The Papers of William Penn - Vol. 1

The Papers of William Penn - Vol. 1

The Papers of William Penn - Vol. 1

The Papers of William Penn - Vol. 1

Synopsis

This first volume, spanning the first thirty-five years of William Penn's life, from 1644 to 1679, documents his activities as a young Quaker activist.

Excerpt

For most students of history, the mention of William Penn (16441718) evokes a bland and boring image of a man who did good work in his time but has little to say to us today. No one questions Penn’s credentials: he played a central role in shaping and protecting the Society of Friends; he founded an immensely successful colony in America; he was a tireless champion of such worthy causes as religious toleration, civil liberties, decent race relations, ethnic pluralism, economic enterprise, and participatory government. Scholars have studied his career in detail, and have puzzled over the man’s singular combination of attributes, for Penn was simultaneously a religious enthusiast, visionary idealist, persecuted martyr, polemical disputant, political lobbyist, patrician gentleman, and proprietary landlord. But few people aside from these scholars try to deal with Penn at first hand. Few read his books, or examine his private papers, or try to engage directly with his ideas, arguments, and values. in consequence, he is not generally considered very seriously. We are left with Benjamin West’s painting of Penn’s treaty at Shackamaxon, a stodgy stereotype—in Frederick B. Tolles’ words—of the benign partriarch dressed “in the Quaker Oats costume of shadbelly coat and cocked hat” who is “eternally dispensing peace and yard goods to the Indians.”

The present edition seeks to penetrate beyond this stereotype, and to demonstrate to a modern audience that Penn’s writings are interesting, timely, and valuable. He was a voluminous author, who wrote, or collaborated in writing, nearly 140 books, pamphlets, and broadsides. He also wrote and received many thousands of letters, and kept extensive business accounts and legal records. Over 2600 of these letters and papers survive. There has been only one previous edition of his writings. Shortly after Penn’s death, Joseph Besse collected 57 of his printed tracts and 66 of his manuscript letters in two folio volumes. Besse’s compilation was published in 1726, and has been reprinted several times since. Readers interested in Penn’s reli-

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