The Beginnings of Quakerism

By William C. Braithwaite | Go to book overview
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George Fox, the weaver's son, apprentice to a shoemaker and dealer in wool, had little book-learning beyond the Bible, but he had as a young man acquired first-hand knowledge of varieties of religious experience by walking through the Midlands to seek out and converse with "professors" of Puritanism in all its forms. Thus trained, he was better suited to found a new religion that should satisfy the desires of the soul than if the academic study of Hooker and Calvin had accustomed him to regard the organization of Churches and the details of dogma as matters of spiritual importance. His views, which he drew from obscure corners of his own country, had come from distant lands and ages. . . . These ideas. . . he alone was able to impress upon a large portion of mankind by the fire of his living genius.--

GEORGE M. TREVELYAN, England under the Stuarts, p. 312.

RELIGIOUS movements develop with the help of a favouring environment, but they spring out of great personal experiences. The fresh truth roots itself in life before it can be uttered in a message. This is certainly the case with the Quaker movement of the seventeenth century. It sprang directly from the vital and vitalizing experience of its founder, George Fox, whose purity and sincerity of nature gave his witness extraordinary force.

Fox was born in July 1624 at the little village of Fenny Drayton, on the Leicestershire border of Watling Street.1 His father, Christopher Fox, was a weaver, a man of standing and capacity, filling the office of church- warden,2 and worthily known to his neighbours and to us

Most of the facts in this chapter are taken from Fox Journal, as edited by Thos. Ellwood in 1694. This Journal ranks among the religious classics of the world. My references are to the convenient Bi-centenary edition, London, 1891, but I have corrected the text to that of the 1694 edition. Vol. i. pp. 1-41 contains Fox's early experiences. They are not in the Cambridge edition of the Journal, which begins, as now extant, at a later point. See Appendix A on Journals of Geo. Fox.
J.F.H.S. i. 10.


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