Benjamin Franklin.

Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin; with an introduction and notes online

. (page 1 of 21)
Online LibraryBenjamin FranklinAutobiography of Benjamin Franklin; with an introduction and notes → online text (page 1 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


^®SPS S10GPj *




Digitized by the Internet Archive
in 2010



ittacmtllan's Pocket American anti Engltgfj Classics

A Series of English Texts, edited for use in Elementary and
Secondary Schools, with Critical Introductions, Notes, etc.



25 cents each

Addison's Sir Roger de Coverl,ey.

Andersen's Fairy Tales.

Arabian Nights' Entertainments.

Arnold's Sohrab and Rustum.

Bacon's Essays.

Bible (Memorable Passages from).

Blackmore's Lorna Doone.

Browning's Shorter Poems.

Browning. Mrs., Poems (Selected).

Bryant's Thanatopsis, etc.

Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress.

Burke's Speech on Conciliation.

Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage.

Byron's Shorter Poems.

Carlyle's Essay on Burns.

Carlyle's Heroes and Hero Worship.

Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonder-
land (Illustrated).

Chaucer's Prologue and Knight's Tale.

Church's The Story of the Iliad.

Church's The Story of the Odyssey.

Coleridge's The Ancient Mariner.

Cooper's The Deerslayer.

Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans.

Defoe's Robinson Crusoe.

De Quincey's Confessions of an English

De Quincey's Joan of Arc, and The Eng-
lish Mail-Coach.

Dickens' A Christmas Carol, and The
Cricket on the Hearth.

Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities.

Dryden's Palamon and Arcite.

Early American Orations, 1760-1824.

Edwards' (Jonathan) Sermons.

Eliot's Silas Marner.

Emerson's Essays.

Emerson's Representative Men.

Epoch-making Papers in U. S. History.

Franklin's Autobiography.

Gaskell's Cranford.

Goldsmith's The Deserted Village.

Goldsmith's The Vicar of Wakefield.

Grimm's Fairy Tales.

Hawthorne's Grandfather's Chair.

Hawthorne's The House of the Seven

Hawthorne's Twice-told Tales (Selections

Hawthorne's Wonder-Book.

Homer's Iliad (Translated).

Homer's Odyssey (Translated).

Irving's Life of Goldsmith.

hving's The Alhambra.

Irving's Sketch Book.

JHacmtllan's liodtct American anti lEngltsl) Classics

A Series of English Texts, edited for use in Elementary and
Secondary Schools, with Critical Introductions, Notes, etc.



25 cents each

Keary's Heroes of Asgard.
Kingsley's The Heroes.
Lamb's The Essays ot Elia.
Longfeliow's Evangeline.
Longfellow's Hiawatha.
Longfeliow's Miles Standish.
Longfellow's Tales of a Wayside Inn.
Lowell's The Vision of Sir Launfal.
Macaulay's Essay on Addison.
Macaulay's Essay on Hastings.
Macaulay's Essa; on Lord Give.
Macaulay's Essay en Milton.
Macaulay's Lays of Ancient Rome.
Macaulay's Life of Samuel Johnson.
Milton's Comus and Other Poems.
Milton's Paradise Lost, Books I. and II.
Old English Ballads.
Out of the Northland.
Palgrave's Golden Treasury.
Plutarch's Lives (Caesar, Brutus, and

Mark Antony).
Poe's Poems.

Poe's Prose Tales (Selections from).
Pope's Homer's Iliad.
Pope's The Rape of the Lock.
Ruskin's Sesame and Lilies.
Scott's Ivanhoe.

Scott's Kenilworth.
Scott's Lady of the Lake.
Scott's Lay of the Last Minstrel.
Scott's Marmion..
Scott's Quentin Durward.
Scott's The Talisman.
Shakespeare's As You Like It.
Shakespeare's Hamlet.
Shakespeare's Henry V.
Shakespeare's Julius Csesar.
Shakespeare's Macbeth.
Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice.
Shakespeare's The Tempest.
Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.
Shelley and Keats : Poems.
Southern Poets : Selections.
Spenser's Faerie Queene, Book I.
Stevenson's Treasure Island.
Swift's Gulliver's Travels.
Tennyson's Idylls of the King.
Tennyson's The Princess.
Tennyson's Shorter Poems.
Thackeray's Henry Esmond.
Washington's Farewell Address, and

Webster's First Bunker Hill Oration.
Woolman's Journal.
Wordsworth's Shorter Poems.









All rights reserved

Copyright, 1901,

Set up, electrotyped, and published October, 1901. Reprinted
March, 1904 ; February, December, 1905; July-, 1906; January, 1907-.
August, 1907.



Ten years before the breaking out of the war of the Revolu-
tion, Hume called Franklin "the first philosopher and indeed
the first great man of letters " in the new world ; on the very
eve of that struggle, Samuel Johnson, in his astonishing
pamphlet Taxation no Tyranny, described him as " a mas-
ter of mischief," who knew "how to put in motion the en-
gine of political electricity " ; and during the war, while
Franklin was pressing the claims of the American patriots
upon France, he was often represented in varicas attitudes
as commanding and using the lightning as a servant of the
cause of liberty. Turgot's famous line

"Eripuit ccelo fulmen, septrumque tyrannis,"

happily expressed the two sides of Franklin's activity which
made a deep impression on Europe : his fruitful passion for
science, and his ardent advocacy of liberty. During the
eventful years from 1765 to his death in 1790, Franklin
was, from the European standpoint, distinctly the foremost
man in America ; and after the lapse of more than a century, no American save Lincoln is more widely known
beyond the sea In this country other figures have to a
certain extent withdrawn public attention from his extraordi-
nary career and sensibly diminished His reputation ; a process
which has been aided bv Franklin's lack of idealism in mind


and character; but the estimate of Franklin by Europe has
been more adequate than the judgment of his countrymen.
The more closely his career is studied the more clear does it
become that, with the exception of Lincoln, no man yet born
on this continent has more strikingly expressed its feeling or
illustrated the range of its opportunities.

Like Lincoln, Franklin was of humble parentage. The rep-
resentative, for many years in a spiritual as well as official
sense, of the middle colonies, Franklin was born in Boston.
It was in the year 1706, Queen Anne was served by a group of
brilliant writers at home, and the colonies were fairly content
in the new world. There were but ten of them and their
combined population did not reach four hundred thousand ;
a thin skirmish line of civilization stretched over the breadth
of an immense and hostile continent. The earliest of American
journalists came at a time when there was but one newspaper
in the colonies. His father, an English dissenter, had come to
Boston in 1685 and became a tallow-chandler. The boy had
various schooling, partly at home, partly at the Boston Latin
School, and partly under a teacher of some local reputation ;
but his formal education was ended prematurely in his eleventh
year. His parents talked of the church as a career ; the boy
talked of the sea : but for two years his work was in his
father's shop, " cutting wick for the caudles, filling the dipping
mould and the mould for cast candles, attending the shop, going
of errands."

From early childhood he was fond of reading, and the little
money that came his way went into books. The boy's first
extensive purchase was John Buhyan's works in small volumes ;
a selection suggestive of literary taste if not of religious instinct.
These volumes were sold later in order to secure Burton's
Historical Collections. The library of the elder Franklin was
small in bulk and made up chiefly of books of polemical theology ;
and probably there has never been a mind more indifferent to


writing of this kind than that of the younger Franklin. There was
one oasis, however, in this desert of disputatious divinity and
that was the immortal work of Plutarch, which George Eliot
so finely described as the "pasturage of noble minds." From
this rich soil of human experience and achievement Franklin
drew impulse and instruction in equal degree ; and the reading
of the Lives left a permanent impression on his character. In
his simplicity, frankness, courage, and industry he was one of
Plutarch's men. A book of De Foe's fell into his hands at this
time and was probably not without influence on his style.

His tastes and the direction given to his thoughts by his
passion for books inclined him to the printer's trade ; although
the siren voice of the sea had not yet ceased to sing to him.
At the age of twelve he was bound to his older brother James
by indentures which made him an apprentice until he was
twenty-one years old. He learned his craft easily and rapidly
and, having freer access to books, often sat up all night in
order to return a borrowed volume in the morning. He was
securing that education without which success in the higher
fields of activity is impossible. Although essentially a man of
understanding rather than of imagination, Franklin did not
escape the charms of verse. He even succumbed to the temp-
tation to turn the musical line, and a ballad of his making,
dealing after the manner of ballads of the time with a drowning
accident, had a great sale ; and the flattered writer would have
ventured upon larger enterprises of the kind if his brother had
not assured him that verse-writers were generally beggars.
Escaping this peril Franklin devoted himself to prose, writing
with an instinctive conviction that the ability to use the pen
with freedom and power was to be of great importance to him.
Several letters of his, written to an acquaintance in the progress
of a discussion between them, fell into his father's hands ; and
the elder Franklin, who was a man of great natural sagacity,
made Benjamin conscious of the lack of clearness, orderliness,


and eloquence in his style and awakened the critical sense in the
boy's mind.

As a rule, men of original power are fortunate in falling at
the ripe moment on the material essential to their own libera-
tion and growth ; Franklin happily came upon a volume of the
Spectator at this critical time in his education. He could
hardly have found a better model, nor one which could deflect
him less from his own line of growth or teach him more of the
things he needed to know. His native gift of clear, large,
tolerant, understanding ; his controlling sense of reality ; his
resolute common-sense ; his immense capacity for learning the
ways of the world and the character of men found in the lucidity,
humor, ease, and sincerity of the Spectator both example and
impulse. The boy suddenly found himself, for the purposes of
his own development as a prose-writer, under the wise, urbane,
and captivating teaching of one of the masters of English writing.

His use of the Spectator was so characteristic and of such
great importance in his education as a writer that his own ac-
count of it must not be abridged : —

" I thought the writing excellent, and wished, if possible, to imi-
tate it. With this view I took some of the papers, and, making short
hints of the sentiment in each sentence, laid them by a few days.
and then, without looking at the book, try'd to compleat the papers
again, by expressing each hinted sentiment at length, and as fully
as it had been expressed before, in any suitable words that should
come to hand. Then I compared my Spectator with the original, dis-
covered some of my faults and corrected them. But I found I wanted
a stock of words, or a readiness in recollecting or using them, which
I thought I should have acquired before that time if I had gone on
making verses ; since the continual occasion for words of the same
import, but of different length, to suit the measure, or of different
sound for the rhyme, would have laid me under a constant necessity
of searching for variety, and also have tended to fix that variety in
my mind, and make me master of it. Therefore I took some of the
tales and turned them into verse ; and, after a time, when I had
pretty well forgotten the prose, turned them back again. I also


sometimes jumbled my collections of hints into confusion, and after
some weeks endeavored to reduce them into the best order, before
I began to form the full sentences and com pleat the paper. This
was to teach me method in the arrangement of thoughts. By com-
paring my work afterwards with the original, I discovered many
faults and amended them ; but I sometimes had the pleasure of
fancying that, in certain particulars of small import, I had been
lucky enough to improve the method or the language, and this en-
couraged me to think I might possibly in time come to be a tolera-
ble English writer, of which I was extremely ambitious. My time
for these exercises and for reading was at night, alter work or be-
fore it began in the morning, or on Sundays, when I contrived to
be in the printing-house alone, evading as much as I could the com-
mon attendance on public worship which my lather used to exact
of me when I was under his care, and which indeed I still thought
a duty, though I could not as it seemed to me, afford time to prac-
tise it."

In his way Franklin studied the resources and qualities of Eng-
lish prose as thoroughly as did Robert Louis Stevenson. Awak-
ened to the need of education, and with a dim prophetic sense
of his future work, he did not content himself with books of
literature and exercises in writing ; he mastered arithmetic,
studied navigation and geometry, read Locke's On the Human Un-
derstanding, devoured Xenophon's Memorabilia, and promptly
adopted the Socratic method of discussion : came under the
influence of Anthony Collins and Lord Shaftesbury, and became
" n real doubter in many points of our religious doctrine." The
printer's apprentice was fast emancipating himself, not only
from the narrowness of his personal conditions, but from the
provincialism of the little colonial world in which his lot was
cast. Without formal education, means, friends, or travel, he
had brought himself into touch with the finest English literary
influence of an age of notable urbanity and elegance, and into
sympathy with a view of religion radical even in the England
of Queen Anne, and antipodal to the Puritan teaching in his
native city.


At the age of fifteen Franklin was writing for the New Eng-
land Courant, which his brother had launched upon the untried
sea of journalism. It had had' three predecessors in the new
world : the Boston Netvs-Letter, the Boston Gazette, and the
American Weekly Aferciay, published in Philadelphia. Several
of James Franklin's friends endeavored to dissuade him from
the enterprise, on the ground that one newspaper was enough
for America ! The younger brother, doubtful of the value of
his work, thrust an anonymous paper under the door of the
counting-room, and had the pleasure of hearing it warmly com-
mended, and its authorship credited to men of learning and
ability in the community. Two years later, having run away
from Boston on account of his brother's violent temper, Frank-
lin reached Philadelphia with a dollar and a shilling in his
pocket. It was on a Sunday morning in October, 1723. Frank-
lin found employment as a printer ; made a few friends ; went
to London on a fool's errand ; walked the streets of the great
city in search of work, and finally found it in a large printing-
house ; fell into evil company, and became as licentious and
wasteful as his companions ; wrote a pamphlet to prove that
there is no ground for believing in a future life, or in religion,
which brought him to the notice of a group of sceptics. At
twenty he was back in Philadelphia keeping books, setting type,
and mending presses. " It was at this time," writes Professor
MacMaster, " that Benjamin founded the Junto, wrote his
famous epitaph, grew religious, composed a liturgy for his own
use, and became the father of an illegitimate son."

In 1729 he became the proprietor of the Pennsylvania Ga-
zette. He had written on various subjects, and one pamphlet
on paper money had attracted wide attention. He had also,
reviving his love of the Spectator, begun a series of essays in
which he endeavored to teach without being didactic, to
moralize without being dogmatic, and to satirize without
malice or bitterness. The Busybody Papers had prepared the


way for the easy handling of such subjects as Hoiv to Please
in Conversation, The Meditations on a Quart Mug, On
Lying Tradesmen, On the Waste of Life, On True Happiness.
Franklin never caught the Addisonian tone — its urbanity,
old-world ease and refinement; but he was full of good sense,
sagacious observations, effective if somewhat broad humor,
and ready sense of journalistic interest. The practical side of
his nature was tireless in the effort to introduce better methods
in domestic and municipal life ; indeed, in the application of
practical ideas to life, Franklin is one of the foremost men in
history ; he was never content until he had substituted in-
telligence for habit or custom. The police and fire departments,
then in the most rudimentary stages, were systematized or
reformed at his suggestion ; he was instrumental in organizing
the first militia, and in cleaning and lighting the streets. He
founded the Philadelphia Library, which has been called "the
mother of all the North American subscription libraries " ; he
was largely instrumental in founding the Academy and
Charitable School of the Province of Pennsylvania, which
subsequently became the Philadelphia College, and has now
become the University of Pennsylvania.

Poor Richard's Almanac, which brought him fame and
fortune, was begun in 1732 and appeared annually for a
quarter of a century. Almanacs were in every household and,
in remote parts of the country, furnished the only reading
matter. Professor Mac-Master tells us that they were the
journals and account books of the poor. " Strung upon a
stick and hung* beside the chimney place, they formed an un-
broken record of domestic affairs, in many instances for thirty
years. On the margins of one since picked up at a paper
mill are recorded the interesting cases of a physician's practice,
and the names of those who suffered with small pox and flux."
They were sold for a sixpence, and when the sixpence was not
forthcoming they were exchanged for produce, rum, stockings,


and old china. They furnished a calendar, a list of court and
fair days, the traditional weather predictions which curiously
anticipated in an unscientific fashion the modern prognostica-
tions of the bureau ; they were rarely without a gene ■; us
allowance of doggerel verse ; and they aimed to guide the lives
of their readers by proverbs and wise reflections on character
and conduct. The fun was broad and often licentious ; for
the almanac, like the broadside, was, in a certain sense, the
forerunner of the sensational newspaper.

" Poor Ri -hard " followed the well-defined lines of his prede-
cessors, but with inventiveness and originality. Poor Richard
was not a maker of stale aphorisms borrowed or stolen from
all sources and cheapened by the process ; he was a shrewd
observer, of quick perceptions, a knowledge of life on the
practical side which was almost unrivalled, and a genius for
compact aril telling statement. He had the literary gift;
the faculty of saving things in a way which set the idea in a
concrete and taking form. " Be careful of the main chance
or it will never take care of you," read the vague generalization
of another almanac maker; "Keep thy shop," said Poor
Richard, "and thy shop will keep thee." The wisdom of
Richard was distinctly prudential ; it was the wisdom, which
avoids mistakes rather than makes great successes; the wisdom
of caution rather than of courage ; but it was full of robust
common -sense. The sermon of Father Abraham, which appeared
in the almanac for 1758, is a condensed philosophy of practical
life. Its success was instantaneous ; it was published again
and agam and found its way to the whole civilized world.
Poor Richard's wisdom did not wholly originate with him;
for proverbs are universal experience put into portable forms
and pass, like currency, from hand to hand without sign or
mark of ownership ; but Richard set his own stamp on material
which came his way and made it his own by virtue of the shape
he gave it. His philosophy was not deep, but it was broad


and serviceable ; it was eminently sound so far as it touched
morals, for it insisted that frugality and industry were the
only roads to wealth. It was important teaching in a new
country full of those undeveloped possibilities which stimulate
the speculative temper ; and it was unquestionably influential
in fixing the habits of a host of readers. Franklin's conception
of life, as recorded in Poor Richard's sayings, was very inade-
quate; the ends it set forth were immediate, the success it
sought was material ; everything, virtue included, tended to
prosperity. "Nothing is so likely," he writes, "to make a
man's fortune as virtue."

His public services and his contributions to science were con-
tinuous and important. As Postmaster General of the colonies
he found a rudimentary organization, practically without sys-
tem and wholly inadequate ; he created a comprehensive and
thorough system of rapid mail communication and delivery, and
met the public needs with characteristic shrewdness and inventive-
ness. He studied electricity to such purpose that his pamphlet
published in 1751 received attention throughout the scientific
world, was translated in several languages, and won him an
election to the Royal Society of London, and, later, a medal.
He had proved that lightning and electricity are identical. He
devised a plan of union among the colonies which antedated the
fact by more than twenty years. This plan was discussed at
the conference held in Albany in 1754, but it was too far in
advance of public opinion to secure serious consideration.

From 1757 until 1762 Franklin was in London as Commis-
sioner from Pennsylvania; in 1765 he returned to London as
the agent of the same colony, but he was really the representa-
tive of all the colonies. His position was extremely difficult,
for passion was steadily rising on both sides of the Atlantic.
With unflinching courage, rare sagacity and the most effective
humor he strove to explain the grievances and feelings of Eng-
lishmen in the new world to Englishmen in the old home. He


was quick to seize every opportunity of gaining access to the
English mind ; but the breach had grown too wide to be bridged.
Iu 1776 he was in Paris as Ambassador of the United States. For
nine years he was one of the must striking figures in the French
capital; the most influential men and women of France counted
his acquaintance an honor and his friendship a distinction ; lie was
recognized on all sides as the foremost man of the new world.
He was as well-known among the people at large as among the
scientists and public men. His achievements in science had
done much to give him this extraordinary reputation. Poor
Richard had done more; but his advocacy of liberty had done
most. To the French people he was the representative of the
democratic movement ; the exponent of the rights of man. He
was cheered, crowned, kissed, and caricatured : his portrait was
everywhere conspicuously displayed. Meanwhile his pen nagged
somewhat, but he still conducted the great debate between Eng-
land and her colonies with astonishing skill and undiminished
vivacity; for as he grew older Franklin gained in freedom and
ease of style. Ten large volumes do not contain all he wrote ;
so great was his industry and so persistent his productive power.
Letters, essays, pamphlets poured from his active mind in an
almost continuous stream. And this voluminous production
was characterized in every form by transparent clearness, direct-
ness, simplicity, and humor.

In 1771, during a visit to Twyford as the guest of the
Bishop of St. Asaph, Franklin began writing his Autobiog-
raphy. Five chapters were completed and the work was laid
aside until 1784, when the story was resumed, to be inter-
rupted a second time the following year by Franklin's return to
Philadelphia. Three years later, in response to the urgent so-
licitation of friends, the work was resumed and the story brought
down to 1757; it was never completed. In point of time it
was the first real contribution to American literature, but it
was not given to the public in this country in any complete


form until several years after the publication of Knickerbocker's

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryBenjamin FranklinAutobiography of Benjamin Franklin; with an introduction and notes → online text (page 1 of 21)