« PreviousContinue »
nalia Christi Americana." His elder brothers were apprenticed to different trades; but being, as he quaintly says,
o the tithe of his father's sons," he was originally designed for the church, and was accordingly placed at the grammar-school of Boston for about a year. This clerical destination was greatly encouraged by his uncle and sponsor, Benjamin, then residing in the family, who had already prepared a goodly stock of abridged and short-hand sermons for his nephew's future use. But his father's straitened circumstances ill affording the expense, and his excellent understanding teaching him the folly of edueating a child beyond his probable prospects in life, Benjamin was finally placed at a respectable English school, where he continued until he had completed his tenth year. He states it as something remarkable, that he never remembers the time when he could not read.
At the age of ten, much against his own will, he was taken home, to assist his father in business. This unsettled him, and together with the contiguity of the sea, and the similar attempt of an elder brother, urged him frequently to think of resorting to a seafaring life. The father however was too wise a parent to constrain his inclinations hopelessly, and exhibited something of the practical philosophy of a mind adapted to his circumstances. When walking amongst joiners, bricklayers, turners, braziers, &c., at their work, he was careful to observe upon which of these useful arts the attention of Benjamin appeared to fix itself. This was one of the most critical points of that son's history. It was the best and final effort of the father “ to fix him in some trade or profession that would keep him on the land ;' and the kindness of the motive was duly appreciated by the son. It opened the only proper door of escape from pursuits to which he had an insuperable aversion. From the period of these walks, he says, " it ever afterwards became a pleasure to him to see good workmen handle their tools.”
He was now placed for a few months with a cousin, a cutler; but his brother James, who had been bred a printer, opportunely returning to Boston with a set of types from England, the father established him there in that business; and Benjamin was offered a situation as his apprentice. This accorded with his bookish propensities; but the term of bondage proposed was unreasonable, and his seafaring inclinations yet remained. He at last however signed an indenture, at twelve years of age, which bound him to his brother until his majority, and decided in a great measure the course and fortune of his future days. As the father here resigns all immediate government of our young philosopher, the reader may be gratified with the following sketch of his person and character, delivered by Dr Franklin in old age to his only son, forming as it does an excellent portrait of a father of a family in a subordinate line of life.
“ It will not perhaps be uninteresting to you to know what sort of a man my
father He had an excellent constitution, was of a middle size, but well made and strong, and extremely active in whatever he undertook. He designed with a degree of neatness, and knew a little of music. His voice was sonorous and agreeable; so that when he sang a psalm or hymn, with the accompaniment of his violin, as was his frequent practice in an evening, when the labours of the day were finished, it was truly delightful to hear him. He was versed also in mechanics, and could, upon occasion, use the tools of a variety of trades. But his greatest excellence was a sound understanding and solid judgment in matters of prudence, both in public and private life. In the former, indeed, he never engaged, because his numerous family, and the medio crity of his fortune, kept him unremittingly employed in the duties of his profession. But I well remember, that the leading men of the place used frequently to come and ask his advice respecting the affairs of the town, or of the church to which he belonged, and that they paid much deference to his opinion. Individuals
were also in the habit of consulting him in their private affairs, and he was often chosen arbiter between contending parties.
“ He was fond of having at his table, as often as possible, some friends or well-informed neighbours, capable of rational conversation; and he was always careful to introduce useful or ingenious topics of discourse, which might tend to form the minds of his children. By this means, he early attracted our attention to what was just, prudent, and beneficial, in the conduct of life. He never talked of the meats which appeared upon the table ; never discussed whether they were well or ill dressed, of a good or bad flavour, high-seasoned or otherwise, preferable or inferior to this or that dish of a similar kind. Thus accustomed, from my infancy, to the utmost inattention as to these objects, I have been perfectly regardless of what kind of food was before me; and I pay so little attention to it even now,
that it would be a hard matter for me to recollect, a few hours after I had dined, of what my dinner had consisted. When travelling, I have particularly experienced the advantage of this habit: for it has often happened to me to be in company
with persons, who, having a more delicate because a more exercised, taste, have suffered, in many cases, considerable inconvenience; while, as to myself, I have had nothing to desire.”
Franklin, from childhood, was of a frugal turn, and saved money prior to his apprenticeship, which made him master of “ Burton's Historical Collection;" 6.small chapmen's books," as he describes them, “ and cheap, forty volumes in all.” His father's library contained the usual books of the more intelligent nonconformists of that day; i.e., those of speculative and controversial divinity *; Plutarch's Lives, however,
An anecdote of Dr Franklin's childhood has often been given ; but it ex. hibits his propensity to inuocent humour so characteristically, that we cannot
The father followed the patterns of piety he had received from his ancestors, so as to be addicted to very long graces. When therefore, on one occasion, the family provision of salt meat for the winter was about to be put into a barrel, “ Father," said Benjamin, “ if you were to say grace now,over the whole barrel at once, it would be a prodigious saving of time."
inspired his early taste for biography and anecdote; Defoe's Essays on Projects stirred perhaps his first propensities to invention and practical enterprise; and Dr Mather's “Essay to do Good,” his benevolent inclinations. He mentions the last two as tending to give him a turn of thinking which influenced the principal future events of his life.
We now hear no more of his preference for the sea ; or it remained with him only in the innocent shape of the love of bathing and swimming ; for he steadily applied to his brother's business, and became important to all his proceedings. Very humble, and humbly dealt with, was his first attempt at authorship " wretched stuff," he lived to call it, “ in the streetballad style;" but the mercenary brother found his account in commissioning Benjamin to hawk some of these productions about the streets of Boston, particularly a ballad called “ The Light-house Tragedy” (containing an account of a then recent shipwreck) and “ a Sailor's Song, on the taking of Teach or Blackbeard, a noted Pirate." The father however remonstrated, reminded both brothers that versemakers were generally beggars, and criticised Benjamin's productions until he relinquished them.
But he was not unnoticed in a more encouraging way, and for more hopeful production. Matthew Adams, esq., an intelligent merchant of Boston, welcomed him to the use of a pretty extensive library; he read Locke, and the “ Port Royal Art of Thinking ;" and studied and imitated the Spectator. He speaks in warm terms of his delight at making an odd volume of the latter his own, and the use he promptly made of it. “ This was a publication I had never seen,” he says. “ I bought the volume, and read it again and again. I was enchanted with it, thought the style excellent, and wished it were in my power to imitate it. With this view, I selected some of the papers, made short summaries of the sense of each period, and put them for a few days aside. I then, without looking at the book, endeavoured to restore the essays to their due
form, and to express each thought at length, as it was in the original, employing the most appropriate words that occurred to my mind,
“ I afterwards compared my Spectator with the original : I perceived some faults, which I corrected ; but I found that I wanted a fund of words, if I may so express myself, and a facility of recollecting and employing them, which I thought I should by that time have acquired, had I continued to make verses. The continual need of words of the same meaning, but of different lengths for the measure, or of different sounds for the rhyme, would have obliged me to seek for a variety of synonymes, and have rendered me master of them. From this belief, I took some of the tales of the Spectator, and turned them into verse; and after a time, when I had sufficiently forgotten them, I again converted them into prose.
“ Sometimes also I mingled all my summaries together, and a few weeks after endeavoured to arrange them in the best order, before I attempted to form the periods and complete the essays. This I did with a view of acquiring method in the arrangement of my thoughts. On comparing afterwards my per. formance with the original, many faults were apparent, which I corrected; but I had sometimes the satisfaction to think, that in certain particulars of little importance I had been fortunate enough to improve the order of thought or the style; and this encouraged me to hope that I should succeed, in time, in writing decently in the English language, which was one of the great objects of my
ambition.” About this time, a literary acquaintance of the name of Collins, of Boston, induced Franklin to attempt his first original composition in prose. They had been disputing verbally on the propriety of bestowing a learned education upon the female sex, Franklin maintained the affirmative of the question : but his opponent, having the greater command of words, left him mortified with the feeling of a momentary defeat. As they were not again to meet for