Having learned the trade of a tailor, and having perceived that large possessions are an unnecessary temptation and trouble, Woolman began to journey about and to “pursue worldly business no further than as truth opened [his] way.”〖H. C., i, 177.〗 He presently began to be much concerned about the evils of slavery, at that time practiced by Quakers as by others, and quietly set his face against an institution which he believed was destined to be “grievous to posterity.”〖H. C., i, 183.〗 To act upon his convictions in this matter was not always easy or profitable, as we see from the account〖H. C., i, 188, 189.〗 of his refusal to write the will of a certain Quaker slaveholder. Woolman felt regret at the loss of the employment and at the necessity of giving offence. But far more deeply he felt “that acting contrary to present outward interest, from a motive of Divine love and in regard to truth and righteousness, and thereby incurring the resentment of people, opens the way to a treasure better than silver, and to a friendship exceeding the friendship of men.”〖H. C., i, 189.〗The temper shown in this incident is typical of the entire journal, and it inclines one to believe that such beautiful serenity and modesty as Woolman’s are perhaps more rare, as they are certainly more lovely, than mere avoidance of sin. Woolman’s care was not to be seen of men, but to be prompted by “the pure spirit which inwardly moves upon the heart.”〖H. C., i, 175.〗 A man taught, as he was, “to wait in silence, sometimes many weeks together,”〖H. C., i, 176.〗 until he hears God’s voice, is not likely to offend by an appearance of self-seeking or self-praise.

Yet it would be a mistake to leave these two interesting and instructive autobiographies with the feeling that one is the record of a pure and exalted spirit, the other a story of mere self-seeking. Woolman, though both in deed and in temper, far above this world, wrought no small part of a great practical reform. If Franklin’s life seems earthy in comparison, it should be remembered that, whatever his motives, he did manage to confer upon his country such benefits in science, in literature, diplomacy, practical arts, and public welfare as should entitle him to a respect which we may well deny to many of his rules for practicing the art of life. We could spare the practical advantages of having had among us a man like Franklin only if it were necessary to do so in order that the inner light which guided John Woolman might not be extinguished.

All Directories