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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

§ 6. William Penn, and his No Cross No Crown

William Penn, son of the admiral Penn frequently mentioned by Pepys, is the most widely known of the early quakers—chiefly as the founder and first governor of the colony of Pennsylvania. His character has been fiercely assailed by Macaulay and others; but there seems no reason to doubt that, whatever difficulties a quaker statesman may have had to encounter in putting his principles consistently into practice, he remained absolutely sincere and worthy of the respect in which he was always held by his people. Though “convinced” of the truth of the quaker way of life at the age of 22, he does not seem to have been a mystic by temperament, but rather a clear-headed English man of action, whose principles were formed, not in the school of speculation but in that of experience. Though possessed of rich stores of learning, and great qualities as a statesman, he can hardly be regarded as a deep thinker and, as an author, in common with nearly all the writers of his time, he is often tedious and infelicitous in expression.

The best known of his early works, No Cross No Crown, was written at the age of 24 while he was in prison in the Tower for the “blasphemy” of a pamphlet, The Sandy Foundation Shaken, in which he had assailed what were regarded as the strongholds of the Christian faith. His purpose in writing No Cross No Crown he describes as “to show the nature and discipline of the holy Cross of Christ; and that the denial of self … is the alone way to the Rest and Kingdom of God.” This is a familiar theme with mystics; but Penn interprets the cross with the utmost puritan rigour, decrying luxury and most of the customary ways of society. His effort is a warning against wrath to come, and only incidentally an invitation to enjoy the crown of rest in the kingdom here and now.

  • Come, Reader, hearken to me awhile; I seek thy salvation; that’s my Plot; thou wilt forgive me. A Refiner is come near thee, His Grace hath appeared to thee; it shows thee the World’s lusts, and teacheth thee to deny them. Receive His leaven and it will change thee: His medicine and it will cure thee. This is the Crown, but where is the Cross? Where is the bitter cup and bloody baptism? Come, Reader, be like him; for this transcendent Joy lift up thy head above the World; then thy Salvation will draw nigh indeed.
  • To avoid giving a false impression of narrowness in Penn, it should be added that he was a warm friend of education, and fully alive to its importance.

  • “Nature,” he says (in his Address to Protestants), “is an excellent book, pleasant and profitable; but how few, alas! are learned either in the Macrocosm or their Microcosm! I wish this were better understood; it would be both our honour and advantage.”
  • He made ample provision for education in his colony; and he was the first statesman in power willing to run the risk of granting absolute liberty of conscience and of worship.