Εικόνες σελίδας
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

other productions of his pen appeared, explaining the injured rights of his country, and encouraging his fellow-citizens to vindicate them. He also wrote a history of the American revolution, brought down to the year 1779, in three large volumes, which he intended to correct and publish, but was prevented by his death.

He died in Philadelphia, in 1779, while attending his duty in congress, in the 37th year of his age.


FRANKLIN, BENJAMIN, a philosopher and statesman, was a native of Boston, Massachusetts, and was born on the 17th of January, 1706. The paternal branch of his ancestors inhabited the ounty of Northampton, in England. They were proprietors of a small freehold estate near the vil lage of Eaton, where the family had been established, according to the traditions of that place, for more than three centuries. They pursued generally some trade, especially that of blacksmith, and were very honourably distinguished in their neighbourhood, for industry, honesty, and mechanical ingenuity. His father, who was of the persuasion of the Puritans, emigrated in 1682, to the colony of Massachusetts, the common refuge of those of his sect, who fled from the persecutions of their native country; but unaccustomed to agriculture or commerce, the usual occupations of the colonists, and no trade, in the simple manner of those days conferring dishonour on its professors, he had recourse for a livelihood, without any previous apprenticeship, to that of chandler and soap-boiler, which, during the remainder of his life, he pursued with little success, and lived in an innocent and unambitious poverty. His father was the youngest of four sons, all mechanics, except the eldest, Thomas, who, although bred a smith, qualified himself for the bar, and was conspicuous in his county as the chief mover


of all public-spirited enterprises.' The character of this uncle, as our philosopher pourtrays it in the first pages of his memoirs, and in one of his letters to his wife, has strong points of resemblance to his own; we may, indeed, distinguish certain leading dispositions, and properties of intellect by which he was marked, more or less vigorous, in all the members of his family of whom he has given any account. He constantly attended public worship, and brought up his children in the ways of piety. His mother was a native of Boston, and was descended from one of the principal settlers of New England. We shall here give a sketch of the memoirs of his life and writings, written by himself. He says, "To be acquainted with the particulars of my parentage and life, will afford some pleasure. It will be an agreeable employment of a week's uninterrupted leisure, which I promise myself during my present retirement in the country. There are also other motives which induce me to the undertaking. From the bosom of poverty and obscurity, in which I drew my first breath, and spent my earliest years, I have raised myself to a state of opulence, and to some degree of celebrity in the world. A constant good fortune has attended me through every period of my life, to my present advanced age; and my descendants may be desirous of learning what where the means of which I made use, and which, thanks to the assisting hand of Providence, have proved so eminently successful.

And here let me with all humility acknowledge, that to Divine Providence I am indebted for the felicity I have hitherto enjoyed. It is that power alone which has furnished me with

have employed, and that has crowned them with success. My faith in this respect leads me to hope, though I cannot count upon it, that the divine goodness will still be exercised towards me,

either by prolonging the duration of my happiness to the close of life, or by giving me fortitude to support any melancholy reverse, which may happen to me as to so many others. My future fortune is unknown but to Him in whose hand is our destiny, and who can make our very afflictions subservient to our benefit.

I was sent, at the age of eight years, to a grammar school. My father destined me for the church, and already regarded me as the chaplain of the family. The promptitude with which, from my infancy, I had learned to read, for I do not remember to have been ever without this acquirement, and the encouragement of his friends, who assured him that I should one day certainly become a man of letters, confirmed him in this design. My uncle Benjamin approved also of the scheme, and promised to give me all his volumes of sermons, written, as I have said, in the shorthand of his invention, if I would take the pains to learn it.

I remained, however, scarcely a year at grammar school, although, in this short interval, I had risen from the middle to the head of my class, from thence to the class immediately above, and was to pass, at the end of the year, to the one next in order. But my father, burthened with a numerous family, found that he was incapable, without subjecting himself to difficulties, of providing for the expense of a collegiate education; and considering, besides, as I heard him say to his friends, that persons so educated were often poorly provided for, he renounced his first intentions, took me from the grammar school, and sent me to a school for writing and arithmetic, kept by a Mr. George Brownwell, who was a skilful master, and succeeded very well in his profession by employing gentle means only, and such as were calculated to encourage his scholars. Under him I soon acquir ›

ed an excellent hand, but I failed in arithmetic, and made therein no great progress.

At ten years of age I was called home, to assist my father in his occupation, which was that of a soap-boiler and tallow chandler, a business to which he had served no apprenticeship, but which he embraced on his arrival in New England, because he found his own, that of a dyer, in too little request to enable him to maintain his family. I was, accordingly, employed in cutting the wicks, filling the moulds, taking care of the shop, carrying messages, &c.

This business displeased me, and I felt a strong inclination for a sea life; but my father set his face against it. The vicinity of the water, however, gave me frequent opportunities of venturing myself both upon and within it, and I soon acquired the art of swimming, and of managing a boat. When embarked with other children, the helm was commonly deputed to me, particularly on difficult occasions; and, in every other project, I was always the leader of the troop, whom I sometimes involved in embarrassments. I shall give an instance of this, which demonstrates an early disposition of mind for public enterprises, though the one in question was not conducted by justice.

The mill-pond was terminated on one side by a marsh, upon the borders of which we were accustomed to take our stand, at high water, to angle for small fish. By dint of walking, we had converted the place into a perfect quagmire. My proposal was to erect a wharf that should afford us a firm footing, and I pointed to my companions a large heap of stones, intended for building a new house near the marsh, and which were well adapted for our purpose. Accordingly, when the workmen retired in the evening, I assembled a number of my play-fellows, and by labouring diligently, like ants, sometimes four of us uniting our strength

to carry a single stone, we removed them all, and constructed our little quay. The workmen were surprised the next morning at not finding their stones, which had been conveyed to our wharf. Enquiries were made respecting the authors of this conveyance; we were discovered, complaints were exhibited against us, many of us underwent correction on the part of our parents, and though I strenuously defended the utility of the work, my father at length convinced me, that nothing which was not strictly honest, could be useful.

I continued employed in my father's trade for the space of two years; that is to say, till I arrived at twelve years of age. About this time my brother John, who had served his apprenticeship in London, having quitted my father, and being married and settled in business on his own account, at Rhode Island, I was destined, to all appearance, to supply his place, and be a candle-maker all my life; but my dislike of this occupation continuing, my father was apprehensive, that, if a more agreeable one were not offered me, I might play the truant and escape to sea; as, to his great mortification, my brother Josias had done. He therefore took me sometimes to see masons, coopers, braziers, joiners and other mechanics, employed at their work, in order to discover the bent of my inclination, and fix it, if he could, upon some Occupation that might retain me on shore. I have since, in consequence of these visits, derived no small pleasure, from seeing skilful workmen handle their tools; and it has proved of considerable benefit, to have acquired thereby sufficient knowledge to be able to make little things for myself, when I have had no mechanic at hand, and to construct small machines for my experiments, while the idea I have conceived has been fresh and strongly impressed on my imagination.

My father at length decided that I should be a

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »