Reference > Cambridge History > The Age of Dryden > The Early Quakers > George Fox’s Journal
  The Purpose of Early Quaker Writings not Literary Thomas Ellwood’s History of his Life  


The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

IV. The Early Quakers.

§ 3. George Fox’s Journal.

George Fox’s Journal is by far the most noteworthy of all these autobiographical efforts, and it is one which, for originality, spontaneity and unconscious power of sincere self-expression, is probably without a rival in religious literature. George Fox was a man of poor education, who read little except his Bible, and who, with pen in hand to the last, could hardly spell or construct a grammatical sentence. Yet, such was the intense reality of his experience, and such the clearness of his inward vision, that his narrative, dictated, for the most part, to willing amanuenses, burns with the flame of truth and often shines with the light of artless beauty. 2  The story of his early struggles with darkness and despair is in striking contrast with another contemporary self-portraiture, that of Bunyan in his Grace Abounding. Fox does not tell us of personal terrors of judgment to come; his grief is that temptations are upon him, and he cannot see light. The professors of religion to whom he turns for help are “empty hollow casks,” in whom he cannot find reality beneath the outward show.
My troubles continued, and I was often under great temptations; I fasted much and walked abroad in solitary places many days, and often took my Bible, and went and sat in hollow trees and lonesome places till night came on; and frequently, in the night, walked mournfully about by myself; for I was a man of sorrows in the times of the first workings of the Lord in me….
As I had forsaken the priests, so I left the separate preachers also, and those esteemed the most experienced people, for I saw that there was none among them all that could speak to my condition. When all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could I tell what to do; then, O! then I heard a voice which said, “there is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition”; and when I heard it, my heart did leap for joy. Then the Lord let me see why there was none upon the earth that could speak to my condition, namely, that I might give him all the glory.
  After telling of an inward manifestation of the powers of evil “in the hearts and minds of wicked men,” he goes on:
I cried unto the Lord, saying, “Why should I be thus, seeing I was never addicted to commit these evils?” and the Lord answered, “That it was needful I should have a sense of all conditions, how else should I speak to all conditions?” and in this I saw the infinite love of God. I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death; but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness. In that also I saw the infinite love of God, and I had great openings….
Now the Lord opened to me by his invisible power, “that every man was enlightened by the divine light of Christ”; and I saw it shine through all; and that they that believed in it came out of condemnation to the light of life, and became the children of it; but they that hated it, and did not believe in it, were condemned by it, though they made a profession of Christ…. These things I did not see by the help of man, nor by the letter, though they are written in the letter; but I saw them in the light of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by his immediate Spirit and power, as did the holy men of God, by whom the Holy Scriptures were written. Yet I had no slight esteem of the Holy Scriptures, but they were very precious to me, for I was in that Spirit by which they were given forth; and what the Lord opened to me, I afterwards found was agreeable to them.
  The above passages may serve to illustrate at once the simplicity and directness of Fox’s style, and, also, the kernel of the new interpretation of the Christian Gospel which he and his followers proclaimed, and which brought them into constant collision with the ecclesiastics and the Bible-worshippers of their day. The Journal is the record, told in the same simple and often racy language, of their conflicts with “priests” and magistrates and howling mobs; of their valiant efforts to secure justice, and to solace the oppressed in their sufferings; of troubles from the “ranters” who joined the movement; and of the successful endeavours, made by one who was no mere fanatic, but in whose mind flowed a clear spring of more than worldly wisdom, to build up an organisation which should be proof against the anarchic tendencies of a system that recognised no ultimate authority but the Light Within.   7

Note 2. The Journal, as hitherto printed, was edited in grammatical English by Ellwood and other Friends. The original is now being printed verbatim by the Cambridge University Press. [ back ]

  The Purpose of Early Quaker Writings not Literary Thomas Ellwood’s History of his Life  

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