Doctrine of Baptisms

Anthony BENEZET   |   Benjamin FRANKLIN   |   William DELL

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"AN INAPPROPRIATE EXERCISE OF POWER IN SPIRITUAL MATTERS": IMPORTANT 1759 EDITION OF DELL'S DOCTRINE OF BAPTISMS PUBLISHED BY THE PHILADELPHIA FIRM OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN AND DAVID HALL, ISSUED AT THE URGING OF THE SOCIETY OF FRIENDS AND PROMINENT ABOLITIONIST ANTHONY BENEZET

(FRANKLIN, Benjamin) DELL, William. The Doctrine of Baptisms, Reduced from its Ancient and Modern Corruptions; And restored to its Primitive Soundness and Integrity… London Printed: Philadelphia, Reprinted, by B. Franklin, and D. Hall, 1759. Slim octavo, period-style three-quarter mottled brown calf, elaborately gilt-decorated spine, raised bands; pp. (i-ii) iii-iv, 5-43 (1). $2800.

1759 Philadelphia edition printed by Franklin and Hall of Dell's Doctrine of Baptisms at the request of the Philadelphia Friends and leading abolitionist Anthony Benezet, early signaling the emergence of a profoundly influential friendship between Franklin and Benezet.

This pivotal 1759 edition of Dell's Doctrine of Baptisms, first issued by the prominent English clergyman in 1652, was published by Benjamin Franklin and his partner David Hall, a leading Philadelphia Quaker. Dell's work was particularly important in America to the Society of Friends. "A key figure in the development of antinomian religion… Dell disliked uniformity in church practice, and made a clear distinction between unity and uniformity, regarding the latter as an inappropriate exercise of power in spiritual matters… Doctrine of Baptisms, for example, argues that any kind of water baptism is irrelevant to the spiritual baptism of Christ; as late as 1832 this was being republished by Quakers" (ODNB). The publication of Doctrine by Franklin and Hall also, in effect, signals an important friendship between Franklin and abolitionist Anthony Benezet, who "transformed early Quaker antislavery sentiment into a broad-based transatlantic movement… and in doing so became universally recognized by the leaders of the 18th-century antislavery movement as its founder" (Jackson, Let This Voice Be Heard, 1).

Franklin and Hall published Doctrine at the urging of the Philadelphia Society of Friends and Benezet, who wished to promote works in the American colonies for "religiously minded persons… written by churchmen in good standing and yet quiet satisfactory to Friends in their emphasis on inward and spiritual religion" (Bulletin of Friends Historical Association V17, No. 2:65). Benezet was, as well, a proofreader to the Germantown printer Christopher Sauer, who "had a long-standing friendship with Franklin and surely provided one of the early contacts between Franklin and Benezet… By the early 1770s Franklin and Benezet had cemented their connection. Benezet's brother Daniel had married Deborah Franklin's cousin in 1771." In their close friendship, Franklin both "embraced and fostered the work of Benezet." In 1790, similarly, Benezet's influence was profoundly evident when "Franklin's last public act was a memorial to Congress, asking its members to abolish the slave trade" (Jackson, 112-13).

At the time of its publication Franklin was abroad, yet maintained close interest in his and David Hall's firm. A December 1759 letter to Franklin from Hall speaks to their partnership, with Hall writing: "I am glad to know that we shall have the Pleasure of seeing you early in the Spring, when, I hope, we shall get our long standing Accounts brought to some Sort of Settlement. Have sent you Poor Richard's and the Pocket Almanack, and shall be glad if you are pleased with them; and I flatter myself that my Conduct, in general, since you left me, is satisfactory to you" (Founders Online). Title page with stated "Fifth Edition." ESTC W31729. Miller 1759. Evans 8338. Hildeburn 1625. Campbell 634. Bookplate.

Interior quite fresh with mere trace of occasional marginal dampstaining not affecting text, scant edge-wear to boards. A handsome near-fine copy.

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