Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
Critical Introduction by A. I. Fitzroy
William Penn (16441718)
[William Penn was born in London 14th October 1644. His father was in the Royal Navy, rising to the rank of Admiral under the Commonwealth and receiving Knighthood from Charles II. He was wealthy and influential. William went to Christ Church, Oxford, at the early age of fourteen. Here he is said to have first met with Quakers. After he left college he travelled in France and Ireland. His first imprisonment for conscience sake took place at Cork in the year 1667. He was again imprisoned in the Tower during the following year, and incurred the displeasure of his father on account of his religious views. Father and son became reconciled, however, before the formers death. In 1681, in recognition of Sir Williams distinguished services and of moneys due to him on the part of the Crown, the tract of land in America, since known as Pennsylvania, was granted to William Penn the younger. Thither, in 1682, he went, accompanied by friends. His first official act was to grant to all liberty of conscience in things spiritual and freedom in things temporal.
Court jealousy got him into trouble. He was accused of certain malpractices and deprived of the government of Pennsylvania by William III. But this was restored to him in 1699. His last years were full of trouble. He was burdened with debt and harassed by his enemies. He suffered from melancholia, and died in 1718.
WILLIAM PENN is better known as the founder of Pennsylvania and the chief of the Quakers of his day than as a writer. His most important work is No Cross, No Crown; A discourse showing the nature and discipline of the Holy Cross of Christ. It is an earnest, sometimes eloquent, exposition of the duty of self-denial as the chief requisite for salvation, denouncing all lip service and ceremonialism.
The style is grave and uniform. It is perhaps somewhat ponderously earnest, and lacks the refreshing humour and imagery of some of his contemporary theologians. It is always clear, though the effect is sometimes spoilt by too much amplification. A fair amount of learning and culture is shown without pedantry.
In attack Penn is self-controlled but courageous. In defence temperate, though pride seems now and then to peep from out of the rags of his humility. His Plea for Liberty of Conscience, and The Proposed Comprehension soberly and not unseasonably considered, are calm, logical, and earnest.
In addition to the theological works above mentioned he wrote an account of his Travels in Holland and Germany, and a General Description of Pennsylvania, in which he shows considerable observation, shrewd common sense and appreciation of the good points of the people and governments which he describes. His judgments on men and manners are sharp and unsparing, but never exaggerated nor unnaturally prejudiced.
He was engaged in various controversies on behalf of the Quakers, into which we need not enter here. He eloquently denounced all intolerance, holding it to be both foolish and inconsistent with Christianity in general and with the Protestant religion in particular. If this, he said speaking of religious persecutions, be godly, what is devilish! If this be Christian, what is Paganish!
A man of action more than of letters, he did not aim at being a stylist nor write for posterity or literary fame. Such charm as his writings have consists in the earnestness, moderation, and piety of the individual, rather than in beauty of diction or elegance of composition.