Page images
PDF
EPUB

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN.

ary, 1706.

THIS celebrated individual, the had a prodigions run, because the event youngest but two of a family of seven- was recent, and had made a great teen children, was born at Boston, in noise ;” but “ they were wretched North America, on the 17th of Janu- verses in point of style-mere blind

His father was at first a man's dirties." His father seems to dyer, and afterwards a soap-boiler and have been of the same opinion, for he tallow-chandler, and had quitred Eng- ridiculed the productions; " and thus," land, in order to escape the prosecution says their author, “my exultation against non-conformists, under Charles was checked, and I escaped the mis. the Second. His son Benjamin was fortune of being a very miserable poet." sent to a grammar-school at eight years At this period he forined an acquaintof age, with a view of being educated ance with a young man of the name of for the church, but this design was soon Collins, who was also a great lover of abandoned, and the subject of our me- books. They were frequently together, moir, after having made a slight pro- and were both fond of disputation, which gress in writing and arithmetic, ‘re- they sometimes carried on in writing. turned home, and assisted at his father's This, probably, assisted in bringing ont trade. This employment was very irk- some of the dorinant qualities of Franksome to Franklin, whose inclinations lin's mind; but his style was greatly had become directed to a sea-faring inferior to that of bis rival, to improve life; and it was at length agreed that which he immediately took the followhe should be apprenticed to his cousin, ing method :-“I bought," he says, who was a cutler. An obstacle to this," an odd volume of The Spectator, read however, arose in the amount of pre- it over and over, and was much demium required, and he was eventually lighted with it. I thought the writing bound, in his twelfth year, to his bro- excellent, and wished, if possible, to ther James, a printer.

imitite it. With this view, I took some He soon inade great progress in this of the papers, and, making short hints business, and an acquaintance formed of the sentiments in each sentence, with several booksellers' apprentices, laid them by a few days; and then, enabled him to indulge his love of read- without looking at the book, tried to ing, by borrowing books, which they complete the papers again, by ex. had facilities to obtain. " It has often pressing each hinted sentiment at happened to me," he says, in a memoir length, and as fully as it had been exof the early part of his life, “ to pass pressed before in any suitable words the greater part of the night in reading that should occur to me. Then I comby my bed-side, when the book had pared my Spectator with the original, been lent to me in the evening, and discovered some of my faults, and corwas to be returned the next morning; rected them. But I found I wanted a lest it might be missed or wanted." stock of words, or a readiness in recolThis disposition being noticed by a Mr. lecting and using them, which I thought Matthew Adams, who had a large col- I should have acquired before that lection of books, he offered the use of time, if I had gone on making verses ; them to Franklin, who soon became an since the continual search for words of author, and composed several little the

same import, but of different pieces in verse. Two of these, a ballad, length, to suit the measure, or of difcalled The Light-house Tragedy, and ferent sound, for the rhyme, would a song on the noted pirate, Blackbeard, have laid me under constant necessity were, by the brother's directions, of searching for variety, and also have printed : but the most unpoetic part of tended to fix that variety in my mind, the story remains to be told-their and make me master of it. Therefore author was despatched about the town I took some of the tales in The Specto sell them. Franklin says, “ the first tator, and turned them into verse :

and, after a time, when I had pretty genius.” Many other articles were well forgotten the prose, turned them written, and forwarded in the same manback again. I also, sometimes, jumbled ner, and, being equally well received, my collection of hints into confusion, their author made bimself known; exand, after some weeks, endeavoured to pecting that the discovery would inreduce them into the best order, before sure for him more respect and greater I began to forın the full sentences and fraternal indulgence than he bad complete the subject. This was to previously experienced. His brother, teach me method in the arrangement however, continued to treat him with of my thoughts. By comparing my much rigour, and being a man of ungowork with ihe original, I discovered vernable passions, frequently proceeded many faults, and corrected them; but to the extremity of blows.

- This sometimes had the pleasure to fancy severe and tyrannical treatment,” says that, in certain particulars of small con Franklin, “contributed, I believe, io sequence, I had been fortunate enough imprint on my mind that aversion to to improve the method or the language; arbitrary power, which, during my and this encouraged me to think that I whole life, I have ever preserved." might, in time, come to be a tolerable The brothers, however, had soon ocEnglish writer, of which I was ex casion to become reconciled with each tremely ainbitious."

other. James, in consequence of an Franklin added to his habits of in offensive article in The Courant, was dustry a self-denial and control over taken into custody, and imprisoned for his passions, even at this early age, a month; and Benjamin, during that which were truly surprising. When period, was intrusted with the manage. about sixteen, a work fell into his ment of the paper, in which he inseried hands, which recommended vegetable several pasquinades against the godiet: this he determined to follow, vernor and other persons in authority. and undertook to provide for himself, James's enlargement was accompanied upon his brother's allowing him one with an arbitrary order, that he should half of the ordinary expense of his “ no longer print the newspaper called board, of which half, even, he con The New England Courant.” To trived, by great abstemiousness, to save evade this order, it was determined a considerable portion. Here was a that his brother's indentures should be new fund for the purchase of books ; | given up, and the paper, in future, be and he accordingly obtained such as printed in the name of Benjamin Frankenabled him to perfect himself in those lin. A new contract was at the sanie elementary branches of knowledge in time secretly entered into between the which he was deficient, among which parties, by which Benjamin's services were arithmetic and geometry.

were to be secured for the remainder of In 1720, his brother established a pub- the term of his former apprenticeship: lic paper, entitled The New England but, a fresh quarrel arising, Franklin Courant, the second that had appeared thought proper to separate from his in America. Franklin was employed brother; " dishonourably," as he canto distribute the copies, and, occasion- didly acknowledges," availing himself ally, being present at the meetings which of the circumstance that the contract were held at his brother's house, by a could not safely be produced.” number of literary characters, who Being unable to obtain employment were contributors, his love of author- in Bosion, he determined upon going ship was rekindled, and he sent a com to New York; but, apprehending his munication, in the usual way, but in a father would object to this resolution, feigned hand. It was received, and he sold a part of his books to procure commented upon in Franklin's hearing; a small sum of money, and departed who, in his memoir, tells us, he had privately. On his arrival at the latter " the exquisite pleasure to find that it place, lie applied for employment to a met with their approbation, and that, printer, who, having no occasion for his in the various conjectures they made services, recommended him to extend his respecting its author, no one was men- journey to Philadelphia. Before starttioned who did not enjoy a high repu- ing, the perplexing interrogatories which tation in the country for talents and had been put to him at every place

where he stopped, induced him to hit me threepennyworth of any sort. He upon an expedient for silencing similar | gave me, accordingly, three great puffy inquiries. As soon as supper was laid, rolls. I was surprised at the quantity, he called his landlord, and the following but took it; and, having no room in dialogue took place between them :- my pockets, walked off with a roll under Pray are you married ?"

“ Yes."

each arm, and eating the other. Thus “What family have you got ?"

“ Two

I went up Market Street, as far as sons and three daughters.” “ How South Street, passing by the door of many servants ?" “ Two, and a hostler." Mr. Read, my future wife's father, “ Have you any objection to my see when she, standing at the door, saw ing them?" “ None, I guess." "Then me, and thought I made, as I certainly be so good as to desire them all to step did, a most awkward, ridiculous aphere." This was done; and the whole pearance. Then I turned and went being assembled, Franklin thus ad. down Chestnut Street and part of Wal. dressed them :-" Good people, my nut Street, eating my roll all the way; name is Benjamin Franklin-I am by and, coming round, found myself again trade a printer-1 came from Boston, at Market Street wharf, near the boat and am going to Philadelphia, to seek I came in, to which I went for a draught employment I am in rather humble of the river water; and, being filled circumstances, and quite indifferent to with one of my rolls, gave the other news of any kind unconnected with two to a woman and her child that printing. This is I knd ot' myself, came down the river in the boat with and all I can possibly inform you ; us, and were waiting to go farther. and now I hope you will allow me to Thus refreshed, I walked again up the take my supper in quiet."

street, which, by this time, had many His arrival at Philadelphia is thus clean dressed people in it, who were all recorded by hinself:-"I was in my walking the same way. I joined them, working-dress, my best clothes being and thereby was led into the great lo come from New York, by sea. meeting-house of the Quakers, near the was covered with dirt; my pockets market. I sat down among them, and, were filled with shirts and stockings; ! after looking round awhile, and hearing was unacquainted with a single soul in nothing said, being very drowsy, the place, and knew not where to seek through labour and want of rest the a lodging. Fatigued with walking and preceding night, I fell fast asleep, and rowing, and having passed the night continued so till the meeting broke up, without sleep, I was extremely hungry, when some one was kind enough to and all my money consisted of a Dutch rouse me. This, therefore, was the first dollar, and aboui a shilling's worth of house I was in, or slept in, in Philacoppers, which I gave to the boatmen delphia." for my passage.

At first they refused He was not long in obtaining emit, on account of my having rowed; but ployment with a printer of the name L'insisted on their taking it. Man is of Keimer; and, during his stay at sometimes more generous when he has Philadelphia, was favourably noticed little money than when he has plenty ; | by the governor, Sir William Keith, perhaps to prevent his being thought to who frequently invited him to his table ; have but little. I walked towards the and at length promised to advance the top of the street, gazing about, till near funds requisite to place him in business Market Street, where I met a boy with on his own account. He had previously bread. I had often inade a meal of advised his young protege to proceed dry bread, and, inqniring where he had to Boston, and ask assistance from his bought it, I went immediately to the father, who, however, gave no baker's he directed me to. I asked for couragement to the scheme, but disbiscuits, meaning such as we had at missed Franklin with his blessing, who Boston ; that sort, it seems, was not returned to Philadelphia. Sir William made in Philadelphia. I then asked now recommended him to visit Eng. for a threepenny loaf, and was told land, in order to procure an adequate they had none. Not knowing the dif. stock of printing materials, and estabferent prices, nor the names of the dif- lish a connexion with some London ferent sorts of bread, I told him to give booksellers; and offered to furnish him

en

with letters of credit and introduction. our letters and put the press in order, Upon this recommendation, Franklin before George House, an acquaintance sei sail for England, but the ship which of ours, brought a countryman to us brought him to London, in December, whom he had met in the street, in1724, was found to have carried none of quiring for a printer. All our cash had the promised letters from the governor been expended in the variety of parof Philadelphia.

ticulars we had been obliged to proHe was now thrown entirely upon cure, and this countryman's five shilhis own resources, and having taken lings, being our first fruits, and coming lodgings in Lille Britain, at one shilling so seasonably, gave me more pleasure and ninepence per week, he got into than any money I have ever since rework at "Palmer's printing-house, in ceived." The frugality and industry of Bartholomew Close, in which employ Franklin soon brought their business he continued for nearly a year. From into a thriving condition, and he began Palmer's he removed to Watts's, near to think of establishing a newspaper, Lincoln's Inn Fields, where, by his when he was anticipated by Keimer, companions, he was dubbed the Water- who started one of his own.

He now American. From my example," wrote, in conjunction with a friend, a he says, “a great many of them left series of papers, called The Busy Body, off their muddling breakfast of beer, which so much eclipsed the publication bread, and cheese, finding they could, of his rival, that he was glad to dispose with me, be supplied from a neighbour- of his paper, at any price, to Franklin. ing house with a large porringer of Meredith proving inattentive to busihot water-gruel, sprinkled with pepper, ness, Franklin was persuaded to dissolve crumbled with bread, and a bit of buiter partnership, and take the concern enin it, for the price of a pint of beer, tirely into his own hands, which he viz., three-halfpence.About this was enabled to accomplish, through the period, he fell in with some deistical liberal assistance of two acquaintances, companions, renounced his religious who were members of the Junto. This principles, commenced sceptic, and was a club, established by Franklin, for published A Dissertation on Liberty the discussion of subjects connected and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain; in with morals, politics, and natural phi

to Wollaston's Religion of losophy: it eventually became the Nature. This work introduced him centre of thought for the whole people ; to the notice of Sir Hans Sloane, Dr. and contributed, in a great degree, to Mandeville, Dr. Pemberton, and other the success of their struggle for indeeminent persons, though Franklin ac- | pendence. knowledged the printing of it as one of In September, 1730, he married a the errors of his life. After having been female to whom he had been previously in London eighteen months, he accepted attached, when she was Miss Read, but the offer of a Mr. Denham, a merchant who, during his absence, had conceived of Philadelphia, to return with him as herself forgotten, and given her hand to his clerk, ai a salary of £50. He ar- a potter, of the name of Rogers. This rived at Philadelphia on the 11th of person had involved himself in debt, October, 1726 ; but, Mr. Denham dying and fled to the West Indies, but Frankin the following year, his clerk was lin's affection was not damped by the compelled to return to his former occu- probability of the lady's first husband pation, and again entered into the em- | being still alive, and he consented to ploy of Keimer; acting in the several make her his spouse. capacities of letter-founder, ink-maker, In 1732, he published his celebrated engraver, and copper-plate-printer. The almanack, under the name of Richard press which he used in the latter calling Saunders, more generally known as Poor was constructed by himself, and was Richard's Almanack, and which became the first erected in America. A quarrel so celebrated for its numerous happilywith Keimer, led to a final separation expressed and valuable moral maxims. between him and Franklin, who now These were collected, many years afterentered into partnership with a young wards, into a little traci, called The man of the name of Meredith. “ We Way to Wealth; having for its object had scarcely," says Franklin, “opened the extension of industry and economy,

answer

YOL. III.

habits which no man ever practised his newly-invented fire-place; and, in more successfully than Franklin himself. | 1747, was elected a member of the Dr. Bard, a Scotchman, residing in general assembly; in which he was an Philadelphia, used to say of him, " The active defender of the rights of the industry of this Franklin is superior to citizens, in opposition to the encroachany thing of the kind I ever witnessed.

ments of the proprietaries. He introI see him still at work when I return duced several measures relative to the from the club at night, and I find he is local government of Philadelphia; and at it again in the inorning, before his busily employed himselt in establishing neighbours are out of bed."

On one public schools and founding hospitals. occasion, having laid down a rule that In 1749, he took one of his workinen he would compose a sheet a-day, of a into partnership; and was thus enabled particular work, in folio, he had the to devote a considerable portion of his inisfortune, afier his evening's labour, time to scientific pursuits, of which it to derange two whole pages. Such, is now tiine to give some account.

At however, was his perseverance, that lie this period, our readers need not, perdistributed and composed them anew haps, be told, that electricity was a before he retired to bed.

science which could hardly be said to In 1736, he commenced his political consist of anything more than a colcareer, by being appointed clerk to the

lection of unsystematized and ill-undergeneral assembly : and, in the following stood facts. Franklin's attention seems year, entered upon the duties of post- to have been first directed to this submaster. He was also appointed an alder- ject in 1746, when, being at Boston, he nian, and put into the commission of the

inet with a Dr. Spence, who had lately peace; bui took no part in the business arrived from Scotland, and shewed him of the bench, commonly employing some electrical experiments. They himself, whilst sitting with his brother

were not very expertly performed, magistrates, “ in contriving magic “ but being," says Franklin, “ on a squares and circles.". From this period, subject quite new to me, they equally till 1744, he was actively and usefully surprised and pleased me. Soon after employed in instituting fire companies, my return to Philadelphia, our library erecting public buildings, and establish- company received, from Mr. Peter ing philosophical societies. In 1744, Collinson, F.R.S., of London, a present during the war between England and of a glass tube, with some account of France, he particularly distinguished the use of it in making experiments. I himself in procuring means of resist. eagerly seized the opporiunity of re. ance against the eneiny, and succeeded peating what I had seen at "Boston ; in bringing over the Quakers to give and, by much practice, acquired great their pecuniary aid. They were, how readiness in performing those also ever, particularly scrupulous not to ac which we had an account of from Eng. knowledge that their grants were con land, adding a number of new ones. I nected with the principle of warfare. say much practice, for my house was When, therefore, the assembly was continually full, for some time, with applied to, for a certain quantity of persons who came to see these new gunpowder, the members would not wonders. To divide a little of this incomply with the request; but voted cumbrance among my friends, I caused £3,000 to be placed in the hands of the a number of similar tubes to be thrown governor, “ for the purchase of bread, in our glass-house, with which they flour, wheat, or other grain.” The furnished themselves; so that we had, governor was advised not to accept the

at length, several performers." grant, but he replied "I shall take

None were now more zealous, in the money; 'other grain' means gun electrical investigations, than Franklin: powder." Franklin, hearing of this, he was continually devising new exsuggested that the insurance compa- periments, and falling upon important nies, which were also well stocked with results. He exhibited the power of Quakers, migiit likewise very properly points in drawing and throwing off the contribute their aid, by a grant for the electrical matter; and made the grand purchase of fire-engines.

discovery of a positive and negative In 1745, he published an account of state of electricity. By means of this

« PreviousContinue »