Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

Quaker Communities in Early Modern Wales: From Resistance to Respectability

Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

Quaker Communities in Early Modern Wales: From Resistance to Respectability

Article excerpt

Richard C. Allen, Quaker Communities in Early Modern Wales: From Resistance to Respectability, Cardiff, University of Wales Press, 2007, pp. xiv + 314, hb. £45, ISBN: 978-0-7083-2077-8

Recent years have seen a considerable profusion of studies, in theses, monographs and articles, of Quakers in particular locations, typically counties such as Norfolk, Durham and Cornwall. And when it comes to shires having strongly etched and particularistic identities, we tend to ask questions along the lines of, 'how Cornish were Friends in Cornwall?' (The answer appears to be, not very.) Now that Richard Allen has given us an exact and deeply researched account of the Friends within what was at least a region, a province, or a principality if not a nation, again we return to a variant on that earlier question and enquire, 'Just how Welsh were the Quakers of Wales?' To reach an answer to that question requires us, with Allen's considerable help, to investigate the Quaker interaction with two salient features of Welshness, the language and popular culture.

In an early modern Wales in which the majority of the population were Welshspeaking, and many of them monoglot in their language, the relationship between Quakerism and that language would be crucial to the success or failure of the movement in the Principality. The early signs were hopeful, and Allen cites J. Gwynn Williams's remark that in the Cymric heartland county of Merionethshire the Friends were 'securely rooted in the language and culture of Wales'. Not only did the founder, George Fox, in his obsessive campaign to induce people to employ the second-person singular form of verbs and pronouns, show some knowledge of Welsh accidence, but in 1657 he took a back seat - an unusual position for him - for three hours while his colleague the missionary John Ap John addressed a mass meeting in Welsh. An important Quaker marriage regulation, 'there must be no fickleness in courtship . . . .' was promptly rendered into classical Welsh - 'nid oes gwamalu I fod mewn cariad . . .'. Yet in the longer term Quakerism did not harmonize with the most distinctive marker of being Welsh, 'yr hen iaith', 'the old language'. True, a few books appeared in that ancient tongue, but the customary medium of annual meetings was English and it is perhaps an indicator of the society's increasingly negative view of the Welsh language that, as a kind of concession to a frailty, the epistle of the Yearly Meetings was read in Welsh 'for the sake of Monmouthsire friends . …

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