« The Rich Heritage of Quakerism | Main | Communion »

Friends for 350 Years

Howard Brinton's Friends for 300 Years, published in 1952, is a Quaker classic, and pretty much the only book on Quakerism I find regularly in used bookstores. Pendle Hill Publications reissued it in 2002 with a foreword, update, and notes by Margaret Hope Bacon as Friends for 350 Years.

Like The Rich Heritage of Quakerism, the author's voice is pretty clear, though in this case the voice is closer to my own. Unlike that book, however, the notes provide a second voice (Bacon) critiquing and sometimes correcting Brinton. Flipping back and forth between the notes and the main body of the book, you can hear a conversation going on disputing things like the influence of European mystics on Quakerism, questions of race in John Greenleaf Whittier's poetry, the optimism of the New Testament, and the behavior of various groups of Friends.

Unlike Walter Williams in The Rich Heritage of Quakerism, Brinton writes from a Wilburite perspective (see comments), giving them the benefit of the doubt for adherence to the original religion:

Among the Wilburites there was more opportunity than in either of the other two [Hicksite or Gurneyite Orthodox] for a genuine synthesis of the mystical and evangelical elements in Quakerism. It was they who could most clearly lay claim to be the heirs of the original Society of Friends. But there was an important difference. The code of behavior which the first Friends arrived at through immediate experience of the Inward Light, the Wilburites, with many exceptions, tend to accept in large measure on the basis of tradition.

While Brinton's claim that the Wilburites were the true heirs may raise some eyebrows, Brinton is constantly looking for a balance of the mystical element he sees Hicksites focusing on and the evangelical element that Evangelical Friends proclaim. The result is a book, that while still focused mostly on unprogrammed meetings, tries to reflect the understandings of a fairly wide swath of Quakerism.

It's an excellent book for newcomers to Quakerism to start with, as it focuses on what Quakers do and how they reached those conclusions rather than starting with the story of George Fox roaming England. Every section includes historical material, but it's not until near the end that Brinton assembles "The Four Periods of Quaker History". He's constantly telling stories, but his main narratives are built on Quaker practice. The outline itself is telling:

  • I. "To Wait upon the Lord"

  • II. The Light Within as Experienced

  • III. The Light Within as Thought About

  • IV. The Meeting for Worship

  • V. Vocal Ministry

  • VI. Reaching Decisions

  • VII. The Meeting Community

  • VIII. The Meeting and the World

  • IX. The Four Periods of Quaker History

  • X. Quaker Thought and the Present

  • An Historical Update by Margaret Hope Bacon

  • Page and Line Notes by Bacon

  • Appendix I: The Philadelphia Queries of 1946

  • Appendix II: The Philadelphia Queries of 2000

I strongly recommend Brinton's book, both for the content broadly - I'm sure I'll be citing it regularly - and as a chance to explore his perspective.

Now, does anyone know of a general history of Quakerism written explicitly from a Hicksite (or modern explicitly liberal) position?


Hi, Simon!

I'm a bit surprised to see you say that Brinton wrote from a Wilburite perspective. As I myself read him, I see his strongest influences as coming from:

-- Robert Barclay (some of Brinton's writing is an almost straight re-writing of Barclay's Apology),

-- Rufus Jones (e.g. in Brinton's treatment of Friends' religion as a form of mysticism, which is definitely not Wilburite),

-- the early twentieth century liberal Quaker reformers generally (thus Brinton's simplified list of testimonies, which again is definitely not Wilburite),

-- the Beanite movement in unprogrammed Quakerism (e.g. Brinton's simplified approach to Quaker discipline, again definitely not Wilburite), and

-- Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (Brinton's seeming center of geographic perspective).

In looking through the book again, it's clear that Brinton doesn't identify himself precisely as Wilburite.

Margaret Hope Bacon's introduction does make that connection explicitly, though not as strongly as I'd remembered:

It is no longer acceptable, as it perhaps was fifty years ago, to write the history of the Society of Friends exclusively from the point of view of one's own affiliation, as Brinton did from the viewpoint of a member of the Wilburite-leaning Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.

So his "seeming center of geographic perspective" - from Bacon's perspective at least - comes with a perspective of its own.

The extended quote above blends with related quotes about proper balance to make me reasonably convinced that while Brinton may not have been a Wilburite himself specifically, that was the 19th century group he clearly identifies with most strongly, and he seems quite pleased to be in the middle between those overly mystical and overly evangelical writers.

One very odd thing - he draws a line in his divisions diagram (on page 238) from the Orthodox Gurneyite over to Wilburite (which is right next to Philadelphia (Orthodox)) in the late 1800's, well after the Wilburites had left. He doesn't mention Bean, but maybe that's him connecting the Beanites and Wilburites, and placing himself at what he sees as a centrist position.

It's good to have your explanation of the Wilburite tag!

But I still don't really buy it. I think the fact that Brinton married the granddaughter of Joel and Hannah Bean (the Beans for whom "Beanite" is named) and became one of the co-founders of Pacific Yearly Meeting (the first yearly meeting to arise entirely out of the Beanite movement) must surely be as significant as his birthright membership in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.

I think the fact that when Brinton was a young man, Rufus Jones was his beloved mentor, figures in as well; Jones was anything but a Wilburite. And Brinton's teaching positions at Earlham, Guilford and Haverford exposed him to the liberal tides then washing across the Quaker world, and further dissolved his attachment to the traditional "Wilburite-leaning" interpretation of Quakerism in which he'd been raised.

As for that "very odd .... line in his divisions diagram ... from the Orthodox Gurneyite over to Wilburite ... in the late 1800s", that line has nothing to do with the Beans. There were four yearly meetings formed by separations in the Gurneyite Quaker world beginning in 1877, in reaction against the widespread Gurneyite enthusiasm for Holiness theology and Holiness revivals. My own yearly meeting, Iowa (Conservative), is the last survivor of those four, the others being Western (Conservative), Kansas (Conservative) and Canada (Conservative).

All four of those Conservative yearly meetings subsequently allied themselves with the Wilburites of New England, Ohio and Iowa, as well as with North Carolina (Conservative) when it was formed a generation later. But none of them represented Friends who had sided with Wilbur in the original Wilbur-versus-Gurney dispute. And that is the reason for that "very odd line", which in fact maps the journey of those four yearly meetings from the Gurneyite to the Wilburite position.

Fair enough - Brinton didn't explain the diagram, or who he was speaking about in it. He doesn't mention Bean, Beanites, or Pacific Yearly Meeting and its predecessors at all that I can find. (He does mention Jones a few times, and "owes him a deep and permanent debt.")

He seems more interested in a continuum from mystical to evangelical, though later he adds a few more dimensions.

It's interesting to me that he shows Philadelphia (O) as slightly more evangelical (and less mystical) than the Wilburites. Five Years Meeting and Fundamentalists are both well to the evangelical side, while "General Conference Hicksites" are well to the mystical side. Early Quakers are in the center of this, though that leaves them more mystical than the Wilburites.

Without reproducing the diagram itself, I think the generally safe point is that Brinton sees himself - and the most complete forms of Quakerism - as balancing the mystical and evangelical. He shows the Wilburites closer than anyone else to that on the chart and speaks of them approvingly for similar reasons in the text.

You're correct that this doesn't make him a Wilburite historically. Bacon argues, and I think the text supports, that he was more sympathetic to Wilburite and Philadelphia perspectives than anyone else he actually names.

So I suspect that you're right in many ways, and that Margaret Hope Bacon is right in others.

I'm still looking for a broad perspective on Quakerism that's from the severely liberal side, perhaps Hicksite or latter-day Hicksite, just to find more substantial contrast. Perhaps they're too polite to write such things?

I just found this from Chuck Fager as well, in his "Liberal Friends (Re)discover Fox", from the recent George Fox's Legacy: Friends for 350 Years.

"With mixed Hicksite-Orthodox parentage, and a deep affinity for the Wilburite Quietists of his native Chester County, Pennsylvania, his career took him across the country, from Canada to Carolina to California and back. He likewise moved across the Quaker landscape of his time, from Quietist to liberal to evangelical, touching all the bases and seeing clearly what was going on in each quarter." (47)

That seems to be another source for this claim, and I think it may in fact be what started the blog entry.

Again, that doesn't mean that Brinton was himself Wilburite, so I've struck that (visibly) from the post.