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Historical texts  >  Primitive Christianity Revived, William Penn  >  Brown's Brief Memoir of Penn  >  Chapter 1


A Brief Memoir of Penn.

By James M. Brown.

(Included with his 1857 reprint edition of Primitive Christianity Revived, By William Penn.)


Chapter 1.

"He views
The dismal situation waste and wild ;
A dungeon horrible on all sides round,
As one great furnace flamed; yet from those flames
No light, but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of wo,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades,
Where peace and rest can never dwell."—Paradise Lost.

OUR earth, all beautiful as it is, and admirably adapted to contribute to the wants of the human family and render them happy, has been by them converted into something very much resembling a slaughter-house.

From the earliest account of man, we learn that among his first acts was that of murder, most foul and malicious. Almost every page of his history repeats the sad story of his murderous deeds; and but for the light of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ, darkness would reign supreme.

At intervals the light has shone brightly, the clouds of ignorance and wickedness appeared to be yielding to the influence of the gospel, and hope has again and again sprung up anew in the bosom of the faithful; but alas ! alas! darkness returned with tenfold horrors.

The Reformation seemed to promise much to the cause of Christ. The powers of darkness seemed to be shaken to their centre, and a flood of light was poured upon the earth that appeared sufficient to dispel the gloom and make it all glorious within; but man, the poor recipient, proved himself again unworthy, and in a few years perverted the blessings that Heaven, in mercy, had richly bestowed upon him; and, instead of seeking for others, by the operation and exercise of faith, hope, and charity, we find him endeavouring to merit heaven by good works, and in his blindness and bigotry burning all those who had independence enough to think and act for themselves.

What an astounding disclosure it would be to the world could I but give the number and extent of that multitude of men, women, and children who have suffered death for opinion's sake at the hands of the ruthless executioner of religious intolerance!

If it be asked which was the guilty party, let the answer be forever remembered. It was the party in power. And the constant warfare waged for ascendency has kept the earth stained with blood. Any one who will read carefully the history of Europe for two centuries beginning with the year 1500, will, I am sure, conclude that darkness then covered the earth as the waters cover the great deep. "Within this period of time, to wit, on Monday, October the 14th, 1644, was born in London, the great champion of religious liberty, the American lawgiver, and founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn. He was the son of Sir William Penn, a man of good estate and high reputation, who in the time of the Commonwealth served in some of the highest maritime offices, and whose tomb bears the following inscription:

To the Just Memory of Sir William Penn, Knight, and sometimes General, Born at Bristol, Anno 1621. Son of Captain Giles Penn, several years Consul for the English in the Mediterranean; of the Penns of Pennslodge in the County of Wilts, and those Penns of Penn in the County of Bucks, and by his mother from the Gilberts, in the County of Somerset, originally from Yorkshire, addicted from his youth to Maritime affairs: He was made Captain at the years of Twenty One, Rear-Admiral of Ireland at Twenty Three, Vice-Admiral of Ireland at Twenty Five, Admiral to the Streights at Twenty Nine, Vice-Admiral of England at Thirty One, and General in the first Dutch War at Thirty Two. Whence returning, Anno 1655, he was a Parliament-Man for the Town of Beyrouth; 1660 made Commissioner of the Admiralty and Navy, Governor of the Town and Fort of King sail; Vice-Admiral of Munster, and a Member of that Provincial Council, and Anno 1664 was chosen Great Captain Commander under his Royal Highness, in that Signal and most evidently Successful Fight against the Dutch Fleet.

Thus he took leave of the Sea, his old Element, but continued still his other Employs, till 1669, at which time, through Bodily Infirmities contracted by the Care and Fatigue of Public Affairs, he withdrew, prepared, and made for his end ; and with a gentle and even Gale in much Peace arrived, and anchored in his last and best Port at Wanstead in the County of Essex, the 16th of September, 1670, being then but Forty Nine years and four months old.

To His Name and Memory, His Surviving Lady hath Erected This Remembrance.

After the Restoration he was knighted by King Charles the Second, being a peculiar favourite of the then Duke of York, James, a brother to Charles.

Paternal care, and a promising prospect of his son's advancement, induced the father to give him a liberal education; and the youth, of an excellent genius, made such early improvements in literature, that about the fifteenth year of his age he was entered a student at Christ's Church College in Oxford.

His ardent desire after pure and spiritual religion (of which he had before received some taste, or relish, through the ministry of one Thomas Loe, a Quaker) now began to show itself; for, with certain other students of that university, he withdrew from the national way of worship, and held private meetings for the exercise of religion, where they both preached and prayed among themselves. This gave great offence to the heads of the college, and when but sixteen years of ago he was fined for nonconformity; for persisting in the practice, he was soon after expelled.

At this time the true character of the youth was fully developed. He was endowed with many good properties, not the least of which were the power of great discernment; a firmness of purpose, with a moral courage that knew no fear; a perfect disregard for the opinion of the world, when that opinion was at variance with his sense of duty, or stood between him and his God; a sense of justice capable of making the nicest discriminations, accompanied by a moral honesty that stopped at no sacrifice; a perseverance that never wearied, and a spirit of tolerance and charity that was truly godlike.

[Continued, Memoir of Penn, Chapter 2.]