It was the annual custom of a tribe of gypsies to pitch their tents in a green lane near Plashet, on their way to Fairlop Fair. Once, after the tents were pitched, a child fell ill; the distracted mother applied to the kind lady at Plashet House for relief. Mrs. Fry acceded to the request, and not only ministered to the gypsies that season, but every succeeding year; until she became known and almost worshipped among them. Romany wanderers and Celtic colonists were alike welcome to her heart and purse, and vied in praising her.
About this time the Norwich Auxiliary Bible Society was formed, and Mrs. Fry went down to Earlham to attend the initial meeting. She tells us there were present the Bishop of Norwich, six clergymen of the Established Church, and three dissenting ministers, besides several leading Quakers and gentlemen of the neighborhood. The number included Mr. Hughes, one of the secretaries, and Dr. Steinkopf, a Lutheran minister, who, though as one with the work of the Bible Society, could not speak English. At some of these meetings she felt prompted to speak, and did so at a social gathering at Earlham Hall, when all present owned her remarkable influence upon them. These associations also increased in her that catholicity of spirit which afterwards seemed so prominent. Some of her brothers and sisters belonged to the Established Church of England; while in her walks of mercy she was continually co-operating with members of other sections of Christians. As we have seen, she worked harmoniously with all: Catholic and Protestant, Churchman and Dissenter.
On looking at her training for her special form of usefulness we find that afflictions predominated just when her mind was soaring above the social and conventional trammels which at one time weighed so much with her. We know her mostly as a prison philanthropist; but while following her career in that path, it will be wise not to forget the way in which she was led. By slow and painful degrees she was drawn away from the circles of fashion in which once her soul delighted. Then her nature seemed so retiring, and the tone of her piety so mystical, while she dreaded nervously all approach to “religious enthusiasm,” that a career of publicity, either in prisons, among rulers, or among the ministers of her own Society, seemed too far away to be ever realized in fact and deed. Only He, who weighs thoughts and searches out spirits, knew or understood by what slow degrees she rose to the demands which presented themselves to her “in the ways of His requirings,” even if “they led her into suffering and death.” It was no small cross for such a woman thus to dare singularity and possibly odium.
Beginnings in Newgate.