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The History of Thomas Ellwood Written By Himself   By: (1639-1714?)

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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... Continue reading book >>

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