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the twenty-eighth volume of the Edinburgh Review, will be echoed by every discerning person who is familiar with the life and works of Benjamin Franklin :
" The distinguishing feature of his understanding was great soundness and sagacity, combined with extraordinary quickness of penetration. He possessed also a strong and lively imagination, which gave his speculations, as well as his conduct, a singularly original turn. The peculiar charm of his writings, and his great merit also in action, consisted in the clearness with which he saw his object, and the bold and steady pursuit of it, by the surest and shortest road. He never suffered himself in conduct to be turned aside by the seductions of interest or vanity, or to be scared by hesitation or fear, or to be mislead by the arts of his adversaries. Neither did he in discussion ever go out of his way in search of ornament, or stop short from dread of the consequences. He never could be caught, in short, acting absurdly, or writing nonsensically: at all times, and in every thing he undertook, the vigour of an understanding, at once original and practical, was distinctly perceiveable.
“But it must not be supposed that his writings are devoid of ornament or amusement. The latter especially abounds in almost all he ever composed; only nothing is sacrificed to them. On the contrary, they come most naturally into their places, and they uniformly help on the purpose in hand, of which neither writer nor reader ever loses sight for an instant. Thus, his style has all the vigour and even conciseness of Swift, without any of his harshness. It is in no degree more flowery, yet both elegant and lively. The wit, or rather the humour, which prevails in his works varies with the subject. Sometimes he is bitter and sarcastic ; oftener gay, and even droll ; reminding us, in this respect, far more frequently of Addison than of Swift, as might be naturally expected from his admirable temper, and the happy turn of his imagination. When he rises into vehemence or severity, it is only when his country, or the rights of men are attacked, or when the sacred ties of humanity are violated by unfeeling or insane rulers. There is nothing more delightful than the constancy with which those amiable feelings--those sound principles--those truly profound views of human affairs, make their appearance at every opportunity, whether the immediate subject be speculative or practical, -of a political, or of a more general description. It is refreshing to find such a mind as Franklin's--worthy of a place near to Newton and to Washington-filled with those pure and exalted sentiments of concern for the happiness of mankind, which the
petty wits of our times amuse themselves with laughing at, and their more cunning and calculating employers seek by every means to discourage, sometimes by ridicule, sometimes by invective.
“ The benevolent cast of his disposition was far from confining itself to those sublimer views. From earnest wishes, and active, vigorous exertions for the prosperity of the species, he descended perpetually to acts of particular kindness. He seems to have felt an unwearied satisfaction in affording assistance, instruction, or amusement to all who stood in need of it. His letters are full of passages which bear testimony to this amiable solicitude for the happiness of his fellow-creatures individually ; it seems the chief cause of his writing in most cases ; and if he ever deviates from his habit of keeping out all superfluous matter, whatever be the subject, it is when he seems tempted to give some extra piece of knowledge or entertainment. So, if ever the serene and well-natured cast of his temper appears ruffled by anger, or even soured for the moment, it is when some enormities have been committed which offend against the highest principles he professes.
“ If the example of this eminent person may well teach respect for philanthrophic sentiments to one set of scoffers, it may equally impress upon the minds of another class the important lesson, that veneration for religion is quite compatible with a sound practical understanding. Franklin was a man of a truly pious turn of mind. The great truths of natural theology were not only deeply engraven on his mind, but constantly present to his thoughts. As far as can be collected from his writiugs, he appears to have been a Christian of the Unitarian school; but if his own faith had not gone so far, he at least would greatly have respected the religion of his country and its professors, and done every thing to encourage its propagation, as infinitely beneficial to mankind, even if doubts had existed in his own mind as to some of its fundamental doctrines.
“It is not, indeed, in set dissertations alone that we are to look for the evidence of his sincere and habitual piety. Feelings of a devotional cast every where break forth. The ideas connected with this lofty matter, seem always to have occupied his mind. He is to the full as habitually a warm advocate of religion, as he is a friend of liberty. The power, the wisdom, and the beneficence of the Deity, are as much in his Thoughts as the happiness and rights of mankind.”
Franklin left behind him, amongst his numerous papers, one which was designated by him “ Articles of Religion," wherein there is a form of
daily prayer, adoration, and thanksgiving. In this formula and sort of liturgy, he lays it down as a rule that, after offering up his humble tribute of gratitude to the Almighty, he should spend a few minutes in serious silence, and then sing Milton's hymn to the Creator, which begins with these well-known lines :
“ These are thy glorious works, Parent of Good !
Thus wondrous fair! Thyself how wondrous then !" Still, after all this eulogy and exactness of appreciation, it is not to be denied that much discountenance of the claims of Dr. Franklin has been occasioned by the latitude of his opinions in regard to religion. The truth seems to be, that he tried creeds upon the same close and pecu-liar principle of utility, and as respects the present life alone, with which he tried every thing else; and this is a test which the doctrines and mysteries of Christianity do not seem intended or formed to encounter; or rather, there are far higher and more enduring aims contemplated and destined to be realized by all those who are the humble and faithful followers of the founder of that Divine system. To minds constructed like that of our philosopher, mystery appears to be utterly repugnant, and scepticism is their refuge in point of opinion and belief; while, on the score of utility, some mongrel system is apt to be adopted, which promises to afford the necessary sanction to that sound morality which is, or ought to be, reared and sustained by religion. Franklin seems to have virtually acted upon something like the principle which has found cordial favour by a sect of philosophers or freethinkers in France,--that a religious sentiment is inherent in man, and so that it be sufficiently developed to be restrictive upon vice, the form of worship and system of faith in which it displays itself is of the slightest possible importance. This, however, after all, is but a cold, indistinct, and indefinite enunciation,--full of sound, with a pretension to sense, but practically altogether insufficient, more especially in the case of people whose hearts are less single and pure, and whose understandings are less vigorous and clear, than Franklin's.
But look even to this eminent and accomplished man-one endowed with great natural powers, improved, cultivated, and drilled with almost superhuman industry and perseverance,-attend to his project of arriving at moral perfection, by endeavouring to abide by a systematic method, as described in an early part of this life, when speaking of his little book,
with its columns, lines, and black spots. Even, according to his own registry, there is for one week some fourteen entries against him. Now, this number, or any smaller amount of transgression, necessarily inculpated bim in the sight of God; so that supposing he never had or did commit another offence,--suppose that he exerted a perfect insight into his conduct, both as respected omissions and commissions, and also as related to his duties to God, to man, and to himself-how, we ask, was any course or number of acts of perfect obedience, on his part, ever able to atone for such transgressions ? The law of God is perfect, exacting perfect obedience; nor can any man ever do more than his duty in any given case. Alas! then, how lamentable is it that we do not find Benjamin Franklin once distinctly throwing himself upon the immaculate propitiator who died that man might have life eternal, and whose merits atone for the deepest guilt.
One of the editors of Franklin's memoirs says of him, that " in every character, whether as a private individual or a public diplomatist, as a philosophical inquirer, or the legislator of an enlightened nation, he constantly proved throughout his long and eventful career, that he estimated his extraordinary talents of no higher value, than as enabling him to promote, as far as in him lay, the happiness of mankind.” Every person at all conversant with the history of this distinguished man, must echo the sentiment. Oh! that we had another authentic chapter, wherein to be assured that he soared higher, and that his loftiest aims related to fallen man's everlasting felicity and acceptance with God, through the redemption and advocacy of Jesus Christ the righteous.
The practice of frugality and industry which Dr. Franklin pursued throughout his career, and the success which attended his efforts, placed him in a condition of considerable affluence in his later years; and this wealth enabled him to assist in alleviating individual distress, and also in furthering public improvements of which he was an unceasing promoter. That, in his latest thoughts, he consulted the public benefit with a peculiar anxiety, is testified by the tenour of his last will and testament, from which we extract the following remarkable and characteristic passages :
“It has been an opinion, that he who receives an estate from his ancestors, is under some obligation to transmit the same to posterity. This obligation lies not on me, who never inherited a shilling from any ancestor or relation. I shall, however, if it is not diminished by some accident before my death, leave a considerable estate among my descen
dants and relations. The above observation is made merely as some apology to my family, for making bequests that do not appear to have any immediate relation to their advantage.
“I was born in Boston, New England, and owe my first instructions in literature to the free grammar schools established there. I have therefore considered those schools in my will.
“But I am also under obligations to the state of Massachusetts for having, unasked, appointed me formerly their agent, with a handsome salary, which continued some years; and although I accidentally lost in their service much more than the amount of what they gave me, I do not think that ought in the least to diminish my gratitude. I have considered that among artizans, good apprentices are most likely to make good citizens; and having myself been bred to a manual art (printing) in my native town, and afterwards assisted to set up my business in Philadelphia by kind loans of money from two friends there, which was the foundation of my fortune, and of all the utility in life that may be ascribed to me, I wish to be useful even after my death, it possible, in forming and advancing other young men, that may be serviceable to their country in both these towns.
“ To this end I devote two thousands pounds sterling, which I give, one thousand thereof to the inhabitants of the town of Boston, in Massachusetts, and the other thousand to the inhabitants of the city of Philadelphia, in trust to, and for, the uses, intents, and purposes, hereinafter mentioned and declared.
“ The said sum of one thousand pounds sterling, if accepted by the inhabitants of the town of Boston, shall be managed under the direction of the select men, united with the ministers of the oldest episcopalian, congregational, and Presbyterian churches in that town, who are to let out the same upon interest, at 5 per cent. per annum, to such young married artificers, under the age of twenty-five years, as have served an apprenticeship in the said town, and fait ully fulfilled the duties required in their indentures, so as to obtain a good moral character from at least two respectable citizens, who are willing to become sureties in a bond, with the applicants for the repayment of the money so lent, with interest, according to the terms hereinafter prescribed--all which bonds are to be taken for Spanish milled dollars, or the value thereof in current gold coin; and the manager shall keep a bound book or books, wherein shall be entered the names of those who shall apply for and receive the benefit of this institution, and of their sureties, toge