This breaking in upon his friend Vernon's money, and spending it, he pronounces in his autobiography, to have been the first great error of his life. Though it so chanced that the money was not required until Franklin was able to pay it, yet for several months he was in the endurance of intense mental anxiety and constant self-reproach.
At length, Collins and Franklin became so antagonistic to each other as to proceed to violence. They were on a pleasure party in a boat down the river. Collins, as usual, was intoxicated. The wrath of the muscular Benjamin was so aroused, by some act of abuse, that he seized the fellow by the collar and pitched him overboard. Collins was a good swimmer. They therefore kept him in the water till he was nearly drowned. When pretty thoroughly humbled, and upon his most solemn promise of good behavior, he was again taken on board. Seldom after this was a word exchanged between them. Collins, deeply indebted to Franklin, accepted of some business offer at Barbadoes. He sailed for that island, and was never heard of more.
Almost every young man has a few particular friends. The three most intimate companions of Benjamin Franklin were young men of his own rank and age, of very dissimilar characters, but having a common taste for business. They were all clerks. One of these, Joseph Watson, was, according to Franklin's description, "a pious, sensible young man of great integrity." It would seem that they were all persons of very estimable character, though some of them had imbibed Franklin's skeptical opinions. They spent many of their Sabbaths, wandering on the banks of the romantic Schuylkill, reading to each other their compositions in prose and verse.
James Ralph, who was very emphatic in his deistical views, in his enthusiasm, decided to devote himself to the art of rhyming. The sensible Franklin tried to dissuade him from his folly, but in vain. On one occasion they all agreed to attempt a version of the Eighteenth Psalm. This sublime production of an inspired pen contains, in fifty verses, imagery as grand and sentiments as beautiful, as perhaps can anywhere else be found, within the same compass, in any language. It certainly speaks well for the intellectual acumen of these young men, and for their devotional instincts, that they should have selected so noble a theme. As their main object was to improve themselves in the command of language, and in the power of expression, they could not have chosen a subject more appropriate, than the Psalmist's description of the descent of God to earth.
"He bowed the heavens also and came down; and darkness was under his feet. And He rode upon a cherub and did fly; Yea he did fly upon the wings of the wind. He made darkness his secret place. His pavilion round about him were dark waters, thick clouds of the skies. At the brightness which was before him his thick clouds passed. Hail stones and coals of fire."
[Footnote 5: The intelligent reader will recall the glowing version of this Psalm, by Steinhold.
"The Lord descended from above, And bowed the heavens most high; And underneath his feet he cast The darkness of the sky. On cherub and on cherubim, Full royally he rode; And on the wings of mighty winds, Came flying all abroad."]
Joseph Watson died quite young, in the arms of Franklin. Charles Osborne acquired money and reputation, as a lawyer. Removing to the West Indies, he died, in the prime of life.
Franklin and Osborne entered into the agreement, which has so often been made, that whichever should first die, should, if possible, return to the other and reveal to him the secrets of the spirit land. It is hardly necessary to say that Franklin watched long in vain, for a visit from his departed companion.
Two months before Franklin sailed for London, Mr. Read, with whom he boarded, died. With the father, mother, and very pretty and amiable daughter, Deborah, Franklin had found a happy home. A strong affection apparently sprang up between the two young people. She was seventeen years of age, and Franklin eighteen. Their union would be eminently fitting, as in fortune and position in society, they were on the same level.
Franklin, enjoying the patronage of the governor, and with, as he supposed, very brilliant prospects before him, entered into an engagement with Deborah, and was anxious to be married before he embarked for England, designing to leave his young bride at home with her mother. But Mrs. Read, in consideration of their youth, urged that the nuptials should be postponed until after his return.
Sir William Keith continued to invite Franklin to his house, and lavished commendation and promises upon him. Still he continually postponed giving him any letters of credit with which he could purchase types, paper and press. Though, as the hour for sailing approached, Franklin called again and again to obtain the needful documents, he was continually met with apologies. At length, the day for the ship to weigh anchor arrived. It was about the 5th of November, 1724.
At that late hour the private secretary of the Governor called upon Franklin and informed him that Sir William would meet him at Newcastle, where the vessel was to cast anchor, and would then and there, deliver to him all the important documents. Franklin went on board. The ship dropped down the broad and beautiful Delaware, whose banks were brilliant with foliage in their richest autumnal brilliance, about thirty-two miles below Philadelphia, to Newcastle. To the great disappointment of Franklin, the Governor still did not appear. He however sent his secretary, with a profusion of excuses, and professing to be pressed with business of the utmost importance, promised to send the letters to the captain before the vessel would be permitted to sail.
Franklin, naturally buoyant and hopeful, did not even then, consider it possible that the Governor was intending to deceive him. Neither was it possible to conceive of any motive which would induce Sir William to betray him by so deceptive a game. At length a bag from the Governor, apparently filled with letters and dispatches, was brought on board, and again the vessel unfurled her sails. Franklin, with some solicitude, asked for those which were directed to him. But Captain Annis, all engrossed with the cares of embarkation, said that he was too busy to examine the bag at that time, but that they would, at their leisure, on the voyage select the letters.
On the 10th of November, 1724, the good ship, the London Hope, pushed out from the Delaware upon the broad Atlantic. We know not whether Franklin was surprised to find on board, as one of the passengers, his poetical deistical friend James Ralph. This young man, who had renounced Christianity, in the adoption of principles, which he professed to believe conducive to the formation of a much higher moral character, had deliberately abandoned his wife and child to seek his fortune in London. He had deceived them by the most false representation. Carefully he concealed from Franklin, his unprincipled conduct and visionary schemes.
The voyage was long and rough, as the vessel did not reach London until the twenty-fourth of November. On the passage he very carefully, with the captain, examined the letter-bag. But no letter was found addressed to him. There were several, however, addressed to other persons, with Franklin's name upon the envelope as if they were in his care. As one of these was addressed to the king's printer and another to a stationer in London, the sanguine young man through all the dreary and protracted voyage, clung to the hope that all was right.
Upon arriving in London, Franklin hastened first to the stationer's and presented him with the letter, saying to him, "Here is a letter from Governor Keith, of Pennsylvania." The stationer looked up with surprise and said:
"Governor Keith! I do not know of any such person." Then breaking the seal, and looking at the signature, he said very contemptuously, "Riddlesden. I have lately found him to be a complete rascal. I will have nothing to do with him, nor receive any letters from him."
[Footnote 6: We both of us happen to know, as well as the stationer, that Riddlesden, the attorney, was a very knave. He had half ruined Miss Read's father by persuading him to be bound for him. By his letter it appeared there was a secret scheme on foot to the prejudice of Mr. Hamilton; that Keith was concerned in it with Riddlesden.—Works of Franklin, by Sparks, Vol. i, p. 55.]
So saying he thrust the letter back into Franklin's hand, and turned away to serve a customer. Franklin was almost stunned with this intelligence. He immediately conferred with a Mr. Denham, a judicious friend whose acquaintance he had made on board the ship. They ascertained that the infamous Governor, from motives which it is difficult to comprehend, had not furnished Franklin with a single document. There was not a bill of credit or a single letter of introduction, commending the young adventurer to people in London. Denham then told him that no one who knew Keith had the slightest confidence in his promises. That the idea that he would furnish him with any letters of credit was preposterous, since Sir William had no credit with any body.
And thus Franklin found himself with his companion James Ralph, alone in the great world of London, without any letters of introduction, without any prospect of employment, and almost without money. The virtues of Franklin had exerted a restraining influence upon the unprincipled Ralph, and Franklin had not as yet become acquainted with the true basis of his character. The two young men met together to consult in this dilemma and to examine their finances. It appeared that Ralph had scarcely one penny in his pocket. He had intended to be a hanger-on upon Franklin, in whose ability to take care of himself and others he had the greatest confidence. Franklin's purse contained about fifty dollars.
Again he returned to consult with Mr. Denham. He very wisely advised Franklin to seek employment in some of the printing offices in London. He encouraged him with the thought that thus with a few months' labor, he might not only pay his expenses, but also lay up a sufficient sum to defray his passage home.
Franklin gradually perceived to his dismay, what an old man of the sea he had got upon his shoulders in the person of James Ralph. The following is his calm comment upon the atrocious conduct of Keith:
"What shall we think," he writes, "of a governor playing such pitiful tricks, and imposing so grossly upon a poor ignorant boy? It was a habit he had acquired; he wished to please every body, and having little to give, he gave expectations. He was otherwise an ingenuous, sensible man, a pretty good writer, and a good governor for the people, though not for his constituents the proprietaries. Several of our best laws were of his planning, and passed during his administration."
The entire absence of anger in this statement, has won for Franklin great commendation.
With his dependent protege Ralph, he took humble lodgings in Little Britain street. Ralph had remarkable powers of conversation, with much more than ordinary literary talent, and could, whenever he wished, make himself very agreeable and almost fascinating as a companion. But he was quite a child as to all ability to take care of himself. Franklin really loved him at that time. He was a very handsome young man, graceful in his demeanor; and those who listened to his eloquent harangues would imagine that he was destined to attain to greatness.
Franklin immediately applied for work at the great printing establishment of Palmer in Bartholomew Close. Fifty journeymen were here employed. He promptly entered into a contract with the proprieter for the remuneration of about six dollars a week. Ralph, characteristically hurried to the theatre to enter upon the profession of a play-actor. Being disappointed in that attempt, his next plan was to edit a newspaper to be called the Spectator. Not being able to find a publisher, he then went the rounds of the law offices, in search of copying, but not even this, could he obtain. In the meantime they were both supported by the purse of Franklin. With fifty dollars in his pocket, and earning six dollars a week, he felt quite easy in his circumstances, and was quite generous in his expenditure for their mutual enjoyment.
Mental and Moral Conflicts.
Faithfulness to work—Neglect of Deborah Read—Treatise on Liberty and Necessity—Skill in swimming—Return to America—Marriage of Miss Read—Severe sickness—Death of Mr. Denham—Returns to Keimer's employ—The Junto—His Epitaph—Reformation of his treatise on Liberty and Necessity—Franklin's creed.
Franklin and Ralph were essentially congenial in their tastes. Neither of them were religiously inclined in the ordinary acceptation of those words. But the thoughtful philosophy of Franklin has by many been regarded as the development of an instinctively religious character. They were both exceedingly fond of amusement and especially of pleasure excursions on the Sabbath. Very seldom, did either the intellect or the heart lure them to listen to such teachings as they would hear from the pulpit. It certainly would have been better for them both, had they been church-going young men. There was no pulpit in all London from which they would not hear the reiterated counsel, Cease to do evil; learn to do well.
Franklin was faithful in the highest degree to his employer. Weary with the day's toil, which with his active mind was highly intellectual as well as mechanical, he almost invariably in the evening sought recreation with Ralph in the theatre. It is safe to infer that the best productions of our best dramatists, were those which would most interest the mind of our young philosopher. Ralph was daily gaining an increasing influence over his mind. It is said that we are prone to love more ardently those upon whom we confer favors than those from whom we receive them.
To these two young men the pleasures of London seemed inexhaustible. Franklin began to forget his old home and his friends. He began to think that London was a very pleasant place of residence, and that it was doubtful whether he should ever return to America again. He had constant employment, the prospect of an increasing income, and with his economical habits he had ample funds to relieve himself from all pecuniary embarrassment. With his friend Ralph, he was leading a very jovial life, free from all care.
His love for Deborah Read began to vanish away. He thought very seldom of her: seldom could he find time to write to her; and ere long his letters ceased altogether; and she was cruelly left to the uncertainty of whether he was alive or dead. Ralph had entirely forgotten his wife and child, and Franklin had equally forgotten his affianced. In subsequent years the memory of this desertion seems to have weighed heavily on him. He wrote in his advanced life in reference to his treatment of Deborah,
"This was another of the great errors of my life; which I could wish to correct were I to live it over again."
For nearly a year, Franklin thus continued in the employment of Mr. Palmer, receiving good wages and spending them freely. A very highly esteemed clergyman of the Church of England named Wollaston, had written a book entitled, "The Religion of Nature Delineated." It was a work which obtained much celebrity in those days and was published by Mr. Palmer. It was of the general character of Butler's Analogy, and was intended to prove that the morality enjoined by Jesus Christ, was founded in the very nature of man; and that the principles of that morality were immutable, even though deists should succeed in destroying the public faith in the divine authority of Christianity. It was eminently an amiable book, written with great charity and candor, and without any dogmatic assumptions.
It chanced to fall to Franklin to set up the type. As was customary with him, he made himself thoroughly acquainted with the treatise of which he thus became the compositor. His mind was in such a state in reference to the claims of that Christianity which certainly did not commend the mode of life he was living, that it excited not only antagonistic but even angry emotions. So thoroughly were his feelings aroused, that he wrote and published a pamphlet of thirty-two pages, in refutation of the theory of Mr. Wollaston.
Franklin dedicated his work, which was entitled "A dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain," to James Ralph. Fortunately, the treatise has descended to us unmutilated. He commences with the observation:
"I have here given you my present thoughts upon the general state of things in the universe."
The production was certainly a very able one to come from the pen of a young printer of but nineteen years. Mr. Palmer, while recognizing its ability, pronounced its principles to be atrocious and demoralizing. The production of such a work, literary, philosophical and religious, by probably the youngest companion of the journeymen printers, caused them all to open their eyes with astonishment, and he was regarded at once as a great man among them.
[Footnote 7: In this extraordinary document our young deist writes, "There is said to be a first mover, who is called God, who is all wise, all good, all powerful. If he is all good, whatsoever he doeth must be good. If he is all wise, whatever he doeth must be wise. That there are things to which we give the name of Evil, is not to be denied—such as theft, murder, etc. But these are not in reality evils. To suppose anything to exist or to be done contrary to the will of the Almighty is to suppose him not Almighty. There is nothing done but God either does or permits. Though a creature may do many actions, which, by his fellow creatures, will be named evil, yet he can not act what will be in itself displeasing to God.
"We will sum up the argument thus, When the Creator first designed the universe, either it was his will that all should exist and be in the manner they are at this time, or it was his will that they should be otherwise. To say it was His will things should be otherwise, is to say that somewhat hath contradicted His will; which is impossible. Therefore we must allow that all things exist now in a manner agreeable to His will; and, in consequence of that, all are equally good and therefore equally esteemed by Him. No condition of life or being is better or preferable to another."
This whole treatise may be found in the appendix to the first volume of Parton's Life of Franklin.]
The deists of London, who had united in a club of merry free-thinkers, holding their meetings at an ale-house, sought out Franklin and drew him into their convivial gatherings. These men had no common principle of belief; they were united only in the negative principle of unbelief in the Christian religion. Ralph had formed a connection with a young milliner, by whom, through his many fascinations, he was mainly supported.
Franklin, with his increasing expenditures, was now disposed to shake off Ralph, as he needed all his money for his own convivial enjoyments. Ralph went into the country and opened a school, where he utterly failed. The unhappy milliner, ruined in character, and with a little child, wrote to Franklin imploring aid. Her letters touched his kindly heart. He could never see sorrow without wishing to relieve it. He furnished her with money, in small sums, to the amount of one hundred and thirty dollars; and worst of all, we regret to say that he commenced treating her with such familiarity, that she, still faithful to Ralph, repulsed him indignantly.
[Footnote 8: Franklin writes in his autobiography, "I grew fond of her company, and being at that time under no religious restraint, and taking advantage of my importance to her, I attempted to take some liberties with her, another erratum, which she repulsed with a proper degree of resentment. She wrote to Ralph and acquainted him with my conduct. This occasioned a breach between us; and when he returned to London, he let me know he considered all the obligations he had been under to me as annulled."—Works of Franklin, Vol. i, p. 59.]
Franklin does not conceal these foibles, as he regarded them, these sins as Christianity pronounces them. He declares this simply to have been another of the great errors of his youth. She informed Ralph of his conduct. He was enraged, broke off all further communication with Franklin, and thirty-five years passed away before they met again. Ralph, goaded to desperation, gained a wretched living in various literary adventures; writing for any body, on any side, and for any price. Indeed he eventually gained quite an ephemeral reputation. He could express himself with vivacity, and several quite prominent politicians sought the aid of his pen.
Franklin, thus relieved from the support of Ralph, soon after entered a more extensive printing house, at Lincoln's Inn Fields. Though he was exceedingly fond of a sparkling glass of wine in his convivial hours, he was too much of a philosopher to stupefy his brain in guzzling beer. His habitual daily beverage was cold water.
"My companion at the press," he wrote, "drank every day a pint before breakfast, a pint at breakfast with his bread and cheese, a pint between breakfast and dinner, a pint at dinner, and another when he had done his day's work. I thought it a detestable custom. But it was necessary, he supposed, to drink strong beer that he might be strong to labor. I endeavored to convince him that the bodily strength afforded by beer could only be in proportion to the grain or the barley dissolved in the water of which it was made; that there was more flour in a pennyworth of bread, and, therefore, if he could eat that with a pint of water, it would give him more strength than a quart of beer. He drank on, however, and had four or five shillings to pay, out of his wages, every Saturday night, for that vile liquor; an expense I was free from; and thus these poor devils keep themselves always under."
Again Franklin wrote in characteristic phrase, in reference to the influence of his example over some of his companions,
"From my example, a great many of them left their muddling breakfast of bread, beer and cheese, finding they could, with me, be supplied from a neighboring house, with a large porringer of hot water gruel, sprinkled with pepper, crumbled with bread and a bit of butter in it, for the price of a pint of beer,—three half-pence. This was a more comfortable, as well as a cheaper breakfast, and kept their heads clearer. Those who continued sotting with their beer all day, were often, by not paying, out of credit at the ale-house; and used to make interest with me to get beer; their light as they phrased it being out. I watched the pay table on Saturday night, and collected what I stood engaged for them, having to pay sometimes on their account."
Franklin's skill in swimming, as we have mentioned was very remarkable. At one time he swam from London to Chelsea, a distance of four miles. Several of his companions he taught to swim in two lessons. His celebrity was such that he was urged to open a swimming school. The life of self-indulgence he was now living in London, was not such as even his loose religious principles could approve. He had abandoned the faith of his fathers, and had adopted, for his rule of conduct, the principle, that it was right to yield to any indulgences to which his passions incited him. He became tired of London, and probably found it necessary to break away from the influences and associates with which he had surrounded himself.
[Footnote 9: "On one of these days I was, to my surprise, sent for by a great man I knew only by name, Sir William Wyndham. He had heard of my swimming from Chelsea to Blackfriars and of my teaching Wygate and another young man to swim in a few hours. He had two sons about to set out on their travels. He wished to have them first taught swimming, and proposed to gratify me handsomely if I would teach them. They were not yet come to town, and my stay was uncertain, so I could not undertake it. But from the incident I thought it likely that if I were to remain in England and opened a swimming-school I might get a good deal of money. And it struck me so strongly that had the overture been made me sooner, probably I should not so soon have returned to America."—Autobiography, Vol. I. p. 66.]
Mr. Denham, his companion of voyage, had decided to return to Philadelphia, and open an extensive store. He offered Franklin two hundred and fifty dollars a year as book-keeper. Though this was less than the sum Franklin was then earning, as compositor, there were prospects of his advancement. This consideration, in addition to his desire to escape from London, led him to accept the offer. He was now twenty years of age. It does not appear that he had thus far formed any deliberate plan for his life's work. He floated along as the current of events drifted him.
On the twenty-first of July, 1726, Franklin embarked on board the ship Berkshire for Philadelphia. He had been absent from America but little more than a year and a half. During this time he had not increased his fortune, for he had spent his money as fast as he had earned it. After a voyage of eighty days, the ship cast anchor before Philadelphia. At that time ships were often from three to seven months effecting the passage across the Atlantic.
As usual Franklin kept a diary punctually during his long voyage. Its pages were replete with pithy remarks of wit and wisdom. He was very fond of a game of checkers, and in that amusement beguiled many weary hours. We find the following striking comments upon the diversion in his journal:
"It is a game I much delight in. But it requires a clear head and undisturbed. The persons playing, if they would play well, ought not much to regard the consequences of the game; for that diverts and withdraws the mind from the game itself, and makes the player liable to make many false, open moves. I will venture to lay it down for an infallible rule that if two persons equal in judgment, play for a considerable sum, he that loves money most, shall lose. His anxiety for the success of the game confounds him. Courage is almost as requisite for the good conduct of this game as in a real battle; for if the player imagines himself opposed by one that is much his superior in skill, his mind is so intent on the defensive part, that an advantage passes unobserved."
The Governor of the Isle of Wight had died, leaving the reputation of having been one of the most consummate scoundrels who ever exercised despotic power. Franklin, in his treatise upon "Liberty and Necessity," written but a few months before, had assumed that there was no such thing as good and evil; that God ordered and controlled every event; and that consequently every event was in accordance with His will, and alike pleasing in His sight. But now we find the following record in his journal, which most readers will recognize as inconsistent with the young philosopher's theological opinions. He writes:
"At the death of this governor, it appeared that he was a great villain, and a great politician. There was no crime so damnable, which he would stick at in the execution of his designs. And yet he had the art of covering all so thick, that with almost all men in general, while he lived he passed for a saint. In short, I believe it is impossible for a man, though he has all the cunning of a devil, to live and die a villain, and yet conceal it so well as to carry the name of an honest fellow to the grave with him, but some one by some accident or other, shall discover him. Truth and sincerity have a certain distinguishing, native lustre about them, which cannot be perfectly counterfeited. They are like fire and flame that cannot be painted."
We should infer, from some intimations in Franklin's diary, that he was troubled by some qualms of conscience, in view of his abandonment of Miss Read, and his irregular life in London. He has left a paper in which he stated that he had never formed any regular plan for the control of his conduct: that he was now about to enter on a new life; and that he was resolved that henceforth he would speak the truth, be industrious in his business, and speak ill of no man. These were rather meagre resolutions for a young man under these circumstances to adopt.
Soon after landing at Philadelphia, Franklin chanced to meet Sir William Keith in the streets. The governor seemed much embarrassed, and passed by without speaking. It does not appear that the acquaintance was ever resumed. The governor lived nearly twenty-five years afterward, a dishonored and ruined man, and died in the extreme of poverty.
Poor Miss Read, heart-broken, and deeming herself forever abandoned, yielded to the importunities of her friends and married a mechanic by the name of Rogers. He proved to be a thoroughly worthless fellow. His unconcealed profligacy, and unfaithfulness to his wife, compelled her, after a few months of wretchedness, to return to her mother, and to resume her maiden name. The profligate husband fled from his creditors to the West Indies. Rumors soon reached Philadelphia of his death, leaving probably another wife.
Franklin entered upon his duties as clerk of Mr. Denham, with his accustomed energy and skill. He carried into his new vocation, all his intellectual sagacity, and speedily won not only the confidence but the affection of his employer. He lived with Mr. Denham, and being always disposed to look upon the bright side of everything, even of his own imperfections, notwithstanding his infidelity to Miss Read, he seems to have been a very happy and even jovial young man.
Four months after Franklin had entered upon his mercantile career, both Mr. Denham and Franklin were seized with the pleurisy. Mr. Denham died. Franklin, though brought near to the grave, recovered. He writes:
"I suffered a great deal; gave up the point in my own mind; and was at the time rather disappointed when I found myself recovering; regretting in some degree that I must now, sometime or other, have all that disagreeable work to do over again."
The death of Mr. Denham broke up the establishment, and Franklin was thrown out of employment. Keimer, in whose service he had formerly been engaged, again made him an offer to superintend a printing office. Franklin accepted the proposition. There were five inefficient hands, whom Franklin was expected to transform into accomplished printers. With these, and a few others, he organized a literary club, called the "Junto; or the Leathern Apron Club," as nearly every member was a mechanic.
The club met every Friday evening, and the wine cup, to stimulate conviviality, passed freely among them. There were twenty-four questions, which were every evening read, to which answers were to be returned by any one who could answer them. Between each question, it was expected that each member would fill, and empty, his glass. One would think that the wine must have been very weak, or the heads of these young men very strong, to enable them to quaff twenty-four glasses unharmed. We give a few of the questions as specimens of their general character.
1. "Have you met with anything in the author you last read?
3. "Has any citizen in your knowledge failed, and have you heard the cause?
7. "What unhappy effects of intemperance have you lately observed?
12. "Has any deserving stranger arrived in town since your last meeting?
16. "Has anybody attacked your reputation lately?
23. "Is there any difficulty which you would gladly have discussed at this time?"
Debates, declamation, and the reading of essays added to the entertainment of these gatherings. Stories were told, and bacchanal songs sung. No man could tell a better story, and few men could sing a better song than Benjamin Franklin. No one was deemed a suitable member of the club, who would not contribute his full quota to the entertainment or instruction. The questions proposed by Franklin for discussion, developed the elevated intellectual region his thoughts were accustomed to range. We give a few as specimens.
"Can any one particular form of government suit all mankind?
"Should it be the aim of philosophy to eradicate the passions?
"Is perfection attainable in this life?
"What general conduct of life is most suitable for men in such circumstances as most of the members of the Junto are?"
The Junto was limited to twelve members. It soon became so popular that applications for admission became very frequent. Six months passed rapidly away, when Keimer, who was an exceedingly immoral and worthless man, and was fast going to ruin, in some fit of drunkenness, or ungovernable irritation, entered the office, and assailed Franklin with such abuse, that he took his hat, and repaired to his lodgings, resolved never to return.
Franklin was twenty-one years of age. He had laid up no money. He was still but a journeyman printer. The draft which he had received from Mr. Vernon for fifty dollars had not yet been paid. He was exceedingly mortified when he allowed himself to reflect upon this delinquency which certainly approached dishonesty. In this emergence he conferred with a fellow journeyman by the name of Hugh Meredith, whose father was a gentleman of considerable property. Meredith proposed that they should enter into partnership, he furnishing the funds, and Franklin the business capacity.
At that time Franklin, remembering his narrow escape from the grave by the pleurisy, wrote his own epitaph which has been greatly celebrated. It has generally been admired; but some of more sensitive minds perceive in it a tone which is somewhat repulsive.
"The Body of BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, Printer, (Like the cover of an old book, Its contents torn out, And stripped of its lettering and gilding,) Lies here, food for worms. Yet the work itself shall not be lost, For it will, as he believed, appear once more, In a new And more beautiful edition, Corrected and amended By THE AUTHOR."
The excellencies of Franklin did not run in the line of exquisite sensibilities. At the early age of fifteen he began to cast off the restraints of the religion of his father and mother. Nearly all his associates were what were called Free-thinkers. He could not be blind to their moral imperfections. Mr. Parton writes,
"His old friend Collins, he remembered, was a Free-thinker, and Collins had gone astray. Ralph was a Free-thinker, and Ralph was a great sinner. Keith was a Free-thinker, and Keith was the greatest liar in Pennsylvania. Benjamin Franklin was a Free-thinker, and how shamefully he had behaved to Ralph's mistress, to Mr. Vernon and Miss Read, whose young life had been blighted through him."
[Footnote 10: Parton's Life of Franklin, Vol. I, p. 168.]
Franklin's creed thus far, consisted only of negations. He had no belief; he had only unbelief. Indeed he seems to have become quite ashamed of his treatise upon Liberty and Necessity, published in London, and felt constrained to write a refutation of it. As this strange young man in his discontent looked over the religions of the world, he could find no one that met his views. He therefore deliberately and thoughtfully sat down to form a religion of his own. Many such persons have appeared in the lapse of the ages, and almost invariably they have announced their creeds with the words, "Thus saith the Lord." But our young printer of twenty-two years, made no profession whatever, of any divine aid. He simply said, "Thus saith my thoughts." One would think he could not have much confidence in those thoughts, when it is remembered that at this time he was writing a refutation of the opinions, which he had published in London but a few months before.
[Footnote 11: "My arguments perverted some others, especially Collins and Ralph. But each of these having wronged me greatly without the least compunction; and recollecting Keith's conduct towards me, who was another Free-thinker, and my own towards Vernon and Miss Read, which at times gave me great trouble, I began to suspect that this doctrine, though it might be true, was not very useful. My London pamphlet, printed in 1725, and which had for its motto,
"'Whatever is is right,'
and which from the attributes of God, His infinite wisdom, goodness and power, concluded that nothing could possibly be wrong in the world, and that vice and virtue were empty distinctions, no such things existing, appeared now not so clever a performance, as I once thought it; and I doubted whether some error had not insinuated itself unperceived into my argument."
In the year 1779, Dr. Franklin wrote to Dr. Benjamin Vaughn respecting this pamphlet.
"There were only one hundred copies printed, of which I gave a few to friends. Afterwards, disliking the piece, I burnt the rest, except one copy. I was not nineteen years of age when it was written. In 1730, I wrote a piece on the other side of the question, which began with laying for its foundation that almost all men, in all ages and countries, have at times made use of prayer.
"Thence I reasoned that if all things are ordained, prayer must be among the rest ordained; but as prayer can procure no change in things that are ordained, praying must then be useless and an absurdity. God would, therefore, not ordain praying if everything else was ordained. But praying exists, therefore all other things are not ordained. This manuscript was never printed. The great uncertainty I found in metaphysical reasoning disgusted me, and I quitted that kind of reading and study for others more satisfactory."—Autobiography, p. 76.]
The book which Franklin thus prepared was entitled "Articles of Belief, and Acts of Religion." His simple creed was that there was one Supreme God who had created many minor gods; that the supreme God was so great that he did not desire the worship of man but was far above it.
The minor gods are perhaps immortal, and perhaps after the ages lapse they are changed, others supplying their place. Each of these subordinate gods has created for himself a sun with its planetary system, over which he presides and from the inhabitants of which he expects adoration. He writes,
"It is that particular wise and good God, who is the author and owner of our system that I propose for the object of my praise and adoration. It is to be inferred that this God is not above caring for us, is pleased with our praise, and offended when we slight him."
He then prepares an invocation to this god of our solar system. It is founded on the style of the Psalms, but is immeasurably inferior to most of those sublime utterances of the Psalmist of Israel. And still the sentiments breathed were ennobling in their character; they proved that Franklin was vastly superior to the thoughtless, reckless deists who surrounded him, and that his soul was reaching forth and yearning for higher and holier attainments. In this invocation, the whole of which we cannot quote, he writes,
"O Creator! O Father! I believe that thou art good; and that thou art pleased with the pleasure of thy children. Praised be thy name forever. By thy power thou hast made the glorious sun with his attending worlds. By thy wisdom thou hast formed all things. Thy wisdom, thy power, and thy goodness are everywhere clearly seen. Thou abhorrest in thy creatures treachery and deceit, malice, revenge, intemperance, and every other hurtful vice. But thou art a lover of justice and sincerity, of friendship and benevolence, and every virtue. Thou art my friend, my father, and my benefactor. Praised be thy name; O God, forever. Amen."
The prayer which followed, doubtless giving utterance to his most inward feelings, is beautiful.
"Inasmuch," he wrote, "as by reason of our ignorance, we cannot be certain that many things, which we often hear mentioned in the petitions of men to the Deity, would prove real goods if they were in our possession, and as I have reason to hope and believe that the goodness of my Heavenly Father will not withhold from me a suitable share of temporal blessings, if by a virtuous and holy life I conciliate his favor and kindness; therefore I presume not to ask such things; but rather humbly and with a sincere heart, express my earnest desire that he would graciously assist my continual endeavors and resolutions of eschewing vice and embracing virtue, which kind of supplication will at the same time remind me in a solemn manner of my extensive duty."
He then added the supplication that he might be preserved from atheism, impiety and profaneness; that he might be loyal to his prince; that he might be gracious to those below him; that he might refrain from calumny and detraction; that he might be sincere in friendship, just in his dealings, grateful to his benefactors, patient in affliction; that he might have tenderness for the weak, and that, rejoicing in the good of others, he might become truly virtuous and magnanimous.
It is very evident that some unexplained circumstances had called the attention of Franklin very earnestly to the subject of religion. He wrote very much upon that theme, and published a new version of the Lord's Prayer, and a lecture upon Providence and Predestination. He, however, admits that he very seldom attended any public worship, adding,
"I had still an opinion of its propriety and its utility, when rightly conducted; and I regularly paid my annual subscription for the support of the only Presbyterian minister."
Rumors soon reached Franklin's good father of Boston, of his son's free-thinking, and he wrote to his son in much alarm. In Franklin's reply, he said,
"All that should be expected from me, is to keep my mind open to conviction; to hear patiently and examine attentively whatever is offered me for that end. And if after all I continue in the same errors, I believe your usual charity will induce you rather to pity and excuse, than to blame me. In the meantime, your care and concern for me, is what I am very thankful for. My mother grieves that one of her sons is an Arian, and another an Arminian. What an Arminian or an Arian is, I cannot say that I very well know. The truth is, I make such distinctions very little my study. I think vital religion has always suffered when orthodoxy is more regarded than virtue. And the Scriptures assure me that at the last day we shall not be examined what we thought but what we did."
Franklin, having no revealed religion to guide him, and having no foundation for his faith, but the ever-changing vagaries of his own fantastic imagination, could have no belief to-day, of which he had any certainty that he would hold the same to-morrow. He was continually abandoning one after another of the articles of his fantastical creed, and adopting others in their place. At length he settled down upon the following simple belief, which with very considerable tenacity, but without any attempt to promulgate it, he adhered to for many years. It consisted of the six following articles which we give in briefest language.
1. "There is one God.
2. "He governs the world.
3. "He ought to be worshipped.
4. "Doing good is the service most acceptable to him.
5. "Man is immortal.
6. "In the future world the souls of men will be dealt with justly."
It is very evident that Franklin had no great confidence in his theological opinions. He studiously avoided all writing upon the subject, and as far as possible all conversation. Still, with his keen sense of humor, he could not refrain from occasionally plunging a pretty sharp dagger's thrust into the palpable imperfections of the various and contending sects.
There was very little moral power, in the creed he professed, to arrest young men, of glowing passions, and exposed to the most difficult temptations, in their downward career. No voice of Franklin was heard with potency calling upon those who were thronging the broad road. In a lecture upon Providence, to his companions of the Junto, which was subsequently published, and which reflects some considerable honor upon the earnestness of his thoughts, he wrote,
"I am especially discouraged when I reflect that you are all my intimate pot-companions, who have heard me say a thousand silly things in conversation, and therefore have not that laudable partiality and veneration for whatever I shall deliver that good people have for their spiritual guides; that you have no reverence for my habit, nor for the sanctity of my countenance; that you do not believe me inspired, nor divinely assisted; and therefore will think yourself at liberty to assert, or dissert, approve or disapprove of anything I advance, canvassing and sifting it as the private opinion of one of your acquaintance."
Though it was Franklin's assumption that his religion was one of works and not of faith, still it must be admitted that his life was very inconsistent with those principles of purity, moral loveliness and good report which the Gospel enjoins. With his remarkable honesty of mind, in strains which we are constrained, though with regret to record, he writes,
"That hard-to-be governed passion of youth had hurried me frequently into intrigues with low women that fell in my way, which were attended with some expense and great inconvenience, besides a continual risk to my health by distemper, which of all things I dreaded, though by great luck I escaped it."
Mr. Parton writes, "It was perhaps owing to his frequent delinquencies in this way, that his liturgy contains no allusion to a vice, which is of all others the most alluring to a youth of Franklin's temperament. He was too sincere and logical a man to go before his God and ask assistance against a fault which he had not fully resolved to overcome, and that immediately. About a year after the date of his liturgy was born his illegitimate son William Franklin, who became Governor of New Jersey. If laws were as easily executed as enacted, Benjamin Franklin would have received, upon this occasion, twenty-one lashings at the public whipping-post of Philadelphia."
The Dawn of Prosperity.
Franklin takes a house—His first job—His industry—Plans a Newspaper—Enters the list as a writer—Advocates a Paper currency—Purchases Keimer's paper—Character of Meredith—Struggles of the firm—Unexpected assistance—Dissolves partnership with Meredith—Franklin's energetic conduct—His courtship, and marriage—Character of Mrs. Franklin—Increase of luxury—Plans for a library—Prosperity of Pennsylvania—Customs in Philadelphia—Style of dress in 1726—Franklin's social position in Philadelphia—His success—A hard student.
Franklin had now reached the end of life as an apprentice and a journeyman. With his friend Meredith he hired a house in the lower part of Market street, at the rent of about one hundred and twenty dollars a year. A large portion of this house he prudently re-let to another mechanic who was a member of the Junto. It would seem that Meredith was disappointed in the amount of money he expected to raise. Consequently after utterly exhausting their stock of cash, they still found it necessary to run deeply into debt for those appurtenances of a printing office which were absolutely necessary.
Just as they got ready for work, quite to their delight, a countryman came in introduced by one of the Junto, George House, who wanted a five shilling job executed.
"This man's five shillings," writes Franklin, "being our first fruits, and coming so seasonably, gave me more pleasure than any crown I have since earned. And from the gratitude I felt toward House, has made me often more ready, than perhaps I otherwise should have been, to assist young beginners."
The two young men devoted themselves to their work, with assiduity which was a sure precursor of success. Often Franklin was found diligently employed until eleven o'clock at night. His industry and energy soon attracted attention. A gentleman living near the office said to some of his friends:
"The industry of that Franklin is superior to anything I ever saw of the kind. I see him still at work when I go home from the club, and he is at work again before his neighbors are out of bed."
This statement produced such an impression upon a merchant who was present, that he called upon the young men and offered to supply them with stationery on credit. Franklin's literary taste, and his remarkable success as a writer, led him ever to cherish, as a darling project, the idea of the establishing of a newspaper. In a few months he had quite deliberately formed his plan; but in some way Keimer got wind of it, and immediately issued a prospectus for the establishment of a paper of his own. Though he was totally unqualified for the task of editorship, yet his project was quite hurtful to the plans of Franklin.
Very much annoyed by the treachery which had revealed his plans to Keimer, and perceiving that his paper was unpopular and heavy, Franklin very wisely decided to establish his own reputation as a vivacious writer, before entering upon the important undertaking of issuing a journal in his own name. There was a small paper then published in the city called "The Mercury." He commenced writing a series of very witty and satirical articles over the signature of "Busy Body." The first number contained the following sentences as intimations of what was to come.
"It is probable that I may displease a great number of your readers who will not very well like to pay ten shillings a year for being told of their faults, but as most people delight in censure when they themselves are not the object of it, if any are offended at my publicly exposing their private vices, I promise they shall have the satisfaction in a very little time, in seeing their good friends and neighbors in the same circumstances."
These sparkling contributions of Franklin attracted much attention, and created for him a growing literary reputation. The subject of paper money which agitated our country, was then being discussed in Pennsylvania with intense interest. Franklin wrote a carefully studied pamphlet entitled "A Modest Inquiry into the Nature and Necessity of a Paper Currency."
This treatise, written by a young printer of but twenty-three years, upon one of the most difficult questions of finance, displayed great ability. Warmly he advocated a paper currency. His arguments, however, were such as would not now probably exert much influence upon the public mind. The main proposition he endeavored to sustain was, that there was not a sufficiency of gold and silver in Pennsylvania, for carrying on the trade of the province. He therefore argued that all branches of industry must languish unless the currency were increased by an issue of paper.
[Footnote 12: This pamphlet may be found in Sparks' "Works of Franklin," Vol. ii, p. 253.]
It has been suggested that Franklin might have been unconsciously influenced in his views, by the fact that he had been very successful in printing paper money, and that he anticipated still more employment in that line. It is certain that Franklin's pamphlet exerted a powerful influence at the time, and a new issue of paper currency was ordered. Franklin thought that the effect was highly conducive to the prosperity of the province, and he never swerved from the views which he had so earnestly and successfully urged in his pamphlet.
Franklin's sun was rapidly rising. Keimer's was as rapidly sinking. After publishing thirty-nine numbers of the "Universal Instructor" and the subscription list having dwindled to ninety, he gladly sold the paper for a trifle to Franklin and Meredith. The genius of Franklin was immediately displayed in the improved literary character of the paper, and in its mechanical execution. The name was changed to the "Pennsylvania Gazette." The first number issued by him was on Oct. 2, 1729.
The subject of religion was almost entirely ignored. Franklin seems to have become weary of the darkness and the fogs through which his unillumined mind had been so long painfully floundering, without coming to any results upon which he could place reliance. Christianity he generally treated with respect, though he could not refrain from occasionally giving a sly thrust at those imperfections of Christians which were so palpable to his observant mind. And though he never assailed that which was not inherently bad, it cannot be denied that occasionally his keen sarcasms brought Christianity itself into reproach, as if it were a religion which produced no better fruits, perhaps not so good, as no religion at all.
The business of this young firm of Franklin and Meredith, viewed in the light of the grand printing enterprises of the present day, was indeed trivial. The two young men did all the work themselves without even a boy to help them. In fact Meredith, who at the best was a poor workman, and who fell into intemperate habits, neglected his business, frequented the ale-houses, and left all responsibility resting upon the efficient shoulders of his partner.
Franklin, who endeavored to be perfect in every thing he undertook, printed his paper so admirably that it is said that there is probably not a journal now in Philadelphia which is issued in better style than "The Pennsylvania Gazette" of 1729.
For seven years Franklin had been embarrassed by the thought of the fifty dollars which he had received from Mr. Vernon, and which had not yet been repaid. Mr. Vernon wrote him a very gentle intimation, stating that it would be very convenient for him to receive the money. Franklin returned a contrite and magnanimous letter. He made no attempt to extenuate his fault, promised immediately to strain every nerve to meet the debt, and in a few months paid the whole, principal and interest.
Still the infant firm was struggling with adversity. The partners had commenced operations with scarcely any capital excepting promises. Their outfit cost about a thousand dollars. Mr. Meredith had been unfortunate in business, and found himself unable to pay the second instalment promised of five hundred dollars. The stationers who furnished paper began to be uneasy, for they could not but see that Meredith was fast going to ruin.
Franklin was seldom in the habit of dwelling upon his misfortunes. In these dark hours he wrote,
"In this distress two true friends whose kindness I have never forgotten, nor ever shall forget while I can remember anything, came to me separately, unknown to each other, and without any application from me, offered each of them to advance me all the money that should be necessary to take the whole business upon myself; but they did not like my continuing in partnership with Meredith, who, as they said, was often seen drunk in the street, playing at low games in ale-houses, much to our discredit."
Franklin generously was very reluctant to throw aside Meredith. Dissolute as the young man had become, he could not forget that he was the son of a man who had been his friend; but after carefully pondering the question and seeing ruin stare him in the face, he said one day to Meredith,
"Perhaps your father is dissatisfied at the part you have undertaken in this affair of ours; and is unwilling to advance for you and me, what he would for you. If that is the case tell me, and I will resign the whole to you and go about my business."
"My father has really been disappointed, and is really unable. I am unwilling to distress him further. I see this is a business I am unfit for. I was bred a farmer and it was folly in me to come to town, and put myself at thirty years of age an apprentice to learn a new trade. Many of our Welsh people are going to settle in North Carolina where land is cheap. I am inclined to go with them, and follow my old employment. If you will take the debts of the company upon you, return to my father the hundred pounds he has advanced, pay my little personal debts, and give me thirty pounds and a new saddle, I will relinquish the partnership, and leave the whole in your hands."
These were hard terms; but there was no other way in which Franklin could escape from the embarrassments of this untoward partnership. He accepted the proposal at once; borrowed the needful money of his friends; and became his own sole partner.
True prosperity now began to attend his indomitable industry, frugality, and wisdom. The advance of the young man was necessarily slow, but it was sure. Well aware that his reputation with the community would be invaluable to him, he not only endeavored to be industrious, but to let it be seen by his neighbors that he left no stone unturned to accomplish his purposes.
He would trundle, through the streets of Philadelphia, in a wheel-barrow, the paper which he purchased, by no means seeking by-streets where his more fashionable companions would not see him. He dressed with the utmost simplicity, but always in clean garments, well cut, and which presented his admirable form to great advantage. Never did he allow himself to sink to the vulgarity of a slatternly appearance. He was ever ready, when engaged in the most busy employments of his office, to receive without a blush, any guests, however high, who might chance to call.
The tranquil months glided on. Franklin was prospered in business, paid his debts, and began to accumulate a little property. Our young philosopher was never an impassioned lover. As he would contemplate, in his increasing prosperity, removing to another more commodious office, so he now thought, having reached the age of twenty-four, that it might be expedient for him to have a home of his own, and a wife to take care of his domestic affairs.
He had let a portion of the house which he used for his printing office, to a mechanic of the Junto by the name of Godfrey. He conferred with Mrs. Godfrey upon the subject. She had a relative, a very pretty girl, Miss Godfrey, whom she highly recommended and brought, as it were by accident, to take tea with Franklin. She was graceful, amiable, and a child of parents well to do in the world. Franklin was a remarkably handsome and fascinating young man. The courtship proceeded successfully and rapidly.
The reader will be interested in seeing Franklin's own account of this affair. He writes, in his Autobiography:
"Mrs. Godfrey projected a match with a relation's daughter, took opportunities of bringing us often together, till a serious courtship on my part ensued; the girl being, in herself, very deserving. The old folks encouraged me by continual invitations to supper, and by leaving us together, till at length it was time to explain. Mrs. Godfrey managed our little treaty. I let her know I expected as much money with their daughter as would pay off my remaining debt for the printing house; which I believe was not then above a hundred pounds. She brought me word they had no such sum to spare; I said they might mortgage their house in the loan-office. The answer to this, after some days, was, that they did not approve the match; that, on inquiry of Mr. Bradford, they had been informed the printing business was not a profitable one, the types would soon be worn out, and more wanted; that Keimer and David Harvy had failed one after the other, and I should probably soon follow them; and therefore I was forbidden the house, and the daughter was shut up."
Occasionally Franklin had gone to the home of Mrs. Read, the mother of the unhappy Deborah. His conscience reproached him for his conduct to that good girl. She was always dejected and solitary, and with a broken heart clung to her mother, her only friend. It is doubtful whether she were ever legally married to Rogers. It was rumored that at the time of their marriage, he was the husband of one, if not more wives. If legally married, there was another serious obstacle in her path. Rogers had run away to the West Indies. Rumor alone had announced his death. He might be still living.
Franklin's sympathy gradually became excited in her behalf. And at length he proposed that, regardless of all the risks, they should be married. It seems that he had announced to her very distinctly that he had a living child, and very honorably he had decided that that child of dishonor was to be taken home and trained as his own.
These were sad nuptials. The world-weary wife knew not but that she had another husband still living, and a stigma, indelible, rested upon Franklin. The marriage took place on the first of September, 1730. It subsequently appears that Rogers, the potter, was really dead. The child was taken home and reared with all possible tenderness and care. It is a little remarkable that nothing is known of what became of the mother of that child. The boy grew up to manhood, espoused the Tory cause, when the Tories were hunting his father to hang him, and by his ungrateful, rebellious conduct, pierced his heart with a thousand empoisoned daggers.
Mrs. Franklin proved in all respects an excellent woman, and an admirable wife for her calm, philosophic and unimpassioned husband. Franklin never had a journeyman in his office who performed his functions more entirely to his satisfaction, than his wife discharged her responsible duties. She was always amiable, industrious and thrifty.
There was a little shop attached to the printing office which Mrs. Franklin tended. She also aided her husband in folding and distributing the papers, and with a mother's love trained, in the rudiments of education, the child whose mother was lost.
Franklin, in his characteristic, kindly appreciation of the services of all who were faithful in his employ, speaks in the following commendatory terms of the industrial excellencies of his wife. When far away dazzled by the splendors, and bewildered by the flattery of European courts, he wrote to her,
"It was a comfort to me to recollect that I had once been clothed, from head to foot, in woolen and linen of my wife's manufacture, and that I never was prouder of any dress in my life."
In Franklin's Autobiography, as published by Sparks, we read, "We have an English proverb that says, 'He that would thrive, must ask his wife.' It was lucky for me that I had one as much disposed to industry and frugality as myself. She assisted me cheerfully in my business, folding and stitching pamphlets, tending shop, purchasing old linen rags, for the paper-makers, etc. We kept no idle servants; our table was plain and simple, our furniture of the cheapest. For instance, my breakfast was, for a long time, bread and milk, (no tea) and I ate it out of a two-penny earthern porringer, with a pewter-spoon.
"But mark how luxury will enter families, and make a progress in spite of principle. Being called one morning to breakfast, I found it in a china bowl, with a spoon of silver. They had been bought for me without my knowledge, by my wife, and had cost her the enormous sum of three and twenty shillings; for which she had no other excuse or apology to make, but that she thought her husband deserved a silver spoon and china bowl, as well as any of his neighbors. This was the first appearance of plate or china in our house; which afterward, in a course of years, as our wealth increased, augmented gradually to several hundred pounds in value."
[Footnote 13: Life of Franklin, by Sparks, p. 102.]
While thus engaged he conceived the idea of establishing a public subscription library. His knowledge of human nature taught him that if he presented the enterprise as his own, feelings of jealousy might be excited, and it might be imagined that he was influenced by personal ambition. He therefore said that a number of gentlemen had adopted the plan, and had requested him to visit the lovers of books and of reading, and solicit their subscriptions. Each subscriber was to contribute two pounds to start the enterprise, and to pay a yearly assessment of ten shillings.
By the arduous labors of five months, Franklin obtained fifty names. With this the enterprise commenced. Such was the origin of the Philadelphia Library, now one of the most important institutions of the kind in our land. In the year 1861, seventy thousand volumes were reported as on its shelves.
Philadelphia contained a population of nearly ten thousand people. Pennsylvania was decidedly the central point for European emigration. Its climate was delightful; its soil fertile; and William Penn's humane policy with the Indians had secured for the colony peace and friendship with the native inhabitants for more than fifty years.
The white man, on this continent, has told his own story. The Indians have had no historians. But nothing is more clear than that in almost every instance they were goaded to war by the unendurable wrongs which were inflicted upon them. Until Braddock's dreadful defeat, Pennsylvania had scarcely known a single alarm. In the summer of 1749, twelve thousand Germans landed at Philadelphia. This was the average number for many years. The policy of William Penn had been to establish upon the banks of the Delaware, an extended and beautiful village, where every house should have its lawn and its garden for vegetables and flowers. In the year 1732, when Franklin was twenty-six years of age, the dwellings of this village were mostly of brick or stone, and were spread along the banks of the river for the distance of a mile, with streets running back into the interior to the distance of about half a mile.
[Footnote 14: "No other British colony admits of the evidence of an Indian against a white man; nor are the complaints of Indians against white men duly regarded in other colonies; whereby these poor people endure the most cruel treatment from the very worst of our own people, without hope of redress. And all the Indian wars in our colonies were occasioned by such means."
Importance of the British Plantations in America to these Kingdoms, London. 1731.]
The prosperity of Philadelphia, indeed of Pennsylvania, was remarkable. Provisions and the most delicious fruits were in great abundance. Even the pigs were fattened upon the most luscious peaches. Each family in the city kept its cow, which grazed upon the common lands on the outskirts of the town. The Philadelphia of that period was a green village, beautifully shaded by trees, and presenting to every visitor an aspect of rare attractions. Professor Peter Kalm, who published an exceedingly interesting account of his travels in North America between the years 1748 and 1751, writes,
"There were fine orchards all about the city. The country people in Sweden and Finland guard their turnips more carefully than the people here do the most exquisite fruits. A Philadelphian has so much liberty and abundance that he lives in his house like a king."
The Quakers, or as they prefer to be called, the Friends, at that time composed about one-third of the population of Philadelphia, and one-half of the State of Pennsylvania. They were a remarkably intelligent, industrious and worthy people. Probably a better and more thrifty community was never colonized on this globe.
The state of society has greatly changed since that day, and customs, which were then deemed essential, have since become obsolete. For instance, the whipping-post, the pillory, and the stocks, were prominent in the market-place and were in frequent use. There was a public whipper, who, for his repulsive services, received a salary of fifty dollars a year. Until as late as 1760, women were frequently publicly whipped. It is said that a whipping occurred on an average, twice a month.
The dress of gentlemen was gaudy and extravagant, unsurpassed by that of French or British courtiers. Immense wigs, with their profusion of waves or curls, were in use by the gentry. Very tight knee-breeches were worn, with silk stockings, and shoes embellished with immense silver buckles, highly polished. Their coats were richly embroidered, often of silk velvet, and their full flow reached below the knees. Ruffled shirts and ruffled wrist-bands of linen, of snowy whiteness, added to the beauty of the dress. A jewelled scabbard containing a polished sword hung by the side. A three-cornered hat completed this showy attire. There is not a Rocky Mountain Indian in his most gorgeous war-dress of paint and plumes, who would attract more attention walking down Broadway, than would Benjamin Franklin as he was painted in 1726.
His portrait was taken when he was in London, working as a journeyman printer. Contrary to the general impression, Franklin was then, and through all his life, fully conscious of the advantages which dress confers. When surrounded by the homage of the court of Versailles, there was no courtier in those magnificent saloons more attentive to his attire than was Benjamin Franklin. His keen sagacity taught him the advantage of appearing in a dress entirely different from that of the splendid assembly around him, and thus he attracted universal observation. But never did he appear in the presence of these lords and ladies but in a costly garb to which he had devoted much attention.
Mr. Parton, speaking of the portrait which Franklin then had painted in London, says,
"The fair, full, smiling face of Franklin is surrounded in this picture by a vast and stiff horse-hair wig; and his well-developed figure shows imposingly in a voluminous and decorated coat that reaches nearly to his heels. Under his left arm he carries his cocked hat. His manly bosom heaves under snowy ruffles, and his extensive wrist-bands are exposed to view by the shortness of his coat sleeves."
Between the years 1740 and 1775, while abundance reigned in Pennsylvania, and there was peace in all her borders, a more happy and prosperous population could not perhaps be found on this globe. In every home there was comfort. The people generally were highly moral, and knowledge was extensively diffused. Americans, who visited Europe, were deeply impressed by the contrast. In the Old World they saw everywhere indications of poverty and suffering. Franklin wrote, after a tour in Great Britain in 1772,
"Had I never been in the American colonies, but were to form my judgment of civil society by what I have lately seen, I should never advise a nation of savages to admit of civilization. For, I assure you, that in the possession and enjoyment of the various comforts of life, compared with these people, every Indian is a gentleman; and the effect of this kind of civil society seems to be the depressing multitudes below the savage state, that a few may be raised above it."
Yet let it not be supposed that the effects of the fall were not visible here, or that man's inhumanity to man had ceased. There were bickerings, and heart burnings, and intense political struggles, in which the strong endeavored to extend their power, and the weak endeavored to throw off the shackles with which they were bound. William Penn complains of the ambitious politicians who he said thought—"nothing taller than themselves but the trees." John Adams denounced in severest terms the tricks of the petty politicians; and speaking of the more ambitious ones who sought the positions of governor or custom-house officers, he writes:
"These seekers are actuated by a more ravenous sort of ambition and avarice."
For twenty years Franklin continued a prosperous but uneventful life, as an active business man in Philadelphia. His integrity, his sagacity, and his prosperity, rapidly increased the esteem in which he was held. But still he was engaged in business as a printer and a shop-keeper, which would not now give him admission into what he called the higher circles of society.
He not only edited, printed and published his newspaper, but he also kept books for sale and a small quantity of stationery, and also was a binder of books. He made and sold ink; was an extensive dealer in rags; and soap and feathers could be purchased at his shop. We find in his advertisements the announcement of coffee and other groceries for sale.
And still his printing office gradually became the nucleus for the gathering of the most intelligent and influential men. If any important project was on foot, it was deemed essential to consult Benjamin Franklin. His Gazette proved a great success, and was incomparably the ablest paper published in the colonies.
[Footnote 15: Life and Works of John Adams, Vol. ii, p. 165.]
Franklin's editorials were very sparkling, and are considered as among the most brilliant of his intellectual efforts. He was almost invariably good natured, and the design of all he wrote, was to promote integrity and kindly feeling. He would write an article, as if from a correspondent, which would give him an opportunity to return an amusing article in the next number. A complete file of the paper is preserved in the Philadelphia Library.
In 1732, Franklin issued the first number of the Almanac, called Poor Richard, which subsequently attained such wide renown. The popularity of the work was astonishing; for twenty-five years it averaged ten thousand copies a year. This was a wonderful sale in those times. Everybody was quoting the pithy sayings of Poor Richard.
[Footnote 16: "And now after the lapse of one hundred and thirty years, we find persons willing to give twenty-five dollars for a single number, and several hundred dollars for a complete set. Nay, the reading matter of several of the numbers, has been republished within these few years, and that republication already begins to command the price of a rarity."—Parton's Life of Franklin, Vol. i, p. 231.]
Franklin was an extensive reader. He had a memory almost miraculous; and his mind was so constituted, that it eagerly grasped and retained any sharp or witty sayings. Thus, though many of the maxims of Poor Richard originated with him, others were gleaned from the witticisms of past ages, upon which Franklin placed the imprint of his own peculiar genius. I give a few of those renowned maxims which soon became as household words, in every shop and dwelling of our land.
"There is no little enemy." "Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead." "He is no clown who drives the plough, but he that does clownish things." "Wealth is not his that has it, but his that enjoys it." "The noblest question in the world is, 'what good may I do in it.'" "Keep your eye wide open before marriage; half shut afterward."
Franklin was not a poet. He could scheme easily, but even his rhymes were poor. His sense of delicacy was quite obtuse, but perhaps not more so, than we ought to expect from the unrefined times in which he lived.
[Footnote 17: "Poor Richard, at this day, would be reckoned an indecent production. All great humorists were all indecent, before Charles Dickens. They used certain words which are now never pronounced by polite persons, and are never printed by respectable printers; and they referred freely to certain subjects which are familiar to every living creature, but which it is now agreed among civilized beings, shall not be topics of conversation. In this respect Poor Richard was no worse, and not much better than other colonial periodicals, some of which contain things incredibly obscene, as much so as the strongest passages of Sterne, Smollet and De Foe."—Parton.]
The increasing circulation of the Pennsylvania Gazette, the extensive sale of Poor Richard, and the success of many of the small books which Franklin published, soon placed the finances of Franklin in a very flourishing condition. This enabled him to send for every important work published in England. As he was never an hour in idleness, and seldom entered any place of popular amusement, he found time to study all these solid and useful works. The superior powers with which God had endowed him, enabled him to glean from their pages, and store up in his memory, all that was most valuable. By these indefatigable studies, he was rapidly becoming one of the most learned of men, and was preparing himself for that brilliant career, in which, as a statesman and a philosopher, he stood in the first ranks of those who had been deemed the great men of earth.
His first entrance to public life was as Clerk to the General Assembly, which was then the Legislature of the Pennsylvania Colony. This was an office of but little emolument or honor. His first election was unanimous. The second year, though successful, he was opposed by an influential member.
Franklin, who wished to have every one his friend, was anxious to conciliate him. He accomplished his purpose shrewdly—perhaps cunningly, is not too strong a word to use. Having heard that the gentleman had a very rare and valuable book in his library, he wrote him a very polite and flattering letter, soliciting the loan of it. No man could pen such an epistle more adroitly than Franklin.
After a few days he returned the book with one of his most exquisite notes of thanks. The gentleman was caught in the trap. Charmed with the urbanity Franklin displayed in the correspondence, the next time he met the philosopher, he grasped him cordially by the hand. Though he had never spoken to him before, he invited him to his house.
Franklin, commenting upon this adventure, writes,
"He ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to his death. This is another instance of the truth of an old maxim I had learned, which says 'He that hath once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself have obliged,' and it shows how much more profitable it is prudently to remove than to resent, return, and continue inimical proceedings."
There was something in this transaction, an apparent want of sincerity, an approach to trickery, which will impress many readers painfully. It was a shrewd manoeuvre, skillfully contrived, and successfully executed. The perfect sincerity of a friendly and magnanimous mind is the safest guide in all the emergencies of life.
Religious and Philosophic Views.
Studious habits—New religion—Personal habits—Church of the Free and Easy—His many accomplishments—The career of Hemphall—Birth and Death of Franklin's son—The Ministry of Whitefield—Remarkable friendship between the philosopher and the preacher—Prosperity of Franklin—His convivial habits—The defense of Philadelphia—Birth of a daughter—The Philadelphia Academy.
Franklin was a perservering and laborious student, for whatever he read he studied. With increasing intellectual tastes, he found time every day to devote many hours to his books. His reading was of the most elevated and instructive kind. It consisted almost exclusively of scientific treatises, and of history, biography, voyages and travels.
His mind was still struggling and floundering in the midst of religious and philosophical speculations. He seems, from some unexplained reason, to have been very unwilling to accept the religion of Jesus Christ; and yet he was inspired undeniably by a very noble desire to be a good man, to attain a high position in morality. Earnestly he endeavored to frame for himself some scheme which would enable him to accomplish that purpose.
At this time he wrote,
"Few in public affairs act from a mere view of the good of their country, whatever they may pretend. Fewer still in public affairs act with a view to the good of mankind. There seems to me, at present, great occasion to raise a 'United Party for Virtue,' by forming the virtuous and good of all nations into a regular body, to be governed by suitable good and wise rules, which good and wise men may probably be more unanimous in their obedience to, than common people are to common laws. I at present, think, that whoever attempts this aright, and is well qualified, cannot fail of pleasing God, and of meeting with success."
Influenced by these exalted motives, he concentrated all the energies of his well informed mind to the organization of a new religion. To this church he gave the name of "The Society of the Free and Easy." The members were to be Free from vice, and consequently, Easy in mind. The first article of his creed was that he would have no creed. And yet this religion, which drew an antagonistic distinction between faith and works, denouncing all faith at the same time announced that its fundamental and absolutely essential faith was that piety consisted in cherishing the ordinarily recognized virtues. These were Temperance, Silence, Order, Resolution, Frugality, Industry, Sincerity, Justice, Moderation, Cleanliness, Tranquillity, Charity and Humility.
His ritual consisted in devoting one week to the cultivation of each of these virtues. He had no Sabbath, no preached Gospel, no Sacraments. But his creed, with its corresponding practice, certainly exerted a very powerful influence, and in many respects beneficial, upon his own mind.
With his list of virtues before him, this remarkable young man commenced the effort vigorously to attain perfection. The Christian reader will not be at all surprised to read from Franklin's pen the following account of the result:
"I was surprised to find myself so much fuller of faults than I had imagined. But I had the satisfaction of seeing them diminish. After a while I went through one course only in a year, and afterwards only one in several years; till at length I omitted them entirely, being employed in voyages and business abroad, with a multiplicity of affairs that interfered."
Franklin was a very proud man. He could not but be conscious of his great superiority over most of those with whom he associated. He avows that the virtue of humility he never could attain. The semblance of that virtue he could easily assume, but he says that the pride of his heart was such that had he attained it, he would have been proud of his humility. He adopted the following as the ordinary routine of life.
He rose at five, very carefully performed his ablutions, and then offered a brief prayer to a being whom he called "Powerful Goodness." Why he should have preferred that address to the more simple one of "Our Heavenly Father," we know not. He then laid out the business of the day, and for a short time directed his mind to the especial virtue which he intended that day and week to cherish.
[Footnote 18: "It was about this time I conceived the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wished to live without committing any fault at any time. As I knew, or thought I knew what was right and wrong, I did not see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other. But I soon found that I had undertaken a task of more difficulty than I had imagined."—Autobiography, p. 105.]
In the freshness of all his morning energies he devoted himself to his books for an hour and a half. This brought him to breakfast-time. At eight o'clock he commenced work in his shop, to which he devoted himself assiduously until twelve. An hour was then allowed for dinner and rest. At one he returned to the arduous labors of his shop, labors which engrossed all his energies, and continued the employment until six. His day's hard work was then ordinarily closed. He took his supper, received his friends, or more commonly read and studied until ten o'clock at night, when almost invariably he retired to his bed.
His mind still for a time continued much interested in his plan for the church of the Free and Easy. We find among his papers that he decided that candidates for admission should, after a careful examination, to ascertain that their creed was, to have no creed, and that their faith was, to abjure all faith, be subject to a probation of thirteen weeks. It seems that no candidate ever applied for admission. There were no apostles to wander abroad proclaiming the new gospel. Increasing business absorbed Franklin's time, and the new church was forgotten.
The sole motive which Franklin urged to inspire to action, was self-interest. "You should be honest," he would say, "because it is politic. You abstain from vice for the same reason that you should not drink poison, for it will hurt you." In the enforcement of these views he writes,
"It was my design to explain and enforce this doctrine, that vicious actions are not hurtful because they are forbidden, but forbidden because they are hurtful. It was, therefore, every one's interest to be virtuous who wished to be happy in this world. And I should from this circumstance (there being always in the world a number of rich merchants, nobility, states and princes, who have need of honest instruments for the management of their affairs, and such being so rare) have endeavored to convince young persons that no qualities are so likely to make a poor man's fortune as those of probity and integrity."
It may be doubted whether such considerations ever made a truly good man. Virtue must be loved for its own sake. Vice must be deserted for its inherent baseness, even though it may bring a great reward.
Franklin, in the prosecution of his studies, devoted himself to French, Spanish, Italian, and even to Latin. In all these he became a proficient. His mind was wonderfully prompt in the acquisition of knowledge. He could hardly have devoted himself more assiduously and successfully to these studies, had some good angel whispered in the ear of the young printer the astounding intelligence, "You are yet to be the ambassador of the United States to European courts. You are to appear in those glittering assemblages as the equal of the highest noble; and are to enjoy the hospitalities of kings and queens. Familiarity with these languages, and the intellectual culture you are thus acquiring will be of more value to you than mines of gold."
This remarkable man prized all branches of knowledge; and seemed to excel in all. He devoted much attention to music. With much skill he played upon the harp, the guitar, the violin, and the violincello.
In the year 1734, a young preacher by the name of Hemphall came to Philadelphia from England. He was deemed by the orthodox clergy, very heterodox in his opinions. Probably suspicions of his orthodoxy were enhanced from the fact that he brought high testimonials of eloquence from several of the most prominent deists and free-thinkers in England. He was very fluent, at times very eloquent, and Franklin was charmed with the man and his doctrines.
Boldly denouncing all creeds, and all religious faith, he announced it as his creed and his faith that piety consists in conduct alone. Crowds flocked to hear him. One day, after preaching a very eloquent sermon, some one discovered that he had stolen that sermon from Dr. James Foster, the most popular preacher in London. An investigation took place, in which he was compelled to acknowledge that he had stolen every one of his sermons. Franklin writes,
"This detection gave many of our party disgust, who accordingly abandoned his cause, and occasioned our more speedy discomfiture in the synod. I stuck by him, however. I rather approved his giving us good sermons composed by others, than bad ones of his own, though the latter was the practice of our common teachers."
Had the young man said frankly, "I am rehearsing to you the most eloquent sermons of the most eloquent English divines," no one could have found any fault. But for him to assume that the sermons were his own, and that he personally was entitled to the credit of whatever power they exhibited, was certainly practicing deception. It was a gross violation of Franklin's cardinal virtue of sincerity. It was unworthy of Franklin, in his charitable regard for the offender, to gloss over the real criminality of the offence.
A year after Franklin's marriage, a son was born to him, to whom he gave the name of Francis Folger Franklin. All accounts agree in describing the child as endowed with remarkable beauty and intelligence. Probably Franklin never loved any being as he loved that child. In the year 1736, when this wonderful boy was but four years of age, he was seized with the small-pox and died. Even the philosophic Franklin was almost crushed by the terrible calamity. The cheering views of the Christian faith could not sustain him. He had no vivid conception of his cherub boy an angel in Heaven awaiting his father's arrival. He could only say that "I am inclined to believe that my child has not passed away into utter annihilation; but who knows? Many of the wisest and best on earth utterly discard the idea of a future existence. They deem the thought the conceit of ignorance and fanaticism."
We read the following epitaph on his little grave-stone with much sympathy for the bereaved father. He could only write
Francis F. Son of Benjamin and Deborah Franklin. Deceased November 12, 1736, Aged four years, one month and one day. The delight of all who knew him.
In the year 1739, Rev. George Whitefield arrived in Philadelphia. It is remarkable that a warm friendship should have sprung up between men so very diverse in character. But Franklin could not be insensible to the wonderful power of this preacher, in promoting public morals, and in transforming the worst of men into valuable citizens, faithfully performing all the duties of life. It is surprising that this effect of the Gospel did not teach him that Christianity is the "wisdom of God, and the power of God to salvation." Love was emphatically the message which Whitefield, with tearful eyes and throbbing heart, proclaimed to the wicked and the sorrowing. "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but should have everlasting life." Christ "came not into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved."