Abbildungen der Seite

was liked and agreed to, and we filled one end of the room with such books as we could best spare. The number was not so great as we expected; and, though they had been of great use, yet some inconveniences occurring for want of due care of them, the collection after about a year was separated; and each took his books home again.

And now I set on foot my first project of a public nature, that for a subscription library. I drew up the proposals, got them put into form by our great scrivener, Brockden, and, by the help of my friends in the Junto, procured fifty subscribers of forty shillings each to begin with, and ten shillings a year for fifty years, the term our company was to continue. We afterwards obtained a charter, the company being increased to one hundred; this was the mother of all the North American subscription libraries, now SO numerous. It is become a great thing itself, and continually goes on increasing. These libraries have improved the general conversation of the Americans, made the common tradesmen and farmers as intelligent as most gentlemen from other countries, and perhaps have contributed in some degree to the stand so generally made throughout the colonies in defence of their privileges.





Origin of the Philadelphia Library. Mode of obtaining Subscriptions. Thrives in his Business. Anecdote of the Silver Spoon and China Bowl. Religious Sentiments and Remarks on Preaching. Scheme for arriving at Moral Perfection. - Explanation of the Scheme. - List of Virtues enumerated, and Rules for Practising them. - Division of Time, and the Occupation of each Hour. Amusing. Anecdote. The Art of Virtue. — A Treatise on that Subject proposed.

[ocr errors]

AT the time I established myself in Pennsylvania, there was not a good bookseller's shop in any of the colonies to the southward of Boston. In New York and Philadelphia, the printers were indeed stationers, but they sold only paper, almanacs, ballads, and a few

* Down to this period the Memoir was written in the year 1771, and the task was then laid aside for several years. In the mean time, the manuscript was shown to several of the author's friends, who pressed him to complete what he had begun. He accordingly yielded to their solicitations, and, to the part with which this chapter commences, he prefixed the following introductory remarks, and also the two letters to which he alludes.

"Continuation of the Account of my Life, begun at Passy, near Paris, 1784. "It is some time since I received the above letters, but I have been too busy till now to think of complying with the request they contain. It might, too, be much better done if I were at home among my papers, which would aid my memory, and help to ascertain dates; but my return being uncertain, and having just now a little leisure, I will endeavour to recollect and write what I can; if I live to get home, it be corrected and improved.

may there

"Not having any copy here of what is already written, I know not whether an account is given of the means I used to establish the Philadelphia public library; which from a small beginning is now become so considerable. Though I remember to have come down to near the time of that transaction (1730.) I will therefore begin here with an account of it, which may be struck out if found to have been already given."

The letters referred to were from his friends, Benjamin Vaughan and Abel James. They may be found in the Correspondence, Vol. IX. p. 478, under the date of January 31st, 1783.- EDITOR.

common school-books. Those who loved reading were obliged to send for their books from England; the members of the Junto had each a few. We had left the alehouse, where we first met, and hired a room to hold our club in. I proposed, that we should all of us bring our books to that room; where they would not only be ready to consult in our conferences, but become a common benefit, each of us being at liberty to borrow such as he wished to read at home. This was accordingly done, and for some time contented us. Finding the advantage of this little collection, I proposed to render the benefit from the books more common, by commencing a public subscription library. I drew a sketch of the plan and rules that would be necessary, and got a skilful conveyancer, Mr. Charles Brockden, to put the whole in form of articles of agreement to be subscribed; by which each subscriber engaged to pay a certain sum down for the first purchase of the books, and an annual contribution for increasing them. So few were the readers at that time in Philadelphia, and the majority of us so poor, that I was not able with great industry to find more than fifty persons, mostly young tradesmen, willing to pay down for this purpose forty shillings each, and ten shillings per annum. With this little fund we began. The books were imported; the library was opened one day in the week for lending them to the subscribers, on their promissory notes to pay double the value if not duly returned. The institution soon manifested its utility, was imitated by other towns, and in other provinces. The libraries were augmented by donations; reading became fashionable; and our people, having no public amusements to divert their attention from study, became better acquainted with books; and in a few years were observed by strangers to be better in

structed, and more intelligent than people of the same rank generally are in other countries.

When we were about to sign the abovementioned articles, which were to be binding on us, our heirs, &c. for fifty years, Mr. Brockden, the scrivener, said to us, "You are young men, but it is scarcely probable that any of you will live to see the expiration of the term fixed in the instrument." A number of us, however, are yet living; but the instrument was after a few years rendered null, by a charter that incorporated and gave perpetuity to the company.*

* It appears by a statement in Mr. Smith's "Notes for a History of the Library Company of Philadelphia," that the above "instrument" was dated July 1st, 1731. The charter of incorporation was obtained from the Proprietaries of Pennsylvania in 1742. Franklin's name stands at the head of the list of the persons who applied for the charter, and to whom it was granted. The library has grown to be one of the largest in America. The spacious and handsome edifice, in which it is contained, was erected but a short time before Dr. Franklin's death. It is stated in the minutes of the Library Company, as quoted by Mr. Smith, "that, upon the suggestion of Dr. Franklin, a large stone was prepared, and laid at the southeast corner of the building, with the following inscription, composed by the Doctor, except so far as relates to himself, which the Committee have taken the liberty of adding to it.

'Be it remembered,

In honor of the Philadelphia Youth,
(Then chiefly artificers,)

That, in MDCCXXXI,

They cheerfully

At the Instance of Benjamin Franklin,
One of their Number,

Instituted the Philadelphia Library,
Which, though small at first,

Is become highly valuable, and extensively useful,
And which the Walls of this Edifice

Are now destined to contain and preserve;
The first Stone of whose Foundation

Was here placed

The 31st of August, MDCCLXXXIX.'"

The marble statue of Dr. Franklin, which occupies a niche in front of the building, was executed in Italy, and presented to the Library Company by Mr. William Bingham. - EDITOR.

The objections and reluctances I met with, in soliciting the subscriptions, made me soon feel the impropriety of presenting one's self as the proposer of any useful project, that might be supposed to raise one's reputation in the smallest degree above that of one's neighbours, when one has need of their assistance to accomplish that project. I therefore put myself as much as I could out of sight, and stated it as a scheme of a number of friends, who had requested me to go about and propose it to such as they thought lovers of reading. In this way my affair went on more smoothly, and I ever after practised it on such occasions; and, from my frequent successes, can heartily recommend it. The present little sacrifice of your vanity will afterwards be amply repaid. If it remains a while uncertain to whom the merit belongs, some one more vain than yourself may be encouraged to claim it, and then even envy will be disposed to do you justice, by plucking those assumed feathers, and restoring them to their right owner.

This library afforded me the means of improvement by constant study, for which I set apart an hour or two each day; and thus repaired in some degree the loss of the learned education my father once intended for me. Reading was the only amusement I allowed myself. I spent no time in taverns, games, or frolics of any kind; and my industry in my business continued as indefatigable as it was necessary. I was indebted for my printing-house; I had a young family coming on to be educated, and I had two competitors to contend with for business, who were established in the place before me. My circumstances however grew daily easier. My original habits of frugality continuing, and my father having, among his instructions to me when a boy, frequently repeated a proverb of Solomon,


« ZurückWeiter »