Benjamin Franklin.

The autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's almanac, and other papers online

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Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin , . . 1

Poor Richard's Almanac 215

Plan for Saving One Hundred Thousand Pounds 232

Necessary Hints to Those that would be Rich. 234

Advice to a Young Tradesman 236

Digging for Hidden Treasure 239

Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America 246

A Petition of the Left Hand 255

The Whistle 267

Dialogue Between Franklin ard tto Qout. .^ 260

The Art of Procuring Pleasant Dreams. 268

The Ephemera: An Emblem cf Human Life 274

To Miss Georgiana Shipley, on "the Loi»s of Her American

Squirrel . ."..'. \ ...,.' 277

Familiar Letters:

I. To Miss Jane Franklin 279

n. To Mrs. Jane Mecom 280

in. To Mrs. Deborah Franklin 284

IV. To Miss Hubbard 285

V. To Mrs. Jane Mecom 287

VL To Miss Stevenson 288

Vn. To Miss Stevenson 295

Vm. To Miss Stevenson 298

IX. To Mrs. Stevenson 800

X. To Benjamin Webb 808

XI. To Samuel Mather ..<.. 804

XII. To the Rev. Dr. Lathrop 305

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I HAVE ever had a pleasure in obtaining any little
anecdotes of my ancestors. You may remember the
inquiries I made among the remains of my relations
when you were with me in England, and the journey
I undertook for that purpose. Imagining it may be
equally agreeable to you to learn the circumstances of
my life, many of which you are unacquainted with,
and expecting the enjoyment of a few weeks' uninter-
rupted leisure, I sit down to write them. Besides,
there are some other inducements that excite me to
this undertaking. From the poverty and obscurity in
which I was born and in which I passed my earliest
years, I have raised myself to a state of affluence and
some degree of celebrit}'^ in the world. As constant
good fortune has accompanied me even to an advanced
period of life, my posterity will perhaps be desirous of
learning the means which I employed, and which,
thanks to Providence, so well succeeded with me.
They may also deem them fit to be imitated, should
any of them find themselves in similar circumstances.

This good fortune, when I reflect on it (which is


frequently the case), has induced me sometimes to say
that if it were left to my choice 1 should have no
objection to go over the same life from its beginning
to the end ; requesting only the advantage authors
have of correcting in a second edition the faults of the
Hrst. So would I also wish to change some incidents
of it for others more favorable. Notwithstanding, if
this condition was denied I should still accept the offer
recommencing the same life. But as this repetition is
not to be expected, that which resembles most living
one's life over again seems to be to recall all the cir-
cumstances of it, and, to render this remembrance
more durable, to record them in writing.

In thus employing myself , I shall yield to the inclina-
tion, so natural to old men, of talking of themselves
and their own actions ; and I shall indulge it without
being tiresome to those who, from respect to my age,
might conceive themselves obliged to listen to me,
since thev will be always free to read me or not.
And lastly (I may as well confess it, as the denial of
it would be believed by nobody), I shall, perhaps, not
a little gratify my own vanity. Indeed, I never heard
or saw the introductory words, " Without vanity I
may sa}'"," etc., but some vain thing immediately
followed. Most people dislike vanity in others, what-
ever share they have of it themselves ; but I give it
fair quarter wherever I meet with it, being persuaded
that it is often productive of good to the possessor and
to others who are within his sphere of action ; and
therefore, in many cases, it would not be altogether
absurd if a man were to thank God for his vanity
among the other comforts of life.

And now I speak of thanking God, I desire with all


humility to acknowledge that I attribute the mentioned
happiness of my past life to his divine providence,
which led me to the means I used and gave the success.
My belief of this induces me to hope^ though I must
not prei^ume, that the same goodness will still be
exercised toward me in continuing that happiness or
enabling me to bear a fatal reverse, which I may ex-
perience as others have done ; the complexion of my
future fortune being known to Him only in whose
power it is to bless us, even in our afflictions.

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 which
had continued in the family down to my uncle's time,
the eldest son being always brought up to that em-
ployment ; a custom which he and my father followed
with regard to their eldest sons. When I searched
the registers at 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 at
Ecton till he was too old to continue his business,
when he retired to Banbury, in Oxfordshire, to the
house of his son John, with whom my father served


an apprenticeship. There ray 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.
Isted, now lord of the manor there. My grandfather
had four sons, who grew up, viz., Thomas, John,
Benjamin, and Josiah. Being at a distance from my
papers, I will give you what account I can of them
from memory ; and if my papers are not lost in my
absence, you will find among them many more

Thomas, my oldest uncle, was bred a smith under
his father, but being ingenious and encouraged in
learning, as all his brothers were, by an Esquire
Palmer, then the principal inhabitant of that parish, he
qualified himself for the bar and became a considerable
man in the county ; was chief mover of all public-
spirited enterprises for the county or town of North-
ampton, 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. He died in
1702, the 6th of January, four years to a day before I
was born. The recital which some elderly persons
made to us of his character I remember struck you as
something extraordinary, from its similarity with what
you knew of me. " Had he died," said you, " four
years later on the same day, one might have supposed
a transmigration."

John, my next uncle, was bred a dyer, I believe of
wool. Benjamin was bred a silk-dyer, serving an
apprenticeship in London. He was an ingenious man.
I remember when I was a boy he came to my father's in


Boston and resided in the house with us for several
years. There was always a particular affection
between my father and him, and I was his godson. He
lived to a great age. He left behind him two quarto
volumes of manuscript of his own poetry, consisting of
fugitive pieces addressed to his friends. He had
invented a short-hand of his own, which he taught me;
but not having practiced it I have now forgotten it.
He was very pious and an assiduous attendant at the
sermons of the best preachers, which he reduced to
writing according to his method, and had thus collected
several volumes of them.

He was also a good deal of a politician; too much so,
perhaps, for his station. There fell lately into my
hands, in London, a collection he had made of all the
principal political pamphlets relating to public affairs
from the year 1641 to 1717. Many of the volumes are
wanting, as appears by their numbering ; but there still
remain eight volumes in folio and twenty in quarto
and in octavo. A dealer in old books had met with
them, and knowing me by name, having bought books
of him, he brought them to me. It would appear that
my uncle must have left them here when he went to
America, which was about fifty years ago. I found
several of his notes in the margins. His grandson,
Samuel Franklin, is still living in Boston.

Our humble family early embraced the reformed
religion. Our forefathers continued Protestants
through the reign of Mary, when they were sometimes
in danger of persecution on account of their zeal
against popery. 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 hig
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 Benja-
min. The family continued all of the Church of
England till about the end of Charles the Second's reign,
when some of the ministers that had been ousted for
their non-conformity, holding conventicles in North-
amptonshire, my Uncle Benjamin and my father Josiah
adhered to them, and so continued all their lives. The
rest of the family remained with the Episcopal Church.
My father married young, and carried his wife, with
three children, to New England about 1685. The
conventicles being at that time forbidden by law and
frequently disturbed in the meetings, some consider-
able men of his acquaintances determined to go to that
country, and he was prevailed with to accompany
them thither, where they expected to enjoy the exer-
cise of their religion with freedom. By the same wife
mj father had four children more born there, and by
a second ten others — in all seventeen; of whom I
remember to have seen thirteen sitting together at his
table, who all grew up to years of maturity and were
married. I was the youngest son and the youngest of
all the children except two daughters. I was born in
Boston, in New England. M}^ 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, entitled
**Magnalia Christi Americana," as "a godly and
learned Englishman,'' if I remember the words rightly.
I was informed he wrote several small occasional
works, but only one of them was printed, which I
remember to have seen several years since. It was
written in 1675. It was in familiar verse, according
to the taste of the times and people, and addressed to
the government there. It asserts the liberty of con-
science in behalf of the Anabaptist, the Quakers, and
other sectaries that had been persecuted. He attrib-
utes to this persecution the Indian wars and other
calamities that had befallen the country, regarding
them as so many judgments of God to punish so
heinous an offense and exhorting the repeal of those
laws, so contrary to charity. This piece appeared to
me as written with manly freedom and a pleasing
simplicity. The six lines I remember, but have
forgotten the preceding ones of the stanza; the purport
of them was that his censures proceeded from good
will, and therefore he would be known to be the
author :

** Because to be a libeler

I hate it with my heart.
From Sherbon Town* where now I dwell,

My name I do put here;
"Without offense your real friend,

It is Peter Folger."

My elder brothers were all put apprentices to
different trades. I was put to the grammar school at
eight years of age, my father intending to devote me

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* In the Island of Nantucket.


as the tithe of his sons to the service of the Chtn»ch.
My early readiness in learning to read, which must
have been very early, as I do not remember when I
could not read, and the opinion of all his friends that
1 should certainly make a good scholar, encouraged
him in this purpose of his. My Uncle Benjamin, too,
approved of it, and proposed to give me his short-hand
volumes of sermons to set up with if I would learn his
short-hand. I continued, however, at the grammar
school rather less than a year, though in that time I
had risen gradually from the middle of the class of
that year to be at the head of the same class, and was
removed into the next class, whence I was to be placed
in the third at the end of the year.

But my father, burdened with a numerous family,
was unable, without inconvenience, to support the
expense of a college education. Considering, more-
over, as he said to one of his friends in my presence,
the little encouragement that line of life afforded to
those educated for it, he gave up his first intentions,
took me from the grammar school, and sent me to a
school for writing and arithmetic, kept by a then
famous man, Mr. George Brownwell. He was a skill-
ful master and succeeded in his profession, employing
the mildest and most encouraging methods. Under
him I learned to write a good hand pretty soon, but I
failed entirely in arithmetic. At ten years old I was
taken to help my father in his business, which was
that of a tallow-chandler and soap-boiler ; a business
to which he was not bred, but had assumed on his
arrival in New England, because he found that his
dyeing trade, being in little request, would not main-
tain his family. Accordingly I was employed in cutting


Wicks for the candles, filling the molds for cast candles,
attending the shop, going of errands, etc.

I disliked the trade and had a strong inclination to
go to sea, but my father declared against it. But
residing near the water 1 was much in it and on it. I
learned to swim well and to manage boats, and when
embarked with other boys I was commonly allowed to
govern, especially in any case of difficulty ; and upon
other occasions I was generally the leader among the
boys, and sometimes led them into scrapes, of whichi
will mention one instance, as it shows an early project-
ing public spirit, though not then justly conducted.
There was a salt marsh w^hich bounded part of the
mill-pond on the edge of which, at high water, we used
to stand to fish for minnows. By much trampling we
had made it a mere quagmire. My proposal was to
build a wharf there for us to stand upon, and I showed
my comrades a large heap of stones which were
intended for a new house near the marsh and which
would very well suit our purpose. Accordingly in the
evening, when the workmen were gone home, I assem-
bled a number of my playfellows, and we worked
diligently like so many emmets, sometimes two or
three to a stone, till we brought them all to make our
little wharf. The next morning the workmen were
surprised at missing the stones, which had formed our
wharf. Inquiry was made after the authors of this
transfer; we were discovered, complained of, and
corrected by our fathers ; and though I demonstrated
the utility of our work, mine convinced me that that
which was not honest could not be truly useful.

I suppose you may like to know what kind of a man
my father was- He had an excellent constituticMi, 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 accus
tonaed to do after the business of the day was over, it
was extremely agreeable to hear. He had some knowl
edge of mechanics, and on occasion was very handy
with other tradesmen's tools. But his great excel-
lence was his sound understanding and his solid judg-
ment 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 strait-
ness 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,
showing a great respect for his judgment and advice.
He was also much consulted by private persons
about their affairs when any difficulty occurred, and
frequently chosen an arbitrator between contending
parties. At his table he liked to have, as often as he
could, some sensible friend or neighbor to converse
with, and always took care to start some ingenious or
useful topic for discourse which might tend to improve
the minds of his children. By this means he turned
our attention to what was good, just, and prudent in
the conduct of life, and little or no notice was ever
taken of what related to the victuals on the table,
whether it was well or ill dressed, in or out of season,
of good or bad flavor, preferable or inferior to this oi
that other thing of the kind ; so that I was brought
up m such a perfect inattention to those matters as to
ba quite indifferent what kind of food was set before


me. Indeed, I am so unobservant of it that to this
day I can scarce tell a few hours after dinner of what
dishes it consisted. This has been a great convenience
to me in traveling, where my companions have been
sometimes very unhappj^ for want of a suitable gratl
fication of their more delicate, because better instructed,
tastes and appetites.

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 :



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


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, Mt, 89.

A. F. bom 1667; died 175d. M^ 8(lk


By my rambling digressions I perceive myself to be
grown old. I used to write more methodically. But
one does not dress for private company as for a public
ball. Perhaps it is only negligence.

To return : I continued thus employed in my father's
business for two years, that is, till I was twelve years
old ; and my brother John, who was bred to that busi-
ness, having left my father, married and set up for
himself at Rhode Island, there was every appearance
that I was destined to supply his place and become a
tallow-chandler. But my dislike to the trade continu-
ing, my father had apprehensions that if he did not
put me to one more agreeable I should break loose
and go to sea, as my brother Josiah had done, to his
great vexation. In consequence, he took me to walk
with him and see joiners, bricklayers, turners, braziers,
etc., at their work, that he might observe my inclina-
tion and endeavor to fix it on some trade or profession
that would keep me on land. It has ever since been
a pleasure to me to see good workmen handle their
tools. And it has been often useful to me to have
learned so much by it as to be able to do some trifling
jobs in the house when a workman was not at hand,
and to construct little machines for my experiments at
the moment when the intention of making these was
warm in my mind. My father determined at last for
the cutler's trade, and placed me for some days on
trial with Samuel, son to my Uncle Benjamin, who
was bred to that trade in London and had just estab-
lished himself in Boston. But the sum he exacted as
a fee for my apprenticeship displeased my father, and
I was taken home again.

From my infancy I was passionately fond of read-


ing, and all the money that came into my hands was
laid out in the purchasing of books. I was very fond
of voyages. My first acquisition was Bunyan's works
in separate little volumes. I afterward sold them to
enable me to buy Re Burton's " Historical Collec-
tions." They were small chap-men's books,* and cheap,
forty volumes in all. My father's little library con-
sisted chiefly of books in polemic divinity, most of
which I read. I have often regretted that at a time
when I had such a thirst for knowledge more proper
books had not fallen in my way, since it was resolved
I should not be bred to divinity. There was among
them Plutarch's " Lives," which I read abundantly,
and I still think that time spent to great advantage.
There was also a book of Defoe's, called " An Essay
on Projects," and another of Dr. Mather's, called " An
Essay to Do Good," which perhaps gave me a turn of
thinking that had an influence on some of the principal
future events of my life.

This bookish inclination at length determined my
father to make me a printer, although he had already
one son, James, of that profession. In 1717 my
brother James returned from England, with a press
and letters, to set up his business in Boston. I liked
it much better than that of my father, but still had a
hankering for the sea. To prevent the apprehended
effect of such an inclination, my father was impatient

* Commonly called •* chap-books," a term applied to popular
story-books which in former days used to be hawked about by
chap-men; such as " Tom Hickathrif t, " " Jack the Giant Killer,"
etc. Burton's histories were of rather a better class and com-
prised ''The English Hero; or, Sir Francis Drake Revived;"
** Admirable Curiosities," etc., etc.


to have me bound to my brother. I stood out some
time, but at last was persuaded and signed the inden-
ture when I was yet but twelve years old. I was to
serve an apprenticeship till I was twenty-one years of
age, only I was to be allowed journeyman's wages
during the last year. In a little time I made a great
progress in the business and became a useful hand to my
brother. I now had access to better books. An ac-
quaintance with the apprentices of booksellers enabled
me sometimes to borrow a small one, which I was care-
ful to return soon and clean. Often I sat up in my
chamber reading the greatest part of the night when
the book was borrowed in the evening and to be re-
turned in the morning, lest it should be found missing.
After some time a merchant, an ingenious, sensible
man, Mr. Matthew Adams, who had a pretty collection
of books, frequented our printing-office, took notice of
me, and invited me to see his library and very kindly
proposed to loan me such books as I chose to read. I
now took a strong inclination for poetry and wrote
some little pieces. My brother, supposing it might
turn to account, encouraged me and induced me to
compose two occasional ballads. One was called " The
Light-House Tragedy," and contained an account of
the shipwreck of Captain "Worthilake with his two
daughters ; the other was a sailor's song, on the taking
of the famous Teach, or " Blackboard," the pirate.

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Online LibraryBenjamin FranklinThe autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's almanac, and other papers → online text (page 1 of 22)