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Penn, the Preacher of Religious Freedom.
foundly so. He was also imitative, not original. His religious works have not wholly lost their popularity to this day: but it arises rather from the outpourings of a 'tender' spirit (to use the technical phrase of early Quakerism) and a pleasing style, than from much religious force or imagination. He, too, following those leather-jacketed apostles who were the objects of his admiration, recorded the visions and dreams of himself and others; but any one who compares those records with the wild poetry of Fox or Bunyan, will note the difference between the first-hand and second-hand enthusiast. He could, indeed, argue points of abstract doctrine with great success, and was fond of the exercise; but it was with the practical that his concern really lay. His peculiar energy was devoted to the exposition, both in life and teaching, of the great minor truth of freedom of conscience. In this point of view, his readiness, education, vivacity, and address - even the very lightheartedness which accompanied his sweet disposition and temper — together with his fortune and social position, proved of greater value to the struggling sect than qualities of a more prophetlike order. In this way his influence among them became established, somewhat at the expense of that enjoyed by the illiterate fathers of the community. Certainly the contrast was strong between the Leicestershire cobler, whose learning was confined to reading print tolerably, and handwriting hardly at all, and who used an amanuensis for lack of clerkship, and the well-bred scholar and gentleman who sate at his feet.* Latterly it was evident that while Fox still wielded the spiritual sword of the Quaker papacy, Penn was master of the temporal. Does
he not look like a young prince?' was the question that ran through the crowd, as Springett, Penn's eldest son, accompanied his father, amidst an admiring escort, to the Stadthouse of Amsterdam; and it was made a matter of reproach to Penn, amongst his ill-willers in the sect, that he seemed not altogether to repudiate the compliment.
singulare erat, quòd ea quæ pertinent ad notitiam rerum divinarum . et sacrarum multò quam reliqui leviora duceret, et se valdè quidem conscientiarum in religione vi et coactui et persecutioni opponeret.',
* Francis Bugg, the renegade Quaker of unsavoury name, as Southey delighted to term him, was malicious enough to print poor George Fox's will in extenso, in order to establish the amount of his human learning. One of the codicils runs, - Let Thomas Docker,
that knoeth many of my episeles and writen books, which he did wright, com up to London to assist frends in sorting of my episelas and other writings; and give him a gine.'
What Fox's own feelings on the subject of Penn's exaltation may have been, there is no record to show: but certain it is that, while Penn's panegyrics on Fox are well known, there is no evidence of reciprocity on the part of the latter. It is a little curious — whether it arises from some jealous or contemptuous feeling, or may be after all the result only of the brief and note-like style of great part of Fox's journals — that, although he has frequent occasion to mention Penn, he never says a word respecting him beyond the mere insertion of his name. Like most founders of sects, Fox was jealous in the extreme of his own personal importance : reputans consistere
omnia in suâ personâ et consilio atque operâ, neque quicquam * rectè fieri aut perfici sine se ; ut nullibi non adesse, interesse,
præesse cuperet,' says Croese ; who appears to surmise that one of Penn's motives for directing his views of conversion abroad was Fox's dislike of interference with his own supremacy at home. . .
Penn's notions of religious liberty seem to have been first formed under the teaching of Dr. Owen, the famous Independent Dean of Christ Church, Oxford--the tutor also of Locke : under whose tuition that distinguished House, probably, turned out more champions of the doctrine in question in three or four years, than it has since in two centuries. That so well born and educated a youth should have connected himself, at eighteen, with the as yet obscure and vulgar fanatics who followed the teaching of George Fox, was surprising even to his contemporaries; but less so to them than to us at the present day. Such anomalies were less remarkable in an age of general religious excitement. Equality has no agent so powerful as enthusiasm. Independently of mere political theories, Puritanism produced for a time the most practical mixture of ranks ever known in England. The Bible was the great leveller. Deeply studied by all classes, and not without the affectation of founding on it their social usages and polity, as well as their faith, it impressed on them the lesson of universal brotherhood more effectually than any other teacher could. The cultivated intellect was brought down perforce to the measure of the Scripture learning of the sect. But the uncultivated intellect was proportionally raised; being brought into contact, on this common ground, with intellects of higher refinement. Extravagant as the fanaticism of that age may have been, it is important, although not gratifying to our self-opinion, to note that, owing to the universal diffusion of Scriptural knowledge, it was restrained within limits which modern fanaticism overpasses with ease. Owing to the very inferior education of our multitudes in this
Penn, the Wilberforce of his Age.
respect, religious aberrations are wont to assume more monstrous, grotesque, and heathenish aspects than in the old days which we are wont to call fanatical. If Thomas Münzer and George Fox were products of the Reformation, the followers of Joe Smith, in our latitudinarian times, probably exceed those who were gained by either of them. If Quakerism is nearly obsolete now, Shakers and Mormonites could not have existed in Western Europe in the seventeenth century.
Who can over-estimate the power of the man possessed with one idea? Even when friendless and unknown --- without original talent or marked advantages of any kind — such a man has now and then achieved the greatest ends, by mere force of will and unity of aim. How much greater his strength when, like the youthful Penn, or Wilberforce, the modern whose character is almost a counterpart of Penn's, he is possessed of great adventitious aids — fortune, family, powerful friends, a singularly winning and attractive disposition, a happy and sanguine temperament, and abilities which, if of no very high order, are just of the serviceable kind, always ready for use, and never the worse for wear? The mere insensibility to considerations of earthly prudence, which such an enthusiast always possesses — as Penn did in the highest degree, of itself removes an impediment to action, which can only be estimated when we consider from how many great enterprises we—the uninspired majority of the human race — are daily deterred simply by some motive of this order. Like Thalaba, in Southey's tale - the only dramatic character Southey ever drew, because its essential characteristic is that of Southey's own mind — he moves among a host of enemies unhurt and regardless of them; for they abound in half measures, and arrière-pensées, and conflicting interests, while he acts under one direct and unwavering impulse. Every one opposes him, but no one brings to the opposition that undivided force which nerves his attack. He gets within their fence beats down their artificial flourishes - bursts asunder the meshes Bet to ensnare him. The shifting, uncertain politicians with whom he is brought into contact, having learnt his power, at last endeavour to make use of him; which generally ends in his making use of them; as Penn and Wilberforce, to a certain extent, did of the leading men of their respective periods men as superior to themselves in ability as a Jesuit General to an ordinary field-preacher.
Yet all this energy and success are not inconsistent with the fact that Penn was not only wanting in strong sense,' as Mr. Macaulay most undeniably phrases it, but wanting also in many of the more ordinary qualities of men of his class. He had nothing of the strong compulsive eloquence of some of them; and we incline to believe, with Burnet, that his talk must have been chiefly persuasive to those who were predetermined to be persuaded.* Ready enough it was, judging from his writings; Auent and discursive, abounding in examples and quotations, but wanting in raciness and vigour, and irritating from a sort of pertinacious and logical no-meaning — a combination of the greatest possible show of argument with the least amount of real reasoning.
In nothing is this combination more remarkable than in Penn's constitutional and legal disquisitions, in which his success is owing wholly to the reader's sympathy with his contest against tyranny, -certainly not to his manner of conducting it. The weakest portions of his hero's character, however, are precisely those which secure the greatest amount of Mr. Dixon's declamatory panegyric. A better instance cannot be found than in Penn's own account of the trial of himself and Mead for an unlawful assembly, in September, 1670; which account Mr. Dixon has amplified and embroidered until he has made it scarcely endurable, not by lawyers only, but by readers of ordinary moral sense and discrimination.
That Penn had, in fact, been guilty of a breach of the law, there could be no doubt at all. He was in the ordinary case of a man punishable under a bad law, who, while ready to submit to the punishment if awarded, thinks it not only his right, but his duty, to stave off a conviction by the use of every weapon which the law itself puts into the hand of the accused; and, if he cannot escape on a technical objection, to appeal, as the last resort, to the sympathies of his jurors, and induce them, if pos. sible, to indulge their feelings by a violation of their oaths. Whether such a course as this be strictly reconcilable to the severe rules of ethics or no — whether or not it savours of the forbidden indulgence, so dear to human nature, under every form of palliation and excuse, of justifying the means by the end at all events it is one which the best and bravest friends of humanity have been over and over again driven to adopt in their contests with legal oppression, and in which they are sure to
* Penn had “a tedious luscious way of talking,' says Burnet; he spoke with spirit and vivacity,' says a much better judge, Swift; but there may be truth in both accounts, according to circumstances and interlocutors. We do not know that it has been noticed that Swift had (for him) an odd kindness for Penn; 'my old acquaintance,' as he calls him, when citing him as an authority for some fact about Pennsylvania, which Penn had mentioned to him in conversation.
Trial of Penn and Mead on the Conventicle Act.
have two classes of men on their side-those who detest oppression, and those who have no special affection for law.
* Penn,' says Mr. Dixon, 'stood before his judges in this celebrated scene, not so much as a Quaker pleading for the rights of conscience, as an Englishman contending for the ancient and imprescriptible liberties of his race. The special law on which he was arraigned he knew very well that he had violated and intended again and again to violate. His religious friends took the same view of the case; they acknowledged the Conventicle Act to be in force according to the mere form of jurisprudence; but they contended that it was in direct contradiction to the divine laws, and therefore not binding. Better Tersed in his country's history, Penn disputed its legality. He held it to be in equal hostility to the Bible and the great Charter. This, therefore, was the point to be brought to an issue; does an edict possess the virtue and force of law, even when passed by Crown and Parliament, which abolishes any one of the fundamental rights secured to the nation by the ancient constitution ? ... Thus Penn reasoned with himself:- If, as on ordinary * occasions we should feel bound to do, we now plead guilty, by our punishment this wicked act will acquire an additional force; but if we deny our guilt, as we may with a good conscience, and throw the burden of proof on the court, we shall show to all the world the evil animus of our persecutors; and we shall also be able to raise the question, whether this law be in barmony with the great Charter. If the court cannot show that it is, will a jury of Englishmen, fairly appealed to, convict? Should a precedent be set of juries refusing to convict under a bad law, the arm of tyranny would be at once paralysed.' (P. 86.)
We must do Penn the justice to say that this singular piece of pleading is Mr. Dixon's, not his; but substantially the representation it contains is correct. What Penn contended for was, the privilege of jurors to discard the restraint of law altogether, and the annulment of acts of the legislature by popular prejudice or violence-doctrines productive of such insecurity of rights that if they had generally prevailed, they could only have brought about ultimately the abolition of the 'palladium of our liber
ties' as an intolerable nuisance. These consequences were as nothing to Penn in the great contest wherein he was engaged : many will think he was right in so regarding them; but for us, after the lapse of 180 years, and in the enjoyment of rights which have been mainly preserved to us through the general adherence of juries to that principle of duty which Penn then urged them to disregard, it is really essential to remember that
• We wish Mr. Dixon had specified these occasions. We are not aware that such was Penn's common practice, or George Fox's, who was very ingenious in 'picking holes' in indictments.