Gloucester Co NJ - History & Genealogy  
     
silhouette of a Quaker woman

TWO GENERATIONS OF QUAKERS -- AN OLD DIARY
(of Ann Whitall)


My thanks to Joyce Stevenson, of Mullica Hill, N.J., for providing a copy of this document to me.

TWO GENERATIONS OF QUAKERS -- AN OLD DIARY
by Logan Pearsall Smith
Taken from the ATLANTIC MONTHLY, July 1901

    A Little old book, shabby and yellow and worn at the edges, found among the papers of a Quaker family in Philadelphia, has come into my hands. On the outside is written, "Diary for the years 1760, 1761, and 1762 kept by A.W.; and within every corner is closely filled with small, old, faded writing. A.W., it is known, was Ann Whitall, one of the Cooper family from which, afterwards, Fenimore Cooper was born. She was the wife of James Whitall, a New Jersey farmer, and was the mother of seven children. They lived at Red Bank, across the Delaware, about six miles from Philadelphia. Save for one appearance in Revolutionary history, little was known about her until this diary was discovered. But this brown book of "Meddatations," saved by chance out of the waste of time, gives us a strangely vivid glimpse of her life.

At the time this book was written, the Quakers had been settled about a hundred years in New Jersey and Philadelphia. Originally exiled from England for the sake of their faith, they had grown rich, and the natural bent of their religion had given a certain stamp of staidness and comfort to their homes and meeting houses, which still are to be found about Philadelphia. But these English yeomen and laborers, called from their fields and farms by the religious excitements of the seventeenth century, swept as it were across the Atlantic by one of the storms of that stormy period, had soon fallen back into the rural ways of their race amid the peace and quiet of this remote colony.

Any one who knows New Jersey can picture the old farmhouse where Ann Whitall lived, the great trees, the meadows and cattle, the broad Delaware flowing by, the sandy roads; and, not far off, the square gray little meeting house, whither on First Days and Fifth Days the neighbors would drive, and hitching their horses in the sheds, would sit in silence in the still interior,-- a Friend being moved now and then to preach or pray, and sometimes a farmer or farmer's wife, weary with the week's work, falling into a peaceful doze. A most pious and harmless community, surely, with its rustic cares and labors, and the little prim town of Philadelphia across the river.

But Ann Whitall, as we learn from her journal, was a soul of the old stormy kind; her spirit lived not so much in New Jersey as in the Jerusalem whose wickedness was denounced by the prophets. Philadelphia was a Babylon, or "bablon" she spelled it; and her imagination, roused by the eloquence of the Old Testament, found her amid her peaceful surroundings wickedness equal, apparently, to the wickedness of old Egypt, or the abominations of Chaldea and Assyria denounced by the prophets. Satan, she declared, was hunting up and down the banks of the Delaware; and her mind dwelt on the portents that announced the fall of Jerusalem,--how the river was turned back, a comet hung like a sword in the heavens, and armies and horses were seen fighting there; and evidently, to her, the New Jersey skies were full of similar omens. "The Corn is to husk, and the wod gon to town -- but is it a time to bi and to sel? and to get gain, or is it a time to set and sleep? O that we may be stopt in the lane as Balum wos by his ass he rid upon, or as Pharaoh wos in the reed see -- we must go and leve all behind us, and we don't know how soon -- then farewel corn, farewel wod, farewel ill companie that has tuck all my time when I shud a bin a reeding or arighting sum gud matter like Judge Hale, or a wolking along a midetating sum gud like Isaac of old."

"This field wants ploughing, tother wants sowing -- O remember you must go and leve it al befor long." "O our time, our little time, how do we spent it," and she tried to keep the Grave always before her own eyes and the eyes of her sons and husband. But the boys were so "eger after the world, staring about," she wrote with tears, "they ha'n't time to think they shall di." Playing ball, fishing, and skating,-- which was as bad as playing ball, -- these were the especial iniquities of that rural neighborhood; at the skating pond all the "ruscom" of the earth met together, the more the better. But did Abraham and Jacob spend their time so? Was this the way Judge Hale spent his time. This presious time? no no alon by himself praying and riting down sum good matter." If skating and fishing seemed so wicket to her on week days, what must she have felt when, as sometimes happened, these recreations were indulged in on the Sabbath! Alone and deserted in the farmhouse, she would compare the Quaker villages of Woodberry [sic Woodbury] Creek and Haddonfield to the Cities of the Plain; predict with grim satisfaction judgments from heaven, or recommend that her children should remember Job's children, "what revellin' thar wos with them, but," as she adds concisely, "soon cut off."

But through these lamentations we are able to get glimpses of the quiet farm life that went on, and in which Ann Whitall evidently took an important share; she hardly found time to sit down, much less to write her "Meddatations;" and the cries of her distressed spirit are put side by side with homely receipts which show the careful housewife, "a tea of Camfrey and water-melon seed," a medicine of "upland sumach-berries, loaf-sugar, and spirit," or her belief hat whatever was good for poisons was good for scalds and burns. She writes, too, of the farm work, the ploughing and reaping, the droughts, the rainy summers, storms that almost blew down the house, the vident winters. - "snow upon snow," "the trees heavy with snow; " for her phrases are always curiously vivid.

"It is the 14th of March," she noted in the year 1762; "if it holds so cold what will become of the pure dum creters, o it sounds in my ears every day, what will they du for want of hay;" and again, "O the poore dum creters, it sounds in my ears how they du sufer." And later on she notes with evident pleasure the coming of the tardy spring: "it is got so warm we can plant peas -- the grass du begin to gro and the frogs begin to cri;" and by the 16th of April they had grass at least "for some of the creturs."

We get, too, from these meditations a clear view of Ann Whitall's husband, a well-to-do farmer, more fond of fishing and sport than going to meeting. He would go off with the boys down the river in the boat; or when he was not at work or fishing, she notes bitterly that he would go to bed. However, when one day her husband had an accident, and in cutting a piece of cedar to put a spill to draw cider, the knife, glancing out of the wood, pierced through three thick jackets into his breast, just below his heart, she rejoiced most sincerely that he was not killed. "O what a grat favour he is still living among his Childern O woderful inded: it is one of the gatest belessings that his childern and I can have this side of the grave to have him along with us. Tho we don't agree so wel as we shud about som matters, I ofen thinks, be it as it will now, it wod be a hunredfold wos if I was alone with such a passel of Children. O I ofen thinks what wod becom of me if he was tuck away."

For it was this "passel" of children that were the main cause of poor Ann Whitall's troubles. John was still a child of two or three; two young to run after the world, but apt to be ill, and plainly the unlucky one of the family. At one time he had a bad fever,-- "mourns and greves like an old man," his mother notes, "cris and ses I's sick." And nother time he fell into boiling water, and was terribly scalded. It would not have been so bad, she says, with her love of prescriptions, "if they had put on it Indian meal and cold water, or molasses and salt to get the fire out, or Irish potatoes, or spirit of turpentine, or sweet oil and the white of an egg beaten together, or rattlesnake root boiled in hog's fat," -- and so on with a long list of prescriptions. Under which, in the trembling handwriting of an old woman, is a note, dated 1788, twenty-six years afterwards, in which she remarks that John had always as a child had bad luck, and now had returned home apparently ruined, having lost L1500 in one vessel, "all gone to the bottom." But James and Job Whitall, the older boys, though healthy and strong enough, were greater cases of sorrow to their "Poor afflicted mother," as she calls herself. "Now James and Job has tuck up the trade of runing about," she notes bitterly. The would go skating; get into companies; prattling and talking; would not think of death and their latter end; nothing brought them home but night. "O I ofen ses has any pure mortal in the hol world so much trubel as I; every day wormwood and gol; some of it I right down for them to see when I am lade in my grave for I du believe it wil come hom to them when thay ma'n't think of it; James and Job will du what thay plees; for if I say won word they will beging to houf mee, and where is thare mannars to houf their Mother," and she goes on to complain of what has been mentioned before,-- her husbands habit of going to bed in times of idleness, or, as it seemed, of domestic trouble. Again we find the same complaint: "The boys nor thare father, has no religion in them but to go to meeting when they plees, and to tel me I am not better than themselves nor so gud, with all my going to meetings, and houf me every day I live. O it is as bitter as wormwood and gol; I think sumtimes there never was a mother so unhappy as I am.

But the boys must have had their causes of complaint. It is not hard to see that Ann Whitall was by no means easy to live with; all company, except that of pious old Friends, she regarded as bad company, or "pisen," as she puts it, in her vigorous way; she not only disapproved of all their sports and pleasures, and wished them to spend their young hours in meetings and meditations on Death, but she plainly made pretty vigorous attempts to compel them to behave according to her ideas. The following is significant: "O I have often thought of it with a gret del of sorrow, o the harm we du our childern by leting of them go into ill Compani -- won of them said we shud have to answer for it. O keep them in while they are young, and master them." Again and again she recurs to the need of severity and discipline with children; and one of her favorite quotations which she quotes is from Lamentations:
     "It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.
     "He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne
      it upon him."

And now and then she copied out of some pious eighteenth-century book she was reading a page or two bearing on the wickedness and ungratefulness of children, -- extracts that, with their correct spelling and affected style, make curious patches amid her own passionate orthography and vivid Scriptural writing. "We do sometimes observe," one of the extracts begins, "the unwearied labours of a Parent's love, bestowed without the desired effect; 't is mournful to see children pierce with bitterness the breast that has been their support in their infantile years; to fill that eye with sorrow that has dropt the tear of maternal fondness! 't is a cruel thing for a child to mingle Gall and Wormwood in the cup of a Parent descending to the Grave. "Let us be assured," Ann Whitall copies out with evident satisfaction, "that their own portion of Gall and Wormwood will be doubly increased."

Her daughters, Sarah and Hannah, were at least while they were little girls, of more comfort to her. When she was nursing her sons, and could not go herself to meeting, she described them going off to meeting with their father; Hannah riding on her mother's mare, and Sarah behind her. Hannah was eight years old. It makes a pretty picture, the two little Quaker girls riding off their their father. They were fond of meeting, and would often cry when they could not go, their mother writes: adding a characteristic doubt as to whether they would be so good when they grew up.

Ann Whitall must have been, however, a more genial person than her meditations, written probably in moments of annoyance, would make us believe. It is a tradition among her descendants that, though she was difficult to live with, all her children were devoted to her. She reproves herself more than once for laughing; and at the end of her diary, is a burst of frankness, she confesses that she is much too fond of eating. "I find sum freedum to right whot a tarabel thing this eating of tu much is, and has been to me many times: I think I can say of a truth it is the wost sin that ever I did. I du believe it is as abad as drinking too much, eating too much is the root of all evil in me. I du believe, O had I minded it when I wos young, but o this enimy of our poure souls always a driveing of us into sin, o that his chain mout be shortened won link!" She does not tell us whether the devil's chain was ever shortened; but it is a relief to think of this earnest and pious farmer's wife now and then relaxing, and allowing herself not only to feed on "wormwood and gol," but to enjoy a good meal of the sahd or wild duck, or sweet corn or watermelons, of the bountiful New Jersey fare. For the ideal up to which she tried to live was a terribly high one. "I ofan thinks if I cud be so fixt as never to Laugh nor to smil I shud be won step better; it fils me with sorrow when I see people so ful of laf and of prate; our Lord pronounced a Woe against them that laugh now for the shall weep and mourn. The Wicket, says Holy Job, spend their Days in Mirth, and in a moment, go down to the Grave; Solomon said of Laughter, it is Madness, and of Mirth, what doth it. O I thinks cud my ies run down with tears always." She evidently thought it was her duty to "cri day and night;" and that the time to be given to religion and mourning -- and they seem to have been very much the same thing to her.

Almost every human being has some peculiar place and refuge for his thoughts, which he dreams of amid his drudgery; whither his desires turn, and where his life draws its nourishment and secret strength. One soon sees in this old journal that there was such a place of refuge in Ann Whitall's life. It was not, however, her home, the farm, and her family of boys and girls; she always speaks of these as causes of trouble and vexation, and remarks, indeed, in her strong Scriptural language, that she lives "among scorpions." It was the Quaker meeting, the little plain meeting house, with its rows of Friends, its mystic silence, or the prophetical sermons, lamentings, and denunciations. There seem to have been two or three rural meeting houses within riding distance of Red Bank; and there were evidently frequent week-day meetings as well as Sunday ones. She would ride to these meetings on her mare, but in bad weather she drove in the farm wagon. One stormy day, the wagons was refused her. It was Quarterly Meeting at Haddonfield, and she was determined to go; and riding through the rain "as the woter run down my skin," she comforted herself with the thought of how much more the traveling Friends, Susannah Haddon and Jane Crosby, suffered "a travaling about, and the tears runing down their faces for our sins." Another time she was thrown from her horse, -- "3 day of 5 month 761. I must right sum of my trubbel, mare cict [kicked] up with me, down I went and hurt sum; but got apon another mare and went to meeting, and thare was Samual Miflin's Mother and spoak a grate del to us. I com hom by myself, to mourn and to cry to the Lord. O that ever any mortel liveing was ever born to no [known] the troble that I no, no creeter can I have to ride that is fit, but I may cri out my dais, and more and more trubbel every day I live, and nothing but wormwood and gol to drink at." And when she got home she had found her husband and sons were all away. "O what is more rong in my mind, all ways a gadding abrod when firs day coms, thare father is not at home won firs day in a hol year if he can halp it; O I think if I had a bin kild to-day with the fol off the mare's back, then I had bin gone from all tears and trubbel." There were many sudden diseases, she reflects, continuing her "Meddatation;" it might be her turn next to be "lade in her cofin;" but alas, she feared he day was not yet come; her cup was not yet fill of bitters. "I must drink more wormwood and goll, O the showers of tears that has fell from my fass this day, and now while I am wrighting."

Her only comfort was to go again to meeting. "O if it wont for the comfort that I git somtimes at Meeting to here som of such worthies of the same mind with myself, I cud not a stud till now, I must a sunk in sorrow." For here was her refuge from the "turmile of the World;" here, with other serious-minded Friends, she could weep over the sins of their little community, "rasel for a blessing," or listen to denunciations and prophecies in which her stern soul delighted, and with which she filled her little diary. "A hard laborious meeting." "Joshua Lord spoke a long while, he did rattle us a going," she records in her vivid idiom. And again: "Hard to keep the enemi out. O as Adam Mott said in our meeting, he is always rady to take us off our whack."

Probably those traveling Friends, preaching day after day to little drowsy congregations of New Jersey farmers, had come to attach no very distinct or terrible ideas to their chanted sermons out of the Old Testament prophets. Traditional echoes of older sermons, they were the last waves, beating themselves out on the peaceful shores of the Delaware, of the seventeenth-century storms amid which Quakerism arose. But to Ann Whitall they were terribly real and serious; she believed literally in the judgments (or "gugments," as she spelled them in her curious way) that, according to the preachers, were overhanging New Jersey; taking a somber joy in the sermons, preached out of Ezekiel, which denounced that pious settlement of farmers, -- a community which, she declared, was as full of iniquity as ever was Jerusalem before its fall. And strangely enough, on that little community -- in fact, on the Whitall house and farm itself -- a "gugment" did at last come crushing down; an event which is famous in history, and which left behind its legends of bloodshed and ghosts that are still remembered.

"O they had polluted my Sabbaths, and their eyes were after their fathers idols; wherefore I gave them statues that were not good and judgments whereby they should not live." Words like these, written down in this journal, bring with them a faint echo of the old falsetto singsong and prophetical chant of some ancient Quaker preacher, rising amid the silence of the meeting>

"Weep and howl for your Miseries that shall come upon you, for you have lived in Pleasure on the Earth and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts as in a day of Slaughter." "Thus saith the Lord, a sword a sword is sharpened; it is also furbished. It is sharpened to make a sore slaughter, it is furbished that it may glitter." And after listening to some very strong language, she exclaims, "O whot is a week of furmile to the consolation and comfort of such a meeting." And once when a woman Friend "from old England" had come and had preached, mourning and crying over them, the poor farmer's wife, with her house and seven children, wished vainly, "O had I nuthink to du but to go along with har."

But Ann Whitall not only loved her meetings; she thought it a sin not to go. "Whot is honour and glory of him that made us if it ant going to meetings?" she asks with conviction; and in the storms of winter, from which she suffered, -- "none so col as I that has life," -- she was afraid to go, she confessed; and afraid to stay at home "for fere of ofending our mity maker; I have paid dear for staying at home, tho some makes a lite matter of it." And once, when reaping came at the same time as a weekday meeting, she feared a judgment on their fields because meeting was neglected, and compared the conduct of her husband with that of Boaz; for Boaz came to the farm from Bethlehem, or in other words, as she quaintly remarks, "now want that from meeting?" while her husband, although twenty years married, and the father of grown-up boys, neglected meeting altogether.

But nothing in this mortal state is completed and full of satisfaction; and Ann Whitall found many causes for tears in her beloved meetings. Indeed, it was too plain to her that the general corruption of the times had penetrated into the meeting houses; and as Ann Whitall sat and listened to the preachers, she could see before he with her own eyes signed of the wickedness and abomination of which they preached. "The hor of bablon has brats among you," one preacher told them; and Ann Whitall seemed not in the least surprised. Not only were there the vacant seats of Friends who had not come, but among the Friends who were there, some there were who would go to sleep. This sin or "abomanation" of sleeping in meeting caused her great distress of spirit; again and again she recurs to it: "O the conarn I wos in to think of so many that can set and sleep meeting ater Meeting, year ater yere; " and on one occasion she was "led," as the Quaker phrase is, to remonstrate, after meeting, with a drowsy widow, who, as we gather, did not receive her admonition in a very friendly spirit.

Causes of equal or great distress were the signs of worldliness and fashion among the New Jersey Friends. Fashions, no doubt, traveled slowly in those days; the elegancies of the French court may perhaps have crossed the stormy Atlantic in little sailing vessels; but it must have been slowly , and in very dim echoes, that anything of the kind penetrated among the Quaker community. Ann Whitall, however, was quick to denounce them. "O the fashons and running into them!" she exclaims, horrified by a report that the "garls in Penselvani has got thare necks set off with a black ribon; a sorrowful site indeed, but whot did that dear friend Nickles Davis Tel them, the old peopel had not dun there duty, and that wos the reason that the young wos no better; six of them garls from Darbe wos here from John Hunts, I thoughty they did not belong to friends till I wos in formd they did, but I a mani times think whot signifies my being concarned about fashings? where is one friends child or children but som doddry fashon or another is on thare backs or heds; here is this day Josiah Albason's soun, all the soun he has; his hat is clos up behind." It was not only the young women whom the "enimi" tempted; his power over the young men was only two plainly shown by their "wearing of thare hats sot up behind;" and next, she thinks, they will have ribbons to tie their hair. As for the galleries, where the younger Friends sat, "they stinkt with fashings." Calico, tea, and tobacco she denounces with great energy. "O lementabel is our cas I think; I am so fild with sorrow a mani times about the wicked -- O I thinks cud my ies run down with tears all ways, and the abomanation of the times, so much exces of tabacher and tee is as bad so much of it, and thay wil pretend thay can't du without it, jest like the tobacker trade, and thare is the calico -- O the Calico! we pretend to go in a plain dress and plain speach but whare is our plainness? and we, like all the rest, be how thay will, what fashon hant the quakers got, as William Hunt said. O that we had a many such as he, there wod be no calico among the Quakers, no, no nor so many fason mongers. I think tobacko and tee and Calico may all be set down with the negors, all won as bad as another."

With the year 1762 Ann Whitall's journal ends. Here and there, however, where there was room, entries have been made at different dates. They are brief, concise note of the death of a woman preacher, and the remark that the "gugments" of the Lord she had foretold had all by that time come on them. What these "gugments" were we shall soon discover.

The next entry is as follows: "23 of 6 mo 1780 a cler plasent day, a dry time, the gras is drid up in a many plases -- O we want rain, but who is worthy of one drop? we deserve a famin."

In 1783 there is a note of "a most sorowful meeting, so dad and so miserabel." And the last note of all, in a changed and aged handwriting, is the one of 1788, already given, about her son John Whitall and his misfortune.

For a few brief days only our diarist appears on the stage of history. The judgments she had predicted all her life did at last descend, with literal and by no means metaphorical blood and slaughter. But to explain what happened, a reference to the history of the time is necessary.

When the war of the Revolution at last broke out, the Americans built a series of forts on the Delaware to protect Philadelphia from the British fleets; for without the fleet and its supplies it was not possible for the enemy to hold the city. Now it happened that one of these forts, Fort Mercer, was placed on the farm of Red Bank, so near to the Whitall house that Ann Whitall must have seen the work going on -- with what grim reflections we can imagine -- from her windows. When Howe, victorious at Brandywine, marched on Philadelphia, the British made determined efforts to capture, and the Americans equally determined efforts to defend, these river forts. And thus came about the attack on Fort Mercer, in 1777, or the battle of Red Bank, a gallant and famous little engagement, in which Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Green, with four hundred men of the 2d Rhode Island Regiment, successfully defended this feeble earth fort against Count Donop with twenty-five hundred Hessians. The engagement was sharp and bloody. The American boats cannonaded the Hessians. Count Donop was mortally wounded, his troops driven back, and three or four hundred killed or wounded were left on the field. During the battle which raged about her house Ann Whitall sat upstairs, spinning. As a Quaker, she of course utterly disapproved of fighting; during the war with the French she had thought, as her diary shows, the very mention of it is wicked; and her soul was not of a kind that human weapons could very much daunt. So there she sat, calmly spinning, in the midst of the cannon balls; quite refusing to move, and probably not even looking out of the window. And it was only, at last, when a shall burst through the walls and partitions behind her back that she reluctantly and leisurely took up her wheel and went down to continue her spinning in the cellar.

But when the battle was over, and the Hessians retreated, she came up to take care of the wounded who filled her house. We are told that she scolded the Hessians for coming to America to butcher people, and also that she was active and vigorous and kindly in nursing them; and indeed, it was an unrivaled opportunity to gratify her love of herbs and prescriptions. Count Donop died in her house. "It is finishing a noble career early," he said; "but I die a victim of my ambition and the avarice of my soverign." The gallant young German noble thus found his grave on this New Jersey farm. The French engineer, De Manduit, in the American service, not understanding Quaker principles, and considering James Whitall and his wife Tories, had cut down their orchard and destroyed their barns. Two of the British vessels were driven on shore, and there exploded. The only reference in Ann Whitall's diary to these events is the concise note already quoted, that in 1777 the "gugments" predicted by the aged woman preacher "Eals Holl" had come upon them. And it seems that in her stern soul she believed this rage of musketry and cannon, these shells bursting through the house, and men-of-war exploding almost under her windows, were a judgment on them; troops being sent from Germany and France, and warships brought by Heaven across the ocean, to punish her family and other Friends for sleeping in meeting, and for Sunday skating and fishing.

To reinforce the small garrison of Fort Mercer, Lafayette made a night march from Philadelphia; but after renewed attacks the fort had to be abandoned. Colonel Christopher Green's gallant defense, however, was always remembered; and in 1781 Lafayette, traveling with the Marquis de Chastellux, came out from Philadelphia with De Manduit to visit the remains of the fort. The Marquis de Chastellux was left in his memoirs an account of his visit; how, on their way across the Delaware, De Manduit explained (as far indeed as that Frenchman understood them) the peculiar views of the Whitall household, and prepared his companions for a cool reception. The reception was even cooler than he expected. Ann Whitall never even appeared; while her husband sat motionless and silent by the fire, without even looking at the brilliant young French nobles, who tried in vain all their arts and charms of manner to make him talk. A curious scene! We dimly imagine that each party, old New Jersey Quaker and young French courtiers, thought of the other. If only Ann Whitall had been present, and written one of her "Meddatations" on the subject!

It would be hardly fair to take this journal as a representation of the life and religion of the eighteenth-century Quakers. There is a very different spirit in the writings of the Friends of that time; one need only mention John Woolman, who was a neighbor of Ann Whitall's, and who, her journal shows, visited and preached at the meetings she attended. But Ann Whitall drew her religion entirely from the Old Testament; lived in fear of a jealous God, and the judgments he was about to bring down for the wickedness and abominations against which she struggled with all the strength of her vigorous spirit. She dreaded death; drew no comfort form the thoughts of a future life, and her one prayer was for peace, -- "O may I have rest when I am lade in the dust."

In those days it was not the custom of the Friends to erect monuments, or even to place stones over their dead. Quaker graves were but little nameless mounds of green about their square meeting houses. And under one of these little mounds, near the meeting house where she wept and mourned, and not far from the broad Delaware, lies Ann Whitall, long since gone from the "freting and turmile of the world," and enjoying at last, we must hope, the rest and peace she so desired.
(end)

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