[saymaListserv] The Light in their Consciences: The Early Quakers in Britain, 1646-1666

Larry Ingle lingle at bellsouth.net
Tue Jun 27 14:38:35 JEST 2000

Wanting Friends to know about one of the most important new books about 
early Quaker history that has appeared in the past few years, I want to
briefly review it.  By Rosemary Moore, a Friend from Britain, it is
entitled, The Light in their Consciences, and was just published by
Pennsylvania State University Press.  It retails, I believe, at $29.95.  She
does a lot in 228 pages of text, with appendices, bibliography, and fine

Moore's book is the first full look at the experiences of the earliest
Friends since Hugh Barbour's Quakers in Puritan England, nearly forty years
ago.  Having explored a wide range of manuscript sources and printed
pamphlets and subjecting them to computer analysis, it is the most
thoroughly researched such book that we have had so far.

And Moore's sustained effort shows.  It is not an overstatement to say that
hers is the best book on the subject since William C. Braithwaite's two
volumes in the earlier twentieth century.  Like Braithwaite's books, it
places George Fox at the center of the early Quaker movement, but unlike his
she consciously avoids using Fox's famous Journal if she can; hence the book
may be Fox-centered, but it is not Fox-dominated.

Because she is aware of historiographical controversies, Moore looks at the
extant literature to determine which Quaker defers to whom and why.  This
approach puts Fox near the center, even as it explains the relationships
that each Friend has with others.  She is aware that historians build on
each other, so in one way her book synthesizes the points of view of those
that have gone before, making her approach a broadly based one and finally
convincing one.  (In this regard, her end notes are full of fair judgments
that demand the attention of those who want to see her take on controversial

Moore's starting point is 1646, the year that Fox met Elizabeth Hooton, whom
Moore believes was one of the important figures that Fox wrote out of his
Journal, for whatever reason she is not totally sure.  From there she goes
through the mostly familiar story, but she gives a gloss to it that is
missing in so many other works, for her research method leads her to deal
with "fringe" Quakers, too often overlooked by previous authors.

She ends with the 1666 "Testimony of the Brethren," a document that almost
all scholars have overlooked.  It was issued while Fox was still in prison
in Scarborough jail, but she concludes that he did not disagree with it.
This document set the stage for the institutionalization of Quakerism in a
way the Stuart Restoration, where many historians, including Braithwaite and
myself placed it, did not.  Thus Moore can insist that it marked the
division between the early and the late periods; in this way, she has moved
the landscape that has governed Quaker history.  (Although, in my defense, I
should point out that I too recognized and commented on the significance of
the "Testimony of the Brethren" in First Among Friends.)

Let me conclude by quoting my comments constrasting Braithwaite and Moore at
the recent Conference of Quaker Historians and Archivists, meeting the
week-end of June 23 and 24 at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana:

"He is establishment-oriented, she is more dispassionate and broad; his is
encyclopedic, whereas she is selective; his is male-oriented, she is more
nuanced; he is historical, she attempts to bridge the gap between theology
and history (well, let if be said by this skeptic toward theology); his
sources, while wide, tend to be shallow, hers evince greater depth.  But in
one way, these two books are similar--they will both remain standard for
years to come, putting future scholars in their debt."
Larry Ingle

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