Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

formation relative to improvements and discoveries in the arts, agriculture, and philosophy.

The beneficial influence of this institution was soon evident. The cheapness of terms rendered it accessible to every one. Its advantages were not confined to the opulent. The citizens in the middle and lower walks of life were equally partakers of them. Hence a degree of information was extended amongst all classes of people, which is very unusual in other places. The example was soon followed. Libraries were established in various places, and they are now become very numerous in the United States, and

particularly in Pennsylvania. It is to be hoped that they will be still more widely extended, and that information will be every where increased. This will be the best security for maintaining our liberties. A nation of well-informed men, who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God had given them cannot be enslaved. It is in the regions of ignorance that tyranny reigns. It lies before the light of science.Let the citizens of America, then, encourage institütions calculated to diffuse knowledge amongst the people; and amongst these, public libraries are not the Jeast important.

In 1732, Franklin began to publish poor Richard's Almanack. This was remarkable for the numerous and valuable concise maxims which it contained, all tending to exhort to industry and frugality. It was continued for many years. In the almanack for the last

year, all the maxims were collected in an address to the reader, entitled, The Way to Wealth. This has been translated in various languages, and inserted in different publications. It has also been printed on a large sheet, and may be seen in many houses in Philadelphia. This address contains, perhaps the best practical system of economy that ever has appeared. It is written in a manner intelligible to every one, and which cannot fail of convincing every reader of the

a

justice and propriety of the remarks and advice which it contains. The demand for this almanack was so great, that ten thousand have been sold in one year; which must be considered as a very large number, especially when we reflect, that this country was, at that time, but thinly peopled. It cannot be doubted that the salutary maxims contained in these almanacks must have made a favourable impression upon many of the readers of them.

It was not long before Franklin entered upon his political career. In the year 1736 he was appointed clerk to the general assembly of Pennsylvania ; and was re-elected by succeeding assemblies for several years, until he was chosen a representative for the city of Philadelphia.

Bradford was possessed of some advantages over Franklin, by being post-master, thereby having an opportunity of circulating his paper more extensively, and thus rendering it a better vehicle for advertisements, &c. Franklin, in his turn, enjoyed these advantages, by being appointed post-master of Philadelphia in 1737. Bradford, while in office, had acted ungenerously towards Franklin, preventing as mucle as possible the circulation of his paper,

He had now an opportunity of retaliating ; but his nobleness of soul prevented him from making use of it.

The police of Philadelphia had early appointed watchmen, whose duty it was to guard the citizens against the midnight robber, and to give an immediate alarm in case of fire. This duty is, perhaps, one of the most important that can be committed to any set

The regulations, however, were not sufficiently strict. Franklin saw the dangers arising from this cause,

and

suggested an alteration, so as to oblige the guardians of the night to be more watchful over the lives and property of the citizens. The propriety of this was immediately perceived, and a reform was effected.

of men.

There is nothing more dangerous to growing cities than fires. Other causes operate slowly, and almost imperceptibly; but these in a moment render abortive the labours of ages. On this account there should be, in all cities, ample provisions to prevent fires from spreading. Franklin early saw the necessity of these ; and, about the year 1738, formed the first fire

company in this city. This example was soon followed by others; and there are now numerous fire companies in this city and liberties. To these

may

be attributed in a great degree the activity of extinguishing fires, for which the citizens of Philadelphia are distinguished, and the inconsiderable damage which this city has sustained from this cause. Some time after, Franklin suggested the plan of an association for insuring houses from losses by fire, which was adopted ; and the association continues to this day. The advantages experienced from it have been great.

From the first establishment of Pennsylvania a spirit of dispute appears to have prevailed amongst its inhabitants. During the life time of William Penn, the constitution had been three times altered. After this period, the History of Pennsylvania is little else than a recital of the quarrels between the proprietaries, or their governors, and the assembly. The proprietaries contended for the right of exempting their land from taxes; to which the assembly would by no means consent. This subject of dispute interfered in almost every question, and prevented the most salutary laws from being enacted. This at times subjected the people to great inconveniences. In the year 1744, during a war between France and Great Britain, some French and Indians had made inroads upon the frontier inhabitants of the province, who were unprovided for such an attack. It became necessary that the citizens should arm for their defence. Governor Thomas recommended to the assembly, who were then sitting, to pass a militia law. To this they would agree only

upon

condition that he should give his assent to certain laws, which appeared to them calculated to promote the interest of the people. As he thought these laws would be injurious to the proprietaries, he refused his assent to them; and the assembly broke up without passing a militia law. The situation of the province was at this time truly alarming: exposed to the continual inroads of an enemy, and destitute of every means of defence.

At this crisis Franklin stepped forth, and proposed to a meeting of the citizens of Philadelphia, a plan of a voluntary association for the defence of the province. This was approved of, and signed by twelve hundred persons immediately.

Copies of it were circulated throughout the province, and in a short time the number of signers amounted to ten thousand. Franklin was chosen colonel of the Philadelphia regiment, but he did not think proper to accept of the honor.

Pursuits of a different nature now occupied the greatest part of his attention for some years. He engaged in a course of electrical experiments, with all the ardor and thirst for discovery which characterized the philosophers of that day. Of all the branches of experimental philosophy, electricity had been least explored. The attractive power of amber is mentioned by Theophrastus and Pliny, and, from them, by later naturalists. In the year 1600, Gilbert, an English physician, enlarged considerably the catalogue of substances which have the property of attracting light bodies. Boyle, Otto Guericke, a burgomaster of Magdeburg, celebrated as the inventor of the airpump, Dr. Wall, and Sir Isaac Newton added some facts. Guericke first observed the repulsive power

of electricity, and the light and noise produced by it.In 1709, Hawkesbec communicated some important observations and experiments to the world. For several years electricity was entirely neglected, until Mr. Gray applied himself to it, in 1728, with great assi

a

duity. He, and his friend Mr. Wheeler, made a great variety of experiments ; in which they demonstrated, that electricity may be communicated from one body to another, even without being in contact, and in this way may be conducted to a great distance. Mr. Gray afterwards found, that, by suspending rods of iron by silk or hair lines, and bringing an excited tube under them, sparks might be drawn, and a light perceived at the extremities in the dark. M. Du Faye, intendant of the French King's gardens, made a number of experiments, which added not a little to the science. He made the discovery of two kinds of electricity, which he called vitreous and resinous ; the former próduced by rubbing glass, the latter from excited sulphur, sealing-wax, &c. But this idea he afterwards gave up as erroneous.

Between the years 1739 and 1742, Defaguliers made a number of experiments, but added little of importance. He first used the terms conductors and electrics, per se. In 1742, several ingenious Germans engaged in the subject. Of these the principal were, professor Boze of Wittembergh, professor Winkler of Leipsic, Gordon, a Scotch Benedictine monk, professor of philosophy at Erfurt, and Dr. Ludolf of Berlin. The result of their researches astonished the philosophers of Europe.Their apparatus was large, and by means of it they were enabled to collect large quantities of electricity, and thus to produce phenomena which had been hitherto unobserved. They killed small birds, and set spirits on fire. Their experiments excited the curiosity of other philosophers. Collinson, about the year 1745, sent to the library company of Philadelphia an account of these experiments, together with a tube, and directions how to use it. Franklin, with some of his friends, immediately engaged in a course of experiments ; the result of which is well known. He was enabled to make a number of important discoveries, and to propose theories to account for various

« ZurückWeiter »