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Entered according to the act of Congress, in the year one thousand eight
hundred and forty, by Hilliard, Gray, AND Company, in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.
FOLSOM, WELLS, AND THURSTON,
PRINTERS TO THE UNIVERSITY.
BY THE EDITOR.
Few writers have been so regardless of literary reputation as Franklin. Scarcely any of his compositions were published under his own eye; many of them were not written for the press; and the fame of authorship appears rarely to have been among the motives by which he was induced to employ his pen. It is true, that, in early life and afterwards, he cultivated with uncommon assiduity the art of writing, till he attained a mastery over the language, which has raised his name to the first rank in English literature. Yet it was his primary object, not so much to become distinguished by this accomplishment, as to acquire the power of acting on the minds of others, and of communicating, in the most attractive and effectual manner, such discoveries as he might make, and his schemes for the general improvement, the moral culture, the comfort, and happiness of mankind. He seldom affixed his name to any of his writings. They were mostly designed for a particular purpose; and, when they had answered the end for which they were intended, he seems to have given himself little concern about their future destiny.
Hence he never took pains to collect and revise for the press any portion of his miscellaneous
papers, which had been separately printed, nor to cause a collection of them to be published with his name and under his own supervision; although in two or three instances he rendered some assistance to others, who had voluntarily undertaken the task.
The first collection was published in London in the year 1751. It consisted only of letters and papers on electricity, which he had sent to Peter Collinson, who committed them to the press without the author's knowledge, giving as a reason the extremely interesting nature of their contents, and their importance to the public. A fourth edition of that work, in a handsome quarto volume, was published in 1769, greatly enlarged by the addition of other papers on various philosophical subjects. This edition, and a fifth, which followed it five years afterwards, probably received some degree of attention from the author, as he was then in London. These papers were likewise translated into Latin, French, Italian, and German, and printed in different parts of Europe. In 1772, M. Dubourg made a new collection of Dr. Franklin's writings, embracing all that were in the above work, and many others on miscellaneous subjects, communicated by the author himself, some of which had not before appeared in print. The whole were translated into French by the editor, illustrated with notes, and published at Paris, in two elegant quarto volumes.
In 1779 another collection was published in London, consisting of political, miscellaneous, und philosophical pieces. These formed a new work, very few of them having been included in any previous edition of the author's writings. The editor was Mr. Benjamin Vaughan, who was for many years an intimate friend and constant correspondent of Dr. Franklin. The task of editorship was performed with a fidelity and success, which were highly commended by the author. The materials are well arranged, and the notes are judicious, appropriate, and valuable.
The above are the only original collections that appeared during the author's lifetime. A compilation from them, in a thin octavo volume, was printed in 1787.
Three years after his death, in 1793, the Messrs. Robinson published in London what they called, in the title-page, the Works of Dr. Franklin, comprised in two small volumes. This edition is remarkable as containing the first publication, in the English language, of the Life of Franklin, written by himself. It had lately been published in French, a translation having been made from an original manuscript, which Dr. Franklin had presented to his friend, M. Le Veillard. It was now retranslated into English by a skilful hand. This retranslation is the
“Life of Franklin,” which has usually been circulated in Great Britain and the United States, and of which numerous editions have been printed. And even to this day it continues to be read, and to be quoted by respectable writers, as if it were the author's original work, although the fact of its being a translation is expressly stated in the preface to the first edition, and although more than twenty years have elapsed since the autobiography was published from the original manuscript. As there printed, it comes down no later than to the year 1731. The first volume contains this portion of the autobiography, and the continuation by Dr. Stuber, which had recently appeared in the Columbian Magazine at Philadelphia. The second volume consists of essays, the larger portion of which had been written since the publication of Mr. Vaughan's edition. Another retranslation of the French version of the autobiography was published the same year in London, which is described in the Monthly Review as possessing little merit.
The next edition in the order of time was that of Castéra, published in two octavo volumes at Paris, in 1798, being a selection of miscellaneous pieces, with the addition of a few that had been printed separately. They were all translated into French
It is a singular circumstance, that the autobiography was translated for this edition from the first English retranslation mentioned above. It thus passed through three changes, first into French, next