Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

give scope to his imagination in suggesting a variety of explanations of obscure or unmanageable phenomena ; but he never allowed himself to confound those vague and conjectural theories with the solid results of experience and observation; setting little value upon them, and having no sooner disburdened his mind of the impressions from which they proceeded than he seenis to dismiss them entirely from his consideration, turning to the legitimate philosophy of experiment with unabated diligence and humility.

Every one of Dr. Franklin's physical papers are admirable for the clearness of description, the felicity and familiarity of the illustrations, . and the singular sagacity of the remarks with which they are interspersed. His theory of winds and water-spouts, as well as observations on the course of the winds and on cold, are truly excellent. The paper called Maritime Observations is full of ingenuity and practical good sense; and the remarks on evaporation and on tides, most of which are contained in a series of letters to a young lady, are admirable, not merely for their perspicuity, but for the interest and amusement they are calculated to communicate to every description of readers. The remarks on fire-places and smoky chimnies, are infinitely more original, concise, and scientific, than those of Count Rumford.

And yet Dr. Franklin seems never to have made use of the mathematics in his investigation of the phenomena of nature; and though this may render it surprising that he has fallen into so few errors of importance, it certainly helps in some measure to explain the unequalled perspicuity and vivacity of his expositions. An algebraist, who, can work wonders with letters and signs, seldom condescends to be much indebted to words, and thinks himself entitled to make his sentences obscure, provided his calculations be distinct. A writer who has nothing but words to make use of, must make all the use he can of them; but very few indeed, even of those who have the amplest and minutest command of language, can treat with simplicity and clearness recondite physical themes, much less infuse into abstract speculations, a continuous stream of entertaining and charming matter.

THE POLITICIAN. About the year 1747, when Franklin, became a member of the General Assembly of Pensylvania, having been appointed as a representative burgess for the city of Philadelphia, warm disputes had arisen between

the Assembly and a class of landholders of long standing, called proprietaries, who claimed the peculiar privilege of not being subject to taxation. Franklin, an ardent friend to the principles of justice from his earliest years, and a foe to every sort of aristocratic assumption, soon rendered himself conspicuous as a steady and powerful opponent of the preposterous views and efforts of the proprietaries. Indeed, he almost immediately came to be looked up to as the leader of the opposition ; and to him bave been attributed many of the spirited and effective replies of the Assembly to the messages of the Governors, who were uniformly at the period indicated, in the interest of the aristocratic party. His influence in the Assembly was irresistible, and deservedly very great; not indeed, from any dazzling powers of eloquence, for he spoke but seldom, and never was known to make anything like an elaborate harangue. His speeches frequently amounted merely to a single sentence, or a well-told story, the moral of which was forcibly to the point. He never attempted any display in the flowery fields of oratory. In short, his style of speaking was like that of his writings~ simple, ungdorned, and remarkably concise, while his manner was unassuming and mild. With this plain-bearing, and his penetrating solid judgment, he was able to confound the most eloquent, subtle, and artful of his adversaries; to confirm and strongly buttress the views of his friends, and to achieve the conversion of the unprejudiced who had opposed him. With a single observation, he frequently rendered of no avail, an elegant, elaborate, and lengthy discourse determining at a stroke, the fate of a momentous question.

Let us now alight at the period when that last and deeply important contest commenced between Great Britain and France in America, the first effect of which was to annihilate the power of the French in this part of the globe; the next in order of importance, perhaps, being to teach America her own strength and resources, calling into actual service the very men who were afterwards the authors of her revolution, and the pillars of her independence; and lastly, by an easy and imperceptible consequence, to bring the British colonies and the mother country into collision--a contest which terminated in one of the greatest events in modern history. Franklin and Washington, but especially the former, rendered themselves very conspicuous in this war.

The home-government apprehending hostility with France in 1754, felt the necessity of conciliating both the colonists and the native tribes of America. Commissioners from all the states were therefore appointed

to assemble at Albany to concert measures for their common 'defence, as well as to conclude treaties with the chiefs of the Six Nations. Our philosopher was named a deputy to this Congress; and on his route thither, being a most zealous advocate for the rights of the colonies, he projected a scheme of union, embracing the regulation of all the great political interests of the colonies and the mother country. The “ Albany plan,” as it was called, after it was adopted by the congress, proposed a general government for the provinces, to be administered by a president appointed by the crown, and a general council, chosen by the provincial assembly; the council to be empowered to levy taxes for all the common exigencies. The plan, though unanimously sanctioned by the Congress, was rejected by the Board of Trade as savouring too much of the democratic, in the estimation of the Home Government; while, curiously enough, it was rejected by the Colonial Assemblies, as giving too large an increase to the royal prerogative. The crown, on the one hand, was evidently jealous of the appearance of union and independent strength which had already been exhibited in the American States; while, on the other, the conduct of the Assemblies clearly indicated å step in the progress to an inevitable result--that of American independence.

Franklin, in the capacity of Postmaster-General, advanced large sums of money to General Braddock, the result of whose unfortunate and illconducted expedition he foresaw, and in regard to which he made some fruitless suggestions to that self-willed and over-confident commander.

After the defeat of Braddock, Franklin introduced a bill for establishing a volunteer militia; and having received a commission as a commander, he raised a corps of 560, and weut through a laborious campaign. During this service, having occasion to remark that when men are employed they are best contented, while on idle days his people were continually grumbling, he was induced to act in the spirit of the sea captain, whose rule it was to keep his sailors constantly to work ; so that when one of the mates told him that the men had done every thing, and there was nothing further to employ them about. “Oh!" said the captain, 66 make them scour the anchors."

“We had,” the humorous and kind-hearted philosopher tell us, zealous Presbyterian minister for chaplain, who complained to me that the men did not generally attend his prayers and exhortations. When

they enlisted they were promised besides pay and provisions, a gili of rum a day, which was punctually served out to them-half in the morning and the other half in the evening, and I observed they were punctual in attending to receive it ; upon which I said to the chaplain,' It is perhaps below the dignity of your profession to act as steward of the rum, but were you only to distribute it out after prayers, you would have them all about you.' He liked the thought, undertook the task, and with the help of a few hands to measure out the liquor, executed it to satisfaction : and never were prayers more generally and more punctually attended. So that I think this method preferable to the punishment inflicted by some military laws for non-attendance on divine service.”

After the campaign, and on his return to Philadelphia, Franklin was chosen colonel by the officers of a militia regiment. “I forget,” says be, “how many companies we had, but we paraded about twelve hundred well-looking men, with a company of artillery, who had been furnished with six brass field pieces, which they had become so expert at as to fire twelve times in a minute. The first time I reviewed my regiment they accompanied me to my house, and would salute me with some rounds fired before my door, which shook down and broke several glasses of my electrical apparatus. And my new honour proved not much less brittle ; for all our commissions were soon after broken by a repeal of the law in England.”

The defence of her Transatlantic colonies was a great expense to the mother country, and the most obvious as well as effective mode of reducing this, was to put arms into the hands of the inhabitants, and to teach them their use. Still, England had no wish that the Americans should become acquainted with their own strength ; for she was apprehensive that as soon as this period arrived, the colonists would no longer submit to that monopoly of trade which to them was deeply injurious, but highly beneficial to the mother country. Large as was the expense to her of defending the colonies, yet in comparison with the profits of monopoly, the maintained armies and fleets cost but a trifling sum. England therefore studied to keep the American people dependent upon her for protection,-this appearing to be the best method for retaining them in peaceable subjection. The slightest appearance of a military spirit was consequently to be guarded against; and though the war with the French still raged, the act by the Assembly for organizing a militia, --: Franklin having been mainly instrumental in its passing,---was disap

proved of by the British ministry. The regiments which were formed under it were ordered to be disbanded, and the defence of the province was intrusted to regular troops.

Frankin from this period is to be viewed by us rather as a politician and statesman than a natural philosopher. Already, whether in regard to the defence of his country against foreign aggression, or to the contentions which had arisen in the province of Pensylvania, he displayed great foresight and ability. Indeed the disputes between the proprietaries and the people continued with a force as if a war had not been raging on their frontiers. Not even did the fact and sense of danger from without prove sufficient to reconcile for even so short a time their jarring interests. The Assembly still insisted upon the justice and necessity of taxing the proprietary estates; while the governors constantly laboured to have these estates exonerated, and without their assent no bill could pass into a law. Indignant at the obstinacy, and what was keenly felt to be the unjust claims and proceedings of their opponents, the Assembly at length resolved on applying to the mother country for relief and assistance. A petition was prepared, being addressed to the king in council, stating the hardships under which the great majority of the Pensylvanians laboured, from the preposterous conduct, of the proprietaries and praying for redress. Franklin was the person who was wisely appointed to present and support the petition, and in the capacity of such an agent, he left America in June, 1757.

He sailed from New York on board a vessel which the captain declared to be the swiftest on the packet service, and able to make thirteen knots an hour. She proved, however, to be too much loaded a-head. Franklin had, as fellow passenger, Captain Kennedy (afterwards Lord Cassilis), who had served in the British navy, and who ridiculed the account of the fast sailing of the vessel ; but when the lading was removed backward, and she had a fair wind, Kennedy threw the log himself, and acknowledged that she made the thirteen knots per hour. From that, our philosopher, suggests the propriety of adopting scientific principles for the determination of the most proper form of the hull for swift-sailing; next the best dimensions and most proper place for the masts; then the force and quantity of sails, and their position, as the winds may be ; and lastly, the disposition of the lading. The naval passenger proved to be the preservation of the ship; for, on approaching the British shores, after they had taken an observation, from which the captain judged himself near Falmouth, all but the watch had retired to rest, when the ship was

« ZurückWeiter »