightly modified, though to the unpractised eye they would be pronounced as like as two peas to the original type. Potent as are the influences of the Philadelphia markets, the tables of Baltimore overflow with richness, and there is more expansiveness, seemingly, in the more southern city. Here and there along the border, however, are stern old figures, whose name was a synonyme of rest and refuge for the fugitive in the bygone days, and whose lives were crusades, to the bitter end, against the nation’s wrong.

But how portray the Philadelphian ! How estimate the leaven of domestic virtue, of kindling benevolence, of patient acquiescence in the things that be, that makes any change in the established order of things, even the undoing of an iniquity, to be dreaded as an earthquake in the Quaker City. The brooding peace so secure in its “goodwill to all,” that it sleeps while storms are lowering, is not to be disturbed lightly or with careless hand. The magnificent aplomb, the calm diplomacy which urges the “ weighing ” of a question, the taking time to consider it, and finally, when factions grow too strong for a settlement to come without a division or a split in the meeting, the injunctions “that Friends let the matter rest till a more fitting season,” “till Friends’ minds have longer dwelt upon it,” are unequalled in the history of any sect. Had more impassioned judgment, more rapid decisions, more vehement action, been allowed by the traditions, the Quakers as a distinctive body would have been dispersed long ago, their scattered fragments forming the nucleus of many a wise and good organization, but as a “peculiar people ” their value and testimony would have been lost. Their leaven in other religious bodies might in measure have atoned for their loss, but there would be no more stately figures in the “gallery,” no more sanctified stillness in the body of the meeting, and no more of those “ troops of shining ones,” that Charles Lamb loved so well.

No one ever saw a Quaker beggar, and no one had ever opportunity to relieve a Quaker from pecuniary distress. The inquisitorial income tax is anticipated by the freemasonry of the “ Friends,” and domiciliary visits are frequent among them. Each member is taxed, heavily or lightly, as his circumstances permit, for the general fund ; and from this fund, in the most delicate way, the wants of the needy in the society are supplied. All is done so quietly, that few except the dispensers and the recipients of the charity know anything about it. The apostolic injunction to bear one another’s burdens is faithfully and ungrudgingly carried out; and, indeed, some of the shining lights of the society have been in their threadbare circumstances thus generously cloaked by this proud esprit de corps.

The wayfaring man may well put off his shoes from his feet when he crosses a Quaker threshold. Peace and holiness dwell therein, and the home is an embodiment of spotless housekeeping and refined and gentle taste. The parlor with its carpet of greens and browns, the plain sofas and chairs framed for convenience and comfort, the square table with its sober cloth, bear witness to the solidity and gravity of the household life. Some small attempt at decoration there may be if there are young persons in the household, which shows itself in a bright bouquet of autumn leaves and nodding grasses, or perhaps a simple Parian vase with one waxen flower or trailing vine. But these are all toned in the sombre setting, and one turns to the books for distraction. Solid and well selected all, dignified histories and scientific treatises, the graver poets, always a Milton, the latest and freshest works on mosses, ferns, or sea-shells. A scientific romance with Creation for its theme, a glimpse at stellar worlds may be permitted; but Professor Huxley, I think, would be disallowed on these grim and frowning shelves.

A plain, comfortable carriage, with sleek, shining horses, brings the honored visitors home from the Yearly Meeting, and, despite the severe simplicity of the drawing-room, the table in the dining-room is a groaning miracle. Rich old china, glass elaborately carved and cut, heirlooms in silver and the wares of Japan, set forth the good fare for which Quaker households are famous ; and, despite the ice-water creed of Americans and the temperate testimony of the “ Friends ” themselves, the wine which there is offered you may be depended on as both generous and stricken in years.

Yet through the refined economies of the stately matron who dispenses these good things with such simple grace, no greater amount of money has been expended by the year’s end than in less plentifully supplied households. If the market basket be heavy, there is balance in other things ; there are no elaborate lace curtains to be refreshed and renewed, and the solid simplicity of the upholstery is less subject to wear and tear than the airy gimcracks of worldly establishments. Above all, the close attention to detail, the careful “looking after” servants, motherly supervision of their morals and their manners, no less than their daily work ; the judicious thrift which makes every purchase tell, and the gentle treatment which renders the humblest member of the household a willing and responsible co-operator, go far to make a Quaker kitchen indeed the earthly paradise.

And with all this housekeeping and entertaining of guests, the meeting and committee work, visiting the poor and “ dealing ” with the erring, which makes a Quaker woman’s work, no children on earth are more tenderly reared, more carefully nurtured, than the babies whose socks are not of the color of this world. They learn from their mothers the matchless refinement of conscience which makes a Quaker education the backbone of so much that is lofty in character. While they are young they do not feel the restraints and guards which press so heavily, so intolerably on the young men and maidens. There is time for everything in a Quaker family, even time for demure plays in the plain language and thoughtful dressing of dolls. The little boy who reproved his brother for saying in a rage, “ Thee nasty little you, thee ! ” by the threat of, “ O James ! I ’ll tell mother thee swore!” has probably long since grown up and learned there are other tithes than those of mint and cummin.

Quakerism seems to blossom and attain its bright consummate flower in the mature woman. Her large liberty of thought and action, the protection of her distinctive garb which enables her to penetrate by night or day dens and hovels where another woman would meet only danger and insult, have broadened her walk in life and given full play to her sympathies and every impulse of benevolence. A Quaker bonnet is indeed an ægis under which the most defiant Woman’s Rights have walked demurely, unsuspected in all these years ; and its wearer is at once the exponent and the forerunner of the sixteenth amendment. Her conversation, debarred of dress and dancing gossip, seeks naturally a graver level, and with husband and sons she takes counsel of the interests and needs of her time. The Woman’s Medical College takes refuge under the broad brims of Quaker managers, and every Quakeress is a preacher by natural right anointed from on high.

But the traditions and discipline, all genial as they are for womanly growth and grace, are not so favorable, I think, to the development of a man’s character. It is impossible to divest the young man Friend (the vocabulary is not rich in distinctive epithets), especially if he has made broad his phylacteries and stiffened the collar of his coat, of the mask he seems to wear. It is so hard to crucify the healthy pagan instincts of the flesh, to eliminate boating and boxing and the vigorous manly sports that have come to us across the water, that, when all this has been done, the character seems to have lost much of its fibre.

The young Quaker, with so much of the richness of life shut out, plunges into the excitement of manufacturing and selling goods, in the safe speculations of well-grounded mines and steady-going railways, and gives to the accumulation of money, the driving of a bargain, all the young energies of his manhood. He is liberal enough with the money thus made, gives it ungrudgingly to the freedmen, the Indians, and during the war — poor fellow ! the only way he dared — to the hospital service of Sanitary and Christian Commissions.

The young Quakers who broke through the restraints of the sect, when war summoned all young life to the front, were very summarily “ dealt with ” by the conservative, the Orthodox body of Friends, and disowned without fear or favor. But the more progressive and elastic organization of the Hicksite Friends, in numerous instances philosophically concluded to overlook the backsliding and condone the offence in consideration of its being a “ peculiar trial.” Of course there were dealings and conferences on the subject; but as the young Friends retorted on the old that the main questions of the fight were but the result of Quaker teachings after all, and Quaker fellowship with the downtrodden and oppressed, the matter came to a deadlock and was dismissed. It was settled all the sooner, I imagine, because the “inner light,” the inspiration, could be quoted as forcibly by the young defenders of the faith as by the old conservers of the doctrine.

Perhaps in slighter degree and less heavily the restrictions of the sect bear upon the Quaker maiden, but none the less is the graceful growth of her nature confined in narrower limits than Heaven ordained for it. To dance and sing, to wear bright ribbons and dainty robes, seem as natural to girlhood as for a bird to plume its feathers and a flower to shine out in the sun. The Quaker girl “ wears her rue with a difference ” perhaps, but the fashion of her garments, her colors, and her walk and conversation are her mother’s with but slight remove. Her youthful energies are devoted to the acquirement of dainty housekeeping or fine seamstress-ship, and to stocking her mind with solid knowledge. She is in all respects “the old-fashioned girl.” It is the logical preparation, doubtless, for the freedom and fulness which mature womanhood will bring. The vine, whose fruit is for kings’ tables, must be shorn of all gay luxuriance, and its bare brown branches nailed to narrow trellis, unsightly and ungraceful. Very fine is the vintage ; but, alas for the vine ! Youth comes only once, and as the years fleet past, one cannot but wish that she could snatch at least the rainbows on the foam as the river goes speeding on. It is so easy to laugh and be gay now, and afterwards it is so hard. But if the Quaker girl feels these things in her soul and inwardly beats against the bars, there is no trace of discontent or disquiet in her pure, still brow. And her simple dress is such grateful contrast at times to the fantastic toilets of to-day, that the eye rests upon her, well pleased. For her own sake only, one might wish the rose in the hair, the knot of ribbon at the throat, and that the little boots that pat so soberly on the pavement might learn a livelier measure.

Once in a decade or twice (there are statistics for these things) there is a grand burst, and ranks are broken ; I speak now of the “Orthodox” body, whose rebellious spirits take refuge in the bosom of the Episcopal Church. They are apt to seek the extreme, and become, if not Ritualistic, at least fervent adherents to form and fasts and holydays. But their works do follow them even there, and they are generally foremost and active in the church charities and in the teaching of Sunday-schools.

But those who are left behind pursue their quiet way. They “ pass meeting,” that is, ask the approbation of the society upon their approaching marriage. The antecedents of both are inquired into, and as in most instances there is no fear of daylight in these clear consciences, the marriage is allowed. There is seldom question of separation in these unions, and never of divorce. If there be difference of character or taste, the weight of public opinion, the habit of gentle speech and kindly demeanor under circumstances the most exasperating, go far to reduce the discordant notes into harmony.

“ Putting on the plain bonnet,” which is the Quaker taking of the veil, means for married or single a more rigid consecration to the aims of the sect. Temple and pulse may throb wildly at times beneath its cool shade, and the most arrant selfishness and cunning may lurk under the broadest brim, but It compels an outward decorum and purity. We are such creatures of our surroundings, that after a while the pulses tone into quiet harmony with the garb, and the cunning must mask itself into deepest hypocrisy to escape the searching “queries.”

These are questions asked in the open Yearly Meeting, which, if truthfully and honestly answered, make of the society one grand confessional. No mere inquisitive prying, but a calm scrutiny of walk and conversation that they fall not behind the lofty ideal and brave exemplars of old. The Litany of the Episcopal Church is an aspiration, a prayer that may be recited with mechanical lips ; but these queries, covering as they do the manifold duties of man to his Maker, his neighbor, and himself, are asked with grave authority, and must be answered. Each little tributary meeting makes up its answers and sends them up to the great body that sits once a year, and who shall say that this annual introspection, in the ears not of one man but of all, kinsfolk and stranger, near and far, is without its influence and its use ? Thoroughly carried out, it comes nearer the Day of Judgment than anything else.

Some of these “ queries,” those which refer to “ amusements ” and to worldly pleasures, seem to us now to be crystallized absurdities. If the fathers had but confined their “testimony” to the abuse and not the use of these things, there would hardly be anachronism in the worn old discipline to the most liberal and broadest of their descendants. It would be good to live by, now as then !

But the great defect in Quakerism, an error which even the monastic ascetic escaped of old, is that it takes no account of the impulse and craving for beauty, the art instinct in human nature. All such things are “ the lust of the eye,” and to be shut out with discreet and shading hand. In the cultivation of flowers and the enjoyment of natural scenery, the Quaker craving for beauty alone finds expression. But human nature is hardly dealt with when the rich legacies of art are denied it, and revolt seems the natural result. Hence photographs, as perhaps the plain reproduction that cannot lie, are stealing into many a sober dwelling. And a Quaker’s trip to Europe brings home many ideas and memories to store away with the photographs.

Music is still the great Apollyon, the open sesame to all that is bad and immoral. In the Quaker “ First Day school ” the children are taught to say their hymns, not to sing them ; and the golden chain of the sweet, soaring young voices lies all unused. The DoRe-Mi-Sol is a shibboleth as yet to Quaker tongue, and the “ singing woman, Jane Lind,” was openly preached against of yore.

The drama of course cannot be named to “Friendly” ears, though many a ripe elder finds worldly wisdom no less than spiritual satisfaction in the page of William Shakespeare. This one lapse into toleration may account for the fact that occasionally a young party, apparently not at all sure of themselves and manifestly snatching at forbidden fruit, may be seen, as one hath expressed it, “ to sit an hour with Joseph Jefferson.” And who could blame them ? Hardly the Shakespeare reader in his heart, if he could only enter with them, unawares.

But, when all is said, I go back to Aunt Rebecca’s philosophy, and for the last word in life as well as ethics, I thank Heaven that my husband, and I too, had a Quaker grandmother!

Mrs. J. L. Hallowell.