William Penn.

From The Dublin Penny Journal, Volume 1, Number 23, December 1, 1832.

There are some very singular passages in the life of this extraordinary man, most known, and most deserving of being known, as the settler of Pennsylvania. The following relation of a legal proceeding taken against him, is most valuable and interesting, as showing the temper and conduct of an English court of justice at the period in which he lived, as well as aiding in establishing a truth now almost beyond controversy, that mankind are in a state of continual progression and advancement, and as giving us a sample of the "fantastic tricks" which, in the olden time, men, "dressed in a little brief authority," were used to "play before high heaven," but which could hardly at the present day be indulged in with impunity.

If it were necessary to give the following a further claim to a place in the Dublin Penny Journal, it might be added, that Penn was not wholly unconnected with Ireland, for his father, who had considerable possessions here, being by no means pleased with the manner in which his son, at an early period of life, began to distinguish himself in the religious world, after he had in vain tried to bring him to a more worldly frame of mind by compelling him to travel on the continent, sent him over to the Duke of Ormonde's court at Dublin, and gave him charge of his large estates in this country. But it is better to put it on the broader footing of the concernment that every country has in those things which belong rather to the history of mankind than of any particular nation. In fact, it is nobler to try to enter into the spirit of the admirable sentiment of the Roman dramatist--

"Homo sum: humani nihil à me alienum puto."

The reign of Charles II. was not auspicious to dissenters, and accordingly William Penn was repeatedly, in the commencement of his religious career, subjected to legal prosecutions and imprisonments, and was at one time, for some of his publications, committed to the Tower, at the instance of the bishop of London.

Soon after his liberation he was again taken up, and brought to trial before the lord mayor and recorder for preaching in a Quaker meeting. He afterwards published an account of this proceeding, perhaps one of the most curious and instructive pieces that ever came from his pen. The times to which it relates are sufficiently known, indeed, to have been times of gross oppression and judicial abuse; but the brutality of the court upon this occasion, seems to have exceeded any thing that is recorded elsewhere; and the firmness of the jury still deserves to be remembered, for example to happier days. The prisoner came into court, according to Quaker costume, with his hat on his head; but the doorkeeper, with a due zeal for the dignity of the place, pulled it off as he entered. Upon this, however, the lord mayor became quite furious, and ordered the unfortunate beaver to be instantly replaced, which was no sooner done than he fined the poor culprit for appearing covered in his presence ! William Penn now required to know what law he was accused of having broken; to which simple question the recorder was reduced to answer, "That he was an impertinent fellow; and that many had studied thirty or forty years to understand the law, which he was for having expounded in a moment." The learned controversialist was not, however, to be silenced so easily: he quoted lord Coke and Magna Charta on his antagonist in a moment, and chastised his insolence by one of the best and most characteristic repartees upon record. "I tell you to be silent," cried the recorder, in a great passion, "if we should suffer you to ask questions till to-morrow morning, you would never be the wiser." "That," replied the Quaker, with his unmovable tranquillity, "that is according as the answers are." "Take him away, take him away," exclaimed the mayor and the recorder, in a breath, "turn him into the bale-dock." And into the bale-dock, a filthy and pestilent dungeon in the neighbourhood, he was accordingly turned, discoursing calmly all the way on Magna Charta and the rights of Englishmen; while the courtly recorder delivered a very animated charge to the jury in the absence of the prisoner.

The jury, however, after a short consultation, brought in a verdict, finding him merely guilty of speaking in Grace-church street. For this cautious and most correct deliverance they were loaded with reproaches by the court, and sent out to amend their verdict; but in half an hour they returned with the same ingenious finding, fairly written out, and subscribed with all their names.

The court now became more furious than ever, and shut them up without meat, drink, or fire, till next morning, when they twice over came back with the same verdict; upon which they were reviled and threatened so furiously by the recorder, that William Penn protested against this plain intimidation of those persons, to whose free suffrages the law had entrusted his cause. The answer of the recorder was, "stop his mouth, jailor; bring fetters, and stake him to the ground." William Penn replied, with the temper of a Quaker, and the spirit of a martyr, "do your pleasure; I matter not your fetters." And the recorder took occasion to observe, "that till now he never understood the policy of the Spaniards in suffering the inquisition among them. But now he saw that it would never be well with us till we had something like the Spanish inquisition in England !" After this sage remark, the jury were again sent back, and kept other twenty-four hours, without food or refreshment. On the third day, the national and glorious effect of this brutality on the spirits of Englishmen was at length produced. Instead of the special and unmeaning form of their verdict, they now, all in one voice, declared the prisoner NOT GUILTY. The recorder again broke out into abuse and menace; and, after "praying God to keep his life out of such hands," proceeded, on what pretext it is not easy to conceive, to fine every man of them in forty marks, and to order them to prison till payment. William Penn then demanded his liberty, but was ordered into custody till he paid the fine imposed on him for wearing his hat; and was forthwith dragged away to his old lodging in the Bale Dock, while in the very act of quoting the 29th chapter of the great charter, "Nullus liber homo" &c. As he positively refused to acknowledge the legality of this infliction by paying the fine, he might have lain long enough in this dungeon, but that his father, who was now reconciled to him, sent the money privately, and he was once more set at liberty.