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The Toldervy/Nayler Debate

     I have included two additional papers by John Toldervy, written after Nayler's reply to the first—even though Nayler did not write a second reply—because Toldervy's story is intrinsically interesting and is not well known. "The Foot out of the Snare" narrates what is clearly a psychotic experience, interpreted entirely in spiritual terms, and following upon Toldervy's first involvement with Friends. Eight Puritan ministers endorsed this pamphlet—for their own reasons, one presumes—but whatever they might have intended, Toldervy later insisted it was not his purpose to denounce Quakerism. Was Toldervy blaming his mental illness on the Quakers? Were the ministers doing so? Nayler assumes they all had the same intention—to attack Quakerism—and retaliates with the usual thundering accusations of "lying," "filth" and service of the devil. Toldervy replies in kind.

     Then, in what is unique in my experience of controversial literature of this period—Toldervy apologizes. Recognizing that his use of several ministers to make his writing respected by the public gave Nayler legitimate cause to think his quarrel was with Quakerism as such, he says Nayler's criticism of him was justified. He reaffirms his unity with fundamental Quaker principles—still reserving doubt as to whether some of the peripheral testimonies—against hat honor, use of the formal "you," and other issues having to do with politeness—are really required by the Light.

     Although Toldervy's description of his psychotic episode is remarkably clear and vivid—so much so that it could probably be added to psychiatric literature today as an example of manic symptomatology—his theological prose is tedious and obscure, as are his analyses of his own and Nayler's writings. I frankly could not follow the argument. But if William Penn was right that "He who forgives first wins,"a Toldervy won this debate.

     George Fox says of John Toldervy that he "died in the Truth."b