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   Chapter 2 AT OXFORD INFLUENCE OF THOMAS LOE

William Penn By George Hodges Characters: 14246

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


On the 22d of April, 1661, we get another glimpse of William.

Mr Pepys, having risen early on the morning of that day, and put on his velvet coat, and made himself, as he says, as fine as he could, repaired to Mr. Young's, the flag-maker, in Cornhill, to view the procession wherein the king should ride through London. There he found "Sir W. Pen and his son, with several others." "We had a good room to ourselves," he says, "with wine and good cake, and saw the show very well." The streets were new graveled, and the fronts of the houses hung with carpets, with ladies looking out of all the windows; and "so glorious was the show with gold and silver, that we were not able to look at it, our eyes at last being so overcome."

This was a glory very different from that which the lad had seen, five or six years before, in his room. The world was here presenting its attractions in competition with the "other world" of the earlier vision. The contrast is a symbol of the contention between the two ideals, into which William was immediately to enter.

The king and the Duke of York had looked up as they passed the flag-maker's, and had recognized the admiral. He had gone to Ireland, upon his release from the Tower, and had there resided in retirement upon an estate which his father had owned before him. Thence returning, as the Restoration became more and more a probability, he had secured a seat in Parliament, and had been a bearer of the welcome message which had finally brought Charles from his exile in Holland to his throne in England. For his part in this pleasant errand, he had been knighted and made Commissioner of Admiralty and Governor of Kinsale. Thus his ambitions were being happily attained. He had retrieved and improved his fortunes, and had become an associate with persons of rank and a favorite with royalty.

He had immediately sent his son to Oxford. William had been entered as a gentleman-commoner of Christ Church, at the beginning of the Michaelmas term of 1660. It was clearly the paternal intention that the boy should become a successful man of the world and courtier, like his father.

Sir William, however, had not reflected that while he had been pursuing his career of calculating ambition and seeking the pleasure of princes, his son had been living amongst Puritans in a Puritan neighborhood. Young Penn went up to Oxford to find all things in confusion. The Puritans had been put out of their places, and the Churchmen were entering in. It is likely that this, of itself, displeased the new student, whose sympathies were with the dispossessed. The Churchmen, moreover, brought their cavalier habits with them. In the reaction from the severity which they had just escaped, they did many objectionable things, not only for the pleasure of doing them, but for the added joy of shocking their Puritan neighbors. They amused themselves freely on the Lord's day; they patronized games and plays; and they tippled and "puffed tobacco," and swore and swaggered in all the newest fashions. William was the son of his father in appreciation of pleasant and abundant living. But he was not of a disposition to enter into this wanton and audacious merry-making,-a gentle, serious country lad, with a Puritan conscience.

Moreover, at this moment, in the face of any possible temptation, William's sober tastes and devout resolutions were strengthened by certain appealing sermons. Here it was at Oxford, the nursery of enthusiasms and holy causes, that he received the impulse which determined all his after life. He spent but a scant two years in college; and the work of the lecture rooms must have suffered seriously during that time from the contention and confusion of the changes then in progress; so that academically the college could not have greatly profited him. The profit came in the influence of Thomas Loe. Loe was a Quaker.

The origin of the name "Quaker" is uncertain. It is derived by some from the fact that the early preachers of the sect trembled as they spoke; others deduce it from the trembling which their speech compelled in those who heard it. By either derivation, it indicates the earnest spirit of that strange people who, in the seventeenth century, were annoying and displeasing all their neighbors.

George Fox, the first Quaker, was a cobbler; and the first Quaker dress was the leather coat and breeches which he made for himself with his own tools. Thereafter he was independent both of fashions and of tailors. Cobbler though he was, and so slenderly educated that he did not express himself grammatically, Fox was nevertheless a prophet, according to the order of Amos, the herdman of Tekoa. He looked out into the England of his day with the keenest eyes of any man of the times, and remarked upon what he saw with the most honest and candid speech. A man of the plain people, like most of the prophets and apostles, the offenses which chiefly attracted his attention were such as the plain people naturally see.

Out of the windows of his cobbler's shop, Fox beheld with righteous indignation the extravagant and insincere courtesies of the gentlefolk, and heard their exaggerated phrases of compliment. In protest against the unmeaning courtesies, he wore his hat in the presence of no matter whom, taking it off only in time of prayer. In protest against the unmeaning compliments, he addressed no man by any artificial title, calling all his neighbors, without distinction of persons, by their Christian names; and for the plural pronoun "you," the plural of dignity and flattery, he substituted "thee" and "thou."

The same literalness appeared in his selection of "Swear not at all" as one of the cardinal commandments, and in his application of it to the oaths of the court and of the state. The Sermon on the Mount has in all ages been considered difficult to enact in common life, but it would have been hard to find any sentence in it which in the days of Fox and Penn, with their interpretation, would have brought upon a conscientious person a heavier burden of inconvenience. Not only did it make the Quakers guilty of contempt of court and thus initially at fault in all legal business, but it exposed them to a natural suspicion of disloyalty to the government. It was a time of political change, first the Commonwealth, then Charles, then James, then William; and every change signified the supremacy of a new idea in religion, Puritan, Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Protestant. Every new ruler demanded a new oath of allegiance; and as plots and conspiracies were multiplied, the oath was required again and again; so that England was like an unruly school, whose master is continually calling upon the pupils to declare whether or no they are guilty of this or that offense. The Quakers were forbidden by their doctrine of the oath to make answer in the form which the state required. And they suffered for this scruple as men have suffered for the maintenance of eternal principles.

To the social eccentricity of the irremoveable hat and the singular pronoun, and to the civil eccentricity of the refu

sed oath, George Fox and his disciples added a series of protests against the most venerable customs of Christianity. They did away with all the forms and ceremonies of Churchman and of Puritan alike. Not even baptism, not even the Lord's Supper remained. Their service was a silent meeting, whose solemn stillness was broken, if at all, by the voice of one who was sensibly "moved" by the Spirit of God. They discarded all orders of the ministry. They refused alike all creeds and all confessions.

Not content with thus abandoning most that their contemporaries valued among the institutions of religion, the Quakers made themselves obtrusively obnoxious. They argued and exhorted, in season and out of season; they printed endless pages of eager and violent controversy; they went into churches and interrupted services and sermons.

Amongst these various denials there were two positive assertions. One was the doctrine of the return to primitive Christianity; the other was the doctrine of the inward light. Let us get back, they said, to those blessed centuries when the teaching of the Apostles was remembered, and the fellowship of the Apostles was faithfully kept,-when Justin Martyr and Iren?us and Ignatius and the other holy fathers lived. And let us listen to the inner voice; let us live in the illumination of the light which lighteth every man, and attend to the counsels of that Holy Spirit whose ministrations did not cease with the departure of the last Apostle. God, they believed, spoke to them directly, and told them what to do.

George Fox, in 1656, had brought this teaching to Oxford; and among the company of Quakers which had thus been gathered under the eaves of the university, Thomas Loe had become a "public Friend," or, as would commonly be said, a minister. When William Penn entered Christ Church College, Loe was probably in the town jail. It is at least certain that he was imprisoned there, with forty other Quakers, sometime in 1660.

To Loe's preaching many of the students listened with attention. It is easy to see how his doctrines would appeal to young manhood. The fact that they were forbidden would attract some, and that the man who preached thus had suffered for his faith would attract others. Their emphasis upon entire sincerity and consistency in word and deed would commend them to honest souls, while the exaltation of the inward light would move then, as in all ages, the idealists, the poets, the enthusiasts among them. William Penn knew what the inward light was. He had seen it shining so that it filled all the room where he was sitting. Accordingly, he not only went to hear Loe speak but was profoundly impressed by what he heard.

If Penn was naturally a religious person,-by inheritance, perhaps, from his mother,-he was also naturally of a political mind, by inheritance from his father. What Loe said touched both sides of this inheritance. For the Quakers had already begun to dream of a colony across the sea. The Churchmen had such a colony in Virginia; the Puritans had one in Massachusetts; somewhere else in that untilled continent there must be a place for those who in England could expect no peace from either Puritan or Churchman. Not only had they planned to have sometime a country of their own, but they had already located it. They had chosen the lands which lay behind the Jerseys. While Loe was preaching and Penn was listening, Fox was writing to Josiah Cole, a Quaker who was then in America, asking him to confer with the chiefs of the Susquehanna Indians. This plan Loe revealed to his student congregation. It appealed to Penn. He had an instinctive appreciation of large ideas, and an imagination and confidence which made him eager to undertake their execution. It was in his blood. It was the spirit which had carried his father from a lieutenancy in the navy to the position of an honored and influential member of the court. "I had an opening of joy as to these parts," he says, meaning Pennsylvania, "in 1661, at Oxford."

This meeting with Loe was therefore a crisis in Penn's life. William Penn will always be remembered as a leader among the early Quakers, and as the founder of a commonwealth. He first became acquainted with the Quakers, and first conceived the idea of founding at Oxford, or assisting to found, a commonwealth, by the preaching of Thomas Loe.

It is a curious fact that the spirit of protest will often pass by serious offenses and fasten upon some apparently slight occasion which has rather a symbolical than an actual importance. William Penn, so far as we know, endured the disorders of anti-Puritan Oxford without protest. He entered so far into the life of the place as to contribute, with other students, to a series of Latin elegies upon the death of the Duke of Gloucester; and he "delighted," Anthony Wood tells us, "in manly sports at times of recreation." It is true that he may have written to his father to take him away, for Mr. Pepys records in his journal, under date of Jan. 25, 1662, "Sir W. Pen came to me, and did break a business to me about removing his son from Oxford to Cambridge, to some private college." But nothing came of it. William is said, indeed, to have absented himself rather often from the college prayers, and to have joined with other students whom the Quaker preaching had affected in holding prayer-meetings in their own rooms. But all went fairly well until an order was issued requiring the students, according to the ancient custom, to wear surplices in chapel. Then the young Puritan arose, and assisted in a ritual rebellion. He and his friends "fell upon those students who appeared in surplices, and he and they together tore them everywhere over their heads." Not content with thus seizing and rending the obnoxious vestments, they proceeded further to thrust the white gowns into the nearest cesspool, into whose depths they poked them with long sticks.

This incident ended William's course at college. It is doubtful whether he was expelled or only suspended. He was dismissed, and never returned. Eight years after, chancing to pass through Oxford, and learning that Quaker students were still subjected to the rigors of academic discipline, he wrote a letter to the vice-chancellor. It probably expresses the sentiments with which as an undergraduate he had regarded the university authorities: "Shall the multiplied oppressions which thou continuest to heap upon innocent English people for their religion pass unregarded by the Eternal God? Dost thou think to escape his fierce wrath and dreadful vengeance for thy ungodly and illegal persecution of his poor children? I tell thee, no. Better were it for thee thou hadst never been born." And so on, in the controversial dialect of the time, calling the vice-chancellor a "poor mushroom," and abusing him generally. Elsewhere, in a retrospect which I shall presently quote at length, he refers to his university experiences: "Of my persecution at Oxford, and how the Lord sustained me in the midst of that hellish darkness and debauchery; of my being banished the college."

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