Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Penington, Isaac (1616-1679)

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1158461Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 44 — Penington, Isaac (1616-1679)1895Charlotte Fell Smith

PENINGTON or PENNINGTON, ISAAC, the younger (1616–1679), puritan and quaker, born in London in 1616, was eldest son of Alderman Sir Isaac Penington (1587?–1661) [q. v.], by his first wife, Abigail, daughter of John Allen of London, merchant. He matriculated as a fellow commoner at Catherine Hall, Cambridge, on 1 April 1637 (Harvey, Alumni Cantabr. 1891, p. 3), but did not follow any profession. From early years he was troubled by religious doubts, and described his perplexity in ‘A Brief Account of my Soul's Travel towards the Holy Land,’ and ‘A True and Faithful Relation in Brief concerning Myself, in reference to my Spiritual Travails and the Lord's dealings with me.’ The latter was written long after (15 May 1667) in Aylesbury gaol (Works, 3rd edit. p. xlii). A work published by Penington in 1649 is entitled ‘The Great and Sole Troubler of the Times represented in a Mapp of Miserie: or a Glimpse of the Heart of Man, which is the Fountain from whence all Misery flows and the source into which it runs back, drawn with a dark Pencil, by a dark Hand in the midst of Darkness.’ Between 1648 and 1656 Pennington published eleven works, all of a religious nature. But he made during the period an excursion into political controversy, and advocated a representative democracy in a pamphlet called ‘The Fundamental Right, Safety, and Liberty of the People (which is radically in themselves, derivatively in the Parliament, their Substitutes or Representatives) briefly asserted,’ London, 1651.

For a short time Pennington joined the independents, but while still unsettled made the acquaintance of Lady Springett, whom he married at St. Margaret's, Westminster, on 13 May 1654. Born about 1625, she was the only child and heiress of Sir John Proude of Goodnestone Court, Kent, by his second wife, Anne, daughter of Edward Fagge, of Ewell, Faversham, Kent. Both her parents died in 1628, and she passed her youth in the house of Sir Edward Partridge, the husband of her mother's sister. In January 1642 she married Partridge's nephew, William Springett, who was knighted, and she was left a widow in 1644, with a posthumous child, Gulielma Maria. As a girl she had shown strong puritan predilections, which were shared by Springett, but since his death she had grown unsettled in her faith, and ‘went in for the gay world.’ ‘I gave up much to be a companion to him,’ she writes, in her autobiography, of her marriage with Penington.

They lived sometimes in London, sometimes at Datchet, or at Caversham Lodge, near Reading, and made the acquaintance of Thomas Curtis of Reading, and other quakers, and read quaker writings. In 1656 Penington attended a quaker meeting at Reading, and on Whit-Sunday 1657 he heard George Fox preach at the large general meeting at the house of John Crook [q. v.], near Luton in Bedfordshire. Shortly after, Penington and his wife publicly joined the sect which, he says, ‘his understanding and reason had formerly counted contemptible.’ ‘His station,’ says William Penn [q. v.], who married Gulielma Springett, Penington's stepdaughter, ‘was the most considerable of any that had closed with this way.’ Penington's father was indignant, and wrote harshly to his son, but the latter was immovable (Devonshire House MSS.)

In 1658 Penington and his wife settled at the Grange, Chalfont St. Peter, Buckinghamshire, which his father gave him on his marriage. An influential body of quakers worshipped in their house until the meeting-house of Jordans, in the next parish of Chalfont St. Giles (still in perfect tion), was built in 1688, after the death of both Penington and his wife, and partly with money left by Mrs. Penington for the purpose, on land which they had purchased in 1671. Thomas Ellwood [q. v.] and his father, who came from Crowell, Oxfordshire, to visit them soon after they arrived at Chalfont, were astonished to find them both garbed in sober quaker attire. ‘The dinner,’ Ellwood says in his ‘Autobiography,’ ‘was very handsome, and lacked nothing but the want of mirth.’ According to Pepys, who met Mrs. Penington in 1665, she was not always grave; the diarist enjoyed ‘most excellent witty discourse with this very fine witty lady, and one of the best I ever heard speak, and indifferent handsome’ (Diary, iii. 104, 121). Ellwood soon became a quaker himself, and an inmate of the Peningtons' house. For seven years he was tutor to their children.

In the end of 1660 and beginning of 1661 Penington was a prisoner in Aylesbury gaol, along with nearly seventy other quakers, for refusing to take the oaths of allegiance to the government. They were confined in a decayed building behind the gaol, once a malt-house, ‘but not fit for a dog-house,’ says Ellwood. Many like experiences followed his release. In 1664 he spent seventeen weeks in gaol, and between 1665 and 1667 three periods—the first of a month, another of nearly a year, and the third of a year and a half. The second and third terms he owed to the malignity of the Earl of Bridgwater, whom he had offended by not taking off his hat in his presence, and by not calling him ‘My Lord.’ He was released by the intervention of the Earl of Ancram. From Aylesbury gaol he wrote in 1666 and 1667 letters ‘to Friends in and about the Two Chalfonts.’ Soon afterwards he was removed to the king's bench bar, London, and, ‘with the wonder of the court that a man could be so long imprisoned for nothing,’ was released in 1668.

Meanwhile the Grange was confiscated with other property of Penington's father, and a suit in chancery deprived Mrs. Penington of one of her estates because she and her husband would not take an oath to verify their claims. But Mrs. Penington, who was an admirable manager of her own and her husband's possessions, soon purchased and rebuilt (1669–73) a small residence, Woodside, near Amersham. In 1670–1 Penington was detained in prison for twenty-one months on the plea of refusing the oath of allegiance. He was released by the proclamation of Charles II in 1671.

In 1675 Thomas Hicks, an anabaptist, published in his ‘Dialogue between a Christian and a Quaker’ certain misquotations from Penington's and others' writings. Penington replied to Hicks in ‘The Flesh and Blood of Christ … With a Brief Account concerning the People called Quakers,’ 1675.

The long imprisonments and exposure to prison damps and fare had undermined Penington's always weak constitution, and in 1678 he went to Astrop, Northamptonshire, to drink its medicinal springs. He wrote while there, on 15 Aug. 1678, an addressed ‘To those persons that drink of the waters at Astrop Wells,’ and a short piece, ‘The Everlasting Gospel,’ &c., 1678, addressed to papists. On his return through Oxford he wrote ‘To the Scholars that disturb Friends in their Meetings at Oxford,’ 23 Sept. 1678. In the following year he and his wife visited her property in Kent. He preached at Canterbury, and went on to Goodnestone Court. On the day fixed for his return he fell ill, and died, after a week's illness, on 8 Oct. 1679. He was buried in the ground at Jordans, Chalfont St. Giles, acquired in 1671. Letters of administration were taken out by his wife on 1 Dec. 1680.

Mrs. Penington died while on a visit to her daughter at Warminghurst, Sussex, on 18 Sept. 1682, and was buried beside her second husband. She left legacies to her son-in-law Penn, and to Ellwood money for building the meeting-house of Jordans at Chalfont. She wrote, in 1680, ‘Some Account of the Exercises of Mary Penington from her Childhood,’ with a letter to her grandson, Springett Penn, ‘to be given him when he shall be of an age to understand it,’ an account of her husband's imprisonments in Reading and Aylesbury gaols, and a defence of herself for not sharing them. The two last pieces were published by her son John in his ‘Complaint against William Rogers,’ London, 1681.

Penington had by his wife four sons and a daughter Mary (d. 1726), wife of Daniel Wharley of London. Two sons, John and Edward, are noticed below. Isaac, the second son, was drowned at sea as a lad in 1670. The third son, William (1665–1703), was a druggist in London.

Penington was a man of transparent modesty and gentleness, yet with much intellectual power. His early despondency gave place to a cheerfulness which raised the drooping spirits of many a fellow-prisoner. An epistle from prison to his children, dated 10 May 1667, gives beautiful expression to parental affection. His writings are subtle and profound, free from invective or controversial heat, mainly in the form of question and answer. Not without mysticism, they are yet eminently practical, and powerfully helped to build up the new church of the quakers. Like George Fox, Penington does not wholly denounce the use of the ‘carnal sword,’ but maintains that where it is ‘borne uprightly’ against foreign invasion or to suppress violence, its ‘use will be honourable’ (Works, 3rd edit. p. 183; see also ‘Address to the Army,’ ib. i. 330).

Besides the works already noticed, Penington published (all in London) books, broadsides, and pamphlets, of which the chief, after he joined the quakers, are (with abbreviated titles): 1. ‘The Way of Life and Death made manifest;’ a portion is by Edward Burrough and George Fox, 4to, 1658; translated into Dutch in 1661, reprinted 4to, Rotterdam, 1675. 2. ‘The Scattered Sheep sought after,’ 4to, 1659, 1665. 3. ‘The Jew Outward: being a Glasse for the Professors of this Age,’ 4to, 1659. 4. ‘To the Parliament, the Army, and all the Wel-affected in the Nation, who have been faithful to the Good Old Cause,’ 4to, 1659. 5. ‘A Question propounded to the Rulers, Teachers, and People of the Nation of England,’ 4to, 1659. 6. ‘An Examination of the Grounds or Causes which are said to induce the Court of Boston in New-England to make that Order or Law of Banishment upon Pain of Death against the Quakers,’ &c. 4to, 1660. 7. ‘Some Considerations propounded to the Jewes, that they may hear and consider,’ &c., 4to, no place or date; translated into German, entitled ‘Einige Anmerckungen vorgestellet an die Juden,’ &c., 4to, n.d. 8. ‘Some few Queries proposed to the Cavaliers,’ 4to, n.d. 9. ‘Some Queries concerning the Work of God in the World,’ 4to, 1660; reprinted the same year. 10. ‘An Answer to that Common Objection to Quakers that they condemn all but themselves,’ 4to, 1660. 11. ‘The Great Question concerning the Lawfulness or Unlawfulness of Swearing under the Gospel,’ 4to, 1661. 12. ‘Somewhat spoken to a weighty Question concerning the Magistrates Protection of the Innocent … Also a Brief Account of what the People called Quakers desire, in reference to Civil Government,’ 4to, 1661; reprinted as ‘The Doctrine of the People called Quakers in relation to bearing Arms and Fighting,’ &c., edited by Joseph Besse [q. v.], 8vo, 1746 (Salop, 8vo, 1756). 13. ‘Concerning Persecution,’ 4to, 1661. 14. ‘Concerning the Worship of the Living God,’ &c., 4to, no place or date. 15. ‘Observations on some Passages of Ludowick Muggleton … in that Book of his stiled “The Neck of the Quakers Broken,”’ 4to, 1668. 16. ‘Some Thing relating to Religion proposed to the Consideration of the Royal Society,’ 4to, 1668. 17. ‘To the Jews Natural, and to the Jews Spiritual; with a few Words to England, my Native Country,’ sm. 8vo, 1677. 18. ‘Some Sensible Weighty Queries concerning some Things very sweet and necessary to be experienced in the Truly-Christian state,’ sm. 8vo, 1677. 19. ‘The Everlasting Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Blessed Effects thereof Testified to by experience. With a few words to England, my Native Country,’ 4to. 1678. His works, with some posthumous papers, were collected in 1681, fol. Fourteen testimonies by his friends, his wife, and son John were included. Two or three omitted pieces were given in the second edition, 2 vols. 4to, 1761. A third edition appeared in 4 vols. 8vo, 1784, and a fourth at New York, 4 vols. 1861–3. Some of Penington's letters, included in the last edition, had been already issued separately by John Kendall [q. v.], London, 1796, and again by John Barclay, London, 1828; 3rd edit. 1844. ‘Extracts’ from Penington's writings have been frequently published in England and America. ‘Selections’ were issued in ‘Barclay's Select Series,’ vol. iv., London, 1837. A manuscript collection of his ‘Works,’ in 4 vols. folio, made by his eldest son, John Penington, is preserved at Devonshire House, Bishopsgate Street, and contains many unpublished letters and addresses.

Isaac's eldest son, John Penington (1655–1710), was born in 1655 in London, and went with his brothers, after Ellwood ceased to be their tutor, to the quaker boarding-school at Waltham Abbey, kept by Christopher Taylor [q. v.] As he grew up he was much in his father's society. From 1676 to 1679 he corresponded in Latin with William Sewel [q. v.], the quaker historian of Amsterdam (The Quarterly Magazine … for … the Society of Friends, 1832, pp. 117–19). On his mother's death in 1682 he inherited her house at Amersham and her property in Kent. He engaged in the controversy with George Keith (1630?–1716) [q. v.], and was summoned by Keith to Turners' Hall, London, on 11 June 1696, when a famous dispute took place with the quakers. He died unmarried on 8 May 1710, and was buried in Jordans burial-ground, Chalfont St. Peter. Besides copying out all his father's works and issuing tracts (1695–7) against Keith, Penington wrote a ‘Complaint’ (1681) in reply to ‘The Christian Quaker’ of William Rogers [q. v.], who had attacked both his father and mother; and when Rogers defended his position in a ‘Sixth part of the Christian Quaker,’ &c. (London, 1681), Penington retorted in ‘Exceptions against Will. Rogers's Cavills,’ London, 4to, 1680. The fourth son, Edward Penington (1667–1711), emigrated to Pennsylvania in November 1698, and married at Burlington, New Jersey, on 16 Nov. 1699, Sarah, daughter of Samuel Jennings, formerly of Coleshill, Buckinghamshire, the governor of New Jersey and a prominent quaker. Through the influence of William Penn, the husband of his step-sister, Penington was appointed in 1700 the second surveyor-general of the province of Pennsylvania. He died in Philadelphia on 11 Nov. 1711, leaving one son, Isaac, from whom the Peningtons of Philadelphia are descended. His writings all attack George Keith (cf. Appleton, Cyclop. American Biog.)

[Works, passim; Mrs. Webb's Penns and Peningtons, 1867; J. Gurney Bevan's Life of Isaac Penington, 1784; Smith's Catalogue, ii. 337–61; Penington's Letters, published by John Barclay, London, 1828; Sewel's Hist. of the Rise, &c., edit. 1834, ii. 132, 135, 285, 422–6; Besse's Sufferings, i. 31, 76, 77; Gough's Hist. of Quakers, ii. 439–47; Ellwood's Autobiography; Letters of Early Friends, 1841, pp. 161, 255, 397; Kelty's Early Days of the Society of Friends, 1840; Lipscomb's Hist. of Buckinghamshire, iii. 240, iv. 587; Foster's Penningtonia; Fox's Journal, ed. 1765, pp. 282, 419, 522; Chalmers's Biogr. Dict. xxiv. 282–5; Summers's Memories of Jordans and the Chalfonts, 1895, passim; Gibbs's Worthies of Buckinghamshire, p. 318; Registers and manuscripts at Devonshire House.]

C. F. S.