Page images

debateable ground of Grecian history,-not so much by subtracting anything from the ordinarily received facts, as by adding to them. As in the case of Cleon, we can have no difficulty in prophesying that the sophists will henceforth find their chances of a favourable judgment indefinitely mended, though there should be no reversal. If Mr. Grote has done nothing else, he has at least pointed out the quarters in which they may most naturally look for friends and foes respectively. They will continue to encounter the hostility of those who think with Aristophanes, that the most ignorant times are necessarily the most virtuous. But wherever there is a genuine feeling of admiration for Athenian greatness such a feeling as Niebuhr did not hesitate to express, even at the expense of Plato-they are likely to be mentioned with respect - perhaps with sympathy. And when modern Platonism has left off discovering the Church in the Republic, and the principle of infant baptism' in the Laws, it may possibly be brought to admit that Plato's attitude towards his rivals can hardly be sustained by men who are not prepared, like Plato, to claim for philosophers the government as well as the teaching of their generation.

In closing our remarks on this, the most important portion of a great national work, we are afraid to think of the quantity of matter which we have left untouched. It may seem strange that we should have spoken of Cleon and the sophists, without having had a word to say about Pericles or Socrates. But we have come rather late into the field, and it is no wonder that we should find the choicest part of it reaped already. We trust, however, that our gleanings have enabled us to present a tolerably fair sample of what we consider Mr. Grote's characteristic merits, insufficient as it may be to give any notion of his results. The true moral to be derived from his labours is, as it seems to us, not so much what a man of genius can do with a great subject, as what can be done in any department of history by a writer having the heart to embrace, and the resolution to avail himself of the vast appliances which modern times place at his disposal. The inductive method may not tend to level wit and intellect' so absolutely as Bacon imagined; but it leads us to fix our attention on the qualities which are necessary to a sustained effort, rather than on those which are called into action by an occasional inspiration.


Dixon's Life of Penn.



[ocr errors]

William Penn:

an Historical Biography. By WILLIAM HEPWORTH DIXON, author of Life of Howard.' London 1851.

[ocr errors]

'WILLIAM PENN,' says Mr. Dixon, in his Preface, has 'been called a mythical rather than an historical personage. The accounts given of him by his professed bio'graphers, Besse, Clarkson, Weems, and Lewis, are sufficiently ' vague, lifeless, and transcendental, to merit such a censure. . . . All these are Quaker lives. No writer has yet treated of Penn as a great English historical character, -the champion of the 'Jury Laws, the joint leader with Algernon Sidney of the 'Commonwealth men, the royal councillor of 1684-8, — the courageous defender of free thought, the founder of Penn'sylvania! This omission I have now endeavoured to supply: 'with what success the reader must decide.... I have endea'voured to make him live again: his throes and his struggles, 'his ideas and his actions, his gait and his person, his business and his amusements; the habits of his domestic life, the fur'niture of his house, the setting out of his table, everything 'that makes the individuality of character, even down to the 'contents of his cellar, the inventory of his coach house, and the 'completeness of his stables, I have tried to bring before the 'reader with the same vividness with which they present them'selves to my own mind. In this endeavour I can, even at best, have but partially succeeded: yet I hope sufficiently to 'have changed him from a myth into a man.'

We have extracted these words from Mr. Dixon's preface, not only to show the task he proposed himself, but why, in our opinion, he has unavoidably failed in executing it. His objects are not to draw a simple likeness of the Quaker hero, but to erect a statue to him, labelling the pedestal, after the fashion of such monuments, with a number of idle if not contradictory epithets. For any writer who attempts to exaggerate William Penn into a great historical character, a leader of the Commonwealth men, and a royal councillor, must needs reverse Mr. Dixon's laudable object, and convert a known and familiar personage into a very Oriental myth indeed.

In plain truth, the most ingenious biographer, and Mr. Dixon is not wanting in such ingenuity, cannot make much novelty out of William Penn as a character, whatever he may do in the way of adding particulars to his history. It is not a character susceptible of refined analysis, or leaving much scope

for curious conjecture. Its traits are few and simple; and they stand in no need of a delineator. What his Quaker biographers, treating him, as Mr. Dixon says, in mythical fashion, have omitted to do for him, he has amply done for himself. No man more habitually wore his heart upon his sleeve, or walked more openly among mankind, not only with little to conceal, but with a strong natural communicativeness of disposition. A very cursory perusal of his works, and the notices of him by contemporaries who personally knew him, will admit the reader into greater intimacy with the man Penn,' than the most elaborate biography carefully got up for the modern market. We do not

here speak of Penn's conduct in the singular positions in which the course of events placed him; that is by no means all of it equally clear, nor was he doubtless equally frank in his avowals of it, we speak only of that ingenuousness and openness regarding feelings and impressions which characterised him, as it does all men of his peculiar disposition. Therefore, though there may be much to add to our knowledge concerning Penn's household affairs, and the contents of his stable and cellar,—and here we are bound to admit that Mr. Dixon has imparted some discoveries, though there is a great deal which requires and deserves investigation as to his political proceedings, and here Mr. Dixon has to our mind rather increased than dispelled the obscurity, yet, as to the character of the individual, if our author has not added much to our knowledge, the fault lay perhaps rather in the subject, which scarcely admits of such addition, than in himself.

Mr. Dixon very rightly introduces his subject by a sketch of the early labours of Penn's spiritual instructor, George Fox. But, whether because such criticism would not harmonise with the reverential character of his narrative, or from want of discrimination, he has not pointed out those differences between the two founders of Quakerism which it is most essential to observe. Never were two more dissimilar characters united by the tie of a common enthusiasm, and qualified by their very diversity to co-operate more effectively together; each possessing precisely those qualities in which the other was most deficient.

The journals of George Fox are perhaps scarcely calculated to be read with much profit to minds educated in the habits and notions of the present day. They have much resemblance, no doubt, to the similar record left by Wesley of his life and labours. But there is also much dissimilarity; and this, in a popular view at least, wholly to the advantage of the later of these eminent men. Wesley had over Fox all the superiority of a more kindly and liberal spirit, and a cultivated intellect.


Fox, the Preacher of the Inward Light.


And the great charm of his journals, independently of their religious interest, is their fine display of the operation of such a spirit and intellect, during the course of a long life of activity, in chastising the fundamental enthusiasm of the character. Without losing its seriousness, the reader traces that enthusiasm, year after year, becoming more tolerant, less captious, more comprehensive. The same cannot be said of the sterner father of Quakerism. As far as such comparison may be allowed, Wesley more resembled an apostle conveying the glad tidings to nations; Fox one of the prophets of the old law, and not himself a son of the prophets, but like him who was called from among the herdmen of Tekoa. From the day when he left the village alehouse in Leicestershire a changed man, resolved to 'forsake all, young and old, keep out of all, and be a stranger 'to all,' he never once looked back, or varied his course. From the day in which—having wrestled through his own first great spiritual fight, and become free to wrestle for others-he clambered Pendle Hill, driven by the impulse upon him he scarce knew whither he had eaten or drunk, he says, little for many days and nights previous-and there saw in the spirit, as he looked towards the north, a great visionary army, prefiguring the conversions which were to commence in that quarter of England-the day, in short, of his prophetic vocation,―he can scarcely be said to have looked forward. His work was determined and cut out for him; it remained only to spend life in doing it, not to refine upon the fashion of it. Ever devoted to his one grand idea, ever pursuing it, insensible alike to temporal objects and to spiritual assaults of doubt or difficulty, he passed through the world little influenced, it must be added little improved, by contact with it—his career that of a narrow fanatic, if you will, to the last: but glorious in the pervading light of one transcendental principle. Were it not for this principle, the task of following George Fox in his wandering life would be a heavy one. Everywhere the same monotonous recital of persecutions and buffetings, varied only by the monotonous expressions of a religious sentiment which seems to have neither variety nor progress, and exultations over success destined to end in disappointment. For the vision of Pendle Hill was never realised. The dry bones were never brought together, the vast army never inspired with breath, by Fox and his fellow labourers. Instead of effecting a revolution, as they purposed, they only formed a sect of very moderate numbers, whose fame in the world has rather arisen from achievements out of the pale of their sectarianism than within it, and whose singular character and polity are now studied rather as fossil relics than as still surviving realities.

It is in their principle, and its indirect results, that the real interest of that history lies. That principle was two-fold, spiritual and practical. It embraced the spiritual doctrine of the inward light; on which, and its awful consequences, we have not now to dwell. It embraced also-immeasurably inferior in the estimation of such men as Fox, but as a direct and necessary corollary- the doctrine of religious freedom. For it has perhaps been scarcely enough remarked that with the Quakers alone, of all Christian communities, religious freedom is matter of faith, not matter of opinion. Those who rely implicitly on the inward light, must needs believe that all attempt to obstruct it from without is not simply unwarranted, or cruel, or impolitic, but actually blasphemous; that persecution, in Penn's own language, defeats God's own work of grace, and the invisible operation of His Eternal Spirit.' Other churches have advocated toleration, because they did not like being persecuted, through policy-through confidence in a just cause through a mild and Christian spirit, or simply through lukewarmness;-the Quakers alone with the unswerving earnestness of men who combat for their creed.

[ocr errors]

With Fox the doctrine of religious freedom was no doubt a secondary matter, partly from his absorption in the purely spiritual portion of his faith, partly also from what Mr. Dixon truly calls the imperiousness' of his character; - his 'Luciferian pride,' his antagonists phrased it. Could Fox have founded a commonwealth, we may almost conjecture that, at the expense of whatever evasion of principle, it would have fared ill therein with the benighted frequenters of mass-houses and steeple-houses. But, as we have said, Providence had prepared for the beginnings of this remarkable community two men singularly adapted to represent it under both its aspects. As Fox brought to all men's notice the great idea of the inward light, so did Penn its corollary of religious freedom. To his gentler, more impressible, more natural spirit-his saner intellect we should perhaps add - religious freedom was no cold deduction, but an object to be embraced, preached, and contended for with earnest and exclusive devotion.

For Penn's soul was not framed to dwell in or enforce the higher mysteries of Quakerism. The religious turn of his disposition was strong, but it was not, naturally, of the engrossing, fanatical cast.* He was sincerely enthusiastic, but not pro

* We had written thus far before noticing that the distinction we have attempted here to draw, had struck in the same way a very impartial contemporary observer, Gerard Croese :-' Hoc ei' (Penn)

« PreviousContinue »