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FRANKLIN's own narrative of his life extends only to the 27th of July, 1757, the day on which he reached London, on his first mission as agent of Pennsylvania to the British court. He was then but little more than fifty-one years of age, so that nearly thirty-three years, embracing the most conspicuous portion of his career, was left, with the exception of occasional passages in his private correspondence, untouched by his own graphic pen; and though that sequel has been ably related by Dr. Sparks, yet the two performances, valuable as they are universally acknowledged to be, are both strictly narrative, embracing little but the recital of external occurrences. Well done, therefore, as they are, still much of the most important portion of Franklin's actual life — that inner life which is made up of thoughts and feelings - the unseen workings of the mind, the exercise of the affections, the development of character, and the progress of opinion — is either left out of the narration, or is so briefly noticed, that, without access to his correspondence as well as his more elaborate productions, but scanty means are supplied for making up a full and just estimate of the whole man, the wide range of his philosophical inquiries, or of his accumulations of various knowledge, or of the number and value of his political writings, or of the vast amount of public business he transacted, or of the great extent and importance of his services to his country.
This is deemed to be especially true in relation to his political services and writings prior to the American revolution. Few, comparatively, of the present generation, it is believed, are aware of the position which Franklin really occupied during the twenty years preceding our revolutionary struggle, or of the high rank he held as a public man, and the extent to which the principles and arguments on which that struggle was based, proceeded from his mind, or were unfolded and enforced by his pen. Indeed, as to the community of this day, generally, it
Ι pect, be fairly said, that little more is known of Franklin than that he was a remarkably ingenious tradesman, who, having a turn for philo
sophical experiments, particularly in electricity, discovered its identity with lightning; and was, besides, an uncommonly sagacious man in regard to the prudent management of private affairs, who left behind him many wise maxims for the regulation of private life.
The labors of Dr. Sparks have, it is true, shown how inadequate is such an idea of Franklin; but the rich and ample collection of his writings, made by that gentleman, is beyond the reach of the great majority of the people, especially of the younger portion of them, who, necessarily engaged in the toilsome occupations of life, have little leisure for study, and but limited means for supplying themselves with books.
It is, therefore, for this portion of my countrymen that I have ventured to prepare this work. By condensing the account of some portions of Franklin's life, and by leaving to history the full recital of his political and diplomatic services, I have thought room might be found, within the compass of a single volume, to present a more complete, though still a compendious view of Franklin's life, character, and labors — of what he was, as well as what he did, throughout his entire career — than has yet been furnished in a merely biographical form. I have thus endeavored to present a full-length portrait, though it be less than the size of life. In doing this, I have dwelt with more minuteness upon the methods by which he improved his powers, than upon the specific results attained, though these have not been overlooked – the processes by which he qualified himself to be useful to his country and mankind, than upon the particular rewards which crowned his services; and I have pursued this course, in the belief that the lessons his life presents would thus be rendered more available for the benefit of others, and be more durably impressed.
0. L. HOLLEY. August 1, 1848.