William Penn on middle class morality

English: Lesson 35

In what ways was Penn an advocate of middle class morality?

William Penn was a man who focused and wrote about walking the middle line. His book, Fruits of Solitude, is full of aphorisms and observations in which he described his view on religion, discipline, apparel, luxury, charity, posterity, marriage, and much more. Penn lived wholly in the middle-class circles, and with that middle-class came a middle line which he balanced on in all aspects of life. Never having too much or too little, or giving too much or too little. All I could think of when reading his aphorisms on charity, hunger, and fashion, was Johnny Cash’s famous song “I walk the line.” Penn’s most obvious categories where he advocates for middle-class morality are these: Bounds of Charity, Frugality or Bounty, Temperance, a Country life, and Hazard.

Penn’s views on charity are wrapped up in a nutshell with this aphorism, “Lend not beyond thy Ability, nor refuse to lend out of thy Ability; especially when it will help others more than it can hurt thee.” He walks carefully on that middle line, expecting those who can to be charitable but only within their means. This goes hand in hand with his aphorism/observation on frugality or bounty, “Frugality is good if Liberality be join’d with it. The first is leaving off superfluous Expenses; the last bestowing them to the Benefit of others that need. The first without the last being Covetousness; the last without the first begins Prodigality: Both together make and excellent Temper. Happy the Place where ever that is found.”  The topics, charity and frugality, has Penn consistently saying, don’t do too much, but don’t do too little. Stay walking that thin line in the middle.

Temperance was a subject that Penn took seriously, but I doubt that his view on it would be agreed upon today. He had two main thoughts when writing about temperance; do not buy expensive food, and do not eat till you’re full but leave wanting for more. Most people will agree there is no need to buy extravagant and expensive food, as Penn says, “Have wholesome, but not costly food, and be rather cleanly than dainty in ordering it.”  However, Penn’s second thought would probably not be agreed upon today. “If thou rise with an Appetite, thou art sure never to sit down without one.” With much more knowledge on health and diet now than in 1682, it doesn’t seem so wise to always keep yourself hungry and not eating your fill at mealtime. While I don’t think stuffing yourself is a good idea, getting the right amount of food and nutrients is important.

The last two categories where Penn advocates the middle morality are a country life and hazard. Penn was a great advocate for simple private living out in the country and thought that nature was a perfect way to observe and be close to God. He also thought that in business it was best never to risk or go into the hazard with business ventures or affairs. Yet, Penn and his fellow Quakers were some of the richest businessmen in the country. This balance of private country living and not risky but not cautious business is a tough one. How are you to have a successful business that is quite wealthy and still live a simple life in the country? This was something Penn obviously struggled with himself as he was a very well known public figure, wealthy businessman, yet someone who greatly valued private country living. The answer comes back down to walking that middle line. You have to find it and try to walk it the best you can.

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