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No memoir of Franklin can be a successful substitute for his Autobiography. In the present sketch, we shall aim at little but a review of such facts as are too lightly touched on in his own charming narrative, or as are needed to complete the account of his useful and eventful life. The First Part of his Autobiography, addressed in the form of a letter to his son, William Franklin, Governor of New Jersey, was written in England, in the year 1771, during the author's sojourn at Twyford, the seat of Dr. Shipley, Bishop of St. Asaph. In this Part, he brings down the narrative of his life to the year 1730; and of it there were an original draft and a copy taken with a machine. The original manuscript was given to M. Le Veillard, of Passy, who was guillotined during the French revolution, when it fell into the possession of his daughter. The copy became the property of Franklin's grandson, William Temple Franklin.
By M. Weillard this First Part was translated into French, and published together with a collection of Franklin's Essays. It is a curious circumstance, that an English translation having been made from this French version for a similar collection, published in London, shortly after Franklin's death, this translation of a translation has been repeatedly republished, both in England and this country, as the life of Franklin, written by himself. What renders the fate of it still more singular is the fact that the English re-translation, translated back into French, was published in Paris in 1798. The Autobiography as originally written, and as printed in the present volume, was first published in 1818, by William Temple Franklin. The occurrence of the American revolution interrupted Franklin's autobiographical task, and he did not resume it till twelve years later, while resident at Passy, near Paris, in France. The Second, and last, Part of his Autobiography, terminates with his arrival in London, in 1757, as the agent of the Pennsylvania Assembly, in their dispute with the descendants of Penn, the “proprietaries,” as they were called, of the territory ceded to their ancestor. Such is the graceful and unaffected candor of Franklin's style, that his story is ever best told in his own words. “His confessions of his faults,” says Sainte Beuve, “have an air of sincerity and simplicity, which leave us in no doubt as to the genuineness of the sentiment he expresses. When Rousseau, in his Confessions, makes similar avowals, he vaunts, even while he accuses himself. Franklin, who has few but venial faults to reveal, accuses himself less vehemently and does not vaunt at all.” We shall give a brief summary of the events related in the Autobiography, and then take up the thread of Franklin's history where he drops it. Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston, January the 17th, 1706. His father, who had emigrated from England, was a tallow-chandler. Benjamin was the fifteenth of seventeen children, and the eighth of ten by a second wife. He was named for an uncle, who emigrated to Boston in the year 1715. This uncle had the poetical faculty in no ordinary degree, as may be inferred from the following pieces, which, while they are marked by the fashionable quaintnesses of the religious poets of the seventeenth century, give evidence of considerable literary culture. The first bears the title of an “Acrostic sent to Benjamin Franklin, in New England, July 15, 1710.”
- “Be to thy parents an obedient son ;
Fraud and all falsehood in thy dealings flee;
From the following lines, “sent to Benjamin Franklin, 1713,” when he was only seven years old, it would seem that his literary tendencies were developed even earlier than his own account would lead us to suppose:
“”T is time for me to throw aside my pen,
At twelve years of age, Benjamin was apprenticed to his elder brother, James, a printer, and publisher of the New England Courant, a newspaper in Boston. Benjamin had a passion for reading, and he now found means of gratifying it. He was also tempted to try his skill in literary composition, and wrote some anonymous pieces for his brother's journal, which were published and approved. Some . political articles in the Courant having offended the Legislative Assembly of the colony, the publisher was imprisoned and forbidden to continue his journal. To elude this prohibition, young Franklin was made the nominal editor, and his indentures were temporarily cancelled. After the
release of his brother, he availed himself of this act to assert his freedom, and thus escaped from a position which had been irksome in consequence of the ill treatment to which he was subjected. Franklin subsequently blamed himself for thus taking advantage of his brother's difficulty, and set down his own conduct on this occasion as one of the errata of his life. He now secretly embarked, without means or recommendations, on board a small vessel bound to New York. Not finding employment there, he set out for Philadelphia, where he arrived on foot, with a penny-roll in his hand, and one dollar in his purse. Here he obtained employment as a compositor, and, having attracted the notice of Sir William Keith, Governor of Pennsylvania, was, through his promises, induced to visit England, for the purpose of purchasing the materials for establishing himself in business as a printer. On reaching London, in 1725, he found himself entirely deceived in his promised letters of credit and recommendation from Governor Keith; and being, as before, in a strange place, without credit or acquaintances, he went to work once more as a compositor. In 1726, after a residence of about eighteen months in London, he returned to Philadelphia, soon after which he entered into business as a printer and stationer; and in 1728 established a newspaper. In 1732 he published his “Poor Richard's Almanac,” which became noted for its pithy maxims, some original, but mostly taken from various sources, ancient and modern. In 1736 he was appointed clerk to the General Assembly of Pennsylvania, and the year following postmaster of Philadelphia. In the French war, in 1744, the Governor having in vain importuned the legislature, a majority of whom were Quakers, to pass a militia law, and adopt other precautions for defence, Franklin proposed to accomplish the object by a voluntary subscription; and he set forth its importance in a pamphletentitled “Plain Truth,” which did not fail of effect. About the year 1746, he commenced his electrical experiments, and made several important discoveries. In 1747 he was chosen a representative of the General Assembly, in which situation he distinguished himself by several acts of public utility. By his influential exertions a militia bill was passed, and he was appointed colonel of the Philadelphia regiment. In 1757 he was sent to England as agent for Pennsylvania.
FRANKLIN’s second visit to England was made under auspices very different from those which had attended his first. Then he went a poor printer, relying upon the imaginary influence of the graceless Sir William Keith, who had amused him with chimerical promises, and cajoled him with sham letters of recommendation. Now it was Franklin, the eminent philosopher and discoverer, the gifted writer and sagacious statesman, who took up his temporary residence in London. His electrical discoveries had been promulgated some ten years before. His first letter on the subject was communicated March 28, 1747, to Peter Collinson, a member of the Royal Society. In this and his subsequent letters, Franklin makes known the power of points in drawing and throwing off the electrical matter, a fact which had hitherto escaped the attention of electricians. He also made the discovery of a plus and minus, or of a positive and negative, state of electricity.
“Besides these great principles,” says Dr. Stuber, “Franklin's letters on electricity contain a number of facts and hints which have contributed greatly towards reducing this branch of knowledge to a science. His friend, Mr. Kinnersley, communicated to him a discovery of the different kinds of electricity excited by rubbing glass and sulphur. The philosophers were disposed to account for the phenomena rather from a difference in the quantity of electricity collected; and even Du Faye himself seems at last to have adopted this doctrine. Franklin at first entertained the same idea; but, upon repeating the experiments, he perceived that Mr. Kinnersley was right, and that the vitreous and resinous electricity of Du Faye were nothing more than the positive and negative states which he had before observed; that the glass globe charged positively, or increased the quantity of electricity on the prime conductor; whilst the globe of sulphur diminished its natural quantity,