Letters on England HTML version

4. On The Quakers
About this time arose the illustrious William Penn, who established the power of
the Quakers in America, and would have made them appear venerable in the
eyes of the Europeans, were it possible for mankind to respect virtue when
revealed in a ridiculous light. He was the only son of Vice-Admiral Penn, favourite
of the Duke of York, afterwards King James II.
William Penn, at twenty years of age, happening to meet with a Quaker in Cork,
whom he had known at Oxford, this man made a proselyte of him; and William
being a sprightly youth, and naturally eloquent, having a winning aspect, and a
very engaging carriage, he soon gained over some of his intimates. He carried
matters so far, that he formed by insensible degrees a society of young Quakers,
who met at his house; so that he was at the head of a sect when a little above
Being returned, after his leaving Cork, to the Vice-Admiral his father, instead of
falling upon his knees to ask his blessing, he went up to him with his hat on, and
said, "Friend, I am very glad to see thee in good health." The Vice-Admiral
imagined his son to be crazy, but soon finding he was turned Quaker, he
employed all the methods that prudence could suggest to engage him to behave
and act like other people. The youth made no other answer to his father, than by
exhorting him to turn Quaker also. At last his father confined himself to this single
request, viz., "that he should wait upon the King and the Duke of York with his
hat under his arm, and should not 'thee' and 'thou' them." William answered, "that
he could not do these things, for conscience' sake," which exasperated his father
to such a degree, that he turned him out of doors. Young Pen gave God thanks
for permitting him to suffer so early in His cause, after which he went into the city,
where he held forth, and made a great number of converts.
The Church of England clergy found their congregations dwindle away daily; and
Penn being young, handsome, and of a graceful stature, the court as well as the
city ladies flocked very devoutly to his meeting. The patriarch, George Fox,
hearing of his great reputation, came to London (though the journey was very
long) purely to see and converse with him. Both resolved to go upon missions
into foreign countries, and accordingly they embarked for Holland, after having
left labourers sufficient to take care of the London vineyard.
Their labours were crowned with success in Amsterdam, but a circumstance
which reflected the greatest honour on them, and at the same time put their
humility to the greatest trial, was the reception they met with from Elizabeth, the
Princess Palatine, aunt to George I. of Great Britain, a lady conspicuous for her
genius and knowledge, and to whom Descartes had dedicated his Philosophical