« ZurückWeiter »
men of some character among us for learning and ingenuity. I suppose, that I was rather lucky in my judges, and that they were not really so very good as I then believed them to be. Encouraged however by this attempt, I wrote and sent in the same way to the press several other pieces, that were equally approved; and I kept my secret till all my fund of sense for such performances was exhausted, and then discovered it, when I began to be considered a little more by my brother's acquaintance.
However, that did not quite please him, as he thought it tended to make me too vain. This might be one occasion of the differences we began to have about this time. Though a brother, he considered himself as my master, and me as his apprentice, and accordingly expected the same services from me as he would from another, while I thought he degraded me too much in some he required of me, who from a brother expected more indulgence. Our disputes were often brought before our father, and I fancy I was either generally in the right, or else a better pleader, because the judgment was generally in my favor. But my brother was passionate, and had often beaten me, which I took extremely amiss; and, thinking my apprenticeship very tedious, I was continually wishing for some opportunity of shortening it, which at length offered in a manner unexpected. Perhaps this harsh and tyrannical treatment of me might be a means of impressing me with the aversion to arbitrary power, that has stuck to me through my whole life.
One of the pieces in our newspaper on some political point, which I have now forgotten, gave offence to the Assembly. He was taken up, censured, and imprisoned for a month by the Speaker's warrant, I suppose because he would not discover the author. I too was
taken up and examined before the Council; but, though I did not give them any satisfaction, they contented themselves with admonishing me, and dismissed me, considering me perhaps as an apprentice, who was bound to keep his master's secrets. During my brother's confinement, which I resented a good deal notwithstanding our private differences, I had the management of the paper; and I made bold to give our rulers some rubs in it, which my brother took very kindly, while others began to consider me in an unfavorable light, as a youth that had a turn for libelling and satire.
My brother's discharge was accompanied with an order, and a very odd one, that "James Franklin should no longer print the newspaper, called The New England Courant." On a consultation held in our printingoffice amongst his friends, what he should do in this conjuncture, it was proposed to elude the order by changing the name of the paper. But my brother, seeing inconveniences in this, came to a conclusion, as a better way, to let the paper in future be printed in the name of Benjamin Franklin; and in order to avoid the censure of the Assembly, that might fall on him, as still printing it by his apprentice, he contrived and consented that my old indenture should be returned to me with a discharge on the back of it, to show in case of necessity; and, in order to secure to him the benefit of my service, I should sign new indentures for the remainder of my time, which were to be kept private. A very flimsy scheme it was; however, it was immediately executed, and the paper was printed accordingly, under my name, for several months.*
The earlier numbers of the New England Courant were principally filled with original articles, in the form of essays, letters, and short paragraphs, written with considerable ability and wit, and touching with
At length, a fresh difference arising. between my brother and me, I took upon me to assert my freedom; presuming that he would not venture to produce the new indentures. It was not fair in me to take this advantage, and this I therefore reckon one of the first errata of my life; but the unfairness of it weighed little with me when under the impressions of resentment for the blows his passion too often urged him to bestow upon me. Though he was otherwise not an ill natured man; perhaps I was too saucy and provoking.
When he found I would leave him, he took care to prevent my getting employment in any other printinghouse of the town, by going round and speaking to every master, who accordingly refused to give me work.
great freedom the vices and follies of the time. The weapon of satire was used with an unsparing hand. Neither the government nor the clergy escaped. Much caution was practised, however, in regard to individuals, and names were seldom introduced. There are some severe and humorous criticisms on the poets of the day, which may be classed with the best specimens of this kind of composition in the modern reviews. The humor sometimes degenerates into coarseness, and the phraseology is often harsh; but, bating these faults, the paper contains nothing, which in later times would have been deemed reprehensible. James Franklin, the editor and printer, was imprisoned on the general charge of having published passages "boldly reflecting on his Majesty's government and on the administration in this province, the ministry, churches, and college; and that tend to fill the readers' minds with vanity, to the dishonor of God and the disservice of good men." He was sentenced by a vote of the Assembly, without any specification of these offensive passages, or any trial before a court of justice.
This was probably the first transaction, in the American Colonies, relating to the freedom of the press; and it is not less remarkable for the assumption of power on the part of the legislature, than for their disregard of the first principles and established forms of law.
No change took place in the character of the paper, and six months afterwards, January, 1723, he was again arraigned upon a similar charge. The resentment of the ruling powers, stimulated by the clergy, had been gaining heat during the whole time, and now pushed them to more arbitrary measures. They condescended, however, to specify a particular article, as affording the ground of their proceedings. This was an essay on Hypocrisy, in which hypocrites of various descriptions were roughly
I then thought of going to New York, as the nearest place where there was a printer. And I was rather inclined to leave Boston, when I reflected, that I had already made myself a little obnoxious to the governing party, and, from the arbitrary proceedings of the Assembly in my brother's case, it was likely I might, if I stayed, soon bring myself into scrapes; and further, that my indiscreet disputations about religion began to make me pointed at with horror by good people, as an infidel and atheist. I concluded, therefore, to remove to New York; but my father now siding with my brother, I was sensible, that, if I attempted to go openly, means would be used to prevent me. My friend Collins, therefore, undertook to manage my flight. He agreed
handled, but no individual or class of men was mentioned. The most objectionable paragraphs in this essay are the following.
"Religion is indeed the principal thing, but too much of it is worse than none at all. The world abounds with knaves and villains; but, of all knaves, the religious knave is the worst, and villanies acted under the cloak of religion the most execrable. Moral honesty, though it will not itself carry a man to heaven, yet I am sure there is no going thither without it."
"But are there such men as these in thee, O New England? Heaven forbid there should be any; but, alas, it is to be feared the number is not small. Give me an honest man,' say some, 'for all a religious man;' a distinction which I confess I never heard of before. The whole country suffers for the villanies of a few such wolves in sheep's clothing, and we are all represented as a pack of knaves and hypocrites for their sakes."
Sentiments like these were thought worthy of the high condemnation of the legislative Assembly, and the printer was again censured, without being tried by a judicial tribunal, and forbidden to publish any paper, or pamphlet, the contents of which had not been previously examined and approved by the Secretary of the province. The following comment on this act, contained in the Philadelphia Mercury, of February 26th, 1723, shows the indignation with which it was received in other parts of the country.
"My Lord Coke observes, that, to punish first, and then inquire, the law abhors; but here, Mr. Franklin has a severe sentence passed upon him, even to the taking away part of his livelihood, without being called to make an answer. An indifferent person would judge by this vote against
with the captain of a New York sloop to take me, under pretence of my being a young man of his acquaintance, that had an intrigue with a girl of bad character, whose parents would compel me to marry her, and that I could neither appear or come away publicly. I sold my books to raise a little money, was taken on board the sloop privately, had a fair wind, and in three days found myself at New York, near three hundred miles from my home, at the age of seventeen, (October, 1723), without the least recommendation, or knowledge of any person in the place, and very little money in my pocket.
Couranto, that the Assembly of the province of Massachusetts Bay are made up of oppressors and bigots, who make religion the only engine of destruction to the people; and the rather, because the first letter in the Courant, of the 14th of January, which the Assembly censures, so naturally represents and exposes the hypocritical pretenders to religion. Indeed, the most famous politicians of that government (as the infamous Governor Dy and his family) have ever been remarkable for hypocrisy. And it is the general opinion, that some of their rulers are raised up and continued as a scourge in the hands of the Almighty for the sins of the people. Thus much we could not forbear saying, out of compassion to the distressed people of the province, who must now resign all pretences to sense and reason, and submit to the tyranny of priestcraft and hypocrisy.
"P. S. By private letters from Boston we are informed, that the bakers were under great apprehensions of being forbid baking any more bread, unless they will submit it to the Secretary, as supervisor-general and weigher of the dough, before it is baked into bread and offered to sale."
After this sentence, James Franklin ceased to affix his name to the New England Courant. In the number, dated February 11th, he said, "The late publisher of this paper, finding so many inconveniences would arise, by his carrying the manuscripts and the public news to be supervised by the Secretary, as to render his carrying it on unprofitable, has entirely dropped the undertaking." From this time the paper was published in the name of Benjamin Franklin; and although he remained in Boston only eight months afterwards, yet his name was continued as publisher for several years, and probably till the paper came to an end, in 1727. James Franklin removed soon after to Newport, where he established the Rhode Island Gazette, September, 1732. He died in February, 1735. — EDITOR.