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A True Hero: A Story of the Days of William Penn

William Henry Giles Kingston

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  A True Hero; A Story of the Days of William Penn, by W.H.G. Kingston.


  A very interesting book. It certainly brings home the problems faced bythe various Dissenting sects in England in the reign of James theSecond, particularly those facing the Quakers.

  It tells the story of a Quaker family, who fled from England to seek anew life in America in the late 1600s. It's a short book, and it makesa very good read, or of course a good audiobook. As reviewer I found itmost instructive.




  The Protectorate had come to an end ten years before the period when ourstory commences; and Charles the Second, restored to the throne ofEngland, had since been employed in outraging all the right feelings ofthe people over whom he was called to reign, and in lowering the Englishname, which had been so gloriously raised by the wisdom of Cromwell.The body of that sagacious ruler of a mighty nation had been dragged outof its tomb among the kings in Westminster, and hanged on thegallows-tree at Tyburn; the senseless deed instigated by the pettyrevenge of his contemptible successor. The mouldering remains of Blake,also, one of the noblest among England's naval heroes, had been takenfrom its honoured resting-place, and cast into an unknown grave in SaintMargaret's churchyard. Episcopacy had been restored by those who hopedthus to pave the way for the re-introduction of Romanism, with itsgrinding tyranny and abject superstitions. The "Conventicle Act,"prohibiting more than five persons, exclusive of the family, to meettogether for religious worship according to any other than the nationalritual, had been passed, and was rigidly enforced; the dominant partythus endeavouring to deprive the people of one of the most sacred rightsof man,--that of worshipping God according to the dictates ofconscience. England's debauched king, secretly a Papist, had sold hiscountry for gold to England's hereditary foe, whose army he had engagedto come and crush the last remnants of national freedom, should hisProtestant people dare to resist the monarch's traitorous proceedings.The profligacy and irreligion of the court was widely imitated by allclasses, till patriots, watching with gloomy forebodings the downwardprogress of their country, began to despair of her future fate. Suchwas the state of things when, on the morning of the 14th of August,1670, several sedate, grave-looking persons were collected at the northend of Gracechurch Street, in the City of London. Others were coming upfrom all quarters towards the spot. As the first arrived, they stoodgazing towards the door of a building, before which were drawn up a bodyof bearded, rough soldiers, with buff coats, halberds in hand, and ironcaps on their heads. Several of the persons collected, in spite of thearmed men at the door, advanced as if about to enter the building.

  "You cannot go in there," said the sergeant of the party; "we hold it inthe name of the king. Begone about your business, or beware of theconsequences!" In vain the grave citizens mildly expostulated. Theyreceived similar rough answers. By this time other persons had arrived,while many passers-by stopped to see what was going forward. Amongthose who came up was a tall young man, whose flowing locks andfeathered cap, with richly-laced coat, and silk sash over his shoulder,to which, however, the usual appendage, a sword, was wanting, showedthat he was a person of quality and fashion. Yet his countenance wore agrave aspect, which assumed a stern expression as he gazed at thesoldiers. He stopped, and spoke to several of those standing round,inquiring apparently what had occurred. About the same time, anotherman, who seemed to be acquainted with many of the persons in the crowd,was making his way among them. He was considerably more advanced inlife than the first-mentioned person, and in figure somewhat shorter andmore strongly built. Though dressed as a civilian, he had a militarylook and air. From an opposite direction two other persons approachedthe spot, intending, it seemed, to pass by. The one was a man whosegrizzly beard and furrowed features showed that he had seen roughservice in his time, his dress and general appearance bespeaking thesoldier. His companion was a youth of sixteen or seventeen years ofage, so like him in countenance that their relationship was evident.From the inquiries they made, they were apparently strangers.

  "Canst tell me, friend, what has brought all these people together?"said the elder man to a by-stander.

  "Most of these people are `Friends,' as they call themselves," answeredthe man addressed, a well-to-do artisan, "or `Quakers,' as the worldcalls them, because they bid sinners exceedingly to quake and tremble atthe word of the Lord. To my mind they are harmless as to their deeds,though in word they are truly powerful at times. The bishops and churchpeople do not like them because they declare that God can be worshippedin the open air, or in a man's own home, as well as in the grandestcathedral, or `steeple house,' as they call the church. TheIndependents are opposed to them, because they deem ministersunnecessary, and trust to the sword of the Spirit rather than to carnalweapons; while the wealthy and noble disdain them, because they refuseto uncover their heads, or to pay undue respect to their fellow-men,however rich or exalted in rank they may be. They have come to hold ameeting in yonder house, where the soldiers are stationed; but asspeaking will not open the doors, they will have to go away againdisappointed."

  "If they are the harmless people you describe, that seems a hard case,"observed the stranger. "By what right are they prohibited from thusmeeting?"

  "I know not if it is by right, but it is by law," answered the artisan."You have doubtless heard of the `Conventicle Act,' prohibiting allreligious worship, except according to the established ritual. The`Friends' alone hold it in no respect, and persist in meeting where theyhave the mind!"

  "What! do all the other dissenters of England submit to such a law?"exclaimed the stranger.

  "Marry do they," answered the artisan. "They pocket the affront, andconform in public to what is demanded, satisfying their consciences byworshipping together in private. Do you not know that every head of afamily is fined a shilling on every Sunday that he neglects to attendthe parish church? You can have been but a short time in England not tohave heard of this."

  "Yes, indeed, my friend. My son and I landed but yesterday from avoyage across the Atlantic; and, except from the master and shipmen onboard, we have heard but little of what has taken place in England forsome years past."

  "Then take my advice, friend," said the artisan. "Make all theinquiries you please, but utter not your opinions, as you were just nowdoing to me, or you may find yourself accused of I know not what, andclapped into jail, with slight chance of being set free again."

  "Thank you, friend," said the stranger; "but will all these peoplesubmit to be treated thus by those few soldiers? By my faith, it's morethan I would, if I desired to enter yonder house of prayer."

  While this conversation was going on, the number of people in front ofthe Quaker's meeting-house had greatly increased; and though the greaternumber appeared quietly disposed, there were evidently some hoveringabout, and others now elbowing their way through the crowd, who wereinclined to create an uproar. At this juncture, the young gentleman whohas already been described, stepping on one side of the street where thepavement was highest, took off his hat. "Silence, I pray you, dearfriends; I would speak a few words," he said, in a rich musical voice."We came here purposing to enter yonder house, where we might worshipGod according to the dictates of our consciences, and exhort andstrengthen one another; but it seemeth to me that those in authorityhave resolved to prevent our thus assembling. We are
men of peace, andtherefore must submit rather than use carnal weapons; and yet, friends,having the gift of speech, and the power of the pen, we must not ceaseto protest against being thus deprived of the liberty which Englishmenhold so dear."