Home  »  Prose Works  »  21. Notes (Such as They Are) Founded on Elias Hicks

Walt Whitman (1819–1892). Prose Works. 1892.

V. November Boughs

21. Notes (Such as They Are) Founded on Elias Hicks

Prefatory Note.—AS myself a little boy hearing so much of E. H., at that time, long ago, in Suffolk and Queens and Kings Counties—and more than once personally seeing the old man—and my dear, dear father and mother faithful listeners to him at the meetings—I remember how I dream’d to write perhaps a piece about E. H. and his look and discourses, however long afterward—for my parents’ sake—and the dear Friends too! And the following is what has at last but all come out of it—the feeling and intention never forgotten yet!

There is a sort of nature of persons I have compared to little rills of water, fresh, from perennial springs—(and the comparison is indeed an appropriate one)—persons not so very plenty, yet some few certainly of them running over the surface and area of humanity, all times, all lands. It is a specimen of this class I would now present. I would sum up in E. H., and make his case stand for the class, the sort, in all ages, all lands, sparse, not numerous, yet enough to irrigate the soil—enough to prove the inherent moral stock and irrepressible devotional aspirations growing indigenously of themselves, always advancing, and never utterly gone under or lost.

Always E. H. gives the service of pointing to the fountain of all naked theology, all religion, all worship, all the truth to which you are possibly eligible—namely in yourself and your inherent relations. Others talk of Bibles, saints, churches, exhortations, vicarious atonements—the canons outside of yourself and apart from man—E. H. to the religion inside of man’s very own nature. This he incessantly labors to kindle, nourish, educate, bring forward and strengthen. He is the most democratic of the religionists—the prophets.

I have no doubt that both the curious fate and death of his four sons, and the facts (and dwelling on them) of George Fox’s strange early life, and permanent “conversion,” had much to do with the peculiar and sombre ministry and style of E. H. from the first, and confirmed him all through. One must not be dominated by the man’s almost absurd saturation in cut and dried biblical phraseology, and in ways, talk, and standard, regardful mainly of the one need he dwelt on, above all the rest. This main need he drove home to the soul; the canting and sermonizing soon exhale away to any auditor that realizes what E. H. is for and after. The present paper, (a broken memorandum of his formation, his earlier life,) is the cross-notch that rude wanderers make in the woods, to remind them afterward of some matter of first-rate importance and full investigation. (Remember too, that E. H. was a thorough believer in the Hebrew Scriptures, in his way.)

The following are really but disjointed fragments recall’d to serve and eke out here the lank printed pages of what I commenc’d unwittingly two months ago. Now, as I am well in for it, comes an old attack, the sixth or seventh recurrence, of my war-paralysis, dulling me from putting the notes in shape, and threatening any further action, head or body.

W. W., Camden, N. J., July, 1888.

TO BEGIN with, my theme is comparatively featureless. The great historian has pass’d by the life of Elias Hicks quite without glance or touch. Yet a man might commence and overhaul it as furnishing one of the amplest historic and biography’s back-grounds. While the foremost actors and events from 1750 to 1830 both in Europe and America were crowding each other on the world’s stage—While so many kings, queens, soldiers, philosophs, musicians, voyagers, littérateurs, enter one side, cross the boards, and disappear—amid loudest reverberating names—Frederick the Great, Swedenborg, Junius, Voltaire, Rousseau, Linneus, Herschel—curiously contemporary with the long life of Goethe—through the occupancy of the British throne by George the Third—amid stupendous visible political and social revolutions, and far more stupendous invisible moral ones—while the many quarto volumes of the Encyclopædia Française are being published at fits and intervals, by Diderot, in Paris—while Haydn and Beethoven and Mozart and Weber are working out their harmonic compositions—while Mrs. Siddons and Talma and Kean are acting—while Mungo Park explores Africa, and Capt. Cook circumnavigates the globe—through all the fortunes of the American Revolution, the beginning, continuation and end, the battle of Brooklyn, the surrender at Saratoga, the final peace of ’83—through the lurid tempest of the French Revolution, the execution of the king and queen, and the Reign of Terror—through the whole of the meteor-career of Napoleon—through all Washington’s, Adams’s, Jefferson’s, Madison’s, and Monroe’s Presidentiads—amid so many flashing lists of names, (indeed there seems hardly, in any department, any end to them, Old World or New,) Franklin, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Mirabeau, Fox, Nelson, Paul Jones, Kant, Fichte, and Hegel, Fulton, Walter Scott, Byron, Mesmer, Champollion—Amid pictures that dart upon me even as I speak, and glow and mix and coruscate and fade like aurora boreales—Louis the 16th threaten’d by the mob, the trial of Warren Hastings, the death-bed of Robert Burns, Wellington at Waterloo, Decatur capturing the Macedonian, or the sea-fight between the Chesapeake and the Shannon—During all these whiles, I say, and though on a far different grade, running parallel and contemporary with all—a curious quite yet busy life centred in a little country village on Long Island, and within sound on still nights of the mystic surf-beat of the sea. About this life, this Personality—neither soldier, nor scientist, nor littérateur—I propose to occupy a few minutes in fragmentary talk, to give some few melanges, disconnected impressions, statistics, resultant groups, pictures, thoughts of him, or radiating from him.

Elias Hicks was born March 19, 1748, in Hempstead township, Queens county, Long Island, New York State, near a village bearing the old Scripture name of Jericho, (a mile or so north and east of the present Hicksville, on the L. I. Railroad.) His father and mother were Friends, of that class working with their own hands, and mark’d by neither riches nor actual poverty. Elias as a child and youth had small education from letters, but largely learn’d from Nature’s schooling. He grew up even in his ladhood a thorough gunner and fisherman. The farm of his parents lay on the south or sea-shore side of Long Island, (they had early removed from Jericho,) one of the best regions in the world for wild fowl and for fishing. Elias became a good horseman, too, and knew the animal well, riding races; also a singer, fond of “vain songs,” as he afterwards calls them; a dancer, too, at the country balls. When a boy of 13 he had gone to live with an elder brother; and when about 17 he changed again and went as apprentice to the carpenter’s trade. The time of all this was before the Revolutionary War, and the locality 30 to 40 miles from New York city. My great-grandfather, Whitman, was often with Elias at these periods, and at merry-makings and sleighrides in winter over “the plains.”

How well I remember the region—the flat plains of the middle of Long Island, as then, with their prairie-like vistas and grassy patches in every direction, and the ‘kill-calf’ and herds of cattle and sheep. Then the South Bay and shores and the salt meadows, and the sedgy smell, and numberless little bayous and hummock-islands in the waters, the habitat of every sort of fish and aquatic fowl of North America. And the bay men—a strong, wild, peculiar race—now extinct, or rather entirely changed. And the beach outside the sandy bars, sometimes many miles at a stretch, with their old history of wrecks and storms—the weird, white-gray beach—not without its tales of pathos—tales, too, of grandest heroes and heroisms.

In such scenes and elements and influences—in the midst of Nature and along the shores of the sea—Elias Hicks was fashion’d through boyhood and early manhood, to maturity. But a moral and mental and emotional change was imminent. Along at this time he says:

  • My apprenticeship being now expir’d, I gradually withdrew from the company of my former associates, became more acquainted with Friends, and was more frequent in my attendance of meetings; and although this was in some degree profitable to me, yet I made but slow progress in my religious improvement. The occupation of part of my time in fishing and fowling had frequently tended to preserve me from falling into hurtful associations; but through the rising intimations and reproofs of divine grace in my heart, I now began to feel that the manner in which I sometimes amus’d myself with my gun was not without sin; for although I mostly preferr’d going alone, and while waiting in stillness for the coming of the fowl, my mind was at times so taken up in divine meditations, that the opportunities were seasons of instruction and comfort to me; yet, on other occasions, when accompanied by some of my acquaintances, and when no fowls appear’d which would be useful to us after being obtain’d, we sometimes, from wantonness or for mere diversion, would destroy the small birds which could be of no service to us. This cruel procedure affects my heart while penning these lines.
  • In his 23d year Elias was married, by the Friends’ ceremony, to Jemima Seaman. His wife was an only child; the parents were well off for common people, and at their request the son-in-law mov’d home with them and carried on the farm—which at their decease became his own, and he liv’d there all his remaining life. Of this matrimonial part of his career, (it continued, and with unusual happiness, for 58 years,) he says, giving the account of his marriage:

  • On this important occasion, we felt the clear and consoling evidence of divine truth, and it remain’d with us as a seal upon our spirits, strengthening us mutually to bear, with becoming fortitude, the vicissitudes and trials which fell to our lot, and of which we had a large share in passing through this probationary state. My wife, although not of a very strong constitution, liv’d to be the mother of eleven children, four sons and seven daughters. Our second daughter, a very lovely, promising child, died when young, with the small-pox, and the youngest was not living at its birth. The rest all arriv’d to years of discretion, and afforded us considerable comfort, as they prov’d to be in a good degree dutiful children. All our sons, however, were of weak constitutions, and were not able to take care of themselves, being so enfeebl’d as not to be able to walk after the ninth or tenth year of their age. The two eldest died in the fifteenth year of their age, the third in his seventeenth year, and the youngest was nearly nineteen when he died. But, although thus helpless, the innocency of their lives, and the resign’d cheerfulness of their dispositions to their allotments, made the labor and toil of taking care of them agreeable and pleasant; and I trust we were preserv’d from murmuring or repining, believing the dispensation to be in wisdom, and according to the will and gracious disposing of an all-wise providence, for purposes best known to himself. And when I have observ’d the great anxiety and affliction which many parents have with undutiful children who are favor’d with health, especially their sons, I could perceive very few whose troubles and exercises, on that account, did not far exceed ours. The weakness and bodily infirmity of our sons tended to keep them much out of the way of the troubles and temptations of the world; and we believ’d that in their death they were happy, and admitted into the realms of peace and joy: a reflection, the most comfortable and joyous that parents can have in regard to their tender offspring.
  • Of a serious and reflective turn, by nature, and from his reading and surroundings, Elias had more than once markedly devotional inward intimations. These feelings increas’d in frequency and strength, until soon the following:

  • About the twenty-sixth year of my age I was again brought, by the operative influence of divine grace, under deep concern of mind; and was led, through adorable mercy, to see, that although I had ceas’d from many sins and vanities of my youth, yet there were many remaining that I was still guilty of, which were not yet aton’d for, and for which I now felt the judgments of God to rest upon me. This caus’d me to cry earnestly to the Most High for pardon and redemption, and he graciously condescended to hear my cry, and to open a way before me, wherein I must walk, in order to experience reconciliation with him; and as I abode in watchfulness and deep humiliation before him, light broke forth out of obscurity, and my darkness became as the noon-day. I began to have openings leading to the ministry, which brought me under close exercise and deep travail of spirit; for although I had for some time spoken on subjects of business in monthly and preparative meetings, yet the prospect of opening my mouth in public meetings was a close trial; but I endeavor’d to keep my mind quiet and resign’d to the heavenly call, if it should be made clear to me to be my duty. Nevertheless, as I was, soon after, sitting in a meeting, in much weightiness of spirit, a secret, though clear, intimation accompanied me to speak a few words, which were then given to me to utter, yet fear so prevail’d, that I did not yield to the intimation. For this omission, I felt close rebuke, and judgment seem’d, for some time, to cover my mind; but as I humbl’d myself under the Lord’s mighty hand, he again lifted up the light of his countenance upon me, and enabl’d me to renew covenant with him, that if he would pass by this my offence, I would, in future, be faithful, if he should again require such a service of me.
  • The Revolutionary War following, tried the sect of Friends more than any. The difficulty was to steer between their convictions as patriots, and their pledges of non-warring peace. Here is the way they solv’d the problem:

  • A war, with all its cruel and destructive effects, having raged for several years between the British Colonies in North America and the mother country, Friends, as well as others, were expos’d to many severe trials and sufferings; yet, in the colony of New York, Friends, who stood faithful to their principles, and did not meddle in the controversy, had, after a short period at first, considerable favor allow’d them. The yearly meeting was held steadily, during the war, on Long Island, where the king’s party had the rule; yet Friends from the Main, where the American army ruled, had free passage through both armies to attend it, and any other meetings they were desirous of attending, except in a few instances. This was a favor which the parties would not grant to their best friends, who were of a warlike disposition; which shows what great advantages would redound to mankind, were they all of this pacific spirit. I pass’d myself through the lines of both armies six times during the war, without molestation, both parties generally receiving me with openness and civility; and although I had to pass over a tract of country, between the two armies, sometimes more than thirty miles in extent, and which was much frequented by robbers, a set, in general, of cruel, unprincipled banditti, issuing out from both parties, yet, excepting once, I met with no interruption even from them. But although Friends in general experienc’d many favors and deliverances, yet those scenes of war and confusion occasion’d many trials and provings in various ways to the faithful. One circumstance I am willing to mention, as it caus’d me considerable exercise and concern. There was a large cellar under the new meeting-house belonging to Friends in New York, which was generally let as a store. When the king’s troops enter’d the city, they took possession of it for the purpose of depositing their warlike stores; and ascertaining what Friends had the care of letting it, their commissary came forward and offer’d to pay the rent; and those Friends, for want of due consideration, accepted it. This caus’d great uneasiness to the concern’d part of the Society, who apprehended it not consistent with our peaceable principles to receive payment for the depositing of military stores in our houses. The subject was brought before the yearly meeting in 1779, and engag’d its careful attention; but those Friends, who had been active in the reception of the money, and some few others, were not willing to acknowledge their proceedings to be inconsistent, nor to return the money to those from whom it was receiv’d; and in order to justify themselves therein, they referr’d to the conduct of Friends in Philadelphia in similar cases. Matters thus appearing very difficult and embarrassing, it was unitedly concluded to refer the final determination thereof to the yearly meeting of Pennsylvania: and several Friends were appointed to attend that meeting in relation thereto, among whom I was one of the number. We accordingly set out on the 9th day of the 9th month, 1779, and I was accompanied from home by my beloved friend John Willis, who was likewise on the appointment. We took a solemn leave of our families, they feeling much anxiety at parting with us, on account of the dangers we were expos’d to, having to pass not only the lines of the two armies, but the deserted and almost uninhabited country that lay between them, in many places the grass being grown up in the streets, and many houses desolate and empty. Believing it, however, my duty to proceed in the service, my mind was so settled and trust-fix’d in the divine arm of power, that faith seem’d to banish all fear, and cheerfulness and quiet resignation were, I believe, my constant companions during the journey. We got permission, with but little difficulty, to pass the outguards of the king’s army at Kingsbridge, and proceeded to Westchester. We afterwards attended meetings at Harrison’s Purchase, and Oblong, having the concurrence of our monthly meeting to take some meeting in our way, a concern leading thereto having for some time previously attended my mind. We pass’d from thence to Nine Partners, and attended their monthly meeting, and then turn’d our faces towards Philadelphia, being join’d by several others of the Committee. We attended New Marlborough, Hardwick, and Kingswood meetings on our journey, and arriv’d at Philadelphia on the 7th day of the week, and 25th of 9th month, on which day we attended the yearly meeting of Ministers and Elders, which began at the eleventh hour. I also attended all the sittings of the yearly meeting until the 4th day of the next week, and was then so indispos’d with a fever, which had been increasing on me for several days, that I was not able to attend after that time. I was therefore not present when the subject was discuss’d, which came from our yearly meeting; but I was inform’d by my companion, that it was a very solemn opportunity, and the matters was resulted in advising that the money should be return’d into the office from whence it was receiv’d, accompanied with our reasons for so doing: and this was accordingly done by the direction of our yearly meeting the next year.
  • Then, season after season, when peace and Independence reign’d, year following year, this remains to be (1791) a specimen of his personal labors:

  • I was from home on this journey four months and eleven days; rode about one thousand five hundred miles, and attended forty-nine particular meetings among Friends, three quarterly meetings, six monthly meetings, and forty meetings among other people.
  • And again another experience:

  • In the forepart of this meeting, my mind was reduc’d into such a state of great weakness and depression, that my faith was almost ready to fail, which produc’d great searchings of heart, so that I was led to call in question all that I had ever before experienc’d. In this state of doubting, I was ready to wish myself at home, from an apprehension that I should only expose myself to reproach, and wound the cause I was embark’d inn; for the heavens seem’d like brass, and the earth as iron; such coldness and hardness, I thought, could scarcely have ever been experienc’d before by any creature, so great was the depth of my baptism at this time; nevertheless, as I endeavor’d to quiet my mind, in this conflicting dispensation, and be resign’d to my allotment, however distressing, towards the latter part of the meeting a ray of light broke through the surrounding darkness, in which the Shepherd of Israel was pleas’d to arise, and by the light of his glorious countenance, to scatter those clouds of opposition. Then ability was receiv’d, and utterance given, to speak of his marvellous works in the redemption of souls, and to open the way of life and salvation, and the mysteries of his glorious kingdom, which are hid from the wise and prudent of this world, and reveal’d only unto those who are reduc’d into the state of little children and babes in Christ.
  • And concluding another jaunt in 1794:

  • I was from home in this journey about five months, and travell’d by land and water about two thousand two hundred and eighty-three miles; having visited all the meetings of Friends in the New England states, and many meetings amongst those of other professions; and also visited many meetings, among Friends and others, in the upper part of our own yearly meeting; and found real peace in my labors.
  • Another ‘tramp’ in 1798:

  • I was absent from home in this journey about five months and two weeks, and rode about sixteen hundred miles, and attended about one hundred and forty-three meetings.
  • Here are some memoranda of 1813, near home:

  • First day. Our meeting this day pass’d in silent labor. The cloud rested on the tabernacle; and, although it was a day of much rain outwardly, yet very little of the dew of Hermon appear’d to distil among us. Nevertheless, a comfortable calm was witness’d towards the close, which we must render to the account of unmerited mercy and love.
  • Second day. Most of this day was occupied in a visit to a sick friend, who appear’d comforted therewith. Spent part of the evening in reading part of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.
  • Third day. I was busied most of this day in my common vocations. Spent the evening principally in reading Paul. Found considerable satisfaction in his first epistle to the Corinthians; in which he shows the danger of some in setting too high a value on those who were instrumental in bringing them to the knowledge of the truth, without looking through and beyond the instrument, to the great first cause and Author of every blessing, to whom all the praise and honor are due.
  • Fifth day, 1st of 4th month. At our meeting to-day found it, as usual, a very close steady exercise to keep the mind center’d where it ought to be. What a multitude of intruding thoughts imperceptibly, as it were, steal into the mind, and turn it from its proper object, whenever it relaxes its vigilance in watching against them. Felt a little strength, just at the close, to remind Friends of the necessity of a steady perseverance, by a recapitulation of the parable of the unjust judge, showing how men ought always to pray, and not to faint.
  • Sixth day. Nothing material occurr’d, but a fear lest the cares of the world should engross too much of my time.
  • Seventh day. Had an agreeable visit from two ancient friends, whom I have long lov’d. The rest of the day I employ’d in manual labor, mostly in gardening.
  • But we find if we attend to records and details, we shall lay out an endless task. We can briefly say, summarily, that his whole life was a long religious missionary life of method, practicality, sincerity, earnestness, and pure piety—as near to his time here, as one in Judea, far back—or in any life, any age. The reader who feels interested must get—with all its dryness and mere dates, absence of emotionality or literary quality, and whatever abstract attraction (with even a suspicion of cant, sniffling,) the “Journal of the Life and Religious Labours of Elias Hicks, written by himself,” at some Quaker book-store. (It is from this headquarters I have extracted the preceding quotations.) During E. H.’s matured life, continued from fifty to sixty years—while working steadily, earning his living and paying his way without intermission—he makes, as previously memorandised, several hundred preaching visits, not only through Long Island, but some of them away into the Middle or Southern States, or north into Canada, or the then far West—extending to thousands of miles, or filling several weeks and sometimes months. These religious journeys—scrupulously accepting in payment only his transportation from place to place, with his own food and shelter, and never receiving a dollar of money for “salary” or preaching—Elias, through good bodily health and strength, continues till quite the age of eighty. It was thus at one of his latest jaunts in Brooklyn city I saw and heard him. This sight and hearing shall now be described.

    Elias Hicks was at this period in the latter part (November or December) of 1829. It was the last tour of the many missions of the old man’s life. He was in the 81st year of his age, and a few months before he had lost by death a beloved wife with whom he had lived in unalloyed affection and esteem for 58 years. (But a few months after this meeting Elias was paralyzed and died.) Though it is sixty years ago since—and I a little boy at the time in Brooklyn, New York—I can remember my father coming home toward sunset from his day’s work as carpenter, and saying briefly, as he throws down his armful of kindling-blocks with a bounce on the kitchen floor, “Come, mother, Elias preaches to-night.” Then my mother, hastening the supper and the table-cleaning afterward, gets a neighboring young woman, a friend of the family, to step in and keep house for an hour or so—puts the two little ones to bed—and as I had been behaving well that day, as a special reward I was allow’d to go also.

    We start for the meeting. Though, as I said, the stretch of more than half a century has pass’d over me since then, with its war and peace, and all its joys and sins and deaths (and what a half century! how it comes up sometimes for an instant, like the lightning flash in a storm at night!) I can recall that meeting yet. It is a strange place for religious devotions. Elias preaches anywhere—no respect to buildings—private or public houses, school-rooms, barns, even theatres—anything that will accommodate. This time it is in a handsome ball-room, on Brooklyn Heights, overlooking New York, and in full sight of that great city, and its North and East Rivers fill’d with ships—is (to specify more particularly) the second story of “Morrison’s Hotel,” used for the most genteel concerts, balls, and assemblies—a large, cheerful, gay-color’d room, with glass chandeliers bearing myriads of sparkling pendants, plenty of settees and chairs, and a sort of velvet divan running all round the side-walls. Before long the divan and all the settees and chairs are fill’d; many fashionable out of curiosity; all the principal dignitaries of the town, Gen. Jeremiah Johnson, Judge Furman, George Hall, Mr. Willoughby, Mr. Pierrepont, N. B. Morse, Cyrus P. Smith, and F. C. Tucker. Many young folks too; some richly dress’d women; I remember I noticed with one party of ladies a group of uniform’d officers, either from the U. S. Navy Yard, or some ship in the stream, or some adjacent fort. On a slightly elevated platform at the head of the room, facing the audience, sit a dozen or more Friends, most of them elderly, grim, and with their broad-brimm’d hats on their heads. Three or four women, too, in their characteristic Quaker costumes and bonnets. All still as the grave.

    At length after a pause and stillness becoming almost painful, Elias rises and stands for a moment or two without a word. A tall, straight figure, neither stout nor very thin, dress’d in drab cloth, clean-shaved face, forehead of great expanse, and large and clear black eyes, long or middling-long white hair; he was at this time between 80 and 81 years of age, his head still wearing the broad-brim. A moment looking around the audience with those piercing eyes, amid the perfect stillness. (I can almost see him and the whole scene now.) Then the words come from his lips, very emphatically and slowly pronounc’d, in a resonant, grave, melodious voice, What is the chief end of man? I was told in my early youth, it was to glorify God, and seek and enjoy him forever.

    I cannot follow the discourse. It presently becomes very fervid, and in the midst of its fervor he takes the broad-brim hat from his head, and almost dashing it down with violence on the seat behind, continues with uninterrupted earnestness. But, I say, I cannot repeat, hardly suggest his sermon. Though the differences and disputes of the formal division of the Society of Friends were even then under way, he did not allude to them at all. A pleading, tender, nearly agonizing conviction, and magnetic stream of natural eloquence, before which all minds and natures, all emotions, high or low, gentle or simple, yielded entirely without exception, was its cause, method, and effect. Many, very many were in tears. Years afterward in Boston, I heard Father Taylor, the sailor’s preacher, and found in his passionate unstudied oratory the resemblance to Elias Hicks’s—not argumentative or intellectual, but so penetrating—so different from anything in the books—(different as the fresh air of a May morning or sea-shore breeze from the atmosphere of a perfumer’s shop.) While he goes on he falls into the nasality and sing-song tone sometimes heard in such meetings; but in a moment or two more, as if recollecting himself, he breaks off, stops, and resumes in a natural tone. This occurs three or four times during the talk of the evening, till all concludes.

    Now and then, at the many scores and hundreds—even thousands—of his discourses—as at this one—he was very mystical and radical, and had much to say of “the light within.” Very likely this same inner light, (so dwelt upon by newer men, as by Fox and Barclay at the beginning, and all Friends and deep thinkers since and now,) is perhaps only another name for the religious conscience. In my opinion they have all diagnos’d, like superior doctors, the real inmost disease of our times, probably any times. Amid the huge inflammation call’d society, and that other inflammation call’d politics, what is there to-day of moral power and ethic sanity as antiseptic to them and all? Though I think the essential elements of the moral nature exist latent in the good average people of the United States of to-day, and sometimes break out strongly, it is certain that any mark’d or dominating National Morality, (if I may use the phrase) has not only not yet been develop’d, but that—at any rate when the point of view is turn’d on business, politics, competition, practical life, and in character and manners in our New World—there seems to be a hideous depletion, almost absence, of such moral nature. Elias taught throughout, as George Fox began it, or rather reiterated and verified it, the Platonic doctrine that the ideals of character, of justice, of religious action, whenever the highest is at stake, are to be conform’d to no outside doctrine of creeds, Bibles, legislative enactments, conventionalities, or even decorums, but are to follow the inward Deity-planted law of the emotional soul. In this only the true Quaker, or Friend, has faith; and it is from rigidly, perhaps strainingly carrying it out, that both the Old and New England records of Quakerdom show some unseemly and insane acts.

    In one of the lives of Ralph Waldo Emerson is a list of lessons or instructions, (“seal’d orders” the biographer calls them,) prepar’d by the sage himself for his own guidance. Here is one:

  • Go forth with thy message among thy fellow-creatures; teach them that they must trust themselves as guided by that inner light which dwells with the pure in heart, to whom it was promis’d of old that they shall see God.
  • How thoroughly it fits the life and theory of Elias Hicks. Then in Omar Khayyam:

  • I sent my soul through the Invisible,
  • Some letter of that after-life to spell,
  • And by-and-by my soul return’d to me,
  • And answer’d, “I myself am Heaven and Hell.”
  • Indeed, of this important element of the theory and practice of Quakerism, the difficult-to-describe “Light within” or “Inward Law, by which all must be either justified or condemn’d,” I will not undertake where so many have fail’d—the task of making the statement of it for the average comprehension. We will give, partly for the matter and partly as specimen of his speaking and writing style, what Elias Hicks himself says in allusion to it—one or two of very many passages. Most of his discourses, like those of Epictetus and the ancient peripatetics, have left no record remaining—they were extempore, and those were not the times of reporters. Of one, however, deliver’d in Chester, Pa., toward the latter part of his career, there is a careful transcript; and from it (even if presenting you a sheaf of hidden wheat that may need to be pick’d and thrash’d out several times before you get the grain,) we give the following extract:

    “I don’t want to express a great many words; but I want you to be call’d home to the substance. For the Scriptures, and all the books in the world, can do no more; Jesus could do no more than to recommend to this Comforter, which was the light in him. ‘God is light, and in him is no darkness at all; and if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another.’ Because the light is one in all, and therefore it binds us together in the bonds of love; for it is not only light, but love—that love which casts out all fear. So that they who dwell in God dwell in love, and they are constrain’d to walk in it; and if they ‘walk in it, they have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.’

    “But what blood, my friends? Did Jesus Christ, the Saviour, ever have any material blood? Not a drop of it, my friends—not a drop of it. That blood which cleanseth from the life of all sin, was the life of the soul of Jesus. The soul of man has no material blood; but as the outward material blood, created from the dust of the earth, is the life of these bodies of flesh, so with respect to the soul, the immortal and invisible spirit, its blood is that life which God breath’d into it.

    “As we read, in the beginning, that ‘God form’d man of the dust of the ground, and breath’d into him the breath of life, and man became a living soul.’ He breath’d into that soul. and it became alive to God.”

    Then, from one of his many letters, for he seems to have delighted in correspondence:

    “Some may query, What is the cross of Christ? To these I answer, It is the perfect law of God, written on the tablet of the heart, and in the heart of every rational creature, in such indelible characters that all the power of mortals cannot erase nor obliterate it. Neither is there any power or means given or dispens’d to the children of men, but this inward law and light, by which the true and saving knowledge of God can be obtain’d. And by this inward law and light, all will be either justified or condemn’d, and all made to know God for themselves, and be left without excuse, agreeably to the prophecy of Jeremiah, and the corroborating testimony of Jesus in his last counsel and command to his disciples, not to depart from Jerusalem till they should receive power from on high; assuring them that they should receive power, when they had receiv’d the pouring forth of the spirit upon them, which would qualify them to bear witness of him in Judea, Jerusalem, Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth; which was verified in a marvellous manner on the day of Pentecost, when thousands were converted to the Christian faith in one day.

    “By which it is evident that nothing but this inward light and law, as it is heeded and obey’d, ever did, or ever can, make a true and real Christian and child of God. And until the professors of Christianity agree to lay aside all their non-essentials in religion, and rally to this unchangeable foundation and standard of truth, wars and fightings, confusion and error, will prevail, and the angelic song cannot be heard in our land—that of ‘glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and good will to men.’

    “But when all nations are made willing to make this inward law and light the rule and standard of all their faith and works, then we shall be brought to know and believe alike, that there is but one Lord, one faith, and but one baptism; one God and Father, that is above all, through all, and in all.

    “And then will all those glorious and consoling prophecies recorded in the scriptures of truth be fulfill’d—‘He,’ the Lord, ‘shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up the sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb; and the cow and the bear shall feed; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the wean’d child put his hand on the cockatrice’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth,’ that is our earthly tabernacle, ‘shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.’”

    The exposition in the last sentence, that the terms of the texts are not to be taken in their literal meaning, but in their spiritual one, and allude to a certain wondrous exaltation of the body, through religious influences, is significant, and is but one of a great number of instances of much that is obscure, to “the world’s people,” in the preachings of this remarkable man.

    Then a word about his physical oratory, connected with the preceding. If there is, as doubtless there is, an unnameable something behind oratory, a fund within or atmosphere without, deeper than art, deeper even than proof, that unnameable constitutional something Elias Hicks emanated from his very heart to the hearts of his audience, or carried with him, or probed into, and shook and arous’d in them—a sympathetic germ, probably rapport, lurking in every human eligibility, which no book, no rule, no statement has given or can give inherent knowledge, intuition—not even the best speech, or best put forth, but launch’d out only by powerful human magnetism:

  • Unheard by sharpest ear—unform’d in clearest eye, or cunningest mind,
  • Nor lore, nor fame, nor happiness, nor wealth,
  • And yet the pulse of every heart and life throughout the world, incessantly,
  • Which you and I, and all, pursuing ever, ever miss;
  • Open, but still a secret—the real of the real—an illusion;
  • Costless, vouchsafed to each, yet never man the owner;
  • Which poets vainly seek to put in rhyme—historians in prose;
  • Which sculptor never chisel’d yet, nor painter painted;
  • Which vocalist never sung, nor orator nor actor ever utter’d.
  • That remorse, too, for a mere worldly life—that aspiration towards the ideal, which, however overlaid, lies folded latent, hidden, in perhaps every character. More definitely, as near as I remember (aided by my dear mother long afterward,) Elias Hicks’s discourse there in the Brooklyn ball-room, was one of his old never-remitted appeals to that moral mystical portion of human nature, the inner light. But it is mainly for the scene itself, and Elias’s personnel, that I recall the incident.

    Soon afterward the old man died:

  • On first day morning, the 14th of 2d month (February, 1830,) he was engaged in his room, writing to a friend, until a little after ten o’clock, when he return’d to that occupied by the family, apparently just attack’d by a paralytic affection, which nearly deprived him of the use of his right side, and of the power of speech. Being assisted to a chair near the fire, he manifested by signs, that the letter which he had just finish’d, and which had been dropp’d by the way, should be taken care of; and on its being brought to him, appear’d satisfied, and manifested a desire that all should sit down and be still, seemingly sensible that his labours were brought to a close, and only desirous of quietly waiting the final change. The solemn composure at this time manifest in his countenance, was very impressive, indicating that he was sensible the time of his departure was at hand, and that the prospect of death brought no terrors with it. During his last illness, his mental faculties were occasionally obscured, yet he was at times enabled to give satisfactory evidence to those around him, that all was well, and that he felt nothing in his way.
  • His funeral took place on fourth day, the 3d of 3d month. It was attended by a large concourse of Friends and others, and a solid meeting was held on the occasion; after which, his remains were interr’d in Friends’ burial-ground at this place (Jericho, Queens County, New York.)
  • I have thought (even presented so incompletely, with such fearful hiatuses, and in my own feebleness and waning life) one might well memorize this life of Elias Hicks. Though not eminent in literature or politics or inventions or business, it is a token of not a few, and is significant. Such men do not cope with statesmen or soldiers—but I have thought they deserve to be recorded and kept up as a sample—that this one specially does. I have already compared it to a little flowing liquid rill of Nature’s life, maintaining freshness. As if, indeed, under the smoke of battles, the blare of trumpets, and the madness of contending hosts—the screams of passion, the groans of the suffering, the parching of struggles of money and politics, and all hell’s heat and noise and competition above and around—should come melting down from the mountains from sources of unpolluted snows, far up there in God’s hidden, untrodden recesses, and so rippling along among us low in the ground, at men’s very feet, a curious little brook of clear and cool, and ever-healthy, ever-living water.

    Note.—The Separation.—The division vulgarly call’d between Orthodox and Hicksites in the Society of Friends took place in 1827, ’8 and ’9. Probably it had been preparing some time. One who was present has since described to me the climax, at a meeting of Friends in Philadelphia crowded by a great attendance of both sexes, with Elias as principal speaker. In the course of his utterance or argument he made use of these words: “The blood of Christ—the blood of Christ—why, my friends, the actual blood of Christ in itself was no more effectual than the blood of bulls and goats—not a bit more—not a bit.” At these words, after a momentary hush, commenced a great tumult. Hundreds rose to their feet.… Canes were thump’d upon the floor. From all parts of the house angry mutterings. Some left the place, but more remain’d, with exclamations, flush’d faces and eyes. This was the definite utterance, the overt act, which led to the separation. Families diverg’d—even husbands and wives, parents and children, were separated.

    Of course what Elias promulg’d spread a great commotion among the Friends. Sometimes when he presented himself to speak in the meeting, there would be opposition—this led to angry words, gestures, unseemly noises, recriminations. Elias, at such times, was deeply affected—the tears roll’d in streams down his cheeks—he silently waited the close of the dispute. “Let the Friend speak; let the Friend speak!” he would say when his supporters in the meeting tried to bluff off some violent orthodox person objecting to the new doctrinaire. But he never recanted.

    A reviewer of the old dispute and separation made the following comments on them in a paper ten years ago: “It was in America, where there had been no persecution worth mentioning since Mary Dyer was hang’d on Boston Common, that about fifty years ago differences arose, singularly enough upon doctrinal points of the divinity of Christ and the nature of the atonement. Whoever would know how bitter was the controversy, and how much of human infirmity was found to be still lurking under broad-brim hats and drab coats, must seek for the information in the Lives of Elias Hicks and of Thomas Shillitoe, the latter an English Friend, who visited us at this unfortunate time, and who exercised his gifts as a peacemaker with but little success. The meetings, according to his testimony, were sometimes turn’d into mobs. The disruption was wide, and seems to have been final. Six of the ten yearly meetings were divided; and since that time various sub-divisions have come, four or five in number. There has never, however, been anything like a repetition of the excitement of the Hicksite controversy; and Friends of all kinds at present appear to have settled down into a solid, steady, comfortable state, and to be working in their own way without troubling other Friends whose ways are different.”

    Note.—Old persons, who heard this man in his day, and who glean’d impressions from what they saw of him, (judg’d from their own points of view,) have, in their conversation with me, dwelt on another point. They think Elias Hicks had a large element of personal ambition, the pride of leadership, of establishing perhaps a sect that should reflect his own name, and to which he should give especial form and character. Very likely. Such indeed seems the means, all through progress and civilization, by which strong men and strong convictions achieve anything definite. But the basic foundation of Elias was undoubtedly genuine religious fervor. He was like an old Hebrew prophet. He had the spirit of one, and in his later years look’d like one. What Carlyle says of John Knox will apply to him:

  • “He is an instance to us how a man, by sincerity itself, becomes heroic; it is the grand gift he has. We find in him a good, honest, intellectual talent, no transcendent one;—a narrow, inconsiderable man, as compared with Luther; but in heartfelt instinctive adherence to truth, in sincerity as we say, he has no superior; nay, one might ask, What equal he has? The heart of him is of the true Prophet cast. ‘He lies there,’ said the Earl of Morton at Knox’s grave, ‘who never fear’d the face of man.’ He resembles, more than any of the moderns, an old Hebrew Prophet. The same inflexibility, intolerance, rigid, narrow-looking adherence to God’s truth.”
  • A Note yet. The United States to-day.—While under all previous conditions (even convictions) of society, Oriental, Feudal, Ecclesiastical, and in all past (or present) Despotisms, through the entire past, there existed, and exists yet, in ally and fusion with them, and frequently forming the main part of them, certain churches, institutes, priesthoods, fervid beliefs, &c., practically promoting religious and moral action to the fullest degrees of which humanity there under circumstances was capable, and often conserving all there was of justice, art, literature, and good manners—it is clear I say, that, under the Democratic Institutes of the United States, now and henceforth, there are no equally genuine fountains of fervid beliefs, adapted to produce similar moral and religious results, according to our circumstances. I consider that the churches, sects, pulpits, of the present day, in the United States, exist not by any solid convictions, but by a sort of tacit, supercilious, scornful sufferance. Few speak openly—none officially—against them. But the ostent continuously imposing, who is not aware that any such living fountains of belief in them are now utterly ceas’d and departed from the minds of men?

    A Lingering Note.—In the making of a full man, all the other consciences, (the emotional, courageous, intellectual, esthetic, &c.,) are to be crown’d and effused by the religious conscience. In the higher structure of a human self, or of community, the Moral, the Religious, the Spiritual, is strictly analogous to the subtle vitalization and antiseptic play call’d Health in the physiologic structure. To person or State, the main verteber (or rather the verteber) is Morality. That is indeed the only real vitalization of character, and of all the supersensual, even heroic and artistic portions of man or nationality. It is to run through and knit the superior parts, and keep man or State vital and up right, as health keeps the body straight and blooming. Of course a really grand and strong and beautiful character is probably to be slowly grown, and adjusted strictly with reference to itself, its own personal and social sphere—with (paradox though it may be) the clear understanding that the conventional theories of life, worldly ambition, wealth, office, fame, &c., are essentially but glittering mayas, delusions.

    Doubtless the greatest scientists and theologians will sometimes find themselves saying, It isn’t only those who know most, who contribute most to God’s glory. Doubtless these very scientists at times stand with bared heads before the humblest lives and personalities. For there is something greater (is there not?) than all the science and poems of the world—above all else, like the stars shining eternal—above Shakspere’s plays, or Concord philosophy, or art of Angelo or Raphael—something that shines elusive, like beams of Hesperus at evening—high above all the vaunted wealth and pride—prov’d by its practical outcropping in life, each case after its own concomitants—the intuitive blending of divine love and faith in a human emotional character—blending for all, for the unlearn’d, the common, and the poor.

    I don’t know in what book I once read, (possibly the remark has been made in books, all ages,) that no life ever lived, even the most uneventful, but, probed to its centre, would be found in itself as subtle a drama as any that poets have ever sung, or playwrights fabled. Often, too, in size and weight, that life suppos’d obscure. For it isn’t only the palpable stars; astronomers say there are dark, or almost dark, unnotic’d orbs and suns, (like the dusky companion of Sirius, seven times as large as our own sun,) rolling through space, real and potent as any—perhaps the most real and potent. Yet none recks of them. In the bright lexicon we give the spreading heavens, they have not even names. Amid ceaseless sophistications all times, the soul would seem to glance yearningly around for such contrasts—such cool, still offsets.