A delightful collection of documents written by and about the
Shakers, who have a caring spokesperson in Flo Morse (Yankee
Communes, 1971). Some of the most interesting describe the early
days of the sect in 18th-century England and its founder, Mother
Ann Lee, who even as a young girl had so great an abhorrence of sex
that "she often admonished her mother against it; which coming to
her father's ears, he threatened and actually attempted to whip
her. . . ." Her husband (whom she married with greatest reluctance)
is described as "a kindly man, who loved his beef and beer"; but,
after four infants died, Ann Lee had the sign she needed to put
spiritual longings above marital obligations. She became head of a
small group with similar beliefs in piety and celibacy, and, after
considerable mistreatment by the Manchester police, decided to take
her church to America. Once here, it became one of the most
successful and longest-lasting communal experiments - and a lasting
source of fascination for many Americans. The 24 Shaker settlements
spread from Maine to Florida and attracted a number of
distinguished visitors, among them Horace Greeley, Charles Dickens,
Ralph Waldo Emerson, and William Dean Howells. Why the fascination?
Perhaps because of the mix of peculiar theology and successful
business enterprise. "The doctrines are so gross that they can
never spread far," wrote one early 19th-century observer, "while
the industry, manual skill, fair dealing, and orderly behavior. . .
render them useful members of society." Elizabeth Peabody believed
their contribution lay in making plain "that the material goods of
life. . . are not to be sacrificed in doing fuller justice to the
social principle." Perhaps E. M. Forster cut the closest, however,
when he suggested that the Shakers represent an American dream
"that got bogged. . . the dream of an America which should be in
direct touch with the elemental and the simple." For Morse,
however, the cause is more readily understandable. "They liberated
women, welcomed all races, opposed war, perfected their quiet arts
and crafts, worshipped God as Mother and Father, and expressed
religious joy and love of each other by dancing and singing." Both
positive and negative views find expression here. So do the few
remaining Shakers, such as Sister Mildred Barker, whose response to
the current interest in Shaker antiques was, "I don't want to be
remembered as a piece of furniture." Tantamount to a documentary
history and very nicely done. (Kirkus Reviews)
A comprehensive illustrated anthology of material about and by the
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