FROM BOYHOOD TO MANHOOD
LIFE OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN
By William M. Thayer
Author of "From Farm House to White House," "From Log Cabin to White House," "From Pioneer Home to White House," "From Tannery to White House," etc., etc.
The life of Benjamin Franklin is stranger than fiction. Its realities surpass the idealities of novelists. Imagination would scarcely venture to portray such victories over poverty, obscurity, difficulties, and hardships. The tact, application, perseverance, and industry, that he brought to his life-work, make him an example for all time. He met with defeats; but they inspired him to manlier efforts. His successes increased his desire for something higher and nobler. He was satisfied only with going up still higher. He believed that "one to-day is worth two to-morrows"; and he acted accordingly, with the candle-shop and printing office for his school-room, and Observation for his teacher. His career furnishes one of the noblest examples of success for the young of both sexes to study. We offer his life as one of the brightest and best in American history to inspire young hearts with lofty aims.
The first and principal source of material for this book was Franklin's "Autobiography." No other authority, or treasure of material, can take the place of that. Biographies by Sparks, Sargent, Abbott, and Parton have freely consulted together with "Franklin in France," and various eulogies and essays upon his life and character.
That Franklin was the real father of the American Union, is the view which the author of this biography presents. It is the view of Bancroft, as follows:—
"Not half of Franklin's merits have been told. He was the true father of the American Union. It was he who went forth to lay the foundation of that great design at Albany; and in New York he lifted up his voice. Here among us he appeared as the apostle of the Union. It was Franklin who suggested the Congress of 1774; and but for his wisdom, and the confidence that wisdom inspired, it is a matter of doubt whether that Congress would have taken effect. It was Franklin who suggested the bond of the Union which binds these States from Florida to Maine. Franklin was the greatest diplomatist of the eighteenth century. He never spoke a word too soon; he never spoke a word too much; he never failed to speak the right word at the right season."
The closing years of Franklin's life were so identified with the Union of the States, and the election and inauguration of Washington as the first President, that his biography becomes a fitting companion to the WHITE HOUSE SERIES.
I. FROM OLD ENGLAND TO NEW ENGLAND.
Persecution Driving Franklin and Others Away—Discussion about Emigrating—Josiah Franklin—His Trade—Benjamin Franklin—Doctor Franklin's Account of His Ancestors—Meetings of Dissenters Broken Up—Why Josiah Decided to Go—Account of Their Family Bible—The Final Decision—The Franklin Family Influential—Thomas Franklin—The Franklin Poet—Doctor Franklin about His Father—What Boston was Then and Now—Exploring the Wilderness—Influence of Franklins in Boston.
II. THE FIFTEENTH GIFT.
Birth of Benjamin Franklin on Sunday—The Fifteenth Child—God's Gift—Proposition to Baptize Him the Same Day—Discussion over It—Baptized on That Day by Doctor Willard—The Church Record—House in Which He was Born—Josiah's Children—Death of Wife and Second Marriage—The Folger Family—Name for Uncle Benjamin—Personal Beauty—Words of Parton—Josiah Took Up Trade of Tallow-chandler—The Business and Place Described—Sons Apprenticed—Josiah a Good Musician—Condition of the World When Benjamin was Born in 1706.
III. PAYING TOO DEAR FOR THE WHISTLE.
Seven Years Old—First Money to Spend as He Pleased—Advice Gratis—Boy with Whistle—Benjamin Buys a Whistle—Going into the Concert Business—Scene in the Family—Tormented by John for Paying All His Money—Ben Breaks Down—Father and Mother Takes His Part—The Lesson He Learned—What He Wrote about It at Seventy-two Years of Age—When Boys Pay Too Dear for the Whistle—Dickens—Keeping the Secret—How the Secret Came Out.
IV. IN SCHOOL.
Uncle Benjamin and His Poetry—His Family—His Letter about Ben—Plans for School and Doctor Willard—Goes to School at Eight Years of Age—Description of His Father—Of His Mother—Inscription on Their Monument—Nathaniel Williams, Teacher—Description of School-house—His Scholarship High—His Teacher Praises Him—Led the School—Prophecies about Him—Webster—Rittenhouse—Stephenson.
V. OUT OF SCHOOL.
Poverty Forces Him to Leave School—His Mother's View—Hard Time for Ministers—Brownell's School of Penmanship—How Ben Could Help His Father—Boys Put to Work Young Then—His Obedience—A Well-Disciplined Boy—Incident of His Manhood to Rebuke a Landlord—Robert Peel and Harry Garland—The Eight Hall Brothers—His Progress.
VI. FROM SCHOOL TO CANDLE-SHOP.
Arrival of Uncle Benjamin—Opposed to Taking His Nephew Out of School— Thinks Ben is Very Talented—Prospects of the Business—Benjamin's Talk with His Mother—Blessings of Industry—Doctor Franklin's Proverbs—Became Wiser Than His Father—Tallow-Chandler at Ten Years of Age—His Father Saw His Dissatisfaction—Josiah, the Runaway Son, Returns—Wanted to Go to Sea—The Proposition Vetoed—Uncle Benjamin Against It.
VII. CHOOSING A TRADE AND STEALING SPORT.
Love of a Trade Necessary to Success—Following "Natural Bent"—Square Boys in Round Holes—Smeaton—Benjamin Pleased with a New Plan— Examining Different Trades—The Cutler, Brazier, etc.—Chooses Cutler's Trade—Enters Shop on Trial—Disagreement on Terms—The Good It Did Him—Sport on the Water—An Evil Proposition—Stealing Stones—The Wharf Built—The Thieves Detected—How Benjamin's Father Found Him Out—Benjamin's Confession and Promise—The End.
VIII. BECOMING PRINTER-BOY.
James Franklin Returns from England a Printer—His Father's Talk About Learning That Trade—Benjamin Likes It—Arrangement with James— Printing in Its Infancy Then—Censorship over Printing—Bound to His Brother—Form of Indenture—William Tinsley—White Slavery—Poor Children Sold at Auction—A Printer-boy and How He Liked—Time for Reading—Budget!—The Printing-office, Where and What—Being on Time—After a Book Before Breakfast—Washington's Punctuality— Franklin's Like It.
IX. TABLE-TALK EDUCATION.
What Franklin Said of Table-talk—What Heard at Table Now—Its Moulding Influence—That of His Grandfather—The Franklins Good in Conversation—Extract from Parton—Letter of Franklin to His Wife in 1758—Pythagoras—Cicero—Josiah Franklin—His Wise Counsels—Origin of His Temperance Principles—No Temperance Cause Then—The Washburne Family—The Way the Twig is Bent.
X. LEADER OF SPORTS AND THOUGHTS.
Love of Reading and Fun—The Best Swimmer, etc.—Invention to Promote Swimming—His Secret of Success—The Trial of the Apparatus—Hard on the Wrists—Another Experiment Proposed—Swimming Promoted by a Kite—Delight of the Boys—What Franklin Said of It in Manhood—The Seed Thought of Drawing Lightning from a Cloud with a Kite—His Experiment and Joy—What He Wrote about It—Advocate of Liberal Female Education—Correspondence with Collins—His Father's Opinion—How Benjamin Tried to Improve—How He Gained Time—Wise Maxims in Age—Maxims—C.G. Frost and One Hour a Day—What Spare Moments Did for Benjamin.
XI. STARTING A NEWSPAPER.
Only Three Newspapers in America—Created a Stir—What Newspaper Business is in Boston Now—How to Estimate It—Benjamin Manages the Printing of It—His Interest in It—Its Warm Reception—Proposition to Board Himself—What He Gained by It—His Object Self-improvement— James Selfish, Benjamin Generous—Their Talk about the Plan—What His Bill-of-Fare Was—How Come to Adopt Vegetable Diet—More Maxims— Cocker's Arithmetic—His Success.
XII. THE RUSE, AND WHAT CAME OF IT.
What Parton Says of Courant—The Knot of Liberals—Ben's First Anonymous Article, and His Ruse—Discussion over It by the Courant Club—Decided to Publish It—Benjamin Puts It in Type—It Created a Sensation—The Second Article, Better Than First—Excitement over It Still Greater—Ben's Exultation—James' Astonishment—Surprise of the "Knot"—Ben a Favorite Now—How the Autobiography Tells the Story— Decided Ben's Career—Canning and Microcosm—Examples of Industry, Tact, etc.—Boy without a Name.
XIII. BOOKS OF HIS BOYHOOD.
Four Classes of Readers—Ben after Diamonds—Hungry Mind—Words of Thomas Hood—What Franklin Said—First Book Pilgrim's Progress—Talk with His Father—What Franklin Said of Narrative—Plutarch's Lives—Easy to Do Good—What They Were—Incident by Parton—Plan to Buy Burton's Historical Collections—Describes Them—Boyle's Lectures—Kind Offer of Matthew Adams—Borrowing Books of Booksellers' Clerks—Great Favor—Books Very Scarce Then—Greenwood's English Grammar—Talk with Collins—Other Books Read—Habit of Taking Notes—Letter of Franklin about It—Professor Atkinson's Words—Garfield Had Same Habit.
XIV. LEARNING THE ART OF COMPOSITION.
Began to Write Poetry at Seven—Had Practised Putting Thoughts Together—James Praised His Pieces—Proposition to Write, Print, and Sell Verses—Wrote Two—Sold Well—His Father's Severe Rebuke— After-talk with James—Best Writers Deficient at First—Reporting to James—Benefit to Ben—One of His Verses Preserved—What Franklin Said of It in Manhood—How He Used the Spectator—Determined to Improve—His Own Description of His Literary Work—How He Acquired Socratic Method—Rhetoric and Logic—How a Single Book Made Wesley, Martin, Pope, Casey, Lincoln, and Others What They Were—A Striking Case.
XV. THE "COURANT" IN TROUBLE.
The Startling News from the Assembly—A Discussion—A Sarcastic Letter the Cause—James and Benjamin Summoned before the Council—James Defiant—Benjamin Dismissed—How Mather Assailed the Courant—How James Answered Him—James in Prison—Benjamin Editing the Paper— Quotation from Parton—Persecution of Printers in the Old Country—A Horrible Case—James Released, and Still Defiant—Inoculation a Remedy for Small Pox—The Mercury Denouncing James' Imprisonment—James Still for Freedom of the Press—Secured It for All Time.
XVI. THE BOY EDITOR.
Attacking the Government—The Council Exasperated—Action of the Courant Club—Plan to Evade Order of the Council—Benjamin, the Boy-editor—His Address in Courant—Quotations from Courant of January 14, 1723—Not Libelous—Extract from Parton's Life—When Newspapers Ceased to be Carried Free—How Long Ben Was in Printing Office—Remarks by Mr. Sparks—What He Says of General Court—How the Experience Developed Benjamin—Right Boy in Right Place—Extract from Courant about Bears.
XVII. THE YOUNG SKEPTIC.
Reading Shaftesbury's Work—Discussion with Collins—Ben's Orthodoxy in Peril—Benjamin a Thinker—Saying Grace over the Pork Barrel—Reading from Collins—Several Paragraphs Repugnant to Orthodoxy—Shaftesbury Attacking Miracles—Ben's Influence over John—Charged with Being Atheist—His Confession—Letter to His Father—Letter to Sister—Seeing His Folly—His Prayer—Sad Experience with Infidel Books—Similar to Lincoln's and Garfield's—Lincoln's Farewell.
XVIII. HOW HE QUIT BOSTON.
Decision to Leave James—Cruelty of the Latter—The Indenture— Discussion over It with Collins—Advised to Get Place in Another Printing Office in Boston—James Had Warned Them against Hiring Him—Discloses His Decision to James—Unfair Use of Indenture—What Benjamin Said of It Afterwards—Resolved to Run Away—Planned The Method With Collins—Why Go by Water—How He Obtained Money—Collins Engages His Passage—Collins' Deliberate Lie—On the Road to Ruin—Collins' Report to Benjamin—Final Arrangements—Boarding the Sloop—Scene off Block Island—Ben Converted to Flesh—Benjamin Franklin's Experience Like William Hutton's.
XIX. TRIALS OF A RUNAWAY.
Applies for Work in New York—Bradford's Advice and Kindness—Starts for Philadelphia—The Drunken Dutch man—Driven on Shore by a Squall— A Fearful Night—At Amboy—Benjamin Sick—A Young Man Travelling in Maine—Advantage of Reading—Sir Walter Scott's Advice—Going in Rain to Burlington—Landlord Suspected He Was a Runaway—At Doctor Brown's—A Fine Time with the Doctor—Buying Gingerbread of Old Woman—His Disappointment—Way out of It—Unexpected Deliverance—His Skill at Rowing Again Useful—Finally Reaches Philadelphia.
XX. THE WALKING COMEDY.
Meeting a Boy Eating—Buys Three Loaves—His Surprise—A Walking Comedy—Sees His Future Wife—His Generosity to Mother and Child—A Trait of His Life—Back to the Boat—On the Street Again and in Quaker Church—Sleeping in Church—The Kind Quaker—The Crooked Billet— Suspected of being a Runaway—Meeting the New York Bradford—Interview with Young Bradford—Interview with Keimer—Showing His Skill at Type-setting—Senior Bradford's Ruse—Giving Account of His Boston Life—Doing Things Well—Case of Budgett—What Parton Said to Maydoll.
XXI. GETTING ON.
Repairing the Old Printing Press—Caution to Keep Secrets—Repairing for Bradford—Conversation with Bradford about Work in Boston— Unbelief—Changing Boarding-place—Talk with Boarding-master Read— Study and Companions There—High Rank of Printing Then—Letter from Collins—Found by His Brother-in-law, Captain Homes—Letter from the Captain—Benjamin's Reply—His Letter Read by Governor Keith—His History Told Keith—The Latter's Promise—Colonel French—Two Traits of Ben's Character, Observation and Humility.
XXII. GOING UP HIGHER.
Governor Keith and Colonel French Call on Benjamin—Keimer's Surprise—Benjamin's Interview with Them—Proposition to Establish Printing House—Keith Proposed He Should See His Father—Keimer Very Inquisitive about the Interview—Waiting for Vessel to Boston—Letter to Collins—How Long Take to Start Printing House—Tells Keimer He is Going to Boston—Sails for Boston—A Great Storm—Experience in Reaching Boston.
XXIII. THE SURPRISE, AND ITS RESULTS.
Hastens to See His Parents—Joyful Meeting—Account of Correspondence with Homes—Going to See James—Delight of Journeymen—Many Inquiries— Proposition to Treat Them—Report of James' Treatment to Parents—His Mother's Counsel—Meets Collins—The Latter Intemperate—Counsels Him to Let Strong Drink Alone—His Father's Opinion of Keith's Letter— Arrival of Captain Homes—Approves Plans of Benjamin—Calling on Friends—Seeing Doctor Mather—An Incident and Its Lesson—Collins Decides to Go to Philadelphia—Benjamin's Father Declines to Help Him—About Courant—Bidding Parents Farewell and Returning.
XXIV. HIS RETURN, AND WHAT CAME OF IT.
Leaves Boston for New York—Collins to Meet Him There—Calls at Newport to See His Brother John—Takes a Debt to Collect—Finds Collins Drunk in New York—Talk with Landlord—Governor Burnett Sends for Him— Benjamin's Words about It—Rebukes John Drunk—Arrival in Philadelphia— Called on Governor Keith—The Governor Proposes to Set Him up—Amusing Talk with Keimer—Collins Can Not Get Work—Trouble with Collins on the Delaware—End of Collins—Governor Keith Sends for Him—Going to England to Buy Outfit.
XXV. WORKING, READING, AND COURTING.
Keimer's Religious Creed—Argument with Benjamin—Establishing a New Sect and Foregoing a Good Dinner—Benjamin's Three Literary Associates—Literary Club Formed—Discussion on Ralph as a Poet—Benjamin's Views—Each One Writing Poetry—Paraphrase of 18th Psalm—Benjamin Reading Ralph's—Plan to Outwit Osborne—Its Success—Osborne's Mortification—The Club a Good One—Benjamin and Deborah Read—The Result.
XXVI. A BOGUS SCHEME.
Ralph Going to England with Benjamin—Time to Sail—Governor Keith Promises Letters—No Suspicion of Keith—Letters Not Ready as Promised—Second Application for Letters—Final Promise—Bag of Letters Come on Board—Looked over Letters in English Channel—The Revelation of Rascality—Benjamin's Situation Alone in London—Ralph Discloses that He Has Abandoned His Wife—Rebuked by Benjamin—Advice of Denham—Governor Keith a Fraud—Finds Work at Palmer's Printing House—Had Ralph to Support—Ralph a Schoolmaster—Accepting Trouble Philosophically.
XXVII. "OUR WATER DRINKER."
Letter from Ralph to Benjamin—Ralph's Epic Poem—Assisted Ralph's Wife—How He and Ralph Separated—Kindness of Wilcox, the Bookseller— Loaning Books—Benjamin Reviews "Religion of Nature"—Talk with Watts, and His Opinion of It—Interview with Doctor Lyons—Doctor Pemberton— Lived to See His Folly—Interview with Sir Hans Sloane—Benjamin's Attack on Beer Drinking—His Sound Argument—Jake, the Ale Boy—Called "A Water Drinker"—Discussion with Watts—Refused to Treat the Company— Visits His Old Press Forty Years After.
XXVIII. AT HOME AGAIN.
What Became of Ralph—Benjamin Teaching Two Companions to Swim—Who Was Wygate?—The Excursion to Chelsea—Benjamin Swims Four Miles—Antics in the Water—Sir W. Wyndham Proposes He Should Open a Swimming School— Wygate's Proposition to Travel—Denham's Advice—Cheaper Board—Incident Showing Denham's Character—Denham Offers to Employ Him as Clerk in Philadelphia—Leaves Printing House for Warehouse—Returns to Philadelphia.
XXIX. UPS AND DOWNS OF LIFE.
Visits Keimer's Printing Office—Calls on Deborah Read—Her Marriage to Rogers, and Divorce—Visit to Deborah Leads to Re-engagement—Now a Merchant's Clerk—Denham and Benjamin Both Sick—Denham Died and Left Legacy to Benjamin—Arrival of Captain Homes—Working for Keimer Again—The Latter Making Trouble—Benjamin Leaves Him—Interview with Meredith—Proposition to Go into Company in Printing Business—Meredith's Father Loans Capital.
XXX. THE LEATHERN APRON CLUB.
Reflecting on His Religious Belief—Rules He Wrote on the Berkshire and Introduction to Them—The Leathern Apron Club—Patterned after Cotton Mather's—The Questions Asked—Benjamin's Explanation—The Compact Signed—Bringing in Books They Owned—Establishing the First Library in the Land—Questions Discussed by the Club—No Improvement on This Club—Benjamin's View of It in Age—Organizing Other Clubs— Studying the Languages—Benjamin's Success.
XXXI. BRIGHTER DAYS.
Proposition from Keimer—Discussion of It with Meredith—Returns to Keimer—Printing Money for New Jersey at Burlington—The Surveyor General's Life—His Talk with Benjamin—Starting New Firm, Franklin and Meredith—The First Job—Predictions of Its Failure by Nickle and Merchants' Club—Doctor Baird Differed—A Proposition from a Stationer—Interview with Webb—Plan for Starting a Paper Made Known— Keimer's Paper—Benjamin's Articles in Mercury—Buys Keimer's Paper—Dissolves Partnership—Rum the Cause—The Gazette a Success.
XXXII. NO LONGER A SKEPTIC.
Time is Money—The Lounger Rebuked—Maxims—Avoiding Slander and Abuse—Revising His Religious Belief—Articles of Belief—Code of Morals Adopted—Creed for "United Party of Virtue "—Letters to Friends—Proposed Prayers in Congress and Speech—Epitaph for His Tombstone Written at Twenty-three.
XXXIII. POOR RICHARD'S ALMANAC.
Publishing an Almanac—Discussion about It—When It Was Started— Maxims Found in It—Very Popular, and Great Circulation—Franklin's Fame Spreading—The Junto Pleased—Franklin's Account of Success— How He Conducted His Paper—The Libeller Suppressed—Success of His Stationer's Shop—Visit to Boston—Visits His Brother James— Reconciliation—Takes His Son Home—He Buries a Child—His Defense of Rev. George Whitefield—Building a House of Worship for Him.
XXXIV. MORE HONORS AND MORE WORK.
Clerk of the Assembly—Postmaster—Night-watch Discussed in the Junto—Plan of a Fire Department—Many Fire Companies Formed—Plan to Pave the Streets—Paper on Smoky Chimneys—Franklin Invents a Stove—Gives Away the Patent—Franklin Founds the University of Philadelphia—Its Great Success—Franklin Organized Militia—Influence of Quakers against It—Eighty Companies Formed—Franklin Secured Fast Day—Peace.
XXXV. PHILOSOPHER AND STATESMAN.
Entering into Partnership with Hall—His Large Income—Time for Study and Research—Rapid Progress in Science—His Fame in Both Hemispheres— What Mignet Said of His Labors—Kimmersley on His Lightning Rod— Called Again to Political Life—List of Offices He Filled—Drafting Declaration of Independence—Hanging Separately—Anecdote—His First Labors at Court of England—Minister to England—Source of Troubles— Hatred of Tories—Firm before House of Commons—Death of Mrs. Franklin— Famous Letter to Strahan—The Eight Years' War—Franklin Author of the Union—First Name in History—Library and Letters of Franklin, Mass.— His Death—Bequest to Washington.
BOYHOOD TO MANHOOD.
FROM OLD ENGLAND TO NEW ENGLAND.
"I am tired of so much persecution under the reign of our corrupt king," said a neighbor to Josiah Franklin, one day in the year 1685, in the usually quiet village of Banbury, England, "and I believe that I shall pull up stakes and emigrate to Boston. That is the most thriving port in America."
"Well, I am not quite prepared for that yet," replied Franklin. "Our king is bad enough and tyrannical enough to make us all sick of our native land. But it is a great step to leave it forever, to live among strangers; and I could not decide to do it without a good deal of reflection."
"Nor I; but I have reflected upon it for a whole year now, and the more I reflect the more I am inclined to emigrate. When I can't worship God here as my conscience dictates, I will go where I can. Besides, I think the new country promises much more to the common people than the old in the way of a livelihood."
"Perhaps so; I have not given the subject much attention. Dissenters have a hard time here under Charles II, and we all have to work hard enough for a livelihood. I do not think you can have a harder time in Boston."
Josiah Franklin was not disposed to emigrate when his neighbor first opened the subject. He was an intelligent, enterprising, Christian man, a dyer by trade, was born in Ecton, Leicestershire, in 1655, but removed to Banbury in his boyhood, to learn the business of a dyer of his brother John. He was married in Banbury at twenty-two years of age, his wife being an excellent companion for him, whether in prosperity or adversity, at home among kith and kin, or with strangers in New England.
"You better consider this matter seriously," continued the neighbor, "for several families will go, I think, if one goes. A little colony of us will make it comparatively easy to leave home for a new country."
"Very true; that would be quite an inducement to exchange countries, several families going together," responded Franklin. "I should enjoy escaping from the oppression of the Established Church as much as you; but it is a too important step for me to take without much consideration. It appears to me that my business could not be as good in a new country as it is in this old country."
"I do not see why, exactly. People in a new country must have dyeing done, perhaps not so much of it as the people of an old country; but the population of a new place like Boston increases faster than the older places of our country, and this fact would offset the objection you name."
"In part, perhaps. If Benjamin could go, I should almost feel that I must go; but I suppose it is entirely out of the question for him to go."
Benjamin was an older brother of Josiah, who went to learn the trade of a dyer of his brother John before Josiah did. The Benjamin Franklin of this volume, our young hero, was named for him. He was a very pious man, who rendered unto God the things that are God's with full as much care as he rendered unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's. He was a very intelligent, bright man, also quite a poet for that day, and he invented a style of short-hand writing that he used in taking down sermons to which he listened. In this way he accumulated several volumes of sermons, which he held as treasures.
"I have not spoken with your brother about the matter," replied the neighbor. "I think it would be more difficult for him to arrange to go than for most of us, at least for the present. I intend to speak with him about it."
"He will not want me to go if he can not," added Josiah, "and I shall think about it a good while before I should conclude to go without him. We have been together most of our lives, and to separate now, probably never to meet again, would be too great a trial."
"You will experience greater trials than that if you live long, no doubt," said the neighbor, "but I want you should think the matter over, and see if it will not be for your interest to make this change. I will see you again about it."
While plans are being matured, we will see what Doctor Franklin said, in his "Autobiography," about his ancestors at Ecton:
"Some notes, which one of my uncles, who had the same curiosity in collecting family anecdotes, once put into my hands, furnished me with several particulars relative to our ancestors. From these notes I learned that they lived in the same village, Ecton, in Northamptonshire, on a freehold of about thirty acres, for at least three hundred years, and how much longer could not be ascertained. This small estate would not have sufficed for their maintenance without the business of a smith [blacksmith] which had continued in the family down to my uncle's time, the eldest son being always brought up to that employment, a custom which he and my father followed with regard to their eldest sons. When I searched the records in Ecton, I found an account of their marriages and burials from the year 1555 only, as the registers kept did not commence previous thereto. I, however, learned from it that I was the youngest son of the youngest son for five generations back. My grandfather, Thomas, who was born in 1598, lived in Ecton till he was too old to continue his business, when he retired to Banbury, Oxfordshire, to the house of his son John, with whom my father served an apprenticeship. There my uncle died and lies buried. We saw his grave-stone in 1758. His eldest son, Thomas, lived in the house at Ecton, and left it with the land to his only daughter, who, with her husband, one Fisher, of Wellingborough, sold it to Mr. Ioted, now lord of the manor there. My grandfather had four sons, who grew up, viz.: Thomas, John, Benjamin, and Josiah."
"I do not know how you like it, but it arouses my indignation to have our meeting broken up, as it was last week," remarked Josiah Franklin to the aforesaid neighbor, a short time after their previous interview. "If anything will make me exchange Banbury for Boston it is such intolerance."
"I have felt like that for a long time, and I should not have thought of leaving my native land but for such oppression," replied the neighbor, "and what is worse, I see no prospect of any improvement; on the other hand, it appears to me that our rights will be infringed more and more. I am going to New England if I emigrate alone."
"Perhaps I shall conclude to accompany you when the time comes. There do not appear to be room in this country for Dissenters and the Established Church. I understand there is in New England. I may conclude to try it."
"I am glad to hear that. We shall be greatly encouraged if you decide to go. I discussed the matter with Benjamin since I did with you, and he would be glad to go if his business and family did not fasten him here. I think he would rather justify your going."
"Did he say so?"
"No, not in so many words. But he did say that he would go if his circumstances favored it as much as your circumstances favor your going."
"Well, that is more than I supposed he would say. I expected that he would oppose any proposition that contemplated my removal to Boston. The more I think of it the more I am inclined to go."
The Franklins, clear back to the earliest ancestors, had experienced much persecution. Some of them could keep and read their Bible only by concealing it and reading it in secret. The following, from Franklin's "Autobiography," is an interesting and thrilling incident:
"They had an English Bible, and, to conceal it and place it in safety, it was fastened open with tapes under and within the cover of a joint-stool. When my great-grandfather wished to read it to his family, he placed the joint-stool on his knees, and then turned over the leaves under the tapes. One of the children stood at the door to give notice if he saw the apparitor coming, who was an officer of the spiritual court. In that case the stool was turned down again upon its feet, when the Bible remained concealed under it as before. This anecdote I had from Uncle Benjamin."
The Dissenters from the Established Church loved their mode of worship more, if any thing, than members of their mother church. But under the tyrannical king, Charles II, they could not hold public meetings at the time to which we refer. Even their secret meetings were often disturbed, and sometimes broken up.
"It is fully settled now that we are going to New England," said the aforesaid neighbor to Josiah Franklin subsequently, when he called upon him with two other neighbours, who were going to remove with him; "and we have called to persuade you to go with us; we do not see how we can take no for an answer."
"Well, perhaps I shall not say no; I have been thinking the matter over, and I have talked with Benjamin; and my wife is not at all averse to going. But I can't say yes to-day; I may say it to-morrow, or sometime."
"That is good," answered one of the neighbors; "we must have one of the Franklins with us to be well equipped. Banbury would not be well represented in Boston without one Franklin, at least."
"You are very complimentary," replied Franklin; "even misery loves company, though; and it would be almost carrying home with us for several families to emigrate together. The more the merrier."
"So we think. To escape from the intolerant spirit that pursues Dissenters here will make us merry, if nothing else does. Home is no longer home when we can worship God as we please only in secret."
"There is much truth in that," continued Franklin. "I am much more inclined to remove to New England than I was a month ago. The more I reflect upon the injustice and oppression we experience, the less I think of this country for a home. Indeed, I have mentally concluded to go if I can arrange my affairs as I hope to."
"Then we shall be content; we shall expect to have you one of the company. It will be necessary for us to meet often to discuss plans and methods of emigration. We shall not find it to be a small matter to break up here and settle there."
It was settled that Josiah Franklin would remove to New England with his neighbors, and preparations were made for his departure with them.
These facts indicate the standing and influence of the Franklins. They were of the common people, but leading families. Their intelligence, industry, and Christian principle entitled them to public confidence and respect. Not many miles away from them were the Washingtons, ancestors of George Washington, known as "the father of his country." The Washingtons were more aristocratic than the Franklins, and possessed more of the world's wealth and honors. Had they been near neighbors they would not have associated with the Franklins, as they belonged to a different guild. Such were the customs of those times.
Thomas Franklin was a lawyer, and "became a considerable man in the county,—was chief mover of all public-spirited enterprises for the county or town of Northampton, as well as of his own village, of which many instances were related of him; and he was much taken notice of and patronized by Lord Halifax." Benjamin was very ingenious, not only in his own trade as dyer, but in all other matters his ingenuity frequently cropped out. He was a prolific writer of poetry, and, when he died, "he left behind him two quarto volumes of manuscript of his own poetry, consisting of fugitive pieces addressed to his friends." An early ancestor, bearing the same Christian name, was imprisoned for a whole year for writing a piece of poetry reflecting upon the character of some great man. Note, that he was not incarcerated for writing bad poetry, but for libelling some one by his verse, though he might have been very properly punished for writing such stuff as he called poetry. It is nothing to boast of, that his descendant, Uncle Benjamin, was not sent to prison for producing "two quarto volumes of his own poetry," as the reader would believe if compelled to read it.
Dr. Franklin said, in his "Autobiography": "My father married young, and carried his wife with three children to New England about 1685. The conventicles [meetings of Dissenters] being at that time forbidden by law, and frequently disturbed in the meetings, some considerable men of his acquaintance determined to go to that country, and he was prevailed with to accompany them thither, where they expected to enjoy their religion with freedom."
Boston was not then what it is now, and no one living expected that it would ever become a city of great size and importance. It contained less than six thousand inhabitants. The bay, with its beautiful islands, spread out in front, where bears were often seen swimming across it, or from one island to another. Bear-hunting on Long Wharf was a pastime to many, and twenty were killed in a week when they were numerous.
In the rear of the town stood the primeval forests, where Red Men and wild beasts roamed at their pleasure. It is claimed that an Indian or pioneer might have traveled, at that time, through unbroken forests from Boston to the Pacific coast, a distance of more than three thousand miles, except here and there where western prairies stretched out like an "ocean of land," as lonely and desolate as the forest itself. That, in two hundred years, and less, sixty millions of people would dwell upon this vast domain, in cities and towns of surprising wealth and beauty, was not even thought of in dreams. That Boston would ever grow into a city of three hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants, with commerce, trade, wealth, learning, and influence to match, the wildest enthusiast did not predict. A single fact illustrates the prevailing opinion of that day, and even later. The town of Boston appointed a commission to explore the country along Charles River, to learn what prospects there were for settlers. The commissioners attended to their duty faithfully, and reported to the town that they had explored ten miles west, as far as settlers would ever penetrate the forest, and found the prospects as encouraging as could be expected.
It was to this Boston that Josiah Franklin emigrated in 1685, thinking to enjoy liberty of conscience, while he supported his growing family by his trade of dyer. There is no record to show that he was ever sorry he came. On the other hand, there is much to prove that he always had occasion to rejoice in the change. Certainly his family, and their posterity, exerted great influence in building up the nation. Next to Washington Josiah's son Benjamin ranked in his efforts to secure American Independence, and all the blessings that followed.
THE FIFTEENTH GIFT.
"The fifteenth!" remarked Josiah Franklin to a relative, as he took the fifteenth child into his arms. "And a son, too; he must bear the name of his Uncle Benjamin."
"Then, we are to understand that his name is Benjamin?" answered the relative, inquiringly.
"Yes, that is his name; his mother and I settled that some time ago, that the next son should bear the name of my most beloved brother, who, I hope, will remove to this country before long."
"Well, a baby is no curiosity in your family," remarked the relative, laughing. "Some men would think that fifteen was too much of a good thing."
"A child is God's gift to man, as I view it, for which parents should be thankful, whether it is the first or fifteenth. Each child imposes an additional obligation upon parents to be true to the Giver as well as to the gift. I am poor enough, but no man is poorer for a large family of children. He may have to labor harder when they are young and helpless, but in age they are props on which he can lean."
Mr. Franklin spoke out of the depths of his soul. He was a true Christian man, and took the Christian view of a child, as he did of any thing else. While some men are annoyed by the multiplicity of children, he found a source of comfort and contentment in the possession. The seventeenth child, which number he had, he hailed with the same grateful recognition of God's providence that he did when the first was born. Yet he was poor, and found himself face to face with poverty most of the time. Each child born was born to an inheritance of want. But to him children were God's gift as really as sunshine or showers, day or night, the seventeenth just as much so as the first. This fact alone marks Josiah Franklin as an uncommon man for his day or ours.
"If more men and women were of your opinion," continued the relative, "there would be much more enjoyment and peace in all communities. The most favorable view that a multitude of parents indulge is, that children are troublesome comforts."
"What do you think of the idea of taking this baby into the house of God to-day, and consecrating him to the Lord?" Mr. Franklin asked, as if the thought just then flashed upon his mind. "It is only a few steps to carry him."
It was Sunday morning, Jan. 6, 1706, old style; and the "Old South Meeting House," in which Dr. Samuel Willard preached, was on the other side of the street, scarcely fifty feet distant.
"I should think it would harmonize very well with your opinion about children as the gift of God, and the Lord may understand the matter so well as to look approvingly upon it, but I think your neighbors will say that you are rushing things somewhat. It might be well to let the little fellow get used to this world before he begins to attend meeting."
The relative spoke thus in a vein of humor, though she really did not approve of the proposed episode in the new comer's life. Indeed it seemed rather ridiculous to her, to carry a babe, a few hours old, to the house of God.
"I shall not consult my neighbors," Mr. Franklin replied. "I shall consult my wife in this matter, as I do in others, and defer to her opinion. I have always found that her judgment is sound on reducing it to practice."
"That is so; your wife is a woman of sound judgment as well as of strong character, and you are wise enough to recognize the fact, and act accordingly. But that is not true of many men. If your wife approves of taking her baby into the meeting-house for consecration to-day, then do it, though the whole town shall denounce the act."
There is no doubt his relative thought that Mrs. Franklin would veto the proposition at once, and that would end it. But in less than a half hour he reported that she approved of the proposition.
"Benjamin will be consecrated to the Lord in the afternoon; my wife approves of it as proper and expressive of our earnest desire that he should be the Lord's. I shall see Mr. Willard at once, and nothing but his disapproval will hinder the act."
"And I would not hinder it if I could," replied his relative, "if your wife and Pastor Willard approve. I shall really be in favor of it if they are, because their judgment is better than mine."
"All the difference between you and me," continued Mr. Franklin, with a smile playing over his face, "appears to be that you think a child may be given to the Lord too soon, and I do not; the sooner the better, is my belief. With the consecration come additional obligations, which I am willing to assume, and not only willing, but anxious to assume."
"You are right, no doubt; but you are one of a thousand in that view, and you will have your reward."
"Yes; and so will that contemptible class of fathers, who can endure five children, but not fifteen,—too irresponsible to see that one of the most inconsistent men on earth is the father who will not accept the situation he has created for himself. The Franklins are not made of that sort of stuff; neither are the Folgers [referring to his wife's family], whose fervent piety sanctifies their good sense, so that they would rather please the Lord than all mankind."
Mr. Willard was seen, and he endorsed the act as perfectly proper, and in complete harmony with a felt sense of parental obligation. Therefore, Benjamin was wrapped closely in flannel blankets, and carried into the meeting-house in the afternoon, where he was consecrated to the Lord by the pastor.
On the "Old Boston Town Records of Births," under the heading, "Boston Births Entered 1708," is this: "Benjamin, son of Josiah Franklin, and Abiah, his wife, born 6 Jan. 1706."
From some mistake or oversight the birth was not recorded until two years after Benjamin was born; but it shows that he was born on Jan. 6, 1706.
Then, the records of the "Old South Church," among the baptism of infants, have this: "1706, Jan. 6, Benjamin, son of Josiah and Abiah Franklin."
Putting these two records together, they establish beyond doubt the fact that Benjamin Franklin was born and baptized on the same day. The Old South Church had two pastors then, and it is supposed that Dr. Samuel Willard officiated instead of Rev. Ebenezer Pemberton, because the record is in the handwriting of Doctor Willard.
We are able to furnish a picture of the house in which he was born. It measured twenty feet in width, and was about thirty feet long, including the L. It was three stories high in appearance, the third being the attic. On the lower floor of the main house there was only one room, which was about twenty feet square, and served the family the triple purpose of parlor, sitting-room, and dining-hall. It contained an old-fashioned fire-place, so large that an ox might have been roasted before it. The second and third stories originally contained but one chamber each, of ample dimensions, and furnished in the plainest manner. The attic was an unplastered room, which might have been used for lodgings or storing trumpery. The house stood about one hundred years after Josiah Franklin left it, and was finally destroyed by fire, on Saturday, Dec. 29, 1810. The spot on which it stood is now occupied by a granite warehouse bearing the inscription, "BIRTHPLACE OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN."
Mr. Franklin had three children when he left Banbury, and four more were given to him during the first four years of his residence in Boston, one of whom died. Soon after the birth of the seventh child Mrs. Franklin died.
So young and large a family needed a mother's watch and care, as Josiah Franklin found to his sorrow. The additional burden laid upon him by the death of his wife interfered much with his business, and he saw fresh reasons each day for finding another help-mate as soon as possible. To run his business successfully, and take the whole charge of his family, was more than he could do. In these circumstances he felt justified in marrying again as soon as possible, and, with the aid of interested friends, he made a fortunate choice of Abiah Folger, of Nantucket, a worthy successor of the first Mrs. Franklin. He married her a few months after the death of his first wife. The second Mrs. Franklin became the mother of ten children, which, added to those of the first Mrs. Franklin, constituted a very respectable family of seventeen children, among whom was Benjamin, the fifteenth child. His "Autobiography" says: "Of the seventeen children I remember to have seen thirteen sitting together at the table, who all grew up to years of maturity and were married." Of the second wife it says: "My mother, the second wife of my father, was Abiah Folger, daughter of Peter Folger, one of the first settlers of New England, of whom honorable mention is made by Cotton Mather in his ecclesiastical history of that country, 'as a godly and learned Englishman.'"
Josiah Franklin was an admirer not only of his wife, Abiah, but of the whole Folger family, because they were devoutly pious, and as "reliable as the sun, or the earth on its axis." They were unpolished and unceremonial, and he liked them all the more for that. He wrote to his sister in a vein of pleasantry, "They are wonderfully shy. But I admire their honest plainness of speech. About a year ago I invited two of them to dine with me; their answer was that they would if they could not do better. I suppose they did better, for I never saw them afterwards, and so had no opportunity of showing my miff if I had any."
We have said that Benjamin was named for his uncle in England, and, possibly some of the other children were named for other relatives in the mother country. Certainly there were enough of them to go round any usual circle of relatives, taking them all in. Uncle Benjamin was very much pleased with the honor conferred upon him, and he always manifested great interest in his namesake, though he did not dream that he would one day represent the country at the court of St. James. It is claimed that the uncle's interest in his namesake brought him to this country, a few years later, where he lived and died. Be that as it may, he ever manifested a lively interest in a protege, and evidently regarded him as an uncommonly bright boy, who would some day score a creditable mark for the family.
Benjamin was more than a comely child; he was handsome. From babyhood to manhood he was so fine-looking as to attract the attention of strangers. His eye beamed with so much intelligence as to almost compel the thought, "There are great talents behind them." Mr. Parton says: "It is probable that Benjamin Franklin derived from his mother the fashion of his body and the cast of his countenance. There are lineal descendants of Peter Folger who strikingly resemble Franklin in these particulars; one of whom, a banker in New Orleans, looks like a portrait of Franklin stepped out of its frame."
Josiah Franklin did not enter upon the trade of a dyer when he settled in Boston, as he expected. The new country was very different from the old in its fashions and wants. There was no special demand for a dyer. If people could earn money enough to cover their nakedness, they cared little about the color of their covering. One color was just as good as another to keep them warm, or to preserve their decency. There was no room for Josiah Franklin as a dyer. There was room for him, however, as a "tallow-chandler," and he lost no time in taking up this new but greasy business. He must work or starve; and, of the two, he preferred work, though the occupation might not be neat and congenial.
The word "chandler" is supposed to have been derived from the French chandelier, so that a tallow candle-maker was a sort of chandelier in society at that early day. He furnished light, which was more necessary than color to almost every one. The prevailing method of lighting dwellings and stores was with tallow candles. Candles and whale oil were the two known articles for light, and the latter was expensive, so that the former was generally adopted. Hence, Josiah Franklin's business was honorable because it was necessary; and by it, with great industry and economy, he was able to keep the wolf of hunger from his door.
The place where he manufactured candles was at the corner of Hanover and Union streets. The original sign that he selected to mark his place of business was a blue ball, half as large as a man's head, hanging over the door, bearing the name "Josiah Franklin" and the date "1698." The same ball hangs there still. Time has stolen its blue, but not the name and date. Into this building, also, he removed his family from Milk street, soon after the birth of Benjamin.
In his "Autobiography," Franklin says: "My elder brothers were all put apprentices to different trades." Several of them were apprenticed when Benjamin was born. John worked with his father, and learned the "tallow-chandler's" trade well, setting up the business for himself afterwards in Providence. This was the only method that could be adopted successfully in so large a family, except where wealth was considerable.
We must not omit the fact that the father of Benjamin was a good singer and a good player of the violin. After the labors of the day were over, and the frugal supper eaten, and the table cleared, and the room put in order for the evening, he was wont to sing and play for the entertainment of his family. He was sure of a good audience every night, if his performance opened before the younger children retired. There is no doubt that this custom exerted a molding influence upon the household, although the music might have been like Uncle Benjamin's poetry, as compared with the music of our day.
For the reader, now familiar with the manners, customs, rush of business, inventions, wealth, and fashion of our day, it is difficult to understand the state of society at the time of Franklin's birth. Parton says of it: "1706, the year of Benjamin Franklin's birth, was the fourth of the reign of Queen Anne, and the year of Marlborough's victory at Ramillies. Pope was then a sickly dwarf, four feet high and nineteen years of age, writing, at his father's cottage in Windsor Forest the 'Pastorals' which, in 1709, gave him his first celebrity. Voltaire was a boy of ten, in his native village near Paris. Bolingbroke was a rising young member of the House of Commons, noted, like Fox at a later day, for his dissipation and his oratory. Addison, aged thirty-four, had written his Italian travels, but not the 'Spectator' and was a thriving politician. Newton, at sixty-four, his great work all done, was master of the mint, had been knighted the year before, and elected president of the Royal Society in 1703 Louis XIV was king of France, and the first king of Prussia was reigning. The father of George Washington was a Virginia boy of ten; the father of John Adams was just entering Harvard College; and the father of Thomas Jefferson was not yet born."
PAYING TOO DEAR FOR THE WHISTLE.
When Benjamin was seven years old he had not been to school a day. Yet he was a good reader and speller. In manhood he said: "I do not remember when I could not read, so it must have been very early." He was one of those irrepressible little fellows, whose intuition and observation are better than school. He learned more out of school than he could or would have done in it. His precocity put him in advance of most boys at seven, even without schooling. It was not necessary for him to have school-teachers to testify that he possessed ten talents,—his parents knew that, and every one else who was familiar with him.
The first money he ever had to spend as he wished was on a holiday when he was seven years old. It was not the Fourth of July, when torpedoes and firecrackers scare horses and annoy men and women, for Benjamin's holiday was more than sixty years before the Declaration of Independence was declared, and that is what we celebrate now on the Fourth of July. Indeed, his holiday was a hundred years before torpedoes and fire-crackers were invented. It was a gala-day, however, in which the whole community was interested, including the youngest boy in the Franklin family.
"See that you spend your money well," remarked his mother, who presented him with several coppers; "and keep out of mischief."
"And here is some more," added his father, giving him several coppers to add to his spending money; "make wise investments, Ben, for your reputation depends upon it"; and the latter facetious remark was made in a way that indicated his love for the boy.
"What are you going to buy, Ben?" inquired an older brother, who wanted to draw out some bright answer from the child; "sugar-plums, of course," he added.
Benjamin made no reply, though his head was crammed with thoughts about his first holiday.
"I shall want to know how well you spend your money, Ben," said his mother; "remember that 'all is not gold that glitters'; you've got all the money you can have to-day."
All the older members of the family were interested in the boy's pastime, and while they were indulging in various remarks, he bounded out of the house, with his head filled with bewitching fancies, evidently expecting such a day of joy as he never knew before. Perhaps the toy-shop was first in his mind, into which he had looked wistfully many times as he passed, and perhaps it was not. We say toy-shop, though it was not such a toy-shop as Boston has to-day, where thousands of toys of every description and price are offered for sale. But it was a store in which, with other articles, toys were kept for sale, very few in number and variety compared with the toys offered for sale at the present day. Benjamin had seen these in the window often, and, no doubt, had wished to possess some of them. But there were no toys in the Franklin family; there were children instead of toys, so many of them that money to pay for playthings was out of the question.
Benjamin had not proceeded far on the street when he met a boy blowing a whistle that he had just purchased. The sound of the whistle, and the boy's evident delight in blowing it, captivated Benjamin at once. He stopped to listen and measure the possessor of that musical wonder. He said nothing, but just listened, not only with his ears, but with his whole self. He was delighted with the concert that one small boy could make, and, then and there, he resolved to go into that concert business himself. So he pushed on, without having said a word to the owner of the whistle, fully persuaded to invest his money in the same sort of a musical instrument. Supposing that the whistle was bought at the store where he had seen toys in the window, he took a bee line for it.
"Any whistles?" he inquired, almost out of breath.
"Plenty of them, my little man," the proprietor answered with a smile, at the same time proceeding to lay before the small customer quite a number.
"I will give you all the money I have for one," said Benjamin, without inquiring the price. He was so zealous to possess a whistle that the price was of no account, provided he had enough money to pay for it.
"Ah! all you have?" responded the merchant; "perhaps you have not as much as I ask for them. They are very nice whistles."
"Yes, I know they are, and I will give you all the money I have for one of them," was Benjamin's frank response. The fact was, he began to think that he had not sufficient money to purchase one, so valuable did a whistle appear to him at that juncture.
"How much money have you?" inquired the merchant.
Benjamin told him honestly how many coppers he had, which was more than the actual price of the whistles. The merchant replied:
"Yes, you may have a whistle for that. Take your pick."
Never was a child more delighted than he when the bargain was closed. He tried every whistle, that he might select the loudest one of all, and when his choice was settled, he exchanged his entire wealth for the prize. He was as well satisfied as the merchant when he left the store. "Ignorance is bliss," it is said, and it was to Benjamin for a brief space.
He began his concert as soon as he left the store. He wanted nothing more. He had seen all he wanted to see. He had bought all he wanted to buy. The whole holiday was crowded into that whistle. To him, that was all there was of it. Sweetmeats and knick-knacks had no attractions for him. Military parade had no charm for him, for he could parade himself now. A band of music had lost its charm, now that he had turned himself into a band.
At once he started for home, instead of looking after other sights and scenes. He had been absent scarcely half an hour when he reappeared, blowing his whistle lustily as he entered the house, as if he expected to astonish the whole race of Franklins by the shrillness, if not by the sweetness, of his music.
"Back so quick!" exclaimed his mother.
"Yes! seen all I want to see." That was a truth well spoken, for the whistle just commanded his whole being, and there was room for nothing more. A whistle was all the holiday he wanted.
"What have you there, Ben?" continued his mother; "Something to make us crazy?"
"A whistle, mother," stopping its noise just long enough for a decent reply, and then continuing the concert as before.
"How much did you give for the whistle?" asked his older brother, John.
"All the money I had." Benjamin was too much elated with his bargain to conceal any thing.
"What!" exclaimed John with surprise, "did you give all your money for that little concern?"
"Yes, every cent of it."
"You are not half so bright as I thought you were. It is four times as much as the whistle is worth."
"Did you ask the price of it?" inquired his mother.
"No, I told the man I would give him all the money I had for one, and he took it."
"Of course he did," interjected John, "and if you had had four times as much he would have taken it for the whistle. You are a poor trader, Ben."
"You should have asked the price of it in the first place," remarked his mother to him, "and then, if there was not enough, you could have offered all the money you had for the whistle. That would have been proper."
"If you had paid a reasonable price for it," continued John, "you might had enough money left to have bought a pocket full of good things."
"Yes, peppermints, candy, cakes, nuts, and perhaps more," added a cousin who was present, desiring most of all to hear what the bright boy would say for himself.
"I must say that you are a smart fellow, Ben, to be taken in like that," continued John, who really wanted to make his seven-year-old brother feel bad, and he spoke in a tone of derision. "All your money for that worthless thing, that is enough to make us crazy! You ought to have known better. If you had five dollars I suppose that you would have given it just as quick for the whistle."
Of course he would. The whistle was worth that to him, and he bought it for himself, not for any one else.
By this time Benjamin, who had said nothing in reply to their taunts and reproofs, was running over with feeling, and he could hold in no longer. Evidently he saw his mistake, and he burst into tears, and made more noise by crying than he did with his whistle. Their ridicule, and the thought of having paid more than he should for the whistle, overcame him, and he found relief in tears. His father came to his rescue.
"Never mind, Ben, you will understand how to trade the next time. We have to live and learn; I have paid too much for a whistle more than once in my life. You did as well as other boys do the first time."
"I think so too, Ben," joined in his mother, to comfort him. "John is only teasing you, and trying to get some sport out of his holiday. Better wipe up, and go out in the street to see the sights."
Benjamin learned a good lesson from this episode of his early life. He only did what many grown-up boys have done, over and over again; pay too much for a whistle. Men of forty, fifty, and sixty years of age do this same thing, and suffer the consequences. It is one of the common mistakes of life, and becomes a benefit when the lesson it teaches is improved as Franklin improved it.
In the year 1779, November 10th, Franklin wrote from Passy, France, to a friend, as follows:
"I am charmed with your description of Paradise, and with your plan of living there; and I approve much of your conclusion, that, in the mean time, we should draw all the good we can from this world. In my opinion, we might all draw more good from it than we do, and suffer less evil, if we would take care not to give too much for whistles. For to me it seems that most of the unhappy people we meet with are become so by neglect of that caution. You ask what I mean? You love stories, and will excuse my telling one of myself.
"When I was a child of seven years old my friends, on a holiday, filled my pocket with coppers. I went directly to a shop where they sold toys for children; and, being charmed with the sound of a whistle, that I met by the way in the hands of another boy, I voluntarily offered and gave all my money for one. I then came home, and went whistling all over the house, much pleased with my whistle, but disturbing all the family. My brothers, sisters, and cousins, understanding the bargain I had made, told me I had given four times as much for it as it was worth; put me in mind what good things I might have bought with the rest of the money, and laughed at me so much for my folly that I cried with vexation, and the reflection gave me more chagrin than the whistle gave me pleasure.
"This, however, was afterwards of use to me, the impression continuing on my mind; so that often, when I was tempted to buy some unnecessary thing, I said to myself, Don't give too much for the whistle; and I saved my money.
"As I grew up, came into the world, and observed the actions of men, I thought I met with many, very many, who gave too much for the whistle.
"When I saw one too ambitious of court favor, sacrificing his time in attendance on levees, his repose, his liberty, his virtue, and perhaps his friends, to attain it, I have said to myself, This man gives too much for his whistle.
"When I saw another fond of popularity, constantly employing himself in political bustles, neglecting his own affairs, and ruining them by that neglect, He pays, indeed, said I, too much for his whistle.
"If I knew a miser, who gave up every kind of comfortable living, all the pleasure of doing good to others, all the esteem of his fellow-citizens, and the joys of benevolent friendship, for the sake of accumulating wealth, Poor man, said I, you pay too much for your whistle.
"When I met with a man of pleasure, sacrificing every laudable improvement of the mind, or his fortune, to mere corporeal sensations, and ruining his health in their pursuit, Mistaken man, said I, you are providing pain for yourself, instead of pleasure; you give too much for your whistle.
"If I see one fond of appearance, or fine clothes, fine houses, fine furniture, fine equipages, all above his fortune, for which he contracts debts, and ends his career in a prison, Alas! say I, he has paid dear, very dear, for his whistle.
"When I see a beautiful, sweet-tempered girl, married to an ill-natured brute of a husband, What a pity, say I, that she should pay so much for a whistle.
"In short, I conceive that great part of the miseries of mankind are brought upon them by the false estimates they have made of the value of things, and by their giving too much for their whistles.
"Yet I ought to have charity for these unhappy people, when I consider that, with all this wisdom of which I am boasting, there are certain things in the world so tempting,—for example, the apples of King John, which happily are not to be bought; for, if they were put to sale by auction, I might very easily be led to ruin myself in the purchase, and find that I had once more given too much for the whistle."
Thus Benjamin made good use of one of the foolish acts of his boyhood, which tells well both for his head and heart. Many boys are far less wise, and do the same foolish thing over and over again. They never learn wisdom from the past.
When a boy equivocates, or deceives, to conceal some act of disobedience from his parents or teachers, and thereby lays the foundation of habitual untruthfulness, he pays too dear for the whistle, and he will learn the truth of it when he becomes older, and can not command the confidence of his friends and neighbors, but is branded by them as an unreliable, dishonest man.
In like manner the boy who thinks it is manly to smoke and drink beer, will find that he has a very expensive whistle, when he becomes "a hale fellow well met" among a miserable class of young men, and is discarded by the virtuous and good.
So, in general, the young person who is fascinated by mere pleasure, and supposes that wealth and honor are real apples of gold to the possessor, thinking less of a good character than he does of show and glitter, will find that he has been blowing a costly whistle when it is too late to recall his mistake.
Uncle Benjamin was so deeply interested in his namesake that he wrote many letters about him. Nearly every ship that sailed for Boston brought a letter from him to the Franklin family, and almost every letter contained a piece of poetry from his pen. One of his letters about that time contained the following acrostic on Benjamin's name:
"Be to thy parents an obedient son; Each day let duty constantly be done; Never give way to sloth, or lust, or pride, If free you'd be from thousand ills beside. Above all ills be sure avoid the shelf, Man's danger lies in Satan, sin and self. In virtue, learning, wisdom, progress make; Ne'er shrink at suffering for thy Savior's sake.
"Fraud and all falsehood in thy dealings flee; Religious always in thy station be; Adore the maker of thy inward part; Now's the accepted time; give him thine heart; Keep a good conscience, 'tis a constant friend, Like judge and witness this thy acts attend, In heart, with bended knee, alone, adore None but the Three in One for evermore."
The sentiment is better than the poetry, and it shows that the hero of our tale had a treasure in the uncle for whom he was named. Doubtless "Uncle Benjamin's" interest was largely increased by the loss of his own children. He had quite a number of sons and daughters, and one after another of them sickened and died, until only one son remained, and he removed to Boston. It was for these reasons, probably, that "Uncle Benjamin" came to this country in 1715.
Among his letters was one to his brother Josiah, our Benjamin's father, when the son was seven years old, from which we extract the following:
"A father with so large a family as yours ought to give one son, at least, to the service of the Church. That is your tithe. From what you write about Benjamin I should say that he is the son you ought to consecrate specially to the work of the ministry. He must possess talents of a high order, and his love of learning must develop them rapidly. If he has made himself a good reader and speller, as you say, without teachers, there is no telling what he will do with them. By all means, if possible, I should devote him to the Church. It will be a heavy tax upon you, of course, with so large a family on your hands, but your reward will come when you are old and gray-headed. Would that I were in circumstances to assist you in educating him."
"He does not know how much thought and planning we have given to this subject," remarked Mr. Franklin to his wife, when he read this part of the letter. "I would do any thing possible to educate Benjamin for the Church, and I think he would make the most of any opportunities we can give him."
"There is no doubt of that," responded Mrs. Franklin. "Few parents ever had more encouragement to educate a son for the ministry than we have to educate him."
"Doctor Willard said as much as that to me," added Mr. Franklin, "and I think it is true. I do not despair of giving Benjamin an education yet, though I scarcely see how it ever can be done."
"That is the way I feel about it," responded Mrs. Franklin. "Perhaps God will provide a way; somehow I trust in Providence, and wait, hoping for the best."
"It is well to trust in Providence, if it is not done blindly," remarked Mr. Franklin. "Providence sometimes does wonders for people who trust. It is quite certain that He who parted the waters of the Red Sea for the children of Israel to pass, and fed them with manna from the skies, can provide a way for our Benjamin to be educated. But it looks to me as if some of his bread would have to drop down from heaven."
"Well, if it drops that is enough," replied Mrs. Franklin. "I shall be satisfied. If God does any thing for him he will do it in his own time and way, and I shall be content with that. To see him in the service of the Church is the most I want."
"Uncle Benjamin's" letter did not introduce a new subject of conversation into the Franklin family; it was already an old theme that had been much canvassed. Outside of the family there was an interest in Benjamin's education. He was the kind of a boy to put through Harvard College. This was the opinion of neighbors who knew him. Nothing but poverty hindered the adoption and execution of that plan.
"Uncle Benjamin's" letter did this, however: it hastened a favorable decision, though Benjamin was eight years old when his parents decided that he might enter upon a course of education.
They had said very little to their son about it, because they would not awaken his expectations to disappoint them. And finally the decision was reached with several ifs added.
"I do not know how I shall come out," added Mr. Franklin, "he may begin to study. It won't hurt him to begin, if I should not be able to put him through a course."
The decision to send him to school was arrived at in this doubtful way, and it was not laid more strongly than this before Benjamin for fear of awakening too high hopes in his heart.
"I have decided to send you to school," said his father to him, "but whether I shall be able to send you as long as I would like is not certain yet. I would like to educate you for the ministry if I could; how would you like that?"
"I should like to go to school; I should like nothing better," answered Benjamin. "About the rest of it I do not know whether I should like it or not."
"Well, it may not be best to discuss that," continued his father, "as I may not be able to carry out my plan to the end. It will cost a good deal to keep you in school and educate you, perhaps more than I can possibly raise with so large a family to support. I have to be very industrious now to pay all my bills. But if you are diligent to improve your time, and lend a helping hand at home, out of school hours, I may be able to do it."
"I will work all I can out of school, if I can only go," was Benjamin's cheerful pledge in the outset. "When shall I begin?"
"Begin the next term. It is a long process to become educated for the ministry, and the sooner you begin the better. But you must understand that it is not certain I can continue you in school for a long time. Make the most of the advantages you have, and we will trust in Providence for the future."
Josiah Franklin's caution was proverbial. He was never rash or thoughtless. He weighed all questions carefully. He was very conscientious, and would not assume an obligation that he could not see his way clear to meet. He used the same careful judgment and circumspection about the education of his son that he employed in all business matters. For this reason he was regarded as a man of sound judgment and practical wisdom, and his influence was strong and wide. When his son reached the height of his fame, he wrote as follows of his father:
"I suppose you may like to know what kind of a man my father was. He had an excellent constitution, was of a middle stature, well set, and very strong. He could draw prettily and was skilled a little in music. His voice was sonorous and agreeable, so that when he played on his violin, and sung withal, as he was accustomed to do after the business of the day was over, it was extremely agreeable to hear. He had some knowledge of mechanics, and on occasion was handy with other tradesmen's tools. But his great excellence was his sound understanding, and his solid judgment in prudential matters, both in private and public affairs. It is true he was never employed in the latter, the numerous family he had to educate, and the straitness of his circumstances, keeping him close to his trade; but I remember well his being frequently visited by leading men, who consulted him for his opinion in public affairs, and those of the church he belonged to; and who showed a great respect for his judgment and advice. He was also consulted much by private persons about their affairs, when any difficulty occurred, and frequently chosen an arbitrator between contending parties."
Of his mother he wrote, at the same time:
"My mother had likewise an excellent constitution; she suckled all her ten children. I never knew either my father or mother to have any sickness, but that of which they died—he at eighty-nine, and she at eighty-five years of age. They lie buried together at Boston, where I some years since placed a marble over their grave, with this inscription:
JOSIAH FRANKLIN AND ABIAH, HIS WIFE, LIE HERE INTERRED.
THEY LIVED LOVINGLY TOGETHER, IN WEDLOCK, FIFTY-FIVE YEARS, AND WITHOUT AN ESTATE, OR ANY GAINFUL EMPLOYMENT, BY CONSTANT LABOR AND HONEST INDUSTRY (WITH GOD'S BLESSING), MAINTAINED A LARGE FAMILY COMFORTABLY; AND BROUGHT UP THIRTEEN CHILDREN AND SEVEN GRANDCHILDREN REPUTABLY.
FROM THIS INSTANCE, READER, BE ENCOURAGED TO DILIGENCE IN THY CALLING, AND DISTRUST NOT PROVIDENCE. HE WAS A PIOUS AND PRUDENT MAN, SHE A DISCREET AND VIRTUOUS WOMAN. THEIR YOUNGEST SON, IN FILIAL REGARD TO THEIR MEMORY, PLACES THIS STONE.
J.F., BORN 1655, DIED 1744, AET. 89. A.F., BORN 1667, DIED 1752, AET. 85."
We may say here that the stone which Doctor Franklin erected, as above, became so dilapidated that in 1827, the citizens of Boston replaced it by a granite obelisk. The bodies repose in the old Granary cemetery, beside Park-street church.
* * * * *
It was arranged that Benjamin should begin his school-days, and enjoy the best literary advantages which the poverty of his father could provide. He acceded to the plan with hearty good-will, and commenced his studies with such zeal and enthusiasm as few scholars exhibit.
The school was taught by Mr. Nathaniel Williams, successor of the famous Boston teacher, Mr. Ezekiel Cheever, who was instructor thirty-five years, and who discontinued teaching, as Cotton Mather said, "only when mortality took him off." The homely old wooden school-house, one story and a half high, stood near by the spot on which the bronze statue of Franklin is now seen, and there was the "school-house green" where "Ben" and his companions played together. Probably it was the only free grammar school that Boston afforded at that time; for the town could not have numbered a population of over eight thousand.
From his first day's attendance at school Benjamin gave promise of high scholarship. He went to work with a will, improving every moment, surmounting every difficulty, and enjoying every opportunity with a keen relish. Mr. Williams was both gratified and surprised. That a lad so young should take hold of school lessons with so much intelligence and tact, and master them so easily, was a surprise to him, and he so expressed himself to Mr. Franklin.
"Your son is a remarkable scholar for one so young. I am more than gratified with his industry and progress. His love of knowledge is almost passionate."
"Yes, he was always so," responded Mr. Franklin. "He surprised us by reading well before we ever dreamed of such a thing. He taught himself, and a book has always been of more value to him than any thing else."
"You will give him an education, I suppose?" said Mr. Williams, inquiringly. "Such a boy ought to have the chance."
"My desire to do it is strong, much stronger than my ability to pay the bills. It is not certain that I shall be able to continue him long at school, though I shall do it if possible."
"Such love of knowledge as he possesses ought to be gratified," continued Mr. Williams. "He excels by far any scholar of his age in school. He will lead the whole school within a short time. His enthusiasm is really remarkable."
Within a few months, as the teacher predicts, Benjamin led the school. He was at the head of his class in every study except arithmetic. Nor did he remain at the head of his class long, for he was rapidly promoted to higher classes. He so far outstripped his companions that the teacher was obliged to advance him thus, that his mental progress might not be retarded. Of course, teachers and others were constantly forecasting his future and prophesying that he would fill a high position in manhood. It is generally the case that such early attention to studies, in connection with the advancement that follows, awakens high hopes of the young in the hearts of all observers. These things foreshadow the future character, so that people think they can tell what the man will be from what the boy is. So it was with Franklin, and so it was with Daniel Webster. Webster's mother inferred from his close attention to reading, and his remarkable progress in learning, that he would become a distinguished man, and so expressed herself to others. She lived to see him rise in his profession, until he became a member of Congress, though she died before he reached the zenith of his renown. The same was true of David Rittenhouse, the famous mathematician. When he was but eight years old, he constructed various articles, such as a miniature water-wheel, and at seventeen years of age he made a complete clock. His younger brother declared that he was accustomed to stop, when he was plowing in the field, and solve problems on the fence, and sometimes cover the plow handles with figures. The highest expectations of his friends were more than realized in his manhood. The peculiar genius which he exhibited in his boyhood gave him his world-wide fame at last.
Also George Stephenson, the great engineer, the son of a very poor man, who fired the engine at Wylam colliery, began his life-labor when a mere boy. Besides watching the cows, and barring the gates after the coal-wagons had passed, at four cents a day, he amused himself during his leisure moments, in making clay engines, in imitation of that which his father tended. Although he lived in circumstances so humble that ordinarily he would have been entirely unnoticed, his intense interest in, and taste for, mechanical work, attracted the attention of people and led them to predict his future success and fame.
In like manner, the first months of Benjamin Franklin's school days foreshadowed the remarkable career of his manhood. Relatives and friends believed that he would one day fill a high place in the land; and in that, their anticipations were fully realized.
OUT OF SCHOOL.
Mr. Franklin's finances did not improve. It was clearer every day to him that he would not be able to keep Benjamin in school. Besides, in a few months, John, who had learned the tallow-chandler's business of his father, was going to be married, and establish himself in that trade in Providence. Some body must take his place. It was quite impossible for his father to prosecute his business alone.
"I see no other way," remarked Mr. Franklin to his wife; "I shall be obliged to take Benjamin out of school to help me. My expenses increase from month to month, and must continue to increase for some years, so far as I can see. They will increase heavily if I am obliged to hire a man in John's place."
"I am not surprised at all that you have come to that conclusion," replied Mrs. Franklin. "I expected it, as I have intimated to you. Parents must be better off than we are to be able to send a son to college."
"If they have as many children to support as we have, you might add. I could easily accomplish it with no larger family than most of my neighbors have. Yet I find no fault with the number. I accept all the Lord sends."
"I am sorry for Benjamin," continued Mrs. Franklin. "He will be dreadfully disappointed. I am afraid that he will think little of work because he thinks so much of his school. What a pity that boys who want an education, as he does, could not have it, and boys who do not want it should do the work."
"That is the way we should fix it, no doubt, if the ordering were left to us," said Mr. Franklin; "but I never did have my own way, and I never expect to have it, and it is fortunate, I suppose, that I never did have it. If I could have it now, I should send Benjamin to college."
"It has been my prayer that he might give his life and his services to the Church," added Mrs. Franklin; "but Providence appears to indicate now that he should make candles for a livelihood, and it is not in me to rebel against the ordering. If frustrated in this plan, I mean to believe that Providence has some thing better in store for him and us."
"I was never so reluctant to adopt a conclusion as I have been to take Benjamin out of school," continued Mr. Franklin. "Yet, there has been one thought that reconciled me in part to the necessity, and that is, that there is less encouragement to a young man in the Church now than formerly. It is more difficult to suit the people, and, consequently, there are more trials and hardships for ministers; and many of them appear to be peculiar."
"If ministers have a harder time than you do I pity them," rejoined Mrs. Franklin. "I suppose as that is concerned, we are all in the same boat. If we meet them with Christian fortitude, as we should, so much the better for us."
"True, very true, and my uppermost desire is to put Benjamin where duty points. But it is clear to me now that Providence has blocked his way to the ministry."
"You will not take him out of school until John leaves, will you?" inquired Mrs. Franklin.
"I shall have him leave the public school at the close of this term, and that will give him a full year's schooling. And then I shall put him into Mr. Brownwell's school for a while to improve him in penmanship and arithmetic. By that time I must have him in the factory."
Mr. Brownwell had a private school, in which he taught penmanship and arithmetic. It was quite a famous school, made so by his success as a teacher in these departments.
Benjamin had received no intimation, at this time, that he would be taken out of school. His father shrunk from disclosing his final plan to him because he knew it would be so disappointing. But as the close of the school year drew near, he was obliged to open the subject to him. It was an unpleasant revelation to Benjamin, although it was not altogether unexpected. For, in the outset, his father had said that such might be the necessity.
"You are a poor penman and deficient in your knowledge of numbers," said his father; "and improvement in these branches will be of great service to you in my business. You will attend Mr. Brownwell's school for a while in order to perfect yourself in these studies."
"I shall like that," answered Benjamin; "but why can I not attend school until I am old enough to help you?"
"You are old enough to help me. There are many things you can do as well as a man."
"I should like to know what?" said Benjamin, rather surprised that he could be of any service in the candle business at nine years of age. "John had to learn the trade before he could help you much."
"You can cut the wicks, fill the moulds for cast-candles, keep the shop in order, run hither and thither with errands, and do other things that will save my time, and thus assist me just as much as a man could in doing the same things."
"I am sure that is inducement enough for any boy, but a lazy one, to work," remarked his mother, who had listened to the conversation. "Your father would have to pay high wages to a man to do what you can do as well, if I understand it."
"In doing errands you will aid as much, even perhaps more, than in doing any thing else," added Mr. Franklin. "I have a good deal of such running to do, and if you do it I can be employed in the more important part of my business, which no one else can attend to. Besides, your nimble feet can get over the ground much quicker than my older and clumsier ones, so that you can perform that part of the business better than I can myself."