Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
Critical Introduction by A. I. Fitzroy
George Fox (16241691)
[George Fox, the founder of the Quakers, was born at Drayton, in Leicestershire, in 1624. He was the son of a weaver, an honest man, George tells us, with a seed of God in him. He inherited from his mother, whose maiden name was Lago, the martyr spirit of her family. From his earliest years he appears to have been earnest and religious, to have shrunk more and more from the fellowship of men, finally breaking off from both old and young, at, as he thought, the command of God. He appears to have had some private means, and soon took to wandering about England preaching and exhorting. He gradually severed himself from the visible church, and from all formal assemblies of religious people, coming to believe in his own special inspiration. He suffered much and frequent ill-usage at the hands of the mob, and was repeatedly imprisoned for conscience sake. From the year 1647 to his death in 1691, except when interrupted by imprisonment, he went preaching and praying through the length and breadth of England again and again, visiting also Ireland, Scotland, the Barbadoes, Jamaica, America, and the Netherlands. Even from gaol he wrote exhortations to his friends and admonitions to the government. He married in 1669 Margaret, the widow of one Judge Fell, who had repeatedly used her influence both with her first husband and with the king on Foxs behalf. He believed himself possessed of the power of discerning witches, of healing the sick and of casting out devils.]
THE MOST important of the writings of George Fox is his Journal, or Historical Account of the Life, Trials, Sufferings, Christian Experiences, and Labour of Love in the Work of the Ministry of that Ancient, Eminent, and Faithful Servant of Jesus Christ, George Fox, which was published after his death. In addition to this record of his experiences he wrote sundry tracts and addresses to the king, and a volume has been collected of his epistles.
The style of his journal is simple, unaffected, and earnest. He makes a fairly liberal use of Scripture phraseology, but not so as to break the continuity of his own writing. He is dignified and temperate, never indulging in grotesque metaphors nor in recondite biblical allusions. He is often quite eloquent from the force of his convictions, speaking straight out of the heart, as God gave him utterance, he would have said, without any attempt at effect or beauty of diction.
He makes no appeal to the emotions, nor does he, in relating the cruel persecutions of himself or his followers, make any endeavour to over-excite the sympathies of his readers. He is rarely, if ever, fanatical.
He is deficient in imagination and poetry. Stern, bare facts are his province, and he lays them before the reader with absolute impartiality. Of much the same religious opinions as John Bunyan, he differs widely from him, looking upon life with the eye of a moralist, and not of a poet. There are no flowers of imagination in his writings. He is no genius, no great writer. A plain earnest man, thinking only of his mission and never of himself, he tells us the story of his life in plain earnest words, without self-consciousness and without effort.
He is a man of sound common sense, great readiness of wit and undaunted courage. He, here and there, displays a certain grim humour and occasionally a touch of pathos. The main charms of his journal seem to consist in its sincerity and truthfulness.
George Foxs style is emphatically the right sort for his matter. The interest of the reader is sustained but never inflamed. He carries conviction and arouses our sympathies by his unaffectedness and simplicity.