Bevan, Joseph Gurney (DNB00)

BEVAN, JOSEPH GURNEY (1753–1814), quaker writer, the son of Timothy and Hannah Bevan, was born in London 18 Feb. 1753. He was of a lively and affectionate disposition and very quick to learn. From an uncle, who was an artist and naturalist, he derived much information. His literary studies were pursued for some years under a physician — a classical scholar, with a taste for poetry. Bevan's own love of poetry induced him afterwards to recommend the study of Latin under certain restrictions. We are told that he applied himself diligently to the study of Greek when fifty, in order to read the New Testament. The kindness of his parents shielded him from early temptation. In his desire for gay apparel he twice altered his dress, but returned to his old raiment from a filial regard to his mother's request. When seventeen years old he was 'under serious impressions of mind,' and the first thing he thought it his duty to change was the heathen names of the months. In 1776 he married Mary Plumstead, a young woman of genuine piety and circumspect conduct. His father now gave him a share in his business of a chemist and druggist in Plough Court, Lombard Street. In 1784, '3 mo. 28,' as Bevan puts it, his mother died. Thus he records her death: 'Hodie mater mea optima flentem maritum, flentem filium reliquit.' He pursued his trade with integrity, justice, and truth, and retired from it in 1794 with a considerable diminution of capital. He had refused, from conscientious motives, to supply armed vessels with drugs. Chosen, however, to act as a constable in his a ward, he faithfully fulfilled the duties of his office. In a journal which he now kept we find him regretting his spiritual pride and want of resignation. On one occasion he goes in 'some degree of the cross' to a school meeting; at another he is 'quickened' by a constable's overturning an old woman's apple-basket. It was in 1794 that he began writing for an almanac published by James Phillips, and continued for four years, with the exception of 1797, for which year his poem on 'Patience' was not, he tells us in a letter, ready in time. He wrote also a few poems in imitation of some of the Psalms, and other pieces of verse. In 1796 he removed to Stoke Newington. In 1800 he wrote his 'Refutation of the Misrepresentations of the Quakers,' comprising 124 pages, and noticing the writings of Mosheim, Formey, Hume, and the editors of the 'Encyclopedia Britannica,' who quoted much from Lesley and Wesley. Two years after appeared his examination of an 'Appeal to tne Society of Friends,' of which the design was, by an investigation of the quotations in the work to which it is an answer and of the writings of early Friends, to show that they were not unitarians, in that which is now a very general acceptation of the term. His 'Thoughts on Reason and Revelation,' in 1805, a small publication of twenty-three pages, is divided into sections on the following subjects: Reason, revelation in general, infidelity, scripture, faith, and experience. During this literary work he was not in other respects idle. He filled for many years the station of an elder, no light office, with zeal and acceptance to his friends. At their disposal always was the information derived from his daily family readings of Scripture, 'my habit of nearly thirty years' standing,' as he says in a letter writ in 1806. In 1807 we find him busied with preparing for the press Sarah Stephenson's 'Memoirs.' While engaged in copying them he dwells on her pious character, 'one of the most indefatigable and devoted.' Bevan himself was all this while labouring in the interests of the society to which he belonged. He loved its religious welfare; its prosperity was the object of his earnest solicitude. He had little time for relaxation. We find him making continual efforts to control the natural man. His temper, he tells us in one of his letters, may be described in one little word 'hot,' His business, it has been seen, brought him loss instead of profit; but out of his small supply he was always liberal and ready to listen to the cry of distress. Whilst on a visit to friends in Scotland, by appointment of the yearly meeting in 1808, Bevan began to suffer from cataract in his left eye, and two years later he was attacked by paralysis in his left side. His wife, on whom he was wont to rely, was then seized by an apoplectic fit, which disordered her memory and intellect: it is said she was unable to recognise her own husband. She died in 1813. Bevan, who was now afflicted with asthma and dropsy, bore all these troubles with exemplary humility and patience. In the last part of his life two female friends were accustomed to read to him selections from Kendall's 'Collection of Letters,' Thomas Elwood's 'Journal, and Mary Waring's 'Diary.' These ladies were two sisters, daughters of a Mr. Capper, of whom the eldest had been married to Paul Bevan, the cousin of Joseph Gurney. Paul lived at Tottenham, where his cousin passed the greater portion of his latter days. On 12 Sept. 1814 Joseph Gurney Bevan died, and was buried at the Friends' burial-ground, near Bunhill Fields. In a fly-leaf of a 'Piety Promoted,' preserved at the British Museum, is an autograph of the famous Elizabeth Fry, who was Bevan's cousin, and presented the book to a friend as a memorial of him and of her brother, John Gurney, who both died on the same day.

Lowndes says that Bevan is the ablest of the quaker apologists. Certainly he writes with good sense, good temper, and good feeling. Orme speaks of his 'Life of Paul' as doing credit to the talents and piety of the writer, besides being interesting as affording some explanation of the theological sentiments of the Quakers. The work is written in the very words of Scripture, with care to establish a connected historical chain; the notes are selected from the best commentators. Horne says that those which are geographical are most conspicuous, and stamp a real value on the work, which, though designed for youthful quakers, may be studied by all christians 'without danger of finding anything introduced which can give the smallest bias towards any principle not really and truly christian' (Brit Crit. O. S. 33, 477).

The full titles of his chief works, in their order of publication, are: 1. 'A Refutation of some of the more modern Misrepresentations of the Society of Friends, commonly called Quakers, with a life of James Nayler; also a Summary of the History, Doctrine, and Discipline of Friends,' 8vo, 1800. 2. 'An Examination of the First Part of a Pamphlet, called An Appeal to the Society of Friends,' 8vo, 1802. 3. 'A Short Account of the Life and Writings of Robert Barclay,' 18mo, 1802. 4. 'Thoughts on Reason and Revelation, particularly the Revelation of the Scriptures,' 8vo, 1805, 1828, 1853. 6. 'Memoirs of the Life of Isaac Penington, to which is added a Review of his Writings,' 8vo, 1807. 6. 'Memoirs of the Life and Travels in the service of the Gospel of Sarah Stephenson, chiefly from her own papers,' 8vo, 1807. 7. 'The Life of the Apostle Paul as related in Scripture, but in which his epistles are inserted in that part of the history to which they are supposed respectively to belong; with select notes, critical, explanatory, and relating to persons and places,' 8vo, 1807, and corrected and enlarged 1811. 8. 'A Reply to so much of a Sermon published in the course of last year by Philip Dodd as relates to the well-known scruple of the Society of Friends, commonly called Quakers, against all Swearing,' 8vo, 1808. 9. 'Piety promoted in brief memorials and dying expressions of some of the Society of Friends, commonly called Quakers; the tenth part, to which is prefixed an historical account of the preceding parts of volumes, and of their several compilers and editors,' 2nd edition, 12mo, 1811.

[Brit. Mus. Catal.; Orme's Bibl. Bibl. 31; Home's Introd. 165; Lowndes's Bibl. Man.; Extracts from Letters by J. F.; a Short Account of the last Illness, &c.; Watt's Bibl. Brit.]

J. M.