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- The History of Thomas Ellwood Written by Himself - 1/37 -


Transcribed from the 1885 George Routledge and Sons edition by David Price, email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk

THE HISTORY OF THOMAS ELLWOOD WRITTEN BY HIMSELF

INTRODUCTION BY HENRY MORLEY

The life of the simple Quaker, Thomas Ellwood, to whom the pomps and shows of earth were nowhere so vain as in association with the spiritual life of man, may serve as companion to another volume in this Library, the "Life of Wolsey" by George Cavendish, who, as a gentleman of the great prelate's household, made part of his pomp, but had heart to love him in his pride and in his fall. "The History of Thomas Ellwood, written by Himself," is interesting for the frankness with which it makes Thomas Ellwood himself known to us; and again, for the same frank simplicity that brings us nearer than books usually bring us to a living knowledge of some features of a bygone time; and yet again, because it helps us a little to come near to Milton in his daily life. He would be a good novelist who could invent as pleasant a book as this unaffected record of a quiet life touched by great influences in eventful times.

Thomas Ellwood, who was born in 1639, in the reign of Charles the First, carried the story of his life in this book to the year 1683, when he was forty-four years old. He outlived the days of trouble here recorded, enjoyed many years of peace, and died, near the end of Queen Anne's reign, aged 74, on the first of March 1713, in his house at Hunger Hill, by Amersham. He was eleven years younger than John Bunyan, and years younger than George Fox, the founder of that faithful band of worshippers known as the Society of Friends. They turned from all forms and ceremonies that involved untruth or insincerity, now the temple of God in man's body, and, as Saint Paul said the Corinthians, "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you," they sought to bring Christ into their hearts, and speak and act as if Christ was within governing their words and actions. They would have no formal prayers, no formal preaching, but sought to speak with each other as the Spirit prompted, soul to soul. They would not, when our plural pronoun "you" was still only plural, speak to one man as if he were two or more. They swore not at all; but their "Yea" and "Nay" were known to be more binding than the oaths of many of their persecutors. And as they would not go through the required form of swearing allegiance to the Government whenever called upon to do so, they were continually liable to penalties of imprisonment when imprisonment too often meant jail fever, misery, and death. George Fox began his teaching when Ellwood was eight years old. Ellwood was ten years old when Fox was first imprisoned at Nottingham, and the offences of his followers against established forms led, as he says, to "great rage, blows, punchings, beatings, and imprisonments." Of what this rage meant, and of the spirit in which it was endured, we learn much from the History of Thomas Ellwood.

Isaac Penington, whose influence upon young Ellwood's mind is often referred to in this book, was born in the year of Shakespeare's death, and had joined the Society of Friends in 1658, when his own age was forty-two and Ellwood's was nineteen. He was the son of Alderman Isaac Penington, a Puritan member for the City of London, who announced, at a time in the year 1640 when the Parliament was in sore need of money, that his constituents had subscribed 21,000 pounds to a loan, which the members of the House then raised to 90,000 pounds, by rising, one after another, to give their personal bonds each for a thousand pounds. Isaac Penington the son, whom Ellwood loved as a friend and reverenced as a father, became a foremost worker and writer in the Society of Friends. In a note upon him, written after his death, Thomas Ellwood said that "in his family he was a true pattern of goodness and piety; to his wife he was a most affectionate husband; to his children, a loving and tender father; to his servants, a mild and gentle master; to his friends, a firm and fast friend; to the poor, compassionate and open-hearted; and to all, courteous and kind?' In 1661 he was committed to Aylesbury gaol for worshipping God in his own house (holding a conventicle), "where," says Ellwood in that little testimony which he wrote after his friend's death, "for seventeen weeks, great part of it in winter, he was kept in a cold and very incommodious room, without a chimney; from which hard usage his tender body contracted so great and violent a distemper that, for several weeks after, he was not able to turn himself in bed." "His second imprisonment," says Ellwood, "was in the year 1664, being taken out of a meeting, when he with others were peaceably waiting on the Lord, and sent to Aylesbury gaol, where he again remained a prisoner between seventeen and eighteen weeks.

"His third imprisonment was in the year 1665, being taken up, with many others, in the open street of Amersham, as they were carrying and accompanying the body of a deceased Friend to the grave. From hence he was sent again to Aylesbury gaol; but this commitment being in order to banishment, was but for a month, or thereabouts.

"His fourth imprisonment was in the same year 1665, about a month after his releasement from the former. Hitherto his commitment had been by the civil magistrates; but now, that he might experience the severity of each, he fell into the military hands. A rude soldier, without any other warrant than what he carried in his scabbard, came to his house, and told him he came to fetch him before Sir Philip Palmer, one of the deputy-lieutenants of the county. He meekly went, and was by him sent with a guard of soldiers to Aylesbury gaol, with a kind of mittimus, importing 'That the gaoler should receive and keep him in safe custody during the pleasure of the Earl of Bridgewater,' who had, it seems, conceived so great, as well as unjust, displeasure against this innocent man, that, although (it being the sickness year) the plague was suspected to be in the gaol, he would not be prevailed with only to permit Isaac Penington to be removed to another house in the town, and there kept prisoner until the gaol was clear. Afterwards, a prisoner dying in the gaol of the plague, the gaoler's wife, her husband being absent, gave leave to Isaac Penington to remove to another house, where he was shut up for six weeks; after which, by the procurement of the Earl of Ancram, a release was sent from the said Philip Palmer, by which he was discharged, after he had suffered imprisonment three-quarters of a year, with apparent hazard of his life, and that for no offence."

This was not the end of the troubles of Ellwood's patron and friend. He had been home only three weeks when "the said Philip Palmer" seized him again, dragged him out of bed, sent him, without any cause shown, to Aylesbury gaol, and kept him a year and a half prisoner "in rooms so cold, damp, and unhealthy, that it went very near to cost him his life, and procured him so great a distemper that he lay weak of it several months. At length a relation of his wife, by an habeas corpus, removed him to the King's Bench bar, where (with the wonder of the court that a man should he so long imprisoned for nothing) he was at last released in the year 1668." "Paradise Lost" had appeared in the year before. Yet a sixth imprisonment followed in 1670, when Penington, visiting some Friends in Reading gaol, was seized and carried before Sir William Armorer, a justice of the peace, who sent him back to share their sufferings. Penington died in 1679.

Of Thomas Ellwood's experience as reader to Milton, and of Milton's regard for the gentle Quaker, the book tells its own tale. I will only add one comment upon an often-quoted incident that it contains. When Milton gave his young friend--then twenty-six years old--the manuscript of "Paradise Lost" to read, his desire could only have been to learn what comprehension of his purpose there would be in a young man sincerely religious, as intelligent as most, and with a taste for verse, though not much of a poet. The observation Ellwood made, of which he is proud because of its consequence, might well cause Milton to be silent for a little while, and then change the conversation. It showed that the whole aim of the poem had been missed. Its crown is in the story of redemption, Paradise Found, the better Eden, the "Paradise within thee, happier far." Milton had applied his test, and learnt--what every great poet has to learn--that he must trust more to the vague impression of truth, beauty, and high thought, that can be made upon thousands of right- hearted men and women, than to the clear, full understanding of his work. The noblest aims of the true artist can make themselves felt by all, though understood by few. Few know the secrets of the sunshine, although all draw new life from the sun. When Milton-- who, with his habitual gentleness, never allowed Ellwood to suspect that he had missed the whole purpose of "Paradise Lost"--showed him "Paradise Regained," and made him happy by telling him that he caused it to be written; he showed him a poem that expanded the closing thought of "Paradise Lost" into an image of the Paradise within, that is to be obtained only by an imitation of Christ under all forms of our temptation.

Of Ellwood's life after the year in which he ends his own account of it, let it suffice to say, that he wrote earnest, gentle books in support of his opinions and against the persecution of them. He lived retired until the year 1688, and occupied himself with an attempt at a Davideis, a Life of David in verse. He had not then seen Cowley's. Ellwood carried on his verses to the end of David's life, and published them in 1712. When George Fox died, in 1690, Thomas Ellwood transcribed his journal for the press, and printed it next year in folio, prefixing an account of Fox. He was engaged afterwards in controversy with George Keith, a seceder from the Friends. His intellectual activity continued unabated to the end. In 1709 he suffered distraint for tithes; goods to the value of 24 pounds 10s. being taken for a due of about 14 pounds, after which the distrainers "brought him still in debt, and wanted more."

Ellwood's life was healthy, except that he was asthmatic towards the end. His wife died five years before him. Of her, J. Wyeth, citizen of London, who was the editor of "Ellwood's History of his Life," and wrote its sequel, says that she was "a solid, weighty woman." But the context shows that he means those adjectives to be read in a spiritual sense. "The liberal soul shall be made fat," says Solomon.

H. M. November 1885.

THE HISTORY OF THOMAS ELLWOOD--WRITTEN BY HIMSELF

Although my station, not being so eminent either in the church of


The History of Thomas Ellwood Written by Himself - 1/37

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