Abbildungen der Seite

Dr. John Jones, an eminent physician of Philadelphia, who wrote the following account of his last illness and death :

“The stone, with which he had been afflicted for several years, had confined him chiefly to his bed ; and during the extreme painful paroxysms, he was obliged to take large doses of laudanum to mitigate his tortures, --still, in the intervals of pain, he not only amused himself with reading and conversing cheerfully with his family, and a few friends who visited him, but he was often employed in doing business of a pub

[graphic][ocr errors]

lic as well as private nature, with various persons who waited on him for that purpose; and in every instance displayed not only that readiness and disposition to do good, which was the distinguishing characteristic of his life, but the fullest and clearest possession of his uncommon meutal abilities; and not unfrequently indulged himself in those jeux d'esprit

and entertaining anecdotes, which were the delight of all who heard him.

“ About sixteen days before his death, he was seized with a feverish indisposition, without any particular symptoms attending it, till the third or fourth day, when he complained of a pain in the left breast, which increased till it became extremely acute, attended with a cough and laborious breathing. During this state, when the severity of his pains sometimes drew forth a groan of complaint, he would observe, that he was afraid he did not bear them as he ought,-acknowledged his grateful sense of the many blessings he had received from that Supreme Being, who had raised him from small and low beginnings to such high rank and consideration among men,--and made no doubt but his present afflictions were kindly intended to wean him from a world in which he was no longer fit to act the part assigned him. In this frame of body and mind he continued till five days before his death, when his pain and difficulty of breathing entirely left him, and his family were flattering themselves with the hopes of his recovery; but an imposthume which had formed in his lungs suddenly burst, and discharged a quantity of matter, which he continued to throw up while he had power; but as that failed, the organs of respiration became gradually oppressed ; a calm lethargic state succeeded ; and on the 17th instant (April, 1790), about eleven o'clock at night, he quietly expired, closing a long and useful life of eighty-four years and three months.”

“ His conversation with his family,” says one who had access to the facts, “upon the subject of his dissolution, was free and cheerful. A few days before he died, he rose from his bed, and begged that it might be made for him, so that he might die in a decent manner. His daughter told him that she hoped he would recover, and live many years longer. He calmly replied, I hope not. Upon being advised to change his position in bed that he inight breathe easy, he said, a dying man can do nothing easy.

A similar philosophy and cheerful resignation characterize many of Franklin's letters writien in his old age. Several of these were to Mr. Whatley expressive of all that unbroken contentment, philosophy, and activity, which distinguished the compositions of his earlier years. The following are examples :

“ You are now 78 and I am 82. You tread fast upon my heels : but, though you have more strength and spirit, you cannot come up with me till I stop, which must now be soon; for I am grown so old as to have

buried most of the friends of my youth; and I now often bear persons, whom I knew when children, called old Mr. Such-a-one, to distinguish them from their sons, now men grown, and in business ; so that by living twelve years beyond David's period, I seem to have intruded myself into the company of posterity when I ought to have been a-bed and asleep. Yet had I gone at 70 it would have cut off twelve of the most active years of my life, employed, too, in matters of the greatest importance; but whether I have been doing good or mischief, is for time to discover. I only know that I intended well, and I hope all will end well.

"Be so good as to present my affectionate respects to Dr. Rowley. I am under great obligations to him, and shall write to him shortly. It will be a pleasure to him to hear that my malady does not grow sensibly worse, and that is a great point ; for it has always been so tolerable as not to prevent me enjoying the pleasures of society, and being cheerful in conversation. I owe this in a great measure to his good counsels.” Again

“Your eyes must continue very good since you are able to write so small a hand without spectacles. I cannot distinguish a letter even of large print, but am happy in the invention of double spectacles, which, serving for distant objects as well as near ones, make my eyes as useful to me as ever they were. If all the defects and infirmities of old age could be as easily and cheaply remedied, it would be worth while, my friend, to live a good deal longer. But I look upon death to be as necessary to our constitutions as sleep. We shall rise refreshed in the morning.--Adieu, and believe me, &c.”

The following are extracts from a letter written by Mrs. Mary Hewson to Mr. Viny, one of Dr. Franklin's early friends in England :

“We have lost that valued, that venerable kind friend whose knowledge enlightened our minds, and whose philanthophy revived our hearts. But we have the consolation to think, that, if a life well spent in acts of universal benevolence to mankind, a grateful acknowledgment of Divine favour, a patient submission under severe chastisement, and a humble trust in Almighty mercy, can insure the happiness of a future state, our present loss is his gain. I was the faithful witness of the closing scene, which he sustained with that calm fortitude which characterized him through life. No repining, no peevish explanations ever escaped him, during a confinement of two years, in which, I believe, if every moment of ease could be added together the sum would not amount to two whole.

months. When the pain was not too violent to be amused, he employed himself with his book, his pen, or in conversation with his friends; and upon every occasion displayed the clearness of his intellect and the cheerfulness of his temper. Even when the intervals from pain were so short that his words were frequently interrupted, I have known him to hold a discourse in a sublime strain of piety. I say this to you because I know that it will give you pleasure.

I never shall forget one day that I passed with our friend last sumraer. I found him in bed in great agony ; but when that agony abated a little, I asked him if I should read to him. He said, yes; and the first book I met with was Johnson's ' Lives of the Poets. I read the Life of Watts, who was a favourite author with Dr. Franklin; and, instead of lulling him to sleep, it roused him to a display of the powers of his memory and his reason. He repeated several of Watt's Lyric Poems, and descanted on their sublimity in a strain worthy of them and of their pious author. It is natural for us to wish that an attention to some ceremonies had accompanied that religion of the heart, which I am convinced Dr. Franklin always possessed; but let us, who feel the benefit of them, continue to practice them, without thinking light of that piety, which could support pain without a murmur, and meet death without terror."

The funeral solemnities took place on the 21st of April. It was computed that more than twenty thousand people assembled. All the bells of the city were muffled and tolled ; the flags of the vessels in the harbour were raised half-mast high; and discharges of artillery announced the time when the body was laid in the earth. Franklin was interred by the side of his wife, in the cemetery of Christ's Church, Philadelphia. A plain marble slab covers the two graves, according to a direction in his will, with no other inscription than their names and the dates of their decease.

When the news of his death reached Congress, then sitting at New York, a resolution was moved by Mr. Madison, and unanimously adopted—that the members should wear the customary badge of mourning for one month, “ as a mark of veneration due to the memory of a citizen, whose native genius was not more an ornament to human nature than it had been precious to science, to freedom, and to his country.” Throughout the American States the deepest regret prevailed ; and many were the marks of respect for his character and of gratitude for his services which were manifested throughout the Union. Nor were such

honours confined to his own country. By a decree of the National Assembly of France, introduced by an eloquent speech from Mirabeau, and seconded by Lafayette and La Rochefoucauld, the members of that body wore a badge of mourning for three days, and the president wrote a letter of condolence to the Congress of the United States. A public celebration was ordered by the commune of Paris, which was attended by a large concourse of public officers and citizens, and an eulogy was pronounced by the Abbé Fauchet.

The lapse of more than half a century has not effaced the memory of Franklin. On the contrary, his reputation has rather increased and spread, --so that he seems to stand out with more prominence, boldness, and imperishable distinctness than ever,----a noble monument of moral and intellectual greatness. As furnishing an example to the young, as an instance of how much good may be done by one enterprising and welldirected mind, and also of the comparative uselessness of learning and laborious accomplishment, his life is invaluable. Without pretending to the character of a scholar or a man of science, he has extended the bounds of human knowledge on a variety of subjects, which scholars and men of science had previously investigated without success. We would not be understood to say anything in desparagement of scholarship or science; but the value of these instruments is apt to be overrated by their possessors ; and it is a wholesome mortification to show them that the work may be done without such instruments.

“ The whole tenour of Dr. Franklin's existence,” justly observes one of his friends, was a perpetual lecture against the idle, the extravagant, and the proud. It was his principal aim to inspire mankind with a love of industry, temperance, and frugality; and to inculcate such duties as promote the important interests of humanity. He never wasted a moment of his hours, or lavished a farthing of money in folly or dissipation. By a judicious division of time he acquired the art of doing every thing to advantage, and his amusements were of such a nature, as could never militate with the main objects of his pursuit. In whatever situation he was placed by chance or design, he extricated something useful for himself and others. Every circumstance of his life turned to some valuable account. The maxims which his discerning mind has formed, apply to innumerable cases and characters; and those who move in the lowest, equally with those who move in the most elevated rank of society, may be guided by his instructions."

The following observations, by an eminent critic, which appeared in

« ZurückWeiter »