Monday, January 14, 2019

Andrew R. Murphy's "William Penn: A Life"

Andrew R. Murphy is Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. He is the author of Liberty, Conscience, and Toleration: The Political Thought of William Penn and Prodigal Nation: Moral Decline and Divine Punishment from New England to 9/11.

Murphy applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, William Penn: A Life, and reported the following:
Page 99 of William Penn: A Life appears about halfway through Chapter 5, “The Great Opinionist.” The chapter’s title refers to a description of Penn offered by Silas Taylor, keeper of the naval stores in the port town of Harwich, on October 26, 1671: “On Tuesday, out of a packet-boat from Holland, arrived here Sir William Penn’s eldest son, the great opinionist; he went presently and associated himself with the Quakers of this town.” At this point in his life – about to turn 27 years old – William Penn had been a convinced Quaker for about four years. Returning from his first visit to the Continent as a Quaker, he was about to begin a rapid rise to leadership in the Society of Friends, as a loyal lieutenant to, and energetic defender of, George Fox, the sect’s founder.

Page 99 and the pages that follow it chronicle the many interlocutors with whom this “great opinionist” did battle in the contentious world of early modern religious and political debate: Anglicans, Socinians, Baptists, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians, to say nothing of fellow Quakers, many of whom chafed under the organizational structures that Fox (with Penn’s solid support) was then putting into place. These debates took place in person, in print, in Parliament, and even before the King himself (access Penn gained by virtue of his father’s friendship with the royals and service as Navy Commissioner).

More broadly, the 1670s were a time of enormous personal and professional growth in Penn’s life. The decade kicked off with his celebrated trial, in which a jury refused to convict him and fellow defendant William Mead despite being browbeaten by an enraged judge. An anonymously-published “transcript” of that trial (likely authored, at least partially, by Penn himself) portrayed Penn as a heroic figure standing up for English liberties: it was wildly popular, going through nine printings in late 1670 alone and making Penn a celebrated figure in the Dissenting community. Shortly after the trial, his father died, and Penn inherited lands in Ireland. In the spring of 1672, he married Gulielma Springett, whom he had been courting for four years. Although he did not receive his colonial charter for Pennsylvania until 1681, the public profile that proved so invaluable to that undertaking owed much to the emergence of this “great opinionist” during the early 1670s.
Learn more about Andrew R. Murphy's research and publications at his faculty webpage and follow him on Twitter.

The Page 99 Test: Prodigal Nation.

--Marshal Zeringue