« ZurückWeiter »
nies, as Epictetus warned in vain his master that he would break his leg. You believed rather the tales you heard of our poltroonery and impotence of body and mind. Do you not remember the story you told me of the Scotch sergeant who met with a party of forty American soldiers, and, though alone, disarmed them all, and brought them in prisoners? — a story almost as improbable as that of an Irishman, who pretended to have alone taken and brought in five of the enemy, by surrounding them. And yet, my friend, sensible and judicious as you are, but partaking of the general infatuation, you seemed to believe it. The word general puts me in mind of a general — your General Clarke, who had the folly to say in my hearing, at Sir John Pringle's, that with a thousand British grenadiers he would undertake to go from one end of America to the other, and geld all the males, partly by force and partly by a little coaxing. It is plain he took us for a species of animals very little superior to brutes. The Parliament too believed the stories of another foolish general, - I forget his name, – that the Yankees never felt bold. Yankee was understood to be a sort of Yahoo, and the Parliament did not think the petitions of such creatures were fit to be received and read in so wise an assembly. What was the consequence of this monstrous pride and insolence You first sent small armies to subdue us, believing them more than sufficient; but soon found yourselves obliged to send greater. These, whenever they ventured to penetrate our country beyond the protection of their ships, were either repulsed and obliged to scamper out, or were surrounded, beaten, and taken prisoners. An American planter, who had never seen Europe, was chosen by us to command our troops, and continued during the whole war. This man sent home to you, one after another, five of your best generals, baffled, their heads bare of laurels, disgraced even in the opinion of their employers. Your contempt of our understandings, in comparison with your own, appeared to be not much better founded than that of our courage, if we may judge by this circumstance, that in whatever court of Europe a Yankee negotiator appeared the wise British minister was routed, put in a passion, picked a quarrel with your friends, and was sent home with a flea in his ear. r But after all, my dear friend, do not imagine that I am vain enough to ascribe our success to any superiority in any of those points. I am too well acquainted with all the springs and levers of our machine, not to see that our human means were unequal to our undertaking, and that, if it had not been for the justice of our cause, and the consequent interposition of Providence, in which we had faith, we must have been ruined. If I had ever before been an atheist, I should now have been convinced of the being and government of a Deity . It is he that abases the proud and favors the humble. May we never forget his goodness to us, and may our future conduct manifest our gratitude : But let us leave these serious reflections, and converse with our usual pleasantry. I remember your observing once to me, as we sat together in the House of Commons, that no two journeymen-printers within your knowledge had met with such success in the world as ourselves. You were then at the head of your profession, and soon afterwards became a member of Parliament. I was an agent for a few provinces, and now act for them all. But we have risen by different modes. I, as a republican printer, always liked a form well planed down ; being averse to those overbearing letters that hold their heads so high as to hinder their neighbors from appearing. You, as a monarchist, chose to work upon crown paper, and found it profitable; while I worked upon pro patria (often indeed called fools-cap) with no less advantage. Both our heaps hold out very well, and we seem likely to make a pretty good day's work of it. With regard to public affairs (to continue in the same style), it seems to me that your compositors in your chapel do not cast off their copy well, nor perfectly understand imposing : their forms too are continually pestered by the outs and doubles that are not easy to be corrected. And I think they were wrong in laying aside some faces, and particularly certain head-pieces, that would have been both useful and ornamental. But, courage The business may still flourish with good management, and the master become as rich as any of the company. By the way, the rapid growth and extension of the English language in America must become greally advantageous to the booksellers and holders of copyrights in England. A vast audience is assembling there for English authors, ancient, present and future, our people doubling every twenty years; and this will demand large, and of course profitable impressions of your most valuable books. I would therefore, if I possessed such rights, entail them, if such a thing be practicable, upon my posterity; for their worth will be continually augmenting. This may look a little like advice, and yet I have drank no Madeira these six months. The subject, however, leads me to another thought, which is, that you do wrong to discourage the emigration of Englishmen to America. In my piece on population I have proved, I think, that emigration does not diminish but multiplies a nation. You will not have the fewer at home for those that go abroad; and, as every man who comes among us and takes up a piece of land becomes a citizen, and by our constitution has a voice in elections, and a share in the government of the country, why should you be against acquiring by this fair means a repossession of it, and leave it to be taken by foreigners of all nations and languages, who by their numbers may drown and stifle the English, which otherwise would probably become, in the course of two centuries, the most extensive language in the world, the Spanish only excepted ? It is a fact that the Irish emigrants and their children are now in possession of the government of Pennsylvania, by their majority in the Assembly, as well as of a great part of the territory; and I remember well the first ship that brought any of them over. I am ever, my dear friend, yours, most affectionately, B. FRANKLIN.
Privileges of Old Age — On a Good Epitaph — Reasons for Confidence in a Future State — The American Constitution — England—Anecdote.
PAssy, May 23, 1785.
DEAR old FRIEND: I sent you a few lines the other day, with the medallion, when I should have written more, but was prevented by the coming in of a bavard, who worried me till evening. I bore with him, and now you are to bear with me, for I shall probably bacarder in answering your letter.
I am not acquainted with the saying of Alphonsus, which you allude to as a sanctification of your rigidity in refusing to allow me the plea of old age as an excuse for my want of exactness in correspondence. What was that saying 2 You do not, it seems, feel any occasion for such an excuse, though you are, as you say, rising seventy-five. But I am rising (perhaps more properly falling) eighty, and I leave the excuse with you till you arrive at that age; perhaps you may then be more sensible of its validity, and see fit to use it for yourself.
I must agree with you, that the gout is bad, and that the stone is worse. I am happy in not having them both together, and I join in your prayer that you may live till you die without either. But I doubt the author of the epitaph you send me was a little mistaken, when he, speaking of the world, says that
“he ne'er cared a pin
It is so natural to wish to be well spoken of, whether alive or dead, that I imagine he could not be quite exempt from that desire; and that at least he wished to be thought a wit, or he would not have given himself the trouble of writing so good an epitaph to leave behind him. Was it not as worthy of his care that the world should say he was an honest and a good man I like better the concluding sentiment in the old song called The Old Man's Wish, wherein, after wishing for a warm house in a country town, an easy horse, some good authors, ingenious and cheerful companions, a pudding on Sundays, with stout ale, and a bottle of Burgundy, &c. &c., in separate stanzas, each ending with this burden,
“May I govern my passions with absolute sway,
“With a courage undaunted may I face my last day;
But what signifies our wishing? Things happen, after all, as they will happen. I have sung that wishing song a thousand times when I was young, and now find at four-score that the three contraries have befallen me, being subject to the gout, and the stone, and not being yet master of all my passions. Like the proud girl in my country, who wished and resolved not to marry a parson, nor a Presbyterian, nor an Irishman, and at length found herself married to an Irish Presbyterian parson. You see I have some reason to wish that in a future state I may not only be as well as I was, but a little better. And I hope it : for I too, with your poet, trust in God. And when I observe that there is great frugality as well as wisdom in His works, since he has been evidently sparing both of labor and materials; for by the various wonderful inventions of propagation he has provided for the continual peopling his world with plants and animals, without being at the trouble of repeated new creations ; and by the natural reduction of compound substances to their original elements, capable of being employed in new compositions, he has prevented the necessity of creating new matter; so that the earth, water, air, and perhaps fire. which, being compounded from wood, do, when the wood is dissolved, return, and again become air, earth, fire and water; — I say, that when I see nothing annihilated, and not even a drop of water wasted, I cannot suspect the annihilation of souls, or believe that He will suffer the daily waste of millions of minds ready made, that now exist, and put himself to the continual trouble of making new ones. Thus finding myself to exist in the world, I believe I shall in some shape or other always exist; and, with all the inconveniences human life is liable to, I shall not object to a new edition of mine, – hoping, however, that the errata of the last may be corrected. * * * * * The Philadelphia bank goes on, as I hear, very well. What you call the Cincinnati institution is no institution of our government, but a private convention among the officers of our late army, and so universally disliked by the people that it is supposed it will be dropped. It was considered as an attempt to establish something like an hereditary rank or nobility. I hold, with you, that it was wrong; may I add, that all descending honors are wrong and absurd, – that the honor of virtuous actions appertains only to him that performs them, and is in its nature incommunicable. If it were communicable by descent, it must also be divisible among the descendants; and, the more ancient the family, the less would be found existing in any one branch of it, — to say nothing of the greater chance of unlucky interruptions. Our constitution seems not to be well understood with you. If the Congress were a permanent body, there would be more reason in being jealous of giving it powers. But its members are chosen annually, cannot be chosen more than three years successively, nor more than three years in seven; and any of them may be recalled at any time, whenever their constituents shall be dissatisfied with their conduct. They are of the people, and return again to mix with the people, having no more durable prečminence than the different grains of sand in an hourglass. Such an assembly cannot easily become dangerous to liberty. They are the servants of the people, sent together to do the people's business, and promote the public welfare; their powers must be sufficient, or their duties cannot be performed. They have no profitable appointments, but a mere payment of daily wages, such as are scarcely equivalent to their expenses; so that, having no chance for great places and enormous salaries or pensions, as in some countries, there is no canvassing or bribing for elections. I wish Old England were as happy in its government, but I do not see it. Your people, however, think their constitution the best in the world, and affect to despise ours. It is comfortable to have a good opinion of one's self, and of everything that