With apologies to Stephen Potter

By Maurice J. Wigham.

By the time Joshua Dimthwaite had reached the comparative respectability of the Meeting for Sufferings he had already achieved a considerable mastery of the principles of Friendsmanship. If it is with several of his earlier gambits that I deal here it must not be concluded that I do not appreciate the successful and highly developed foil-concern tactics of his more mature years, or that there was any falling off of his Quaker back-play, but rather that owing to my far lesser achievement I have only hearsay evidence of his major triumphs and might mar them sadly in the telling.

Joshua Dimthwaite began his career with great diffidence in the monthly meeting of Dimthwaite North-West, where indeed he had been born and bred, the scion of a particularly blue-blooded stock whose practice of loosing silver candlesticks to the tithe-mongers and purchasing them back was fortunately hidden under the considerable weight of trust property coming from his family, especially that of the Julia Dimthwaite Trust which gave dowries to young women Friends largely to prevent them from being at some future date unmarried. As a somewhat unknown quantity then, and straight from the senior prefectship of his public school, Joshua Dimthwaite’s almost incoherent remark that it would be unjust to the memory of such a worthy Friend as his great aunt to divert her fund to the aid of German refugees was quite sufficient to postpone further consideration until the following annual report. At which time he openly confessed a change of heart and espoused the cause of the refugees, an avowal of faith which carrie d him rapidly forward into the service committee of the Quarterly Meeting and so to the Germany Emergency Committee of the F.S.C. Such a forthright expression of view quite changed the course of the meeting which had practically decided to divert the funds to the assistance of a crèche for the children of the unemployed.

By this time Joshua Dimthwaite had achieved sufficient weight to be appointed clerk of his Preparative Meeting where he learnt with ease those tactics which helped him so successfully in later years to steer his Monthly Meeting past the awkward concerns of the few continental Friends resident in the district.

Although successful in those cases where he fully intended that action should be taken and where he had carefully prepared his minute so that it could be launched early before the full meaning of the proposals were understood; it must be admitted that his greatest achievements were brought about in opposition to the weight of the meeting. Among these the "Higher Plane Gambit" was perhaps used most effectively on the occasion when a carefully written report was presented, dwelling at length with the religious nature of Friends duty with regard to housing and proposing clearly that part of the Meeting House should be made available for a particularly necessitous family. On this occasion he felt in his own memorable words "enabled to express the thankfulness of the meeting for the way in which the report had been presented, for its deeply humbling message and for the thought that even our Meeting House should be at the disposal of the forces for good". The minute presented immediately afterwards was at once a ccepted. But do not let any unversed reader suppose that Joshua Dimthwaite would have had to rely on such an excellent gambit alone. For had his advantage been momentarily snatched from him he could return with ease to such well known weighty ploys as.. "After very serious consideration I am reluctantly forced to the conclusion that the expense would far outweigh the benefits to this most deserving man and I will gladly support any satisfactory alternative", or "This has come as an entirely new proposal to most of those present and I am aware that one or two of those Friends not present with us might be deeply hurt", or the "Legal Fiction Undercut" a fine old thrust in the grand manner, "I think that Friends will find when the contents of the relevant deeds come to be read and understood that no allowance is made for such a practice".

Do not let it be thought that Joshua Dimthwaite was narrow minded or that he employed only tactics of weight. Willing to set aside every precedent and custom he was willing at times to carry a message himself to the Friend concerned and in that case it would scarcely be necessary to make a minute. At one moment when it was decided to receive a certificate of removal without the usual visit he was the staunch friend of the old tried useages and submitted that it was a pity to depart from a well established practice; but in some cases his abundant generosity gave rise to the hope, after the clerk had asked for the name of a Friend to act as visitor, "that we would not feel bound in this case by an outworn form".

A confirmed total abstainer, except in private, his handling of temperance reports from the body of the meeting was always a pleasure to watch. He was invariably successful in conveying the impression that the work was unbelievably worthy but perfectly useless.

There were few Friends who could foresee more accurately the course of a future discussion and this led him to use several of his "Last Ditch" ploys when there appeared to be little need. One of these was the "Private Information Backhand" whereby Joshua Dimthwaite would suddenly explain that the whole thing was a misunderstanding and that he has been in touch with the secretary of the committee concerned and that he understood that they had not been in possession of the full facts at the time of writing the report. When countered neatly by the production of the secretary or by more recent information, Dimthwaite would merely exclaim "Ah! That puts the matter in a completely different light", and express his distress that the matter should have come forward at all when only partially discussed at the committee.

When on rare occasions he was altogether flummoxed he would call for a period of silence and this was a signal for the intervention of one or more of his numerous lieutenants, usually an elderly Friend who could be relied on to confuse the issue sufficiently to lead to a postponement, and whose wisdom Joshua Dimthwaite had already built up into a fabulous yet formidable obstacle. Refusing help from no one Joshua Dimthwaite was able at times to welcome the plea of a younger Friend for more revolutionary action, and to support the proposals made, at the expense of more moderate proposals which had the virtue of practicability.

It was seldom that Joshua Dimthwaite spoke in meetings for worship and then it was with the most obvious humility and hesitation that he rose to express the thoughts that had come to him during the previous minutes and read a passage from a recently published Swarthmore lecture.

It was with a sense of profound relief to more than half the Society in Dimthwaite that they heard of Joshua Dimthwaite’s sad intention to retire from the Society on the grounds that it had failed to carry out the testimony against the pagan names of the days and months. But with great reluctance the meeting decided that it would dispose of too much of the Society with Joshua Dimthwaite, and on being asked to remain he found that having expressed his feelings his mind was easier and his resignation was accordingly withdrawn.

It was at this time that Joshua Dimthwaite was appointed to the station of Elder.

(Submitted by Judith P. Wigham)