From time to time, we will be posting profiles of our Gest Fellows. Matthew Reilly ’06 is a Ph.D. candidate in English at University of Texas, Austin. His research is on “The Literary Life of May Drummond, Female Preacher.”
My research in Haverford’s Special Collections focused on an eighteenth-century female preacher, whose conversion to (and later expulsion from) the Society of Friends caused a sensation among both Quakers and non-Quakers. Although May Drummond has fallen out of the purview of scholarship on eighteenth-century British history, she achieved a remarkable degree of celebrity and infamy during her lifetime. Her passionate and eloquent oratory drew crowds en masse, and London periodicals often published her whereabouts along with invitations goading eminent clergymen to public disputation. As a result, she earned a private audience with Queen Caroline and sympathetic citations from some of the pre-eminent authors of her day. Not only was Drummond noteworthy for her spoken ministry, but also for her status as a literary heroine and a cultural icon.
Drummond’s broad-based popularity distinguishes her from a Quaker establishment that was increasingly formalizing norms of doctrinal stability and communal exclusivity. Her touring presence foreshadowed the revivals that would soon sweep Britain, Ireland, and America, but she actually drew inspiration from late seventeenth-century Quakers, who had adopted tactics of combining scriptural precedents with more eclectic, interfaith, and cosmopolitan appeals. In her mission as a public Friend and an occasional combatant against England’s religious elite, Drummond stands apart from the sort of sentimental heroine that pervades the literature of mid-eighteenth century Britain. Her sermons were printed, and she indirectly moved others to write about her exploits. The height of Drummond’s literary fame, I argue, is in her role as the protagonist (if not the author) of a pseudonymous castaway tale by Unca Eliza Winkfield, entitled The Female American.
While working with Haverford’s extensive collections of Quaker documents, I charted Drummond’s social networks and rivalries, tracked controversies following in the wake of her travels, and recorded the reception of her life and ideas. Although Drummond’s certificate to preach was revoked just prior to her expected departure for America, the library’s holdings of Philadelphia journals and letters of emigrated British Friends show the blight of subsequent generations, which were unfriendly to her legacy. The expertise of Haverford’s librarians and specialists helped me re-frame my research on Drummond in relation to a transatlantic Quaker community in transition during the years prior to the American Revolution. I look forward to writing “The Literary Life of May Drummond” alongside my dissertation, “False Learning: Alexander Pope and the Afterlive(s) of Scriblerian Satire,” as a doctoral candidate at the University of Texas at Austin.
–Matthew Reilly ’06