Wednesday, December 13, 2017

For the first time on the web: Margaret Fell's "A Few Lines concerning Josiah Coale," 1671

Thanks to fine sleuthing by John Jeremiah Edminster, we now have the entire text of Margaret Fell's only known poem to put on line, an elegy on her friend, Josiah Coale (circa 1632-68), who died at around age 36. I had previously found 11 lines of this 44-line poem, but the rest seemed to have disappeared. It deserves to be on the web in its entirety, so I have placed it below.

Coale, like many early Quakers, traveled far and wide to spread the word about Friends, visiting both Holland and the American colonies. He was beaten and jailed by the Dutch and the Puritans. He received a warmer welcome from the Susequehanna Indians, with whom he negotiated a land deal.

Isabel Ross's Margaret Fell: Mother of Quakerism depicts Fell as appreciating Josiah's vibrant personality and strong faith. Fell was 18 years older than him, and saddened by his death. Though not one to write poetry, perhaps it was Coale's own poem, “A Song of the Judgments and Mercies of the Lord," written  in 1662 that inspired her own verse. According to Quaker Artists's History, a facebook page (
He said his poem was “written at the movings of the spirit of the Lord”. The piece concerned the new revelation brought by Christ as reported by John in the New Testament. An excerpt:
“Until Johns Ministry I came to see, which was the great’st of all,  The Prophets which had gone before: from the great’st unto the small,  For then the way was made so straight, the path was made so plain  That, th’ Coming of Gods Son I saw in his great power to raign;  Whose kingdom now is Come with power, the Lamb is sets on’s throne.”
Like Coale's work, Fell's 1671 poem uses rhyming couplets. The poem, not surprisingly, is 
religious, celebrating Coale's faith, discernment, vigilance, and sufferings as he traveled abroad. Interestingly, a variation of Mary's Magnificat--"My should doth magnify the Lord--" is put into Josiah's mouth as "Let God be magnified, that was his [Josiah's] Song." In the final couplet, Fell, now presumably speaking for herself, again uses the word "magnified" in praise of God, connecting both Josiah and herself to an extremely important female figure. Mary, as Fell argues in Women's Speaking Vindicated, indeed preached in her Magnificat, a beautiful retelling of Hannah's speech about being a humble handmaiden of the Lord. This Lord notably takes cares of the poor and lowly, as Mary celebrates:
He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. 

 The final couplet of Fell's poem sounds Shakespearean, but it's unclear how familiar Fell was with Shakespeare. Quakers shunned the theater, and Shakespeare had not yet secured the superstar status he would after 1700. She might, however, have read his sonnets.

I particularly like the intimate, personal nature of the opening stanza: dear Josiah, the repetition of "gone" emphasizing the sense of personal loss, and the gentle, domestic image of Josiah resting on God's bosom.

There's also a poignance in the last verse, as Fell, who would have been 54 at the time, remembers that God, and implicitly Josiah lying in his bosom, "never waxeth old."

A few lines concerning Josiah Coale

Is dear Josiah gone? Yes he is gone;
He’s gone from us, in the Eternal one
Where he from all his labor is at rest.
I’th Bosom of the Father, who is forever Blest.

Ah Valiant Champion for God’s Truth, so pure,
Thy Name’s as precious Ointment, thy memory shall dure
In upright Hearts, from them nothing can hide,
Thy worth, thy faithfulness, all shall abide,

To their refreshment, though thy Body’s laid
I’th bowels of the Earth, yet as thou said,
God’s Majesty was with thee, and the Crown
Of Immortal Life is on thee; and that will renown

Thy Name to Generations, yet unborn,
When they shall hear, Josiah  did adorn
The Gospel of our Lord by Doctrines that was found,
Within his Native Land, yet he was found

In foreign Lands, spreading forth the fame
Of his beloved Lord: and that his Name
Might be Advanced, thought no Travel long
Let God be Magnified, that was his Song:

His Travels they were sore, within, and eke without:
His Recompense was large; yes, there’s no doubt.
Now he shines as a Star, of no small magnitude,
Who, by the Power of God, hath convinced a Multitude.

Many are the Children, he hath gathered
To the Knowledge of the Lord, and Christ their Head.
He rightly did divide the Word of God;
Gave Milk to Babes; but Fools are for the Rod;

He sweetly comforted the Meek:
Ah, he was strength unto the Weak;
But terrible he was to the Stout-hearted,
Who verily was smote before he parted.

The Workers of Iniquity by him
Were trampled under foot; the man of sin
Was sorely wounded by his powerful Hand
The hypocrites before him could not stand;

 But by the Power of God he did them flay:
But now, alas, he’s gone, he’s gone away,
And we who loved him, though our Loss is great;
Yet being fixed in God, we are compleat;

There meet with his Spirit, who gathered is
Into the Mansion of Eternal Bliss.
Praised be God, and Magnified be He
Who never waxeth old, nor chang’d can be.


Unknown said...

This is lovely, Diane! Thank you for bringing this tribute to Josiah Coale, as well as Coale himself, as well as the "Quaker Artists" blog of my beloved friend Gary Sandman, to the wider attention of the Quaker world.

Your appreciation of Margaret Fell's poem has served to sharpen my own: I see that her recounting of Josiah's life and tribute to his character is framed by "bookends" at the beginning and end of the poem that state the most important fact: that Josiah is now at rest in the bosom of the Eternal Father / Mansion of Eternal Bliss. The final bookend, two quatrains long, gives voice to Margaret's sorrow, and others', at the loss of Josiah, but finds consolation in the fact that they still have abiding contact with Josiah's spirit in God, in whom they are "fixed," and who offers the comforting stability of One "Who never waxeth old, nor changed can be."

I find this theme also in the writings of George Fox, whose "Sealed Epistle," meant to be opened after his death, reassures his mourners, "In Him you have life eternal. In Him you will feel me and I you. Amen."

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this, Diane. I'm always interested in learning more
about the Quakers.

By the way, I've been meaning and keep forgetting to mention that when I
was reading Reynolds' The Mysteries of London, one of the stories
referred to how George III had married a Quaker woman, Hannah Lightfoot,
secretly. He then committed bigamy by marrying the future Queen
Charlotte - the marriage to the Quaker was never dissolved. She ended up
going to America while he became king.

It seems the truthfulness of the story isn't really known but it was
much rumored about London. Wikipedia tells more about it:

Just was surprised I never heard of it before, even though I've read at
least one bio of George III.


Anonymous said...

Thanks John and Tyler. Another friend, Ellen, spoke of this poem as part of "This yearning for presences not there."

I learn from what others have to say, and am so glad we can have these conversations.