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while at school, I took Cocker'3 Treatise of Arithmetic, and went through it by m) self with the utmost ease. I also read a book of navigation by Swller and Sturmy, and made myself master of the little geometry it contains, but I never proceeded far in this science. Nearly at the same time I read Locke on the Human understanding, and the Art of Thinking by Messrs. du Port Royal.
While laboring to form and improve mv style, I met with an English Grammar, which I believe was Greenwood's, having at the end of it two little essays on rhetoric and logic. In the latter I found a model of disputation after the manner ol Socrates.' Shortly after I procured Xenophon's work, entitled, Memorable Things of Socrates, in which are various examples of the same method. Charmed to a degree of enthusiasm with this mode of disputing, I adopted it, and renouncing blunt contradiction, and direct and positive argument, I assumed the character of a humble questioner. The perusal of Shaftsbury and Collins had made me a sceptic ; and being previously so as to many doctrines of Christianity ,1 found Socrates's method to be both the safest for myself, as well as the most embarrassing to those against whom I employed it. It soon afforded me singular pleasure ; I incessantly practiced it ; and became very adroit in obtaining, even from persons of superior understanding, concessions of
which they did not foresee the consequences.
Thus I involved them in difficultices from which they were unable to extricate themselves, and sometimes obtained victories, which neither my cause nor mv arguments merited.
This method I continued to employ for some years; but I afterwards abandoned it by degrees, retaining onlv the habit of expressing myself with modest diffidence, and never making use, when I advanced any proposition which might be controverted* of the words certainly, undoubtedly, or any others that might give the appearance of being obstinately attached to my opinion. I rather said, I imagine, I suppose, or it appears to me thai such a thing is so or so, for such and such reasons ; or it is so, if I am not mistaken. This' habit has, I think, been of considerable advantage tome, when I have had occasion to impress my opinion on the minds of others, and persuade them to the adoption of the measures I hud suggested. And since the chief ends of conversation are, to inform or to be informed, to please or to persuade, I could wish that intelligent and well.meaning men would not themselves diminish/ the powers they possess of being useful by a positive fmd presumptuous manner of expressing themselves, which scarci ly ever fails to disgust the hearer, and is only calculated to excite opposition, and defeat every purpose for which the faculty of speech has been bestowed upon man. In short, if you wish to inform, a positive and dogmatical manner of advancing your opinion may provoke contradiction, and prevent your being heard with attention. On the other hand, if, with 'a desire of being informed, and of benefiting by the knowledge of others, you express yourself as being strongly attached to your opinions, modest and sensible men, who do not love disputation, will leave you in tranquil possession of your errors. By following such a method, you can rarely hope to please your auditors, conciliate their good-will, or work conviction.on those whom you may be desirous of gaining over to your views.
Pope judiciously observes,
Men must be taught as if you taught them not,
And in the same poem he afterwards advises us,
To speak, tho* sure, with seeming diffidence.
He might have added to these lines, one that he has coupled elsewhere, in my opinion with less propriety. It is this:
For want of modesty is want of sense.
If you ask why I say with less flrofiriety, I must give you the two lines together:
Immodest words admit of no defence,
Now want of sense, when a man has the misfortune to be s6 circumstanced, is it not a kind of excuse for want of modesty? And would not the verses have been more accurate, if they had been constructed thus:
Immodest words admit but this defence.
But I leave the decision of this to better judges than myself.
In 1720, or 1721, my brother began to print a new public paper. It was the second that made its appearance in America, and was entitled the New-England Courant. The only one that existed before was the Boston News Letter. Some of his friends, I remember, would have dissuaded him from this undertaking, as a thing that was not likely to succeed; a single newspaper being, in their opinion, sufficient for all America. At present, however, in 1777, there are no less than. twenty-five. But he carried his project into execution, and I was employed in distributing the copies to his customers, after having assisted in composing and working them off.
Among his friends he had a number of literary characters, who as an amusement, wrote short essays for the paper, which gave it reputation and increased its sale. These gentlemen came frequently to our house. I heard the conversation that passed, and the accounts tiiey gave of the favorable reception of their writings with the public. I was tempted to try my hand among them; but, being still a child as it were, I was tearful that my brother might be unwilling to print in his paper any performance of which he should know me to be the author. I therefore contrived to disguise my hand. and having written an anonymous piece, I placed it at night under the door of the printing-house, where it was found the next morning. My brother communicated it to his friends, when they came as usual to see hnn, who read it, commented upon it within my hearing, and 1 had the exquisite pleasure to. fmd that it met with their approbation, and that in the "various conjectures they had made respecting the .au.hor, no one was mentioned who did not enjoy a high reputation in the country for talents and genius. 1 now supposed myself fortunate in my judges, and began to suspect that they were 'not such excellent writers as 1 had hitherto supposed them. He that as it may, encouraged by this little adventure, I wrote and sent to the press, in the same way, many othcr pieces, which were equally approved; keeping the secret till my slender stock of information and knowledge for such performances was pretty completely exhausted, when I made myself known.
My brother, upon this discovery, began to entertain a little more respect for me; but he still regarded himself as my master, and treated me like an apprentice. He thought himself entitled to the same service from me as any other person. On the contrary, I conceived that, in many instances, he was too rigorous, and that, on the part of a brother, I had a right to expect greater indulgence. Our disputes were frequently brought before my father; and either my brother was generally in the wrong, or 1 was better pleader of the two, for judgment was commonly given in my favor. But my brother was passionate, and often had recourse to blows; a circumstance which I tooKin very ill part. This severe and tyrannical treatment coiuriDuted, I believe , to imprint on my mind that aversion to arbitrary power, Which during my whole life I have ever preserved. Mf apprenticeship became insupportable to me, and I continually sighed for an opportunity ot shortenmg it, which .at length unexpectedly offered.
An article inserted in our paper upon some political subject which I have now forgotten, gave offence to the Assembly. My brother was taken into custody, censured, and ordered into confmement for a month, because, as I presume, he would not discover the author. I was also taken up, and examined before the council; bat, though 1 gave them no satisfaction, they contented themselves with reprimanding, and then dismissed me, considering me probably as bound, in quality of apprentice, to keep my master's secrets.
The imprisonment of my brother kindled my resentment, notwithstanding our private quarrels. During its continuance the management of the paper was entrusted to me, and I was bold enough to insert some pasquerades against the governors; which highly pleased my brother, while others began to look upon me in aa unfavorable point of view, considering me as a young wit inclined to satire and lampoon. *
My brothel's enlargement was accompanied with aft arbitrary order from the assembly, " That James Fra:'k. "lin should no longer print the newspaper entitled the "New England Courant." In this conjuncture, we held a consultation of our friends at the printing-office, in order to determine what was proper to be done.— Some proposed to evade the order, by changing the name of the paper: but my brother foreseeing inconveniences that would ^result from this step, thought'it letter that it should in future be printed in the name of Benjamin Franklin; and to avoid the censure of the assembly, who might charge him with still printing the paper himself, under the name of his apprentice, it was resolved that my old indentures should be given up to me, will) a full auu entire discharge written ou the back,