Still-born Silence! thou that art
Flood-gate of the deeper heart!
Offspring of a heavenly kind!
Frost o’ the mouth, and thaw o’ the mind!
Secrecy’s confident, and he
Who makes religion mystery!
Admiration’s speaking’st tongue!
Leave, thy desert shades among,
Reverend hermits’ hallowed cells,
Where retired devotion dwells!
With thy enthusiasms come,
Seize our tongues, and strike us dumb!
Reader, would’st thou know what true peace and quiet mean; would’st thou find a refuge from the noises and clamours of the multitude; would’st thou enjoy at once solitude and society; would’st thou possess the depth of thy own spirit in stillness, without being shut out from the consolatory faces of thy species; would’st thou be alone, and yet accompanied; solitary, yet not desolate; singular, yet not without some to keep thee in countenance; a unit in aggregate; a simple in composite:–come with me into a Quaker’s Meeting.
Dost thou love silence deep as that “before the winds were made?” go not out into the wilderness, descend not into the profundities of the earth; shut not up thy casements; nor pour wax into the little cells of thy ears, with little-faith’d self-mistrusting Ulysses.–Retire with me into a Quaker’s Meeting.
For a man to refrain even from good words, and to hold his peace, it is commendable; but for a multitude, it is great mastery.
What is the stillness of the desert, compared with this place? what the uncommunicating muteness of fishes?–here the goddess reigns and revels.–“Boreas, and Cesias, and Argestes loud,” do not with their inter-confounding uproars more augment the brawl–nor the waves of the blown Baltic with their clubbed sounds–than their opposite (Silence her sacred self) is multiplied and rendered more intense by numbers, and by sympathy. She too hath her deeps, that call unto deeps. Negation itself hath a positive more and less; and closed eyes would seem to obscure the great obscurity of midnight.
There are wounds, which an imperfect solitude cannot heal. By imperfect I mean that which a man enjoyeth by himself. The perfect is that which he can sometimes attain in crowds, but nowhere so absolutely as in a Quaker’s Meeting.–Those first hermits did certainly understand this principle, when they retired into Egyptian solitudes, not singly, but in shoals, to enjoy one another’s want of conversation. The Carthusian is bound to his brethren by this agreeing spirit of incommunicativeness. In secular occasions, what so pleasant as to be reading a book through a long winter evening, with a friend sitting by–say, a wife–he, or she, too, (if that be probable), reading another, without interruption, or oral communication?–can there be no sympathy without the gabble of words?–away with this inhuman, shy, single, shade-and-cavern-haunting solitariness. Give me, Master Zimmerman, a sympathetic solitude.
To pace alone in the cloisters, or side aisles of some cathedral, time-stricken;
Or under hanging mountains,
Or by the fall of fountains;
is but a vulgar luxury, compared with that which those enjoy, who come together for the purposes of more complete, abstracted solitude. This is the loneliness “to be felt.”–The Abbey Church of Westminster hath nothing so solemn, so spirit-soothing, as the naked walls and benches of a Quaker’s Meeting. Here are no tombs, no inscriptions,
–sands, ignoble things,
Dropt from the ruined sides of kings–
but here is something, which throws Antiquity herself into the fore-ground–SILENCE–eldest of things–language of old Night–primitive Discourser–to which the insolent decays of mouldering grandeur have but arrived by a violent, and, as we may say, unnatural progression.
How reverend is the view of these hushed heads,
Nothing-plotting, nought-caballing, unmischievous synod! convocation without intrigue! parliament without debate! what a lesson dost thou read to council, and to consistory!–if my pen treat of you lightly–as haply it will wander–yet my spirit hath gravely felt the wisdom of your custom, when sitting among you in deepest peace, which some out-welling tears would rather confirm than disturb, I have reverted to the times of your beginnings, and the sowings of the seed by Fox and Dewesbury.–I have witnessed that, which brought before my eyes your heroic tranquillity, inflexible to the rude jests and serious violences of the insolent soldiery, republican or royalist, sent to molest you–for ye sate betwixt the fires of two persecutions, the out-cast and off-scowering of church and presbytery.–I have seen the reeling sea-ruffian, who had wandered into your receptacle, with the avowed intention of disturbing your quiet, from the very spirit of the place receive in a moment a new heart, and presently sit among ye as a lamb amidst lambs. And I remembered Penn before his accusers, and Fox in the bail-dock, where he was lifted up in spirit, as he tells us, and “the Judge and the Jury became as dead men under his feet.”