Abbildungen der Seite
[ocr errors]

wipe out with a wet sponge. After awhile I went through one course only in a year; and afterwards only one in several years, till at length I omitted thom entirely, being employed in voyages and business abroad, with a multiplicity of affairs that interfered, but I always carried my little book with me."

He once proposed to have enlarged the scheme with a book containing comments on each precept, to be called the “ Art of Virtue,'' but never completed the design. He tells us, however, that his leading moral doctrine would have been, that vice is not hurtful because it is forbidden, but forbidden because it is hurtful. His basis of morality was therefore self-interest. The great question here relative to Franklin is, whether he had eyes and heart to contemplate that interest in a sufficiently elevated point of view.

In his scheme, Order, he tells us, gave him the most trouble ; that, in truth, he found himself incorrigible with respect to this virtue. His faults here vexed him so much, and he made so little progress in amendment, that he was almost ready to give up the attempt, and content himself with being a faulty character in that respect. “Like the man, observes he, “who, in buying an axe of a smith, my neighbour, desired to have the whole of its surface as bright as the edge; the smith consented to grind it bright for him, if he would turn the wheel ; he turned, while the smith pressed the broad face of the axe hard and heavily on the stone, which made the turning of it very fatiguing. The man came every now and then from the wheel to see how the work went on; and at length would take the axe as it was, without further grinding. "No," said the smith, “turn on, turn on, we shall have it bright by and bye; as yet it is only speckled.''Yes,' said the man, but I think I like the speokled axe best.' Franklin often felt inclined to give up the struggle with respect to perfect order, and to conclude that a speckled axe is best."

In 1732, he published his Almanack, which was continued about twenty-five years under the name of “ Richard Saunders,” and commonly called “Poor RICHARD'S ALMANACK.”

The work was replete with useful information, and particularly suited to the thin and rising population of the colonies. 'it soon came into general demand, and Franklin vended annrally ten thousand copies. In his own precise and clever way, he filled all the spaces that occurred between the remarkable days in the Calendar with proverbial sentences, including particularly honesty and frugality, adapted to the circum

stances of all readers. " It is hard for an empty sack to stand upright,” was one of these proverbs. “ God helps them that help themselves," "He that lives upon hope will die fasting,”-“ At the working man's door, hunger looks in, but dares not enter," were others. In the Almanack of 1757, he brought all these scattered counsels together, and formed them into a connected discourse, as the harangue of a wise old man to the people attending an auction, and entitled them “ The Way to Wealth." This piece has been printed in all the principal languages of Europe, in a varietv of forms. Nothing of a more characteristic nature has proceeded from the author's pen,

In the conduct of his newspaper, as a vehicle of public instruction, Franklin acted with his usual good sense and promptitude; as far as it was compatible with the free discussion of public measures, he carefully excluded personal attacks. To the pleas of some zealots, for a different course, his reply was curious. “They would urge,” he says, "the liberty of the press, and that a newspaper, like a stage-coach, should afford a place to all who would pay for it.” His answer was," that he would furnish copies of the objectionable pieces for the private distribution of the parties; thus preserving their good will,--but uot intrude on his subscribers what might be private scandal, or might be deemed so." His selections from the Spectator and other works of practical interest were very attractive to readers of such limited education and means of knowledge as surrounded him ; while his own original contributions evinced the rapid growth of his intellectual and literary powers. He particularizes a Socratic dialoguo, and a discourse on selfdenial as amongst his most successful essays. The subjects were characteristic of the writer; the former being designed to prove, that no vicious man could be, strictly, a man of sense; and the other, that virtue is not secure until its practice becomes habitual, and free from the dominion of contrary desires.

He was a strenuous advocate for women of the middle classes being taught the practice of reading, writing, and accounts, in preference to music, dancing, and other genteel accomplishments. Of the importance of this substitution, he supplies an instance from his own observation and immediate cognizance. A journeyman of his was sent by him to Charleston, Carolina, where a printer was much wanted, provided with a press, type, &c., on an agreement of partnership, according to to which Franklin was to have one-third of the final profits of the trade. He was a well-educated young man, but ignorant of accounts,

and while he lived, they were never regularly remitted ; but at his death, his wife,---educated in Holland,-gave the clearest statement of all the past transactions he had ever managed, and conducted the business afterwards with the greatest punctuality, and with remarkable success ; so that after bringing up a large family respectably, she was at length able to buy the printing-house for her son.

In 1733, Franklin began to turn his attention to the acquirement of languages, and became familiar with the French, Italian, and Spanish successively. From these he proceeded to regain and extend his knowledge of Latin, in which he never had more than one year's instruction, in the early part of life. Here, the unexpected facility which he derived from his acquaintance with the European tongues, led him to suspect that boys are wrongly put to Latin first. It is, he says, as if we were placed on the top of a flight of stairs at once, for the sake of walking down them easily; whereas if we begin at the lower, we shall most easily reach the top. Franklin, however, seems to have argued too precisely and positively from his own peculiar case in this instance.


AMuence, never better deserved, was now poured upon the aspiring printer ; when, having been ten years absent from Boston, he made a second journey to visit his relations. He called at Newport, on his return to see his brother James, who had removed thither with his printing-office; and their meeting was cordial, all former differences having been forgotten. His brother being in a declining state of health, requested him to take under his charge a son, and bring him up to the printing business; a kindness which Benjamin nobly considered to have been a matter of some "justice” to his brother, in recompense for the disadvantage James sustained from his leaving his service, so abruptly as already narrated.

In 1736, our philosopher was unanimously chosen clerk of the Pensylvanian Assembly. This, though a subordinate political post, introduced him to the public business of the colonies in its most important forms, as well as to the personal acquaintance of all the members of the house ; and, by securing him the public printing and other business, was in every way subservient to his advancement.

His re-election in 1737 being opposed by a new member of some consequence,-though ultimately carried, is the occasion of furnishing one

of Franklin's characteristic recipes for conciliating an honest and powerfal opponent. The gentleman in question, like the aspiring printer, collected books; and the latter hearing that he possessed a scarce and curious volume, politely requested the loan of it for a few days. It was sent immediately, and Franklin returned it in a week, with another note, expressing his obligation to the owner ; who, when they resumed their respective posts in the assembly, noticed Mr. Franklin very politely, a thing he had never done before, ever afterwards acting as his friend. “ He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged,” is the sentiment to which allusion is made.

Bradford, Franklin's competitor in the publication of a newspaper, being deprived of his office of deputy postmaster at Philadelphia in 1737, Colonel Spottiswood, the postmaster general, gave the appointment to the latter, who readily availed himself of its advantages for facilitating the circulation of his newspaper, and improving his connexions throughout the province.

Shortly afterwards, Lis easy circumstances, combined with his influ. ence in the Concentric Clubs which he had contrived to originate as the offspring of the Junto, induced him to propose certain public improvements, the consequence of which will be felt in Philadelphia to remote ages. The most important of his early measures of this kind, was the establishment of a fire company. His plans were directed rather to the prevention of awful calamity--than to any scheme of insurance against actual loss. By such means as he suggested, Philadelphia became remarkable for its general security from fire.

In 1739, George Whitfield returned to Georgia from England, having previously made a considerable impression in the Transatlantic continent in favour of his orphan-house in that state. Objections existed in America to his peculiar strain of preaching, as well as in bis native country. Pranklin, however, was not to be deterred by the example of the great or the interested ; and though never himself a powerful speaker, he seems throughout life to have duly appreciated good oratory. He decidedly ranks Whitfield among the most efficient public speakers with whom he ever came in contact; he regularly attended him to the fields, to which the preacher was driven, and amused himself with observing his progressive influence, and the number of his hearers. It was a matter of speculation to our philosopher, he tells us, to note the extraordinary power he had on his audience, and how much they admired

and respected him notwithstanding his common abuse of them, by assuring them they were naturally " half beasts and half devils." Franklin, however, testifies that the revolution effected on the public mind at Philadelphia was as unquestionable as it was creditable to the individual who was the cause of the reformation. Sometimes Whitfield gathered a vast congregation in the streets; and our philosopher on one of these occasions was at the pains of ascertaining the possible radius of a semicircle throughout which he could be distinctly heard. Accordingly he found that the orator's voice would reach the outskirt of an area that might accommodate more than thirty thousand auditors, allowing two square feet for each person. Franklin particularly admired the ciearness of his articulation and the energy of his manner; and exhibited in his own conduct a fair instance of Whitfield's success as an advocate for works of charity. He had advised the orator to build his orphan-house at Philadelphia rather than in the state of Georgia, as it would be much easier to transfer the children to the former place, than materials and workmen to the latter ; but Whitfield rejected the counsel, and therefore the other refused to contribute to the scheme. In this tem per of refusal, Franklin attended one of the preacher's charity sermons for the funds of the orphan-house ; and having in his pocket a handful of copper money, three or four dollars in silver, and five pistoles in gold, he resolved to give him no part whatever of them. In the progress of the sermon, White field so far shook the philosopher's resolution, that he determined to let him have the copper ; at another successful stroke of the oratory, the silver next ; and so admirable was the final appeal, that “I emptied," says the giver, “my pocket wholly into the collector's dish, gold and all.”

Franklin became an intimate private acquaintance of Whitfield, and took an active part in procuring a large covered building for the accommodation of his congregations. On a subsequent occasion he offered to accommodate the reverend orator at his house during his stay at Philadelphia. “ If you can make shift with my scanty accommodations," said the typographer, "you will be most heartily welcome.” Whitfield replied, that if Franklin made that kind offer for Christ's sake, he should not miss of a reward. To this the otber returned, “Don't let me be mistaken; it was not for Christ's sake, but for your sake.The philosopher declares nobly that, while some of Whitfield's enemies affected to suppose him inflnenced by sinister views in his public collections, he who knew him iutimately never suspected any such thing, but believed

« ZurückWeiter »