Quaker Heritage Press > Online Texts > Works of James Nayler > Volume 1
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If during the period 1652-56 an English person with an interest in the competing religious sects of the time had been asked who were the leaders of the Quakers, they would probably have replied, "George Fox and James Nayler." Nayler was actually the more prolific and articulate writer of the two, as well as being a powerful preacher. He was especially skilled at rebutting the arguments of the opponents of Quakerism.
Nayler, a Yorkshire farmer and landowner with a wife and three daughters, felt called into the itinerant ministry in 1652, having recently left the Parliamentary army for reasons of health. He was then 34, six years older than Fox. It is not certain what role Fox played in Nayler's conversion to the Quaker cause. The two men had met when Fox visited an Independent church at Woodkirk which Nayler was then affiliated with. They may have arrived at similar convictions independently, but in any case they were soon working closely together. Their relationship was unusual in that Nayler regarded Fox as a beloved brother in the faith but does not seem to have viewed him as superior, unlike most other early Quakers.
In 1656 a disagreement arose between Fox and Nayler, resulting from a prior disagreement between two other sets of Quakers, and Nayler's reluctance to take sides in it. On one side was Martha Simmonds, a vigorous London preacher and pamphleteer, with her husband and a number of their friends; on the other side were Francis Howgill and Edward Burrough, prominent in the London ministry, who had rebuked Simmonds for what they felt was inappropriate ministry. Exactly what Simmonds and her group had said or done that Howgill and Burrough objected to seems impossible to determine; but Simmonds sought to Nayler for support, while Fox supported Howgill and Burrough. Although Nayler did not actively promote either side of this dispute, his unwillingness to repudiate Simmonds put him in the wrong on Fox's view.
A few months after an unhappy exchange with Fox on this issue, Nayler, with Simmonds and several others, enacted the demonstration at Bristol for which he has been most famous ever since. He entered the city on horseback in imitation of Christ's entry into Jerusalem, his friends crying out "Holy! Holy! Holy!" and strewing garments in his path.
<iv> Nayler was arrested and charged with "horrid blasphemy." Most Friends, following Fox's lead, did not support him. Bizarre demonstrations by Quakers were not uncommon, and Fox usually defended them. He would presumably have supported Nayler's action had he not been offended by the latter's stance in the Simmonds controversy—an offense that would have been exacerbated by the fact that Simmonds herself was involved in the Bristol action. Then again, it is not clear whether the Bristol incident would have occurred had it not been for the prior quarrel between the two Quaker leaders. Just whose idea the demonstration had been, and what purpose was intended in it by the various participants, are among the questions that remain obscure. Many accused Nayler of claiming to be Jesus Christ; but he was not doing so in any other sense than that in which Quakers had from the beginning professed a degree of identification with Christ within them that scandalized their contemporaries.
After a lengthy trial by Parliament (at which some argued that he should be put to death) it was decreed:
That James Nayler be set on the pillory ... in the New Palace, Westminster, during the space of two hours ... and shall be whipped by the hangman through the streets, from Westminster to the Old Exchange, London and there likewise to be set on the pillory ... in each of the said places wearing a paper containing an inscription of his crimes; and at the Old Exchange his tongue shall be bored through with a hot iron; and that he be there stigmatized in the forehead with the letter B; and that he be afterwards sent to Bristol and conveyed into and through the said city on a horse, bare-ridged, with his face backwards and there also publicly whipped the next market day ...; and that from thence he be committed to prison in Bridewell, London, and there restrained from the society of all people and kept to hard labor till he shall be released by Parliament; and during that time be debarred from the use of pen, ink, and paper; and shall have no relief but what he earns by his daily labor.1
The prohibition of ink and paper must eventually have been relaxed, as by 1657 Nayler was again writing and publishing. But he remained confined until September 1659, when the then <v> acting Parliament released all the Quaker prisoners.
At the urging of friends Fox reluctantly agreed to meet with Nayler, and a formal reconciliation took place, but Fox does not seem to have really forgiven his former companion. Nayler died in 1660, after being attacked and robbed on his way to his home in Yorkshire.
Nayler's name had come under a cloud; his role in the rise of the movement was downplayed by Fox and other Friends, and his writings received less attention than those of other leading Friends.
For more information on the history of James Nayler and his role in Quakerism the following sources are very helpful:
Readers should remember, however, that historians cannot read minds any more than other people can, and most historians are not theologians. Statements found in secondary sources, about the motives or beliefs of individuals, and about the theological issues between early Quakers and other sects of their time, are often unreliable.
A partial collection of Nayler's writings was published in 1716 under the title A Collection of Sundry Books, Epistles and Papers Written by James Nayler, edited by the 80-year-old George Whitehead, who had once been a friend and companion of Nayler's; this was reprinted in 1829. Omitted were most of Nayler's replies to anti-Quaker pamphlets and some of his other writings. The present edition is therefore the first collection of Nayler's Works that attempts to be complete.
Four volumes are planned. This, the first, contains mainly writings of 1652-54. Volume 2 will concentrate on 1655, Volume 3 on 1656, and Volume 4 on later writings.
I intend to include previously unpublished letters by Nayler; however it was not possible to obtain texts of most of these in <vi> time for the present volume, which therefore includes only two of the many such letters extant from 1652-54. I will try to publish the others in Volume 2.
With Nayler's writings I hope to include a number of related documents to help put his work in context. In Volume 1 these include (a) Pamphlets of which Nayler wrote part. Although I have not printed the entire pamphlet in every such case, I have done so with Saul's Errand to Damascus, Several Petitions Answered, Several Letters Written to the Saints, To you...Baptists, and Several Papers. Such jointly authored works illustrate how closely Nayler worked with Fox and other prominent Quakers. (b) Anti-Quaker pamphlets to which Nayler wrote replies. Volume 1 contains the 4-part "pamphlet war" begun by Thomas Weld with four other ministers, who attacked Quakerism under the title The Perfect Pharisee. Nayler replied; Weld et al. replied back; and Nayler replied again. Including all four installments of this debate seemed the best way of conveying what it was about. (c) Francis Higginson's reply to Saul's Errand to Damascus. Although Nayler did not reply to this, it is of interest as recounting conversations with Nayler and giving an opponent's first-hand perspective on the interactions.
In a later volume I hope to include a number of contemporary documents relevant to the 1656 Bristol episode, Nayler's subsequent trial and punishment, and the reactions of other Quakers to these events.
A question I have hoped to address is, how much did Whitehead, in his 1716 collection, alter or "censor" Nayler's work?2 Claims that he did so have been made by Leo Damrosch, who says, "the 1716 volume makes many alterations, usually for stylistic reasons but sometimes for significant doctrinal ones, as I shall point out when they suggest interesting points of interpretation."3 But Damrosch points out only one such passage <vii> in his book, and its usefulness for illustrating his point depends to an extent on his interpretation of Nayler's meaning, which I do not find convincing. He makes similar statements in 'Harvard's Libraries and the Quaker Jesus,' on the internet at http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~fdo/publications/essays/damrosch.htm (1996), and his claims have been echoed by Erin Bell in "How Early 18th-Century English Quakerism Interpreted the Legacy of James Nayler," a paper presented at an October, 2002 conference on "George Fox's Legacy" at Swarthmore College.
Emlyn Warren, who in the 1990s published a number of Nayler's tracts as pamphlets, did a detailed comparison of all existing editions of these tracts, including Whitehead's, noting even the smallest changes, as in spelling or punctuation, and published these comparisons as "Library Editions" of the tracts examined. Warren does not claim that Whitehead made any doctrinal changes; and indeed the reader would be hard pressed to find anything of that sort in the revisions Warren notes.
The writings herein printed are transcribed from the earliest editions, and in those cases where Whitehead included the item4 I have done a line-by-line comparison with his version. I have not footnoted every change, as this would result in a volume overloaded with notes, most of which would be of no interest. Hence I have bypassed changes in spelling, corrections of grammar, and changes which obviously aim merely at rendering clumsy syntax smoother. But I have footnoted every change which, by any stretch of the imagination, might alter the meaning of a passage, aiming to err, if at all, on the side of inclusiveness in this respect: i.e., I have footnoted many changes which in my opinion do not affect Nayler's meaning at all.
My tentative conclusions from this examination to date <viii> (the project has not yet been completed for material to be printed in later volumes) are:
In the overwhelming majority of passages Whitehead faithfully represented what Nayler wrote.
Whitehead was not trying to tone down the severity of Nayler's criticism of the "priests," which is plentifully evident in the 1716 collection and could hardly be suppressed without also suppressing Fox and the other Quakers of that time.
Whitehead probably had no conscious intention of changing Nayler's doctrine, though possibly he has done so in a tiny number of passages.
Whitehead's overriding editorial motives were clarity and correctness. He did not like to see Nayler saying anything inaccurate, or anything which, because of clumsy expression, might be thought to imply an inaccuracy; and when he found anything like that he corrected it. This results in a style somewhat more formal and less off-the-cuff than Nayler's, but not in a misrepresentation of Nayler's doctrinal beliefs.
But there are a few cases of "censorship." The most startling one that I have found occurs in the Woe Against Kendal (see p. 205) where Nayler writes that "the Lord hath caused some of his servants to go naked along your streets in Kendal and Kirkby Stephen, as signs of his wrath to come," and Whitehead omits the word "naked." Whitehead's prudishness here—which obscures the meaning and purpose of the tract—is odd, as it was not a secret that some of the early Quakers had gone naked for a sign: George Fox had mentioned the practice sympathetically at least 4 times in his Journal, as well as in The Great Mystery and in his doctrinal writings, a collection of which had been published only ten years earlier with Whitehead's signature leading the list of endorsers.
Whitehead also reduces the phrase "one whom the world calls James Nayler" to a mere "James Nayler" in several signatures. This type of expression, which had drawn caustic comments from critics, had dropped out of Quaker usage; but it was not peculiar to Nayler and can be found in Fox's writings as well.
I have retained the wording of the original documents but have modernized spelling and punctuation and have corrected what seem to be clearly printing errors (these occur mostly in chapter/verse Scripture references). Italics used in the originals <ix> to represent quotation have been converted to quotation marks, although this creates some awkwardness in that the quotations are sometimes indirect or imprecise.
Many people have helped make this volume possible. They include the members of Glenside Friends Meeting who offered proofreading, useful criticism, financial support, and loving patience. Also, Jane Orion Smith, who provided photocopies of several tracts; David Neelon, who helpfully sent a copy of the 1653 edition of Saul's Errand to Damascus; Tom Hamm and Debbie Follis at Earlham College Library, who provided Nayler's Lamentation over the Ruins of this Oppressed Nation; Betsy Brown and her successor Ann Upton at Haverford College Library; Charlotte Blandford at Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College; Colby Mikhail at Westminster Seminary Library, who helped us find microfilms; and the librarians at the University of Pennsylvania. Brian Drayton sent me a copy of Geoffrey Nuttall's essay, "The Letters of James Nayler" (in The Lamb's War: Quaker Essays to honor Hugh Barbour), which has proved invaluable in tracing Nayler's letters. Emlyn Warren's reprints and chart of Nayler's writings have been a valuable resource. Rosemary Moore has answered many questions both through personal correspondence and through her remarkable spreadsheet bibliography of early Quaker and anti-Quaker tracts. Appreciation is also felt toward our friends on the Quaker-G and Q-Text e-mail lists for their continuing interest and encouragement.
Seventeenth-century publications are often full of marginal notes, usually Scripture citations. In most cases I have converted these to footnotes. The margins of Weld's second pamphlet, however, contain capsule summaries of his subject matter: these did not seem appropriate for footnotes and have instead been inserted as boxes in smaller font, at the edges of the text.
Footnotes representing the author's notes are numbered with arabic numerals. QHP editor's footnotes are numbered with lower case letters. (This is the reverse of the system used in the print edition.)
A date preceding a note of a textual change means that <x> the text was changed in an edition of that date.
"Whitehead," or sometimes just "W." refers to textual changes found in the 1716 collection.
In this online edition, the page numbering of the print edition has been inserted in <angle brackets>. If a word was hyphenated across pages, the page number has been placed either before or after it.
I have tried to print the pamphlets in approximately chronological order. Sometimes the year of publication is part of the title page. Where it is not I have tried to include a note about its probable date.
When available, I have footnoted the Thomason date of a publication. This refers to George Thomason, a London bookseller and collector of pamphlets, whose many thousands of pamphlets are now catalogued, microfilmed, and preserved in the British Library. What most endears Thomason to the hearts of scholars studying mid-17th-century England is his practice of writing, on each pamphlet, the date (day, month, and year) when he bought it. Since printers did not always date publications, sometimes postdated them, and seldom gave more than the year, the Thomason date is usually the best indicator of when a publication hit the stands.
The calendar used in England in Nayler's day began the year on March 25 and called March the first month. To avoid ambiguity about dates in January, February, and the first 24 days of March I have typed both the old and the modern style date separated by a slash, thus: Mar. 17, 1653/54 means that it would be 1654 by our calendar but was still 1653 by theirs.
Watch out especially for "generation." It occurs many times in these writings, and will make no sense if taken in its modern meaning.
1. Bittle, p. 132. See p. v for bibliography.
2. For brevity I write as if Whitehead did all the editing of this book, but I do not know that to be the case. He was acting on a decision of London Yearly Meeting to produce a collection of Nayler's writings, and there were probably others working with him. He states in his introduction that he has not read all of Nayler's writings.
3. Damrosch, Sorrows, p. 11. See p. v for bibliography.
4. The following tracts were not included in Whitehead's collection: Several Petitions Answered, A Discovery of Faith, Sin Kept out of the Kingdom, To you that are called...Baptists, Spiritual Wickedness in Heavenly Places, An Answer to...The Perfect Pharisee, A Discovery of the Man of Sin. In Saul's Errand to Damascus Whitehead includes only "Divers Particulars of the Persecutions," "The Examination of Nayler at Appleby" and "James Nayler's Answer and Declaration" ("Truth Cleared from Scandals"). In Several Papers he includes only "Truth Cleared from Scandals" and "The Condition and Portion of the People of England." In the Letters section, all are included in Whitehead except the two not previously published, and the one that had been misattributed to Fox.