A delightful collection of documents written by and about the Shakers, who have a caring spokesperson in Flo Morse (Yankee...



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.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1980


Page Count: -

Publisher: Dodd, Mead

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1980