[Lamb, Charles. The Complete Works of Charles Lamb. New York: The Modern Library, 1935, pages 620-621.]

This document is on The Quaker Writings Home Page

"...Tell Lloyd I have had thoughts of turning Quaker, and have been reading, or am rather just beginning to read, a most capital book, good thoughts in good language. William Penn's No Cross, No Crown. I like it immensely. Unluckily I went to one of his meetings, tell him, in St. John Street, yesterday, and saw a man under all the agitations and workings of a fanatic, who believed himself under the influence of some "inevitable presence." This cured me of Quakerism. I love books of Penn and Woolman; but I detest the vanity of a man thinking he speaks by the Spirit, when what he says an ordinary man might say without all that quaking and trembling. In the midst of his inspiration (and the effects of it were most noisy) was handed into the meeting a most terrible blackguard Wapping sailor. The poor man, I believe, had rather have been in the part of an engagement, for the congregation of broad-brims, together with the ravings of the prophet were too much for his gravity, though I saw even he had delicacy enough not to laugh out. And the inspired gentleman, though his manner was so supernatural, yet neither talked nor professed to talk anything more than common morality, with now and then a declaration of not speaking from himself. Among other things, looking back to his childhood and early youth, he told the meeting what a graceless young dog he had been; that in his youth he had a good share of wit. Reader, if thou hadst seen the gentleman, thou wouldst have sworn that it must indeed been many years ago for his rueful physiognomy would have scared away the playful goddess from the meeting, where he presided, for ever. A wit! a wit! what could he mean? Lloyd, it minded me of Falkland in the Rivals, "Am I full of wit and humour? No, indeed you are not. Am I the life and soul of every company I come into? No, it cannot be said are." That hard-faced gentleman, a wit! Why, Nature wrote on his fanatic forehead fifty years ago, "Wit never comes, that comes to all." I should be as scandalised at a bon mot issuing from his oracle- looking mouth as to see Cato go down a country dance. God love you all! You are very good to submit to be pleased with reading my nothings. 'Tis the privilege of friendship to talk nonsense and to have her nonsense respected. -- Yours ever,


(I thought is only fair to Lamb to observe that his views of this event mellowed over time. This extract comes from the better know Essay of Elia, A Quakers' Meeting [page 44 of the same volume.]

Once only, and it was some years ago, I witnessed a sample of the Foxian orgasm. It was a man of giant stature, who, as Wordworth phrases it, might have danced "from head to foot equipt in iron mail." His frame was of iron, too. But he was malleable. I saw him shake all over with the spirit -- I dare not say of delusion. The strivings of the outer man were unutterable -- he seemed not to speak, but to be spoken from. I saw the strong man bowed down, and his knees to fail -- his joints all seemed loosening -- it was a figure to set off against Paul's preaching -- the words he uttered were few, and sound -- he was evidently resisting will -- keeping down his own word-wisdom with more mighty effort the world's orators strain for theirs. "He had been a WIT in his youth, he told us, with expressions of a sober remorse. And it was not till long after the impression had begun to wear away that I was enabled, with something like a smile, to recall the striking incongruity of the confession -- understanding the term in its worldly acceptation--with the frame and physiognomy of the person before me. His brow would have away the Levities---the Jocos Risus-que -- faster than the Loves fled face of Dis at Enna. -- By wit, even in his youth, I will be sworn understood something far within the limits of an allowable liberty.