Samuel G. (Samuel Griswold) Goodrich.

Lives of benefactors; online

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uncle Benjamin, became dissenters. These men

H 10*



114 BENJAMIN FRANKLIN.

were both bred to the trade of silk-dyeing. Josias
married early in life ; and, about the year 16S2, he emi-
grated, with his wife and three children, to America,
on account of the persecutions to which he was
exposed for his dissenting principles. On arriving at
Boston, he embraced the occupation of soap-boiler and
tallow-chandler, of which businesses he previously
knew nothing, and only from this being at the time
the likeliest to provide maintenance for his increasing
family. He appears to have been a man of great
penetration and solid judgment ; prudent, active, and
frugal ; and, although kept in comparative poverty by
the expenses of his numerous family, was held in
great esteem by his townsmen.

Benjamin was at first designed to be a clergjTnan,
and at eight years of age was put to the grammar
school with that view, having previously been taught
to read. His uncle Benjamin, who had likewise emi-
grated, encouraged this project. But young Franklin
had not been a year at school when his father per-
ceived that his circumstances were quite inadequate
to the expenses necessary to complete his son's edu-
cation for the clerical profession. He accordingly
removed him from the more learned seminary, and
placed him under a humble teacher of reading and
writing for another twelvemonth, preparatory to bind-
ing him to some trade.

AVhen his term at school had expired, being then
ten years of age,' he was taken home to assist his
father in his business ; but he soon testified such repug-
nance to the cutting of wicks for candles, running
errands, waiting in the shop, with other drudgery of



BENJAMIN FRANKLIN. 115

the same nature, that, after a tedious and ill-borne
trial of two years, his father became afraid of his run-
ning ofT to sea, as an elder brother had done, and
resolved to put him to some other occupation. After
much deliberation, therefore, he was sent on trial for
a few days to his cousin, a son of Benjamin, who
Avas a cutler ; but that relative being desirous of a
larger apprentice fee than his uncle could spare, he
was recalled. His brother James, a short time previ-
ous to this period, had returned from England, whither
he had been sent to learn the printing business, and
set up a press and types on his own account at Boston.
To him, therefore, after no little persuasion, Benjamin
at last agreed to become apprentice, and he was
indentured accordingly for the term of nine years ;
that is, until he should reach the age of twenty-one.

The choice of this profession, as it turned out, Avas
a lucky one, and it was made after much careful and
correct observation on the part of the parent. He had
watched his son's increasing fondness for books and
tliirst for information, and that, too, of a solid and
instructive sort ; and he therefore judiciously resolved
to place him in a favorable situation for gratifying this
propensity in his youthful mind; while he would at
the same time be instructed in a profession by which
he could always independently maintain himself,
wherever fortune might lead him, within the bounds
of the civilized world. Franklin, in his own Life,
thus speaks of his early and insatiable craving after
knowledge :

" From my earliest years I had been passionately
fond of reading, and I laid out in books all the money



IIG BENJAMIN FRANKLIN.

I could procure. I was particularly pleased with
accounts of voyages. My first acquisition was Bun-
yan's collection, in small separate volumes. These I
afterwards sold, in order to buy an historical collection
by R. Burton, which consisted of small cheap volumes,
amounting in all to about forty or fifty. My father s
little library was principally made up of books of prac-
tical and polemical theology. I read the greatest part
of them. There Avas also among my father's books,
Plutarch's Lives, in which I read continually, and I
still regard as advantageously employed the time
devoted to them. I found, besides, a work of De Foe's,
entitled An Essay on Projects, from which, perhaps, I
derived impressions that have since influenced some
of the principal events of my life." It seems to have
been lucky for himself and mankind that the last-
named author's most celebrated work, Robinson Cru-
soe, did not fall into his hands at this period.

By his assiduity Franklin soon attained great pro-
ficiency in his business, and became very serviceable
to his brother. At the same time, he formed acquainr
tance with various booksellers' apprentices, by whose
furtive assistance he was enabled to extend the sphere
of his reading. This gratification, however, was for
the most part enjoyed at the expense of his natural
rest. "How often," says he, "has it happened to me
to pass the greater part of the night in reading by
my bedside, when the book had been lent me in the
evenmg, and was to be returned the next morning,
lest it might be missed or wanted ! " His studious
habits and intelligent conversation also attracted the
notice of a wealthy merchant, who was in the habit of



BENJAMIN FRANKLIN. 117

coming about the office, and who invited him to his
liouse, and gave him the use of an excellent library.

It is a singular peculiarity of all minds of an active
and aspiring character, that they uniformly endeavor
to do vv^hatever others have done, and from which
they themselves have derived enjoyment or benefit.
Franklin, from the delight he took in the perusal of
books, at last bethought himself of trying his own hand
at composition ; and, as has happened, we believe, with
a great proportion of literary men of all ages, his first
efforts were of a poetical nature. His brother, having
come to the knowledge of his attempts, encouraged
him to proceed, thinking such a talent might prove
useful in the establishment. At the suggestion of the
latter, therefore, he finished two ballads, which, after
being printed, he was sent round the town to sell ;
and one of them, the subject of which was a recent
affecting shipwreck, had, he says, a prodigious run.
But his father, having heard of the circumstance, soon
let down the pegs of the young poet's vanity, by
analyzing his verses before him in a most unmerciful
style, and demonstrating, as Franklin says, what
" wretched stuff" they really were." This sharp les-
son, which concluded with a warning that versifiers
were almost uniformly beggars, effectually weaned
him from his rhyming propensities.

Franklin immediately afterwards betook himself to
the composition of prose, and the first opportunity of
exercising his pen and his faculties in this way occur-
red in the following manner : — He had a young
acquaintance of the name of Collins, who was, like
himself, passionately fond of books, and with whom



lis BENJAMIN FRANKLIN.

he had frequent and long arguments on various sub-
jects. In narrating this circumstance, he comments,
in passing, on the dangerous consequences of acquir-
ing a disputatious habit, as tending to generate acri-
mony and discord in society, and often hatred betwixt
the best of friends. Franklin and his companion
having, as usual, got into an argument one day,
which was maintained on both sides with equal per-
tinacity, they parted without bringing it to a termina-
tion ; and as they were to be separated for some time,
an agreement was made that they should carry on
tlieir dispute by letter. This was accordingly done ;
when, after the interchange of several epistles, the
whole correspondence happened to fall into the hands
of Franklin's father. After perusing it with much
interest, his natural acuteness and good sense enabled
him to point out to his son how far inferior he was to
his adversary in elegance of expression, arrangement,
and perspicuity. Feeling the justice of his parent's
remarks, he forthwith studied most anxiously to im-
prove his style ; and the plan he adopted for this pur-
pose is equally interesting and instructive.

" Amidst these resolves," he says, " an odd volume
of the Spectator fell into my hands. This was a pub-
lication I had never seen. I bought the volume, and
read it again and again. I was enchanted with it,
thought the style excellent, and wished it Avere in my
power to imitate it. With this view, I selected some
of the papers, made short summaries of the sense of
each period, and put them for a few days aside. I
then, without looking at the book, endeavored to
restore the essays to their due form, and to express



BENJAMIN FRANKLIN. 119

each thought at length, as it was in the original, em-
ploying the most appropriate words that occurred to
my mind. I afterwards compared mij Spectator with
the original. I perceived some faults, which I cor-
rected ; but I found that I chiefly wanted a fund of
words, if I may so express myself, and a facility of
recollecting and employing them, which I thought I
should by that time have acquired, had I continued to
make verses. The continual need of words of the
same meaning, but of different lengths for the mea-
sure, and of different sounds for the rhyme, would
have placed me under the necessity of seeking for a
variety of synonymes, and have rendered me master
of them. From this belief, I took some of the tales
of the Spectator, and turned them into verse ; and
after a time, when I had sufficiently forgotten them, I
again converted them into prose. Sometimes, also, I
mingled my summaries together ; and, a few weeks
afterwards, endeavored to arrange them in the best
order, before I attempted to form the periods and com-
plete the essays. This I did w^th a view of acquir-
ing me'thod in the arrangement of my thoughts. On
comparing afterwards my performance with the origi-
nal, many faults were apparent, which I corrected ;
but I had sometimes the satisfaction to think, that, in
certain particulars of little importance, I had been for-
tunate enough to improve the order of the thought or
style ; and this encouraged me to hope that I should
succeed in time in Avriting decently in the English
language, which was one of the greatest objects of
my ambition."

But it Avas not by such rigorous self-imposed tasks



120 BENJAMIN FRANKLIN.

alone, that this extraordinary man, even at so early an
age, endeavored to chasten his mind, and make every
propensity subservient to his sense of duty. He also
began to exercise those acts of personal self-denial,
which the heyday of youth, the season for animal
enjoyment, feels as the most intolerable of all restric-
tions. Having met with a work recommending a
vegetable diet, he determined to adopt it. Finding,
after some days' trial, that he was ridiculed by his fel-
low-boarders for his singularity, he proposed to his
brother to take the half of what was now paid by that
relative for his board, and therewith to maintain him-
self. No objection was of course made to such an
arrangement, and he soon found that of what he
received he was able to save one half. " This," says
he, " was a new fund for the purchase of books, and
other advantages resulted to me from the plan.
When my brother and his workmen left the printing-
house to go to dinner, I remained behind; and dis-
patching my frugal meal, which frequently consisted
of a biscuit only, or a slice of bread and a bunch of
raisins, or a bun from the pastry cook's, with a glass
of water, I had the rest of the lime till their return
for study ; and my progress therein Avas proportioned
to that clearness of ideas and quickness of conception
which are the fruits of temperance in eating and
drinking."

Another remarkable instance of the resolute way in
which he set about making himself master of what-
ever acquirement he found more immediately neces-
sary to him at the moment, is the following : — Having
been put to the blush one day for his ignorance in the



BENJAMIN FRANKLIN. 121

art of calculation, which he had twice failed to learn
while at school, he procured a copy of Cocker's Arith-
metic, and went through it all, making himself com-
pletely master of it, before turning his mind to any-
thing else ! He soon after, also, gained some little
acquaintance with geometry, by perusing a work on
navigation. He mentions, likewise, his reading,
about this time, Locke's Essay on the Understand-
ing, and the Art^f Thinking, by Messrs. Du Port
Royal. Having found, in some essay on rhetoric and
logic, a model of disputation after the manner of So-
crates, which consists in drawing on your opponent,
by insidious questions, into making admissions which
militate against himself, he became excessively fond
of it, he says, and practised it for some years with
great success, but ultimately abandoned it, perceiving
that it could be made as available to the cause of
wrong as that of right, while the prime end of all
argument was to convince or inform.

About three years after Franklin went to his ap-
prenticeship, that is to say, in 1721, his brother began
to print a newspaper, the second that was established
in America, which he called the New England Cou-
rant ; the one previously established v/as the Boston
News Letter. The new publication brought the most
of the literati of Boston about the printing-office, m.any
of whom were contributors ; and Franklin frequently
overheard them conversing about the various articles
that appeared in its columns, and the approbation
with which particular ones were received. He
became ambitious to participate in this sort of fame ;
and having written out a paper, in a disguised hand,

VI.— 11



122 BENJAMIN FRANKLIN.

he slipped it under the door of the printing-o^ce,
^vhere it was found next morning, and submitted, as
usual, to the critics, when they assembled. "They
read it," he says ; " commented on it in my hearing ;
and I had the exquisite pleasure to find that it met
with their approbation ; and that, in the various con-
jectures they made respecting the author, no one was
mentioned who did not enjoy a high reputation in the
country for talent and genius. ^

" I now supposed myself fortunate in my judges,
and began to suspect that they were not such excellent
writers as I had hitherto supposed them. Be this as
it may, encouraged by this little adventure, I Avrote
and sent to press, in the same way, many other pieces,
which were equally approved — keeping the secret till
my slender stock of information and knowledge for
such performances w'as pretty completely exhausted."
He then discovered himself, and had the satisfaction
of finding he was treated with much more respect by
his brother and his friends than heretofore.

The two brothers, however, lived together on very
disagreeable terrns, in consequence of the hasty and
overbearing temper of the elder, and Benjamin longed
for an opportunity of separating from him. This at
last occurred. His brother was apprehended and
imprisoned for some political article which offended
the government, and, upon his liberation, was prohib-
ited from ever printing his newspaper again. It was
therefore determined that it should be published in
Benjamin's name, who had managed it during his
brother's confinement with great spirit and ability.
To avoid havinsr it said that the elder brother was



BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, 123

only screening himself behind one of his apprentices,
Benjamin's indenture was delivered up to him 4is-
charged, and private indentures were entered into for
the remainder of his time. This underhand arrange-
ment was proceeded in for several months, the paper
continuing to be printed in Benjamin's name ; but his
brother having one day again broke out into one of
his violent fits of passion, and struck him, he availed
himself of his discharged indentures, well knov/ing
that the others would never be produced against him,
and gave up his employment. Franklin afterwards
regretted his having taken so unfair an advantage of
his brother's situation, and regarded it as one of the
serious errors of his life. His brother felt so exas-
perated on the occasion, that he went to all the print-
ing-houses, and represented Benjamin in suA. a light
that they refused his services.

Finding that he could get no employment at Bos-
ton, and that he was regarded with dislike by the gov-
ernment, he resolved to proceed to New York, the
nearest town in which there was a printing-office.
To raise sufficient funds for this purpose, he sold part
of his library ; and having eluded the vigilance of his
parents, who were opposed to his intention, he secretly
got on board of a vessel, and landed at New York on
the third day after sailing.

Thus, at the age of seventeen, Franklin found him-
self two hundred miles from his native place, from
which he was in some sort a runaway, without a
friend or recommendation to any one, and with very
little money in his pocket. To complete his dilemma,
he found, on application, that the only printer then in



124 BENJAMIN FRANKLIN.

town could give him no employment. That person,
however, recommended him to go to Philadelphia,
wKere he had a son, Avho, he thought, would give him
work; and accordingly he set off for that place. His
journey was a most disastrous one both by water and
land, and he frequently regretted leaving home so
rashly. He reached his destination at last, however,
and in a plight which certainly did not bode very
auspiciously for his future fortunes. His own graphic
description of his condition and appearance, on his
first entrance into Philadelphia, is at once interesting
and amusing : —

" I have entered into the particulars of my voyage,
and shall in like manner describe my first entrance
into this place, that you may be able to compare
beginnin"-s so unlikely with the figure I have since
made. I was in my working dress, my best clothes
being to come by sea. I was covered with dirt ; my
pockets were filled with shirts and stockings ; I was
unacquainted with a single soul in the place, and
knew not where to seek a lodging. Fatigued with
walking and rowing, and having passed the night with-
out sleep, I was extremely hungry, and all my money
consisted of a Dutch dollar, and about a shilling's
worth of coppers, which I gave to the boatmen for my
passage. At first they refused it, because I had
rowed, but I insisted on their taking it. A man is
sometimes more generous when he has little than
when he has much money, probably because he is, in
the first place, desirous of concealing his poverty.

" I walked towards the top of the street, looking
eagerly on both sides, till I came to Market street,



BENJAMIN FRANKLIN. 125

where I met a child with a loaf of bread. I inquired
where he had bought it, and went straight to the
baker's shop which he pointed out to me. I asked
for some biscuits, expecting to find such as we had at
Boston ; but they made, it seems, none of that sort at
Philadelphia. I then asked for a threepenny loaf;
they made no loaves of that price. I then desired
him to let me have threepence worth of bread, of some
kind or other. He gave me three large rolls. I was
surprised at receiving so much. I took them, how-
ever, and having no room in my pockets, I walked on,
with a roll under each arm, eating the third.

" In this manner I went through Market street to
Fourth street, and passed the house of Mr. Read, the
father of my future wife. She was standing at the
door, observed me, and thought with reason that I
made a very singular and grotesque appearance. I
then turned the corner, and went through Chestnut
street, eating my roll all the way ; and, having made
this round, I found myself again on Market street
wharf, near the boat in which I arrived. I stepped
into it to take a draught of the river water ; and, find-
ing myself satisfied with my first roll, I gave the other
two to a woman and her child, who had come down
the river with us in the boat, and was waiting to con-
tinue her journey. Thus refreshed, I regained the
street, which was now full of well-dressed people all
going the same way. I joined them, and was thus
led to a Quakers' meeting-house, near the market
place. I sat down with the rest, and, after looking
round me for some time, hearing nothing said, and
being drowsy from my last night's labor and want of
11*



126 BENJAMIN FRANKLIN.

rest, I fell into a sound sleep. In this state I con-
tinued till the assembly dispersed, when one of the
congregation had the goodness to wake me. This
was consequently the first house I entered, or ia
which I slept, in Philadelphia."

Having with some difficulty procured a lodging for
the night, he next morning waited on Mr. Bradford,
the printer to whom he had been directed. That
individual said he had no Avork for him at present, but
directed him to a brother in trade, of the name of
Keimer, who, upon application, made him the same
answer ; but, after considering a little, set him to put
an old press to rights, being the only one, indeed, he
possessed, and in a few days gave him regular work.
Upon this, Franklin took a lodging in the house of
Mr. Read, his future father-in-law.

Franklin had been some months at Philadelphia,
without either writing to or hearing from home, and,
as he says, trying to forget Boston as much as possi-
ble, when a brother-in-law of his, a master of a vessel,
having accidentally heard where he was, wrote to
him, pressing his return home in the most urgent
terms. Franklin's reply, declining compliance Avith
the request, happened to reach his brother-in-law
when the latter was in the company of Sir William
Keith, governor of the province, and the composition
and penmanship struck him as so much superior to
the ordinary style of letter-writing, that he showed it
to his excellency. The governor was greatly pleased
with it, and expressed the utmost surprise when told
the age of the writer. He observed that he must be
a young man of promising talents, and said that if he



BENJAMIN FRANKLIN. 127

would set up business on his OAvn account at Phila-
delphia, he would procure him the printing of all the
public papers, and do hini every other service in his
power. Franklin heard nothing of this from his
brother-in-law at the time ; but one day, while he and
Keimer were at work in the ofRce, they observed,
through the window, the governor and another gen-
tleman — who proved to be Colonel French, of New-
castle, in the province of Delaware — finely dressed,
cross the street, and come directly to the office, where
tiiey knocked at the door.

Keimer ran down, in high expectation of this being
a visit to himself; " but the governor," says Franklin,
" inquired for me, came up stairs, and, with a polite-
ness to Avhich I had not at all been accustomed, paid me
many compliments, desired to be acquainted with me,
obligingly reproached me for not having made myself
known to him on my arrival in town, and wished me
to accompany him to a tavern, where he and Colonel
French were going to taste some excellent Madeira
wine ! I was, I confess, somewhat surprised, and
Keimer was thunderstruck. I went, however, with
the governor and Colonel French to a tavern at the
corner of Third street, where, while we were drinking
the Madeira, he proposed to me to establish a printing-
house. He set forth the probabilities of success, and
himself and Colonel French assured me that I should
have their protection and influence in obtaining the
printing of the public papers for both governments ;
and, as I appeared to doubt whether my father would
assist me in this enterprise. Sir William said that he
would give me a letter to him, in which he would



12S BENJAMIN FRANKLIN.

recommend the advantages of the scheme in a ught
which he had no doubt would determine him to agree
to do so. It was thus concluded that I should return
to Boston by the first vessel, with the letter of recom-
mendation from the governor to my father. Mean-
while, the project was to be kept secret, and I con-
tinued to work for Keimer as before. The governor
subsequently sent for me every now and then to dine
with him. I considered this as a very great honor ;
and I was the more sensible of it, as he conversed
with me in the most affable, friendly, and familiar
manner imaginable."

In pursuance of the above arrangement, Franklin
set out on his return homewards, in the end of April,
1724, having been absent seven months, during which
time his parents and relations had heard nothing of
him whatever, his brother-in-law never having written
to inform them where he was. All the family, with
tlie exception of his brother James, were delighted to
see him ; and not the less so, perhaps, that he was


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Online LibrarySamuel G. (Samuel Griswold) GoodrichLives of benefactors; → online text (page 8 of 21)