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THE LIFE OF
DR. FRANKLIN, In the memoirs of every distinguished person there are incidents which always excite curiosity, and gen. erally, afford improvement; there is something also to admire, and something to imitate; butin a task, like the present, of tracing the course of a life, marked in it's origin by obscurity, to it's advancement as a legislator; of pursuing the gradations of genius from a state unaided by scientific tuition to that of ranking with the first of philosophers; to mark the means and the good fortune by which an individual emerged from poverty to opulence and fame; to contemplate an instance of the successful efforts of industry, economy, and perseverance, accompanied by inflexi. ble integrity, unostentatious manners, strong talents, and true benevolence of mind, is one of the most pleas. ing and interesting of employments.
The subject of this memoir has left a printed account of his life to his twenty-fifth year, which is fraught with incidents and observations of an extraordinary and valuable kind. . It is to this that we are indebted for a considerable portion of the following account.
Benjamin Franklin was born at Boston, in New England, Jan. 6, 1706. He was the son of Josias Franklin, a tallow-chandler, descended from an ancient English family, who had resided upwards of three centuries at Eaton, in Northamptonshire, possessing a small freehold estate of thirty acres, the eld. est son of which had uniformly been bred up to the trade of a blacksmith. This family had early eme braced the principles of the reformation, and were in danger of suffering for them, under the bloody reign of Queen Mary. They had an English Bible, and, to conceal it the more securely, they fastened it, open, with packthreads across the leaves, on the inside of the lid of a close-stool. The lid of the closestool was turned upon the knees of our author's great grand-father, when he wanted to read, while one of the children was stationed at the door, to give notice if he saw the proctor (an officer of the spiritual court) make his appearance. Benjamin was the youngest son of the youngest branch of this family. His father had joined the nonconformists, and on the prohibition of conventicles under Charles 11, emigrated, with his wife and family, to New England, in 1682; where, on the death of his first wife, he married Abiah Folger, daughter of Peter Folger, descendent of one of the first colonists in that province, who was author of several tracts on liberty of conscience. She bore him in all ten children. Ben. jamin very readily acquired reading and writing, but made no progress in arithmetic. His father had destined him for the church, but owing to the de. mands of his numerous family, he found the expens. es of a college education would subject him to difficulties, and he abandoned this intention. From ten to twelve years of age young Franklin wrought at his
father's business. In this employment he continued for two years, but growing much dissat. isfied with it, his father wished to discover the natural bias of his disposition in the choice of a trade. He therefore took him to see masons, coopers, joiners, and other mechanics, while employed at their work. Ile was then sent on trial to a cutler. Discover.
ing, from his earliest years, a passion for reading, he now laid out all the money he could procure in books. His father's little library consisted chiefly of practi. cal and polemical theology. Among them, however, were Plutarch's " Lives,” and De Foe's “ Essay on Projects;" these were his text books; these he read over and over again. Franklin has since acknowledged that from the latter he “ derived impressions which have since influenced some of the principal events of his life.” This inclination determined his father to make him a printer, tho” his elder brother James was already of that profession. He was accordingly bound apprentice to his brother, and by his rapid proficency in the art, soon became of great use to him; yet he often treated him unnaturally and rather tyrannically.
Franklin now began to write poetry, particularly ballads, which his brother printed and then dispatched our young rhymer about the town to sell them. This success flattered his vanity, but his father convinced him that his talent was not for poetry.
About this time he met with an odd volume of the Spectator, with which he was enchanted, and wished he had the power to imitate it.
With this view, he selected some of the papers, made short summaries of the ideas of each period, and laid them aside for a few days. : He then, without referring to the original, endeavoured to enlarge those ideas in polished style. He afterwards made a comparison, and thereby perceived his incor. rections, and deficiencies, which originated chiefly in the want of a fund of words, and a facility of recollecting and employing them. He says, “ I thought if I had proceeded in making verses, the continual
need of words of the same meaning, but of different 9 lengths for the measure, of of different sounds for
the rhyme, would have obliged me to seek for a va riety of synonyms, 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 de gain 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 performance 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 de cently in the English language, which was one of the great objects of my ambition. The time which I devoted to these exercises, and to reading, was the evening after my day's labour was finished, the morning before it began, and Sundays, when I could es. cape attending divine service."
With a passion for reading and writing, he imbibed the kindred one of disputing. This met with fuel from his familiarity with a youth of similar turn, and he was for a time a very doughty and dogmatic polemic. The perusal of a translation of Xenophon's “ Memorabilia,” softened him into a Socratic, and he became very dex. terious in the sly mode of confuting or confounding an antagonist by a series of questions. In such a course of mental exercise he became a sceptic with respect to the religion in which he had been educated; and
ith the zeal of a convert, took all opportunities of
propagating his unbelief. These doubts he appears never to have been able to remove; but he took care strongly to fortify himself with such moral principles of conduct as directed him to the most valuable ends by honourable means.
66 When about sixteen years of age,” says he “ Tryon's " Way to Health, Long Life and Happiness," fell into my hands, in which he recommends vegetable diet. I determined to observe it. My brother being a bachelor, did not keep house, but boarded with his apprentices in a neighbouring family. My refusing to eat animal food was found inconvenient, and I was often abused for my singularity. I attended to the mode in which Tryon prepared some of his dishes, particularly how to boil potatoes and rice, and make hasty-puddings. I then said to my brother, that if he would allow me per week half of what he paid for my board, I would un. dertake to maintain myself. The offer was instantly embraced, and I soon found that of what he gave me I was able to save half. This was a new fund for the purchase of books; and other advantages resulted to me from the plan. When my brother and his work. men left the printing house to go to dinner, I remained behind; and dispatching my frugal meal, which frequently consisted of a biscuit only, or a slice of bread and a bunch of raisins, or a bun from the pastrycook's with a glass of water. I had the rest of the time, till their return, for study; and my progress therein was proportioned to that clearness of ideas, and quickness of conception, which are the fruits of temperance in eating and drinking."
His mother being asked why her son had adopted so singular a plan of diet, replied, “Because he had read a foolish phil. osopher called Plutarch; however,” added she, I let him take his own way.”
During this time Frank.