200 Years of True Peace


Dear Friends:


This year, 2013, is the 200th anniversary of the publication of the Quaker work “A Guide to True Peace”.  It was originally published in England in 1813.  The first American Edition is dated 1816; so it found a place among American Quakers very quickly.


It has been in continuous publication ever since its initial offering.  There are numerous editions published in the 19th century.  I have personally read the 1816, 1818, 1820, 1829, 1834, and 1846 editions.  In the 20th century there appeared a significant edition in 1946.  The 1946 edition contained an ‘Introduction’ by Howard Brinton.  This 1946 edition was reprinted in 1979 by Pendle Hill and for many years was the most widely available and read edition among 20th century Quakers.


But in some ways the 1946/79 edition is peculiar.  It is the only edition I have come across that lacks scriptural references.  Scriptural quotes are used frequently in the ‘Guide’.  The standard practice for editions up to the 46/79 edition was to give a citation for the quoted scripture either in the body of the text itself, or as a footnote; the normal way scriptural quotations are referenced.  The absence of these references in the 46/79 edition remains a puzzle to me.  All previous editions I have looked at, and all subsequent editions as well, have them.  For those who want to use the ‘Guide’ as an actual manual for contemplation, the absence of the references is a puzzling lapse.


Fortunately, all the newer editions, including ones issued in 2012, contain the references; so those purchasing newer editions will have these easily available.   In addition, two reprint houses currently offer the 1846 Edition; which is the 3rd American Edition, which also contains the references.  In addition, the 3rd American Edition also contains William Shewen’s “Counsel to the Christian Traveller”, a short, inspirational work also popular among Quakers in the 19th century.  Together they make a good pair.


The ‘Guide’ is a remarkable work that has assisted countless Quakers in their Faith and Practice, in their spiritual journey.  It is a work that emerged out of the tradition of Quietism.  The ‘Guide’ consists of passages culled from the writings of Madame Guyon, Francois Fenelon, and Miguel Molinos; the three continental Quietists of greatest significance.  All three of these writers were Catholic.  All three of them were at times arrested and interrogated by the Inquisition; Molinos died in prison for his beliefs.  Madame Guyon was arrested four times and finally released to her son’s house in Southern France.  Fenelon was exiled from Paris and assigned the bishopric of Cambray, where he lived out the rest of his days in evident serenity. 


The result of these attacks on Quietist thought was that Protestants in England, particularly Quakers, and Pietists in Lutheran Germany, felt free to borrow from their writings without becoming too ‘Catholic’ in the process.  Because Quietism was designated a heresy, and because Protestants were already ‘heretics’, it was easy for some Protestants to sense a commonality of view with these Catholic thinkers.


One result of this interaction is the ‘Guide to True Peace’ put together by William Backhouse and James Janson in England, using the writings of the continental Quietists as the basis for their work.  In the case of the Quaker tradition, Quietism found a ready audience; the Quaker tradition already contained a significant tilt towards many of the basic teachings of Quietism.  As early as Robert Barclay we can find views that are either in sympathy with what would become Quietism, or are in fact of the same essence as the views put forth by Guyon, Molinos, and Fenelon.  So it is not surprising that Quakers would become a significant conduit for the spread of the ideas of continental Quietism through the publication of the ‘Guide’.


During this 200th anniversary year I hope to post observations on the history of the text as well as comments on passages from the ‘Guide’.  Each edition makes some editorial changes; most of these are trivial, but a few are significant and are worth looking at. 


But more importantly, I feel that the ‘Guide’ can function as a means for recovering the Quaker heritage of Quietism, a heritage that I feel has been too long neglected, being either dismissed or obscured.  Some of the teachings of the ‘Guide’ run counter to some of the inclinations of contemporary Quaker Faith and Practice.  I think it is worth looking at what has changed and, perhaps, what can be recovered; using the ‘Guide’ to map out the territory we have travelled.


Thy Friend Jim


Views: 158

Comment by Lee Nichols on 1st mo. 11, 2013 at 12:07pm

Jim,  I have not read  A Guide to True Peace for sometime.  I look forward to a review and your comments about it.  I think the copy I read was off the internet.  I see I also have a copy of Molinos' Spiritual Guide.   Thanks for undertaking the project.     

Comment by Jim Wilson on 1st mo. 11, 2013 at 7:59pm

Thanks, Lee, for the post.  I'm not sure where your online version came from, but at least three of the online versions are highly edited and have changed significant passages.  I have had difficulty tracing down the history of these online editions.  Tentatively, I believe the online editions are all based on a version published by the Foundation for Human Understanding in 1977.  I'm not exactly sure when this version got online, but I think it was about eight years ago.  The initial online posting using the FHU version has been copied by at least two other online sites.  As of this time I am not aware of an online site that has something like the 1846 or 1979 edition available.  I hope to remedy that by March of this year.  

There are some recent editions that are available via nook and kindle; in particular I believe "A Guide to True Peace: Revisited", a modernised version published 2012, is available via these technologies.  But I'm not sure if it is available as an online version, though it wouldn't surprise me.

I will have more to say in future posts about the FHU altered version and why I think they changed some central teachings of the 'Guide'.  But briefly, the view of the 'Guide' is radical in the same way that Quaker views, at their core, are radical.  And I think some would find these teachings problematic.  And this in turn would lead to a felt need to alter some of its teachings.

Thy Friend Jim

Comment by Stephanie Stuckwisch on 1st mo. 17, 2013 at 7:36pm

Jim, my copy of A Guide to True Peace was published by Searchlight based in England. Do you happen to know if it is true to the original?

Comment by Jim Wilson on 1st mo. 18, 2013 at 11:30am

Good Morning Stephanie:

The Searchlight edition was published in 1999.  It is based on the 1815 British Edition.  It is an 'updated' and 'modernised' edition.  What they mean is that this version has been edited to make it more accessible to a modern reader.  The basic teachings are all there; no particular passage has been left out or altered in a basic way.  Changes include alterations in sentence structure, paragraphing, vocabulary (i.e. specific word choice), and Biblical reference source.  By 'Biblical reference source' I mean that they seem to be using a modern Bible translation rather than the Authorized Version; this is in keeping with their 'modernization' procedures.

I am ambivalent about this kind of updating.  Because I am so fond of the original, I probably am not objective about this.  The tendency in modernised editions (there are three currently available) is to make the sentences shorter and to greatly increase the number of paragraphs by breaking long paragraphs into shorter ones.  This is because modern style prefers a more staccato syntax than early 19th century English (think Jane Austen).  So I understand that the motivation is to align the 'Guide' with more modern preferences and I can see that might be a good thing.  But I also find the writing of the original to be highly lyrical; there is a beauty, a kind of flowing, river-like, sonorousness to the original which draws me in.  For me, when these kinds of revisions remove that sonorousness, it feels like a loss.  But, I suspect, that  is just me.  My guess is that many people will prefer a more modern syntax and vocabulary.  All the teachings are there, so I suppose I shouldn't complain.

And, incidentally, the Searchlight edition is now published in the U.S. by Kingsley Press.

The most troublesome edition is the online version found at Hal Worthington's sight.  If you google 'Guide to True Peace', that is often the first link to appear.  It is highly altered; I would say bowdlerized.  It is based on the 1977 Foundation for Human Understanding edition.  I don't know if Worthington was ever a member of the FHU, I suspect he wasn't, but I've been able to trace this eccentric version back to the FHU.

Hope this helps,

Thy Friend Jim

Comment by Stephanie Stuckwisch on 1st mo. 18, 2013 at 12:36pm

Thanks, Jim.

I also prefer the older language to a modernized version. I just downloaded what was touted as a reproduction of the 1846 version, only to find "Few changes in text have been made other than
occasional use of modern words or phrasing to make the Old English more readable."


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