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   Chapter 3 IN FRANCE AND IRELAND THE WORLD AND THE OTHER WORLD

William Penn By George Hodges Characters: 10714

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


In his retrospect of his early life, Penn notes what immediately followed his departure from the university: "The bitter usage I underwent when I returned to my father,-whipping, beating, and turning out of doors in 1662."

The admiral was thoroughly angry. He was at best but imperfectly acquainted with his son, of whom in his busy life he had seen but little, and was therefore unprepared for such extraordinary conduct. He was by no means a religious person. For the spiritual, or even the ecclesiastical, aspects of the matter, he cared nothing. But he had, as Clarendon perceived, a strong desire to be well thought of by those who composed the good society of the day. He expected the members of his family to deport themselves as befitted such society. And here was William, whom he had carefully sent to a college where he would naturally consort with the sons of titled families, taking up with a religious movement which would bring him into the company of cobblers and tinkers. It is said, indeed, that Robert Spencer, afterwards Earl of Sunderland, helped William destroy the surplices. But this is denied; and even if it were true, it would be plain, from Spencer's after career, that he did it not for the principle, but for the fun of the thing. William was in the most sober earnest. Accordingly, the admiral turned his son out of doors.

The boy came back, of course. Beating and turning out of doors were not such serious events in the seventeenth century as they would be at present. Most men said more, and in louder voices, and meant less. It was but a brief quarrel, and father and son made it up as best they could. It was plain, however, that something must be done. Whipping would not avail. William's head was full of queer notions, upon which a stick had no effect. His father bethought himself of the pleasant diversions of France. The lad, he said, has lived in the country all his days, and has had no acquaintance with the merry world; he shall go abroad, that he may see life, and learn to behave like a gentleman; let us see if this will not cure him of his pious follies.

Accordingly, to France the young man went, and traveled in company with certain persons of rank. He stayed more than a year, and enjoyed himself greatly. He was at the age when all the world is new and interesting; and being of attractive appearance and high spirits, with plenty of money, the world gave him a cordial welcome. So far did he venture into the customs of the country, that he had a fight one night in a Paris street with somebody who crossed swords with him, and disarmed his antagonist. He had a right, according to the rules, to kill him, but he declined to do so. When he came home, he pleased his father much by his graceful behavior and elegant attire. "This day," says Mr. Pepys in his diary for August 26, 1664, "my wife tells me that Mr. Pen, Sir William's son, is come back from France, and came to visit her. A most modish person grown, she says, a fine gentleman." Pepys thinks that he is even a bit too French in his manner and conversation.

"I remember your honour very well," writes a correspondent years after, "when you came newly out of France, and wore pantaloon breeches."

This journey affected Penn all the rest of his life. It restrained him from following the absurder singularities of his associates. George Fox's leather suit he would have found impossible. He wore his hat in the Quaker way, and said "thee" and "thou," but otherwise he appears to have dressed and acted according to the conventions of polite society. He did, indeed, become a Quaker; but there were always Quakers who looked askance at him because he was so different from them, able to speak French and acquainted with the manners of drawing-rooms.

In two respects, however, his visit to France differed from that of some of his companions in travel. There were places to which they went without him; and there were places to which he went without them. He kept himself from the grosser temptations of the country. "You have been as bad as other folks," said Sir John Robinson when Penn was on trial for preaching in the street.

"When," cried Penn, "and where? I charge thee tell the company to my face."

"Abroad," said Robinson, "and at home, too."

"I make this bold challenge," answered Penn, "to all men, women and children upon earth, justly to accuse me with ever having seen me drunk, heard me swear, utter a curse, or speak one obscene word (much less that I ever made it my practice). I speak this to God's glory, that has ever preserved me from the power of those pollutions, and that from a child begot an hatred in me towards them."

He went away alone for some months to the Protestant college of Saumur, where he devoted himself to a study of that primitive Christianity in which, as Loe had told him, was to be found the true ideal of the Christian Church. Here he acquired an acquaintance with the writings of the early Fathers, from whom he liked to quote.

Thus he returned to England in 1664, attired in French pantaloon breeches, and with little French affectations in his manner, but without vices, and with a smattering of patristic learning. He was sent by his father to study law at Lincoln's Inn. He was to be a courtier, and in that position it would be both becoming and convenient to h

ave some knowledge of the law. Thus he settled down among the lawyers, and it seemed for the moment as if his father had succeeded in his purpose. It seemed as if the world had effectually obscured the other world.

There are two letters, written about this time from William to his father, which show a pleasant mixture of piety with a lively interest in the life about him. He has been at sea for a few days with the admiral, and returns with dispatches to the king. "I bless God," he writes, "my heart does not in any way fail, but firmly believe that if God has called you out to battle, he will cover your head in that smoky day." He hastened on his errand, he says, to Whitehall, and arrived before the king was up; but his Majesty, learning that there was news, "earnestly skipping out of bed, came only in his gown and slippers; who, when he saw me, said, 'Oh! is't you? How is Sir William?'"

That was in May. Within a week the plague came. On the 7th of June, 1665, Mr. Pepys makes this ominous entry: "This day," he says, "much against my will, I did in Drury Lane see two or three houses marked with a red cross upon the doors, and 'Lord, have mercy,' written there; which was a sad sight to me, being the first of the kind that, to my remembrance, I ever saw." Day by day the pestilence increased, and presently there was no more studying at Lincoln's Inn. Young Penn went for safety into the clean country. There, among the green fields, in the enforced leisure, with time to think, and the most sobering things to think about, his old seriousness returned. The change was so marked that his father, feeling that it were well to renew the pleasant friendship with the world which had begun in France, sent him over to Ireland.

At Dublin, the Duke of Ormond, the Lord Lieutenant, was keeping a merry court. William entered heartily into its pleasures. He resided upon his father's estates, at Shannagarry Castle. He so distinguished himself in the suppression of a mutiny that Ormond offered him a commission in the army, and William was disposed to accept it. He had his portrait painted, clad in steel, with lace at his throat. His dark hair is parted in the middle, and hangs in cavalier fashion over his shoulders. He looks out of large, clear, questioning eyes; and his handsome face is strong and serious.

But the young cavalier went one day to Cork upon some business, and there heard that Thomas Loe was in town, and that he was to preach. Penn went to hear him, and again the spoken word was critical and decisive. "There is a faith," said the preacher, "which overcomes the world, and there is a faith which is overcome by the world." Such was the theme, and it seemed to Penn as if every word were spoken out of heaven straight to his own soul. In the long contention which had been going on within him between the world and the other world, the world had been getting the mastery. The attractions of a martial life had shone more brightly than the light which had flamed about him in his boyhood. Then Loe spoke, and thenceforth there was no more perplexity. Penn's choice was definitely made.

In his account of his travels in Holland and Germany, written some ten years after this crisis, Penn recurs to it in an address from which I have already quoted. He was speaking in Wiemart, at a meeting in the mansion-house of the Somerdykes, and was illustrating his exhortations from his own experience. He passed in rapid review the incidents of his early life which we have recounted. "Here I began to let them know," he says, "how and where the Lord first appeared unto me, which was about the twelfth year of my age, in 1656; how at times, betwixt that and the fifteenth, the Lord visited me, and the divine impressions he gave me of himself." Then the banishment from Oxford, and his father's turning him out of doors. "Of the Lord's dealings with me in France, and in the time of the great plague in London, in fine, the deep sense he gave me of the vanity of this world, of the deep irreligiousness of the religions of it; then of my mournful and bitter cries to him that he would show me his own way of life and salvation, and my resolution to follow him, whatever reproaches or sufferings should attend me, and that with great reverence and tenderness of spirit; how, after all this, the glory of the world overtook me, and I was even ready to give myself up unto it, seeing as yet no such thing as the 'primitive spirit and church' upon earth, and being ready to faint concerning my 'hope of the restitution of all things.' It was at this time that the Lord visited me with a certain sound and testimony of his eternal word, through one of them the world calls Quakers, namely, Thomas Loe."

Struggling, as Penn was, against continual temptations to abandon his high ideal, getting no help from his parents, who were displeased at him, nor from the clergy, whose "invectiveness and cruelty" he remembers, nor from his companions, who made themselves strange to him; bearing meanwhile "that great cross of resisting and watching against mine own inward vain affections and thoughts," the only voice of help and strength was that of Thomas Loe. Seeking for the "primitive spirit and church upon earth," he found it in the sect which Loe represented. His mind was now resolved. He, too, would be a Quaker.

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