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ENGLISH CLASSIC SERIES.-No 112-113-114.
PREPARED FOR USE IN SCHOOLS.
WITH INTRODUCTION, NOTES, AND A SUPPLEMENTARY SKETCH,
SENTED MAINLY IN HIS OWN WORDS.
J. W. ABERNETHY, PH.D.
29, 31, AND 33 East NINETEENTH STREET.
THE Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is an American classic, and it is the earliest product of our national genius entitled to that distinction. Its author was not a man of letters, yet he wrote extensively ; and a few of his essays, the sayings of Poor Richard, and the Autobiography will always give him a prominent place in the history of American literature. He cultivated letters and the art of expression because he saw their practical value in the struggle for business success, and his writings are an excellent illustration of the utility of the highest literary qualities in the common employments of every day life. The ease with which he wielded the pen, added to the habit of observing care. fully and thinking clearly, made him a leader and teacher of men.
“The perennial charm of his Autobiography is like that of Robinson Crusoe,” says George William Curtis ; and this charm is due largely to a style that in its crystal clearness and forceful simplicity is the equal of that of De Foe. Plain, idiomatic, direct, with no ornament or grace except such as is native to the thought, the language forms a perfect transcript of the writer's mind. One is never in doubt about Franklin's meaning. But this charm is due still more to the picturesque and noble personality portrayed in the Autobiography. It records the career of one who from poverty arose to be revered by the greatest and wisest of two continents. Few men have influenced the world so widely and permanently as Franklin.
"Clear rather than subtle,” says Prof. Beers, “without ideality or romance or fineness of emotion or poetic lift, intensely practical and utilitarian, broad-minded, inventive, shrewd, versatile, Franklin's sturdy figure became typical of his time and his people.” He was the first great American, and his greatness was of many kinds. He was a distinguished scientist and practical inventor. Bancroft calls him “the greatest diplomatist of his century." He was a great moral teacher, the supreme philosopher of commonsense and the useful virtues. Says his latest biographer, Mr. Morse : “He was one of the most, perhaps the most agreeable conversationist of his age. He was a rare wit and humorist, and in an age when ‘American humor' was still unborn, amid contem. poraries who have left no trace of a jest, still less of the faintest appreciation of humor, all which he said and wrote was brilliant with both these most charming qualities of the human mind.” And he concludes : “By the instruction which he gave, by his discoveries, by his inventions, and by his achievements in public life he earns the distinction of having rendered to men varied and useful services excelled by no other one man ; and thus he has established a claim upon the gratitude of mankind so broad that history holds few who can be his rivals."
The only complete and correct edition of the Autobiography is that edited by the Hon. John Bigelow, who obtained the original MS. in France and first gave it to the public in 1868. By the courtesy of Mr. Bigelow and his publishers, the J. B. Lippincott Co., we are permitted to use the authorized text in the preparation of this edition. A few passages unsuitable for the class-room have been omitted, and also the two letters mentioned on page 75. In order that the book may be thoroughly adapted for the reading of young pupils, the spelling has been modernized and a few grammatical errors corrected; otherwise the text is given just as Franklin wrote it. The supplementary sketch of Franklin's life from the point where the Autobiography ends will serve, it is hoped, as an inducement to read more of the charming letters contained in Mr. Bigelow's “Life of Benjamin Franklin,” a work of inestimable value to teachers as well as pupils. Also additional reading should be encouraged in such works as Parton's “ Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin,” Morse's “Life of Franklin ” (Amer. ican Statesmen Series), and Hale's “ Franklin in France.” The needed explanations of public events connected with Franklin's career will generally be found in the text-book of United States history, with which the Autobiography should always be used.
TWYFORD, at the Bishop of St. Asaph's, 1771. DEAR SON: I have ever had pleasure in obtaining any little anecdotes of my ancestors. You may remember the inquiries I made among the remains of my relations when you were with me in England, and the journey I undertook for that purpose. Imagining it may be equally agreeable to you to know the circumstances of my life, many of which you are yet unacquainted with, and expecting the enjoyment of a week's uninterrupted leisure in my prosent country retirement,' I sit down to write them for you.
To which I have besides some other inducements. Having emerged from the poverty and obscurity in which I was born and bred, to a state of affluence and some degree of reputation in the world, and having gone so far through life with a considerable share of felicity, the conducing means I made use of, which with the blessing of God so well succeeded, my posterity may like to know, as they may find some of them suitable to their own situations, and therefore fit to be imitated.
That felicity, when I reflected on it, has induced me sometimes to say, that were it offered to my choice, I should have
1. He was at Twyford, England, visiting his friend the Bishop of St. Asaph, Dr. Jonathan Shipley, “ America's constant friend," as he called him.