English Class: American Literature

William Penn On Moderation

William Penn (1644-1718) wrote a book of aphorisms and observations in 1682 entitled Some Fruits of Solitude in Reflections and Maxims. Penn was a Quaker who wrote several books and pamphlets. He was granted a royal charter from Charles II for services rendered to the state by Penn’s father. He founded the Province of Pennsylvania in 1681. In his book, William Penn advised his readers to maintain a moderate life. Instead of living in one extreme or another, Penn recommended that people should live their life in the middle path. 

In Fruits of Solitude Penn wrote:

“Frugality is good if Liberality be join’d with it. The first is leaving off superfluous Expences; the last bestowing them to the Benefit of others that need. The first without the last begins Covetousness; the last without the first begins Prodigality: Both together make an excellent Temper. Happy the Place where ever that is found.” 

William Penn, Photo Credit: Wikipedia
William Penn, Photo Credit: Wikipedia

In this paragraph Penn was telling the reader that it is good to be thrifty but that one shouldn’t stop giving to others in need. Focusing only on saving one’s wealth will make that person tend towards hoarding and coveting. But he also says that if one isn’t frugal, they will waste their resources. This is the opposite of being thrifty, and it soon leads to lavish living and wasteful spending. Penn recommended being both frugal and charitable, and as this advice was taken up by Quakers they soon gained wealth. It seems that those, not only Quakers, who followed Penn’s advice to take the middle road usually amassed a generous amount of wealth. He later writes again about the issue:

“The generality are the worse for their Plenty: The Voluptuous consumes it, the Miser hides it: ‘Tis the good Man that uses it, and to good Purposes. But such are hardly found among the Prosperous.”

Once again Penn advises his readers not to squander their wealth neither to hoard it. Here Penn compares the way a wise man carefully uses his wealth and the way the rich seem to waste it. 

“To this a spare Diet contributes much. Eat therefore to live, and do not live to eat. That’s like a Man, but this below a Beast. Have wholesome, but not costly Food, and be rather cleanly than dainty in ordering it.”

Here, the way Penn advises others to achieve the middle road is to eat good and decent food that will be sustaining instead of focusing on fancy, dainty meals. One must eat in order to live, but Penn warns against letting one’s desires overcome oneself.

Whether he writes about money, food, business, fashion, or charity Penn constantly advises the reader to take the middle path. Taking the wise advice of Penn would be a benefit to many.

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