Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
My favorite Quaker work is “A Guide to True Peace”. Since discovering it I have dwelled on it and used it as a personal Guide to the prayer of inward silence. Originally published in 1813 it has gone through numerous editions including ones published as recently as this year. It has had a big impact on the Quaker Community from which it originated.
I have been working on a textual history of the “Guide”; comparing each published edition that I have been able to find. I have recently begun to compare the online editions with the published editions. I have found three online editions. Since it is a relatively short work, and since most sections consist of only a few pages, it is simple to have an accessible online version.
I would like to draw attention to interested Quakers that the online editions are highly edited. And this editing strongly distorts, even contradicts, the “Guide” in both its original form, and in the newly published editions. Consider this passage from the published Guide:
“We must retire from all outward objects, and silence all the desires and wandering imaginations of the mind; that in this profound silence of the whole soul, we may hearken to the ineffable voice of the Divine Teacher. We must listen with an attentive ear; for it is a still, small voice. It is not indeed a voice uttered in words as when a man speaks to his friend; but it is a perception infused by the secret operations and influences of the Divine Spirit, insinuating to us obedience, patience, meekness, humility, and all the other Christian virtues, in a language perfectly intelligible to the attentive soul.” (Pages 2 and 3, 1979 Edition, Pendle Hill)
This passage is representative of all other editions published over the last 200 years; including recent ‘modernized’ (i.e. ‘edited’) published versions.
Now compare the above to the three online versions of the same passage:
“We must retire from all outward objects, and silence all the desires and wandering imaginations of the mind; that in this profound silence of the whole soul, we may hearken to the ineffable voice of the Divine Teacher. We must listen with an attentive ear; for it is a still, small voice. It indeed can be a voice uttered in words as when a man talks to his friend; . . . “
Just to highlight the difference, the original ‘Guide’, and all subsequent published editions, says:
“It is not indeed a voice uttered in words as when a man speaks to his friend; . . .”
The online versions say:
“It indeed can be a voice uttered in words as when a man talks to his friend; . . . “
In two of the online editions no indication is given to the reader of the editing. In one online version the edited portions are written in italics; a small indication of the editing; but even in this case the original wording is not offered to the reader.
My concern is this: for many younger people the first place they will go, and often the last place they will go, for information is online. As far as I have been able to find, the actual wording of the original text is not online. I hope to remedy this in the near future by placing the “Guide” as originally composed, and as published by all editions right up to the present, online so it is more accessible.
My warning is this: if you hear about the “Guide” and you search for it online, you simply cannot trust the online editions as they are radically altered. At times the meaning of the “Guide” is actually inverted from the published editions.
The perspective of the “Guide” is radical; it transcends all conceptualization and verbalizing. The online editions back away from this stance. It is clear to me that the editor(s) of the online editions simply find the radical nature of the “Guide” unacceptable. They have therefore taken steps to alter its basic message.
I do not know any of the online editors; I’m not even sure who they are. It appears that the change I quoted comes from a single source and then was replicated in the other two online versions. But I’m not sure of that. I have attempted to contact the keepers of these sites; but I have not been able to sort out the history of this, and other, alterations.
The “Guide” is a wonderful, profound, and vastly inspirational work that has assisted countless Quakers, and others. It is a short work. Modern editions, and reprints of older editions, are available for reasonable prices. If you are interested in the “Guide” I would suggest steering away from the online altered versions and find yourself a good edition you can study. This work is one you will read and re-read. I keep a copy with me wherever I go. When I have time I read a brief section. It is a good and reliable Friend. I hope you will also find your way to this “Guide to True Peace”.
Thy Friend Jim