In 1848 Quaker farmer Jonathan Roberts moved his family south from New Jersey to a new farm in northern VA in 1848. He arrived with high hopes and even higher ideals.
The new spread adjoined George Washington’s Mt. Vernon plantation, already a historic site for the still-young nation. Yet with its distinguished lineage, the property brought its characteristic issues: the fields had been exploited to grow tobacco, which brought quick profits but depleted the soil; and the white owners had been corrupted by maintaining themselves and their culture on a system of enslaved labor and chronic indebtedness.
The more scarred the land became and the deeper in debt many planters sank, the more belligerent they had become in their system’s defense, threatening rebellion and war if it were at all disturbed or upset.
By acquiring land among them, Roberts intended to change all that: renew the soil and make it sustainably profitable; do so entirely with free labor; thereby they would show the slaveowners a way out of debt and the thrall of their brutal human commerce. This would undermine and banish the slavery system, not overnight, but by invincible example and thus without falling prey to the scourge of war. Continue reading The “Quaker Scout”: Highlighting A Very Relevant Piece of Quaker History→
Mitch is a longtime student and celebrant of Whitman, and as we’ll see, does not lack deep artistic talent himself. His work deserves more attention, and will get a small measure of that here.
Mitch animated this stanza, and one can only begin to imagine how fabulous future installments might be.
The animation is only three minutes plus.
Yet in those brief moments it evokes much of Whitman’s continuing appeal and mystery: his modest origins, comfort with nature in all its aspects,
unabashed sensuality, human warmth, and easy, encompassing untheological mysticism.
From Stanza 5:
Loafe with me on the grass, loose the stop from your throat,
Not words, not music or rhyme I want, not custom or lecture, not even the best,
Only the lull I like, the hum of your valvèd voice.
If I may be pardoned a sectarian aside, Whitman overlaps at many points with Quakerism, though he did not join. As a youth he heard and was fascinated by the then-radical preaching of Elias Hicks; later, although not subject to the military draft in the Civil War, he spent many months doing an unofficial noncombat service in military hospitals, especially with gravely wounded and dying soldiers; he wrote essays in tribute to Hicks and George Fox; and more — which Mitch has been exploring and documenting for many years. (One small key chapter of it, from Quaker Theology, is here.)
And I can’t close without slipping in an unanimated addition, the next, sixth stanza of Song of Myself, which sticks in my memory perhaps more than any other:
Song of Myself 6
A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands; How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he. I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.
Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord, A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt, Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark, and say Whose?
Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation.
Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic, And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones, Growing among black folks as among white, Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them the same.
And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.
Tenderly will I use you curling grass, It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men, It may be you are from old people, or from offspring taken, It may be if I had known them I would have loved them, soon out of their mothers’ laps, And here you are the mothers’ laps.
This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old mothers, Darker than the colorless beards of old men, Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.
O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues, And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths for nothing.
I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and women, And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring taken soon out of their laps. What do you think has become of the young and old men? And what do you think has become of the women and children?
They are alive and well somewhere, The smallest sprout shows there is really no death, And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it, And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.
All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses, And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.
THEE finds me in the garden, Hannah,—come in! ’T is kind of thee To wait until the Friends were gone, who came to comfort me. The still and quiet company a peace may give, indeed, But blessed is the single heart that comes to us at need.
Come, sit thee down! Here is the bench where Benjamin would sit On First-day afternoons in spring, and watch the swallows flit: He loved to smell the sprouting box, and hear the pleasant bees Go humming round the lilacs and through the apple-trees.
I think he loved the spring: not that he cared for flowers: most men Think such things foolishness,—but we were first acquainted then, One spring: the next he spoke his mind; the third I was his wife, And in the spring (it happened so) our children entered life.
He was but seventy-five; I did not think to lay him yet In Kennett graveyard, where at Monthly Meeting first we met. The Father’s mercy shows in this: ’t is better I should be Picked out to bear the heavy cross—alone in age—than he.
We ’ve lived together fifty years: it seems but one long day, One quiet Sabbath of the heart, till he was called away; And as we bring from Meeting-time a sweet contentment home, So, Hannah, I have store of peace for all the days to come.
I mind (for I can tell thee now) how hard it was to know If I had heard the spirit right, that told me I should go; For father had a deep concern upon his mind that day, But mother spoke for Benjamin,—she knew what best to say.
Then she was still: they sat awhile: at last she spoke again, “The Lord incline thee to the right!” and “Thou shalt have him, Jane!” My father said. I cried. Indeed, ’t was not the least of shocks, For Benjamin was Hicksite, and father Orthodox.
I thought of this ten years ago, when daughter Ruth we lost: Her husband’s of the world, and yet I could not see her crossed. She wears, thee knows, the gayest gowns, she hears a hireling priest— Ah, dear! the cross was ours: her life’s a happy one, at least.
Perhaps she ’ll wear a plainer dress when she ’s as old as I,— Would thee believe it, Hannah? once I felt temptation nigh! My wedding-gown was ashen silk, too simple for my taste; I wanted lace around the neck, and a ribbon at the waist.
How strange it seemed to sit with him upon the women’s side! I did not dare to lift my eyes: I felt more fear than pride, Till, “in the presence of the Lord,” he said, and then there came A holy strength upon my heart, and I could say the same.
I used to blush when he came near, but then I showed no sign; With all the meeting looking on, I held his hand in mine. It seemed my bashfulness was gone, now I was his for life: Thee knows the feeling, Hannah,—thee too, hast been a wife.
As home we rode, I saw no fields look half so green as ours; The woods were coming into leaf, the meadows full of flowers; The neighbors met us in the lane, and every face was kind,— ’T is strange how lively everything comes back upon my mind.
I see, as plain as thee sits there, the wedding dinner spread: At our own table we were guests, with father at the head; And Dinah Passmore helped us both,—’t was she stood up with me, And Abner Jones with Benjamin,—and now they ’re gone, all three!
It is not right to wish for death; the Lord disposes best. His Spirit comes to quiet hearts, and fits them for His rest; And that He halved our little flock was merciful, I see: For Benjamin has two in heaven, and two are left with me.
Eusebius never cared to farm,—’t was not his call, in truth, And I must rent the dear old place, and go to daughter Ruth. Thee ’ll say her ways are not like mine,—young people now-a-days Have fallen sadly off, I think, from all the good old ways.
But Ruth is still a Friend at heart; she keeps the simple tongue, The cheerful, kindly nature we loved when she was young; And it was brought upon my mind, remembering her, of late, That we on dress and outward things perhaps lay too much weight.
I once heard Jesse Kersey say, a spirit clothed with grace, And pure almost as angels are, may have a homely face. And dress may be of less account: the Lord will look within: The soul it is that testifies of righteousness or sin.
Thee must n’t be too hard on Ruth: she ’s anxious I should go, And she will do her duty as a daughter should, I know. ’T is hard to change so late in life, but we must be resigned: The Lord looks down contentedly upon a willing mind.
– Bayard Taylor
Hat-tip to Friend Mitchell Gould
Biographical sketch, Adapted from Wikipedia
BayardTaylor. (January 11, 1825 – December 19, 1878) was an American poet, literary critic, translator, travel author, and diplomat.
Taylor was born in Kennett Square, southwest of Philadelphia, in Chester County, Pennsylvania. He was the fourth son, the first to survive to maturity, of the Quaker couple, Joseph and Rebecca (née Way) Taylor. His father was a wealthy farmer.
Bayard received his early instruction in an academy at West Chester, Pennsylvania, and later at nearby Unionville. At the age of seventeen, he was apprenticed to a printer in West Chester. The influential critic and editor Rufus Wilmot Griswold encouraged him to write poetry.
In 1849 Taylor married Mary Agnew, who died of tuberculosis the next year. That same year, Taylor won a popular competition sponsored by P. T. Barnum to write an ode for the “Swedish Nightingale”, singer Jenny Lind.
In October 1857, he married Maria Hansen, the daughter of the Danish/German astronomer Peter Hansen.
Taylor traveled widely and published many articles and books about his journeys. In 1862, he was appointed to the U.S. diplomatic service as secretary of legation at St. Petersburg, and acting minister to Russia for a time during 1862-3 . . . .
He published his first novel Hannah Thurston in 1863. The New York Times first praised him for “break[ing] new ground with such assured success”. A second much longer appreciation in the same newspaper was thoroughly negative, describing “one pointless, aimless situation leading to another of the same stamp, and so on in maddening succession”. It concluded: “The platitudes and puerilities which might otherwise only raise a smile, when confronted with such pompous pretensions, excite the contempt of every man who has in him the feeblest instincts of common honesty in literature.” Nevertheless, the novel proved successful enough for his publisher to announce another novel from him the next year.
His late novel, Joseph and His Friend: A Story of Pennsylvania (1870), first serialized in the magazine The Atlantic, was described as a story of a young man in rural Pennsylvania and “the troubles which arise from the want of a broader education and higher culture”. It is believed to be based on the poets Fitz-Greene Halleck and Joseph Rodman Drake, and since the late 20th-century has been called America’s first gay novel. [The novel is online, full text & free, here: https://tinyurl.com/s4tsylf] During March 1878, the U.S. Senate confirmed his appointment as United States Minister to Prussia. Mark Twain, who traveled to Europe on the same ship, was envious of Taylor’s command of German. . . .
A few months after arriving in Berlin, Taylor died there on December 19, 1878. His body was returned to the U.S. and buried in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, hard by the Meeting house of the Longwood Progressive Friends, both of which are near the renowned Longwood Gardens.
The New York Times published his obituary on its front page, referring to him as “a great traveler, both on land and paper”. Shortly after his death, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a memorial poem in Taylor’s memory . . . . Taylor’s reputation as a poet has faded, but “The Quaker Widow” is one of a series of “Home ballads” generally regarded as among his most memorable verse.
Some years ago, a Friend who was much taken with what she believed was Quakerism’s essential, and defining character as a kind of mysticism, approached me. Knowing of my admiration for Lucretia mott, she asked if she should add Lucretia to her list of the great Quaker mystics.
Nope. Quite the contrary, I told her. In truth, Lucretia would in fact all-but head the list of the great anti-mystics of Quaker history. And as Lucretia’s motto was, “Truth for Authority, not Authority for Truth,” it would be untruthful say otherwise.
Henry Cadbury, a U.S. relative of the legendary British Chocolate magnates, was a renowned New Testament scholar & translator, which I am advised is a much less magnateishly-remunerated profession. Though while he was doing that, he also taught at Harvard Divinity School (or HDS), which means he wasn’t going to starve.
In those days (and even now), HDS worked to have an ecumenical student body (in 1968, this outlook led them so far astray as to admit me).
Alas, by then Cadbury had retired. But echoes of his pedagogy still seemed to whisper in the HDS halls. This was especially true of his humor, which leavened his more widely renowned scholarship.
Cadbury was one of 91 scholars who translated the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, a project which took many years and was published in 1952, with great public fanfare, big sales — and hot pushback from fundamentalists.
One such pastor, Rev. Martin Luther Hux of the Temple Baptist Church in Rocky Mount North Carolina, preached a two-hour sermon condemning the RSV, then climbed onto the back of a flatbed truck and burned a page from the RSV, after distributing American flags to his entire congregation. Other immolations were reported.
A reporter called Cadbury for comment. The professor paused, then observed that in former times, such critics preferred to burn the translators. So if now they were only burning the translation — wasn’t that a sort of progress?
Wit and erudition also came together in his New Testament courses. Cadbury was greatly admired by many students for his careful exposition of various approaches to analysis of New Testament texts, particularly the Gospels, and his care to avoid inserting his own views, so students were free to develop their own.
Or rather, this was admired by many. Yet some, among the more theologically orthodox, expected him not only to teach the Gospels, but also to “bear witness” to his belief in them, especially the key passages involving Jesus.
Thus the story is told that toward the end of a semester, one such student raised his hand, and then confronted Cadbury. As I recall, he said, “Professor, you have talked a lot about the crucifixion and the resurrection in the Gospel texts, but we have no idea what youbelieve about this. So, let’s have it: Yesor No, do youbelieve in the physical resurrectionof Jesus?”
Cadbury pondered the query with a sober mien, removed and polished his spectacles, carefully replaced them, and said:
“I believe . . . in the physical resurrection of Jesus . . . on Tuesdays, Thursdays . . . and sometimes Saturdays.”
One wonders if this class was convened on the day before a Saturday like today. But my source, or at least the recollection, is unclear on this point.
Perhaps it will be clearer tomorrow.
PS. Cadbury’s wife Lydia was a woman of strong views. For one, she was very skeptical of the popular trend among some Quakers toward mysticism. “Had another mystical experience, eh?” She once said to a visiting Friend. “Tush. I’d rather do a load of wash.”
On another occasion, at a Harvard faculty dance, she glared over her husband’s shoulder at a woman gliding across the floor, who had recently left her husband for another man: “Henry,” she said, “did you know that woman has committed adultery?”
“All I know,” Henry sternly whispered back, “is that she has not committed it with me.”