Benjamin Franklin.

Benjamin Franklin : his autobiography : with a narrative of his public life and services online

. (page 34 of 34)
Online LibraryBenjamin FranklinBenjamin Franklin : his autobiography : with a narrative of his public life and services → online text (page 34 of 34)
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542 LIFE OF FRANKLIN.

nature and in art, and copies of new works on all
sabjects.

With the close of Dr. Franklin's third year as
President of Pennsylvania, in 1788, his official life
terminated ; but people could not forbear consulta-
tion with one who for more than fifty years had
been familiar with the politics and history of his
country, and whose varied knowledge, the result of
observation and experience, was so ample. While
the question of the adoption of the Constitution was
pending in the several states, and as far back as the
time when the election of delegates to the Conven-
tion was in progress, a society was formed "for Po-
litical Inquiries," of which Franklin was president,
and which met at his house. But it became finally
absorbed in the desultory and informal conversations
which his fellow-citizens delighted to hold with a
man whose conversational powers acute disease
seemed hardly to diminish, and whose faculties
years appeared little to impair.

Dr. Franklin, throughout his long life, enjoyed al-
most uninterrupted good health until the few years
which preceded his decease. In stature he was
well formed and compact, in countenance cheerftil
and intelligent; for his familiar face, preserved in
countless copies, is an index of his character. He
was an example and apostle of temperance when
the customs of society tended to an opposite course;
and in this mode he preserved heahh and endured
fatigue. Toward the close of his life, and particu-
larly during his residence in France, his personal



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LIFE OF FRA.NKL1N. 543

habits became less active; and his fondness for the
society which sought him out, together with the con-
finement of his official duties, precluded the exercise
which he had formerly taken as a preservative of
health. He was afflicted with gout, to which, in
1782, a severe calculous complaint was added; and,
though enjoying occasional respites, the two diseases
at length became so continual as for the last twelve
months of his life to confine him almost constantly
to his bed. In a letter written to President Wash-
ington in the autumn of 1789, he says: "For my
own personal ease I should have died two years
ago ; but, though those years have been passed in
excruciating pain, I am pleased that I have lived
them, since they have brought me to see our pres-
ent situation." Dr. John Jones, his physician and
friend, wrote the following account of his last sick-
ness and death :

" The stone, with which he had been afflicted for
several years, had, for the last twelve months of his
life, confined him chiefly to his bed ; and, during the
extremely painful paroxysms, he was obliged to take
large doses of laudanum to mitigate his tortures.
Still, in the intervals of pain, he not only amused
himself by reading and conversing cheerfully with
his family and a^ few friends who visited him, but
was often employed in doing business of a public as
well as of a private nature, with various persons
who waited upon him for that purpose; and in
every instance displayed not only the readiness and
dbposition to do good, which were the distinguish*



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544 LIFE OF FRANKLIN.

log characteristics of his life, but the fullest and
clearest possession of his uncommon abilities. He
also not unfrequently indulged in those jeux (Tesprii
and entertaining anecdotes which were the delight
of all who heard them.

"About sixteen days before his death, he was
seized with a feverish disposition, without any par-
ticular symptoms attending it till the third or fourth
day, when he complained of a pain in his left breast,
which increased till it became extremely acute, at-
tended by a cough and laborious breathing. During
this state, when the severity of his pains drew forth
a groan of complaint, he would observe that he was
afraid he did not bear them as he ought; acknowl-
edging his grateful sense of the many blessings he
had received from the Supreme Being, who had
raised him, from small and low beginnings, to such
high rank and consideration among men ; and made
no doubt but that his present afflictions were kindly
intended to wean him from a world in which he
was no longer fit to act the part assigned him. In
this frame of body and mind he continued until five
days before his death, when the pain and difficulty
of breathing entirely left him, and his family were
flattering themselves with the hopes of his recovery,
but an imposthume which had formed in his lungs
suddenly burst and discharged a quantity of matter,
which he continued to throw up while he had
power; but, as that failed, the organs of respiration
became gradually oppressed ; a calm, lethargic state
succeeded; and on the 17th instant (April, 1790),



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LIFE OF FRANKLIN. 545

about eleven o'clock at night, he quietly expired,
closing a long and useful life of eighty-four years
and three months."*

The public mind was not unprepared for an event
which had been daily looked for, but the tidings fell
with a sensible gloom upon the city. The news-
papers announced the event wjth the insignia of
mourning around their borders, and all classes and
conditions prepared with one consent to render the
last honors to the illustrious deceased. The last
paragraph of his will (except the formula of revoca-
tion of previous ones) expressed his desire that his
body should be buried "with as little expense or
ceremony as may be." This bound his executors;
but the public could not be repressed in the enthu-
siasm of respect, and the mournful testimony of re-
gret and veneration. The funeral took place on
the 21st of April, and his remains were placed, ac-
cording to his request, at the side of those of his
wife, in the northwest corner of Christ Church
Cemetery. The bells of the city were muffled and
tolled ; the flags of the shipping in the harbor, and
flags upon the public buildings, were displayed at
half-mast; and when the body was committed to
the earth, peals of artillery announced that all that
was mortal of the sage and the philanthropist had

* Three days previous to bis death, he desired his daughter, Mrs.
Bache, to have his bed made, ** in order that he might die in a decent man-
ner.** His daughter having replied that she hoped he would recover and
live many years, he said, '* / hope not.** On another day, being advised
to change his position, that he might breathe easy, he replied, ** A dying
man can do nothing easy.**

M M



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£46 tIPE O^ FRANKLIN.

been consigned to the keeping of the tomb. An
immense concoarse, inclnding the public bodies of
the state and city, societies and corporations of vari-
ous names, followed the body in procession, and»
with the citizens who closed the long fonereal train,
the nomber could not have been less than twenty
thousand persons. Without the attraction of a
military pageant, and without the prelude of any
formal arrangements, the heart of the whole people
united in this testimony of respect and affection;
and the funeral of Benjamin Franklin was in keep*
ing with the whole tenor of his life, a spectacle as
sublime as unostentatious.

Congress was in session in New York at the time
of Franklin's death. On receipt of the intelligence,
a resolution was passed that the members should
wear the customary badge of mourning one month,
as a mark of the veneration due to the memory of a
citizen " whose native genius was not more an or-
nament to human nature than his various exertions
of it have been to science, to freedom, and to his
country." When the decease of the philosopher and
statesman was known in France, it was announced
in the National Assembly by M. Mirabeau the elder,
who proposed, after a burst of eulogy full of the
spirit of that age and the enthusiasm of a French*-
man, that the Assembly should wear mourning for
three days, to " participate in the homage rendered
in the face of the universe to the rights of man, and
to the philosopher who has so eminently propagated
the conquest of them throughout the world.'' The



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LIFE OF FR'AfTKLlN. 647

piopositioo was seconded by Rocbefoncaold and
Lafayette, and adopted by acclamation. It was also
resolved that the address of Murabeau should be
printed, and that a letter of condolence should be ad-
dressed to the Congress of the United States. This
duty was performed by the President of the Assem-
bly ; and upon the receipt of the letter, Congress^ by
resolution, desired President Washington to '*com^
municate to the National Assembly of France the
peculiar sensibility of Congress to the tribute paid
to the piemory of Benjamin Franklin by the enlight-
eqed and free representatives of a great nation;"
and Washington, in his answer, happily acknowl-
edged this peculiar proof of national courtesy.

The honors to Franklin in France did not cease
with the proceedings of the National Assembly.
Several years before, Turgot had applied to him the
stately but epigrammatic eulogy,

<* Eripait ccelo folmen, sceptmmque tyrannis/'

Mirabeau, in his speech in the Assembly, paraphrased
the same idea, terming Franklin " the mortal who,
for the advantage of the human race, embracing both
heaven and earth in his vast and extensive mind,
knew how to subdue thunder and tyranny." The
authorities of the city of Paris ordered a public cel-
ebration in honor of the memory of Franklin ; and
the rotunda of the Corn-market, hung with black,
was crowded with an auditory wearing the same
insignia, who listened to a eulogy pronounced by
the Abb6 Fauchet If the Latin verse of Turgot
lost force by Mirabeau's French translation, the sen-



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548



LIFE OP FRAflKLIN.



timent adopted by the people regained its strength,
if not all its imposing dignity, by the vividly acted
commentary of the nation. Societies, corporations,
and individuals united in the display of that enthusi-
asm which is so pecuUarly the characteristic of the
French people.

The Philadelphia Library Company, which had
its origin in the efforts of Franklin nearly sixty years
before, left a niche in the front of their new building,
then in progress of erection, for a statue of the phi-
losopher. The statue was placed there in 1792 by
the liberahty of WiUiam Bingham, a citizen of Phil-
adelphia. It is of Carrara marble, and was the first
piece of sculpture of its size which was brought to
this country. The costume is the toga; the left arm
is supported by books, and in the left hand is a
scroll. In the right is an inverted sceptre. The
Philosophical Society appointed Dr. William Smith
to deliver a eulogy; and at Yale College, New Ha-
ven, a Latin Oration was pronounced by President
Stiles.

Such were some of the honors paid to Frankhn
at his decease. No monument marks his resting-
place, for he had by will prescribed a plain marble
slab; but, better than any other memorial, his name
lives in the records of science, the history of nations,
the gratitude of his countrymen, the respect of man-
kind. In this connection we append an epitaph,
which he wrote for himself at the age of twenty-
three, which looks to a further remembrance than
any earthly tribute:



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LIFC OF FRANKLIN. 649

"The Body

Of

Benjamin Fkanklin,

Printer

(Like the cover of an old hook,

Its contents torn out,

And stripped of its lettering and gilding).

Lies here, food for worms.

But the work shall not be lost.

For it will, as he believed, appear once more,

In a new and more elegant edition.

Revised and corrected

By

The Authob."



In Franklin's will, besides the distribution of his property and
various memorials among kindred, friends, and the societies of
which he was a member, he left one thousand pounds to the city
of Philadelphia, and the same sum to the town of Boston, to be
loaned in small sums to young married mechanics. The sum
bequeathed to Philadelphia is now estimated to be worth about
seventeen thousand dollars; the Boston legacy about twenty-
seven thousand dollars. The full advantages which the testator
expected from these bequests have not been realized, but the
character of the motive of the donor is not afiected by the failure
of the plan. Another donation of one hundred pounds to the
town of Boston, the interest of which is annually expended in the
purchase of silver medals for the most meritorious pupils in the
public schools, has answered its purpose in creating a spirit of
emulation; and it is furthermore a memorial "more durable
than brass" of the wisdom of him who " owed his first instruc-
tions in literature to the free grammar-schools of Boston."



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Online LibraryBenjamin FranklinBenjamin Franklin : his autobiography : with a narrative of his public life and services → online text (page 34 of 34)