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About Jonathan Dymond

The following biographical information is from Rufus Jones, The Later Periods of Quakerism (London: Macmillan, 1921), pp. 716-17:

Early in the nineteenth century appeared a most important interpretation of the fundamental basis of the Quaker position concerning war - in fact the first great arresting interpretation of it to be made. This was Jonathan Dymond's famous monograph called An Enquiry into the Accordancy of War with the Principles of Christianity. The argument was expanded and developed in the "Essay on War" which is a part of a posthumous volume of Essays on the Principles of Morality.1 Jonathan Dymond (1796-1828) is almost without biography. He consumed his own smoke and turned everything that belonged to him into the two books and a few tracts which bear his name, the first of the books not even reporting its author's name. A contemporary Friend records that he possessed "talents rarely bestowed" and "exalted piety capable of extensive usefulness," and his writings fully verify that modest claim. He wrote his essays in a room adjoining his draper's shop, subject to frequent interruptions from customers who broke in upon his profound meditations. The world around him had no suspicion that this linen draper was a genius, but it is perfectly clear to the modern reader that this man who died of a distressing tuberculosis of the throat at the age of thirty-one, had a mind of very fine quality, an unusual style, and a moral perspicacity and penetration not often matched. One may not agree with this position or that of Dymond's Essays, but he cannot fail to see that here is a thinker who first of all seeks the moral ground and principle upon which moral actions rest, who fearlessly goes the whole way to the practical conclusions that follow, and who will have absolutely nothing to do with the flimsy doctrine of expediency so dear to Paley and other contemporary moralists. The Essays were thoughtfully and fairly studied in the Quarterly Review for January and February 1831, in an article written by Robert Southey, who declares that "Dymond's book is of such ability and so excellently intended, as well as executed, that even those who differ most widely, as we must do, from some of its conclusions, must regard the writer with the greatest respect, and look upon his early death as a public loss."
1. The first edition of An Enquiry, etc., was printed in London in 1823 without the author's name. The third edition "corrected and enlarged" was published in 1824. It was published in Philadelphia in 1834 with notes by Thomas S. Grimke, and again in 1835, the latter being called the fourth edition. The Essays on the Principles of Morality (including the one on War) were published in London in 1829. A very large number of editions followed. A New York edition appeared in 1834 and another in 1844. The "Essay on War" has many times been printed by itself, and was edited with an introduction by John Bright.

Jones perhaps overestimates Dymond's originality. To me it seems that Dymond's main contribution was to state in a single coherent work the beliefs about war which had been traditional among Quakers since the 17th century. In some passages he repeats almost verbatim the words of earlier authors; in particular I have noticed sentences echoing Robert Barclay's Apology (1678) and Thomas Clarkson's A Portraiture of Quakerism (1806). By present-day standards these would be called plagiarism, but in the context of his own times it seems clear that Dymond was not stealing anyone's intellectual credit or commercial gain, and he footnotes his general debt to Clarkson as well as other sources he quotes.

But it is precisely his unoriginality that makes Dymond's work important. In it we see what Quakers in general believed about war in his own time and for some generations earlier. And since his work was frequently reprinted throughout the 19th century, it is clear that many Quakers continued to regard it as a useful statement of their position. Quakerism has changed greatly since then, in several different directions. Anyone seeking a classic account of why Quakers opposed war during their first few centuries, or indeed anyone seeking a statement of the Christian religious case for rejecting war, would do well to look at Dymond's work.

The second (and longest) chapter, "An Inquiry, &c.," is the most important part of the work, and can be read as a self-contained essay.

Larry Kuenning for QHP