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Publishing Old Quaker Texts

Licia Kuenning

Quaker Heritage Press
16 Huber St.
Glenside, PA 19038


Quakerism began in a time of great ferment. The overthrow of the monarchy and the episcopalian church government by the Parliamentary forces of largely Calvinistic theological bent did not end political or religious controversy. Questions of What is the true church? What must we do to be saved? What does God require of us? What is the meaning of current events in God's plan? and Is further reform needed? were debated with fervor and heat, in an environment of increased freedom of speech and of the press. Public religious debates were attended with a degree of excitement comparable to that now associated with political campaigns combined with that now found at public sporting events. Many thousands of tracts were published by sectarians of all sorts, and they were bought, read and talked about by the general public.

From the early 1650s, Quakers contributed voluminously to the growing mass of controversial religious writings. They published their answers to the questions that were in the air. They denounced what they perceived to be corrupt customs and false doctrines, exhorted magistrates, ministers, and people to repent, and rebutted publications they disagreed with, including many that were directed against the Quakers. Pamphlet wars were waged, in which disputants quoted (and misquoted) each other and replied point by point in a manner not entirely unlike modern internet flame wars.

A vast quantity of this literature is still extant, though most Friends have never seen it. Rosemary Moore has listed nearly 600 Quaker publications in the 1650s alone; and an even larger number were printed in the 1660s. Much of it can be found only in the rare book rooms of a few specialized historical libraries, on microfilm, or on graphics files created from microfilm (the last are not available to the general public).

Friends did not undertake to preserve, in later collections, every tract and letter ever written by a Quaker, but they did preserve large quantities of the writings of leading Friends. The Works of George Fox, Robert Barclay, Isaac Penington, Edward Burrough, Margaret Fell, Stephen Crisp, Richard Hubberthorne, Josiah Coale, Francis Howgill and others were all published, in the 17th or 18th century, as collections in plain, hardbound volumes, often with introductory "testimonies" by other Friends to the life and character of the Friend whose writings were thus reprinted; and in many cases such books were reprinted in the 19th century. It was considered the responsibility of the Society of Friends to keep the writings of their admired ancient Friends before the eyes of their members.

In the 20th century, however, these books were forgotten. When one sees a plain, hardbound volume producing the writings of a Quaker minister, not fancied up artistically, excerpted, condensed, "modernized," or apologized for with an essay about why the work is "relevant for today," one is usually looking at a book printed before the 20th century. There are rare exceptions. In the 1970s AMS Press, a non-Quaker, commercial publisher, reprinted the 8-volume set of George Fox's Works, which had not been reprinted since 1831. It soon sold out. Now the New Foundation Fellowship keeps Fox's Works in print, but this fact has not been much publicized. In 1995, AMS Press reprinted the 14-volume set called Friends Library, originally published 1837-50: a very large collection of the journals, letters and other writings of Friends from the 17th and 18th centuries. It too has sold out. And it is so voluminous that it is unlikely any of the small Quaker groups that make it their concern to publish such literature will be able to afford to reprint it.

As the experience with the AMS reprints shows, there is a market for Quaker classics. It does not seem to be a huge market, but it is sufficient that the production of such books is not financially impossible for a publisher who can meet the initial costs of printing and binding.

Meanwhile, not surprisingly, many Friends are unaware of the extensive literary heritage of Quakerism. On the Quaker e-mail discussion lists I sometimes encounter Friends who don't know that George Fox wrote anything but a Journal. (And if they have read the Journal, they have usually read a condensed edition.) In fact the Journal is the least typical of Fox's writings, and it fills only 2 of the 8 volumes in the printed collection of his Works. This printed collection itself is not complete; many writings of Fox are not included in it.

If they have heard of any other early Quaker book besides Fox's Journal, modern Friends are most likely to have heard of Barclay's Apology for the True Christian Divinity. Throughout most of the Society's history the Apology was the most important Quaker book after Fox's Journal. The Apology was reprinted over 60 times - but the last of these reprints (until a new edition was produced last year by Quaker Heritage Press with Peter Sippel) was in 1908! Why did the Society of Friends stop reprinting Barclay's Apology? - it is difficult for me to understand. Other denominations keep their major historic works in print.

For several decades a person going to a Quaker bookstore and asking for Barclay's Apology was shown a book called Barclay's Apology in Modern English, edited by Dean Freiday. Until very recently, Larry Kuenning and I paid little attention to this book - we had it in our house, but we also had old editions of the original text, and of course when we wanted to look something up in Barclay we went to the original. When we were working on our new edition, we decided someone should compare the Freiday edition with the original in some detail, so Larry Kuenning and Peter Sippel both spent time on this. We were shocked at how inaccurate it is. Not only does it omit a great deal of what Barclay wrote (one-third of the crucial chapter, Propositions 5-6 is left out), but in the parts examined in detail there are errors in representing Barclay's meaning at the rate of about 4 per page. Some of these errors undermine Barclay's logic and make him appear a much less knowledgeable and less skilled apologist than he was. We wondered, how could this book have dominated the market for Barclay's Apology for such a long period without Friends noticing how badly flawed it is? Apparently the real Apology was just forgotten.

Many other historic Quaker writings could be obtained only by knowing an elderly Friend with an attic. I loved Isaac Penington's writings, which I found in the Quaker Collection at the Haverford College Library as a 4-volume set, and for years I wanted to obtain a set but could not find one. Eventually we acquired 3 of the 4 volumes from an old lady in Ohio who was moving into a retirement home; and later we acquired a complete set from another elderly Ohio Friend.

One effect of scarcity of old Quaker books is that most modern Friends do not know what the Quakers of the past believed and taught. And often they have mistaken ideas about this because they have encountered quotations from the old authors taken out of context. Books of Faith & Practice sometimes contain collections of such quotations, which seem to have been selected to make the historic authors appear as much as possible like modern Friends. This is unfortunate because they were in fact very unlike modern Friends.

When I say this in some of the Quaker e-mail forums, I am sometimes misunderstood to be saying that we ought to imitate the early Quakers, and that it's wrong for Quakerism to have changed. But that isn't what I am saying. The question of which changes in the Society of Friends were for the better or for the worse is of course one that can be discussed at any length, and people can disagree about it. But if we are to reject the ideas of our predecessors, we should at least know what we are rejecting. Quakerism is a fascinating historical phenomenon. I myself often don't know what to make of it as regards how some of what Friends of the past believed and wrote applies to my own life. But I want to know the truth about what they were, and I want other Friends to know the truth about it. There is no integrity, and no education, in creating false images of the early Friends and then holding them up as models.

Quaker Heritage Press was conceived long before it became a reality. In the early 1970s, when I started to make the acquaintance of this fascinating and forgotten body of literature that is the Quaker heritage I dreamed of restoring these writings and envisioned stacks of books with brown covers piled up in my home (I have since opted for a greater variety of colors, but my home is even more cluttered with the books than I anticipated). But I had no means of producing such books. I was a professional typist; but one can hardly typeset books with a typewriter. Computers were not yet widespread or within reach of such as I, and I knew nothing of their potential.

In 1989 Larry Kuenning became computer-conscious, and by 1991 we both had computers on our desks, and a laser printer, and I was printing Minute Books for Ohio Yearly Meeting. In 1992 I suddenly realized that the dream I had had, of reprinting the forgotten classics of Quakerism, might actually be within reach. My small community of Friends of Truth (Glenside Friends Meeting) was supportive. I started with a small book which I had always liked, Job Scott's Essays on Salvation by Christ (1797) and decided to include the pamphlet debate that had followed its publication in the 1820s. Then I went on to produce Isaac Penington's Works in 4 volumes, so that Friends who wanted to read him would no longer have to wait for another aging Friend to empty their attic! I added some writings of Penington's from Haverford College's rare book vault that had not been included in previous collections.

(I typeset our books; I do not have the equipment to create multiple hardbound copies. At present that part of the work is done by Thomson-Shore in Michigan, which gives us good service for a reasonable price.)

In our next project I set out to show Friends what old books of discipline had been like. I had often examined these books at Haverford and was impressed by how little difference there was from one yearly meeting to another, even after the separations. The result was The Old Discipline: 19th-century Friends Disciplines in America, which reprinted early 19th-century books of discipline of the 8 oldest yearly meetings in the United States and tracked the changes in them with footnotes for as long as the discipline retained its classic form.

Larry, meanwhile, put Job Scott and Penington on the web, and one of the old books of discipline. He has been our webmaster, as that technology is still a mystery to me. Our website,, also contains a catalog of pre-20th-century Quaker writings (whether published by us or by others) that are currently available either in print or on line, with links to the online ones.

After that, I wanted to reprint Joseph Besse's Sufferings of the People Called Quakers, the classic Quaker martyrology, comparable to the Mennonites' Martyr's Mirror. But before I had done more than a very small amount of work on this project I learned that Bill Sessions was also working on it. We are not into competition: we can't afford it, and there are so many out-of-print Quaker classics that there is little point in our printing what someone else is printing. But had we done it, I would have re-typeset it and would have produced it as a single big hardback book, as the Mennonites publish theirs. Sessions has chosen to produce Besse as a series of a dozen small paperbacks, and to reproduce the text photographically. Unfortunately, since the text was originally printed on folio size pages, photographing it onto small pages makes the text so small that it is not very readable. Still, I am glad that the text of Besse's book is being made available.

I then turned my attention to publishing a collection of the works of James Nayler, which I soon realized would need to be a 4-volume set. But it was delayed because of two other projects that intervened.

The first of these came about when, after there had been much discussion on the Quaker Texts e-mail list and elsewhere about the unavailability of Barclay's Apology, Peter Sippel announced one day that since nobody else was reprinting it, he guessed it was his job.

I had until then resisted suggestions that Quaker Heritage Press reprint the Apology because I assumed that one of the large Quaker institutions would do so sooner or later. It was difficult for me to believe that these institutions would just let the Apology remain out of print indefinitely. But given that they seemed to be doing so and that I knew Peter did not have the resources to produce hardback books, I suggested to him that we work together on it, and the volume published last spring is the result of our efforts. We worked from the first English language edition (Aberdeen, 1678), and this may be the most accurate text of Barclay that has been published since that time.

(The decision to use the 1678 edition was the result of Edsel Burdge's offering to compare a late eighteenth-century text of the Apology with one published in 1690. I was surprised at how many changes in wording he found in just the first few pages. Although these changes did not significantly affect the meaning, we wanted to get Barclay's own words; so it seemed best to use the first English language edition.)

This was also my first venture into obtaining texts from microfilm. Until then I had obtained texts for typing by photocopying old volumes or pamphlets that I found at Haverford or Swarthmore College libraries. But I knew that no librarian would be happy to allow a four hundred page book, printed in 1678, to be photocopied (the process would destroy the binding). Fortunately the Aberdeen Apology had been microfilmed, and a librarian at nearby Westminster Theological Seminary was willing to obtain the film for us on interlibrary loan; we then photocopied it at their microfilm viewer. Since that time I have had a number of occasions to make copies of other writings from microfilm, as most early Quaker publications are in the Wing Catalog or in the Thomason collection and have been microfilmed.

Larry Kuenning has put the Apology on the web.

The other intervening book is the small volume, Historical Writings of Quakers Against War. The main items in this book, Thomas Lurting's The Fighting Sailor Turned Peaceable Christian (1710) and Jonathan Dymond's An Inquiry into the Accordance of War with the Principles of Christianity (1823), were already on our website, and we had thought we might include them in a book someday. In the aftermath of the 9-11-2001 events, war was on everyone's mind, so we published this. It is the only one of our books whose timing was in any way influenced by current events in the wider society.

And then I was able to get back to working on Nayler. Next to George Fox, James Nayler was the most prominent Quaker in the 1650s, and there has never been anything close to a complete collection of his works published. In 1716 George Whitehead produced a partial collection, which was reprinted in 1829, but it omits about half of what Nayler wrote. We are working from the earliest texts and including all of his writings that we can find, and many other documents relevant to his life, including anti-Quaker pamphlets that Nayler replied to. The first volume (of what is planned to be a 4-volume set) has already been published; it contains writings by Nayler from 1653 and '54, including a few previously unpublished letters. I eventually hope to include all of Nayler's known manuscript letters in the set.

The new Nayler volume also includes the complete text of Nayler's "pamphlet war" with Puritan minister Thomas Weld (i.e., Weld's pamphlets as well as Nayler's).

Emlyn Warren of Oxford, England, should be given credit for having independently published a number of Nayler's tracts as pamphlets, carefully noting differences between the original editions and that of Whitehead.

Our thoughts on how historic Quaker texts should be published:

I am a person of very limited energy, and those working with me are few. It will not be possible for us to restore all the Quaker texts that we would like to see restored. Therefore we hope others will also engage in this type of work. The following are some advices for those who are thinking of republishing old Quaker texts.

1. Please, please, PLEASE do not try to modernize the language. The main reason is: you will get it wrong. The second reason is that it is not necessary. Seventeenth-century English is not a foreign language.

Linguists distinguish three periods in the history of the English language: Old English or Anglo Saxon, used c450-c1150; Middle English, used c1150-1475; and Modern English, used since 1475. Modern English is generally within the reach of today's readers. Middle English, such as that written by Chaucer, is partly readable but requires some special training to be fully understood; and Old English, such as that in Beowulf, is a foreign language.

Anything written by a Quaker is well within the Modern period. The difficulties of some early Quaker writings are due less to archaism in the language than to the fact that the ideas and controversies of their time are not widely understood today. Added to this is the fact that early Quakers had an idiosyncratic vocabulary, not all of which has survived in the Society of Friends. The theological vocabulary of other churches, being more widely used, has survived better (which is one reason why Barclay, who knew this vocabulary and wrote for those who used it, is one of the easiest of 17th-century Quaker writers for modern people to read).

Being of the generation whose early religious teachers used the King James Bible (known in England as the "Authorised Version"), I find the English of the 17th century as much a part of my native language as anything I can read on the Internet (an understatement). To those who think that 17th-century English is difficult, I can only urge that they read it until it isn't difficult any more. Not to do so is to incur a great loss of our cultural heritage, for not only were the major documents of more than one religious tradition written in the 17th century, but the phraseology of the King James Version is all over the literature of four centuries, not only in religious works but also in poetry, legal documents, expressions of philosophical or political ideas, and even romantic fiction.

When well-intentioned editors try to modernize old writings, thinking to make them more accessible to contemporary readers, there can be some regrettable consequences. One of these is to reinforce the idea that the original texts are too difficult. Since the original texts will never all be modernized the effect can be to make a great many other books less accessible by scaring people away from them. An even more serious hazard results from the fact that often it is the ideas, rather than the words themselves, that have become difficult. The modernizer may unwittingly alter the ideas in trying to modernize the language. This has in fact happened in every case that I know of where a modern editor has tried to paraphrase an early Quaker text.

Moreover, early Quakers tended to feel that there were right and wrong ways to say a thing, and that the best language to use was that of the Bible (meaning of course the language of the English translations available to them). They used this language not only when explicitly quoting but in all sorts of contexts (a reader familiar with the KJV will often notice phrases from it occurring quite unheralded in Quaker texts). To edit out this feature of early Quaker literature is to remove an interesting characteristic of Quaker discourse which was for them a matter of principle.

When readers of an old text find something in it that is obscure to them, they may realize that they don't understand it, look into it, and thereby increase their historical knowledge. But readers of a modernized version that seems smooth and clear have no way of knowing which passages are not accurate representations of the author's thought. Not knowing where the problems are, they don't investigate them, and instead absorb historical errors.

Related to this concern is that one should never substitute quotations from a 20th-century version of the Bible for the quotations from the King James Version ("Authorised Version") which are often found in Quaker writings. It's not that there is anything wrong with modern Bible versions, considered simply as translations of the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible. But advances in scholarship of those languages, and in the science of text criticism, have led to translations with different meanings, in some passages, from the corresponding verses in the version that most Quaker writers of the past had in front of them. The new readings may well be better interpretations of the Hebrew and Greek - but plugging them into an old Quaker text can misrepresent the author's thought and make nonsense of his logic.

(For that matter, one should not "correct" an author's Bible quotations, even to agree with the King James. If an author has quoted the Bible loosely, or in a way that differs from published translations, the variation may have been intentional, or even if unintentional may reflect the author's thinking and be relevant to his or her arguments. But I will make a correction to a text if something appears to be a mere printer's error.)

(In the department of printers' errors, we have found it important to look up all chapter/verse references to passages of the Bible, as they often contain errors. Early Quaker tracts were produced in the heat of controversy and probably were not proofread very carefully. Mistakes in numerical Scripture citations do not leap to the eye, so proofreaders missed them - and the resulting misprints were often reproduced in subsequent editions).

The only modernizing I recommend is in spelling, punctuation, and typography. An occasional footnote defining an obsolete word can be useful; but there really are not very many obsolete words in Quaker writings.

2. Publish complete texts, not excerpts or condensations. Excerpts often tell us more about the agenda of the excerpter than they do about the thought of the author. If you leave out the parts you don't like, or that you think will be less appealing to contemporary Friends, you are probably leaving out the very thing those Friends need to read to correct misperceptions of the early Quakers. And omissions often reflect a failure to see the logical connections between one part of a text and another.

Old Quaker writings vary in length from tracts and letters of a page or two, to lengthy books. If you want to publish something short, there are plenty of short items.

3. Be aware that posthumous republications of an author's work may have been tampered with by editors. In my observation, most 18th and 19th-century editions of early Quaker texts are pretty faithful to the original, and alterations are usually in the area of tidying up the grammar rather than changing the doctrine. But there are exceptions. The separations bred some editorial bias. John Comly (on the Hicksite side), and Evans & Evans, the editors of Friends Library (on the Orthodox side) are both known to have engaged in partisan editing.

I was not alert to this consideration when I produced the Penington set and simply transcribed most of it from the volumes that we got from elderly Ohio Friends (1863 edition). Perhaps this is just as well, as it would have taken me a lot longer to dig up early printings, and I have no reason to think there is any significant distortion in the 19th-century edition. With Nayler I am going back to the original printings from the 1650s and '60s.

4. Try to refrain from writing a long introduction telling the reader what you think the author means, and what are the most essential parts, and what parts he should have written differently, and why it is important for today, etc. Such introductions quickly become dated, and they can be irritating to those who want to read Fox's thought or Barclay's thought, etc., not yours. The text is important because it is our heritage as Quakers and sheds light on a certain juncture in history. Supplying some historical or biographical background can be useful. But if you think the Society of Friends needs your philosophy, do it in a book of your own.

5. Keep it plain. The people who wrote those books believed in plainness, and historically they were always published in very plain formats. (E.g. they did not use illustrations even though this was technically possible for 17th-century printers.) If people won't buy a plain-looking book, then they don't want an old Quaker text.

6. Publish it in hardback for durability. You are not producing something to gratify a current fad; you are printing an historical classic that will be of as much interest two centuries from now as it is today. And given the way things have gone, it may have to last that long before anyone is found to print it again!

7. I favor retyping rather than photographic reproduction or electronic scanning. Old pages are often yellowed and stained and do not make good photographic copy. They often contain archaic typographical features (like the tall "s") which do not enhance readability. Also they may be formatted for pages of a size and shape not very suitable for a modern book. And electronic scanners are notoriously poor with old texts; if you use one you will probably have to spend so much time proofreading and making corrections that you may as well type it.

8. Don't expect to make much money. You can probably get your initial investment on printing and binding back, if you are patient. Your labor I assume you contributed out of love.

9. Keep in touch with others who publish old Quaker texts so as to avoid duplication of labors and to benefit from one another's experience. The Q-Text (Quaker Texts) e-mail list exists for that purpose.