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The lives of great and useful men have been likened to the course of rivers. These often rise in the most obscure and desolate regions. A child might leap over their beginnings, while thorns and briars appear destined to obey their unregarded progress.
But silently that slightest thing
Shall demonstrate its living stream.
The rivulet widens and deepens; it becomes the pride of the meadows, and the fertilizer of extensive districts; it arrives within the sweep of tides and the noisy turmoil of commerce; conveys prosperity to towns and cities; bears on its bosom the hopes and fortunes of millions, and at length reaches the ocean, the health and wealth of a country.
The life of the illustrious man whose portrait, along with characteristic emblematic representations, forms the frontispiece of the present small volume-extending, as his career did, through nearly the whole of the eighteenth century,---realized this ancient metaphor in a most remarkable manner. He was at once the humble tradesman, the yet
humbler son of a tallow-chandler whose business he hated, and the artificer of his country's independence. He was an oppressed apprentice in the obscure and dingy press-room of a provincial town,--and one of the most formidable opponents of British cabinet measures and of the whole strength of Britain wielded for indefensible purposes. He had few advantages of education,-yet mingled finally with the most learned and the most polite society in Europe. Inheriting no patrimony but that of a persecuted and honest name,-he left to his posterity a handsome fortune realized by his own industry, and claims upon his country's gratitude never fully to be repaid.
The present Life is unique; for although a compilation, very carefully condensed, it is yet characterized by features to which no other memoirs of its illustrious subject, that have issued from the British or American press can lay claim. The main sources whence the facts have been gathered are-first, the “Memoirs” by Franklin himself, extending from his birth to 1757-second, the continuation, in quarto by his grandson and literary legatee, William Temple Franklin, and that by Jared Sparks, the able and admired editor of the “Life and Writings of Washington.” The former of these continuations, appeared in 1817, the latter in 1840; the life by Sparks constituting the first of ten stately octavo volumes, which contain the whole of the collected works of this distinguished philosopher and statesman.
might have been expected, from the peculiar advantages enjoyed, the edition by Mr. Sparks is by far the fullest, superseding, indeed, all its predecessors. It is therefore to the life and collection by this authority, without which no library having any pretensions to judicious selection can be complete, together with the autobiography, that the present compilation is principally indebted for its materials.
The portion of Dr. Franklin's life as written by himself, which has hitherto appeared, and which has met with such great popular favour, cannot lay claim to originality, or close accuracy; being only a re-translation, of which, however, numerous editions have been circulated, continuing to this day to be read, nay to be quoted by respectable writers, as if it were the autobiographer's genuine and original production. Yet the fact is, strangely enough, that the whole of these editions are no other than a translation from the French, which of itself is a professed version of a transcription; the translation alluded to having been made from an original manuscript which Franklin had presented to his friend, M. Vieillard. Accordingly, the metamorphosis of this interesting piece may be said to resemble the fate of Milton's Epic, which a French abbe paraphrased into inflated prose; which an English writer, ignorant of its origin, turned back again, under the same double disguise, into its native language. Even the "People's Edition" published in 1848, which promised unusual fidelity, while professing to give the autobio