Part 3 out of 8
thousand, and even two hundred thousand, daily, is claimed for some
journals. Some weekly issues reach three hundred thousand, and even
four and five hundred thousand. Bind the daily issues of Boston into
volumes, containing one hundred sheets each, and we have an enormous
library of daily newspapers, numbering about ONE MILLION VOLUMES, the
annual production of the Boston daily press now! And this is the
aggregate of only the eight dailies, while Boston has nearly two
hundred papers and periodicals of all sorts, and the State of
Massachusetts nearly four hundred!
If the eight Boston dailies measure one yard each in width, when
opened, on the average, and they are laid end to end, we have more
than three hundred thousand yards of newspapers laid each day, which
is equal to _one hundred and seventy miles_ daily, over _one thousand
miles_ in a week, and FIFTY-ONE THOUSAND, ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY-SIX
in a year! More than enough papers to reach twice around the earth!
Or, suppose we weigh these papers: If ten of them weigh a single
pound, then each day's issue weighs _thirty thousand pounds_, each
week's issue _one hundred and eighty thousand_, the aggregate of the
year amounting to NINE MILLION POUNDS! Load this yearly production
upon wagons, one ton on each, and we have a procession of FOUR
THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED wagons, that reaches, allowing one rod to a
team, over FOURTEEN MILES!
And the _New England Courant_ third in the procession! Benjamin was
much given to prophesying, but no prophecy from his lips ever covered
such a growth as this. He was in favor of starting the paper, but he
could not have had the faintest conception of what was going to
"I want to set up the paper," he said to James; "I think I can make
the best looking paper."
"I think you can; and it is going to require much attention and
planning to make it a success. I may fail in the attempt, but I'll
have the satisfaction of trying."
"I will do all I can to make it succeed, if I have to sit up nights,"
Benjamin continued. "It will give your office notoriety to publish a
paper. But how will you dispose of it?"
"Sell it on the street; and you will be a good hand to do that. No
doubt there will be some regular subscribers, and you can deliver
copies to them from week to week."
"And be collector, too, I suppose," added Benjamin, who had no
objection to any part of the work named.
"As you please about that. Doubtless it will be convenient to have you
attend to that, at times at least."
"You won't make me editor yet, I conclude," remarked Benjamin,
facetiously, thinking that about all the work on the paper, except the
editorship, had been assigned to him.
"Not yet, I think," responded James; "printer, news-dealer,
news-carrier, and collector will be as much honor as any one of the
Franklins can withstand at once"; and he had as little idea of the
part Benjamin would play in the enterprise as the boy himself.
There is no doubt that Benjamin had an idea that the paper might have
in its columns some of his fugitive pieces, sooner or later. He had
been cultivating his talents in this direction, and never was enjoying
it more than he was at the time the _New England Courant_ was
"How many copies shall you publish in the first issue?" inquired
"I am not quite decided about that; anywhere from two to three
hundred. We will see how it goes first."
"How about articles for it? Will you have any trouble about getting
"None at all. I am to have several articles at once for the first
number, from parties who can write well; and when the paper is well
under way there will be a plenty of volunteer contributors. I have no
fears about that."
Benjamin might have responded, "Here is one," for there is no doubt
that he was already flattering himself with the idea that he would be
a contributor to its columns, known or unknown. Here was the real
secret of his enthusiastic interest in the enterprise.
On the day mentioned the new paper was issued, as had been announced,
and great was the anxiety of the publisher. Many citizens awaited its
coming with lively anticipations; and, on the whole, it was a
memorable occasion. No one's interest surpassed that of the
printer-boy, Benjamin, who had no hesitation in selling the paper on
the street, and rather liked that part of the business. In his view,
it was an honorable and enterprising venture, that challenged the
respect and support of every citizen.
The reception of the _Courant_ was all that James anticipated. It sold
as well as he expected, and the comments upon its ability and
character were as favorable as the times and circumstances would
warrant. There were criticisms, of course, and severe ones, too, for,
in that day, all sorts of projects were subjected to a crucial test.
The _Courant_ was no exception to the rule.
Now that the newspaper is launched, and there is new interest and
activity in consequence in the printing office, we will recur to an
episode in Benjamin's career, that occurred two years before; for it
sustains a very close relation to the newspaper enterprise and what
Benjamin had been in the printing office about a year when he
surprised his brother by the inquiry:
"How much will you allow me a week if I will board myself?"
"Do you think I pay more for your board than it is worth?" replied
James, Yankee-like, by asking another question, instead of answering
the one propounded.
"No more than you will be obliged to pay in any other family, but more
than I shall ask you. It costs you now more than you need to pay."
James was still boarding Benjamin in a family near by.
"Then you think of opening a boarding-house for the special
accommodation of Benjamin Franklin, I see," which was treating the
subject rather lightly.
"I propose to board myself," answered Benjamin, distinctly and
emphatically. "I do not eat meat of any kind, as you know, so that I
can board myself easily, and I will agree to do it if you will give me
weekly one-half the money you pay for my board."
"Of course I will agree to it," answered James. "It will be so much in
my pocket, and the bargain is made. When will you begin to keep your
"To-morrow," was Benjamin's quick reply. "A vegetarian can open a
boarding-house for himself without much preparation."
"To-morrow it is, then; but it will not take you long to become sick
of that arrangement. Keeping boarders is not a taking business, even
if you have no boarder but yourself."
"That is my lookout," continued Benjamin. "I have my own ideas about
diet and work, play and study, and some other things; and I am going
to reduce them to practice."
Benjamin had been reading a work on "vegetable diet," by one Tryon,
and it was this which induced him to discard meats as an article of
food. He was made to believe that better health and a clearer head
would be the result, though from all we can learn he was not lacking
in either. Mr. Tryon, in his work, gave directions for cooking
vegetables, such dishes as a vegetarian might use, so that the matter
of boarding himself was made quite simple.
The great object which Benjamin had in view was to save money for
buying books. It seemed to be the only way open to get money for that
purpose. At the same time, he would have more hours to read. He had
been trying the "vegetable diet" at his boarding place for some time,
and he liked it. He was really one of Tryon's converts. Other boarders
ridiculed his diet, and had considerable sport over his "oddity"; but
he cared nothing for that. They could eat what they pleased, and so
could he. He was as independent on the subject of diet as he was on
any other. He did not pin his faith in any thing upon the sleeve of
another; he fastened it to his own sleeve, and let it fly.
The incident illustrates the difference between the two brothers. If
James had been as unselfish and generous as Benjamin was, he would
have paid the latter the full amount of his board weekly. He would
"You have a passion for reading and study. You do this for
self-improvement. You want to know more, and make the most of yourself
that you can. In these circumstances I will not make any money out of
you. If I give you the whole amount I pay for board I shall lose
nothing, and you will gain considerable. It will help you, and I shall
be kept whole in my finances. You shall have it all."
But the fact was, James was avaricious, and was bent on making money,
though he made it out of his younger brother. On the other hand,
Benjamin was large-hearted and generous, or he never would have
offered, in the outset, to take half James paid for his board. Had he
been as niggardly as James, he could have made a better bargain than
that for himself. But it was not a good bargain that he was after; he
was after the books.
James was curious to see how Benjamin would succeed with his new
method of living. So he watched him closely, without saying any thing
in particular about it; perhaps expecting that his brother would soon
tire of boarding himself. Weeks passed by, and still Benjamin was
hale, strong, and wide-awake as ever. His actions indicated that he
was well satisfied both with his bargain and his board. Finally,
however, James' curiosity grew to such proportions that he inquired
"Ben, how much do you make by boarding yourself?"
"I save just half the money you pay me, so that it costs me just
one-quarter as much as you paid for my board."
"You understand economy, I must confess," remarked James. "However, I
ought to be satisfied if you are." Perhaps his conscience might have
troubled him somewhat, and caused him to think how much better off his
young brother would have been, if he had given him the full amount of
the board, as he should have done. If Benjamin had been a common boy,
without high aspirations and noble endeavors, or a spendthrift, or
idler, there might have been some excuse for driving a close bargain
with him; but, in the circumstances, the act was unbrotherly and
"The money I save is not the best part of it," added Benjamin after a
little. "I save a half-hour and more usually every noon for reading.
After I have eaten my meal, I usually read as long as that before you
return from dinner."
"Not a very sumptuous dinner, I reckon; sawdust pudding, perhaps, with
cold water sauce! When I work I want something to work on. Living on
nothing would be hard on me." James indicated by this remark that he
had no confidence in that sort of diet.
"I live well enough for me. A biscuit or a slice of bread, with a tart
or a few raisins, and a glass of water, make a good dinner for me; and
then my head is all the lighter for study."
"Yes, I should think you might have a light head with such living,"
retorted James, "and your body will be as light before many weeks, I
"I will risk it. I am on a study now that requires a clear head, and I
am determined to master it."
"What is that?"
"Begin to wish that you knew something of arithmetic by this time!
Making up for misspent time, I see. Paying old debts is not
James meant this last remark for a fling at Benjamin's dislike for
arithmetic when he attended school. Not devoting himself to it with
the enthusiasm he gave to more congenial studies, he was more
deficient in that branch of knowledge than in any other. He regretted
his neglect of the study now, and was determined to make up his loss.
This was very honorable, and showed a noble aim, which merited praise,
instead of a fling, from his brother.
"I think it must be a sort of luxury to pay old debts, if one has any
thing to pay them with," remarked Benjamin. "If I can make up any loss
of former years now, I enjoy doing it, even by the closest economy of
"Well, you estimate time as closely as a miser counts his money, Ben."
"And I have a right to do it. As little time as I have to myself
requires that I should calculate closely. Time is money to you, or
else you would allow me a little more to myself; and it is more than
money to me."
"It enables me to acquire knowledge, which I can not buy with money.
Unless I were saving of my time, I should not be able to read or study
at all, having to work so constantly."
Perhaps, at this time, Benjamin laid the foundation for that economy
which distinguished him in later life, and about which he often wrote.
Among his wise sayings, in the height of his influence and fame, were
"If you would be wealthy, think of saving as well as of getting."
"What maintains one vice would bring up two children."
"Many a little makes a mickle."
"A small leak will sink a ship."
"At a great penny worth pause awhile."
"Silks and satins, scarlets and velvets, put out the kitchen fire."
"Always taking out of the meal-tub, and never putting in, soon comes
to the bottom."
"It is easier to build two chimneys than to keep one in fuel."
"A penny saved is a penny earned."
"A penny saved is two-pence clear."
"A pin a day is a groat a year."
"He that wastes idly a groat's worth of his time per day, one day with
another, wastes the privilege of using one hundred pounds each day."
"In short, the way to wealth, if you desire it, is as plain as the way
to market. It depends chiefly on two words, _industry_ and
_frugality_; that is, waste neither _time_ nor _money_, but make the
best use of both. Without industry and frugality nothing will do, and
with them every thing. He that gets all he can honestly, and saves all
he gets (necessary expenses excepted), will certainly become
_rich_--if that Being who governs the world, to whom all should look
for a blessing on their honest endeavors, doth not, in his wise
providence, otherwise determine."
The reader may desire to know just how Franklin himself speaks of the
"vegetable diet" experiment in his "Autobiography"; so we quote it
"I happened to meet with a book, written by one Tryon, recommending a
vegetable diet. I determined to go into it. My brother, being yet
unmarried, did not keep house, but boarded himself and his apprentices
in another family. My refusing to eat flesh occasioned an inconvenience,
and I was frequently chid for my singularity. I made myself acquainted
with Tryon's manner of preparing some of his dishes, such as boiling
potatoes or rice, making hasty-pudding, and a few others, and then
proposed to my brother, that if he would give me weekly half the money
he paid for my board, I would board myself. He instantly agreed to it,
and I presently found that I could save half what he paid me. This was
an additional fund for buying of books; but I had another advantage in
it. My brother and the rest going from the printing house to their
meals, I remained there alone, and, despatching presently my light
repast (which was often no more than a biscuit, or a slice of bread, a
handful of raisins, or a tart from the pastry cook's, and a glass of
water), had the rest of the time, till their return, for study; in
which I made the greater progress from that greater clearness of head,
and quicker apprehension, which generally attend temperance in eating
and drinking. Now it was, that, being on some occasion made ashamed of
my ignorance in figures, which I had twice failed learning when at
school, I took Cocker's book on arithmetic, and went through the whole
by myself with the greatest ease."
THE RUSE, AND WHAT CAME OF IT.
Mr. Parton says of the _Courant_, "It was a most extraordinary sheet.
Of all the colonial newspapers, it was the most spirited, witty, and
daring. The Bostonians, accustomed to the monotonous dullness of the
_News-letter_, received, some with delight, more with horror, all with
amazement, this weekly budget of impudence and fun. A knot of liberals
gathered around James Franklin, physicians most of them, able,
audacious men, who kept him well supplied with squibs, essays, and
every variety of sense and nonsense known in that age. The _Courant_
was, indeed, to borrow the slang of the present day, a 'sensational
paper.' Such a tempest did it stir up in Boston that the noise thereof
was heard in the remote colony of Pennsylvania."
The "knot of liberals" who wrote articles for it, met often at the
office to discuss their contributions, and the state of public
sentiment more or less affected by this venture. The _News-letter_
came in for a large share of the opposition, and they declared war
against many of the existing customs,--governmental, political, and
social. The scope and circulation of the paper was a frequent topic of
Benjamin's ears were always open to their conversation. He heard the
merits of different articles set forth, and learned that certain ones
were quite popular and elicited favorable remarks from readers
generally. This excited his ambition, and he strongly desired to try
his own ability in writing for the paper. He feared, however, that his
composition would not be regarded favorably, if it were known who was
the author; so he resorted to the following expedient:
"I will write an anonymous article," he said within himself, "in the
best style I can, and get it into James' hand in some way that will
not arouse his suspicions. I will disguise my handwriting, and give it
some fictitious name, so that he will not dream that it was written in
Accordingly the article was prepared, describing his ideal of
character, and that was the character he himself formed, and was
forming then; and he signed it SILENCE DOGOOD. This article he slipped
under the printing office door at night, where James found it in the
morning, and read it with evident satisfaction, as Benjamin thought,
who narrowly watched him. In a little while some of the "knot of
liberals" came in, and the article was read to them.
"It is a good article, and it was slipped under the door last night,"
said James. "It is signed 'Silence Dogood.'"
"You have no idea who wrote it, then?" inquired one.
"Not the least whatever."
"It is capital, whoever the author may be," remarked one of the
"Somebody wrote it who knows how to wield his pen," said another.
"Ordinarily I shall not publish articles without knowing who the
author is," remarked James; "but this is so good that I shall not
stop to inquire. I shall put it into the next issue."
"By all means, of course," replied one. "No doubt we shall soon learn
who the author is; it is a difficult matter to keep such things secret
for a long time."
"The author is evidently a person of ability," added another; "every
sentence in the article is charged with thought. I should judge that
he needed only practice to make him a writer of the first class."
"Publishing the article will be as likely as any thing to bring out
the author," suggested James.
"That is so; and the sooner it is published the better," remarked one
of the company approvingly.
Much more was said in praise of the article. The names of several
prominent citizens of Boston were mentioned as the possible author.
James himself named one or two, who were Boston's most intelligent and
influential citizens, as the possible author.
All approved the insertion of the article in the next issue of the
paper, much to the satisfaction of Benjamin, who was the most deeply
interested party in the office. He scarcely knew how to act in regard
to the article, whether to father it at once, or still conceal its
parentage. On the whole, however, he decided to withhold its
authorship for the present, and try his hand again in the same way.
The reader may judge of Benjamin's emotions when he came to put his
own article in type for the paper. It was almost too good to be real.
Fact was even stranger than fiction to him. In the outset he dreamed
that somehow and sometime the columns of the _Courant_ might contain a
contribution of his own; and here he was setting up his first article
with the approval of James and the whole "knot of liberals." This was
more than he bargained for; and his heart never came so near beating
through his jacket as then. Never was a printer-boy so happy before.
He was happy all over and all through--a lump of happiness. Not one
boy in a hundred could have managed to keep the secret as he did, in
the circumstances. Their countenances would have exposed it on the
spot. But Benjamin possessed his soul in patience, and carried out his
The issue containing Benjamin's article appeared on time, and was
greatly praised. "Who is 'Silence Dogood'?" was the most common
inquiry. "I wonder who 'Silence Dogood' can be," was a frequent
remark, showing that the article attracted much attention. Benjamin
wondered as much as any of them. "A queer signature to put to an
article," he said. "What in the world could suggest such a _nom de
plume_ to a writer?" He enjoyed his ruse more and more: it became the
choicest fun of his life. It was so crammed with felicity that he
resolved to continue it by writing more articles as well-chosen and
He was able to prepare a better article for the second one, because he
brought to its preparation the enthusiasm and encouragement awakened
by the favorable reception of the first. Besides, the many remarks he
had heard about it gave him points for another communication, so as to
make it sharper, better adapted to the times, and hence more timely.
Within a short time, the second article was slipped under the door at
night for James to pick up in the morning.
"Another article from 'Silence Dogood,'" exclaimed James, as he opened
it and read the signature.
"I thought we should hear from that writer again," was all the remark
that Benjamin vouchsafed.
"A good subject!" added James, as he read the caption. "I will read
it," and he proceeded to read the article to Benjamin.
The latter listened with attention that was somewhat divided between
the excellent reception the article was having and the grand success
of his ruse.
"Better even than the first article," remarked James after having read
it. "We must not rest until we find out who the author is. It is
somebody of note."
The second article was submitted to the "knot of liberals," the same
as the first one, and all approved it highly.
"It is sharper than the first one, and hits the nail on the head every
time," said one of the number. "Dogood is a good name for such a
"And we shall have more of them, no doubt," suggested James; "it is
quite evident that the writer means to keep on."
"I hope he will; such articles will call attention to the paper, and
that is what we want," added another.
"In the mean time, let us find out if possible who the writer is,"
suggested still another. "It will be a help to the paper to have it
known who is the author, if it is one of the scholars."
Charles Dickens was a poorer boy than Benjamin ever was, knowing what
it was to go to bed hungry and cold; but his young heart aspired after
a nobler life, and, while yet a boy, he wrote an article for the
press, disclosing the fact not even to his mother, and then, on a dark
night, he dropped it "into a dark letter box, in a dark office, up a
dark court in Fleet street." His joy was too great for utterance when
he saw it in print. It was the beginning of a career as a writer
unparalleled in English or American history. And he told the secret of
it when he wrote, "While other boys played, I read Roderick Random,
Tom Jones, The Vicar of Wakefield, Don Quixote, Gil Bias, and other
books. They kept alive my fancy, and my hope of something beyond that
place and time."
Benjamin heard all that was said, and still kept his secret. It would
not have been strange if his vanity had been inflated by these
complimentary remarks. Ordinary humanity could scarcely be exposed to
so high praise without taking on a new sense of its importance. But
Benjamin kept down his pride, and his heart continued to abide under
his jacket though it beat mightily. Was it any wonder?
Without stopping to narrate details, it is sufficient to say that
Benjamin wrote several articles, and sent them forward to James under
the door; and they were all pronounced good by James and his friends.
He began to think that it was almost time to let out the secret. James
was fairly committed to the excellence of all the articles, and so
were the other critics. This was important to the success of
Benjamin's plan. He had feared, as he had continued industriously to
set up type, that a disclosure would knock all his plans into "pi";
but he had no fears now. But how should he disclose? That was the
question. It was not long, however, before the question was settled.
His brother made some remark about the last article slipped under the
door, and wondered that the author had not become known.
"I know who the author is," said Benjamin under such a degree of
excitement as even an older person would experience on the eve of an
"You know!" exclaimed James in great surprise. "If you know, why have
you not disclosed it before?"
"Because I thought it was not wise. It is not best to tell all we know
"But you have heard us discuss this matter over and over, and take
measures to discover the author, and yet you have never intimated that
you knew any thing about it."
"Well, the author did not wish to be known until the right time came,
and that is a good reason for keeping the matter secret, I think."
"Will you tell who the author is now?" asked James, impatient to
obtain the long-sought information.
"Perhaps I will if you are very anxious to know."
"Of course I am, and every one else who is interested in the paper."
That was the crisis to James. We can scarcely conceive of its interest
to the boy-writer. His time of triumph had come. James had not treated
him very well, and we think he enjoyed that moment of victory a little
more for that reason. That would have been human, and Benjamin was
human. His ruse had proved successful, and his talents, too. Now he
could startle his brother as much as would a thunder-bolt out of a
clear sky. So he answered his inquiry by saying,--
"Benjamin Franklin "; and he said it with emphasis and an air of
If James' countenance could have been photographed at that moment, it
would have shown a mixture of amazement, incredulity, and wonder. It
was several moments before he so far recovered from the shock as to be
able to speak.
"What! Do you mean to say that you wrote those articles?" Benjamin
might have discovered some doubt in James' tone and appearance when he
"Certainly I do."
"But it is not your handwriting."
"It is my handwriting disguised. I wa' n't fool enough to let you have
the articles in my own handwriting without disguise, when I wished to
conceal the authorship."
"What could possibly be your object in doing so?"
"That the articles might be fairly examined. If I had proposed to
write an article for your paper, you would have said that I, a
printer-boy, could write nothing worthy of print."
"But if I had seen and read the articles, knowing them to be yours, I
should have judged them fairly," James insisted, evidently feeling
somewhat hurt by his brother's last remark. Nevertheless, Benjamin was
right. It is probable that his articles would have been rejected, had
he offered them in his own name to the critics.
"Well, that was my plan, and the articles have had a fair show, and I
am satisfied, whether you are or not," was Benjamin's reply in an
Here the conversation dropped. James bestowed no words of commendation
upon his brother's ability. Perhaps he thought that he had praised the
articles enough when he did not know who the author was. But he
appeared to be abstracted in thought until some of the "knot of
liberals" came in.
"I have discovered who 'Silence Dogood' is," he said.
"You have? Who can it be?" and the speaker was very much surprised.
"No one that you have dreamed of."
"Is that so? I am all the more anxious to learn who it is," he
"There he is," replied James, pointing to Benjamin, who was setting
type a little more briskly than usual, as if he was oblivious to what
was going on.
"What! Benjamin? You are joking, surely," replied one.
"Your brother out there!" exclaimed another, pointing to Benjamin;
"you do not mean it!"
"Yes, I do mean it. He is the author, and he has satisfied me that he
is. You can see for yourselves."
The "knot of liberals" was never so amazed, and now they all turned to
Benjamin, and he had to speak for himself. They were not entirely
satisfied that there was not some mistake or deception about the
matter. But he found little difficulty in convincing them that he was
the real author of the communications, whereupon they lavished their
commendations upon him to such an extent as to make it perilous to one
having much vanity in his heart.
From that time Benjamin was a favorite with the literary visitors at
the office. They showed him much more attention than they did James,
and said so much in his praise, as a youth of unusual promise, that
James became jealous and irritable. He was naturally passionate and
tyrannical, and this sudden and unexpected exaltation of Benjamin
developed his overbearing spirit. He found more fault with him, and
became very unreasonable in his treatment. Probably he had never
dreamed that Benjamin possessed more talents than other boys of his
age. Nor did he care, so long as his brother was an apprentice, and he
could rule over him as a master. He did not appear to regard the
blood-relationship between them, but only that of master and
apprentice. In other words, he was a poor specimen of a brother, and
we shall learn more about him in the sequel.
In his "Autobiography," Franklin tells the story of his ruse as
"James had some ingenious men among his friends, who amused themselves
by writing little pieces for this paper, which gained it credit, and
made it more in demand, and these gentlemen often visited us. Hearing
their conversations, and their accounts of the approbation their
papers were received with, I was excited to try my hand among them.
But, being still a boy, and suspecting that my brother would object to
printing any thing of mine in his paper, if he knew it to be mine, I
contrived to disguise my hand, and, writing an anonymous paper, I put
it at night under the door of the printing house. It was found in the
morning, and communicated to his writing friends, when they called in
as usual. They read it, commented on it in my hearing, and I had the
exquisite pleasure of finding it met with their approbation, and that,
in their different guesses at the author, none were named but men of
some character among us for learning and ingenuity. I suppose that I
was rather lucky in my judges, and that they were not really so very
good as I then believed them to be. Encouraged, however, by this
attempt, I wrote and sent in the same way to the press several other
pieces, that were equally approved; and I kept my secret till all my
fund of sense for such performances was exhausted, and then discovered
it, when I began to be considered a little more by my brother's
"However, that did not quite please him, as he thought it tended to
make me too vain. This might be one occasion of the differences we
began to have about this time. Though a brother he considered himself
as my master, and me as his apprentice, and accordingly expected the
same services from me as he would from another, while I thought he
degraded me too much in some he required of me, who from a brother
expected more indulgence."
The foregoing was one of the incidents of Benjamin's boyhood that
decided his future eminent career. It was a good thing to bring out
his talents as a writer thus early, and it introduced him to an
exercise that was of the first importance in the improvement of his
mind. From the time he wrote the first article for the _Courant_, he
did not cease to write for the public. Probably no other American boy
began his public career so early--sixteen. He had written much before,
but it was not for the press. It was done for self-improvement, and
not for the public eye. The newspaper opened a new and unexpected
channel of communication with the public that was well suited to
awaken his deepest interest and inspire his noblest efforts.
The incident reminds us of Canning's _Microcosm_. He, the great
English statesman, was scarcely as old as Benjamin when he established
a boy's periodical in the school at Eton, whither he was sent. It was
christened _Microcosm_, which means, literally, "the little world." It
was a weekly publication issued from Windsor. It was conducted "after
the plan of the _Spectator_"--a work that was of immense value to
Benjamin, as we shall see,--"the design being to treat the
characteristics of the boys at Eton as Addison and his friends had
done those of general society." In this paper several members of the
school figured with credit to themselves, though no one was more
prominent and capable than Canning.
It became one of the prominent influences that decided his future
course, as he always affirmed, developing his talents, and stimulating
his mind to labor in this honorable way. It also exerted a decided
influence upon the character of another boy, named Frere, who
afterwards shone as a writer on the pages of the _Anti-Jacobin_.
Examples of industry, enterprise, despatch, promptness, punctuality,
and circumspection are inspiring to both old and young; and nowhere do
these noble qualities appear to better advantage than they do where
busy brains and hands make the newspaper in the printing office. It is
a remarkably useful school. It was so when Benjamin was a boy. It was
a far better school for him than that of Williams or Brownwell. Here
he laid the foundation of his learning and fame. The same was true of
Horace Greeley, who founded the _New York Tribune_, and of Henry J.
Raymond, who made the _Times_ what it is. The late Vice-President
Schuyler Colfax was schooled in a printing office for his honorable
public career; and the same was true of other distinguished statesmen.
But none of these examples are so remarkable as the following, that
was made possible by Benjamin Franklin's example.
A waif two years of age was taken from a benevolent institution in
Boston, and given to a childless sailor, on his way from a voyage to
his home in Maine on the Penobscot River. The sailor knew not from
what institution the child was taken, nor whence he came. He carried
it home, without a name, or the least clue to his ancestry. The
sailor's wife was a Christian woman, and had prayed for just such a
gift as that. She resolved to train him for the Lord. At twelve years
of age he became a Christian, and, from that time, longed to be a
minister. But poverty stood in his way, and there was little prospect
of his hopes being realized.
At length, however, he read the life of Benjamin Franklin; and he
learned how the printing office introduced him into a noble life-work.
"I will go through the printing office into the ministry," he said to
his adopted mother. So, at fifteen, he became a printer in Boston.
After a while, his health broke down, and the way to regain it seemed
to be through service to a wealthy man on his farm in the country.
There his health was restored, and his benevolent employer got him
into Andover Academy, where he led the whole class. Near the close of
his preparatory course, on a Saturday night, the author met him under
the following circumstances:
He was then nineteen years of age. On that day he had learned from
what institution he was taken, and, going thither, he ascertained that
he had a sister three years older than himself, living thirty miles
north of Boston. It was the first knowledge he had received about any
of his relatives. He was ten years old when his adopted parents
informed him that he was taken, a waif, from an institution in Boston.
From that time he was curious to find the institution and learn
something of his ancestry. He was too young, when he was taken away,
to remember that he had a sister. But on that day he learned the fact;
and he took the first train to meet her. The author took the train,
also, to spend the Sabbath with the minister who reared the sister. We
met in the same family. What a meeting of brother and sister! The
latter had mourned, through all these years, that she knew not what
had become of her baby-brother, whom she well remembered and loved;
but here he was, nineteen years of age, a manly, noble, Christian
young man! Could she believe her eyes? Could we, who were lookers on,
think it real? We received the story of his life from his own lips.
He was the best scholar in his class through academy, college, and
theological seminary, and is now an able and useful minister of the
Gospel, indebted TO THE EXAMPLE AND EXPERIENCE OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN IN
THE PRINTING OFFICE FOR WHAT HE IS!
BOOKS OF HIS BOYHOOD.
Coleridge divided readers into four classes, thus: "The first may be
compared to an hour-glass, their reading being as the sand; it runs
in, and it runs out, and leaves not a vestige behind. A second class
resembles a sponge, which imbibes every thing, and returns it merely
in the same state, only a little dirtier. A third class is like a
jelly-bag, which allows all that is pure to pass away, and retains
only the refuse and the dregs. The fourth class may be compared to the
slave in the diamond mines of Golconda, who, casting aside all that is
worthless, preserves only the pure gem."
Benjamin belonged to the fourth class, which is the smallest class of
all. The "hour-glass" class, who simply let what they read "run in and
run out," is very large. It is not entitled to much respect, however,
for it will bring no more to pass than the class who do not read at
Benjamin sought the "pure gem." If he had any thing, he wanted
diamonds. Nor did he accept "a stone for bread." He knew what bread
was, which is not true of many readers; and so he had bread or
nothing. His mind was a voracious eater, much more of an eater than
his body. It demanded substantial food, too, the bread, meat, and
potato of literature and science. It did not crave cake and
confectionery. There was no mincing and nibbling when it went to a
meal. It just laid in as if to shame starvation; it almost gobbled up
what was on the table. It devoured naturally and largely. It was
fortunate for him that his mind was so hungry all the time; otherwise,
his desire to go to sea, his love of sport, and his unusual social
qualities might have led him astray. Thousands of boys have been
ruined in this way, whom passionate fondness of reading might have
made useful and eminent. Thomas Hood said: "A natural turn for reading
and intellectual pursuits probably preserved me from the moral
shipwrecks so apt to befall those who are deprived in early life of
their parental pilotage. My books kept me from the ring, the dog-pit,
the tavern, and saloon. The closet associate of Pope and Addison, the
mind accustomed to the noble though silent discourse of Shakespeare
and Milton, will hardly seek or put up with that sort of company."
It was probably as true of Benjamin Franklin as it was of Thomas Hood,
that reading saved him from a career of worldliness and worthlessness.
In his manhood he regarded the habit in this light, and said: "From my
infancy I was passionately fond of reading, and all the money that
came into my hands was laid out in the purchasing of books." If he had
laid out his money in billiards, boating, theatre-going, and kindred
pleasures, as so many do, he might have been known in manhood as Ben,
the Bruiser, instead of "Ben, the Statesman and Philosopher."
The first book Benjamin read was "Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress." He was
fascinated with it, and read it over and over, much to the
gratification of his parents.
"What is there about it that interests you so much?" inquired his
father, hoping that it might be the subject alone.
"The dialogues that are carried on in it," replied Benjamin.
"Then you think more of the style than you do of the matter?" remarked
his father, evidently somewhat disappointed that he was not specially
taken with Christian's journey.
"It is all interesting. I should never get tired of reading such a
book." This reply reassured his father, and he got considerable
comfort out of it, after having set before the boy the true idea of
Christian's flight from the City of Destruction.
"It was written in Bedford jail, England," continued his father.
"There was much persecution in his day, and he was thrust into prison
to keep him from preaching the Gospel; but the plan did not succeed
very well, for he has been preaching it ever since through that book,
that he never would have written had he not been imprisoned."
"Then he was a minister, was he?" said Benjamin.
"No, he was not a minister; he was a tinker, and a very wicked man, so
profane that he was a terror to good people. But he was converted and
became a Christian, and went about doing good, as Christ did,
preaching the Gospel in his way, in houses, by the way side, anywhere
that he could, until he was sent to prison for doing good."
"A strange reason for sending a man to jail," remarked Benjamin.
"They thought that he was doing evil, no doubt. I mean the enemies of
the Gospel. They did not believe in the Christian religion which
Bunyan had embraced; they thought it would stir up the people to
strife and contention, and prove a curse instead of a blessing." Mr.
Franklin knew that such information would increase the interest of his
son in the book; and it did. The impression wrought upon him by
reading this book lasted through his life, and led him to adopt its
style in much of his writing when he became a man. He said in manhood:
"Narrative mingled with dialogue is very engaging, not only to the
young, but to adults, also. It introduces the reader directly into the
company, and he listens to the conversation, and seems to see the
parties. Bunyan originated this colloquial style, and Defoe and
Richardson were his imitators. It is a style so attractive, conveying
instruction so naturally and pleasantly, that it should never be
Mr. Franklin owned all of Bunyan's works, his "Grace Abounding to the
Chief of Sinners," and his "Holy War," and "Pilgrim's Progress" just
spoken of. Benjamin read them all, but "Pilgrim's Progress" was the
one that charmed his soul and more or less influenced his life.
"Defoe's Essay upon Projects" was another volume of his father's,
written in the same style as "Pilgrim's Progress," and, for that
reason, very interesting to him. He devoured its contents. Its
subject-matter was much above the capacity of most boys of his age;
but the dialogue method of imparting instruction made it clear and
attractive to him. One subject which it advocated was the liberal
education of girls; and it was here, without doubt, that Benjamin
obtained his views upon advanced female education, which he advocated
in his discussion with John Collins.
"Plutarch's Lives" was still another volume his father owned, one of
the most inspiring books for the young ever published. He read this so
much and carefully that he was made very familiar with the characters
therein--information that was of great service to him, later on, in
his literary labors and public services.
"There was another book in my father's little library, by Doctor
Mather, called, 'An Essay to do Good,'" said Doctor Franklin, in his
"Autobiography," "which, perhaps, gave me a turn of thinking that had
an influence on some of the principal future events of my life." He
wrote to a son of Doctor Mather about it, late in life, as follows:
"When I was a boy, I met with a book, entitled 'Essays to do Good,'
which I think was written by your father (Cotton Mather). It had been
so little regarded by a former possessor that several leaves of it
were torn out; but the remainder gave me such a turn of thinking as to
have an influence on my conduct through life; for I have always set a
greater value on the character of a doer of good than on any other
kind of reputation; and if I have been, as you seem to think, a useful
citizen, the public owe the advantage of it to that book."
The "Essays to do Good" consisted of twenty-two short essays of a
practical character, inculcating benevolence as a duty and privilege,
and giving directions to particular classes. It had lessons for
ministers, lawyers, doctors, merchants, magistrates, teachers,
mechanics, husbands, wives, gentlemen, deacons, sea-captains, and
others. The style was quaint, earnest, and direct, exactly suited to
appeal to such a boy as Benjamin; and withal it was so practical that
it won his heart.
Mr. Parton records a singular incident about this Doctor Mather, as
follows: "How exceedingly strange that such a work as this should have
been written by the man who, in 1692, at Salem, when nineteen people
were hanged and one was pressed to death for witchcraft, appeared
among the crowd, openly exulting in the spectacle! Probably his zeal
against the witches was as much the offspring of his benevolence as
his 'Essays to do Good.' Concede his theory of witches, and it had
been cruelty to man not to hang them. Were they not in league with
Satan, the arch-enemy of God and man? Had they not bound themselves by
solemn covenant to aid the devil in destroying human souls and
afflicting the elect? Cotton Mather had not the slightest doubt of
When Benjamin had exhausted the home stock of reading, he showed his
sound judgment by saying to his father:
"I wish I could have 'Burton's Historical Collections'; it would be a
great treat to read those books."
"It would, indeed; they are very popular, and I should like to have
you read them. But how to get them is more than I can tell."
"Would you be willing that I should exchange Bunyan's works for them?"
"I did not suppose that you would part with 'Pilgrim's Progress' for
Burton's books or any others," was Mr. Franklin's reply.
"I should rather keep both; but I have read 'Pilgrim's Progress' until
I know it by heart, so that I would be willing to part with it for
Burton's books, if I can get them in no other way."
"Well, you can see what you can do. I am willing to do 'most any thing
to keep you in good books, for they are good companions. I know of no
better ones, from all I have heard and read about them, than 'Burton's
"Perhaps I can sell Bunyan's books for enough to buy Burton's,"
suggested Benjamin. Doubtless he had canvassed the matter, and knew of
some opportunity for a trade like that.
"Well, you may do that, if you can; I have no objection. I hope you
The result was that Benjamin sold the works of Bunyan, and bought
Burton's books in forty small volumes, quite a little library for that
day. He was never happier than when he became the owner of "Burton's
Historical Collections," famous in England and America, and
extensively sold, not only by book-sellers, but also by pedlars. They
contained fact, fiction, history, biography, travels, adventures,
natural history, and an account of many marvels, curiosities, and
wonders, in a series of "twelve-penny books."
Doctor Johnson referred to these books in one of his letters: "There
is in the world a set of books which used to be sold by the
book-sellers on the bridge, and which I must entreat you to procure
me. They are called Burton's books. The title of one is, 'Admirable
Curiosities, Rarities, and Wonders in England.' They seem very proper
to allure backward readers."
He might have added, also, _forward_ readers; for they lured Benjamin,
who was, perhaps, the most thoughtful and ready reader of his age in
Boston In them he discovered a rich mine of thought and information,
and he delved there. He found even nuggets of gold to make his mind
richer and his heart gladder.
His father's books were chiefly theological; yet Benjamin's love of
reading caused him to read them. He possessed, also, a collection of
religious tracts, called the "Boyle Lectures," because Robert Boyle,
the youngest son of an Irish earl, a very pious man, originated them,
"designed to prove the truth of the Christian religion among
infidels." Benjamin read all of these, and his father was delighted to
have him read them at the time, thinking that the moral results would
be good. But the sequel will show that the effect of reading them was
bad. In order to refute the arguments of deists, it was necessary to
print them in the tracks. So Benjamin read both sides, and he thought,
in some respects, that the deists had the best argument.
Not long after Benjamin became a printer, a prominent citizen of
Boston, Matthew Adams, who had heard of his talents and love of
reading, met him in the printing office, and entered into conversation
"You are a great reader, I learn," he said.
"Yes, sir, I read considerable every day."
"Do you find all the books you want to read?"
"Not all. I should like to read some books I can't get."
"Perhaps you can find them in my library; you can come and take out of
it any book you would like."
"Thank you very much," answered Benjamin, exceedingly gratified by
this unexpected offer. "I shall take the first opportunity to call."
"Boys who like to read as well as you do, ought to have books enough,"
continued Mr. Adams. "I think you will find quite a number of
entertaining and useful ones. You will know when you examine for
"That I shall do very soon, and be very grateful for the privilege,"
Within a few days, the printer-boy paid Mr. Adams a visit. The latter
gave him a cordial welcome, causing him to feel at ease and enjoy his
call. He examined the library to his heart's content, and found many
books therein he desired to read.
"Come any time: take out any and all the books you please, and keep
them till you have done with them," was Mr. Adams' generous offer. He
had great interest in the boy, and wanted to assist him; and Benjamin
fully appreciated his interest and kindness, and paid the library many
visits. As long as he lived he never forgot the generous aid of this
man, of whom he wrote in his "Autobiography":
"After some time, a merchant, an ingenious, sensible man, Mr. Matthew
Adams, who had a pretty collection of books, frequented our printing
office, took notice of me, and invited me to see his library, and very
kindly proposed to lend me such books as I chose to read."
The printing office was frequented by book-sellers' apprentices, whose
employers wanted jobs of printing done. Benjamin made their
acquaintance, and they invited him to call at their stores to examine
the books. There were several book-stores in Boston at that time,
although the number of books was very limited as compared with the
"I will lend you that book to-night," said one of these apprentices to
Benjamin, who was manifesting a deep interest in a certain volume.
"You can return it in the morning before customers come in."
"Very much obliged. I shall be glad to read it. I think I can read it
through before I go to bed, and I can leave it when I go to the office
in the morning."
"You won't have much time for sleep if you read that book through
before going to bed. But you are used to short naps, I expect."
"I can afford to have a short nap whenever I have the reading of such
a book as this," answered Benjamin. "I shall return it in just as good
a condition as it is now."
"The book is for sale, and we might have a customer for it to-morrow,
or I would let you have it longer. If you do not read it through
to-night, and we do not sell it to-morrow, you can take it again
to-morrow night. I frequently read a volume through, a little at a
time, before we have a chance to sell it."
This offer of the apprentice was very generous, and Benjamin suitably
expressed his appreciation of it.
"Your favor is so great that I shall feel myself under special
obligation to return the book in season for any customer to-morrow who
may want it. If I were in a book-store, as you are, I fear that my
love of reading would overcome my love of work. It would just suit me
to be in the company of so many books all the time."
"You could not have your evenings here for reading, as you do now. Our
busiest time is in the evening; so that I catch only fragments of time
to read--pretty small fragments, some days," said the apprentice.
"Well, it might be only an aggravation to live among so many books,
without time to read them," responded Benjamin. "I am content where I
am,--a printing office has some advantages over all other places for
Benjamin made the most of this new opportunity. Borrowing the first
book was followed by borrowing many of the apprentices at the
book-stores. All the stores were patronized by him, and many a night
was shortened at both ends, that he might devour a book. He fairly
gorged himself with book-knowledge.
The reader must not forget that books were very few in number at that
time, and it was long before a public library was known in the land.
In Boston there were many literary people, who had come hither from
England, and they had a limited supply of books. So that Boston was
then better supplied with books than any other part of the country,
though its supply was as nothing compared with the supply now.
Book-stores, instead of being supplied with thousands of volumes to
suit every taste in the reading world, offered only a meagre
collection of volumes, such as would be scarcely noticed now. There
were no large publishing houses, issuing a new book each week-day of
the year, as there are at the present time, manufacturing hundreds of
cords of them every year, and sending them all over the land. Neither
were there any libraries then, as we have before said. Now the Public
Library of Boston offers three or four hundred thousand volumes, free
to all the citizens, and that number is constantly increasing. With
the Athenaeum, and other large libraries for public use, Boston
offers a MILLION volumes, from which the poor printer-boy, and all
other boys, can make their choice. In almost every town, too, of two
thousand inhabitants, a public library is opened, where several
hundred or thousand volumes are found from which to select, while
private libraries of from one to thirty thousand volumes are counted
by the score. The trouble with boys now is, not how to get books to
read, but what they shall select from the vast number that load the
shelves of libraries and book-stores. Benjamin had no trouble about
selecting books; he took all he could get, and was not overburdened at
Another book that was of great benefit to Benjamin was an old English
grammar which he bought at a book-store. He said of it, in manhood:
"While I was intent on improving my language, I met with an English
grammar (I think it was Greenwood's), having at the end of it two
little sketches on the Arts of Rhetoric and Logic, the latter
finishing with a dispute on the Socratic method."
"What do you want of such a book as that?" inquired John Collins, when
he saw it in the printing office.
"To study, of course; I did not study grammar at school, and I want to
know something about it," was Benjamin's answer.
"I expect that some knowledge of it will not come amiss," said John.
"You mean to make the most of these things you can."
"I wanted the volume, too, for the chapters on Rhetoric and Logic at
the end," added Benjamin.
"Of what use are Rhetoric and Logic? Perhaps they may be of service to
you; they would not be to me." John spoke thus because he knew nothing
about them; he had never studied them.
"Every body ought to know something about them, even a printer," added
Benjamin. "They have already helped me to form a better opinion of the
style and value of some things I have read."
"Well, I can't get time to learn every thing. You seem to learn 'most
all there is to learn, with very little time. I wish I could, but I
can't, and so I won't try." John was always thus complimentary to
Benjamin. He gave him full credit for all his achievements.
"I mean to learn to speak and write the English language with
propriety," continued Benjamin, "and I do not know how it can be done
without a knowledge of grammar; do you?"
"I know nothing about it, any way whatever. I shall not begin now; am
too old. Can't teach old dogs new tricks." John's remark expressed his
real views of these things. Although he was a bookish fellow, he was
not inclined to go deep into literature or science.
Other books that Benjamin read were Locke's "Essay on the
Understanding"; "The Art of Thinking," by Messrs. de Port-Royal;
Sellers & Stumey's book on "Navigation," with many others of equal
Benjamin cultivated the habit of taking notes when he read, jotting
down notable facts and striking thoughts for future use. It is a
capital practice, and one that has been followed by nearly all
learners who have distinguished themselves in scholarship. He realized
the advantages of the method to such a degree that, in manhood, he
addressed the following letter from London to a bright girl in whose
education he was very much interested:
"CRAVEN STREET, May 16, 1760.
"I send my good girl the books I mentioned to her last night. I beg
her to accept of them as a small mark of my esteem and friendship.
They are written in the familiar, easy manner for which the French
are so remarkable, and afford a good deal of philosophic and
practical knowledge, unembarrassed with the dry mathematics used by
more exact reasoners, but which is apt to discourage young
"I would advise you to read with a pen in your hand, and enter in a
little book short hints of what you find that is curious, or that
may be useful; for this will be the best method of imprinting such
particulars in your memory, where they will be ready, either for
practice on some future occasion, if they are matters of utility,
or, at least, to adorn and improve your conversation, if they are
rather points of curiosity; and, as many of the terms of science
are such as you can not have met with in your common reading, and
may therefore be unacquainted with, I think it would be well for
you to have a good dictionary at hand, to consult immediately when
you meet with a word you do not comprehend the precise meaning of.
"This may, at first, seem troublesome and interrupting; but it is a
trouble that will daily diminish, as you will daily find less and
less occasion for your dictionary, as you become more acquainted
with the terms; and, in the mean time, you will read with more
satisfaction, because with more understanding. When any point
occurs in which you would be glad to have further information than
your book affords you, I beg you would not in the least apprehend
that I should think it a trouble to receive and answer your
questions. It will be a pleasure, and no trouble. For though I may
not be able, out of my own little stock of knowledge, to afford you
what you require, I can easily direct you to the books where it may
most readily be found.
"Adieu, and believe me ever, my dear friend,
Reading with pen or pencil in hand fixes the attention, assists
method, strengthens purpose, and charges memory with its sacred trust.
A note-book for this purpose is the most convenient method of
preserving these treasures. Professor Atkinson, of the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, advises students thus:
"Gather up the scraps and fragments of thought on whatever subject you
may be studying--for, of course, by a note-book I do not mean a mere
receptacle for odds and ends, a literary dust-bin--but acquire the
habit of gathering every thing, whenever and wherever you find it,
that belongs in your lines of study, and you will be surprised to see
how such fragments will arrange themselves into an orderly whole by
the very organizing power of your own thinking, acting in a definite
direction. This is a true process of self-education; but you see it is
no mechanical process of mere aggregation. It requires activity of
thought--but without that what is any reading but mere passive
amusement? And it requires method. I have myself a sort of literary
bookkeeping. I keep a day-book, and, at my leisure, I post my literary
accounts, bringing together in proper groups the fruits of much casual
The late President Garfield began this method when he began to study,
with a view to a liberal education, at about seventeen years of age.
He continued it as long as he lived. His notes and references,
including scrap-books, filled several volumes before his Congressional
career closed, on a great variety of subjects. A large number of
books, in addition to those in his own library, were made available in
this way. It was said that his notes were of great service to him in
Congress, in the discussion of almost any public question.
LEARNING THE ART OF COMPOSITION.
Having delayed the narrative to learn of the books that helped to make
him the man he became, it is necessary to delay further to see how he
practised writing composition, both prose and poetry, in his early
life, thus laying the foundation for the excellence of his writings in
Benjamin was not more than seven years old when he began to write
poetry. His "Uncle Benjamin's" frequent poetic addresses to him
inspired him to try his hand at the art, and he wrote something and
forwarded to his uncle in England. Whatever it was, it has not been
preserved. But we know that he wrote a piece, doggerel of course, and
sent to him, from the fact that his uncle returned the following reply:
"'T is time for me to throw aside my pen,
When hanging sleeves read, write, and rhyme like men.
This forward spring foretells a plenteous crop;
For, if the bud bear grain, what will the top?
If plenty in the verdant blade appear,
What may we not soon hope for in the ear!
When flowers are beautiful before they're blown,
What rarities will afterwards be shown!
"If trees good fruit uninoculated bear,
You may be sure 't will afterwards be rare.
If fruits are sweet before they've time to yellow,
How luscious will they be when they are mellow!
If first-year's shoots such noble clusters send,
What laden boughs, Engedi-like, may we expect in end!"
There was no time, from the above date, when Benjamin did not indulge,
to some extent, his inclination to write. It was done for his own
amusement and profit, so that he was not in the habit of showing or
speaking of his productions. None of them were preserved.
But his talent for composition developed rapidly from the time he was
fairly settled in the printing business. He practised putting original
thoughts, and thoughts culled from books, into sentences and
paragraphs, a very sensible method of self-improvement. He often tried
his hand at poetry, if it was only a couplet at a time. Longer
compositions he wrote, for no one to see and read but himself. One day
his brother James, curious to see what Benjamin was writing so much
about, looked over his shoulder.
"What have you there, Ben?" he said. "Writing a sermon or your will?
Ay! poetry is it?" catching a glimpse of it. "Then you are a poet are
"Seeing what I can do," Benjamin replied. "We do not know what we can
do till we try. It is not much any way."
"Let me read it, and I will tell you whether it is much or not.
Authors are not good judges of their own productions. They are like
parents, who think their own children handsomest and most promising;
they think their articles are better than they are."
James was in a happy mood for him when he thus spoke. He knew nothing
about Benjamin's ability in writing composition; for this was quite a
while before the newspaper was started for which he wrote.
"I have been reading much poetry of late," added Benjamin, "and I am
anxious to know if I can write it. I like to read it, and I have read
several of the poets since I had access to Mr. Adams' library," This
was after Mr. Adams invited him take books from his library, of which
we have already given an account.
"So much the more reason that I should read what you have written,"
added James. "I do not expect it will be quite equal to Shakespeare."
"Well, read it, I do not care." And Benjamin passed it over to his
brother without further hesitation.
James read it over carefully, and then he re-read it before making a
remark, as if to be sure that he was not mistaken in the quality of
"That is good, Ben. It is really good, much better than I supposed you
could write. Indeed, I did not know that you could write poetry at
all. It is not quite equal to Virgil or Homer, but good for a
printer-boy to write. Have you any other pieces?"
James was honest in these last remarks, and felt more kindly at the
time than he often did towards his brother.
"Yes, I have two or three pieces more which I am going to improve
somewhat. You had better wait till I have rewritten them before you
read them." Benjamin was greatly encouraged by his brother's favorable
opinion of his literary venture, when he made this reply.
"No need of that. Let me see them now, and I can tell you whether they
are worth making better. Some things are not worth making better; and
I think this must be particularly true of poetry. Poor poetry is poor
stuff; better write new than to try to improve it."
James' last plea prevailed, and Benjamin produced the articles for his
examination. They were read with as much interest as the first one,
and they were re-read too, that there might be no mistake in his
judgment. Then his enthusiasm broke out.
"I tell you what it is, Ben, these are good, and I believe that you
can write something worthy of print if you try hard; and if you will
undertake it, you may print and sell a sheet on the street. I have no
doubt that it will sell well."
"I will see what I can do," Benjamin replied, very much elated over
his success. "I hardly think my poetry will read well in print,
though. I have not been writing for the press."
"We can tell best when we read it in print. Get up something as soon
as you can, and let us see," said James.
"I will go right about it, and I will not be long in getting up
something, good, bad, or indifferent."
Within a few days Benjamin produced two street ballads, after the
style of that day. They were better than any thing he had written, but
still susceptible of great improvement. One was entitled "The
Light-house Tragedy," and was founded on the shipwreck of Captain
Worthilake and his two daughters. The other was a sailor's song on the
capture of the famous _Teach_, or "Blackbeard, the Pirate." James read
them critically, to see if it would do to put them in print and offer
them to the public.
"These are really better than what I read the other day," he remarked,
when he had examined them all he desired. "Now, you may put them into
type, and sell them about the town, if you are willing. I think a good
number of them may be disposed of."
"How many copies will you print?"
"We can print a few to begin with, and let the type remain standing
until we see how they go Then we shall run no risk."
"Shall I do it immediately?"
"Just as soon as you can. The quicker the better. I am anxious to see
how they take with the public."
Benjamin was not long in printing the two ballads, and having them
ready for sale. Under the direction of his brother, he went forth, in
due time, to offer them about the town. Whether he cried them on the
streets as the newsboys do the daily papers now, we have no means of
knowing. But he was successful in selling his wares, whatever his
method was. "The Light-house Tragedy" sold the most readily. That
commemorated an event of recent occurrence, and which excited much
public feeling and sympathy at the time, so that people were quite
prepared to purchase it. It sold even beyond his expectations, and
seemed to develop what little vanity there was in his soul. He began
to think that he was a genuine born poet, and that distinction and a
fortune were before him. If he had not been confronted by his father
on the subject, it is possible that the speculation might have proved
a serious injury to him. But Mr. Franklin learned of his enterprise,
and called him to an account. Perhaps he stepped into his shop, as he
was selling them about town, and gave him a copy. Whether so or not,
his father learned of the fact, and the following interview will show
what he thought of it:
"I am ashamed to see you engaged in such a business, Benjamin. It is
unworthy of a son of Josiah Franklin."
"Why so, father? I can't understand you."
"Because it is not an honorable business. You are not a poet, and can
write nothing of that sort worth printing."
"James approved of the pieces, and proposed that I should print and
sell them," Benjamin pleaded.
"James is not a good judge of poetry, nor of the propriety of hawking
them about town. It is wretched stuff, and I am ashamed that you are
known as the author. Look here; let me show you wherein it is
Benjamin was so dumbfounded that he could not say much in reply; and
his father proceeded to expose the faults of the poetical effusion. He
did not spare the young author at all; nor was he cautious and lenient
in his criticisms. On the other hand, he was severe. And he went on
until Benjamin began to feel sorry that he had ever written a scrap of
"There, I want you should promise me," continued his father, "that you
will never deal in such wares again, and that you will stick to your
business of setting up type."
"Perhaps I may improve by practice," suggested Benjamin, whose
estimation of his literary venture was modified considerably by this
time. "Perhaps I may yet write something worthy of being read. You
could not expect me to write like Pope to begin with."
"No; nor to end with," retorted his father. "You are not a poet, and
there is no use in your trying to be. Perhaps you can learn to write
prose well; but poetry is another thing. Even if you were a poet I
should advise you to let the business alone, for poets are usually
beggars--poor, shiftless members of society."
"That is news to me," responded Benjamin. "How does it happen, then,
that some of their works are so popular?"
"Because a true poet can write something worthy of being read, while a
mere verse-maker, like yourself, writes only doggerel, that is not
worth the paper on which it was printed. Now I advise you to let
verse-making alone, and attend closely to your business, both for your
own sake and your brother's."
Mr. Franklin was rather severe upon his son, although what he said of
his verses was substantially true, as his son freely admitted in
manhood. He overlooked the important fact that it was a commendable
effort of the boy to try to improve his mind. Some of the best poets
who have lived wrote mere doggerel when they began. Also, many of our
best prose writers were exceedingly faulty at first. It is a noble
effort for a boy to put his thoughts into language, and Mr. Franklin
ought to have recognized it as such. If he does not succeed in the
first instance, by patience, industry, and perseverance, he may
triumph at last. Benjamin might not have acted wisely in selling his
verses about town; but his brother, so much older and more experienced
than himself, should have borne the censure of that, since it was done
by his direction. Doubtless, his brother regarded the propriety of the
act less, because he had an eye on the pecuniary profits of the
The decided opposition that Mr. Franklin showed to verse-making put a
damper upon Benjamin's poetic aspirations. The air-castle that his
youthful imagination had built, in consequence of the rapid sale of
his wares, tumbled in ruins. He went back to the office and his work
The reader must bear in mind that this incident occurred before the
discussion of Benjamin with John Collins upon female education,
related in a former chapter. We shall see that his father's criticisms
on his arguments in that discussion proved of great value to him.
"What has happened now, Ben?" inquired James, observing that his
brother looked despondent and anxious. "Are you bringing forth more
"Father doesn't think much of my printing and selling verses of my
own," answered Benjamin. "He has given me such a lecture that I am
almost ashamed of myself."
"How is that? Don't he think they are worthy of print?"
"No. He do not see any merit in them at all. He read them over in his
way, and counted faults enough to show that there is precious little
poetry in me. A beggar and a poet mean about the same thing to him."
"He ought to remember that you are not as old as you will be, if you
live; and you will make improvement from year to year. You can't
expect to write either prose or verse well without beginning and
"All the trial in the world can do nothing for me, I should judge from
father's talk. You ought to have heard him; and he did not spare you
for suggesting the printing and sale of the pieces on the street."
Benjamin said this in a tone of bitter disappointment.
"Well, I suppose that he has heard of two men disagreeing on a
matter," remarked James. "All is, he and I do not agree. I consider
the whole thing wise and proper, and he does not. That is all there is
Perhaps it was a good thing for Benjamin to meet with this obstacle in
his path to success. Rather discouraging, it is true, nevertheless
suited to keep him humble. Benjamin confessed in manhood, that his
vanity was inflated by the sale of his ballads, and he might have been
puffed up to his future injury, had not his father thus unceremoniously
taken the wind out of his sails. That removed the danger. After such a
severe handling he was not inclined to over-rate his poetical talents.
It had the effect, also, to turn his attention almost wholly to prose
writing, in which he became distinguished, as we shall see hereafter.
A single verse of these ballads only has descended to our times. It is
from the second mentioned--the capture of the pirate, as follows:
"Come, all you jolly sailors,
You all so stout and brave;
Come, hearken, and I'll tell you
What happened on the wave.
Oh! 't is of that bloody Blackbeard
I'm going now to tell;
How as to gallant Maynard
He soon was sent to hell--
With a down, down, down, derry down."
Franklin said of this ballad episode:
"I now took a strong inclination for poetry, and wrote some little
pieces. My brother, supposing it might turn to account, encouraged me,
and induced me to compose two occasional ballads. One was called 'The
Light-house Tragedy,' and contained an account of the shipwreck of
Captain Worthilake with his two daughters; the other was a sailor's
song, on taking the famous _Teach_, or 'Blackbeard, the Pirate.' They
were wretched stuff, in street-ballad style; and when they were
printed, my brother sent me about the town selling them. The first
sold prodigiously, the event being recent, and having made a great
noise. This success flattered my vanity; but my father discouraged me
by criticising my performances and telling me that verse-makers were
generally beggars. Thus I escaped being a poet, and probably a very
From the time that Mr. Franklin criticised his son's argument with
John Collins on female education, Benjamin made special efforts to
improve his style. He knew that Addison's style was regarded as a
model, so he purchased an old volume of his 'Spectator,' and set
himself to work with a determination to make his own style Addisonian.
He subjected himself to the severest test in order to improve, and
counted nothing too hard if he could advance toward that standard.
His own account of his perseverance and industry in studying his
model, as it appears in his "Autobiography," will best present the
"About this time I met with an odd volume of the 'Spectator.' I had
never before seen any of them. I bought it, read it over and over, and
was much delighted with it. I thought the writing excellent, and
wished if possible to imitate it. With that view I took some of the
papers, and making short hints of the sentiments in each sentence,
laid them by a few days, and then, without looking at the book, tried
to complete the papers again, by expressing each hinted sentiment at
length, and as fully as it had been expressed before, in any suitable
words that should occur to me. Then I compared my Spectator with the
original, discovered some of my faults, and corrected them. But I
found that I wanted a stock of words, or readiness in recollecting and
using them, which I thought I should have acquired before that time,
if I had gone on making verses; since the continual search for words
of the same import, but of different length to suit the measure, or of
different sound for the rhyme, would have laid me under a constant
necessity of searching for variety, and also have tended to fix that
variety in my mind, and make me master of it. Therefore, I took some
of the tales in the 'Spectator,' and turned them into verse; and,
after a time, when I had pretty well forgotten the prose, turned them
"I also sometimes jumbled my collection of hints into confusion, and
after some weeks endeavored to reduce them into the best order before
I began to form the full sentences and complete the subject. This was
to teach me method in the arrangement of the thoughts. By comparing my
work with the original, I discovered many faults, and corrected them;
but I sometimes had the pleasure to fancy that, in certain particulars
of small consequence, I had been fortunate enough to improve the
method or the language, and this encouraged me to think that I might
in time come to be a tolerable English writer; of which I was
extremely ambitious. The time I allotted for writing exercises, and
for reading, was at night, or before work began in the morning, or on
Sundays, when I contrived to be in the printing house, avoiding as
much as I could the constant attendance at public worship, which my
father used to exact of me when I was under his care, and which I
still continued to consider a duty, though I could not afford time to
Let any boy of even moderate abilities subject himself to such rigid
discipline for intellectual improvement as Benjamin did, and his
progress will be rapid, and his attainments remarkable. Such
application and persistent effort win always.
In a similar manner Benjamin acquired the Socratic method of
reasoning, which he found at the end of the English grammar that he
studied. Subsequently he purchased "Xenophon's Memorabilia" because it
would afford him assistance in acquiring the Socratic style. He
committed to memory, wrote, practised doing the same thing over and
over, persevering, overcoming, conquering. He acquired the method so
thoroughly as to be expert therein, and practised it with great
satisfaction to himself. Many years thereafter he spoke of the fact as
"While I was intent on improving my language, I met with an English
grammar (I think it was Greenwood's), having at the end of it two
little sketches on the Arts of Rhetoric and Logic, the latter
finishing with a dispute in the Socratic method. And, soon after, I
procured Xenophon's 'Memorable Things of Socrates,' wherein there are
many examples of the same method. I was charmed with it, adopted it,
dropped my abrupt contradiction and positive argumentation, and put on
the humble inquirer. And being then, from reading Shaftesbury and
Collins, made a doubter, as I already was in many points of our
religious doctrines, I found this method the safest for myself, and
very embarrassing to those against whom I used it; therefore I took
delight in it, practised it continually, and grew very artful and
expert in drawing people, even of superior knowledge, into concessions
the consequences of which they did not foresee, entangling them in
difficulties out of which they could not extricate themselves, and so
obtaining victories that neither myself nor my cause always deserved.
"I continued this method some few years, but gradually left it,
retaining only the habit of expressing myself in terms of modest
diffidence, never using, when I advanced any thing that may possibly
be disputed, the words _certainly, undoubtedly_, or any others that
give the air of positiveness to an opinion; but rather saying, _I
conceive_, or _apprehend_, a thing to be so and so; _It appears to
me_, or _I should not think it, so or so, for such and such reasons_;
or, _I imagine it to be so_; or, _It is so, if I am not mistaken_.
This habit, I believe, has been of great advantage to me, when I have
had occasion to inculcate my opinions, and persuade men into measures
that I have been from time to time engaged in promoting."
This and the preceding chapter show that a book may decide the future
character and destiny of a man, by inspiring thought, kindling
ambition and a lofty aim, stimulating the mental powers, inspiring
practical and, perhaps, elegant composition, and consecrating the
whole being to a definite purpose. All this was true of Benjamin
Rev. John Sharp said, "Shakespeare and the Bible have made me bishop
of York." Wesley claimed that the "Imitation of Christ" and "Taylor's
Holy Living and Dying" determined his calling and character. Henry
Martyn was made a missionary by reading the lives of Brainard and
Carey. Pope was indebted to Homer for his poetical inspiration, and it
was the origin of his English "Iliad." Bentham read "Telemachus" in
his youth, and, many years afterwards, he said, "That romance may be
regarded as the foundation-stone of my whole character." Goethe became
a poet in consequence of reading the "Vicar of Wakefield." Carey was
fired to go on a mission to the heathen by reading "Voyages of Captain
Cook." Samuel Drew credited his eminent career to reading Locke's
"Essay on the Understanding." The lives of Washington and Henry Clay
awakened aspirations in Lincoln's soul, that impelled him forward and
gave direction to his life. The national system of education in Great
Britain grew out of a book. Joseph Lancastar read "Clarkson on the
Slave Trade," when he was fourteen years of age, and it awakened his
enthusiasm to teach the blacks in the West Indies. Without the
knowledge of his parents he went thither, and commenced labors for
their mental and moral improvement. His parents learned where he was
and sent for him; but his heart was thoroughly in sympathy with
benevolent work, and he opened a school for the poor at home. So great
was his success that the town, after a few years, erected a commodious
building for his school; and here was the foundation of the present
system of education in the mother-country.
The author once advised a youth of fourteen to read certain books,
accustoming himself to write down in a note-book striking facts and
thoughts for preservation. At the same time he was advised to procure
a blank book and write therein a sentence or short paragraph each day,
without omission, the sentence or paragraph to contain the development
of some thought that was waiting utterance. At that time there was no
prospect that the youth would ever receive a liberal education. He was
a farmer's son, and his father was unable to educate him. The most the
author had in view was to provide him,--a bright, active, promising
boy, fond of reading,--with a source of improving entertainment and
profit. But he caught the idea with so much enthusiasm, and reduced it
to practice so thoroughly, that an unquenchable desire for an
education was nursed into controlling power; and he went through
college, studied theology, became pastor of one of the largest
Congregational churches in the country, stood among the most eloquent
preachers in the land at thirty, received the degree of Doctor of
Divinity at forty, and now, at a little more than fifty, is the
beloved and able pastor of a large church in a New England city. This
result was brought about by the discipline of reading and writing in
his youth, very similar to that which made Benjamin a statesman and
THE "COURANT" IN TROUBLE.
"The Legislature is calling you to an account," said a customer to
James Franklin, as he entered the office. "The officials can't put up
with your cutting criticisms."
"I am aware of that. I heard that they were going to haul the
_Courant_ over the coals; but I do not see what they can do about it."
"They can stop your printing it, I suppose. It would be an intolerant
act, of course; but governments have never been tolerant towards the
press, you know."
"The day is coming when they will be," responded James. "A free press
is indispensable to human progress. So long as I run the _Courant_ it
shall speak plainly of intolerance and hypocrisy of every form. I
shall hit the corruption of the times in high places or low."
"That is sound doctrine," replied the customer. "I endorse it, but
government officials do not. They feel very sore, and will make
trouble for you if they can."
At that moment Benjamin came rushing into the office under
"The Assembly are having a hot debate over the _Courant_," he said. "I
heard a gentleman say that they would stop the publication of the
paper, if possible."
"Perhaps they will, but I doubt it," replied James. "The _Courant_
will not be muzzled so long as I own it."
"It ought not to be," responded the customer. "We need an outspoken
paper that will rebuke corruption and shams everywhere."
"And that is all the trouble," said Benjamin. "That is what the
Assembly and the ministers denounce. They are better friends of the
British government than they are of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay."
"True, very true," rejoined the customer. "The tyrannical control of
the English press is a shame; and yet these officials who truckle to
the English government want to try it on here. But such intolerance
ought not to be borne."
The _Courant_ was exceedingly sarcastic, and no writer was more so
than Benjamin, young as he was. This was the real cause of the action
of the Assembly. A letter appeared in the _Courant_, justly rebuking
the government for dilatoriness in looking after a piratical craft off
Block Island. The letter purported to come from Newport, and
represented that the Colony were fitting out two vessels to capture
her. It concluded thus:
"We are advised from Boston that the government of the Massachusetts
are fitting out a ship (the _Flying Horse_) to go after the pirates,
to be commanded by Capt. Peter Papillon, and it is thought he will
sail sometime this month, wind and weather permitting."
This thrust at the government for tardiness would be regarded as a
good joke now, but it was a crime then, and the aristocracy of the
Province, always working in harmony with the King and Parliament, was
stirred up by it to intolerance.
James was summoned before the Council, and his apprentice also, both
of whom stood upon their dignity, refusing to answer some of the
questions put. Benjamin was dismissed, because it was found that he
was only an apprentice. But James was put on trial and pelted with
questions. The legislators were determined to find out who wrote the
"scurrilous article aforesaid," as they called it, but James refused
to tell. He placed himself squarely upon his personal rights as a
citizen, and heroically stood by his guns. Come what might, he
resolved to defend his course before this august tribunal.
The Council became more exasperated by his defiant spirit, and
threatened him with incarceration. But James stood his ground like a
martyr, without thinking he would soon become one. Benjamin was
equally defiant, and refused to answer some questions, but was excused
on the ground that "an apprentice was bound not to betray his master's
secrets." James was convicted of "a high affront to the government,"
and the sheriff was directed to commit him to the Boston jail. These
new quarters were unexpected to him, but he went thither with the
consciousness that he was suffering for a brave effort to correct
We have called attention to a single paragraph reflecting upon the
government in the _Courant_. It should be told that such criticisms
were frequent in its columns. The Governor, Council, and nearly all
the ruling class of the Province were in full sympathy with Great
Britain, while others were restive under what they regarded as
oppressive rule. Most of the ministers belonged to the first class,
and so came in for a share of the _Courant's_ sarcastic utterances.
The _Courant_ represented the second class--the common people--who
read its columns gladly.
Dr. Cotton Mather attacked the paper in a paragraph that shows what
the paper contained:
"We find a notorious, scandalous paper called _The Courant_, full
freighted with nonsense, unmanliness, raillery, profaneness,
immorality, arrogance, calumnies, lies, contradictions, and what not,
all tending to quarrels and divisions, and to debauch and corrupt the
mind and manners of New England."
Increase Mather, also, assailed the _Courant_ over his own signature,
denouncing it as a "wicked libel," because it represented him as one
of its supporters, using language uncommonly expressive.
"I do hereby declare," he said, "that, although I had paid for two or
three of them, I sent him word I was extremely offended with it. In
special, because in one of his _vile Courants_, he insinuates, that if
a _minister of God approve of a thing, it is a sign it is of the
Devil_; which is a horrid thing to be related! And he doth frequently
abuse the Ministers of Religion, and many other worthy persons, in a
manner which is intolerable. For these and such like reasons I
signified to the Printer that I would have no more of their _Wicked
Courants_. I, that have known what New England was from the Beginning,
cannot but be troubled to see the Degeneracy of this Place. I can well
remember when the Civil Government would have taken an effectual
Course to suppress such a _Cursed Libel_! which if it be not done I am
afraid that some _Awful Judgment_ will come upon this Land, and the
_Wrath of God will arise, and there will be no Remedy_. I cannot but
pity poor _Franklin_, who, though but a Young Man, it may be
_Speedily_ he must appear before the Judgment Seat of God, and what
answer will he give for printing things so vile and abominable?"
It is quite evident that neither James nor Benjamin had that respect
for the "Judgment Seat," which became Christians; but James replied in
the _Courant_ to this onslaught, maintaining that Mather had garbled
his quotations from the paper, or based his opinion on parts of
paragraphs which did not convey the full and correct meaning. He
turned the tables upon him, also, by declaring that, while Mather
ceased to be a subscriber to his paper, "he sent his grandson every
week to buy it; and, paying in this way a higher price, he was more of
a supporter of the paper than ever." In the same issue, too, James
"I would likewise advise the enemies of the _Courant_ not to publish
any thing more against me unless they are willing to have the paper
continued. What they have already done has been resented by the Town
so much to my advantage, that above forty persons have subscribed for
the _Courant_ since the first of January, many of whom were before
subscribers to the other papers. And by one Advertisement more, the
Anti-Couranters will be in great danger of adding forty more to my
list before the first of March."
James showed that he did not say "if the Ministers of God approve of a
thing, it is a Sign it is of the Devil"; but that he did say, "Most of
the Ministers are for it, and that induces me to think it is from the
Devil; for he often makes use of good men as instruments to obtrude
his delusions on the world." There would be decided objection to the
first utterance, at that time or since; but the second one, what the
_Courant_ did say, was as near the truth as either side was found in
To return to James in prison. He was confined in a cell, and was very
uncomfortable. It was a dirty, dismal place, meant to be a place of
punishment, indeed. James found it so, and he soon was ready to do
almost any thing for freedom of the yard. He sat down and addressed a
very humble petition to the Council, confessing his wrong, and
imploring forgiveness and release from his cell.
"I am truly sensible of and heartily sorry for the offense I have
given to the Court in the late _Courant_, relating to the fitting out
of a ship by the government, and I truly acknowledge my inadvertency
and folly therein in affronting the government, as also my
indiscretion and indecency when before the Court; for all of which I
intreat the Court's forgiveness, and pray for a discharge from the
stone prison, where I am confined by order of the Court, and that I
may have the liberty of the yard, being much indisposed, and suffering
in my health by the said confinement."
While the Council are considering this petition, we will see what has
become of the _Courant_. The whole charge of it devolved on Benjamin
from the time his brother was imprisoned, and he fearlessly and ably
met the emergency. It was truly wonderful that a boy of sixteen should
shoulder the responsibility of such an enterprise, in such
circumstances, and carry it with so much courage and ease.
"I can look after it; there's no trouble in that," said Benjamin to
the "liberal club," who assembled as soon as possible after James was
incarcerated. "The action of the Court will increase our subscribers;
and I propose to make the paper more spicy than ever."
"Glad to hear that," responded one of the club. "Let us defy such
intolerance, though all the magistrates and ministers in Boston
support it; the mass of the people are with us."
"That is so," remarked another; "and more are coming over to our side
every day. Intimidation does not become us now. We must continue to be
outspoken; and if Benjamin can look after the paper, we are all
"That I can do, and I want no better sport," replied the plucky
printer-boy. "You may be sure that such persecution will not be
sustained by a great majority of New England people. We are living in
_New_ England, and not in _Old_ England, and the people know it."
"I think Benjamin understands it," added a third member of the club;
"and his courage and ability will meet the occasion. For one I want
the _Courant_ to continue to be what it has been, the General Court to
the contrary notwithstanding."
Benjamin did understand it, and edited the paper on the same line. He
forgot all his disagreements with his brother in his sympathy with him
under persecution, and in his utter contempt for the action of the
Court. In these circumstances, his attacks upon the administration
were rather more severe than ever. "The proceedings of the Council
were assailed by argument, eloquence, and satire, in prose and verse,
in squib and essay. One number, issued just after James Franklin's
release, was nearly filled with passages from 'Magna Charta,' and
comments upon the same, showing the unconstitutionality of the
treatment to which he had been subjected. It is evident that a
considerable number of the people of Boston most heartily sympathized
with the _Courant_ in its gallant contest for the liberty of the
press, and that the issue of the number was, to these and to others,
the most interesting event of the week."
The authorities considered James' petition, and granted it, but they
kept him four weeks in prison before they let him out. He returned to
his printing office, resolved to make the _Courant_ more outspoken
still for the freedom of the press. The club met him with warm
"A great many printers have suffered more than you have," said one of
the number; "for you have not lost your head, not even an ear. In Old
England persecution of printers has been in order for a long time.
Less than two years ago, one John Matthews, a youth nineteen years of
age, was executed at Tyburn for writing and publishing a tract in
favor of the expelled Stuarts."
"But such things do not fit our country," answered James. "My father
came here to escape that spirit of caste and intolerance that abounds
in England, and so did those who came long before he did. To repeat
them here is a greater abomination than to act them there."
"Let me read to you," interrupted Benjamin, "an account of a printer's
execution in England, about twenty years before my father emigrated to
this country. I came across it in this book, a few days ago. It is
horrible." Benjamin read as follows:
"The scene is in a court-room in the Old Bailey, Chief Justice Hyde
presiding. The prisoner at the bar was a printer, named John Gwyn, a
poor man, with a wife and three children. Gwyn was accused of printing
a piece which criticised the conduct of the government, and which
contained these words and others similar: 'If the magistrates pervert
judgment, the people are bound, by the law of God, to execute judgment
without them, _and upon them_.' This was all his offense; but it was
construed as a justification of the execution of Charles I, as well as
a threat against Charles II, then king of England. The poor man
protested he had never read the offensive matter; it was brought to
him by a maid-servant; he had earned forty shillings by printing it.
"When he was pronounced guilty, he humbly begged for mercy, pleading
poverty, his young children, and his ignorance of the contents of the
paper. 'I'll tell you what you shall do,' roared the brutal wretch who
sat on the bench, 'ask mercy of them that can give it--that is, of God
and the king.' The prisoner said, 'I humbly beseech you to intercede
with his majesty for mercy.' 'Tie him up, executioner,' cried the
judge; 'I speak it from my soul: I think we have the greatest
happiness in the world in enjoying what we do under so good and
gracious a king; yet you, Gwyn, in the rancor of your heart, thus to
abuse him, deserve no mercy.' In a similar strain he continued for
several minutes, and then passed upon the prisoner the following
sentence: He was to be drawn to the place of execution upon a hurdle,
and there hanged by the neck. While still alive he was to be cut down,
castrated, and disemboweled. 'And you still living,' added the judge,
'your entrails are to be burnt before your eyes, your head to be cut
off, and your head and quarters to be disposed of at the pleasure of
the king's majesty.' The printer was overwhelmed with terror, and in
his great agony he cried to the judge again to intercede for him. The
heartless magistrate replied, 'I would not intercede for my own father
in this case.' The prisoner was removed and executed. His head and
limbs were set up over the gates of the city."
"That was in 1663," said Benjamin as he closed the account; "and,
though we have no record of another so fiendish affair, it is a fact
that within a few years some printers and editors in England have had
their ears cropped, others have been flogged publicly, and others
still put into the stocks and pillory. We have not come to that yet."
"Not quite," answered one of the club; "but the authorities who would
please the king and suppress liberty of the press will go as far as
they dare to go in that direction; depend on that. It becomes us to
vindicate our rights fearlessly, or we shall yet share the fate of
"I do not propose to spike one of my guns," said James, who listened
to the last remarks with profound emotion. "We are right, and
Americans will support us. The _Courant_ was started for a purpose,
and we must not lose sight of it."
"Benjamin has run the paper to suit while you were in jail, so that I
think both of you together will satisfy us perfectly in the future,"
added another of the club. "I fully believe, with the rest of you,
that it is no time now to cringe before the authorities. A stand for
the right is more necessary now than ever before."
We should have stated before that, in the infancy of the _Courant_,
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu returned from Turkey with the remedy for the
small-pox--inoculation. This disease had prevailed fearfully in
Boston. When the town had but five or six thousand inhabitants, seven
hundred of them died of small-pox in six months. In 1721, when
Benjamin was in the printing office, and the population of the town
was twelve thousand, the number of deaths by small-pox was eight
hundred and fifty. Many persons attacked with it died within two or
three days, so that it was a terror to the people. Of course