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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

IV. The Early Quakers

§ 12. More purely Literary Efforts: Penn’s Some Fruits of Solitude

There is very little in the writings of the early quakers that has not some directly practical or controversial aim. Among more purely literary efforts, however, mention should be made of William Penn’s Some Fruits of Solitude, and of the rare attempts at poetry, or, rather, versification, put forth by one or two of them.

R. L. Stevenson has told of the comfort and refreshment he gained, in sickness and loneliness, from a copy of Some Fruits of Solitude which he picked up in the streets of San Francisco. It is a collection of aphorisms, “fruits,” as Penn calls them, “that may serve the reader for texts to preach to himself upon.” It has the virtue rare, indeed, at that time and among these writers, of terseness and condensation; the maxims are expressed, without any straining after literary effect in natural, clear and cogent English. It is lit up with a kindly humour, and its satire, while mordant at times, is never bitter or cynical. The first part was written between 1690 and 1693, when Penn was living in seclusion in London under suspicion of treachery, owing to his former friendship with James II. Twice he was arrested and brought to trial on a charge of disloyalty, but, on both occasions, was discharged. This explains why the book was published anonymously, but itsauthorship has now been conclusively proved. The second part, More Fruits of Solitude, dates from just after the accession of queen Anne.

The following will serve as evidence of the pungent brevity with which Penn could express himself when he chose:

  • Truth often suffers more by the heat of its defenders than from the arguments of its opposers.
  • Let the People think they govern, and they will be governed.
  • The Humble, Meek, Merciful, Just, Pious, and Devout souls, are everywhere of one religion; and when death has taken off the mask they will know one another, though the diverse liveries they wear here makes them strangers.
  • Speak properly, and in as few words as you can, but always plainly; for the end of speech is not ostentation, but to be understood.
  • This is the comfort of friends, that, though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal.