Letters on England HTML version

1. On The Quakers
I was of opinion that the doctrine and history of so extraordinary a people were
worthy the attention of the curious. To acquaint myself with them I made a visit to
one of the most eminent Quakers in England, who, after having traded thirty
years, had the wisdom to prescribe limits to his fortune and to his desires, and
was settled in a little solitude not far from London. Being come into it, I perceived
a small but regularly built house, vastly neat, but without the least pomp of
furniture. The Quaker who owned it was a hale, ruddy-complexioned old man,
who had never been afflicted with sickness because he had always been
insensible to passions, and a perfect stranger to intemperance. I never in my life
saw a more noble or a more engaging aspect than his. He was dressed like
those of his persuasion, in a plain coat without pleats in the sides, or buttons on
the pockets and sleeves; and had on a beaver, the brims of which were
horizontal like those of our clergy. He did not uncover himself when I appeared,
and advanced towards me without once stooping his body; but there appeared
more politeness in the open, humane air of his countenance, than in the custom
of drawing one leg behind the other, and taking that from the head which is made
to cover it.
"Friend," says he to me, "I perceive thou art a stranger, but if I can do anything
for thee, only tell me." "Sir," said I to him, bending forwards and advancing, as is
usual with us, one leg towards him, "I flatter myself that my just curiosity will not
give you the least offence, and that you'll do me the honour to inform me of the
particulars of your religion." "The people of thy country," replied the Quaker, "are
too full of their bows and compliments, but I never yet met with one of them who
had so much curiosity as thyself. Come in, and let us first dine together." I still
continued to make some very unseasonable ceremonies, it not being easy to
disengage one's self at once from habits we have been long used to; and after
taking part in a frugal meal, which began and ended with a prayer to God, I
began to question my courteous host. I opened with that which good Catholics
have more than once made to Huguenots. "My dear sir," said I, "were you ever
baptised?" "I never was," replied the Quaker, "nor any of my brethren." "Zounds!"
say I to him, "you are not Christians, then." "Friend," replies the old man in a soft
tone of voice, "swear not; we are Christians, and endeavour to be good
Christians, but we are not of opinion that the sprinkling water on a child's head
makes him a Christian." "Heavens!" say I, shocked at his impiety, "you have then
forgot that Christ was baptised by St. John." "Friend," replies the mild Quaker
once again, "swear not; Christ indeed was baptised by John, but He himself
never baptised anyone. We are the disciples of Christ, not of John." I pitied very
much the sincerity of my worthy Quaker, and was absolutely for forcing him to
get himself christened. "Were that all," replied he very gravely, "we would submit
cheerfully to baptism, purely in compliance with thy weakness, for we don't
condemn any person who uses it; but then we think that those who profess a
religion of so holy, so spiritual a nature as that of Christ, ought to abstain to the