Part 2 out of 8
Franklin. "I am sure that your father would have made any sacrifice
possible to send you to college, but it was simply impossible. You
will have to make the best of it. God may open the way to employment
that will be more congenial to you some time. For the present he means
that you should help your father, I have no doubt of that; and you
must do the best for him that you can."
"That is what I intend to do, however much I dislike the business. I
want to help father all I can; he has a hard time enough to provide
Benjamin expressed himself as frankly to his father, adding, "I really
wish you would engage in some other business."
"And starve, too?" rejoined his father. "In such times as these we
must be willing to do what will insure us a livelihood. I know of no
other business that would give me a living at present--certainly none
that I am qualified to pursue."
"Well, I should rather make soap and candles than starve, on the
whole," Benjamin remarked in reply; "but nothing short of starvation
could make me willing to follow the business."
"One other thing ought to make you willing to do such work," added his
father; "a determination to be industrious. Idleness is the parent of
vice. Boys like you should be industrious even if they do not earn
their salt. It is better for them to work for nothing than to be
"I think they better save their strength till they can earn
something," said Benjamin. "People must like to work better than I do,
to work for nothing."
"You do not understand me; I mean to say that it is so important for
the young to form industrious habits, that they better work for
nothing than to be idle. If they are idle when they are young, they
will be so when they become men, and idleness will finally be their
ruin. 'The devil tempts all other men, but idle men tempt the devil';
and I hope that you will never consent to verify the proverb."
Mr. Franklin had been a close observer all his life, and he had
noticed that industry was characteristic of those who accomplished any
thing commendable Consequently he insisted that his children should
have employment. He allowed no drones in his family hive. All must be
busy as bees. All had some thing to do as soon as they were old enough
to toil. Under such influences Benjamin was reared, and he grew up to
be as much in love with industry as his father was. Some of his best
counsels and most interesting sayings, when he became a man, related
to this subject. There is no doubt that his early discipline on this
line gave to the world his best sayings on this and other subjects.
The following are some of his counsels referred to:
"Sloth, like rust, consumes faster than labor wears, while the used
key is always bright."
"But dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the
stuff life is made of."
"If time be of all things the most precious, wasting time must be the
"Sloth makes all things difficult, but industry all easy; and he that
riseth late must trot all day, and shall scarce overtake his business
at night; while laziness travels so slowly that poverty soon overtakes
"At the working-man's house hunger looks in but dares not enter."
"Diligence is the mother of good luck, and God gives all things to
"One to-day is worth two to-morrows."
"Drive thy business! let not thy business drive thee."
"God helps those that help themselves."
He wrote to a young tradesman as follows:
"Remember that time is money. He that can earn ten shillings a day by
his labor, and goes abroad or sits idle one-half that day, though he
spend but sixpence during his diversion or idleness, ought not to
reckon _that_ the only expense; he has really spent, or rather thrown
away, five shillings besides.
"The sound of your hammer at five in the morning, or nine at night,
heard by a creditor, makes him easy six months longer; but, if he sees
you at a billiard-table, or hears your voice at a tavern, when you
should be at work, he sends for his money the next day; demands it
before he can receive it in a lump."
Benjamin became a better teacher than his father; and, no doubt, was
indebted to his father for the progress. Had he gone to college
instead of the candle-shop, the world might not have received his
legacy of proverbial wisdom. For these were the outcome of secular
discipline, when he was brought into direct contact with the realities
of business and hardship. Colleges do not teach proverbs; they do not
make practical men, but learned men. Practical men are made by
observation and experience in the daily work of life. In that way
Franklin was made the remarkable practical man that he was.
Had "Uncle Benjamin" lived to read such words of wisdom from the pen
of his namesake, when his reputation had spread over two hemispheres,
he would have said, "I told you so. Did I not say that Benjamin would
not always make candles? Did I not prophesy that he would make his
mark in manhood?"
Benjamin became a tallow-chandler when he was ten years old; and he
meant to make a good one, though the business was repulsive to his
feelings. At first his industry and tact were all that his father
could desire. He devoted the hours of each workday closely to the
trade, though his love for it did not increase at all. If any thing,
he disliked it more and more as the weeks and months dragged on.
Perhaps he became neglectful and somewhat inefficient, for he said, in
his manhood, that his father often repeated to him this passage from
"Seest thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before
kings; he shall not stand before mean men."
When Benjamin became the famous Dr. Franklin, and was in the habit of
standing before kings, he often recalled this maxim of Solomon, which
his father dinged rebukingly in his ear. It was one of the pleasantest
recollections of his life.
Mr. Franklin watched his boy in the candle-trade closely, to see
whether his dislike for it increased or diminished. His anxiety for
him was great. He did not wish to compel him to make candles against
an increasing desire to escape from the hardship. He had great
sympathy for him, too, in his disappointment at leaving school. And it
was a hard lot for such a lover of school and study to give them up
forever at ten years of age. No more school after that! Small
opportunity, indeed, in comparison with those enjoyed by nearly every
boy at the present day! Now they are just beginning to learn at this
early age. From ten they can look forward to six, eight, or ten years
in school and college.
Mr. Franklin saw from month to month that his son more and more
disliked his business, though little was said by either of them.
"Actions speak louder than words," as Mr. Franklin saw to his regret;
for it was as clear as noonday that Benjamin would never be contented
in the candle-factory. He did his best, however, to make the boy's
situation attractive; allowed him frequent opportunities for play, and
praised his habit of reading in the evening and at all other times
possible. Still, a tallow-candle did not attract him. It shed light,
but it was not the sort of light that Benjamin wanted to radiate. One
day, nearly two years after he engaged in the candle-business, he said
to his father:
"I wish I could do something else; I can never like this work."
"What else would you like to do?" inquired his father.
"I would like to go to sea," was the prompt and straight reply; and it
startled Mr. Franklin. It was just what he feared all along. He was
afraid that compulsion to make him a tallow-chandler might cause him
to run away and go to sea, as his eldest son, Josiah, did.
Emphatically his father said:
"Go to sea, Benjamin! Never, never, with my consent. Never say another
word about it, and never think about it, for that is out of the
question. I shall never give my consent, and I know your mother never
will. It was too much for me when your brother broke away from us and
went to sea. I can not pass through another such trial. So you must
not persist in your wish, if you would not send me down to the grave."
Josiah, the eldest son, named for his father, became dissatisfied with
his home when Benjamin was an infant, ran away, and shipped as a
sailor. The parents knew not where he had gone. Month after month they
waited, in deep sorrow, for tidings from their wayward boy, but no
tidings came. Years rolled on, and still the wanderer was away
somewhere--they knew not where. Morning, noon, and night the memory of
him lay heavy upon their hearts, turning their cup of earthly joy to
bitterness, and furrowing their faces with anxiety and grief. He might
be dead. He might be alive and in want in a strange land. The
uncertainty and suspense hanging over his fate magnified their sorrow.
The outlook was unpleasant; there was no comfort in it. They appealed
to God. Before Him they pleaded for their prodigal son--for his
safety, his return, his salvation.
Not long after Benjamin had expressed his longing for the sea, when
almost the last hope of seeing the lost son again had vanished, Josiah
returned and startled his parents by his sudden and unexpected
presence. They could scarcely believe their eyes. Twelve years, and
hard service before the mast, had wrought a great change in his
appearance. He was a youth when he ran away,--he was a man now,
toughened by exposure, dark as an Indian, stalwart and rough; but
still the eldest son and brother, Josiah Franklin, Jr. They were glad
to see him. They rejoiced more over this one returning prodigal than
they did over the sixteen that went not astray. "The father said:
Bring forth the best robe and put it on him; and put a ring on his
finger, and shoes on his feet. And bring hither the fatted calf, and
kill it; and let us eat and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is
alive again; he was lost and is found. And they began to be merry."
It was the first time in twelve years that family had been "merry."
Past sorrows were forgotten in the joy of their meeting. On that day a
new life began around that hearthstone. Father and mother began to
live again. As if they had never shed a tear or felt a pang, they
looked into the future with cheerful hope and expectation.
To return to Benjamin. His father's quick and sharp reply left no room
for doubt. If he went to sea it must be against his father's will. He
turned to his mother, but was repulsed with equal decision.
"You surprise me, Benjamin. Want to go to sea! You must not harbor
such a thought. Is it not enough that we have lost one son in that
way? You might have known that I should never give my consent. I
should almost as lief bury you. How can you want to leave your good
home, and all your friends, to live in a ship, exposed to storms and
death all the time?"
"It is not because I do not love my home and friends; but I have a
desire to sail on a voyage to some other country. I like the water,
and nothing would suit me better than to be a cabin-boy."
"You surprise and pain me, Benjamin. I never dreamed of such a thing.
If you do not like work in the candle-factory, then choose some other
occupation, but never think of going to sea."
"I would choose any other occupation under the sun than
candle-making," replied Benjamin. "I have tried to like it for two
years, but dislike it more and more. If I could have my own way, I
would not go to the factory another day."
Perhaps the opposition of his parents would have prevented his going
to sea, but the return of Josiah, with no words of praise for the
calling, might have exerted a decided influence in leading him to
abandon the idea altogether.
"Uncle Benjamin," of course, could not tolerate the idea of his nephew
becoming a sailor. With his poor opinion of the candle-trade, he would
have him pursue the business all his life rather than become a sailor.
"Do any thing rather than follow the seas," he said. "If you want to
throw yourself away, body and soul, go before the mast. But if you
want to be somebody, and do something that will make you respectable
and honored among men, never ship for a voyage, long or short. A boy
of one talent can be a cabin-boy, but a boy of ten talents ought to be
above that business, and find his place on a higher plane of life."
CHOOSING A TRADE AND STEALING SPORT.
Mr. and Mrs. Franklin canvassed the subject thoroughly, and wisely
decided that Benjamin might engage in some other pursuit.
"To be successful a man must love his calling," remarked Mr. Franklin,
"and Benjamin hates his. He appears to go to each day's work with a
dread, and as long as he feels so he will not accomplish any thing."
"You have come to a wise decision, I think," responded "Uncle
Benjamin." "Ordinarily a boy should choose his own occupation. He may
be instructed and assisted by his parents, but if he makes his own
selection he is likely to choose what he has tact and taste for.
Certainly, I would not compel a son to follow a business that he hates
as Benjamin does candle-making."
"That is true on the whole, but circumstances alter cases," remarked
Mr. Franklin. "I believe I shall take him around to examine different
trades in town, and he can see for himself and choose what he likes
"He has seemed to be interested in my son's business," added "Uncle
His son Samuel was a cutler, and he had established the cutlery
business in Boston, in which he was quite successful.
"Well, he can look into that; I have no objections to it; it is a good
business. I will let him examine others, however, and take his choice.
I want he should settle the matter of occupation now for life. I do not
want to go through another experience with him, such as I have been
through two years in the candle-factory."
Mr. Franklin had evidently acquired new views about boys, judging from
his last remarks. He saw but one way out of the difficulty. Choice of
an occupation was a more important matter than he had dreamed of.
However, he had acted in accordance with the custom of that day, to
choose occupations for sons without the least regard to fitness or
their preferences. Boys must not have their own way in that matter any
more than they should in other things, was the opinion of that age.
But progress has been made on this line. It is thought now that the
more nearly the aptitudes of the person fit the occupation, the more
congenial and successful is the career. To follow the "natural bent,"
whenever it is possible, appears to be eminently wise. For square men
should be put into square holes and round men into round holes.
Failing to regard the drift of one's being in the choice of an
occupation, is almost sure to put square men into round holes, and
round men into square holes. In this way good mechanics have been
spoiled to make poor clergymen or merchants, and a good minister
spoiled to make a commonplace artisan.
The celebrated English engineer, Smeaton, displayed a marvellous
ability for mechanical pursuits even in his childhood. Before he had
donned jacket and pants in the place of short dress, his father
discovered him on the top of the barn, putting up a windmill that he
had made. But he paid no regard to the boy's aptitude for this or that
position. He was determined to make a lawyer of him, and sent him to
school with that end in view. But the boy thought more of windmills
and engines than he did of Euclid or Homer, and the result was
unfavorable. His father was trying to crowd a square boy into a round
hole, and it was repugnant to the born engineer.
Josiah Franklin tried to do with Benjamin just what Smeaton tried to
do with his son, squeeze a square boy into a round hole. That was a
mistake. The son did not like the operation, and rebelled against the
squeezing. This created trouble for both, until, with the aid of
"Uncle Benjamin," Josiah discovered the way out of the difficulty.
Benjamin was delighted when his father disclosed to him his new plan.
"Anything is preferable to making candles," he said. "It will not take
me long to choose something in place of a soap-factory."
"You have considerable mechanical ingenuity," his father said; "you
like to work with tools, and you can see how tools are handled in
different trades. How would you like your Cousin Samuel's business?"
"I should like it vastly better than making candles, though I have not
examined it much. I can tell better when have looked in upon other
trades When shall we go?"
"Begin to-morrow, and first call upon your Cousin Samuel. His cutlery
trade is good, and it must increase as the population grows. Then we
will examine other kinds of business. It will take some time to go the
On the morrow, as agreed upon, they went forth upon the memorable
errand. Benjamin felt like an uncaged bird, and was highly elated by
his prospects. Their first call was at Samuel's shop, where they could
see a line of cutlery that was quite ample for that day. Samuel
explained his methods, use of tools, etc., and Benjamin listened. He
was well pleased with the trade, as Samuel saw at once, who encouraged
him to choose it.
"I was never sorry that I learned the business," he said. "There is no
easier way of getting a living, and the work is interesting, because
it requires some ingenuity and skill. Benjamin has both, and will
"But I want he should examine other trades," replied his father. "When
he has taken in several he will know more what he wants."
"Perhaps he will not know as well what he wants," rejoined Samuel. "If
he is like some boys he will be less settled in his mind what to
choose than he is now."
"My mind is partly settled now," said Benjamin. "I should choose any
trade on earth in preference to making candles and boiling soap. I
should be content with your business."
Next they called on a brazier, who manufactured many articles in
brass. This was entirely new to Benjamin; he had never seen any thing
of the kind before, and he examined the methods of work with much
interest. The brazier was communicative, and explained matters fully
and clearly, at the same time assuring Benjamin that he would like to
teach a boy like him.
In like manner they visited a joiner, or carpenter, as he is called in
New England now; also, a turner, who formed various things with a
lathe; also, a silversmith, bricklayer, and stone-mason. A part of
several days was occupied in this examination; and it was time well
spent, for it put much information into Benjamin's head, and enlarged
his ideas. Referring to the matter when he had become an old man, he
said: "It has ever since been a pleasure to me to see good workmen
handle their tools. And it has often been 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."
"I like Samuel's trade as well as any," Benjamin remarked, after the
trips of examination were concluded; and his father rejoiced to hear
it. From the start Mr. Franklin showed that none of the trades suited
him so well as his nephew's; so that he was particularly gratified to
hear the above remark.
"Do you like it well enough to choose it, Benjamin?"
"Yes, father; on the whole, I think I shall like it best of any; and
cutlery will always be needed."
"We will understand, then, that you choose that trade, and I will see
Samuel at once. It may be best for you to go into the shop for a short
time before I make a bargain with him. Then he will know what you can
do, and you will know how you like it."
At that time it was customary to bind boys to their employers, in
different pursuits, until twenty-one years of age. Benjamin was
twelve, and, if he should be bound to his cousin, as was the custom,
it would be for nine years. For this reason it was a step not to be
hastily taken. If a short service in the shop should prove favorable
for both sides, the long apprenticeship could be entered upon more
intelligently and cheerfully.
Mr. Franklin lost no time in securing a place in Samuel's shop. Both
parties agreed that it would be best for Benjamin to spend a brief
period in the business before settling the terms of apprenticeship.
Accordingly he entered upon his new trade immediately, and was much
pleased with it. It was so different from the work of candle-making,
and required so much more thought and ingenuity, that he enjoyed it.
He went to each day's work with a light and cheerful heart. He was
soon another boy in appearance, contented, happy, and hopeful. Samuel
recognized his ingenuity and willingness to work, and prophesied that
he would become an expert cutler. He was ready to receive him as an
apprentice, and Benjamin was willing to be bound to him until he was
twenty-one years of age.
But when Mr. Franklin conferred with Samuel as to the terms of the
apprenticeship, they could not agree. The latter demanded an
exorbitant fee for his apprenticeship, which the former did not feel
able to pay. With good nature they discussed the subject, with
reference to an agreement on the terms; but Samuel was immovable. He
had but one price. Benjamin might stay or go. Very much to the
disappointment of both father and son, the plan failed and was
Benjamin was afloat again. He had no disposition to return to
candle-making, nor did his father desire that he should. He must
choose an occupation again. As it turned out, it would have been
better to settle the terms of apprenticeship in the first place.
It has been said that "there is no loss without some gain." So there
was some gain to Benjamin. He was sadly disappointed; and he had given
some time to a trade that amounted to nothing, but it was not all
loss. He had learned much about the trades: the importance of a trade
to every boy, and its necessity as a means of livelihood, and he never
lost the lesson which he learned at that time. In his ripe manhood he
"He that hath a trade hath an estate.
He that hath a calling hath an office of honor."
He believed that a trade was as good as a farm for a livelihood, and
that a necessary calling was as honorable as a public office of
distinction. How much his early discipline about trades had to do with
these noble sentiments of his mature life, we may not say, but very
much, without doubt.
While Benjamin was waiting for something to turn up, an incident
occurred which may be rehearsed in this place. He was already an
expert in swimming and rowing, and he loved the water and a boat
passionately. He was fond of fishing, also; and there was a marsh,
flooded at high tides, where the boys caught minnows. Here they
repaired for a fine time one day, Benjamin and several companions.
"All aboard!" exclaimed Benjamin, as he bounded into the boat lying at
the water's edge. "Now for a ride; only hurry up, and make the oars
fly"; and several boys leaped in after him from the shaky, trampled
quagmire on which they stood.
"We shall be heels over head in mud yet," said one of the number,
"unless we try to improve this marsh. There is certainly danger that
we shall go through that shaky place, and we do not know where we shall
stop when we begin to go down."
"Let us build a wharf; that will get rid of the quagmire," suggested
Benjamin. "It won't be a long job, if all take hold."
"Where will you get your lumber?" inquired John.
"Nowhere. We do not want any lumber; stones are better."
"That is worse yet, to bring stones so far, and enough of them," said
John. "You must like to lift better than I do, and strain your gizzard
in tugging stones here."
"Look there," continued Benjamin, pointing to a heap of stones only a
few rods distant, "there are stones enough for our purpose, and one or
two hours is all the time we want to build a wharf with them."
"Those stones belong to the man who is preparing to build a house
there," said Fred. "The workmen are busy there now."
"That may all be, but they can afford to lend them to us for a little
while; they will be just as good for their use after we have done with
them." There was the rogue's sly look in Benjamin's eye when he made
the last remark.
"Then you expect they will loan them to you; but I guess you will be
mistaken," responded Fred.
"I will borrow them in this way: We will go this evening, after the
workmen have gone home, and tug them over here, and make the wharf
before bedtime." Benjamin made this proposition for the purpose of
adding to their sport.
"And get ourselves into trouble thereby," answered a third boy. "I
will agree to do it if you will bear all the blame of stealing them."
"Stealing!" exclaimed Benjamin, who was so bent on sport that he had
no thought of stealing. "It is not stealing to take stones. A man
could not sell a million tons of them for a copper."
"Well, anyhow, the man who has borne the expense of drawing them there
won't thank you for taking them."
"I do not ask them to thank me. I do not think the act deserves any
thanks." And a roguish twinkle of the eye showed that Benjamin knew he
was doing wrong for the sake of getting a little sport. "Wouldn't it
be a joke on those fellows if they should find their pile of stones
missing in the morning?"
"Let us do it," said John, who was taken with the idea of playing off
a joke. "I will do my part to put it through."
"And I will do mine."
"And so will I."
"And I, too."
By this time all were willing to follow Benjamin, their leader.
Perhaps some of them were afraid to say "No," as their consciences
suggested, now that the enterprise was endorsed by one or two of their
number. Both boys and men are quite disposed to "go with the multitude
to do evil." They are too cowardly to do what they know is right.
The salt marsh bounding a part of the mill-pond where their boat lay
was tramped into a quagmire. The boys were wont to fish there at high
water, and so many feet treading on the spot reduced it to a very soft
condition. It was over this miry marsh that they proposed to build a
wharf. The evening was soon there, and the boys, too, upon their
rogues' errand. They surveyed the pile of stones, and found it ample
for their purpose, though it appeared to be a formidable piece of work
to remove them.
"Two of us can't lift and carry some of them," said Fred.
"Then three of us will hitch on and carry them," replied Benjamin.
"They must all be worked into a wharf this evening. Let us
begin--there is no time to lose."
"The largest must go first," suggested John. "They are capital stones
for the foundation. Come, boys, let us make quick work of it."
So they went to work with a will and "where there's a will there's a
way," in evil as well as good. It was unfortunate for Benjamin that he
did not hate such an enterprise as much as he did candle-making. If he
had, he would have given a wide berth to the salt marsh and the wharf
project. But neither he nor his companions disliked the evil work in
which there was sport. We say that they worked with a will; and their
perseverance was the only commendable thing about the affair.
Sometimes three or four of them worked away at a stone, rolling it
along or lifting, as necessity required. Then one alone would catch up
a smaller one, and convey it to the wharf at double-quick. Half their
zeal, tact, and industry, in doing this wrong, would have made the
candle-trade, or any other business, a success.
The evening was not quite spent when the last stone was carried away,
and the wharf finished,--a work of art that answered their purpose
very well, though it was not quite as imposing as Commercial Wharf is
now, and was not calculated to receive the cargo of a very large
"A capital place now for fishing!" exclaimed Fred. "It is worth all it
cost for that."
"It may cost more than you think for before we get through with it,"
suggested John. "We sha'n't know the real cost of it until the owner
finds his stones among the missing."
"I should like to hear his remarks to-morrow morning, when he
discovers his loss," remarked Benjamin; "they will not be very
complimentary, I think."
"I am more anxious to know what he will do about it," responded John.
"We shall find out before long, no doubt," said Benjamin. "But I must
hurry home, or I shall have more trouble there than anywhere else.
Come, boys, let us go."
They hastened to their homes, not designing to divulge the labors of
the evening, if they could possibly avoid interrogation. They knew
that their parents would disapprove of the deed, and that no excuse
could shield them from merited censure. Not one of their consciences
was at ease. Their love of sport had got the better of their love of
right-doing. And yet they were both afraid and ashamed to tell of what
they had done. They were at home and in bed and asleep about as early
Twenty-four hours passed away, during which Benjamin's fears had
increased rather than diminished. He was all the while thinking about
the stones--what the owner would say and do--whether he would learn
who took his stones away. His conscience was on duty.
It was evening, and Mr. Franklin took his seat at the fireside.
Benjamin was reading, the unattractive tallow candle furnishing him
"Benjamin," said Mr. Franklin, after a little, "where were you last
If his father had fired off a pistol he could not have been more
disturbed. His heart leaped into his throat. He thought of the stones.
He knew something was up about them--that trouble was ahead.
"I was down to the water," Benjamin replied, with as much coolness as
he could muster.
"What were you doing there?"
"Fixing up a place for the boat." He suspected, from his father's
appearance, that he would have to tell the whole story.
"Benjamin, see that you tell me the truth, and withhold nothing. I
wish to know exactly what you did there."
"We built a wharf."
"What did you build it with?"
"We built it of stones."
"Where did you get your stones?"
"There was a pile of them close by."
"Did they belong to you?"
"Then you stole them, did you?"
"It isn't stealing to take stones."
"Why, then, did you take them in the evening, after the workmen had
gone home? Why did you not go after them when the workmen were all
there? It looks very much as if you thought taking them was stealing
Benjamin saw that he was fairly cornered. Such a catechetical exercise
was somewhat new to him. The Westminster Assembly's Catechism never
put him into so tight a place as that. Bright as he was, he could not
discover the smallest hole out of which to crawl. It was a bad scrape,
and he could see no way out of it except by telling the truth. We
dislike very much to say it, but, judging from all the circumstances,
he would have told a lie, could he have seen a place to put one in.
But there was no chance for a falsehood. He was completely shut up to
the truth. He saw that the wharf cost more than he estimated--that
stealing stones violated a principle as really as stealing dollars. He
was so completely cornered that he made no reply. His father
"I see plainly how it is. It is the consequence of going out in the
evening with the boys, which I must hereafter forbid. I have been
willing that you should go out occasionally in the evening, because I
thought it might be better for you than so much reading. But you have
now betrayed my confidence, and I am more than ever satisfied that
boys should spend their evenings at home, trying to improve their
minds. You are guilty of an act that is quite flagrant, although it
may have been done thoughtlessly. You should have known better after
having received so much instruction at home."
"I did know better," was Benjamin's frank confession, determined to
make a clean breast of it.
"And that makes your guilt so much the greater. Will you learn a
lesson from this, and never do the like again?"
"I promise that I never will."
Thus frankly Benjamin confessed his wrong-doing; and, in mature life,
he often referred to it as his "_first wrong act_" from which he
learned a lesson for life. It was another way of _paying too dear for
a whistle_. What the whistle was to him at seven, the wharf of stones
was to him at twelve years of age--sport. The first was innocent
sport, however; the last was guilty.
It appears that the workmen missed their stones when they first
reached the spot in the morning, and soon discovered them nicely laid
into a wharf. The proprietor was indignant, and set about learning who
were the authors of the deed. In the course of the day he gained the
information he sought, and very properly went to the parents of each
boy with his complaint. In this way the boys were exposed, and
received just rebuke for their misdemeanor. Benjamin was convinced, as
he said of it many years thereafter, "that that which is not honest
could not be truly useful."
At the time Benjamin was in the candle-factory his brother James was
in England learning the printer's trade. He spent several years there,
until he had mastered the business, intending to return to Boston and
establish that trade. He returned about the time that Benjamin was
concluding his disgust with candle-making, and was well under way at
the time he abandoned the cutler's trade. James brought press, type,
and all the _et ceteras_ of a complete outfit with him from England.
"How would you like to learn the printer's trade with your brother
James?" inquired his father, a short time after Benjamin left the
cutler's shop. "I have been thinking it over, and I really believe
that you have more qualifications for it than you have for any other
trade. Your love of learning will have a better chance there, too."
"How is that?" answered Benjamin. "I do not quite see in what respect
I am better qualified to be a printer than a cutler."
"Well, you are a good reader, and have an intellectual turn, being
fond of books; and a printing office must have more opportunities for
mental improvement than the shop of a cutler. A type-setter can be
acquiring new and valuable ideas when he is setting up written
"If that is so I should like it well; and I should think it might be
as you say," Benjamin answered. "I might have a better chance to
"Of course you would. You may have matter to put in type that is as
interesting and profitable as any thing you find in books. Indeed,
James will no doubt have pamphlets and books to publish before long.
All that you read in books went through the printer's hand first."
"I had not thought of that," said Benjamin, quite taken with his
father's ideas about the printing business. "I think I should like it
better than almost any thing else. How long will it take to learn the
"I suppose that it will take some time, though I know very little
about it. You are twelve years of age now, and you can certainly
acquire the best knowledge of the trade by the time you are
"That is a long time," suggested Benjamin; "nine years ought to make
the best printer there is. But that is no objection to me; I shall do
as you think best."
"I want _you_ should think it best, too," rejoined his father. "If you
have no inclination to be a printer, I do not want you should
undertake it. You will not succeed in any business you dislike."
"I do think it best to try this," replied Benjamin. "If James thinks
well of it, I shall, for he knows all about the trade."
"I will speak with him about it and learn his opinion," said his
father. "If he thinks well of it, I will see what arrangements can be
made with him. The prospects of the business are not flattering now,
but I think the day is coming when it will prosper."
Mr. Franklin lost no time in conferring with James, who favored the
plan without any reserve. He proposed to take Benjamin as an
apprentice, to serve until he was twenty-one years old, according to
the custom of the times, receiving twenty pounds for the same, and
giving him board and clothes until the last year, when he would be
paid journeyman's wages. This was a good opportunity on the whole, for
printing was in its infancy in our country at that time. Not more than
six or eight persons had been in the business in Boston before James
Franklin commenced, in the year 1717. The demand for printing must
have been very small indeed.
The first printing press in the United States was set up in Cambridge
in 1639 by Rev. Jesse Glover, who gave it to Harvard University. The
first thing printed was the "Freeman's oath"; the next, the almanac
for New England, calculated by William Pierce, a mariner; the next, a
metrical version of the Psalms.
It is claimed that ten years later than Benjamin's entering his
brother's printing office, there were but three or four printers in
our country. Whether that was so or not, it is certain that then, and
for many years afterwards, printers were very scarce. In 1692, Old
Style, the council of New York adopted the following resolution:
"It is resolved in council, that if a printer will come and settle in
the city of New York, for the printing of our acts of assembly and
public papers, he shall be allowed the sum of forty pounds, current
money of New York, per annum, for his salary, and have the benefit of
his printing, besides what serves to the public."
It is said, also, that when Benjamin Franklin wanted to marry the
daughter of Mr. Reed, of Philadelphia, her mother said, "I do not know
about giving my daughter to a printer; for there are already four in
the United States, and it is doubtful if more could get a living."
It is worthy of note here, also, as showing how slowly the printing
business advanced in the infancy of our country, that Great Britain
did not allow the American Colonies to print the English Bible. Hence,
the first Bible printed in this country was published in 1782, a
little more than a hundred years ago. For this reason most of the
pulpit Bibles in the Congregational and other churches of New England,
before that time, were the Oxford editions, in which the Book of
Common Prayer and the Psalms were included, and the Articles of Faith
of the English Church. Some of these are still preserved as relics.
"It will be necessary for you to be bound to your brother, according
to law," remarked Mr. Franklin. "These things must be done legally,
and such is the law and custom, too."
"And I am to board with him, also, if I understand you, father?"
Benjamin was thinking of leaving his home, and that would be a trial.
True, he would not be far from his father's house; he could step into
it every night if he wished; but it was leaving home, nevertheless.
"It does not seem quite right for one brother to be bound to another
for nine years," added Benjamin, thoughtfully, and after some
"But such is the custom, however it may appear, and it must be done so
to have every thing right and legal. We do not know what may happen in
the nine years. It is better to have things in black and white,
whether the bargain is with a brother or any one else."
Mr. Franklin added more to the last remarks, in order to remove an
objection which Benjamin seemed to have to being bound to his brother;
and he was successful. The last objection was removed, and cheerfully
and gladly Benjamin consented to become a printer-boy.
The following was the form of the indenture of apprenticeship that
bound Benjamin to his brother for nine years:
"This indenture witnesseth that Benjamin Franklin, son of Josiah
Franklin, and of Abiah, his wife, of Boston, in the colony of
Massachusetts Bay, with the consent of his parents, doth put himself
apprentice to his brother, James Franklin, printer, to learn his art,
and with him after the manner of an apprentice from the ---- day of
----, in the year of our Lord, 1718, until he shall have fully
completed the twenty-first year of his age. During which term the said
apprentice his master faithfully shall or will serve, his secrets
keep, his lawful commands everywhere gladly do. He shall do no damage
to his said master, nor see it to be done of others, but to his power
shall let, or forthwith give notice to his said master of the same.
The goods of his said master he shall not waste, nor the same without
license of him to any give or lend. Hurt to his said master he shall
not do, cause, nor procure to be done. He shall neither buy nor sell
without his master's license. Taverns, inns, and ale houses he shall
not haunt. At cards, dice, tables, or any other unlawful game he shall
not play. Matrimony he shall not contract; nor from the service of his
said master day nor night absent himself; but in all things as an
honest and faithful apprentice shall and will demean and behave
himself towards his said master and all his during the said term. And
the said James Franklin, the master, for and in consideration of the
sum of ten pounds of lawful British money to him in hand paid by the
said Josiah Franklin, the father, the receipt of which is hereby
acknowledged, the said apprentice in the art of a printer, which he
now useth, shall teach and instruct, or cause to be taught and
instructed, the best way and manner that he can, finding and allowing
unto the said apprentice meat, drink, washing, lodging, and all other
necessaries during the said term. And for the true performance of all
and every the covenants and agreements aforesaid, either of the said
parties bindeth himself unto the other finally by these presents. In
witness whereof, the parties aforesaid to these indentures
interchangeably have set their hands and seals this ---- day of ----,
in the fifth year of our Sovereign Lord, George the First, by the
grace of God of Great Britain, France, and Ireland King, Defender of
the Faith, and in the year of our Lord, 1718."
To this document Benjamin signed his name, with his father and brother,
thereby having his liberty considerably abridged.
A boy by the name of William Tinsley took the place of Benjamin in Mr.
Franklin's candle-shop. He was bound to Mr. Franklin as Benjamin was
bound to his brother. But he liked the business no better than
Benjamin did, and, finally, to escape from his thraldom, he ran away;
whereupon his master inserted the following advertisement in the _New
England Courant_ of July, 1722, which reads very much like
advertisements for runaway slaves, in that and later days; and,
probably, young Tinsley thought he was escaping from a sort of white
"Ran away from his Master, Mr. Josiah Franklin, of Boston, Tallow-chandler,
on the first of this instant July, an Irish Man-servant, named William
Tinsley, about 20 years of age, of a middle Stature, black Hair, lately
cut off, somewhat fresh-colored Countenance, a large lower Lip, of a
mean Aspect, large Legs, and heavy in his Going. He had on, when he went
away, a felt Hat, a white knit Cap, striped with red and blue, white
Shirt, and neck-cloth, a brown-coloured Jacket, almost new, a frieze
Coat, of a dark colour, grey yarn Stockings, leather Breeches, trimmed
with black, and round to'd Shoes. Whoever shall apprehend the said
runaway Servant, and him safely convey to his above said Master, at
the Blue Ball in Union street, Boston, shall have Forty Shillings
Reward, and all necessary Charges paid."
There is no evidence that Tinsley was ever found. He hated the
candle-trade so lustily that he put the longest possible distance
between himself and it. Had Benjamin been compelled to continue the
unpleasant business, he might have escaped from the hardship in a
These facts, together with the foregoing documents, show that, in some
respects, many white youth of that day were subjected to an experience
not wholly unlike that of the colored youth. Often the indentured
parties became the victims of cruelty. Sometimes they were half
clothed and fed. Sometimes they were beaten unmercifully. They were
completely in the hands of the "master," and whether their experience
was pleasant or sad depended upon his temper.
Add another fact to the foregoing about the indenture of apprenticeship,
and the similarity of white to Negro slavery, in that day, is quite
remarkable. No longer than seventy-five years ago, a poor child, left
to the town by the death of the father, was put up at auction, and
the man who bid the lowest sum was entitled to him. The town paid the
amount to get rid of the incumbrance, without much regard to the future
treatment of the orphan.
A near neighbor of the author, eighty-three years of age, was sold in
this manner three times in his early life, suffering more and more
with each change, until he was old enough to defend himself and run
away. His first buyer, for some reason, wanted to dispose of him, and
he sold him at auction to another. The second buyer was heartless and
cruel, against which the boy rebelled, and, for this reason, he was
sold to a third "master," who proved to be the worst tyrant of the
three, subjecting the youth to all sorts of ill-treatment, to escape
which he took to his heels. He was not given a day's schooling by
either master, nor one holiday, nor the privilege of going to meeting
on the Sabbath, nor was he half fed and clothed. At twenty-one he
could neither read nor write.
We have turned aside from our narrative to record a somewhat barbaric
custom of our forefathers, that the reader may appreciate all the more
the higher civilization and more congenial experiences of this age.
Benjamin had become a printer-boy as fully equipped for duty as
documents, pledges, and promises could make him. His _heart_ entered
into this new work, and his _head_ also. The business set him to
thinking. He liked it. Indeed, he could find no fault with it. The
business liked him, too; that is, he had a tact for it--he was adapted
to it. The boy and the trade were suited to each other. Hence, he
became even fascinated with it.
"I like it better than I thought I should," he said to his mother. "I
have to use my brains more in putting a single paragraph into type
than I did in filling a whole regiment of candle-moulds. I like it
better and better."
"I am glad to hear that, though I rather expected as much. If you like
it as well as James does, you will like it well enough. He is
thoroughly satisfied with his trade, and I think he will find it to be
a profitable one by and by. In a new country it takes time to build up
almost any trade."
Mrs. Franklin spoke from a full heart, for she had great interest in
Benjamin's chosen pursuit, because she believed that he possessed
remarkable talents. She still expected that he would make his mark,
though prevented from entering the ministry.
"I get some time to read," continued Benjamin, "and I mean to get
more, though there is much confusion at my boarding-place."
"You must not gain time for reading at the expense of neglecting your
work," suggested his mother. "Your time is your brother's, and, first
of all, you must fulfill your obligations to him. Fidelity is a
cardinal virtue, remember."
"Of course," replied Benjamin. "I know what I am in duty bound to do,
and I shall do it. James has not found me a minute behind time yet,
nor lazy in the printing office; and I mean that he never shall."
"That is a good resolution, very good, indeed; and I hope you will
keep it. At the same time, do not neglect your Bible, nor cease to
attend public worship on the Sabbath. A boy can't get along without
these any more than his parents can. As soon as you begin to neglect
these you are exposed to danger, and the very worst sort of danger."
To those who are determined to succeed, time can be found for reading
without interfering with business. Budgett, the rich English merchant,
was a great reader. He would not allow his time for reading to
interfere with his business, nor his time for business to interfere
with his reading. He prepared a time-table by which his work was
regulated each day. From an examination of it we learn the number of
hours and pages he read the first two weeks of January, 1849. He spent
fifty-nine hours in his library, and read _seven hundred_ pages of
Josephus' History, _six hundred and sixty_ pages of Milner's Church
History, _three hundred and eighty_ pages of Baxter's Saints' Rest,
and spent a fair proportion of the time in studying Townsend's Old and
New Testaments. Such is what the busiest man can do when he regulates
his time for it.
James Franklin's printing office, where Benjamin worked, was at the
corner of Franklin avenue and Court street. As his brother was
unmarried he boarded at a place near by, which James secured. Probably
the large family and want of room were the reason he did not continue
to board at his father's. The family were always in a strait for room.
A vacancy only left room which the remaining members sorely needed,
and they occupied it so readily and naturally that the former occupant
was scarcely missed.
The printer's trade embraced some kinds of work at that time which it
does not embrace now, as we judge from the advertisement of James
Franklin in the _Boston Gazette_, when he commenced business, as
follows: "The printer hereof prints linens, calicoes, silks, etc., in
good figures, very lively and durable colors, and without the
offensive smell which commonly attends the linens printed here."
Such printing was done for ladies who were in need of what there was
no manufactory to supply, at that time.
When Benjamin had served two years at his trade, he had become
indispensable to his brother. He had devoted himself to his work with
all his heart, and had made rapid improvement. He had acquired a good
understanding of the trade. He was a superior compositor. His judgment
was excellent. He was industrious--there was not a lazy bone in him.
And he was punctual.
The habit of reading that Benjamin had formed tended to make him
punctual. In order to command the more time he was promptly at his
work, and efficiently discharged every duty. It was this well-formed
habit of punctuality that made him so reliable in the printing office.
His brother knew that he would be there at such a time, and that he
would remain just so many hours. This habit won his confidence, as it
does the confidence of every one. There is no quality that does more
to gain a good name for an individual, and inspire the confidence of
his fellow-men, than this one of being on time. It is so generally
found in company with other excellent traits of character, that it
seems to be taken for granted, usually, that the punctual person is
worthy in other respects.
A ripe scholar was the neighbor of Dr. Adam Clarke, the commentator,
when the latter had become quite renowned. On the same evening both
saw a copy of the Greek Testament by Erasmus advertised. As soon as
the ripe scholar had swallowed his breakfast, on the next morning, he
hastened to the book-store to purchase the volume. "You are too late;
the book is sold," replied the book-seller to the inquiry of the
gentleman. "Too late!" exclaimed the scholar; "why, I came as soon as
I had eaten my breakfast;" "Yes, but Adam Clarke came _before
breakfast_," responded the merchant. The incident shows that the man
who is on time has the inside track; and the inside track is nearest
the goal. It is the wide-awake man who is prompt, not the dull, sleepy
procrastinator. The best qualities of manhood must be on the alert to
secure promptness; the poorest qualities will secure the opposite. The
prize is taken by the worker who is _on time_. It is lost by him who
is _behind time_, as the aforesaid scholar was. He planned to make
sure of his breakfast before he did of the book; but Adam Clarke made
sure of the book before he did of his breakfast, and he won.
In 1788, Washington visited Boston, and he decided to leave for Salem
on the morning of a certain day, at eight o'clock, precisely. A
company of cavalry volunteered to escort him to Salem. While the clock
of the Old South Church was striking eight, Washington mounted his
horse and started, though his escort had not put in an appearance. A
few minutes later, however, they arrived, and were greatly mortified
to find that Washington had gone. Putting spurs to their horses, they
galloped forward, and overtook him at Charles river bridge. When they
came up, Washington said: "Major, I thought you had been in my family
too long not to know when it was eight o'clock."
The habit of punctuality which Franklin formed in his youth,
distinguished him in his manhood as much as the same habit did
Washington. There is no doubt that it exerted a large influence in
placing him next to Washington among the founders of our republic. One
of the maxims that he wrote in mature life was: "He that riseth late
must trot all day, and shall scarce overtake his business at night."
We delay the narrative, at this point, to introduce a subject that
Franklin often referred to as influencing his early life. In his
"Autobiography," he said:
"At his table he [his father] 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 or that other thing of the kind; so that I was
brought up in such a perfect inattention to those matters, as to be
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 travelling, where my companions have been
sometimes very unhappy for want of a suitable gratification of their
more delicate, because better instructed, tastes and appetites."
This was different from much of the table-talk that is heard in many
"I do not want any of that, I do not love it," exclaims one child. "I
should think you might have a better dinner than this."
"What would you have if you could get it; roast chicken and plum
pudding?" his mother replies, in a facetious way, instead of reproving
"I would have something I could eat. You know I do not love that, and
"Well, it does boys good, sometimes, to eat what they do not love,
especially such particular ones as you are," adds his father.
"I sha'n't eat what I do not like, anyhow; I shall go hungry first."
"There, now, let me hear no more complaint about your food," adds his
father, more sharply. "You are scarcely ever suited with your
"May I have some?" calling for something that is not on the table.
"If you will hold your tongue, and get it yourself, you can have it."
"And let me have some, too," shouts another child. "I do not love this,
neither. May I have some, pa?"
"And I, too," exclaims still another. "I must have some if Henry and
In this way the table-talk proceeds, until fretting, scolding, crying,
make up the sum total of the conversation, and family joy are
embittered for the remainder of the day. In contrast with the
discipline of instructive conversation, such schooling at the fireside
is pitiable indeed.
Franklin claimed that this feature of family government exerted a
moulding influence upon his life and character. It caused him to value
profitable conversation in boyhood and youth. In manhood he frequently
found himself posted upon subjects made familiar to him by
conversation at the table and hearthstone of his boyhood, especially
topics relating to the mother country. He was more particularly
edified by conversation at home during the four years that "Uncle
Benjamin" was a member of his father's family. For this favorite
"Uncle" was a very instructive talker, having been educated by the
conversation of his father at home in England, as his nephew Benjamin
was by his father in Boston. When "Uncle Benjamin" was very old, he
could even recall the expressions which his father used in prayer at
the family altar, and he wrote some of them in one of his books of
poetry, as follows:
"Holy Father, into thy hand we commit our spirits, for thou hast
redeemed them, O Lord God of Truth."
"Command thine angel to encamp round about our habitation."
"Give thine angels charge over us, that no evil may come nigh our
"Thou knowest our down-lying and rising-up, thou art acquainted
with all our ways, and knowest our tho'ts afar off."
"We know that in us, that is, in our flesh, there dwelleth no good
"Holy Father, keep through thine own name all those that are thine,
that none of them be lost."
"We thank thee, O Father, Lord of Heaven and earth. Tho' thou hast
hid these things from the wise and prudent, yet thou hast revealed
them unto babes. Even so, Holy Father, for so it seemed good in thy
We have copied the language just as it was written by "Uncle Benjamin,"
and it is chiefly Bible language, showing marked familiarity with the
We infer, from the foregoing, that useful conversation was
characteristic of the Franklins of each generation, indicating a good
degree of intelligence and talents of high order. Ignorance does not
indulge in improving conversation; it could not if it would. Nor do
small mental powers show themselves in excellence of conversation. So
that it is quite evident that talents in the Josiah Franklin family
were not limited to Benjamin. They reached back to former generations.
Mr. Parton says: "Thomas Franklin, the elder, had four sons: Thomas,
John, Benjamin, and Josiah. There lived at Ecton, during the boyhood
of these four sons, a Mr. John Palmer, the squire of the parish and
lord of an adjacent manor, who, attracted by their intelligence and
spirit, lent them books, assisted them to lessons in drawing and
music, and, in various ways, encouraged them to improve their minds.
All the boys appear to have been greatly profited by Squire Palmer's
friendly aid; but none of them so much as Thomas, the eldest,
inheritor of the family forge and farm."
It was this Thomas who became grandfather of our Benjamin, and whose
expressions in prayer we have quoted. Mr. Parton discovers such
talents there as make profitable conversation at the table and
elsewhere, and are transmitted to posterity. For he says, still
"In families destined at length to give birth to an illustrious
individual, Nature seems sometimes to make an essay of her powers with
that material, before producing the consummate specimen. There was a
remarkable Mr. Pitt before Lord Chatham; there was an extraordinary
Mr. Fox before the day of the ablest debater in Europe; there was a
witty Sheridan before Richard Brinsley; there was a Mirabeau before
the Mirabeau of the French Revolution. And, to cite a higher instance,
Shakespeare's father was, at least, extraordinarily fond of dramatic
entertainments, if we may infer any thing certain from the brief
records of his mayoralty of Stratford, for he appears to have given
the players the kind of welcome that Hamlet admonished Polonius to
bestow upon them. Thomas Franklin, the eldest uncle of our Benjamin,
learned the blacksmith's trade in his father's shop, but, aided by
Squire Palmer and his own natural aptitude for affairs, became, as his
nephew tells us, 'a conveyancer, something of a lawyer, clerk of the
county court, and clerk to the archdeacon; a very leading man in all
county affairs, and much employed in public business.'"
The quotation Mr. Parton makes, in his closing lines, is from a letter
of Benjamin Franklin, addressed to Mrs. Deborah Franklin, dated
London, 6 September, 1758. We quote still further from it, as it is
interesting matter relating to the prominence and intelligence of the
"From Wellingborough we went to Ecton, about three or four miles,
being the village where my father was born, and where his father,
grandfather, and great-grandfather had lived, and how many of the
family before them we know not. We went first to see the old house and
grounds; they came to Mr. Fisher with his wife, and, after letting
them for some years, finding his rent something ill-paid, he sold
them. The land is now added to another farm, and a school is kept in
the house. It is a decayed old stone building, but still known by the
name of Franklin House. Thence we went to visit the rector of the
parish, who lives close by the church--a very ancient building. He
entertained us very kindly, and showed us the old church register, in
which were the births, marriages, and burials of our ancestors for two
hundred years, as early as his book began. His wife, a good-natured,
chatty old lady (granddaughter of the famous Archdeacon Palmer, who
formerly had that parish and lived there), remembered a great deal
about the family; carried us out into the church-yard and showed us
several of their grave-stones, which were so covered with moss that we
could not read the letters till she ordered a hard brush and a basin
of water, with which Peter scoured them clean, and then Billy copied
them. She entertained and diverted us highly with stories of Thomas
Franklin, Mrs. Fisher's father, who was a conveyancer, something of a
lawyer, clerk of the county courts, and clerk to the archdeacon in his
visitations; a very leading man in all county affairs, and much
employed in public business. He set on foot a subscription for
erecting chimes in their steeple and completed it, and we heard them
play. He found out an easy method of saving their village meadows from
being drowned, as they used to be sometimes by the river, which method
is still in being; but, when first proposed, nobody could conceive how
it could be, 'but, however,' they said, 'if Franklin says he knows how
to do it, it will be done.' His advice and opinion were sought for on
all occasions, by all sorts of people, and he was looked upon, she
said, by some, as something of a conjurer. He died just four years
before I was born, on the same day of the same month."
Such kind of men are not given to foolish conversation. They are too
sensible to indulge in mere twaddle about the weather. Their talents
raise them to a higher plane of thought and remark. Josiah Franklin
only observed the custom of his ancestors, no doubt unwittingly, when
he sought to improve the minds and hearts of his children by
instructive conversation at the table and fireside. Benjamin had a
right to claim for it a decided educational influence in the family.
Pythagoras set so great value upon useful conversation that he
commanded his disciples to maintain silence during the first two years
of their instruction. He would have their minds thoroughly furnished,
that their conversation might be worthy of the pupils of so
illustrious a teacher. He was wont to say: "Be silent, or say
something better than silence." No men ever put this wise counsel into
practice more thoroughly than Josiah Franklin and his son Benjamin.
Cicero said of the mother of the Gracchi: "We have read the letters of
Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi, from which it appears that the
sons were educated not so much in the lap of the mother as by her
_conversation_." Josiah Franklin had as poor an opinion of the _lap_
as an educator of his sons, in comparison with _conversation_, as
The poet Cowper wrote:
"Though conversation in its better part
May be esteemed a gift, and not an art;
Yet much depends, as in the tiller's toil,
On culture and the sowing of the soil."
Josiah Franklin was enough of a poet to understand this and reduce it
to practice. As his son said, he delighted to have some intelligent
man or woman for a guest at his table, for the improvement of his
children. But when there was no guest at the table, he led the way
alone by calling the attention of his sons and daughters to some
subject of interest and profit. He thought it would divert their
attention from the quality of their food, so that they would not be so
apt to complain of it, and, at the same time, impart information and
set them thinking. He did not allow one of his children to complain of
the food on the table, and he would have prevented it by severe
measures, if necessary. Before he found the method cited a wise one,
and therefore persevered in it. He often made this remark:
"You must give heed to little things, although nothing can be
considered small that is important. It is of far more consequence how
you behave than what you eat and wear."
Another remark he would make when the meal was unusually plain was
"Many people are too particular about their victuals. They destroy
their health by eating too much and too rich food. Plain, simple,
wholesome fare is all that Nature requires, and young persons who are
brought up in this way will be best off in the end."
Here is found the origin of Benjamin's rigid temperance principles in
eating and drinking, for which he was distinguished through life. In
his manhood he wrote and talked upon the subject, and reduced his
principles to practice. There scarcely ever lived a man who was so
indifferent as to what he ate and drank as he was. When he worked in a
printing-office in England, his fellow-printers were hard drinkers of
strong beer, really believing that it was necessary to give them
strength to endure. They were astonished to see a youth like Benjamin
able to excel the smartest of them in the printing office, while he
drank only cold water, and they sneeringly called him "The Water
The temperate habits which Benjamin formed in his youth were the more
remarkable because there were no temperance societies at that time,
and it was generally supposed to be necessary to use intoxicating
drinks. The evils of intemperance were not viewed with so much
abhorrence as they are now, and the project of removing them from
society was not entertained for a moment. Reformatory movements of
this kind did not begin until nearly a century after the time referred
to. Yet Benjamin was fully persuaded in his youth that he ought to be
temperate in all things. It was a theme of conversation at his
father's table and fireside. That conversation instructed him then, as
temperance lectures, books, and societies instruct the young now; and
it accomplished its purpose. In the sequel we shall learn still more
of the moulding power of home lessons, in conversation, to make him
the man he became.
It is related of the Washburne family, so well known in the public
affairs of our country, four or five brothers having occupied posts of
political distinction, that, in their early life, their father's house
was open to ministers, and was sometimes called "the ministers'
hotel." Mr. Washburne was a great friend of this class, and enjoyed
their society much. Nearly all the time some one of the ministerial
fraternity would be stopping there. His sons were thus brought into
their society, and they listened to long discussions upon subjects of
a scientific, political, and religious character, though public
measures received a large share of attention. The boys acquired
valuable information by listening to their remarks, and this created a
desire to read and learn more; and so they were started off in a
career that "led them on to fame." Their early advantages were few,
but the conversation of educated gentlemen, upon important subjects,
laid the foundation of their eminence in public life.
Benjamin was young, and his heart easily impressed, when he listened
to profitable conversation in the home of his boyhood. The way the
twig is bent the tree is inclined. His father gave the twig the right
bent, and the tree was comely and fruitful. It was a very easy and
cheap mode of instruction, always at hand, needing neither text-book
nor blackboard, yet pleasant and uplifting.
LEADER OF SPORTS AND THOUGHT.
It is unusual that the same boy should be a leader in nearly all
innocent sports, and, at the same time, the most thoughtful and
studious boy of all. Generally, the fun-loving youth is an indifferent
scholar,--having little taste for reading and study. But it was
otherwise with Benjamin. He was as much of an expert in sport as he
was in reading,--the best jumper, runner, swimmer, and rower of his
age in Boston. And he enjoyed it, too. Perhaps he enjoyed being the
best more than any part of the sport. Certainly, when he was in
school, he enjoyed being the _best_ scholar more than any part of a
pupil's experience; and he so managed to continue the best to the end,
though the end came much too soon for him.
Swimming was his favorite sport. It was claimed for him that, any time
between twelve and sixteen years of age, he could have swam across the
Hellespont. Here, as well as elsewhere, his inventive genius was
devising ways to promote more rapid swimming.
"I believe that I can double my speed in swimming by an invention I
have in mind," he said to John Collins, one day.
"What sort of an invention? You are always up to something of that
sort. I think that arms and legs are all the invention that will ever
promote swimming, slow or fast."
"Well, you see, John, if I do not invent something to greatly increase
speed in swimming," continued Benjamin. "I have been studying on it
for some time, and I think I have it."
"You do not need anything to increase your speed, Ben; you can beat
everybody now, and you ought to be satisfied with that."
"I am not satisfied. I want to do better yet. I never did so well in
anything yet that I did not want to do better."
Right here was really the secret of Benjamin's success,--trying to do
better to-morrow than to-day, not satisfied with present attainments,
pressing forward to something more desirable, going up higher. Such
boys and girls succeed. Difficulties do not alarm or discourage
them--they serve to draw them out and make them more invincible. But
youth who are satisfied to be just what they are to-day, no larger,
broader, or better, live and die mere ciphers. They are destitute of
ambition and the spirit of enterprise. They have no just conception of
their mission in this world. They do not understand themselves,--what
they are for and what they can be if they choose. What is worse, they
have no desire to know these things; the effort to know them is too
much for their easy, indifferent natures.
"I guess that is so," replied John, to Benjamin's last remark. "I
never saw a boy just like you; and I think you are right. I want to
know more than I do about many things, and I mean to. But what sort of
a swimming apparatus have you in mind?"
"Well, a sort of palette for the hands and sandals for the feet,
fastened tightly so as to be used readily. I have an idea that I can
throw myself forward with far greater speed."
"I will wait to see it before I pass judgment on it," answered John.
"It is risking more than I want to risk to say you can't do it; for
there is no telling what you can do."
"You will see it in a few days; it will not take long to make it. I
will notify you when it is ready, and we will try it. In the mean time
keep it a secret, and we will astonish the boys."
Within a few days John Collins was notified that the swimming
apparatus was ready, and would be tried at a certain time appointed.
Other boys were invited to meet at the pond at the same time.
Benjamin appeared on the scene with two oval palettes of wood,
resembling those used by painters, ten inches long and six broad. A
hole was cut in each for the thumb, so that they could be bound to the
palms of the hands. A kind of sandal, shaped somewhat like the
palettes, was fastened tightly to each foot. When rigged for a swim,
Benjamin presented a very singular appearance, and the boys looked on
"That is _you_, all over, Ben," exclaimed Fred; "no one in creation
except you would ever have thought of such an apparatus. But I
wouldn't wish myself in the water with such a rig. You are a sort of
skipper on legs, now."
"I do not expect to skip much on the water, but I expect to swim much
faster with this device than would be possible without it," replied
"It is different from what I thought it was from your description,"
said John Collins, who had been looking on with particular interest.
"It looks as if you might do something with it. Go ahead, Ben, sink or
swim, spread your sails and prove that your ingenuity is genuine."
Benjamin plunged into the water, and a more interested and excited
company did not watch Robert Fulton when he started up Hudson river
with his new steamer, eighty years later, than watched him with his
new mode of swimming. He struck right out into deep water easily, and
moved forward much more rapidly than he ever did before, the cheers
and shouts of the boys making the welkin ring. Taking a circuit around
the pond for a fair trial, the boys had a good opportunity to watch
every movement and to judge of the practicability of such an
"That is wonderful," exclaimed one, as he came around to the shore
where they stood.
"You are a genius, Ben," shouted another.
"Capital," added John Collins. "King George ought to make a duke of
you. But does it work easy?"
"Not so easily as I expected," answered Benjamin. "The apparatus is
hard on the wrists, and makes them ache. The sandals on the feet do
not help much. I think I could swim just as well without them."
"Then you do not consider it a complete success?" said John,
"Not entirely so. I can swim very much faster with it, but it is
harder work, and the wrists will not hold out long. I do not think I
shall apply to King George for a patent."
The swimming invention was pretty thoroughly discussed by the boys,
one and another suggesting improvements, Benjamin evidently satisfied
that swimming at less speed in the usual way was preferable to these
artificial paddles and increased rapidity. But their interest was
awakened anew when Benjamin informed them that he had another
invention that he proposed to try at a future day.
"What is it?" inquired two or three at the same time.
"You shall see; it is more simple than this apparatus," replied
Benjamin. "It will not be so tiresome to use."
"When will you let us see it on trial?" asked John Collins, who,
perhaps, appreciated Benjamin's spirit and talents more than any of
"Any time you will all agree to be here. You will not know what it is
until you see it."
The time was appointed for the trial of the unknown device, and the
boys separated with their curiosity on tiptoe as to the nature of the
other improved method of swimming. They had no idea that it was a
humbug, for "Ben" never practised sham. He was so much of a genius
that, no doubt, he had something that would surprise them.
John Collins was more like Benjamin than other boys in Boston, and he
was his most intimate companion. John was talented, and a great
reader. He had a craving thirst for knowledge, and used his leisure
moments to improve his mind. He frequently discussed profitable
subjects with Benjamin, who enjoyed his company very much for this
reason. In their tastes, love of books, and high aims, they were
suited to each other. Benjamin thought as highly of John as John did
When the time for trying the other device arrived, Benjamin appeared
on the scene with a new kite.
"A kite!" exclaimed John Collins, in surprise. "I see it now. That
_is_ simple." He saw at once that Benjamin was going to make a sail of
his kite, and cross the pond.
"'T will hinder more than it will help, I think," remarked one of the
"We shall know whether it will or not, very soon," responded another.
"Ben isn't hindered very often."
While this parleying was going on, Benjamin was disrobing and getting
ready for the trial.
"Fred, you carry my clothes around to the other side of the pond, and
I will swim across," said Benjamin, as he sent his kite up into the
"All right," answered Fred; "I will do it to the best of my ability;
and I will be there to see you land." So saying he caught up the
clothes and started off upon the run.
The kite was high up in the air, when, holding the string with both
hands, Benjamin dropped into the water upon his back, and at once
began to skim the surface. Without an effort on his part, not so much
as the moving of a muscle, the sailing kite pulled him along faster
than his arms and feet could have done in the old way of swimming.
"That is better than the paddles and sandals," shouted John Collins,
who was intensely interested in the simplicity of the method. "Ben is
only a ship, now, and the kite is his sail. Nobody but him would ever
thought of such a thing."
"Not much skill in that way of swimming," suggested another youth;
"nor much fatigue, either. Nothing to do but to keep on breathing and
"And hold on to the kite," added another. "He must not let go of his
sail; he and his kite must be close friends."
The boys kept up their watch and conversation while Benjamin crossed
the pond, which he accomplished in a few minutes. Dressing himself,
while Fred drew in his kite, he hastened to join his companions and
receive their congratulations. The boys were extravagant in their
expressions of delight, and some of them predicted that so "cute" a
mode of swimming would become universal, while others thought that the
lack of skill in the method would lead many to discard it. Benjamin
"The motion is very pleasant indeed, and I could swim all day without
becoming fatigued. But there is no skill in it, as you say."
Benjamin expressed no opinion as to the adoption of the method by
others, and the boys separated to tell the story of Benjamin's
exploits on the water over town. Many years afterwards, when Benjamin
was a public man, famous in his own country and Europe, he wrote to a
Frenchman by the name of Dubourg, of both of these experiments as
"When I was a boy, I made two oval palettes, each about ten inches
long and six broad, with a hole for the thumb, in order to retain it
fast in the palm of my hand. They much resembled a painter's palettes.
In swimming, I pushed the edges of these forward, and I struck the
water with their flat surfaces as I drew them back. I remember I swam
faster by means of these palettes, but they fatigued my wrists. I also
fitted to the soles of my feet a kind of sandals; but I was not
satisfied with them, because I observed that the stroke is partly
given by the inside of the feet and the ankles, and not entirely with
the soles of the feet.
* * * * *
"You will not be displeased if I conclude these hasty remarks by
informing you that, as the ordinary method of swimming is reduced to
the act of rowing with the arms and legs, and is consequently a
laborious and fatiguing operation when the space of water to be
crossed is considerable, there is a method in which a swimmer may pass
to great distances with, much facility, by means of a sail. This
discovery I fortunately made by accident, and in the following manner.
"When I was a boy I amused myself one day with flying a paper kite;
and, approaching the bank of a pond, which was nearly a mile broad, I
tied the string to a stake, and the kite ascended to a very
considerable height above the pond, while I was swimming. In a little
time, being desirous of amusing myself with my kite, and enjoying at
the same time the pleasure of swimming, I returned; and, loosing from
the stake the string with the little stick which was fastened to it,
went again into the water, where I found that, lying on my back and
holding the stick in my hands, I was drawn along the surface of the
water in a very agreeable manner. Having then engaged another boy to
carry my clothes around the pond, to a place which I pointed out to
him on the other side, I began to cross the pond with my kite, which
carried me quite over without the least fatigue, and with the greatest
pleasure imaginable. I was only obliged occasionally to halt a little
in my course, and resist its progress, when it appeared that, by
following too quick, I lowered the kite too much; by doing which
occasionally, I made it rise again. I have never since that time
practised this singular mode of swimming, though I think it not
impossible to cross in this manner from Dover to Calais. The
packet-boat, however, is still preferable."
Doctor Franklin wrote another long letter to a man in mature life,
advising him to learn to swim. The man was not inclined to do it on
account of his age, whereupon Doctor Franklin wrote:
"I can not be of opinion with you, that it is too late in life for you
to learn to swim. The river near the bottom of your garden affords a
most convenient place for the purpose. And, as your new employment
requires your being often on the water, of which you have such a
dread, I think you would do well to make the trial; nothing being so
likely to remove those apprehensions as the consciousness of an
ability to swim to the shore in case of an accident, or of supporting
yourself in the water till a boat could come to take you up."
It is probable that Benjamin's experiment with his kite in swimming
was the seed-thought of his experiment in drawing lightning from the
clouds with a kite, thirty years thereafter,--an experiment that
startled and electrified the scientific world. The story is a familiar
one, and should be repeated here.
He believed that lightning and electricity were identical. Experiments
for six years had led him to this conclusion. But how could he prove
it? He conceived the idea of an electrical kite by which he could
settle the truth or falsity of his theory. Having prepared the kite,
he waited for a thunder-shower; nor did he wait long. Observing one
rising, he took the kite, and with his son, twenty-one years of age,
stole away into a field near by, where there was an old cow-shed. He
had not informed any one but his son of his purpose, because he wished
to avoid ridicule in case the experiment proved a failure.
The kite was sent up in season for the coming storm to catch, and,
with intense anxiety, Franklin held the string, which was hempen,
except the part in the hand, which was silk. He was so confident of
success that he brought along with him a Leyden bottle, in which to
collect electric fluid from the clouds for a shock. It was a moment of
great suspense. His heart beat like a trip-hammer. At first a cloud
seemed to pass directly over the kite, and the thunder rattled, and
the lightnings played around it, and yet there was no indication of
electricity. His heart almost failed him. But in silence he continued
the experiment as the storm increased and drew nearer, and the
artillery of heaven grew louder and more vivid. Another moment, and he
beheld the fibers of the hempen cord rise as the hair of a person does
on the insulated stool. What a moment it was! The electric fluid was
there! His experiment was successful! Electricity and lightning are
identical! Pen nor poesy can describe his emotion. Eagerly he applied
his knuckles to the key, attached to the extremity of the hempen cord,
and drew a spark therefrom. His joy was immeasurable! Another spark,
and then another, and still another, until further confirmation was
unnecessary! The Leyden bottle was charged with the precious fluid,
from which both father and son received a shock as unmistakable as
that from his electric battery at home. Franklin's fame was secured
throughout the world. He went home with feelings of indescribable
Doctor Franklin was a very modest man, and he wrote a letter to Peter
Collinson, member of the Royal Society of London, dated Philadelphia,
Oct. 16, 1752, describing the experiment without even hinting that he
was the experimenter. As that letter described his electrical kite,
and his method of using it, we insert it here:
"As frequent mention is made in public papers from Europe of the
success of the Philadelphia experiment for drawing the electric fire
from clouds by means of pointed rods of iron erected on high
buildings, etc., it may be agreeable to the curious to be informed
that the same experiment has succeeded in Philadelphia, though made in
a different and more easy manner, which is as follows:
"Make a small cross of two light strips of cedar, the arms so long as
to reach the four corners of a large thin silk handkerchief when
extended; tie the corners of the handkerchief to the extremities of
the cross, so you have the body of a kite; which being properly
accommodated with a tail, loop, and string, will rise in the air like
those made of paper; but this, being of silk, is fitter to bear the
wet and wind of a thunder-gust without tearing. To the top of the
upright stick of the cross is to be fixed a very sharp-pointed wire,
rising a foot or more above the wood. To the end of the twine next the
hand is to be tied a silk ribbon, and where the silk and twine join a
key may be fastened.
"This kite is to be raised when a thunder-gust appears to be coming
on, and the person who holds the string must stand within a door or
window, or under some cover, so that the silk ribbon may not be wet;
and care must be taken that the twine does not touch the frame of the
door or window. As soon as any of the thunder-clouds come over the
kite, the pointed wire will draw the electric fire from them, and the
kite, with all the twine, will be electrified, and the loose filaments
of the twine will stand out every way, and be attracted by an
approaching finger. And when the rain has wetted the kite and twine,
so that it can conduct the electric fire freely, you will find it
stream out plentifully from the key on the approach of your knuckle.
At this key the vial may be charged; and from the electric fire thus
obtained spirits may be kindled, and all other electric experiments be
performed which are usually done by the help of a rubbed glass globe
or tube, and thereby the sameness of the electric matter with that of
lightning completely demonstrated."
We have spoken of the discussions between Benjamin and John Collins
upon important subjects. When other boys were accustomed to spend
their time in foolish talking and jesting, they were warmly discussing
some question in advance of their years, and well suited to improve
their minds. One of the subjects was a singular one for that
day--female education. Legislators, statesmen, ministers, and teachers
did not believe that girls should be educated as thoroughly as boys.
Fewer advantages should be accorded to them. John Collins accepted the
general view; but Benjamin struck out boldly in favor of liberal
female education, being about a hundred years in advance of his times.
"It would be a waste of money to attempt to educate girls as
thoroughly as boys are educated," said John; "for the female sex are
inferior to the male in intellectual endowment."
"Pshaw!" exclaimed Benjamin; "you know better than that. The girls are
not as simple as you think they are. I believe that females are not a
whit inferior to males in their mental qualities."
"I would like to know where you discover evidence of it?" replied
John. "There is no proof of it in the works they have written."
"That may be true, and still they stand upon an equality in respect to
intellect. For not half as much is done to educate them as there is to
educate the male sex. How can you tell whether they are mentally
inferior or not, until they are permitted to enjoy equal advantages?"
"As we tell other things," answered John. "Females do not need so high
mental endowments as males, since they are not required to lead off in
the different branches of business, or to prosecute the sciences. I
can see no wisdom in bestowing talents upon them which they never use,
and it is often said that 'nothing is made in vain.'"
"Well, I must go," said Benjamin; "but I think you have a weak cause
to defend. If I had the time I could make out a case."
"A poor one, I guess," quickly added John. "We will see, the next time
we meet, who can make out a case."
"It will be some time before we meet again," replied Benjamin, "and
our ardor will be cooled before that time, I am thinking. But it will
do us no harm to discuss the subject."
"If we keep our temper," said John, tacking his sentence to the last
word of Benjamin's reply. And so saying, they parted.
After Benjamin had revolved the subject still more in his mind, he
became anxious to commit his argument to writing. Accordingly, with
pen and paper in hand, he sat down to frame the best argument he could
in favor of educating the female sex. He wrote it in the form of a
letter, addressed to his friend Collins, and, after having completed,
he copied it in a fair hand, and sent it to him. This brought back a
long reply, which made it necessary for Benjamin to pen an answer. In
this way the correspondence continued, until several letters had
passed between them, and each one had gained the victory in his own
Benjamin was anxious that his father should read this correspondence,
as he would be a good judge of its quality; and, after a little, he
took it to him, saying: "John and I have had some correspondence, and
I want you should read our letters."
There is little question that Benjamin was so well satisfied with his
own argument that he expected his father would give him much credit.
Perhaps his father believed, with most men of that day, that the
education of females was an unnecessary expense, and Benjamin expected
to convert him to his belief. Whether it was so or not, his father
"I should like to read it; what is it about?"
"You will find out when you read the letters."
Mr. Franklin improved the first opportunity to read the
correspondence, and report to Benjamin.
"I have been very much pleased and profited by this correspondence. It
is able for two boys like you and John; but I think John has the
advantage of you."
"John the advantage!" exclaimed Benjamin, with considerable surprise
and anxiety. "How so?"
"In some respects, not in all, I mean," added his father.
"Tell me of one thing in which he has advantage," and Benjamin
manifested disappointment when he made the request.
"Well, John's style of composition seems to me more finished, and he
expresses himself with more clearness."
"I rather think you are prejudiced, father" Benjamin said this for the
want of something better to say.
"_I_ rather think not," answered his father. "You have the advantage
of John in correct spelling, and in punctuation, which is the
consequence of working in the printing office. But I can convince you
that less method and clearness characterize your letters than his."
"I am ready to be convinced," answered Benjamin. "I hardly think I
have attained perfection in writing yet."
His father proceeded to read from the letters of each, with the design
of showing that John's composition was more perspicuous, and that
there was more method in his argument. Nor was it a very difficult
"I am convinced," acknowledged Benjamin, before his father had read
all he intended to read. "I can make improvement in those things
without much trouble. There is certainly a good chance for it."
"That is what I want you should see. I am very much pleased with your
letters, for they show that you have talents to improve, and that you
are an original, independent thinker. My only reason in calling your
attention to these defects is to assist you in mental improvement."
Benjamin was just the boy to be benefited by such friendly criticism.
It would discourage some boys, and they would despair of any future
excellence. The rank and file of boys would not be aroused by it to
overcome the difficulty and go up higher. But Benjamin was aroused,
and he resolved that his composition should yet be characterized by
elegance and perspicuity. He set about that improvement at once. We
shall see, in another chapter, how he purchased an old copy of the
_Spectator_ for a model, and set about improving his style.
It is quite evident that Mr. Franklin thought well of Benjamin's
argument on female education, for he did not criticise it. Perhaps it
was here that he found proof that his son was "an original and
independent thinker." It is somewhat remarkable that a boy at that
time should hold and advocate views of female education that have not
been advanced generally until within forty years. Looking about now,
we see that females stand side by side with males, in schools and
colleges, in ability and scholarship; that they constitute a large
proportion of teachers in our land now, when, before the American
Revolution, it was not thought proper to employ them at all; that many
of them are now classed with the most distinguished authors, editors,
and lecturers; and that not a few occupy places of distinction in the
learned professions, while many others are trusty clerks,
book-keepers, saleswomen, and telegraph-operators. Young Franklin's
views, the Boston printer-boy, a hundred and seventy years ago, are
illustrated and confirmed to-day by the prominence and value of
That a printer-boy of fifteen years could accomplish so much when he
was obliged to work from twelve to fifteen hours each day at his
trade, seems almost incredible. But he allowed no moments to run to
waste. He always kept a book by him in the office, and every spare
moment was employed over its pages. In the morning, before he went to
work, he found some time for reading and study. He was an early riser,
not, perhaps, because he had no inclination to lie in bed, but he had
more time to improve his mind. He gained time enough in the morning,
by this early rising, to acquire more knowledge than some youth and
young men do by going constantly to school. In the evening he found
still more time for mental improvement, extending his studies often
far into the night. It was his opinion that people generally consume
more time than is necessary in sleep, and one of his maxims, penned in
ripe manhood, was founded on that opinion: "The sleeping fox catches
It is not surprising that a boy who subjected himself to such
discipline for a series of years should write some of the best maxims
upon this subject when he became a man. The following are some of
"There are no gains without pains; then help, hands, for I have no
"Industry pays debts, while despair increaseth them."
"Never leave that till to-morrow which you can do to-day."
"Leisure is time for doing something useful."
"A life of leisure and a life of laziness are two things."
"Be ashamed to catch yourself idle."
"Handle your tools without mittens; remember, a cat in gloves catches
"There is much to be done, and perhaps you are weak-handed; but stick
to it steadily, and you will see great effects, for constant dropping
wears away stones, and by diligence and patience the mouse ate into
We have spoken of what the printer-boy accomplished as remarkable. And
yet it is not remarkable when we consider the work some men have done
in leisure hours alone. Just here is one of the most important lessons
to be learned from the example and life of Benjamin Franklin. A
similar example is before us here in New England; that of Charles G.
Frost, of Brattleboro', Vermont, who was a shoemaker by trade. He died
a few years since. He wrote of his own life:
"When I went to my trade, at fourteen years of age, I formed a
resolution, which I have kept till now--extraordinary preventives only
excepted--that I would faithfully devote _one hour each day_ to
study, in some useful branch of knowledge."
Here was the secret of his success--one hour a day. Almost any boy can
have that. He was forty-five when he wrote the above, a married man,
with three children, still devoting one hour a day, at least, to
study, and still at work at his trade. He had made such attainments in
mathematical science, at forty-five, it was claimed for him that not
more than ten mathematicians could be found in the United States in
advance of him. He wrote further of himself:
"The first book which fell into my hands was Hutton's Mathematics, an
English work of great celebrity, a complete mathematical course, which
I then commenced, namely, at fourteen. I finished it at nineteen
without an instructor. I then took up those studies to which I could
apply my knowledge of mathematics, as mechanics and mathematical
astronomy. I think I can say that I possess, and have successfully
studied, _all_ the most approved English and American works on these
After this he commenced natural philosophy and physical astronomy;
then chemistry, geology, and mineralogy, collecting and arranging a
cabinet. Mr. Frost continues:
"Next, natural philosophy engaged my attention, which I followed up
with close observation, gleaning my information from a great many
sources. The works that treat of them at large are rare and expensive.
But I have a considerable knowledge of geology, ornithology,
entomology, and conchology."
Not only this; he added to his store of knowledge the science of
botany, and made himself master of it. He made extensive surveys in
his own state, of the trees, shrubs, herbs, ferns, mosses, lichens,
and fungi. He had the _third_ best collection of ferns in the United
States. He, also, directed his attention to meteorology, and devoted
much of his time to acquire a knowledge of the law of storms, and the
movements of the erratic and extraordinary bodies in the air and
heavens. He took up the study of Latin, and pursued it until he could
read it fluently. He read all the standard poets, and had copies of
their works in his library. Also, he became proficient in history,
while his miscellaneous reading was very extensive. Of his books he
"I have a library which I divide into three departments--scientific,
religious, literary--comprising the standard works published in this
country, containing five or six hundred volumes. I have purchased
these books from time to time with money saved for the purpose by some
Benjamin Franklin's record, on the whole, may surpass this. Both of
them show, however, what the persistent and systematic improvement of
spare moments will accomplish. If a girl or boy can command one hour a
day for reading, twenty pages could be read thoughtfully in that time,
or one hundred and forty pages in a week. In a single year more than
seven thousand pages, which is equal to eighteen large duodecimo
volumes! In twenty years, one hundred and fifty thousand pages, or
three hundred and sixty-five volumes of the size named above! Divide
this amount of reading among history, philosophy, chemistry,
biography, and general literature, and the reader will be well versed
in these several departments of knowledge.
The old adage is, "Time is money," but the leisure time of Franklin
was worth vastly more than money, as it is to every youth; for it was
culture, usefulness, and character.
STARTING A NEWSPAPER.
Benjamin had been in the printing office about three years when his
brother decided to publish a newspaper. It was a doubtful enterprise
from the outset, and friends tried to dissuade him from it. But he
viewed the matter from his own standpoint, as the Franklins were wont
to do, and the paper was started. It was called "THE NEW ENGLAND
COURANT," and the first number was issued Aug. 21, 1721. Only three
papers in the whole country were published before this. The first one
was _The Boston News-letter_, established April 24, 1704, two years
before the birth of Benjamin. It was only a half-sheet of paper, about
the size of an eight by twelve inch pane of glass, "in two pages
folio, with two columns on each page." It could not have contained
more printed matter than is now compressed into one-third or one-half
page of one of our Boston dailies. The other papers were _The Boston
Gazette_, established Dec. 21, 1719; and _The American Weekly
Mercury_, of Philadelphia, Dec. 22, 1719.
There was not a little commotion when James Franklin launched _The New
England Courant_. It was regarded generally as a wild project. It was
not thought that three newspapers could live in America. The field was
not large enough. This fact, considered in contrast with the supply of
papers and journals now, daily, weekly, and monthly, shows the
wonderful growth of the country. At that time, there was not a daily
paper in the land; now, there are over one thousand,--eight of them in
the city of Boston, having a daily circulation of from three to four
hundred thousand. The papers and magazines of the United States, of
all descriptions, reach the surprising aggregate of nearly twenty
thousand, and their circulation is almost fabulous. One hundred