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MY DEAR SON,
I HAVE amused myself with collecting some little anecdotes of my family. You may remember the inquiries I made, when you were with me in England, among such of my relations as were then living; and the journey I undertook for that purpose. To be acquainted with the particulars of my parentage and life, many of which are unknown to you, I flatter my. self will afford the same pleasure to you as to me. I shall relate them upon paper: it will be an agreeable employment of a week's uninterrupted leisure, which I promise myself during my present retirement in the country. There are also other motives which induce me to the undertaking. From the bosom of poverty and obscurity, in which I drew my first breath, and spent my earliest years, I have raised myself to a state of opulence and to some degree of celebrity in the world. A constant good fortune has attended me through every period of life to my present advanced age; and my descendants may be desirous of learning what were the means of which I made use, and which, thanks to the assisting hand of Providence, have proved so eminently successful. They may, also, should they ever be placed in a similar situation, derive some advantage from my narrative.
When I reflect, as I frequently do, upon the felicity I have enjoyed, I sometimes say to myself, that were the offer made true, I would engage to run again, from beginning to end, the same career of life. All I would ask, should be the privilege of an author, to correct, in a second edition, certain errors of the first. I could wish, likewise, if it were in my power, to change some trivial incidents and events for others more favourable. Were this, however, denied me, still would I not decline the offer. But since a repetition of life cannot take place, there is nothing which, in my opinion, so nearly resembles it, as to call to mind all its circumstances, and, to render their remembrance more durable, commit them to writing. By thus employing myself, I shall yield to the inclination, so natural in old men, to talk of themselves and their exploits, and may freely follow my bent, without being tiresome to those who, from respect to my age, might think themselves obliged to listen to me; as they will be at liberty to read me or not as they please. In fineand I may as well avow it, since nobody would believe me were I to deny it-I shall, perhaps, by this employment, gratify my vanity. Scarcely, indeed, have I ever heard or read the introductory phrase, "I may say without vanity," but some striking and characteristic instance of vanity has immediately followed. The generality of men hate vanity in others, however strongly they may be tinctured with it themselves for myself, I pay obeisance to it wherever I meet with it, persuaded that it is advantageous, as well to the individual whom it governs, as to those who are within the sphere of its influence. Of consequence, it would, in many cases, not be wholly absurd, that a man should count his vanity among the other sweets of life, and give thanks to Providence for the blessing.
And here let me with all humility acknowledge, that to Divine Providence I am indebted for the felicity I
have hitherto enjoyed. It is that power alone which has furnished me with the means I have employed, and that has crowned them with success. My faith, in this respect, leads me to hope, though I cannot count upon it, that the Divine goodness will still be exercised towards me, either by prolonging the duration of my happiness to the close of life, or by giving me fortitude to support any melancholy reverse, which may happen to me, as to so many others. My future fortune is unknown but to Him in whose hand is our destiny, and who can make our very afflictions subservient to our benefit.
One of my uncles, desirous, like myself, of collecting anecdotes of our family, gave me some notes from which I have derived many particulars respecting our ancestors. From these I learn that they had lived in the same village (Eaton in Northamptonshire), upon a freehold of about thirty acres, for the space at least of three hundred years. How long they had resided there, prior to that period, my uncle had been unable to discover; probably ever since the institution of surnames, when they took the appellation of Franklin, which had formerly been the name of a particular order of individuals.*
This petty estate would not have sufficed for their subsistence, had they not added the trade of black
*As a proof that Franklin was anciently the common name of an order or rank in England, see Judge Fortesque, De laudibus legum Anglia, written about the year 1412, in which is the following passage, to show that good juries might easily be formed in any part of England:
"Regio etiam illa, ita respersa refertaque est possessoribus terrarum et agrorum, quod in ea, villula tam parva reperiri non poterit, in qua non est est miles, armiger, vel pater-familias, qualis ibidem franklin vulgariter nuncupatur, magnisditatus possessionibus, nec non libere tenentes et alii valecti plurimi, suis patrimoniis sufficientes, ad faciendum juratam, in forma prænotata."
“Moreover, the same country is so filled and replenished with landed menne, that therein so small a thorpe cannot be found wherein dwelleth not a knight, an esquire, or such a
smith, which was perpetuated in the family down to my uncle's time, the eldest son having been uniformly brought up to this employment: a custom which both he and my father observed with respect to their eldest
In the researches I made at Eaton, I found no account of their births, marriages, and deaths, earlier than the year 1555, the parish register not extending farther back than that period. This register informed me, that I was the youngest son of the youngest branch of the family, counting five generations. My grandfather, Thomas, was born in 1598, lived at Eaton till he was too old to continue his trade, when he retired to Banbury, in Oxfordshire, where his son John, who was a dyer, resided, and with whom my father was apprenticed. He died, and was buried there: we saw his monument in 1758. His eldest son lived in the family house at Eaton, which he bequeathed, with the land belonging to it, to his only daughter; who, in concert with her husband, Mr. Fisher of Wellingborough, afterwards sold it to Mr. Estead, the present proprietor.
My grandfather had four surviving sons, Thomas, John, Benjamin, and Josias. I shall give you such particulars of them as my memory will furnish, not having my papers here, in which you will find a more minute account, if they are not lost during my absence.
Thomas had learned the trade of a blacksmith under householder as is there commonly called a franklin, enriched with great possessions; and also other freeholders and many yeomen, able for their livelihood to make a jury in form aforementioned."
Chaucer too calls his country gentleman a franklin; and, after describing his good housekeeping, thus characterises him; This worthy franklin bore a purse of silk Fix'd to his girdle, white as morning milk; Knight of the shire, first justice at the assize, To help the poor, the doubtful to advise. In all employments, generous, just he proved, Renown' for courtesy, by all beloved.