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INTRODUCTION

WHEN Benjamin Franklin was born, the fifteenth child in the Boston home of Josiah Franklin, Jonathan Edwards was two years old, the only boy in a family of eleven children, in the East Windsor parsonage. Three or four years later, in Lichfield, England, was born Samuel Johnson, who shares with the two just named the highest honors in English literature of the eighteenth century.

The three together fairly represent the best thought of their age. All were born during the comparatively short reign of Queen Anne, into homes about equally earnest, industrious, devout; all engaged in the struggles of a youth of limited opportunity with somewhat the same eagerness and intensity; and all are worthy of the honor of later centuries for large work well done, for abounding lives lived effectively.

But the contrasts among these three great contemporaries are far more striking than the likenesses. Edwards' field of greatest activity was abstract thought in a few rural communities; Franklin's was practical life in the midst of affairs among the great of several countries; Johnson's was contemplation, but in the heart of the Christian world's metropolis, where practical morality and ready sympathy found abundant exercise. Franklin and Johnson lived to old age, one acquiring wealth and worldly success in almost every form, the other living much of his life in poverty and dying in obscurity; Edwards, on the other hand, died comparatively young, without having experienced extreme privation or luxury, knowing persecution for opinion's sake, but happy at the end in a position of distinction. Edwards never left America ; Johnson only once, for a brief period, passed the borders of the British Isles ; but Franklin spent nearly half his mature life in Europe, away from the land of his birth. Edwards died before the beginning of the Revolutionary controversy ; but Johnson, ardent Tory that he was, tried to defend the indefensible policy of his king toward America; while Franklin, the typical democrat, was one of the strongest forces in favor of justice toward the colonies and a large contributor to the success of the cause of liberty. Edwards lived too completely in the eternal life to enjoy this one thoroughly, — he was too conscious of the serious side of earthly affairs to indulge in wit; Johnson's mind was too ponderous in its movements and was perhaps too greatly saddened by personal suffering and that of others about him ever to learn the lighter graces of humor; but Franklin laughed at the world and with the world, and has now kept the world laughing well into the second century since his death.

This opportunity for comparison and contrast needs only to be suggested. Our present thought concerns Franklin only. He possessed the genius to develop strong qualities just because of early hardships, not wholly in spite of them. He knew the life of his time and how to help his fellowmen by building up his own character, how to establish his own fortune and to broaden his citizenship while working for his age. By nature a reader and a philosopher, by his trade of printer brought into contact with recorded thought, it was entirely natural that he should feel impelled on his own account to employ the weapon that was more potent than flint-lock.

He was four or five years old when Addison's Spectator became recognized as a necessity at every well-ordered London breakfasttable, and it was still in its nascent state when an odd volume of it came into contact with the impressionable mind of the Boston printer-boy. A little later Franklin went to London, sent there by Governor Keith on a fruitless errand, only four or five years after Addison ceased to walk the Strand and to frequent Button's Coffee House. Steele and Defoe were still to be seen in the city ; Sir Isaac Newton, at Kensington, was to enjoy his honors for a year or two longer; Pope, at Twickenham, was in

ver.

his prime; Swift was about publishing his Gulli

To the obscure young American may have come some stimulus toward large thoughts and their helpful expression from the associations of the English capital, even if he was yet to wait a quartercentury before gaining admission to the society of

the great.

At any rate, Franklin somehow acquired a serviceable literary style, — direct, concise, clear, strong, simple, - unlike the elaborate, Latinized manner of most of the English writers of his day. Like very few eighteenth-century prose authors, he knew how to say a plain thing plainly, and felt the attractiveness of genuine simplicity. In 1726, at the age of twenty, he was back again in Philadelphia at the printing business, making friends, gaining experience in affairs, getting command of himself and of the resources of the New World. Soon he had combined a general book-store with his printingoffice. Then came the management and ownership of the Pennsylvania Gazette, to which from time to time he contributed popular articles on practical affairs and everyday ethics. He was but twenty-six when he began publishing Poor Richard's Almanac, which contributed greatly to his material success and lasting fame as a writer.

With competence came more leisure for public helpfulness and private investigations. His studies and discoveries, particularly in electricity, had, by the time he was forty-five, made him well known throughout the colonies and beyond the sea, and had won him membership in the Royal Society of London, and afterward, in 1753, a medal of that society.

Then his great political career began. As delegate to the Albany convention of 1754, he presented his plan of union for the colonies, which failed of adoption only because long in advance of its time. Three years later, with fame well established, with business interests safe in the care of a thrifty wife, who too greatly dreaded the voyage to wish to accompany him, with income enough to assure comfort to his family, Franklin sailed for London as agent to the king from the Pennsylvania Assembly. Throughout almost all his residence in London, at this time and later, he lived in the home of Mrs. Stevenson in Craven Street, near the Strand. With her and her daughter Mary - afterward Mrs. Hewson — he formed a life-long friendship, and some of his most interesting letters are addressed to one or the other of these English women. In the intervals of public business he travelled much in Great Britain and on the Continent, visiting relatives, making lasting friendships among distinguished men of the time, and using his growing acquaintance to correct wrong impressions concerning American interests and the American attitude toward the home government.

His mission accomplished, Franklin returned to

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