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with the world, and with distinguished individuals of all ranks, professions, and attainments.
It may be, however, that a more bookish and contemplative employment of some portion of his life, would have left one deficiency of his mental character less palpable. There appears to have been but little in that character of the element of sublimity.
We do not meet with many bright elevations of thought, or powerful enchanting impulses of sentiment, or brilliant transient glimpses of ideal worlds. Strong, independent, comprehensive, never remitting intelligence, proceeding on the plain ground of things, and acting in a manner always equal to, and never appearing at moments to surpass itself, constituted his mental power. In its operation it has no risings and fallings, no disturbance into eloquence or poetry, no cloudiness of smoke indeed, but no darting of flames. A consequence of this perfect uniformity is, that all subjects treated, appear to be on a level, the loftiest and most insignificant being commented on in the same unalterable strain of a calm plain sense, which brings all things to its own standard, insomuch that a great subject shall sometimes seem to become less while it is elucidated, and less commanding while it is enforced. In discoursing of serious subjects Franklin imposes gravity on the reader, but does not excite solemnity, and on grand ones he never displays or inspires enthusiasm.
It is, however, curious to see such a man just now and then a little touched with romance: as, for instance, in the following letter to Dr. Priestley :
“I always rejoice to hear of your being still employed in experimental researches into nature, and of the success you meet with. The rapid progress true science now makes, occasions my regretting sometimes that I was born so soon. It is impossible to imagine the height to which may be carried in a thousand years, the power of man over matter ; we may perhaps learn to deprive large masses of the gravity, and give them absolute levity for the sake of easy transport. Agriculture may diminish its labour and double its produce: all diseases may by sure means be prevented or cured, (not excepting even that of old age) and our lives lengthened at pleasure even beyond the antediluvian standard. O that moral science were in as fair a way of improvement, that men would
cease to be wolves to one another, and that human beings would at length learn what they now improperly call humanity!"
In a very friendly letter to Dr. Mather, of Boston, he mentions a very simple cause as having, in early life, contributed to determine him to that course of practical utility which he pursued to the last.
“I received your kind letter with your excellent advice to the people of the United States. Such writings, though they may be lightly passed over by many readers, yet if they make a deep impression in one active mind of a hundred, the effects may be considerable. Permit me to mention one little instance which, though it relates to myself, will not be quite uninteresting to you. When I was a boy, I met with a book entitled Essays to do Good, which I think was written by your father, It had been so little regarded by a former possessor, that several leaves of it were torn out; but the remainder gave me such a turn of thinking as to have an influence on my conduct through life: for I have always set a greater value on the character of a doer of good, than on any other kind of reputation; and if I have been, as you seem to think, a useful citizen, the public owes the advantage of it to that book. You mention your being in your seventy-eight year: I am in my seventh-ninth year; we are grown old together. It is now more than sixty years since I left Boston ; but I remember well both your father and grandfather, having heard them both in the pulpit, and seen them in their houses. The last time I saw your father was in the beginning of 1724. He received me into his library, and on my taking leave, showed me a shorter way out of the house through a narrow passage, which was crossed by a beam over head. We were still talking as I withdrew, he accompanying me behind, and I turning partly towards him, when he said hastily, “Stoop, stoop." I did not understand him till I felt my head hit against the beam. He was a man that never missed any occasion of giving instruction; and upon this he said to me, you are young, and hace the world before you ; stoop as you go through it, and
will miss many hard thumps. The advice thus beat into my head, has frequently been of use to me, and I often think of it, when I see pride mortified, and misfortunes brought upon people by their carrying their heads too high.”
But the most remarkable letter in the volume, is one written in his eighty-fifth year, to Dr. Ezra Stiles, President of Yale College, who had in a very friendly and respectful manner solicited some information respecting the aged philosopher's opinion of the Christian religion. Franklin's reply to an inquiry which he says had never been made to him before, is written with kindness and
seriousness, but nevertheless in terms not a little evasive. But perhaps it would in effect have as much explicitness as his venerable correspondent could wish, for it would too clearlyinform the good man, as it does its present readers, that this philosopher, and patriot, and, as in many points of view he may most justly be regarded, philanthropist, was content and prepared to venture into another world without any hold upon the Christian faith. In many former letters, as well as in this last, he constantly professes his firm belief in an Almighty Being, wise, and good, and exercising a providential government over the world ; and in a future state of conscious existence, rendered probable by the nature of the human soul, and by the analogies presented in the renovations and reproductions in other classes of beng, and rendered necessary by the unsatisfactory state of allotment and retribution on earth. On the ground of such a faith, so sustained, he appears always to anticipate with complacency the appointed removal to another scene, confident that he should continue to experience in another life the goodness of that Being who had been so favourable to him in this, " though without the smallest conceit," he says, “ of meriting such goodness.” The merely philosophic language uniformly employed in his repeated anticipations of an immortal life, taken together with two or three profane passages in these letters, (there are but few such passages*), and with the manner in which he equivocates on the question respectfully pressed upon him by the worthy President of Yale College, respecting his opinion of Christ, leave no room to doubt that, whatever he did really think of the Divine Teacher, he substantially rejected Christianity—that he refused to acknowledge it in any thing like the character of a peculiar economy for the illumination and redemption of a fallen and guilty race. Nothing, probably, that he believed, was believed on the authority of its declarations, and nothing that he assumed to hope after death, was expected on the ground of its redeeming efficacy and its promises. And this state of opinions it appears that he self-complacently maintained without variation, during the long course of his activities and speculations on the great scale ; for in this letter to Dr. Stiles, of the date of 1790, he enclosed, as expressive of his latest opinions, one written nearly forty years before, in answer to some religious admonitions addressed to him by George Whitfield. So that, throughout a period much surpassing the average duration of the life of man, spent in a vigorous and very diversified exercise of an eminently acute and independent intellect, with all the lights of the world around him, he failed to attain the one grand simple apprehension how man is to be accepted with God. There is even cause to doubt whether he ever made the inquiry, with any real solicitude to meet impartially the claims of that religion which avows itself to be, on evidence, a declaration of the mind of the Almighty on the momentous subject. On any question of physics, or mechanics, or policy, or temporal utility of any kind, or morals as detached from religion, he could bend the whole force of his spirit, and the result was often a gratifying proof of the greatness of that force ; but the religion of Christ it would appear that he could pass by with an easy assumption that whatever might be the truth concerning it, he could perfectly well do without it. To us this appears a mournful and awful spectacle ; and the more so from that entire unaffected tranquillity with which he regarded the whole concern in the conscious near approach of death. Some of the great Christian topics it was needless to busy himself about then, because he should soon learn the truth with less trouble !"-We conclude by transcribing from the letter to Dr. Stiles the paragraph relating to the philosopher's religion.
* One of the most prominent and offensive is in a very short letter (p. 115, 4to.) written when past eighty, on the occasion of the death of a person whom he calls “our poor friend Ben Kent.” We were going to transcribe,—but it is better to leave such vile stuff where it is.
“Here is my creed : I believe in one God, the creator of the universe. That he governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable service we render to him is doing good to his other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated
with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental points in all sound religion, and I regard them as you do, in whatever sect I meet with them. As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the system of morals and his religion as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is like to see, but I apprehend it has received various corrupting changes, and I have with most of the present dissenters in England, some doubts as to his divinity ; though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble. I see no harm however, in its being believed, if that belief has the good consequence, as probably it has, of making his doctrines more respected and more observed, especially as I do not see that the Supreme takes it amiss by distinguishing the believers, in his government of the world, with any peculiar marks of his displeasure. I shall only add respecting myself, that having experienced the goodness of that Being in conducting me prosperously through a long life, I have no doubt of its continuance in the next, though without the smallest conceit of meriting such goodness."