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[To Josiah FRANKLIN, BosTon.] A Man's Religion to be judged of by its Fruits— Freemasons.
PHILADELPHIA, April 13, 1738. HoNorted FATHER: I have your favors of the 21st of March, in which you both seem concerned lest I have imbibed some erroneous opinions. Doubtless I have my share, and when the natural weakness and imperfection of human understanding is considered, the unavoidable influence of education, custom, books and company, upon our ways of thinking, I imagine a man must have a good deal of vanity who believes, and a good deal of boldness who affirms, that all the doctrines he holds are true, and all he rejects are false. And, perhaps, the same may be justly said of every sect, church, and society of men, when they assume to themselves that infallibility which they deny to the pope and councils. I think opinions should be judged of by their influences and effects; and if man holds none that tend to make him less virtuous or more vicious, it may be concluded he holds none that are dangerous, – which, I hope, is the case with me. I am sorry you should have any uneasiness on my account, and, if it were a thing possible for one to alter his opinions in order to please another's, I know none whom I ought more willingly to oblige in that respect than yourselves. But, since it is no more in a man's power to think than to look like another, methinks all that should be expected from me is to keep my mind open to conviction; to hear patiently, and examine attentively, whatever is offered me for that end; and, if after all I continue in the same errors, I believe your usual charity will induce you rather to pity and excuse than blame me: in the mean time your care and concern for me is what I am very thankful for. My mother grieves that one of her sons is an Arian, another an Arminian; what an Arminian or an Arian is, I cannot say that I very well know. The truth is, I make such distinctions very little my study. I think vital religion has always suffered when orthodoxy is more regarded than virtue; and the Scriptures assure me that at the last day we shall not be examined what we thought, but what we did ; and our recommendation will not be that we said, Lord! Lord! but that we did good to our fellow-creatures. See Matt. xx. As to the freemasons, I know no way of giving my mother a better account of them than she seems to have at present (since it is not allowed that women should be admitted into that secret society). She has, I must confess, on that account, some reason to be displeased with it; but, for anything else, I must entreat her to suspend her judgment till she is better informed, unless she will believe me when I assure her that they are in general a very harmless sort of people, and have no principles or practices that are inconsistent with religion and good manners. We have had great rains here lately, which, with the thawing of snow in the mountains back of our country, has made vast floods in our rivers, and, by carrying away bridges, boats, &c., made travelling almost impracticable for a week past; so that our post has entirely missed making one trip. I hear nothing of Dr. Crook, nor can I learn any such person has ever been here. I hope my sister Jenny's child is by this time recovered. I am your dutiful son, B. FRANKLIN.
[to MIss JANE FRANKLIN.]* On presenting a Spinning-wheel. PHILADELPHIA, January 6, 1726–7. DEAR SISTER : I am highly pleased with the account Captain Freeman gives me of you. I always judged, by your behavior when a child, that you would make a good, agreeable woman; and you know you were ever my peculiar favorite. I have been thinking what would be a suitable present for me to make, and for you to receive, as I hear you are grown a celebrated beauty. I had almost determined on a tea-table, but when I considered that the character of a good house-wife was far preferable to that of being only a pretty gentlewoman, I concluded to send you a spinning-wheel, which I hope you will accept as a small token of my sincere love and affection. Sister, farewell, and remember that modesty, as it makes the most homely virgin amiable and charming, so the want of it infallibly renders the most perfect beauty disagreeable and odious. But when that brightest of female virtues shines among other perfections of body and mind in the same person, it makes the woman more lovely than an angel. Excuse this freedom, and use the same with me. I am, dear Jenny, your loving brother. B. FRANKLIN.
* Afterwards Mrs. Mecom. She was fifteen years old at the above date.
[to THE SAME.]
Religious Notions — Doctrine and Worship.
PHILADELPHIA, July 28, 1743.
DEAREST SISTER JENNY: I took your admonition very kindly, and was far from being offended at you for it. If I say anything about it to you, 'tis only to rectify some wrong opinions you seem to have entertained of me; and this I do only because they give you some uneasiness, which I am unwilling to be the occasion of You express yourself as if you thought I was against worshipping of God, and doubt that good works would merit heaven; which are both fancies of your own, I think, without foundation. I am so far from thinking that God is not to be worshipped, that I have composed and wrote a whole book of devotions for my own use; and I imagine there are few if any in the world so weak as to imagine that the little good we can do here can merit so vast a reward hereafter.
There are some things in your New England doctrine and worship which I do not agree with ; but I do not therefore condemn them, or desire to shake your belief or practice of them. We may dislike things that are nevertheless right in themselves; I would only have you make me the same allowance, and have a better opinion both of morality and your brother. Read the pages of Mr. Edwards's late book, entitled, “Some Thoughts concerning the present Revival of Religion in New England,” from 367 to 375, and, when you judge of others, if you can perceive the fruit to be good, don't terrify yourself that the tree may be evil; but be assured it is not so, for you know who has said, “Men do not gather grapes off thorns, and figs off thistles.” I have not time to add, but that I shall always be your affectionate brother, B. FRANKLIN.
P. S. It was not kind in you, when your sister commended good works, to suppose she intended it a reproach to you. "Twas very far from her thoughts.
[To JAMES READ.]
Saturday morning, 17 August, 1745. DEAR JEMMY : I have been reading your letter over again, and, since you desire an answer, I sit down to write you one ; yet, as I write in the market, it will, I believe, be but a short one, though I may be long about it. I approve of your method of writing one's mind, when one is too warm to speak it with temper: but, being quite cool myself in this affair, I might as well speak as write, if I had an opportunity. Are you an attorney by profession, and do you know no better how to choose a proper court in which to bring your action ? Would you submit to the decision of a husband a cause between you and his wife 2 Don't you know that all wives are in the right? It may be you don't, for you are yet but a young husband. But see, on this head, the learned Coke, that oracle of the law, in his chapter De Jur. Marit. Angl. I advise you not to bring it to trial; for, if you do, you will certainly be cast. Frequent interruptions make it impossible for me to go through all your letter. I have only time to remind you of the saying of that excellent old philosopher, Socrates, that, in differences among friends, they that make the first concessions are the wisest : and to hint to you that you are in danger of losing that honor in the present case, if you are not very speedy in your acknowledgments, which I persuade myself you will be, when you consider the sex of your adversary. Your visits never had but one thing disagreeable in them; that is, they were always too short. I shall exceedingly regret the loss of them, unless you continue, as you have begun, to make it up to me by long letters. I am, dear Jemmy, with sincere love to our dearest Suky, your very affectionate friend and cousin, B. : FRANKLIN.
English Poor Laws — Amending the Scheme of Providence — Anecdotes — Aversion from Labor among American Indians — Germans in Pennsylvania — Their Peculiarities — Hopes for England.
PHILADELPHIA, 9 May, 1753.
SIR: I thank you for the kind and judicious remarks you have made on my little piece. I have often observed with wonder the temper of the poorer English laborers which you mention, and acknowledge it to be pretty general. When any of them happen to come here, where labor is much better paid than in England, their industry seems to diminish in equal proportion. But it is not so with the German laborers. They retain the habitual industry and frugality they bring with them, and, receiving higher wages, an accumulation arises that makes them all rich. When I consider that the English are the offspring of Germans, that the climate they live in is much of the same temperature, and when I see nothing in nature that should create this difference, I am tempted to suspect it must arise from the constitution; and I have sometimes doubted whether the laws peculiar to England, which compel the rich to maintain the poor, have not given the latter a dependence that very much lessens the care of providing against the wants of old age.
I have heard it remarked that the poor in Protestant countries, on the continent of Europe, are generally more industrious than those of Popish countries. May not the more numerous foundations in the latter for relief of the poor have some effect towards rendering them less provident 2 To relieve the misfortunes of our fellow-creatures is concurring with the Deity; it is godlike; but, if we provide encouragement for laziness, and support for folly, may we not be found fighting against the order of God and nature, which perhaps has appointed want and misery as the proper punishments for and cautions against, as well as necessary consequences of idleness and extravagance Whenever we attempt to amend the scheme of Providence, and to interfere with the government of the world, we had need be very circumspect, lest we do more harm than good. In New England they once thought blackbirds useless, and mischievous to the corn. They made efforts to destroy them. The consequence was, the blackbirds were diminished; but a kind of worm which devoured their grass, and which the blackbirds used to feed on, increased prodigiously; then, finding their loss in grass much greater than their saving in corn, they wished again for their blackbirds.
We had here some years since a Transylvanian Tartar, who