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A POSTLIMINIOUS PREFACE.
This edition of the Memoirs and Writings of Dr. Franklin appears under circumstances favourable to a more general distribution in society than any former edition. Its bulk is reduced to two volumes, the price to that of two volumes of the latest preceding edition of 1818; and the additional matter is augmented equal to the contents of a volume more than was contained in that edition.
In the arrangement of the subjects, this varies a little from any of the former editions, and it becomes requisite to explain the present distribution.
Something appears to be necessary, also, in elucidation of other circumstances which appertain to the writings—to the history of the author-and to the matter now added, as well as to some part of the Memoirs, which it is now too evident have been withheld or suppressed. In proportion as those who were his contemporaries retire, the interests and the enmities signally which characterized his career, lose something of their freshness and their asperity. The world generally has assumed new aspects; but, above all, this new world, in whose political creation the author had so large, so early, so long, and so successful a share. He had frequently expressed a wish, that it were possible for him to revisit this life at the end of a century; but were that possible, the world he so effectually aided in creating, would already far exceed in its success the most sanguine calculations of his proverbial sagacity. The editor of the edition published in London, in 1779,
, in his preface said." The times appear not ripe enough for the editor to give expression to the affection, gratitude, and veneration he bears to a writer whom he has so intimately studied: nor is it wanting, as history lies in wait for him, and the judgment of mankind already balances in his favour. Yet he may be excused for stating one opinion; he conceives no man ever made larger or bolder guesses than Dr. Franklin, from the like materials, in politics and philosophy, which, after the scrutiny of events, and the zeal of open hostility, have been more completely verified."
Though the period at which this edition appears approaches to nearly half a century since his demise, the sentiment of the London editor as to the ripeness of public affection, gratitude, and veneration, is not even yet entirely complete. The jealousies of rivals and competitors have ceased; the animosity of partisans of different descriptions has abated; the principles of policy and philosophy which he taught pervade the civilized world; in the minds of those who are interested in human subjection and ignorance, his views and efforts to promote human happiness, and in America particularly, as leading to that universality, was his sinand the enmities so founded survived him many years, and have descended along with prejudices engendered in political and unsocial causes, which the prosperity and success of free governments have not yet entirely neutralized.
History, in its strictest sense, has not yet done justice to Franklin. The editions of his writings which have been hitherto appeared, were not published for his own benefit; several appeared without his privity or consent; and this fact, though at the present time of light moment, has been the source of many misrepresentations and mistakes, and furnished, with other incentives, food for various manifesta
tions of malignity which stand now only as contrasts of the benevolence and liberality of him whom they had been employed to disparage. Some account of the several editions which have at different periods appeared, so far as they have been ascertained, will be pertinent on this occasion. The first edition of Franklin's writings, were compositions of private correspondence, confined at first to philosophical subjects, addressed to Peter Collinson of London. The letters 10 Mr. Collinson were published in octavo by Cave, London, in 1751, and extended only to 86 pages ; the first knowledge of their publication the author obtained by the
copy transmitted to him by his London friend; which identical copy supplies the data of these remarks.
The curious, new, and original ideas contained in those letters excited unusual notice; a new edition was called for in 1754, and a third in 1766, by which time the additional discussions on philosophical subjects extended to 500 pages octavo. Many of these papers were transferred to the pages of the philosophical transactions of the Royal Society, and, on the appearance of another edition in 1769, embraced further new discussions.
In 1776, there was published in London, a volume in octavo, of about 300 pages, of which the revision and publication have been ascribed to Dr. Fothergill, though not alone; the copy transmitted to the author is before the writer, and is peculiarly interesting from the manuscript notes and corrections, made on the margins and blank spaces of the book by Dr. F. This volume, which will be again referred to in this introduction, consists wholly of pieces that relate to politics, such as the often celebrated “ Observations concerning the increase of mankind, peopling of countries,” &c., written in 1751. Of the papers noted in the blank leaf, are found the following items of productions, which have not been yet recovered—“Correspondence with Dean Tucker”-“Britain's application to prohibit arms”—“Defence against Wedderburne”-“ History of Political Life.”
Ten years afterwards—in the critical year 1779—another edition was prepared in London, while the author was minister of the United States at Paris; it was published by Johnson, a bookseller of liberal celebrity at that period : it extended to 674 pages, and was prepared with very great care and an honorable zeal, by Mr. Benjamin Vaughan, who had been a member of the British Parliament. This edition was distributed under five general heads :-I. General Politics II. American Politics before the troubles. III. American Politics during the troubles. IV. Provincial or Colonial Politics. V. Miscellaneous and Political papers, with this epigraph,* remarkable for its significancy, from the then position of the author and the editor, the excited state of mind in England, and the total failure of the British arms.
In 1787, a select octavo volume was published, containing philosophical pieces only.
In 1793, an edition, in two volumes octavo, was published, containing so much of the Memoirs written by himself, as reached to 1731, with a collection of Essays, humorous, moral, and literary.
In 1806, an edition, in three volumes octavo, was published by Johnson, with handsome engraved vignettes, a portrait, and other engravings. The editor is not known, but the preface to that edition excited a sensation which, though it has
* Hominum rerumque repertor.- Virg. n. xii.
subsided in some measure, has left painful impressions; and which it will be proper to quote on this occasion, as the facts belong to history. The advertisement which prefaces the edition of 1606, after noticing preceding editions, thus proceeds:
“We hoped to have been able to add what would have been equally new and more acceptable, a genuine copy of the life of the author, as written by himself; but in this hope we are disappointed, and we are obliged to be content with a translation already before the public, from a copy in the French language, coming down no farther than 1731, and continued by Dr. Huber, of Philadelphia.
“ The character of Dr. Franklin, as a philosopher, a politician, and a moralist, requires no illustration ; his writings, from their interesting nature, and the fascinating simplicity of his style, are too highly esteemed for any apology to be necessary for so large a collection of them, unless it should be deemed necessary by the individual to whom Dr. Franklin, in his will, consigned the manuscripts : and to him our apology will consist in a reference to his own extraordinary, conduct.
“ In bequeathing his papers, it was no doubt the intention of the testator, that the world should have the chance of being benefited by their publication. It was so understood by his grandson, W. T. Franklin, the person in question, who shortly after the death of his great relative, hastened to London, the best mart for literary property, employed an amanuensis for many months in copying, ransacked our public libraries, that nothing might escape, and at length had so far prepared the works of Dr. Franklin for the press, that proposals were made by him to several of our principal booksellers for the sale of them. They were to form three quarto volumes, and were to contain all the writings published and unpublished, with memoirs brought down by himself to 1757, and continued to his death by his legatee. They were to be published in three different languages, and the countries corresponding to those languages, France, Germany, and England, on the same day. The terms asked for the copyright of the English edition were high, amounting to several thousand pounds, which awakened a little demur; but eventually they would no doubt have been obtained. Nothing more, however, was heard of the proposals or the work in this its fair market. The proprietor, it seems, now found a bidder of a different description, in some émissary of the government, whose object it was to prevent the communication to the public of transactions which would reveal mysteries in governmental policy, odious in their nature; and in which it appears they were too successful: the manuscript of those transactions passed from the hands of him to whom they were bequeathed, into those who felt an interest in their suppression, and for what remuneration appears now not likely to be revealed: neither is the precise tenor of the suppressed matter known, as will be perceived in the further progress of this elucidation. These impressions prevailed in England and America for many years, and the silence obstinately maintained from 1806 to 1817, gave additional strength to the prevailing opinion.
“ What the manuscript contained that should have excited the jealousy of the government, is not distinctly known; but from the conspicuous part acted by the author in the whole progress of American affairs, for nearly half a century before the revolution, in its progress, and in the diplomacy and war which grew out of it, it is by no means difficult to conceive ; and of this there can be no dispute, that from Franklin's character, no disposition of his writings could have been more contrary to his intentions or wishes,"
Observations such as these, by the London editor, carry in themselves the evidence of being written by some person intimately conversant with Franklin and his contemporaries, and with the history of the memorable period in which he held a place so pre-eminent. Before proceeding in the regular order proposed for this preface, it may be proper to dispose of the whole of this subject in a connected form, and to exhibit the matter offered in his defence by W. T. Franklin, as well as some facts not before published.
The vicissitudes of the revolution, particularly the occupation of Philadelphia by the British army in 1777, had exposed the papers and the library, which was ample and abundantly curious, and the manuscripts of Dr. Franklin, to dispersion ; the family of Dr. F., after the peace, had not been successful in collecting much of the dispersed matter; and to a certainty much is still unrecovered; the fragments of the library which remained in America was most remarkably neglected, and unappreciated; in 1805, the remains of what had been unappropriated by the legatee, were thrown, like lumber, into the hands of a foreign bookseller, to be disposed of among the mass of second-hand books; some few parcels were caught at by curious and studious individuals, and a few transferred with a niggardly and shabby parsimony to some libraries which should have taken means to secure the whole-for there were no books collected by Franklin which had not some peculiar value in relation to universal knowledge.
From fragments then snatched from oblivion, and other sources, not necessary to specify, an improved edition was undertaken in Philadelphia, in 1817, intended to embrace all that had been then collected, or that could be procured through a special application to men who had partaken in the transactions of the preceding half century, in Europe and America. Then it was that Mr. Temple Franklin reappeared in London, with a prospectus for the publication of the whole of his grandfather's writings. As the Philadelphia editor possessed much matter which was not in W. T. Franklin's possession, an arrangement was made for a consentaneous publication of all that was possessed by both, at the same time in London and Philadelphia. The London publication was in quarto, with an edition in octavo; that of Philadelphia in six volumes octavo, all of which, with much not published in any former edition, is comprehended in the two volumes which form the present edition.
On the publication in London, W. T. Franklin came forth with a preface, in which, for the first time, the imputations on his good faith were noticed and replied to, which preface also appeared in the Philadelphia edition. It forms a necessary part of the history of Dr. Franklin, and requires to be given in the very terms of the person implicated. It is as follows:
“ PREFACE.-By W. T. Franklin. An apology for presenting to the republic of letters, the authentic Memoirs of Benjamin Franklin, illustrative of his life and times, written almost entirely with his own hand, would be at once superfluous and disrespectful. If any observation be at all requisite, in the shape of explanation, it must be in answer to the inquiry, why such interesting documents have been so long withheld from the public view ? In this the editor has no hesitation in replying, that were he conscious of having neglected a solemn trust, by disobeying a positive injunction; or could he be convinced, that the world had sustained any real injury by the delay of the publication, he certainly should take shame to himself for not having sooner committed to the press what, at an earlier period, would have been much more to his pecuniary advantage. But aware, as he is, of the deference due to the general feeling of admiration for the illustrious dead, he is no less sensible that there are times and seasons when prudence imposes the restriction of silence in the gratification of the most laudable curiosity.
“ It was the lot of this distinguished character, above most men, to move in the prominent parts of his active life, within a sphere agitated to no ordinary degree of heat by the inflammatory passions of political fury; and he had scarcely seated himself in the shade of repose, from the turmoil of public employment, when another revolution burst forth, with far more tremendous violence; during the progress of which his name was adduced by anarchists as a sanction for their practices, and his authority quoted by dreaming theorists in support of their visionary projects. Whether, therefore, the publication of his Memoirs and other papers, amidst such a scene of perturbation, would have been conducive to the desirable ends of peace, may be a matter of question ; but at all events the sober and inquisitive part of mankind can have no cause to regret the impression of what might have happened from the perverted talents of designing partisans and infuriated zealots. It may fairly be observed, that the writings of Dr. Franklin are calculated to serve a far more important purpose than that of ministering to the views of party, and keeping alive national dissensions, which, however necessitated by circumstances, ought to cease with the occasion, and yield to the
spirit of philanthropy. Even amidst the din of war and the contention of facItion, it was the constant aim of this excellent man to promote a conciliatory dis
position, and to correct the acerbity of controversy. Though no one could feel more sensibly for the wrongs of his country, or have more enlarged ideas on the subject of general liberty, his powerful efforts to redress the one and extend the other were always connected with the paramount object of social improvement, in the recommendation of those habits which tend most effectually to unite men together in the bonds of amity. Happening, however, himself to live in a turbulent period, and called upon to take a leading part in those scenes which produced a new empire in the western world; much of his later memoirs and correspondence will be found to exhibit his undisguised thoughts upon the public men and occurrences of his day. These sketches, anecdotes, and reflections, will now be read by men of opposite sentiments without awakening painful recollections, or rekindling the dying embers of animosity; while the historian and the moralist may learn from them the secret springs of public events, and the folly of being carried away by political prejudices. While, therefore, some contracted minds in different countries
querulously disposed to censure the delay that has taken place in the publication of these posthumous papers, it is presumed that the more considerate and liberal, on either side of the Atlantic, will approve of the motives which have operated for the procrastination, even though the period has so far exceeded the nonum prematur annum assigned by Horace, the oldest and best of critics, for the appearance of a finished performance.
“The editor, in offering this justificatory plea to the public, and taking credit for having exercised so much discretion as to keep these relics in his private custody till the return of halcyon days and a brightened horizon, when their true value might be best appreciated, feels that he has discharged his duty in that manner