Library: Letters etc. of early Friends

12/13/2017 § 11 Comments

A.R. Barclay (1794-1845), a descendent of Robert Barclay “the Apologist,” was a passionate and scholarly evangelical, who was deeply acquainted with the history of Friends.  He lived at a time when theological innovation (the rise of evangelical Quakerism in Britain) stimulated re-interpretations — by traditionalists, progressives, and evangelicals —  of the “true message of early Friends.”  While some (like the Beacon) did this to argue that on key points early Friends were theologically unsound or deeply confused, however venerable,  Barclay sought to reconcile his understanding of the Gospel with that preached by Fox et al. , and to claim that they were really in agreement with him (more or less).

Barclay went past the well-thumbed works (like Fox’s Journal and the Apology), and dove deep into the little-known trove of documents from the beginnings of Quakerism. Indeed, it has seemed to me that no one surpassed his knowledge of those materials until William Braithwaite undertook his great histories in the early 1900s.

Barclay’s scholarship produced two works that heavily influenced later Quaker developments:  the Letters &c of Early Friends, and The inner life of the religious societies of the Commonwealth. The latter was left unfinished at his death (“the Author having been removed by death after a short illness, when a few sentences only remained to be written,” as the Prefatory Note says).  It is a good deal more interesting than one might suppose from the title. He had more interest in the development of the discipline — especially of the roles of ministers and elders — than many Evangelical Friends did, and despite his strong polemical intent, he had something of a historian’s eye (see his rather astonishing chart,  tipped in at page 548 of your copy  of historical developments and corresponding changes in membership, or his treatment of Quaker dress, for women Friends of different classes).

The book influenced J.S. Rowntree’s Quakerism Past and Present (1859), which in turn played a role in developments that resulted in the transformation of British Quakerism in the 1890s, and continued to be read and cited by scholars well into the last century (and I have benefited from it myself).

But perhaps even more important was Barclay’s collection of  Letters &c of early Friends, which I have now added to my Library, downloaded from Google.  (It may also be found in vol. XI of the Friends Library.) This work is a loosely organized collection of primary documents, in three sections (I quote):

I. Historical, or Letters which illustrate the history of the Society of Friends, as regards events, services, or sufferings, in London, and “in the Country,” with some few relating to Ireland.

II. Documents illustrative of the early discipline and testimonies of the Society.

III.  Epistles of Counsel and Exhortation to the Churches, &c. “ is hoped that some of these selected epistles (believed to be now for the first time printed) will be truly acceptable to not a few readers in this day.  The letters and epistles of Alexander Parker, have been more largely taken, as but few of the writings of that eminent Friend have come down to use in print.

Not an easy work to read through from front to back, but as one dips in ad libitum, one encounters many old friends first met as excerpts in books of Faith and Practice, or Quaker histories.   Although thanks to the interwebs it’s not hard to find, you have to want to find it.  I place it here so that all you have to do now is want to read it.







§ 11 Responses to Library: Letters etc. of early Friends

  • Sort of a Christ-mas gift
    to all of us….


  • Brian, this is tantalizing! However, when I click on the link, I don’t get access to Barclay’s work, but only this message: “Sorry, you are not allowed to edit this item.” Are others having the same problem?


  • briandrayton says:

    Ouch! I will investigate later this evening, and let you know what’s up.


  • treegestalt says:

    I am getting the same message.


  • Eureka! The whole work is available in the Digital Quaker Collection: Barclay, Abram Rawlinson. – Letters, &c., of early Friends, illustrative of the history of the society from nearly its origin to about the period of George Fox’s decease, with documents respecting its early discipline, also epistles of counsel and exhortation, &c. – just go to, “enter” the site, go to “browse authors” and hit “B.” — A.R. Barclay is the first “B” to come up. I went straight to Part III of his book (“Epistles of Counsel and Exhortation”) and at once opened to a beautiful 1652 epistle by Richard Farnworth. It’s a treasure! Thank you, Brian!


    • briandrayton says:

      Great. Still trying to figure out what went wrong on the blog, as I have some other things to post. If anyone else wants the file, I am also willing to just send you the pdf, just drop me an email.
      — brian


  • I had no problem on my old Vista PC,
    so I am no help….
    But now I wish I had the time to check
    these letters against the Swarthmore MSs…..
    Also I have a question of general musing;
    early ministers in Friends visited relentlessly and then went on
    from place to place, as these letters often attest,
    and while I understand the change
    in the dynamic once the initial fervor/repression passes,
    I don’t understand why the original insight
    is eventually lost. In other words, why not just keep
    visiting and visiting and leaving and leaving…
    Why not keep sowing? Given the Presence of God,
    isn’t that what ministers do anyway?
    Maybe isn’t that All ministers do anyway?
    (Not what All ministers do All the time….travel that is….
    but what we Are All the time….sowers….)
    Weren’t Elders the more stay-at-homes,-keep-order-in-meetings
    look after those who worked for a living or kept homes types?
    (And listened carefully to ministers who spoke?)
    Just being provocative….


    • briandrayton says:

      Eric, there are a lot of questions wrapped up in your provocation. I have opinions on some of them. I think part of what happened was Toleration, and the receding of the sense of Apocalypse (not that the end times ever ended, but… ) You know the story:
      A lot of the First Publishers had normal lives and livelihoods, and their traveling was not incessant. Many gifts arose for the nurture of already-gathered communities, fewer for general apostelsy and controversy. Barclay (A.R.) makes a strong case for a fairly dramatic shift of role for the minister from the 1650s into the early 1700s.

      Some evangelizers still went ’round, even through the next century, of course, but when the next wave of revival arose, it was evangelical and methodist — we were too separated, and becoming a Friend meant something like immigration into a subculture, whereas the first Friends were transported and transformed in contrast to their times.
      Compare some of Fox’s earlier preachments, as reported in the journal or other places, with some of the later sermons preserved towards the end of his life, which are to my mind not very lively.
      Elders were more stay-at-homes, and thelessons of enthusiasm (a la Nayler and Perrot) were enshrined in our current over-caution about gifts, and over emphasis on the management of leadings…See-saw.


  • treegestalt says:

    Rather than trying to use the link… One needs to click on amor vincat (on blue line, top of page) to get into the overall blog, then click on ‘Library’ — and the file titled “Barclay [etc]”


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