Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Some Fruits of Solitude by William Penn

The full title of the book is Some Fruits of Solitude in Reflections and Maxims by William Penn.  William Penn, as you well know, is he of whom Pennsylvania is named. In fact, he founded Pennsylvania as a safe-haven for Quakers in a time when Quakers were commonly put to death for their beliefs both here and abroad.  Penn was the second (actually, I guess the third as we must give proper credit to Margaret Fell) major figure in the Friends movement.

When I was in England, I saw the courthouse where William Penn was tried and convicted (I think for "non-conformity") before he came to America.  It was the same courthouse where Oscar Wilde was tried and convicted around 200 years later (for non-conformity of a different color.)

Some Fruits of Solitude is a collection of wisdom by William Penn, mainly for reflection and to encourage working on virtue in one's life, often drawn from Proverbs and the Epistle of James.  It is separated into subjects, some spanning up to 3 pages, but most only a few sentences.  I get the impression it is a book to be read in small chunks and slowly digested.  I devoured it over the past two days.

Some of the more striking sections for me were two quotes in particular "Time is what we want most, but what, alas!,we use worst.  Man in being Thoughtless, falls below himself." and "Truth often suffers more by the heat of its defenders, than from the arguments of it opposers."  There is also a section where he explains how a virtuous person seeks to never do something that they wouldn't feel comfortable doing in the presence of anyone.  The book is brimming with such pearls.

I found this to be a very helpful book.  I've been thinking about working on virtue quite a bit lately, working on one's self, striving to be a better man and that sort of thing.  This was the sort of book one would give to young people to hopefully give them some instruction in building character which, at least in some circles, was more important than, say, being the sexiest (exhibit A: a portrait of William Penn:
I could be cast as this man in a film.)  Mainly I think it's profitable to work toward being virtuous as a reward unto itself and a way to build self-control (always a good idea and always a rarity in this modern age which gives one an edge.)  Also, a desire for same rises from the abundance of the heart.

It was a short book, but certainly a very important one.  I'm sure I will carry pieces of this book with me for the rest of my life.  I would recommend it to anyone.  Some of the language is a bit archaic, but well worth the time and effort.  Highly recommended.

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