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LIFE AND ADVENTURES
To be descended fronı an illustrious family certainly reflects honour on any man, in spite of the sans-culotte principles of the present day. This is, however, an honour that I have no pretension to. All that I can boast of in my birth, is, that I was born in Old England; the county from whence came the men who explored and settled North America; the country of Penn, and of all those to whom this country is indebted.
With respect to my ancestors, I shall go no further back than my grandfather, and for this plain reason, that I never heard talk of any prior to him. He was a day-labourer; and I have heard my father say, that he worked for one farmer from the day of his marriage to that of his death, upwards of forty years. He died before I was born, but I have often slept beneath the same roof that had sheltered him, and where his widow dwelt for several years after his death. It was a little thatched cota tage, with a garden before the door. It had but two windows; a damson tree shaded one, and a
clump of filberts the other. Here I and my brothers went every Christmas and Whitsuntide to spend a week or two, and torment the poor old woman with our noise and dilapidations. She used to give us milk and bread for breakfast, an apple pudding for our dinner, and a piece of bread and cheese for supper. Her fire was made of turf, cut from the neighbouring heath, and her evening light was a rush dipped in grease.
How much better is it; thus to tell the naked truth, than to descend to such miserable shifts as Doctor Franklin has had recourse to, in order to persuade people that his forefathers were men of wealth and consideration. Not being able to refer his reader to the herald's office for proofs of the fame and antiquity of his family, he appeals to the etymology of his name, and points out a passage in an obsolete book, whence he has the conscience to insist on our concluding, that, in the Old English language, a Franklin meant a man of good reputation and of consequence. According to Dr. Johnson, a Franklin was what we now call a gentleman's steward or land-bailiff, a personage one degree above a bumbailiff, and that's all.
Every one will, I hope, have the goodness to believe, that my grandfather was no philosopher. Indeed he was not. He never made a lightning-rod, nor bottled up a single quart of sun-shine, in the whole course of his life. He was no almanackmaker, nor quack, nor chimney-doctor, nor soapboiler, nor ambassador, nor printer's devil: neither was he a deist, and all his children were born in wedlock. The legacies he left, were, his scythe, his reap-hook, and his flail; he bequeathed no old and irrecoverable debts to an hospital : he never cheated the poor during his life, nor mocked them in his death. He has, it is true, been suffered to sleep quietly beneath the green sord; but, if his de
scendants cannot point to his statue over the door of a library, they have not the mortification to hear him daily accused of having been a whoremaster, a hypocrite, and an infidel.
My father, when I was born, was a farmer. The reader will easily believe, from the poverty of his parents, that he had received no very brilliant education: he was, however, learned, for a man in his rank of life. When a little boy, he drove plough for two pence a-day; and these his earnings, were appropriated to the expenses of an evening school. What a village school-master could be expected to teach, he had learnt; and had, besides, considerably improved himself, in several branches of the mathematics. He understood land-surveying well, and was often chosen to draw the plans of disputed territory: in short, he had the reputation of possessing experience and understanding, which never fails, in England, to give a man in a country place, some little weight with his neighbours. He was honest, industrious, and frugal; it was not, therefore, wonderful, that he should be situated in a good farm, and happy in a wife of his own rank, like him, beloved and respected.
So much for my ancestors, from whom, if I derive no honour, I derive no shame.
I had (and I hope I yet have) three brothers : the eldest is a shopkeeper; the second a farmer, and the youngest, if alive, is in the service of the Honourable East India Company, a private soldier, perhaps, as I have been in the service of the king. I was born on the ninth of March, 1766: the exact age of my brothers, I have forgotten; but I remember having heard my mother say, that there was but three years and three quarters difference between the age of the oldest and that of the youngest.
A father like ours, it will be readily supposed, did not suffer us to eat the bread of idleness. I do not remember the time, when I did not earn mỹ living. My first occupation was, driving the small birds from the turnip-seed, and the rooks from the peas.
When I first trudged a-field, with my wooden bortle and my satchel swung over my shoulders, I was hardly able to climb the gates and stiles; and, at the close of the day, to reach home, was a task of infinite difficulty. My next employment was weeding wheat, and leading a single horse at harrowing barley. Hoeing peas followed, and hence, I arrived at the honour of joining the reapers in harvest, driving the team, and holding plough. We were all of us strong and laborious, and my father used to boast, that he had four boys, the eldest of whom was but fifteen years old, who did as much work as any three men in the parish of Farnham. Honest pride, and happy days !
I have some faint recollection of going to school to an old woman, who, I believe, did not succeed in learning me my letters. In the winter evenings, my father learnt us all to read and write, and gave us a pretty tolerable knowledge of arithmetie. Grammar he did not perfectly understand himself, and therefore his endeavours to learn us that, necessarily failed; for, though he thought he understood it, and though he made us get the rules by heart, we learnt nothing at all of the principles.
Our religion was that of the Church of England, to which I have ever remained attached; the more so, perhaps, as it bears the name of my country, As my ancestors were never persecuted for their religious opinions, they never had an opportunity of giving such a singular proof of their faith, as Doctor Franklin's grandfather did, when he kept his Bible under the lid of a close-stool. (What a book-case !) If I had been in the place of Doctor
Franklin, I never would have related this ridiculous circumstance, especially as it must be construed into a boast of his grandfather's having an extraordinary degree of veneration for a book, which, it is well known, he himself durst not believe in.
As to politics, we were like the rest of the country people in England; that is to say, we neither knew nor thought any thing about the matter.
The shouts of victory, or the murmurs at a defeat, would now-and-then break in upon our tranquillity for a monient; but I do not remember ever having seen a newspaper in the house; and, most certainly, that privation did not render us less industrious, happy, or free.
After, however, the American war had continued for some time, and the cause and nature of it began to be understood, or rather misunderstood, by the lower classes of the people in England, we became a little better acquainted with subjects of this kind. It is well known, that the people were, as to numbers, nearly equally divided in their opinions, concerning that war, and their wishes respecting the result of it. My father was a partizan of the Americans : he used frequently to dispute on the subject, with the gardener of a nobleman who lived near us. This was generally done with good humour, over a pot of our best ale ; yet the disputants sometimes grew warm, and gave way to language that could not fail to attract our attention. My father was worsted, without doubt, as he had for antagonist, a shrewd and sensible old Scotchman, far his superior in political knowledge ; but he pleaded before a partial audience: we thought there was but one wise man in the world, and that that one was our father. He who pleaded the cause of the Americans, had an advantage, too, with young minds : he had only to represent the king's troops as sent to cut the throats of a people, our