What follows below is a couple of informative comments that Marshall Massey left on my previous post.LIZ: How can we know what it was that Woolman wanted to convey with that story--or did he explicitly say, This is why I'm writing this...?
At one point in our exchange of comments, I posed to Marshall, "How can we know what it was that Woolman wanted to convey [in his journal] with that story?"--that story being the one where Woolman is worshiping with a group of Native Americans, offers some vocal ministry, and is met with with the words of Native American worshiper among them: "I love to feel where the words come from..."
In his thoughtful replies, Marshall describes the historical nature, purpose, and structure of the journals of early Friends and of journal writers long before--and since--that era. For any of us who might be keeping a journal, whether for personal reasons, for purposes of accountability, or out of a sense of God's leading, this post might be of interest.
I present this guest piece, then, with Marshall's permission. I have set it up as a sort of dialogue between him and me, since his comments emerge in response to my own questions. The hope is that by viewing my original questions, readers will understand the context out of which Marshall answers.
I have added line breaks and blockquotes in some places as well. Lastly, wherever convenient and available, I've included links to items that Marshall references.
MARSHALL: How we can know, dear Liz, is because this was the traditional purpose of Quaker journals, for a hundred years before Woolman and a hundred years after him: to record the evidence of divine grace working through the writer.
It was also the purpose of Calvinists' journals, from long before Quakerism got started through the time of Jonathan Edwards and beyond. The Quaker journal-writing tradition was, in fact, an adaptation of the Calvinist journal-writing tradition.
Woolman was working within a well-established, well-defined Quaker spiritual discipline. There is no evidence that he rejected Quaker discipline of any sort.
LIZ: As usual, I appreciate how you are able to put things into a larger historical and Quaker context. My guess is, though, that if I asked five other Quaker historians about why Quaker ministers kept journals, I might get another five or six answers!
MARSHALL: Hi again, Liz!
I would certainly encourage you to ask other Quaker historians about the reason, if you have the time.
Failing that, there is actually a wealth of scholarly opinion about the topic available in book form. Daniel B. Shea's Spiritual Autobiography in Early America (University of Wisconsin Press, 1968, 1988) might be a good place to start, since Woolman's Journal is one of the ones he examines.
Shea, who is regarded as a leading figure in this field, writes,
"The explicit arguments of early spiritual narratives were highly conventional. ... The spiritual autobiographer is primarily concerned with the question of grace: whether or not the individual has been accepted into divine life, an acceptance signified by psychological and moral changes which the autobiographer comes to discern in his past experience. ... Quaker journalists dealt less with the subtleties of the conversion process than with the witnessing life wrought by conversion. ... Each of these selections [reviewed in Shea's book] obeys conventions established for the journal in seventeenth-century England, in content and vocabulary, and in the vindication of Quaker habits and beliefs. ....Outbursts of originality were incidental, brief, and contained within the larger structure of the journal, which was already well established by 1700. Conformity to this structure resulted from a group mentality, but also of course from the common experiences of traveling Friends." (Pp. xxv-xxvii, 9-10, 39-40.)If your quarrel is with my statement that "the traditional purpose of Quaker journals ... [was] to record the evidence of divine grace working through the writer," you might also want to give some consideration to the opening words of Woolman's Journal: "I have often felt a motion of Love to leave some hints of my experience of the Goodness of God...."
As Shea points out, these words are not very different from the opening words of the memoirs of Jane Reynolds and Elizabeth Collins; nor, I might add, from those of the memoirs of Elizabeth Ashbridge, Thomas Chalkley, Ruth Follows, John Griffith, Alice Hayes, Jane Hoskens, Henry Hull, Joseph Oxley, Jane Pearson, Joseph Pike, Elizabeth Stirredge, and many other Quaker journal-keepers.
The standard formula was something along the lines of
"[I have had it on my mind/I have felt drawings/It hath been in my heart] for many years to [write an account/leave some hints/leave a short testimony] of the [providence/precious visitations] and [tender/gracious/merciful dealings] of the [Almighty/Lord/All-Wise] with me from my youth up."Often the writer adds this is "for the benefit of my children" or "for those who come after" or something similar.
A few writers elaborate the basic idea more fully, such as Thomas Shillitoe, who began, "Believing it required of me in my early life, to keep a record of the merciful dealings of the Lord with me, and the remarkable manner in which he, in his tender compassion, has followed me by his reproofs of instruction, accompanied by such offers of help, as when faithfully co-operated with, never have failed to be all-sufficient for every work and service He has been pleased to call me to perform...."
Or Daniel Wheeler, who opened by saying, "Having frequently derived much valuable instruction, from the perusal of the narratives of those who have long since exchanged an earthly for an heavenly inheritance, the thought has at times occurred to me, that a short memoir of my own life, — however evil 'the days of the years of my pilgrimage' have been; might, under the divine blessing, be made in like manner useful to others."
In every case, the words amount to the writer's own ideas of the journal's purpose, which is a fusion of (1) wanting to note how she has been a beneficiary of grace, (2) wanting to show that she has been blessed to be an instrument through which grace came to others, and (3) wanting the journal itself to serve as such an instrument. The three motives do not seem to me to be separable; they are, in fact, three aspects of a single motive driving the work.
Perhaps the other historians you have in mind will be able to offer the other understandings to which you refer. If so, I'll be most interested to read them!
With all good wishes —