WILLIAM PENN by Harry Emerson Wildes


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Usually regarded as a religious eminence in the mists of pre-Revolutionary Americana, or as a power-hungry proprietor, Penn comes across here, even through the dull stretches of this long, long book, as a remarkable combination of English Dissenter, feudal patron and confident mercantilist. The son of an impious Admiral and associate of untrammeled Restoration nobles, Penn remained a cold fish (the otherwise admiring author complains about the psychological Rom lacunae in Penn's letters, and his neighbor Samuel Pepys couldn't stand him). Despite the persecution of Quakers, Penn was granted 45,000 square miles in the New World, making him the largest landholding commoner ever. Wildes describes how the beautiful but rattlesnake-ridden Pennsylvania domain (where Penn spent less than four years) became wracked by bootlegging, astrology, pirates and skirmishes against the Indians, while Penn stood in perpetual fear of having his charter revoked by the Crown. Why that never happened remains unclear in this unusually repetitive, badly edited book. Nor are the different lines of development in eastern and western Pennsylvania elaborated amidst all the banal detail of Penn's financial pains and purviews. A super-narrative of ""and then's"" with the pleasures and digestive efforts that entails.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1974
Publisher: Macmillan