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The Braithwaite books

The more I've read about Quaker history, the clearer it's become how many of the amazing nuggets of Quaker history come from William C. Braithwaite's two volume history of early Quakerism. The Beginnings of Quakerism to 1660 was originally published in 1912, with a second edition in 1955, while The Second Period of Quakerism was published in 1919 with a second edition in 1961. Like Friends for 350 Years, it includes asterisks which lead to updates, provided in this case by Henry J. Cadbury.

Braithwaite built on earlier research, as L. Hugh Doncaster's Foreword explains:

At the time of his death in 1905, John Wilhelm Rowntree had collected much material to enable him to write a history of the Society of Friends "which should adequately exhibit Quakerism as a great experiment in spiritual religion, and should be abreast of the requirements of modern research." Subsequently his friends Rufus M. Jones and William Charles Braithwaite agreed to carry out this task, and the Rowntree Series of Quaker Histories, edited by Rufus M. Jones, was published during the next sixteen years...

Few books of historical study stand the test of being reprinted forty years later [now ninety], but those responsible for the Rowntree Series have no doubt about the rightness of making The Beginnings of Quakerism once more available..

But while there is room for fresh interpretation in the light of recent research, the main body of The Beginnings of Quakerism remains by far the most adequate study of its subject, and no further valid interpretation is likely to be made without building on this foundation.

Both books have had their introductions by Rufus Jones dropped, "on the ground that recent studies have, in the minds of a number of scholars, put Quakerism in a rather different light."

Both books include long quotes at the start of every chapter, along with excerpts of original materials throughout. While the language and the perspective may well date to 1912, the story-telling is excellent. Braithwaite's voice is present throughout, but in the first book I didn't notice much of his own opinion. (It's there, of course, just not obtrusive.) In the second book, where he thinks things sometimes went wrong, his own opinions surface more frequently, especially in the chapter on Formulation of Faith.

While the interpretation might not be quite as sensational as more recent tellings, there's an incredible amount of information here, not all of it flattering. The books are large and dense (607 pages for the first volume, 735 for the second), but fortunately well-indexed. I'd love to follow the footnotes further.

The two books are available in a hardcover reprint by Sessions of York, though the only place I've found selling them new is QuakerBooks.org. They'd certainly be worth tracking down in a library, and I hope meetings have them in their libraries, but they're also one of those resources that you'll want to return to again and again if you do much reading in Quaker history.

(I could probably write this blog as a series of reflections on Braithwaite and have material for the next fifty years.)