« ПретходнаНастави »
British cabinet measures, and of the whole strength of Britain wielded for indefensible purposes. He had few advantages of education, yet mingled, finally, with the most learned and most polite society in Europe. Inheriting no patrimony but that of a persecuted and honest name, he left to his posterity a handsome fortune realized by his own industry, and claims upon his country's gratitude never fully to be repaid.
Whether considered as a successful tradesman, an experimental philosopher, or a distinguished statesiman, his history is full of interesting and important points: we possess, happily, ample details of it, some of the most interesting of them furnished by himself. Let the humblest reader of these pages there•fore enter upon them with the assurance of their being calculated to give hope to poverty; to brace the sinews of all industrious men with new energy and perseverance; and to shed the light of contentment and the blessings of temperance, frugality, and peace, on the most humble human lot.
Franklin's name and family history are to be traced to an early period :-to that period, perhaps, when his name expressed the freedom and independence for which he so conspicuously and so successfully contended *. He became naturally curious, in his prosperity, respecting the early details of his family history; and found that his ancestors were settled at Ecton in Northamptonshire, for three centuries, on a freehold of their own, of about thirty acres. In the parish books of that place he traced, while in England, registers of the marriages and deaths of the family as far back as the books extended (1555). He learnt that, from time immemorial, the eldest son had been brought up a smith, a business which his own elder brother followed.
* Dr. Johnson calls a franklin; a “ little gentleman," but Chaucer and Spenser clearly had more dignified conceptions of bis rank in society. Of his country gentleman the former says,
This worthy FRANKLIN bore a purse of silk,
Dr Franklin also found that he was himself the youngest son of the youngest son for five succeeding generations.
His grandfather, Thomas Franklin, born in 1598, left the paternal village in the decline of life, and enjoyed a tolerable competence in the house of his son John, a dyer, at Banbury in Oxfordshire.
His sons Thomas, John, and Benjamin, who all reached man's estate; but the male line failing in the eldest branch, Elizabeth, the only daughter of Thomas Franklin, became seised of the land; and her husband, Fisher, of Wellingborough, near Ecton, sold it to the lord of the manor, a Mr Isted.
This Thomas Franklin possessed much of the inquie sitive and enterprising spirit of his distinguished grandson. Bred a smith, he resigned his business, studied for the bar, and became a man of considerable consequence in his neighbourhood. * Had he died," said governor Franklin, “ four years later than he did, one might have believed in a transmigration."
John, the next brother, was a dyer in wool; and the third, named Benjamin, was bred a silk-dyer in London, where he accumulated property, and became, in his way, literary and poetical. He retired finally to the house of Dr Franklin's father at Boston in America, where he died in a good old age. His bookish propensities were connected, as we shall see, with those of the greater Benjamin, his nephew.
The family had become Protestants in the dawn of the Reformation. Dr Franklin's godfather and uncle, Benjamin, used to relate an anecdote which supplies a striking picture of the tinies. They had an English Bible (in queen Mary's reign) which, to conceal and place in safety, they fastened open, with tapes across the leaves, under the cover of a joint-stool. When Franklin's great-grandfather used 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 of the
approach of the proctor, an officer of the spiritual court, if he saw him coming. In that case, the stool was turned down again on its feet, and the Bible remained concealed as before.
Persecution therefore did not deter them from their Protestantism; nor, when its unhallowed weapons were assumed by Protestants themselves, did it deter the younger branch of the family from nonconformity. In the latter part of Charles the Second's "reign, Benjamin and Joseph Franklin both declared for the dissenting interests; and the younger brother, having married early, and finding a family coming .quickly, was prevailed upon, in 1682, to emigrate to America. Accompanying a party of friends, he at 'first tried amongst them his business of a dyer, but this failing, became a soap-boiler and tallow-chandler. Here he had four more children, in all seven, by his first wife, and ten by a second; thirteen of whom lived to years of maturity, and were married. Dr Franklin well remembered, as he tells us, to have seen the whole of this numerous group round the family board.
The subject of our memoir was born at Boston in New England, January 17, 1706. His mother, whom he characterizes 'as pious and prudent, discreet and virtuous *, was the daughter of one of the first settlers of that part of the country, a Mr Peter Folgier, honourably mentioned in Dr Cotton Mather's “ Mag
* In the following epitaph, it is true, (but Franklin had too much good sense, to inscribe even a parent's tomb with a notoriously false compliment) which he placed on a marble tablet over the grave of his parents, after his more successful course :
« HERB LIE « Josias Franklin,'and Abiah his wife: they lived together with reciprocal affec. tion for fifty-nine years; and, without private fortune, without lucrative employment, by assiduous labour, and honest industry, decently supported a numerous family, and educated, with success, thirteen children and seven grandchildren. Let this example, reader, encourage thee diligently to dis charge the duties of thy calling, and to rely on the support of Divine Providence.
" He was pious and prudent,
« She discreet and virtuous. “ Their youngest son, from a sentiment of filial duty, consecrates this stove to
aalia Christi Americana." His elder brothers were apprenticed to) different trades; but being, as he quaintly says,
is the tithe of his father's sons," he was originally designed for the church, and was accordingly placed at the grammar-school of Boston for about a year. This clerical destination was greatly encouraged by his unele and sponsor, Benjamin,.. then residing in the family, who had already prepareg a goodly stock of abridged and short-hand sermons for his nephew's future use. But his father's strait ened circumstances ill affording the expense, and his excellent understanding teaching him the folly of edut cating a child beyond his probable prospects in life, Benjamin was finally placed at a respectable English school, where he continued until he had completed his tenth year. He states it as something remarkable, that he never remembers the time when he could not read.
At the age of ten, much against his own will, he was taken home, to assist his father in business. This unsettled him, and together with the contiguity of the sea, and the similar attempt of an elder brother, urged him frequently to think of resorting to a seafaring life. The father however was too wise a parent to constrain his inclinations hopelessly, and exhibited something of the practical philosophy of a mind adapted to his circumstances. When walking amongst joiners, bricklayers, turners, braziers, 8c., at their work, he was careful to observe upon which of these useful arts the attention of Benjamin appeared to fix itself. This was one of the most critical points of that son's history. It was the best and final effort of the father " to fix him in some trade or profession that would keep him on the land ;” and the kindness of the motive was duly appreciated by the son.
It opened the only proper door of escape from pursuits to which he had an insuperable aversion. From the period of these walks, he says, “ it ever afterwards became a pleasure to him to see good workmen handle their tools.”
He was now placed for a few months with a cousin, a cutler; but his brother James, who had been bred a printer, opportunely returning to Boston with a set of types from England, the father established him there in that business; and Benjamin was offered a situation as his apprentice. This accorded with his bookish propensities; but the term of bondage proposed was unreasonable, and his seafaring inclinations yet remained. He at last however signed an Indenture, at twelve years of age, which bound him to his brother until his majority, and decided in a great measure the course and fortune of his future days. As the father here resigns all immediate government of our young philosopher, the reader may be gratified with the following sketch of his person and character, delivered by Dr Franklin in old age to his only son, forming as it does an excellent portrait of a father of a family in a subordinate line of life.
“ It will not perhaps be uninteresting to you to know what sort of a man my father was. He had an excellent constitution, was of a middle size, but well made and strong, and extremely active in whatever he undertook. He designed with a degree of neatness, and knew a little of music. His voice was sonorous and agreeable; so that when he sang a psalm or hymn, with the accompaniment of his violin, as was his frequent practice in an evening, when the labours of the day were finished, it was truly delightful to hear him. He was versed also in mechanics, and could, upon occasion, use the tools of a variety of trades. But his greatest excellence was a sound understanding and solid judgment in matters of prudence, both in public and private life. In the former, indeed, he never engaged, because his numerous family, and the mediocrity of his fortune, kept him unremittingly employed in the duties of his profession. But I well remember, that the leading men of the place used frequently to come and ask his advice respecting the affairs of the town, or of the church to which he belonged, and that they paid much deference to his opinion. Individuals