The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Memories of the Buckinhamshire Quakers.

by May Rowland Brown.
Volume 13, 1902, pg. 449-461

(Continued from page 248.)

As last related, Lady Mary Springett passed some of the period of her widowhood in worldly life, though constantly turning from its distractions, and seeking for peace of spirit in the quiet of the country. It was whilst in her more earnest frame of mind that she came in contact with Isaac Pennington. By quick intuition she saw he was a man whose heart was distracted by the vanities of the religious professors of the time. Their unsatisfied hearts were drawn together, and Mary longed to comfort him. This secret wish was the cause of the redoubled earnestness in the desire for a clearer revelation.

Ultimately they married, and about that time they heard of the Quakers. Mary had seen a book by George Fox, on "Plain Speaking," which she candidly acknowledged she thought ridiculous. She desired, however, to know more of them, and she thought if she could hear them pray she would be able to tell "whether they were of the Lord or not." One day a man who had seen the couple at some of the meetings, rode by them in the Park, stopped, spoke to them about the pride of wearing gay apparel, etc. Frank Mary Pennington scoffed, but the slight arrow sank deep, and worked no poison but a wonder of new life.

It was no easy matter to Mary to give up her inclinations and the fashions and customs of the period that the searching ray of the Light of the World convinced her were wrong. "Terrible was the Lord," is her expression.

During these mental struggles she does not appear to have maintained any intercourse with the Friends, but gradually the longing came to join their body. Isaac Pennington's father was very opposed to this, and the letters that passed between him and his son are interesting, as they reveal the younger Isaac's courage in plain speaking, and the gentle endeavour of his affectionate persuasions.

The first Quaker meeting at the Grange has been mentioned. At that time the family consisted of three other children besides Gulielma Springett, then, in her fifteenth year, a graceful girl, the delight of her friends and family. When a tiny girl, she had had a constant playmate in little Tom Ellwood, whose father was a friend of her mother's. The children drove together constantly in her toy-thing of a coach in Lincoln's Inn Fields.

The Ellwoods had come to reside at Crowell, in the neighbourhood of Chalfont, and on hearing Lady Mary had settled there, determined to call. So Squire Ellwood, daughter, and young Tom, grown a pleasant youth, well habited, courtly mannered as became a young gallant, set off in the family coach. On entering the village of Chalfont, imagine their surprise to learn their friends had become Quakers--a name they had scarcely heard. They, at all events, continued their journey, and arrived at the Grange to find they were not the only guests. They felt a disappointment, and yet some amusement at the change from the former free, debonair, and courtly behaviour of their hosts. Yet they were warmly welcomed, joined in a handsome dinner, but left very unsatisfied; though, as Tom wrote in his autobiography, "not knowing exactly what to find fault with."

He is particularly uncomfortable at the change in his young girl friend. He relates: "For my part, I sought and at length found means to cast myself into the daughter's company, whom I found gathering flowers in the garden. . . . manner, with intention to engage her in some discourse which might introduce conversation on the footing of our former acquaintance; though she treated me with a courteous mien, yet, young as she was, the gravity of her look and behaviour struck such awe upon me, that I found myself not with her. Wherefore, asking pardon for my boldness in having introduced myself into her private walks, I withdrew, not without some disorder of mind." This was the beginning of Thomas Ellwood's connection with the Quakers.

The family were much interested in the strange new sect. Old Square Ellwood especially desired to know more of their tenets. So once more the family coach was requisitioned and the squire and his daughter set out for Chalfont, Tom riding on horseback behind. They were warmly welcomed, and the squire was even persuaded to stay a day or so, that he might attend a special Quaker meeting to be held at the Grove, at Chalfont St. Giles. It was an old mansion, now used as a farm. The meeting was held in the spacious hall, which was well filled, as several Quaker leaders were there--Edward Burroughs, James Naylor, and Thomas Curtis. Burroughs was the only one who spoke, and it so happened that young Ellwood sat close to him on a stool at the end of a long table.

"Powerfully built, fearless as a lion, the young Quaker apostle Burroughs was just the man to make a deep impression on the susceptible lad. Burroughs had been known to step into the circle that surrounded the wrestlers on the village green and stop the contest by the sheer magic of his boldness, and to preach a sermon there and then to the awestruck throng." A warm friendship sprang up between the two men which lasted till Burroughs' cruel death at Newgate three years after. In his autobiography Ellwood wrote: "I drank in his words with desire, and my heart warmed with a certain heat I had not felt before." The meeting over, the family returned to the Grange with the Quaker preachers. Long and late that evening they sat--the old Squire and the Quakers in theological argument--which only sufficed to make Mr. Ellwood somewhat irate and testy, as he was worsted, and to leave him unconvinced. They left next morning, and as Tom rode behind the coach, his thoughts were busy with the new teaching.

The day after, he talked it out with his old friend the Rector of Crowell, who made no special comment, so he determined to see more of the Quakers. Guessing what would be his father's view of the matter he rode out with his pet greyhound running by his side, to disarm suspicion. Arriving at High Wycombe, he walked up and down the village street, too shy to enquire where the meeting was to be held. He found the place of assembly at last, and that meeting decided the young man--it clinched the nail driven in at Chalfont.

His convictions showed themselves in his conduct--he left off wearing the trimmings of lace and ribbon, and useless buttons and rings; he no longer carried his sword. He became a Quaker, meek and staid. A big change for the boyish nature, whose venturesomeness was manifested but a few weeks before, when their coach was set upon by a couple of rascals, and Tom delighted in chasing them in the dark, his flashing rapier having struck terror into their clownish hearts. In relating the incident, he does not write of "delight," though it underlies his words, be he never so careful, as to record with slightly sanctimonious gratitude that he had been spared the guilt of shedding blood.

As a result of the change, Tom resolved to address no one as "Sir" or "Madam," nor to say "Your servant," as these words suggested a relationship which did not exist. He determined to uncover the head and bow the knee to none but God, and to "avoid the corrupt and unsound form of speaking in the plural number to a single person." But he made one exception, for he still took off his hat and said "You" to his father.

It was at this time Squire Ellwood, Justice of the Peace, directed Tom to take a message to Oxford. Such a proceeding would bring him in contact with others of his own position, and this meant discovery. A sleepless night and much prayer prepared Tom for the testing time on the morrow. Would he be unfaithful to his new principles? In the town he met three friends who greeted him with the usual salutation, "Your humble servant." This was not responded to; they stood staring at one another, presently one clapped Tom on the shoulder, saying, "What, Tom, a Quaker?" "Yes, a Quaker," said the brave youth in a burst of relief to get it over. The three young men mockingly raised their hats and passed on.

In these days of ease in the assumption of peculiar opinions, perhaps it is difficult to understand the revolution such a change as Ellwood's caused. What to us would be but an obstinate idiosyncrasy, to Ellwood was a vital principle to be held tenaciously. Naturally he longed for the moral support of his friends, and begged permission from his hitherto unsuspecting father to visit the Grange. The Squire was a little suspicious as to his attraction thither, as he had seen his friends but a few days previously, still he gave the permission, though accompanied with a warning against the immodest, shameless and unmannerly Quakers.

The result of this visit to the Penningtons was to make him decide to tell his father everything boldly. Therefore, on his return, he met his father without uncovering, and calmly said, "Isaac Pennington and his wife remember their loves to thee." This was quite sufficient to convey to the old gentleman the change that had come over his son, so with stern voice and flashing eye he answered, "I shall talk with you, sir, another time," and strode into the parlour in silence.

Tom, nothing daunted, endeavoured to get off next morning to attend a meeting of Friends, at Oxford, but the Justice waylaid him, coming down half-dressed, and in a great passion struck his son, tore off his hat and sent away the horse. The infuriated father determined to punish his son out of his whims, i.e., by taking from him the means of attending further meetings.

The winter was spent in melancholy imprisonment in the house. Tom did not care to go about the country bareheaded like a madman, and every hat had been taken from him. His hatless condition, unusual when men wore their hats in the house, produced swollen faces and colds, the misery of which his sister tried to alleviate secretly.

As he looked on the bare trees from the casement of his chamber he relieved his feelings with these few lines:--

    "The winter tree
    Resembles me,
    Whose sap lies in its root;
    The spring draws nigh;
    As it, so I
    Shall bud, I hope, and shoot."

The Penningtons meanwhile were concerned about him, so they came on a visit and managed to carry Tom away with them, just as he was. He had to borrow Isaac Pennington's hat and coat, and horse; and Lady Mary gave him £2, as the poor boy was without a penny. He spent some happy weeks in the refined and happy home at the Grange.

About this time another young lad at Oxford was becoming impressed with Quaker doctrines, though it was not till some years later that he, William Penn, declared himself a Quaker. When he did so, he too had battle with his father over the "hat worship."

Ellwood, later, tried to get an Oxford Quaker to conduct a meeting near home. The letter of invitation was intercepted and was the cause of his first imprisonment in Aylesbury jail. He was not alone; the jail was crowded with the Friends, amongst whom was Isaac Pennington, never a strong man, and who now suffered terribly from the privation of seventeen weeks in the winter in a most horribly foul room.

He and others had been arrested by soldiers at a peaceable meeting held at the Grange. In spite of his sufferings in prison he managed to write loving letters to his young friend, upholding him in his first trial. Ellwood was released first. The other poor Quakers remained crowded in a filthy malt house behind the jail.

But the meetings at the Grange still went on in spite of persecution and the threat of the law.

One Saturday afternoon the Grange was astir, several parties of Quakers and many strangers were coming to be present at the First Day meetings. On the Sunday following they were sitting at the meeting in calm and peace, when the silence was broken by the clattering of horses' hoofs, and a party of soldiers rode up.

The Friends kept their seats all but one, who sat next Ellwood. He took the "alarm, and with the nimbleness of a stripling, cutting a caper over a form that stood in his way, he ran quickly out by a private door which led from the parlour into the garden, from thence to the orchard," where he managed to find a most secure hiding-place.

The men were arrested and marched off to the Judge, and the women went on with the meeting!

In such composure the old man found them when he crept back from his hiding-place to the room, where he received a stern homily from the women on his cowardice.

* * * * * *

But the months were passing and old Squire Ellwood went with his daughters to live in London, leaving Tom disconsolate and alone at Crowell, with only an old woman to look after him.

He was seized with small-pox, and recovered, but not thanks to special nursing.

Guli Pennington, however, who had had the disease brought some cheer when she came to visit him during his convalescence. During that time he browsed in his father's library, and so when strong again he had a great desire to continue his studies.

Through Pennington's influence he was able to secure the services of one of the first classical scholars of his age, a blind poet, who gave Greek lessons in return for being read to. So to Jewin Street, London, he went, and for some time worked under John Milton. He felt the greatest reverence for his tutor, and the influence of such a mind on his must have been very great. But study was almost a forbidden fruit to Ellwood, for there were interruptions. First, a dangerous illness, and secondly, his arrest during a panic in London against the Quakers, sufficiently noteworthy to be recorded by [Samuel] Pepys and [John] Evelyn.

Ellwood's description of the horrors of his Newgate experience is most interesting, but is best passed over.

On his release, Milton wished him to return to his study, but he longed for a breath of the breezes blowing round the Grange. He found a warm welcome awaiting him, and soon after he was invited by the Penningtons to become the younger children's tutor.

He was greatly drawn to live with his friends, who treated him as they would an eldest son, and so he finally decided to remain.

With the Penningtons Thomas Ellwood spent the next seven years, and enjoyed "the freedom of speech and action, and free air, without which" William Penn said in one of his maxims, "no friendship could exist." Naturally Guli and he were thrown much together; in country walks and drives they were always companions.

The restraint of their first meeting at Chalfont had long ago worn off, and now they were good friends. Mary Pennington always put her daughter, whom Ellwood considered "completely comely," into his charge whenever Guli paid visits to friends in various parts of the country. This intimacy was the cause of many pangs of jealousy in the bosoms of Gulielma's unsuccessful suitors, aggravated by the common gossip.

Trusty Tom spent much care and time in his autobiography describing his very correct attitude towards Guli. "He never did, as they the suitors," he says, "misconstrue her common kindness expressed in innocent open conversation, springing from the abundant affability, courtesy and sweetness of her natural temper."

To all she was her natural self, her heart untouched, till "he at length came for whom she was reserved."

This happy one was at that time a total stranger to Guli. He, as she, had just completed his 20th year.

His surroundings then were very different from the country beauties of her home, for he was studying life in Continental Courts, "or making acquaintance with the rank and fashion of France." It was in Ireland, somewhat later, that this young man, no other than William Penn, came again under Quaker influence.

It is well known of what value his admission to the Quaker body was. His powers of mind, particularly as a controversialist were very great, and this young champion of the Quaker faith seemed to be raised up to continue the warfare when other leaders had been cut off by pestilence and privation caused by their persecutors.

He has been aptly termed the "sword of the new sect kept perpetually unsheathed to meet its enemies in battle," so ready was his pen to oppose the calumnies and opposition to the truth as he saw it.

When about 24, William Penn, on one of his preaching tours, became acquainted with the Penningtons, of Chalfont.

Gulielma and he were quickly attracted to one another. Guli could not but feel an admiration for the fine young Quaker, and her mind was apt to appreciate the brilliance of his. Ellwood must have early seen the dawn of their mutual love, and his generous spirit must have rejoiced, but, as Maria Webb says, "it was not till he really felt assured that he had come for whom she was reserved, that he (Ellwood) was able to devote himself to anyone else."

This Quaker girl's betrothal must have been fraught with much anxiety--her stepfather was again suffering the hardships of imprisonments, his property and home were confiscated by his enemies; her mother was burdened with the cares of a young family and the search for a home, and her lover went through perilous times and imprisonments.

But through all, her childhood's friend stood by her and the family, staunchly supporting them and assisting them in their business affairs.

After William Penn's imprisonment came his visit to the Continent, whither he went to spread the Quaker principles. This duty over, and a further imprisonment undergone, he left Newgate for Buckinghamshire, where he was gladly welcomed by his "beloved Guli."

Quite happy weeks followed, away from the distractions of the world, preparing for the marriage. This took place in the spring of 1672, at the King's Farm, Chorley Wood, a picturesque old building fast falling into decay, said to be King John's hunting lodge. William and his wife went to live in a neighbouring town, Rickmansworth. Basing House still stands--the home of their honeymoon and early married life.

The honeymoon was long, lasting through spring, through summer. The very instinct of his activity seemed laid to rest. Penn would not write nor travel, nothing would make him leave the happiness of his home in these early months. But Gulielma was not the woman to keep him slothful by her side, she would have sympathized with Enid's fear that Geraint should be reproached for lingering near her. She, too, would have said, "I cannot love my Lord and not his Name." So the preacher went forth again on his gospel tours, and to add links in the chain that was thrown across the ocean and gripped in the virgin soil of the new world.

A little later and the Rickmansworth home was given up, and the Penns went to reside on the Springett Estate in Surrey. Thus was severed the link of constant intercourse with Buckinghamshire, though the bond of friendship and family love was as firmly welded as of yore. On the last journey of all William and Gulielma returned to the Chiltern Hills, where their bodies we laid to rest at quiet Jordans.

But to return to those left behind--the mother and father and faithful friend.

For years the lives of the Quakers had been chequered, and for some years before Guli's marriage, in fact before the plague of 1665, religious persecutions had become very strong. Meetings were entire prohibited, punishments were threatened and enforced rigorously. The Quakers, though perfectly aware of these penalties, serenely passed on their way to their meetings ignoring the consequences--

    "The Quaker of the olden time,
    How calm and firm and true;
    Unspotted by its wrong and crime,
    He walked the dark world through."
    --Thus sang Whittier.

So it came to pass when Milton arrived at Chalfont, to hide from the plague, in that "pretty little box" Ellwood had secured, he found his sometime pupil in prison, and had for a time to solace himself, so it is said, with Guli's visits, on which occasions she would sing accompanied by her lute.

Ellwood was released, however, before Milton left Chalfont, and had the privilege of reading the MSS. of "Paradise Lost," and then made the oft-repeated remark, "What hast thou to say of Paradise found?"

In the next year Isaac Pennington was imprisoned for the fourth time. He caused much concern to his friends by reason of the tenderness of his constitution, but "he was so lively in spirit and so cheerfully given up to suffer that he rather encouraged us," wrote a fellow-prisoner, "than needed any encouragement from us." His constant prayer was "to be made willing to drink the residue of this cup of suffering." His friends endeavoured to interpose, but Pennington was kept in prison till the plague actually broke out, and then his release was secured.

This indeed was his attitude all through his various imprisonments in Aylesbury jail--entire resignation to the will of God, and the conviction that persecution would bring honour to the truth. Such a grand and true conviction!

He never made any attempt to clear himself in the eyes of the law for such charges as contempt of court, etc., though he would plead his and his fellow-prisoners' righteous cause by letter with the hardened magistrates.

This wonderful spirit was by no means a sign of weakness or lassitude in his gentle nature--it was rather an imitation of Christ, who, as a sheep before her shearers, was dumb.

To his wife--his dear true love--the purport of his letters always is, "Say little concerning me, plead not my cause, but be still in thy own spirit." It was during the fourth imprisonment, and some time before Gulielma's betrothal, that the Penningtons were forced to leave the Grange. Fresh trouble befell them. Mary writes of it--"we were stripped of my husband's estate and wronged of a great part of mine." "After this we were tossed up and down from place to place to our great weariness and charge, seeing no place to abide in near our meetings."

Although she had fallen from wealth to poverty, she did not fear remaining among those who had known of them in palmier days in their handsome home. She knew their friendship was true and lasting. Nor did she want to leave those whom they had helped spiritually. "We had suffered together and been comforted together."

Thomas Ellwood came to the rescue, trusty friend and adviser as he was. As Isaac was in prison, he busied himself trying to save the remnant of the estates which their rapacious enemies had not taken.

After considerable search, they unexpectedly heard of a house to be sold near Amersham. Mary Pennington went to inspect, but it looked so ruinous she would not go in. However, Ellwood went with her on a subsequent occasion, and whilst he examined the grounds she went indoors. The following shows her clear-sighted, quick, business-like perceptions:--

"In half an hour I had the form of the thing in my mind; what to sell, what to pull down, what to add, and cast up how it would all be done with the overplus money," i.e., what they had managed to save.

When the house was at last bought, she set herself, she tells us, "industriously and cheerfully about the business, though I saw many encumbrances."

There were many hindrances to their settling, one being that part of the structure fell down. The house took four years to rebuild, and it remains firm and strong to this day.

Although Thomas gave so loyally of his help, yet she felt that the responsibility for the future of her family lay with her, and she still had her old comfort in prayer. "I cried to the Lord continually that the difficulties might not cumber or darken my mind."

It was "this Quaker matron's inward light" which kept her free from worry, and her mind "sweet and savoury." If she "had lived in the time when building a house for the Lord was accepted and blessed, she could not have had a sweeter, stiller, or pleasanter time."

One great grief to the parents and to Ellwood was the loss of the dear lad, the younger Isaac, at sea. Some little time after Gulielma had met Penn, early in year 1699, Ellwood found himself in a "disposition of mind to change his single life for a married state."

His wooing of Mary Ellis was sober. He had a judicious affection for her, and wrote years and years after that she was "a solid and weighty dame," of course referring to her virtues. Their union proved an extremely happy one, though somewhat marred at first by Squire Ellwood's refusal to look upon it as valid, as they had taken one another in simple Quaker way at a meeting of ancient and grave friends. They lived in a fine old timber-framed and lattice-windowed house at Hunger Hill, not far from their friends--it was only pulled down a few years ago.

Here Ellwood lived the quiet life of a yeoman farmer. His powers of organization, his resourcefulness, his knowledge gained as a magistrate's son, were often brought into play in the cause of the Friends. He also wrote poetry--not of a very high order, but just the simple, genial outpourings of his kind heart. "Davideis," a longer poem, was written for his own pleasure, and considering it was Whittier's only poetical treasure during the long snow-bound winters of his boyhood, he writes somewhat harshly--

    "Ellwood's meek, drab-shirted muse,
    A stranger to the heathen nine,
    Sang with a somewhat nazal whine
    The wars of David and the Jews."

"Wishes" savours of the quaint style and spirit of George Herbert--

    "Oh, that mine eyes might closed be,
    To what becomes me not to see!
    That deafness might possess mine ear,
    To what concerns me not to hear!
    That truth my tongue might always tie
    That by each word, each deed, each thought,
    But what are wishes? Lord, my eye
    On Thee is fixed; to Thee I cry,
    O purge out all my dross, my tin,
    Make me more white than snow within!
    And make it clean in every part;
    And when 'tis clean, Lord, keep it, too,
    For that is more than I can do."

After the Penningtons' residence at Woodside Farm (their new home), Isaac was no longer persecuted. There was happy intercourse with Guli at Richmond, and life's evening for him passed in comfort and peace with his beloved one at his side.

He died after a short illness, and was buried at Jordans. Mary Pennington's lament is peculiarly touching, written one night whilst watching by her sick child. It is full of noble passion that suggests the poetry of the Psalms. Mary never completely recovered from her loss. She wrote a biography of her first husband, "that truly great man," for his little namesake, her grandson. She then took her two youngest boys to school at Edmonton, where she fell violently ill of fever. Away from the care and quiet of home she suffered intensely, but recovered, returning to beloved Woodside almost a chronic invalid, too often unable "to have the pleasantness of her natural sleep . . . . or go abroad in the air to take a view of beautiful creation."

She died not long after, whilst on a visit to her daughter, Guli. For years she had been a constant sufferer, though active and brave almost to the last. She was a woman nobly planned! She lies beside her husband at Jordans.

* * * * *

Previous to this the Quaker Friends at Chalfont had been able to secure a rood of land in which to bury their dead. It was near old Jordans Farm.

A few years after his mother's death, Isaac Pennington's son was able to purchase more land near the burial ground, and there was erected and still stands the present meeting house.

Its interior is today as it was then--bare white-washed walls, oaken panelling giving dignity to the simple hall, latticed windows, brick floor, and the same old forms. The upper part of the wall at the end is open, and shows a room used in former times as the women's gallery, which could be closed by sliding panels in time of danger.

At the back of the Meeting House is a romantic dell, fringed with trees, and before it lie those graves where are resting those who are waiting for their call at the Resurrection of the Just. What an awakening of kindred souls there will be then!

Jordans is hallowed ground, and what William Penn said of the country may be re-echoed of this spot--"It is a quiet and natural retreat from noise and talk, and allows opportunity for reflection and gives the best subjects for it."

Typed by happi, Apr 2020; Proofread by LNL, Apr 2020