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William Penn. (1644–1718). Fruits of Solitude.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

The Preface

READER,—This Enchiridion, I present thee with, is the Fruit of Solitude: A School few care to learn in, tho’ None instructs us better. Some Parts of it are the Result of serious Reflection: Others the Flashings of Lucid Intervals: Writ for private Satisfaction, and now publish’d for an Help to Human Conduct.

The Author blesseth God for his Retirement, and kisses that Gentle Hand which led him into it: For though it should prove Barren to the World, it can never do so to him.

He has now had some Time he could call his own; a Property he was never so much Master of before: In which he has taken a View of himself and the World; and observed wherein he hath hit and mist the Mark; What might have been done, what mended, and what avoided in his Human Conduct: Together with the Omissions and Excesses of others, as well Societies and Governments, as private Families, and Persons. And he verily thinks, were he to live over his Life again, he could not only, with God’s Grace, serve Him, but his Neighbor and himself, better than he hath done, and have Seven Years of his Time to spare. And yet perhaps he hath not been the Worst or the Idlest Man in the World; nor is he the Oldest. And this is the rather said, that it might quicken, Thee, Reader, to lose none of the Time that is yet thine.

There is nothing of which we are apt to be so lavish as of Time, and about which we ought to be more solicitous; since without it we can do nothing in this World. Time is what we want most, but what, alas! we use worst; and for which God will certainly most strictly reckon with us, when Time shall be no more.

It is of that Moment to us in Reference to both Worlds, that I can hardly wish any Man better, than that he would seriously consider what he does with his Time: How and to What Ends he Employs it; and what Returns he makes to God, his Neighbor and Himself for it. Will he ne’er have a Leidger for this? This, the greatest Wisdom and Work of Life.

To come but once into the World, and Trifle away our true Enjoyment of it, and of our selves in it, is lamentable indeed. This one Reflection would yield a thinking Person great Instruction. And since nothing below Man can so Think; Man, in being Thoughtless, must needs fall below himself. And that, to be sure, such do, as are unconcern’d in the Use of their most Precious Time.

This is but too evident, if we will allow our selves to consider, that there ’s hardly any Thing we take by the Right End, or improve to its just Advantage.

We understand little of the Works of God, either in Nature or Grace. We pursue False Knowledge, and Mistake Education extreamly. We are violent in our Affections, Confused and Immethodical in our whole Life; making That a Burthen, which was given for a Blessing; and so of little Comfort to our selves or others; Misapprehending the true Notion of Happiness, and so missing of the Right Use of Life, and Way of happy Living.

And till we are perswaded to stop, and step a little aside, out of the noisy Crowd and Incumbering Hurry of the World, and Calmly take a Prospect of Things, it will be impossible we should be able to make a right Judgment of our Selves or know our own Misery. But after we have made the just Reckonings which Retirement will help us to, we shall begin to think the World in great measure Mad, and that we have been in a sort of Bedlam all this while.

Reader, whether Young or Old, think it not too soon or too late to turn over the Leaves of thy past Life. And be sure to fold down where any Passage of it may affect thee; And bestow thy Remainder of Time, to correct those Faults in thy future Conduct; Be it in Relation to this or the next life. What thou wouldst do, if what thou hast done were to do again, be sure to do as long as thou livest, upon the like Occasions.

Our Resolutions seem to be Vigorous, as often as we reflect upon our past Errors; But, Alas! they are apt to flat again upon fresh Temptations to the same Things.

The Author does not pretend to deliver thee an Exact Piece; his Business not being Ostentation, but Charity. ’T is Miscellaneous in the Matter of it, and by no means Artificial in the Composure. But it contains Hints, that it may serve thee for Texts to Preach to thy Self upon, and which comprehend Much of the Course of Human Life: Since whether thou art Parent or Child, Prince or Subject, Master or Servant, Single or Married, Publick or Private, Mean or Honorable, Rich or Poor, Prosperous or Improsperous, in Peace or Controversy, in Business or Solitude; Whatever be thy Inclination or Aversion, Practice or Duty, thou wilt find something not unsuitably said for thy Direction and Advantage. Accept and Improve what deserves thy Notice; The rest excuse, and place to account of good Will to Thee and the whole Creation of God.