American Literature Week 7 William Penn’s Morality

Prompt: “In what ways was Penn an advocate of middle class morality?”

William Penn was an early Quaker leader who wrote the book Fruits of Solitude in 1682. His religious ideology was uniquely beautiful in many ways, one being his views on nature. He saw nature as a pure creation of God, an oasis of truth put apart from the artificial structures making up the world of man. He believed that if one needed to revitalize his spirituality he should take time to be fully immersed in nature. If he watched and listened he would in time learn the laws and truths hidden within every part of the natural world, and through those truths one could also learn the forgotten secrets of humankind.

He also believed that true virtue laid on a tightrope of middle ground. If a person wished to be virtuous they must walk this tightrope in every part of their lives. They must not accumulate too many material items, but they must also not be overly frugal to the point of personal suffering. They must seek adventure and face the unknown if they wish to mature, but they mustn’t throw themselves blindly into danger. An individual must be charitable, for by giving to another they are indirectly feeding their own spirit. But they mustn’t be so charitable as to give away all their assets, for one must be able to support themselves if they wish to support their brothers.

Penn believed that when sitting down to a meal one mustn’t eat until they are full, they should not stuff themselves. But instead eat only until the first twinge of satisfaction fills them, then when the next meal arrives they will be truly hungry and happy with their meal. This creates personal discipline, and it also helps an individual to truly appreciate the miracle of the food laid out before them. His views on dressing oneself was rather similar. According to Penn attire should be used to warm oneself and make them more comfortable, it shouldn’t be used as a way to impress people. It shouldn’t be over conservative to the point of discomfort, but it also shouldn’t be too fantastical.

Penn saw common things of everyday life as blessings and miracles worth celebrating. Being alive is absolutely beautiful, and every little gift that comes our way is something glorious which you should thank the universe for. A life full of common little blessings, even in the dullest day, should be honored and striven for. A humble life full of gratitude, love, and forgiveness is the backbone of enjoying existence to the fullest.

He believed marriage should be for love and not for money, and that two people in love should not let zealous passion blind them. Both partners must be fully content in their individuality before they can truly come together as one. He believed a society must have some system of hierarchy to function at its best, but at the time he was radical in his belief that this hierarchy should not transfer to marriage. Both partners in the marriage are equal in every way. One partner should not have any authority over the other, for only with both partners functioning in their entirety can their communion shine with its own divine light.

Penn also believed that knowledge is only a stepping stone. An individual can accumulate all the knowledge in the world, but it is wasted if the individual cannot translate it towards wisdom and good judgement. Worldly knowledge is of the body, universal wisdom is of the soul. A moment of good judgement is more valuable than a lifetime of ingrained knowledge, for a hand who has only read of carpentry can carve no better than child experimenting with a blade.

Knowledge gives us a bridge, a series of stones covering a large expanse of river. But we must choose which stones we step on, and in what direction. If we are going to use the stones of knowledge to lead us over a waterfall it is better that we stay on the shore and watch as wiser people make their way across. Each of us has the opportunity to accumulate stepping stones of knowledge, and each of us have the choice of what path we wish to walk. If we let wisdom, love, and personal fulfillment guide our feet we will always arrive at the other side of the river safe and content. We will take the path of our own destiny, learn the lessons we personally need to learn, and arrive on the other side with the light of truth shining in our heart and guiding our soul.

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