Life at Earlham, A hundred years ago.
A hundred years ago, Norwich was a remarkable centre of religious, social and intellectual life. The presence of officers, quartered with their troops in the city, and the balls and festivities which attended the occasional sojourn of Prince William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester, combined to make the quaint old city very gay; while the pronounced element of Quakerism and the refining influences of literary society permeated the generation of that day, and its ordinary life, to an extent not easily conceived in these days of busy locomotion and new-world travel. Around the institutions of the established Church had grown up a people loyal to it, for, as an old cathedral city, the charm of antiquity attached itself to Norwich; while Mrs. Opie and others known to literature, exercised an attraction and stimulus in their circles, consequent upon the possession of high intellectual powers and good social position. It was in the midst of such surroundings, and with a mind formed by such influences, that Elizabeth Fry, the prison philanthropist and Quaker, grew up to young womanhood.
She was descended from Friends by both parents: her father’s family had been followers of the tenets of George Fox for more than a hundred years; while her mother was granddaughter of Robert Barclay, the author of the Apology for the People called Quakers. It might be supposed that a daughter of Quaker families would have been trained in the strictest adherence to their tenets; but it seems that Mr. and Mrs. John Gurney, Elizabeth’s parents, were not “plain Quakers.” In other words, they were calm, intellectual, benevolent, courteous and popular people; not so very unlike others, save that they attended “First-day meeting,” but differing from their co-religionists in that they abjured the strict garb and the “thee” and “thou” of those who followed George Fox to unfashionable lengths, whilst their children studied music and dancing. More zealous brethren called the Gurneys “worldly,” and shook their heads over their degenerate conduct; but, all unseen, Mrs. Gurney was training up her family in ways of usefulness and true wisdom; while “the fear of the Lord,” as the great principle of life and action, was constantly set before them. With such a mother to mould their infant minds and direct their childish understandings, there was not much fear of the younger Gurneys turning out otherwise than well. Those who shook their heads at the “worldliness” of the Gurneys, little dreamt of the remarkable lives which were being moulded under the Gurney roof.
One or two extracts from Mrs. Gurney’s diary will afford a fair insight into her character:—