Abbildungen der Seite


IT has been frequently observed, that one of the most interesting and instructive employments of an expanded mind, is the contemplation of characters remarkable for their genius and their virtues; and from this cause it is, that the life of Dr. Franklin has been held in such high estimation in the literary world. Whether we regard this great man as a philosopher, a politician, or a moralist, we are equally amused and benefited. In every page we discover incidents to exite our curiosity, knowledge to reward our researches, something to admire, and something to imitate. We trace the course of a life marked in its origin by obscurity, to its advancement as a legislator; we pursue the gradations of genius from a state unaided by scientific tuition, to that of ranking with the first of philosophers; we mark the means and the good fortune, by which an individual emerged from poverty to opulence and fame; and we contemplate an instance of industry, economy, and perseverance, accompanied by inflexible integrity, unostentatious manners, strong talents, and true benevolence of mind, elevating an humble printer to almost the highest pinnacle of human ambition.

But it is not intended here to pronounce an elaborate eulogium on the eminent qualities which distinguished this great man in the various and important scenes in which he was engaged, or to write a splendid panegyric on the extent of his genius or

the benevolence of his heart: it is intended merely to give a sketch of his character, without exaggeration, or prejudice, and containing one good quality, that of plain and simple truth.

The powers of Dr. Franklin's mind were strong and various. There were few subjects of common utility on which he could not comment, and he turned his thoughts to none which he did not improve and illustrate. As a philosopher his merit is universally acknowledged, and Science, while she glories in his discoveries, will record his name in the impartial registers of fame. In solid practical wisdom, which consists in pursuing valuable ends by the most appropriate means, Dr. Franklin has never been surpassed. His cool temper and sound judgment secured him from false views and erroneous expectations; he saw things in their real light, and predicted consequences with almost prophetic accuracy. In all his speculations and pursuits, something beneficial to mankind was ever in contemplation. He justly says of himself, "I have always set a greater value on the character of a doer of good than any other kind of reputation." Of his name, occupation, and origia, he never was ashamed, or attempted to avoid referring to the time when he wrought for daily hire. In a conversation at Paris with Count D'Aranda and the Duke de la Rochefoucault, he replied to an Irish gentleman who asked him some questions concerning the state of the paper manufactory there, "Few men can give you more information on that subject than myself, for I was originally in the printing trade." This acknowledgement was made a few days after Dr. Franklin had been introduced to the French Academy, where D'Alembert on his entering, had welcomed bim with that celebrated line in imitation of Lucian, but, if possible, surpassing him in boldness. of expression and sublimity, as thought.

Eripuit cælo fulmen, sceptrumque tyrannis.

"He snatched fire from heaven, and the sceptre


from tyrants." In France Dr. Franklin was highly esteemed, and even became the fashionable topic of modish conversation; the ladies had hats a-la-Frank❤ lin; and crowds of belles and beaux often fluttered after him in the garden of the Thuilleries. The following letter from Mr. Thomas Jefferson to the late Dr. William Smith, of Philadelphia, is an evi❤ dence of the anxiety which all ranks felt for his welfare, and is extracted from the eulogium on Dr. Franklin, delivered before the American Philosophi❤ cal Society.

I FEEL both the wish and the duty to communicate, in compliance with your request, whatever, within my knowledge, might render justice to the memory of our great countryman, Dr. Franklin, in whom Philosophy has to deplore one of its principal luminaries extinguished. But my opportunities of knowing the interesting facts of his life have not been equal to my desire of making them known.

I can only, therefore, testify in general, that there appeared to me more respect and veneration attached to the character of Dr. Franklin in France, than to that of any other person in the same country, foreign or native. I had opportunities of knowing, particularly, how far these sentiments were felt by the foreign ambassadors and ministers at the court of Versailles. The fable of his capture by the Algerines, propagated by the English newspapers, excited no uneasiness, as it was seen at once to be a dish cooked up to please certain readers; but nothing could exceed the anxiety of his diplomatic brethren on a subsequent report of his death, which, although premature, bore some marks of authenticity.

I found the ministers of France equally impressed with his talents and integrity. The count de Vergennes, particularly, gave me repeated and unequivocal demonstrations of his entire confidence in him.

When he left Passy, it seemed as if the village had lost its patriarch. On taking leave of the court,

which he did by letter, the king ordered him to be bandsomely complimented, and furnished him with a litter and mules of his own, the only kind of conveyance the state of his health could bear.

The succession to Dr. Franklin, at the court of France, was an excellent school of humility to me. On being presented to any one, as the minister of America, the common-place question was, "c'est vous Monsieur, qui remplacez le Docteur Frankling"--is it you, sir, who replace Dr. Franklin? I generally answered" No one can replace him, sir; I am only his successor."

I could here relate a number of those bon mots, with which he was used to charm every society, as having heard many of them; but these are not your object. Particulars of greater dignity happened not to occur, during his stay of nine mouths after my arrival in France.

A little before that time, Argand had invented bis celebrated lamp, in which the flame is spread into a hollow cylinder, and thus brought in contact with the air, within as well as without. Dr. Franklin had been on the point of the same discovery. The idea had occurred to him; but he had tried a bullrush as a wick, which did not succeed. His occupations did not permit him to repeat and extend his trials to the introduction of a larger column of air, than could pass through the stem of a bullrush.

About that time also, the king of France gave bim a signal testimony of respect, by joining him with some of the most illustrious men of the nation to examine that ignis-fatuus of philosophy, the animal magnetism of the maniac, Mesmer; the pretended effects of which had astonished all Paris. From Dr. Franklin's hand, in conjunction with bis brethren of the learned committee, that compound of fraud and folly was unveiled, and received its death-wound. After this nothing very interesting was before the public, either in philosophy or poli

« ZurückWeiter »