This was a new view of the case to Benjamin, and he was more favorably impressed with candle-making by these remarks. He desired to be of good service to his father, and here was an opportunity—a consideration that partially reconciled him to the inevitable change.
At that time—about one hundred and seventy-five years ago—boys were put to hard work much earlier than they are now. They had very small opportunities for acquiring knowledge, and the boys who did not go to school after they were ten years old were more in number than those who did. Besides, the schools were very poor in comparison with those of our day. They offered very slim advantages to the young. It was not unusual, therefore, for lads as young as Benjamin to be made to work.
Benjamin was somewhat deficient in arithmetic, as his father said, and he had given little attention to penmanship. He did not take to the science of numbers as he did to other studies. He allowed his dislike to interpose and hinder his progress.
"I do not like arithmetic very well," he said to his father.
"Perhaps not; but boys must study some things they do not like," his father replied. "It is the only way of preparing them for usefulness. You will not accomplish much in any business without a good knowledge of arithmetic. It is of use almost everywhere."
"I know that," said Benjamin, "and I shall master it if I can, whether I like it or not. I am willing to do what you think is best."
"I hope you will always be as willing to yield to my judgment. It is a good sign for any boy to accept cheerfully the plans of his father, who has had more experience."
Benjamin was usually very prompt to obey his parents, even when he did not exactly see the necessity of their commands. He understood full well that obedience was a law of the household, which could not be violated with impunity; therefore, he wisely obeyed. His father was quite rigid in his requirements, a Puritan of the olden stamp, who ruled his own house. Among other things, he required his children to observe the Sabbath by abstaining from labor and amusements, reading the Scriptures, and attending public worship. A walk in the streets, a call upon a youthful friend, or the reading of books not strictly religious, on Sunday, were acts not tolerated in his family. A child might wish to stay away from the house of God on the Sabbath, but it was not permitted. "Going to meeting" was a rule in the family as irrevocable as the laws of the Medes and Persians.
It was fortunate for Benjamin that he belonged to such a family; for he possessed an imperious will, that needed to be brought into constant subjection. Though of a pleasant and happy disposition, the sequel will show that, but for his strict obedience, his great talents would have been lost to the world. Nor did he grow restless and impatient under these rigid parental rules, nor cherish less affection for his parents in consequence. He accepted them as a matter of course. We have no reason to believe that he sought to evade them; and there can be no doubt that the influence of such discipline was good in forming his character. He certainly honored his father and mother as long as he lived. In ripe manhood, when his parents were old and infirm, and he lived in Philadelphia, he was wont to perform frequent journeys from that city to Boston, to visit them. It was on one of these journeys that the following incident is related of him:
Landlords, and other people, were very inquisitive at that time. They often pressed their inquiries beyond the bounds of propriety. At a certain hotel the landlord had done this to Franklin, and he resolved, on his next visit, to administer a sharp rebuke to the innkeeper. So, on his next visit, Franklin requested the landlord to call the members of his family together, as he had something important to communicate. The landlord hastened to fulfill his request, and very soon the family were together in one room, when Franklin addressed them as follows:
"My name is Benjamin Franklin; I am a printer by trade; I live, when at home, in Philadelphia; in Boston I have a father, a good old man, who taught me, when I was a boy, to read my Bible and say my prayers; I have ever since thought it my duty to visit and pay my respects to such a father, and I am on that errand to Boston now. This is all I can recollect at present of myself that I think worth telling you. But if you can think of any thing else that you wish to know about me, I beg you to out with it at once, that I may answer, and so give you an opportunity to get me something to eat, for I long to be on my journey that I may return as soon as possible to my family and business, where I most of all delight to be."
A more cutting rebuke was never administered. The landlord took in the full significance of the act, and learned a good lesson therefrom. It is doubtful if his inquisitiveness ever ran away with him again. But the narrative is given here to show that the strict rules of his father's house did not diminish filial affection, but rather solidified and perpetuated it.
It is good for boys, who are likely to want their own way, to be brought under exact rules. Franklin would have gone to ruin if he had had his way. The evil tendencies of boyhood need constant restraint. Obedience at home leads to obedience in the school and State.
Sir Robert Peel ascribed his success in life to such a home; and he related the following interesting incident to illustrate the sort of obedience that was required and practised in it: A neighbor's son called one day to solicit his company and that of his brothers upon an excursion. He was a young man of fine address, intelligent, smart, and promising, though fond of fun and frolic. He was a fashionable young man, too; we should call him a dude now. He wore "dark brown hair, tied behind with blue ribbon; had clear, mirthful eyes; wore boots that reached above his knees, and a broad-skirted scarlet coat, with gold lace on the cuffs, the collar, and the skirts; with a long waistcoat of blue silk. His breeches were buckskin; his hat was three-cornered, set jauntily higher on the right than on the left side." His name was Harry Garland. To his request that William, Henry, and Robert might go with him, their father replied:
"No, they can not go out. I have work for them to do, and they must never let pleasure usurp the place of labor."
The boys wanted to go badly, but there was no use in teasing for the privilege; it would only make a bad matter worse. "Our father's yea was yea, and his nay, nay; and that was the end of it."
The three brothers of the Peel family became renowned in their country's brilliant progress. But Harry Garland, the idle, foppish youth, who had his own way, and lived for pleasure, became a ruined spendthrift. The fact verifies the divine promise, "Honor thy father and mother (which is the first commandment with promise), that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth." True filial love appears to conciliate the whole world by its consistent and beautiful expression. Such an act as that of the great engineer, George Stephenson, who took the first one hundred and sixty dollars he earned, saved from a year's wages, and paid his blind old father's debts, and then removed both father and mother to a comfortable tenement at Killingworth, where he supported them by the labor of his hands, awakens our admiration, and leads us to expect that the author will achieve success.
When the statue of Franklin was unveiled in Boston, in 1856, a barouche appeared in the procession which carried eight brothers, all of whom received Franklin medals at the Mayhew school in their boyhood, sons of Mr. John Hall. All of them were known to fame by their worth of character and wide influence. As the barouche in which they rode came into State street, from Merchants' row, these brothers rose up in the carriage, and stood with uncovered heads while passing a window at which their aged and revered mother was sitting—an act of filial regard so impressive and beautiful as to fill the hearts of all beholders with profound respect for the obedient and loving sons. They never performed a more noble deed, in the public estimation, than this one of reverence for a worthy parent.
We have made this digression to show that Franklin's home, with its rigid discipline, was the representative home of his country, in which the great and good of every generation laid the foundation of their useful careers.
* * * * *
Benjamin was taken out of school, as his father decided, and was put under Mr. Brownwell's tuition in arithmetic and penmanship. As he had endeared himself to Mr. Williams, teacher of the public school, so he endeared himself to Mr. Brownwell by his obedience, studious habits, and rapid progress. He did not become an expert in arithmetic, though, by dint of persistent effort, he made creditable progress in the study. In penmanship he excelled, and acquired an easy, attractive style that was of great service to him through life.
FROM SCHOOL TO CANDLE-SHOP.
While Benjamin was attending Mr. Brownwell's school, his "Uncle Benjamin," for whom he was named, came over from England. His wife and children were dead, except his son Samuel, who had immigrated to this country. He had been unfortunate in business also, and lost what little property he possessed. With all the rest, the infirmities of age were creeping over him, so that nearly all the ties that bound him to his native land were sundered; and so he decided to spend the remnant of his days in Boston, where Samuel lived.
Samuel Franklin was an unmarried young man, intelligent and enterprising, willing and anxious to support his father in this country. But having no family and home to which to introduce his aged parent, "Uncle Benjamin" became a member of his brother Josiah's family, and continued a member of it about four years, or until Samuel was married, when he went to live with him.
"Uncle Benjamin" was very much pained to find that his namesake had relinquished the purpose of becoming a minister. His heart was set on his giving his life-service to the Church.
"Any body can make candles," he said, "but talents are required for the ministry, and, from all I learn, Benjamin has the talents."
"Partly right and partly wrong," rejoined Josiah, who seemed to think that his brother's remark was not altogether complimentary. "Talents are required for the ministry, as you say, but judgment, tact, and industry are required to manufacture candles successfully. A fool would not make much headway in the business."
"I meant no reflection upon Boston's tallow-chandler," and a smile played over his face as "Uncle Benjamin" said it; "but I really think that Benjamin is too talented for the business. Five talents can make candles well enough; let ten talents serve the Church."
"Well, that is sound doctrine; I shall not object to that," replied Josiah; "but if poverty makes it impossible for ten talents to serve the Church, it is better that they make candles than to do nothing. Candle-making is indispensable; it is a necessary business, and therefore it is honorable and useful."
"The business is well enough; a man can be a man and make candles. This way of lighting dwellings is really a great invention; and it will be a long time, I think, when any thing better will supersede it. This new country is fortunate in having such a light, so cheap and convenient, so that the business is to be respected and valued. But Benjamin is greater than the business."
The last remark set forth "Uncle Benjamin's" views exactly. He really supposed that no improvement could be made in the method of lighting houses and shops by candles. That was the opinion of all the Franklins. To them a tallow-candle was the climax of advancement on that line. If a prophet had arisen, and foretold the coming of gas and electricity for the lighting of both houses and streets, in the next century, he would have been regarded as insane—too crazy even to make candles. Progress was not a prevailing idea of that day. It did not enter into any questions of the times as a factor. If succeeding generations should maintain the standard of theirs, enjoying as many privileges, it would be all that could be reasonably expected. Candles would be needed until the "new heaven and new earth" of Revelation appeared. Possibly they would have believed that their method of lighting would be popular in "that great city, the Holy Jerusalem," had it not been declared in the Bible that they will "need no candle," because "there shall be no night there."
"Uncle Benjamin" added, what really comforted Josiah: "Of course, if you are not able to send Benjamin to college, he can't go, and that ends it. If I were able to pay the bills, I should be only too glad to do it. Benjamin is a remarkable boy, and his talents will manifest themselves whatever his pursuit may be. He will not always make candles for a living; you may depend on that."
"Perhaps not," responded Josiah; "if Providence introduces him into a better calling, I shall not object; but I want he should be satisfied with this until the better one comes."
As the time drew near for Benjamin to exchange school for the candle-factory, his disappointment increased. To exchange school, which he liked so well, for a dirty business that he did not like at all, was almost too much for his flesh and blood. His feelings revolted against the uncongenial trade.
"You do not know how I dread to go into the candle-factory to make it my business for life," he said to his mother. "I feel worse and worse about it."
"We are all sorry that you are obliged to do it," replied Mrs. Franklin. "I am sure that your father would have made any sacrifice possible to send you to college, but it was simply impossible. You will have to make the best of it. God may open the way to employment that will be more congenial to you some time. For the present he means that you should help your father, I have no doubt of that; and you must do the best for him that you can."
"That is what I intend to do, however much I dislike the business. I want to help father all I can; he has a hard time enough to provide for us."
Benjamin expressed himself as frankly to his father, adding, "I really wish you would engage in some other business."
"And starve, too?" rejoined his father. "In such times as these we must be willing to do what will insure us a livelihood. I know of no other business that would give me a living at present—certainly none that I am qualified to pursue."
"Well, I should rather make soap and candles than starve, on the whole," Benjamin remarked in reply; "but nothing short of starvation could make me willing to follow the business."
"One other thing ought to make you willing to do such work," added his father; "a determination to be industrious. Idleness is the parent of vice. Boys like you should be industrious even if they do not earn their salt. It is better for them to work for nothing than to be idle."
"I think they better save their strength till they can earn something," said Benjamin. "People must like to work better than I do, to work for nothing."
"You do not understand me; I mean to say that it is so important for the young to form industrious habits, that they better work for nothing than to be idle. If they are idle when they are young, they will be so when they become men, and idleness will finally be their ruin. 'The devil tempts all other men, but idle men tempt the devil'; and I hope that you will never consent to verify the proverb."
Mr. Franklin had been a close observer all his life, and he had noticed that industry was characteristic of those who accomplished any thing commendable Consequently he insisted that his children should have employment. He allowed no drones in his family hive. All must be busy as bees. All had some thing to do as soon as they were old enough to toil. Under such influences Benjamin was reared, and he grew up to be as much in love with industry as his father was. Some of his best counsels and most interesting sayings, when he became a man, related to this subject. There is no doubt that his early discipline on this line gave to the world his best sayings on this and other subjects. The following are some of his counsels referred to:
"Sloth, like rust, consumes faster than labor wears, while the used key is always bright."
"But dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of."
"If time be of all things the most precious, wasting time must be the greatest prodigality."
"Sloth makes all things difficult, but industry all easy; and he that riseth late must trot all day, and shall scarce overtake his business at night; while laziness travels so slowly that poverty soon overtakes him."
"At the working-man's house hunger looks in but dares not enter."
"Diligence is the mother of good luck, and God gives all things to industry."
"One to-day is worth two to-morrows."
"Drive thy business! let not thy business drive thee."
"God helps those that help themselves."
He wrote to a young tradesman as follows:
"Remember that time is money. He that can earn ten shillings a day by his labor, and goes abroad or sits idle one-half that day, though he spend but sixpence during his diversion or idleness, ought not to reckon that the only expense; he has really spent, or rather thrown away, five shillings besides.
"The sound of your hammer at five in the morning, or nine at night, heard by a creditor, makes him easy six months longer; but, if he sees you at a billiard-table, or hears your voice at a tavern, when you should be at work, he sends for his money the next day; demands it before he can receive it in a lump."
Benjamin became a better teacher than his father; and, no doubt, was indebted to his father for the progress. Had he gone to college instead of the candle-shop, the world might not have received his legacy of proverbial wisdom. For these were the outcome of secular discipline, when he was brought into direct contact with the realities of business and hardship. Colleges do not teach proverbs; they do not make practical men, but learned men. Practical men are made by observation and experience in the daily work of life. In that way Franklin was made the remarkable practical man that he was.
Had "Uncle Benjamin" lived to read such words of wisdom from the pen of his namesake, when his reputation had spread over two hemispheres, he would have said, "I told you so. Did I not say that Benjamin would not always make candles? Did I not prophesy that he would make his mark in manhood?"
Benjamin became a tallow-chandler when he was ten years old; and he meant to make a good one, though the business was repulsive to his feelings. At first his industry and tact were all that his father could desire. He devoted the hours of each workday closely to the trade, though his love for it did not increase at all. If any thing, he disliked it more and more as the weeks and months dragged on. Perhaps he became neglectful and somewhat inefficient, for he said, in his manhood, that his father often repeated to him this passage from the Bible:
"Seest thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men."
When Benjamin became the famous Dr. Franklin, and was in the habit of standing before kings, he often recalled this maxim of Solomon, which his father dinged rebukingly in his ear. It was one of the pleasantest recollections of his life.
Mr. Franklin watched his boy in the candle-trade closely, to see whether his dislike for it increased or diminished. His anxiety for him was great. He did not wish to compel him to make candles against an increasing desire to escape from the hardship. He had great sympathy for him, too, in his disappointment at leaving school. And it was a hard lot for such a lover of school and study to give them up forever at ten years of age. No more school after that! Small opportunity, indeed, in comparison with those enjoyed by nearly every boy at the present day! Now they are just beginning to learn at this early age. From ten they can look forward to six, eight, or ten years in school and college.
Mr. Franklin saw from month to month that his son more and more disliked his business, though little was said by either of them. "Actions speak louder than words," as Mr. Franklin saw to his regret; for it was as clear as noonday that Benjamin would never be contented in the candle-factory. He did his best, however, to make the boy's situation attractive; allowed him frequent opportunities for play, and praised his habit of reading in the evening and at all other times possible. Still, a tallow-candle did not attract him. It shed light, but it was not the sort of light that Benjamin wanted to radiate. One day, nearly two years after he engaged in the candle-business, he said to his father:
"I wish I could do something else; I can never like this work."
"What else would you like to do?" inquired his father.
"I would like to go to sea," was the prompt and straight reply; and it startled Mr. Franklin. It was just what he feared all along. He was afraid that compulsion to make him a tallow-chandler might cause him to run away and go to sea, as his eldest son, Josiah, did. Emphatically his father said:
"Go to sea, Benjamin! Never, never, with my consent. Never say another word about it, and never think about it, for that is out of the question. I shall never give my consent, and I know your mother never will. It was too much for me when your brother broke away from us and went to sea. I can not pass through another such trial. So you must not persist in your wish, if you would not send me down to the grave."
Josiah, the eldest son, named for his father, became dissatisfied with his home when Benjamin was an infant, ran away, and shipped as a sailor. The parents knew not where he had gone. Month after month they waited, in deep sorrow, for tidings from their wayward boy, but no tidings came. Years rolled on, and still the wanderer was away somewhere—they knew not where. Morning, noon, and night the memory of him lay heavy upon their hearts, turning their cup of earthly joy to bitterness, and furrowing their faces with anxiety and grief. He might be dead. He might be alive and in want in a strange land. The uncertainty and suspense hanging over his fate magnified their sorrow. The outlook was unpleasant; there was no comfort in it. They appealed to God. Before Him they pleaded for their prodigal son—for his safety, his return, his salvation.
Not long after Benjamin had expressed his longing for the sea, when almost the last hope of seeing the lost son again had vanished, Josiah returned and startled his parents by his sudden and unexpected presence. They could scarcely believe their eyes. Twelve years, and hard service before the mast, had wrought a great change in his appearance. He was a youth when he ran away,—he was a man now, toughened by exposure, dark as an Indian, stalwart and rough; but still the eldest son and brother, Josiah Franklin, Jr. They were glad to see him. They rejoiced more over this one returning prodigal than they did over the sixteen that went not astray. "The father said: Bring forth the best robe and put it on him; and put a ring on his finger, and shoes on his feet. And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost and is found. And they began to be merry."
It was the first time in twelve years that family had been "merry." Past sorrows were forgotten in the joy of their meeting. On that day a new life began around that hearthstone. Father and mother began to live again. As if they had never shed a tear or felt a pang, they looked into the future with cheerful hope and expectation.
To return to Benjamin. His father's quick and sharp reply left no room for doubt. If he went to sea it must be against his father's will. He turned to his mother, but was repulsed with equal decision.
"You surprise me, Benjamin. Want to go to sea! You must not harbor such a thought. Is it not enough that we have lost one son in that way? You might have known that I should never give my consent. I should almost as lief bury you. How can you want to leave your good home, and all your friends, to live in a ship, exposed to storms and death all the time?"
"It is not because I do not love my home and friends; but I have a desire to sail on a voyage to some other country. I like the water, and nothing would suit me better than to be a cabin-boy."
"You surprise and pain me, Benjamin. I never dreamed of such a thing. If you do not like work in the candle-factory, then choose some other occupation, but never think of going to sea."
"I would choose any other occupation under the sun than candle-making," replied Benjamin. "I have tried to like it for two years, but dislike it more and more. If I could have my own way, I would not go to the factory another day."
Perhaps the opposition of his parents would have prevented his going to sea, but the return of Josiah, with no words of praise for the calling, might have exerted a decided influence in leading him to abandon the idea altogether.
"Uncle Benjamin," of course, could not tolerate the idea of his nephew becoming a sailor. With his poor opinion of the candle-trade, he would have him pursue the business all his life rather than become a sailor.
"Do any thing rather than follow the seas," he said. "If you want to throw yourself away, body and soul, go before the mast. But if you want to be somebody, and do something that will make you respectable and honored among men, never ship for a voyage, long or short. A boy of one talent can be a cabin-boy, but a boy of ten talents ought to be above that business, and find his place on a higher plane of life."
CHOOSING A TRADE AND STEALING SPORT.
Mr. and Mrs. Franklin canvassed the subject thoroughly, and wisely decided that Benjamin might engage in some other pursuit.
"To be successful a man must love his calling," remarked Mr. Franklin, "and Benjamin hates his. He appears to go to each day's work with a dread, and as long as he feels so he will not accomplish any thing."
"You have come to a wise decision, I think," responded "Uncle Benjamin." "Ordinarily a boy should choose his own occupation. He may be instructed and assisted by his parents, but if he makes his own selection he is likely to choose what he has tact and taste for. Certainly, I would not compel a son to follow a business that he hates as Benjamin does candle-making."
"That is true on the whole, but circumstances alter cases," remarked Mr. Franklin. "I believe I shall take him around to examine different trades in town, and he can see for himself and choose what he likes best."
"He has seemed to be interested in my son's business," added "Uncle Benjamin."
His son Samuel was a cutler, and he had established the cutlery business in Boston, in which he was quite successful.
"Well, he can look into that; I have no objections to it; it is a good business. I will let him examine others, however, and take his choice. I want he should settle the matter of occupation now for life. I do not want to go through another experience with him, such as I have been through two years in the candle-factory."
Mr. Franklin had evidently acquired new views about boys, judging from his last remarks. He saw but one way out of the difficulty. Choice of an occupation was a more important matter than he had dreamed of. However, he had acted in accordance with the custom of that day, to choose occupations for sons without the least regard to fitness or their preferences. Boys must not have their own way in that matter any more than they should in other things, was the opinion of that age. But progress has been made on this line. It is thought now that the more nearly the aptitudes of the person fit the occupation, the more congenial and successful is the career. To follow the "natural bent," whenever it is possible, appears to be eminently wise. For square men should be put into square holes and round men into round holes. Failing to regard the drift of one's being in the choice of an occupation, is almost sure to put square men into round holes, and round men into square holes. In this way good mechanics have been spoiled to make poor clergymen or merchants, and a good minister spoiled to make a commonplace artisan.
The celebrated English engineer, Smeaton, displayed a marvellous ability for mechanical pursuits even in his childhood. Before he had donned jacket and pants in the place of short dress, his father discovered him on the top of the barn, putting up a windmill that he had made. But he paid no regard to the boy's aptitude for this or that position. He was determined to make a lawyer of him, and sent him to school with that end in view. But the boy thought more of windmills and engines than he did of Euclid or Homer, and the result was unfavorable. His father was trying to crowd a square boy into a round hole, and it was repugnant to the born engineer.
Josiah Franklin tried to do with Benjamin just what Smeaton tried to do with his son, squeeze a square boy into a round hole. That was a mistake. The son did not like the operation, and rebelled against the squeezing. This created trouble for both, until, with the aid of "Uncle Benjamin," Josiah discovered the way out of the difficulty.
Benjamin was delighted when his father disclosed to him his new plan.
"Anything is preferable to making candles," he said. "It will not take me long to choose something in place of a soap-factory."
"You have considerable mechanical ingenuity," his father said; "you like to work with tools, and you can see how tools are handled in different trades. How would you like your Cousin Samuel's business?"
"I should like it vastly better than making candles, though I have not examined it much. I can tell better when have looked in upon other trades When shall we go?"
"Begin to-morrow, and first call upon your Cousin Samuel. His cutlery trade is good, and it must increase as the population grows. Then we will examine other kinds of business. It will take some time to go the rounds."
On the morrow, as agreed upon, they went forth upon the memorable errand. Benjamin felt like an uncaged bird, and was highly elated by his prospects. Their first call was at Samuel's shop, where they could see a line of cutlery that was quite ample for that day. Samuel explained his methods, use of tools, etc., and Benjamin listened. He was well pleased with the trade, as Samuel saw at once, who encouraged him to choose it.
"I was never sorry that I learned the business," he said. "There is no easier way of getting a living, and the work is interesting, because it requires some ingenuity and skill. Benjamin has both, and will succeed."
"But I want he should examine other trades," replied his father. "When he has taken in several he will know more what he wants."
"Perhaps he will not know as well what he wants," rejoined Samuel. "If he is like some boys he will be less settled in his mind what to choose than he is now."
"My mind is partly settled now," said Benjamin. "I should choose any trade on earth in preference to making candles and boiling soap. I should be content with your business."
Next they called on a brazier, who manufactured many articles in brass. This was entirely new to Benjamin; he had never seen any thing of the kind before, and he examined the methods of work with much interest. The brazier was communicative, and explained matters fully and clearly, at the same time assuring Benjamin that he would like to teach a boy like him.
In like manner they visited a joiner, or carpenter, as he is called in New England now; also, a turner, who formed various things with a lathe; also, a silversmith, bricklayer, and stone-mason. A part of several days was occupied in this examination; and it was time well spent, for it put much information into Benjamin's head, and enlarged his ideas. Referring to the matter when he had become an old man, he said: "It has ever since been a pleasure to me to see good workmen handle their tools. And it has often been useful to me to have learned so much by it as to be able to do some trifling jobs in the house when a workman was not at hand, and to construct little machines for my experiments at the moment when the intention of making these was warm in my mind."
"I like Samuel's trade as well as any," Benjamin remarked, after the trips of examination were concluded; and his father rejoiced to hear it. From the start Mr. Franklin showed that none of the trades suited him so well as his nephew's; so that he was particularly gratified to hear the above remark.
"Do you like it well enough to choose it, Benjamin?"
"Yes, father; on the whole, I think I shall like it best of any; and cutlery will always be needed."
"We will understand, then, that you choose that trade, and I will see Samuel at once. It may be best for you to go into the shop for a short time before I make a bargain with him. Then he will know what you can do, and you will know how you like it."
At that time it was customary to bind boys to their employers, in different pursuits, until twenty-one years of age. Benjamin was twelve, and, if he should be bound to his cousin, as was the custom, it would be for nine years. For this reason it was a step not to be hastily taken. If a short service in the shop should prove favorable for both sides, the long apprenticeship could be entered upon more intelligently and cheerfully.
Mr. Franklin lost no time in securing a place in Samuel's shop. Both parties agreed that it would be best for Benjamin to spend a brief period in the business before settling the terms of apprenticeship. Accordingly he entered upon his new trade immediately, and was much pleased with it. It was so different from the work of candle-making, and required so much more thought and ingenuity, that he enjoyed it. He went to each day's work with a light and cheerful heart. He was soon another boy in appearance, contented, happy, and hopeful. Samuel recognized his ingenuity and willingness to work, and prophesied that he would become an expert cutler. He was ready to receive him as an apprentice, and Benjamin was willing to be bound to him until he was twenty-one years of age.
But when Mr. Franklin conferred with Samuel as to the terms of the apprenticeship, they could not agree. The latter demanded an exorbitant fee for his apprenticeship, which the former did not feel able to pay. With good nature they discussed the subject, with reference to an agreement on the terms; but Samuel was immovable. He had but one price. Benjamin might stay or go. Very much to the disappointment of both father and son, the plan failed and was abandoned.
Benjamin was afloat again. He had no disposition to return to candle-making, nor did his father desire that he should. He must choose an occupation again. As it turned out, it would have been better to settle the terms of apprenticeship in the first place.
It has been said that "there is no loss without some gain." So there was some gain to Benjamin. He was sadly disappointed; and he had given some time to a trade that amounted to nothing, but it was not all loss. He had learned much about the trades: the importance of a trade to every boy, and its necessity as a means of livelihood, and he never lost the lesson which he learned at that time. In his ripe manhood he wrote,—
"He that hath a trade hath an estate. He that hath a calling hath an office of honor."
He believed that a trade was as good as a farm for a livelihood, and that a necessary calling was as honorable as a public office of distinction. How much his early discipline about trades had to do with these noble sentiments of his mature life, we may not say, but very much, without doubt.
While Benjamin was waiting for something to turn up, an incident occurred which may be rehearsed in this place. He was already an expert in swimming and rowing, and he loved the water and a boat passionately. He was fond of fishing, also; and there was a marsh, flooded at high tides, where the boys caught minnows. Here they repaired for a fine time one day, Benjamin and several companions.
"All aboard!" exclaimed Benjamin, as he bounded into the boat lying at the water's edge. "Now for a ride; only hurry up, and make the oars fly"; and several boys leaped in after him from the shaky, trampled quagmire on which they stood.
"We shall be heels over head in mud yet," said one of the number, "unless we try to improve this marsh. There is certainly danger that we shall go through that shaky place, and we do not know where we shall stop when we begin to go down."
"Let us build a wharf; that will get rid of the quagmire," suggested Benjamin. "It won't be a long job, if all take hold."
"Where will you get your lumber?" inquired John.
"Nowhere. We do not want any lumber; stones are better."
"That is worse yet, to bring stones so far, and enough of them," said John. "You must like to lift better than I do, and strain your gizzard in tugging stones here."
"Look there," continued Benjamin, pointing to a heap of stones only a few rods distant, "there are stones enough for our purpose, and one or two hours is all the time we want to build a wharf with them."
"Those stones belong to the man who is preparing to build a house there," said Fred. "The workmen are busy there now."
"That may all be, but they can afford to lend them to us for a little while; they will be just as good for their use after we have done with them." There was the rogue's sly look in Benjamin's eye when he made the last remark.
"Then you expect they will loan them to you; but I guess you will be mistaken," responded Fred.
"I will borrow them in this way: We will go this evening, after the workmen have gone home, and tug them over here, and make the wharf before bedtime." Benjamin made this proposition for the purpose of adding to their sport.
"And get ourselves into trouble thereby," answered a third boy. "I will agree to do it if you will bear all the blame of stealing them."
"Stealing!" exclaimed Benjamin, who was so bent on sport that he had no thought of stealing. "It is not stealing to take stones. A man could not sell a million tons of them for a copper."
"Well, anyhow, the man who has borne the expense of drawing them there won't thank you for taking them."
"I do not ask them to thank me. I do not think the act deserves any thanks." And a roguish twinkle of the eye showed that Benjamin knew he was doing wrong for the sake of getting a little sport. "Wouldn't it be a joke on those fellows if they should find their pile of stones missing in the morning?"
"Let us do it," said John, who was taken with the idea of playing off a joke. "I will do my part to put it through."
"And I will do mine."
"And so will I."
"And I, too."
By this time all were willing to follow Benjamin, their leader. Perhaps some of them were afraid to say "No," as their consciences suggested, now that the enterprise was endorsed by one or two of their number. Both boys and men are quite disposed to "go with the multitude to do evil." They are too cowardly to do what they know is right.
The salt marsh bounding a part of the mill-pond where their boat lay was tramped into a quagmire. The boys were wont to fish there at high water, and so many feet treading on the spot reduced it to a very soft condition. It was over this miry marsh that they proposed to build a wharf. The evening was soon there, and the boys, too, upon their rogues' errand. They surveyed the pile of stones, and found it ample for their purpose, though it appeared to be a formidable piece of work to remove them.
"Two of us can't lift and carry some of them," said Fred.
"Then three of us will hitch on and carry them," replied Benjamin. "They must all be worked into a wharf this evening. Let us begin—there is no time to lose."
"The largest must go first," suggested John. "They are capital stones for the foundation. Come, boys, let us make quick work of it."
So they went to work with a will and "where there's a will there's a way," in evil as well as good. It was unfortunate for Benjamin that he did not hate such an enterprise as much as he did candle-making. If he had, he would have given a wide berth to the salt marsh and the wharf project. But neither he nor his companions disliked the evil work in which there was sport. We say that they worked with a will; and their perseverance was the only commendable thing about the affair. Sometimes three or four of them worked away at a stone, rolling it along or lifting, as necessity required. Then one alone would catch up a smaller one, and convey it to the wharf at double-quick. Half their zeal, tact, and industry, in doing this wrong, would have made the candle-trade, or any other business, a success.
The evening was not quite spent when the last stone was carried away, and the wharf finished,—a work of art that answered their purpose very well, though it was not quite as imposing as Commercial Wharf is now, and was not calculated to receive the cargo of a very large Liverpool packet.
"A capital place now for fishing!" exclaimed Fred. "It is worth all it cost for that."
"It may cost more than you think for before we get through with it," suggested John. "We sha'n't know the real cost of it until the owner finds his stones among the missing."
"I should like to hear his remarks to-morrow morning, when he discovers his loss," remarked Benjamin; "they will not be very complimentary, I think."
"I am more anxious to know what he will do about it," responded John.
"We shall find out before long, no doubt," said Benjamin. "But I must hurry home, or I shall have more trouble there than anywhere else. Come, boys, let us go."
They hastened to their homes, not designing to divulge the labors of the evening, if they could possibly avoid interrogation. They knew that their parents would disapprove of the deed, and that no excuse could shield them from merited censure. Not one of their consciences was at ease. Their love of sport had got the better of their love of right-doing. And yet they were both afraid and ashamed to tell of what they had done. They were at home and in bed and asleep about as early as usual.
Twenty-four hours passed away, during which Benjamin's fears had increased rather than diminished. He was all the while thinking about the stones—what the owner would say and do—whether he would learn who took his stones away. His conscience was on duty.
It was evening, and Mr. Franklin took his seat at the fireside. Benjamin was reading, the unattractive tallow candle furnishing him light.
"Benjamin," said Mr. Franklin, after a little, "where were you last evening?"
If his father had fired off a pistol he could not have been more disturbed. His heart leaped into his throat. He thought of the stones. He knew something was up about them—that trouble was ahead.
"I was down to the water," Benjamin replied, with as much coolness as he could muster.
"What were you doing there?"
"Fixing up a place for the boat." He suspected, from his father's appearance, that he would have to tell the whole story.
"Benjamin, see that you tell me the truth, and withhold nothing. I wish to know exactly what you did there."
"We built a wharf."
"What did you build it with?"
"We built it of stones."
"Where did you get your stones?"
"There was a pile of them close by."
"Did they belong to you?"
"Then you stole them, did you?"
"It isn't stealing to take stones."
"Why, then, did you take them in the evening, after the workmen had gone home? Why did you not go after them when the workmen were all there? It looks very much as if you thought taking them was stealing them."
Benjamin saw that he was fairly cornered. Such a catechetical exercise was somewhat new to him. The Westminster Assembly's Catechism never put him into so tight a place as that. Bright as he was, he could not discover the smallest hole out of which to crawl. It was a bad scrape, and he could see no way out of it except by telling the truth. We dislike very much to say it, but, judging from all the circumstances, he would have told a lie, could he have seen a place to put one in. But there was no chance for a falsehood. He was completely shut up to the truth. He saw that the wharf cost more than he estimated—that stealing stones violated a principle as really as stealing dollars. He was so completely cornered that he made no reply. His father continued:
"I see plainly how it is. It is the consequence of going out in the evening with the boys, which I must hereafter forbid. I have been willing that you should go out occasionally in the evening, because I thought it might be better for you than so much reading. But you have now betrayed my confidence, and I am more than ever satisfied that boys should spend their evenings at home, trying to improve their minds. You are guilty of an act that is quite flagrant, although it may have been done thoughtlessly. You should have known better after having received so much instruction at home."
"I did know better," was Benjamin's frank confession, determined to make a clean breast of it.
"And that makes your guilt so much the greater. Will you learn a lesson from this, and never do the like again?"
"I promise that I never will."
Thus frankly Benjamin confessed his wrong-doing; and, in mature life, he often referred to it as his "first wrong act" from which he learned a lesson for life. It was another way of paying too dear for a whistle. What the whistle was to him at seven, the wharf of stones was to him at twelve years of age—sport. The first was innocent sport, however; the last was guilty.
It appears that the workmen missed their stones when they first reached the spot in the morning, and soon discovered them nicely laid into a wharf. The proprietor was indignant, and set about learning who were the authors of the deed. In the course of the day he gained the information he sought, and very properly went to the parents of each boy with his complaint. In this way the boys were exposed, and received just rebuke for their misdemeanor. Benjamin was convinced, as he said of it many years thereafter, "that that which is not honest could not be truly useful."
At the time Benjamin was in the candle-factory his brother James was in England learning the printer's trade. He spent several years there, until he had mastered the business, intending to return to Boston and establish that trade. He returned about the time that Benjamin was concluding his disgust with candle-making, and was well under way at the time he abandoned the cutler's trade. James brought press, type, and all the et ceteras of a complete outfit with him from England.
"How would you like to learn the printer's trade with your brother James?" inquired his father, a short time after Benjamin left the cutler's shop. "I have been thinking it over, and I really believe that you have more qualifications for it than you have for any other trade. Your love of learning will have a better chance there, too."
"How is that?" answered Benjamin. "I do not quite see in what respect I am better qualified to be a printer than a cutler."
"Well, you are a good reader, and have an intellectual turn, being fond of books; and a printing office must have more opportunities for mental improvement than the shop of a cutler. A type-setter can be acquiring new and valuable ideas when he is setting up written articles."
"If that is so I should like it well; and I should think it might be as you say," Benjamin answered. "I might have a better chance to read."
"Of course you would. You may have matter to put in type that is as interesting and profitable as any thing you find in books. Indeed, James will no doubt have pamphlets and books to publish before long. All that you read in books went through the printer's hand first."
"I had not thought of that," said Benjamin, quite taken with his father's ideas about the printing business. "I think I should like it better than almost any thing else. How long will it take to learn the trade?"
"I suppose that it will take some time, though I know very little about it. You are twelve years of age now, and you can certainly acquire the best knowledge of the trade by the time you are twenty-one."
"That is a long time," suggested Benjamin; "nine years ought to make the best printer there is. But that is no objection to me; I shall do as you think best."
"I want you should think it best, too," rejoined his father. "If you have no inclination to be a printer, I do not want you should undertake it. You will not succeed in any business you dislike."
"I do think it best to try this," replied Benjamin. "If James thinks well of it, I shall, for he knows all about the trade."
"I will speak with him about it and learn his opinion," said his father. "If he thinks well of it, I will see what arrangements can be made with him. The prospects of the business are not flattering now, but I think the day is coming when it will prosper."
Mr. Franklin lost no time in conferring with James, who favored the plan without any reserve. He proposed to take Benjamin as an apprentice, to serve until he was twenty-one years old, according to the custom of the times, receiving twenty pounds for the same, and giving him board and clothes until the last year, when he would be paid journeyman's wages. This was a good opportunity on the whole, for printing was in its infancy in our country at that time. Not more than six or eight persons had been in the business in Boston before James Franklin commenced, in the year 1717. The demand for printing must have been very small indeed.
The first printing press in the United States was set up in Cambridge in 1639 by Rev. Jesse Glover, who gave it to Harvard University. The first thing printed was the "Freeman's oath"; the next, the almanac for New England, calculated by William Pierce, a mariner; the next, a metrical version of the Psalms.
It is claimed that ten years later than Benjamin's entering his brother's printing office, there were but three or four printers in our country. Whether that was so or not, it is certain that then, and for many years afterwards, printers were very scarce. In 1692, Old Style, the council of New York adopted the following resolution:
"It is resolved in council, that if a printer will come and settle in the city of New York, for the printing of our acts of assembly and public papers, he shall be allowed the sum of forty pounds, current money of New York, per annum, for his salary, and have the benefit of his printing, besides what serves to the public."
It is said, also, that when Benjamin Franklin wanted to marry the daughter of Mr. Reed, of Philadelphia, her mother said, "I do not know about giving my daughter to a printer; for there are already four in the United States, and it is doubtful if more could get a living."
It is worthy of note here, also, as showing how slowly the printing business advanced in the infancy of our country, that Great Britain did not allow the American Colonies to print the English Bible. Hence, the first Bible printed in this country was published in 1782, a little more than a hundred years ago. For this reason most of the pulpit Bibles in the Congregational and other churches of New England, before that time, were the Oxford editions, in which the Book of Common Prayer and the Psalms were included, and the Articles of Faith of the English Church. Some of these are still preserved as relics.
"It will be necessary for you to be bound to your brother, according to law," remarked Mr. Franklin. "These things must be done legally, and such is the law and custom, too."
"And I am to board with him, also, if I understand you, father?" Benjamin was thinking of leaving his home, and that would be a trial. True, he would not be far from his father's house; he could step into it every night if he wished; but it was leaving home, nevertheless. "It does not seem quite right for one brother to be bound to another for nine years," added Benjamin, thoughtfully, and after some hesitation.
"But such is the custom, however it may appear, and it must be done so to have every thing right and legal. We do not know what may happen in the nine years. It is better to have things in black and white, whether the bargain is with a brother or any one else."
Mr. Franklin added more to the last remarks, in order to remove an objection which Benjamin seemed to have to being bound to his brother; and he was successful. The last objection was removed, and cheerfully and gladly Benjamin consented to become a printer-boy.
The following was the form of the indenture of apprenticeship that bound Benjamin to his brother for nine years:
"This indenture witnesseth that Benjamin Franklin, son of Josiah Franklin, and of Abiah, his wife, of Boston, in the colony of Massachusetts Bay, with the consent of his parents, doth put himself apprentice to his brother, James Franklin, printer, to learn his art, and with him after the manner of an apprentice from the —— day of ——, in the year of our Lord, 1718, until he shall have fully completed the twenty-first year of his age. During which term the said apprentice his master faithfully shall or will serve, his secrets keep, his lawful commands everywhere gladly do. He shall do no damage to his said master, nor see it to be done of others, but to his power shall let, or forthwith give notice to his said master of the same. The goods of his said master he shall not waste, nor the same without license of him to any give or lend. Hurt to his said master he shall not do, cause, nor procure to be done. He shall neither buy nor sell without his master's license. Taverns, inns, and ale houses he shall not haunt. At cards, dice, tables, or any other unlawful game he shall not play. Matrimony he shall not contract; nor from the service of his said master day nor night absent himself; but in all things as an honest and faithful apprentice shall and will demean and behave himself towards his said master and all his during the said term. And the said James Franklin, the master, for and in consideration of the sum of ten pounds of lawful British money to him in hand paid by the said Josiah Franklin, the father, the receipt of which is hereby acknowledged, the said apprentice in the art of a printer, which he now useth, shall teach and instruct, or cause to be taught and instructed, the best way and manner that he can, finding and allowing unto the said apprentice meat, drink, washing, lodging, and all other necessaries during the said term. And for the true performance of all and every the covenants and agreements aforesaid, either of the said parties bindeth himself unto the other finally by these presents. In witness whereof, the parties aforesaid to these indentures interchangeably have set their hands and seals this —— day of ——, in the fifth year of our Sovereign Lord, George the First, by the grace of God of Great Britain, France, and Ireland King, Defender of the Faith, and in the year of our Lord, 1718."
To this document Benjamin signed his name, with his father and brother, thereby having his liberty considerably abridged.
A boy by the name of William Tinsley took the place of Benjamin in Mr. Franklin's candle-shop. He was bound to Mr. Franklin as Benjamin was bound to his brother. But he liked the business no better than Benjamin did, and, finally, to escape from his thraldom, he ran away; whereupon his master inserted the following advertisement in the New England Courant of July, 1722, which reads very much like advertisements for runaway slaves, in that and later days; and, probably, young Tinsley thought he was escaping from a sort of white slavery:
"Ran away from his Master, Mr. Josiah Franklin, of Boston, Tallow-chandler, on the first of this instant July, an Irish Man-servant, named William Tinsley, about 20 years of age, of a middle Stature, black Hair, lately cut off, somewhat fresh-colored Countenance, a large lower Lip, of a mean Aspect, large Legs, and heavy in his Going. He had on, when he went away, a felt Hat, a white knit Cap, striped with red and blue, white Shirt, and neck-cloth, a brown-coloured Jacket, almost new, a frieze Coat, of a dark colour, grey yarn Stockings, leather Breeches, trimmed with black, and round to'd Shoes. Whoever shall apprehend the said runaway Servant, and him safely convey to his above said Master, at the Blue Ball in Union street, Boston, shall have Forty Shillings Reward, and all necessary Charges paid."
There is no evidence that Tinsley was ever found. He hated the candle-trade so lustily that he put the longest possible distance between himself and it. Had Benjamin been compelled to continue the unpleasant business, he might have escaped from the hardship in a similar way.
These facts, together with the foregoing documents, show that, in some respects, many white youth of that day were subjected to an experience not wholly unlike that of the colored youth. Often the indentured parties became the victims of cruelty. Sometimes they were half clothed and fed. Sometimes they were beaten unmercifully. They were completely in the hands of the "master," and whether their experience was pleasant or sad depended upon his temper.
Add another fact to the foregoing about the indenture of apprenticeship, and the similarity of white to Negro slavery, in that day, is quite remarkable. No longer than seventy-five years ago, a poor child, left to the town by the death of the father, was put up at auction, and the man who bid the lowest sum was entitled to him. The town paid the amount to get rid of the incumbrance, without much regard to the future treatment of the orphan.
A near neighbor of the author, eighty-three years of age, was sold in this manner three times in his early life, suffering more and more with each change, until he was old enough to defend himself and run away. His first buyer, for some reason, wanted to dispose of him, and he sold him at auction to another. The second buyer was heartless and cruel, against which the boy rebelled, and, for this reason, he was sold to a third "master," who proved to be the worst tyrant of the three, subjecting the youth to all sorts of ill-treatment, to escape which he took to his heels. He was not given a day's schooling by either master, nor one holiday, nor the privilege of going to meeting on the Sabbath, nor was he half fed and clothed. At twenty-one he could neither read nor write.
We have turned aside from our narrative to record a somewhat barbaric custom of our forefathers, that the reader may appreciate all the more the higher civilization and more congenial experiences of this age.
Benjamin had become a printer-boy as fully equipped for duty as documents, pledges, and promises could make him. His heart entered into this new work, and his head also. The business set him to thinking. He liked it. Indeed, he could find no fault with it. The business liked him, too; that is, he had a tact for it—he was adapted to it. The boy and the trade were suited to each other. Hence, he became even fascinated with it.
"I like it better than I thought I should," he said to his mother. "I have to use my brains more in putting a single paragraph into type than I did in filling a whole regiment of candle-moulds. I like it better and better."
"I am glad to hear that, though I rather expected as much. If you like it as well as James does, you will like it well enough. He is thoroughly satisfied with his trade, and I think he will find it to be a profitable one by and by. In a new country it takes time to build up almost any trade."
Mrs. Franklin spoke from a full heart, for she had great interest in Benjamin's chosen pursuit, because she believed that he possessed remarkable talents. She still expected that he would make his mark, though prevented from entering the ministry.
"I get some time to read," continued Benjamin, "and I mean to get more, though there is much confusion at my boarding-place."
"You must not gain time for reading at the expense of neglecting your work," suggested his mother. "Your time is your brother's, and, first of all, you must fulfill your obligations to him. Fidelity is a cardinal virtue, remember."
"Of course," replied Benjamin. "I know what I am in duty bound to do, and I shall do it. James has not found me a minute behind time yet, nor lazy in the printing office; and I mean that he never shall."
"That is a good resolution, very good, indeed; and I hope you will keep it. At the same time, do not neglect your Bible, nor cease to attend public worship on the Sabbath. A boy can't get along without these any more than his parents can. As soon as you begin to neglect these you are exposed to danger, and the very worst sort of danger."
To those who are determined to succeed, time can be found for reading without interfering with business. Budgett, the rich English merchant, was a great reader. He would not allow his time for reading to interfere with his business, nor his time for business to interfere with his reading. He prepared a time-table by which his work was regulated each day. From an examination of it we learn the number of hours and pages he read the first two weeks of January, 1849. He spent fifty-nine hours in his library, and read seven hundred pages of Josephus' History, six hundred and sixty pages of Milner's Church History, three hundred and eighty pages of Baxter's Saints' Rest, and spent a fair proportion of the time in studying Townsend's Old and New Testaments. Such is what the busiest man can do when he regulates his time for it.
James Franklin's printing office, where Benjamin worked, was at the corner of Franklin avenue and Court street. As his brother was unmarried he boarded at a place near by, which James secured. Probably the large family and want of room were the reason he did not continue to board at his father's. The family were always in a strait for room. A vacancy only left room which the remaining members sorely needed, and they occupied it so readily and naturally that the former occupant was scarcely missed.
The printer's trade embraced some kinds of work at that time which it does not embrace now, as we judge from the advertisement of James Franklin in the Boston Gazette, when he commenced business, as follows: "The printer hereof prints linens, calicoes, silks, etc., in good figures, very lively and durable colors, and without the offensive smell which commonly attends the linens printed here."
Such printing was done for ladies who were in need of what there was no manufactory to supply, at that time.
When Benjamin had served two years at his trade, he had become indispensable to his brother. He had devoted himself to his work with all his heart, and had made rapid improvement. He had acquired a good understanding of the trade. He was a superior compositor. His judgment was excellent. He was industrious—there was not a lazy bone in him. And he was punctual.
The habit of reading that Benjamin had formed tended to make him punctual. In order to command the more time he was promptly at his work, and efficiently discharged every duty. It was this well-formed habit of punctuality that made him so reliable in the printing office. His brother knew that he would be there at such a time, and that he would remain just so many hours. This habit won his confidence, as it does the confidence of every one. There is no quality that does more to gain a good name for an individual, and inspire the confidence of his fellow-men, than this one of being on time. It is so generally found in company with other excellent traits of character, that it seems to be taken for granted, usually, that the punctual person is worthy in other respects.
A ripe scholar was the neighbor of Dr. Adam Clarke, the commentator, when the latter had become quite renowned. On the same evening both saw a copy of the Greek Testament by Erasmus advertised. As soon as the ripe scholar had swallowed his breakfast, on the next morning, he hastened to the book-store to purchase the volume. "You are too late; the book is sold," replied the book-seller to the inquiry of the gentleman. "Too late!" exclaimed the scholar; "why, I came as soon as I had eaten my breakfast;" "Yes, but Adam Clarke came before breakfast," responded the merchant. The incident shows that the man who is on time has the inside track; and the inside track is nearest the goal. It is the wide-awake man who is prompt, not the dull, sleepy procrastinator. The best qualities of manhood must be on the alert to secure promptness; the poorest qualities will secure the opposite. The prize is taken by the worker who is on time. It is lost by him who is behind time, as the aforesaid scholar was. He planned to make sure of his breakfast before he did of the book; but Adam Clarke made sure of the book before he did of his breakfast, and he won.
In 1788, Washington visited Boston, and he decided to leave for Salem on the morning of a certain day, at eight o'clock, precisely. A company of cavalry volunteered to escort him to Salem. While the clock of the Old South Church was striking eight, Washington mounted his horse and started, though his escort had not put in an appearance. A few minutes later, however, they arrived, and were greatly mortified to find that Washington had gone. Putting spurs to their horses, they galloped forward, and overtook him at Charles river bridge. When they came up, Washington said: "Major, I thought you had been in my family too long not to know when it was eight o'clock."
The habit of punctuality which Franklin formed in his youth, distinguished him in his manhood as much as the same habit did Washington. There is no doubt that it exerted a large influence in placing him next to Washington among the founders of our republic. One of the maxims that he wrote in mature life was: "He that riseth late must trot all day, and shall scarce overtake his business at night."
We delay the narrative, at this point, to introduce a subject that Franklin often referred to as influencing his early life. In his "Autobiography," he said:
"At his table he [his father] liked to have, as often as he could, some sensible friend or neighbor to converse with; and always took care to start some ingenious or useful topic for discourse, which might tend to improve the minds of his children. By this means he turned our attention to what was good, just, and prudent, in the conduct of life; and little or no notice was ever taken of what related to the victuals on the table; whether it was well or ill dressed, in or out of season, of good or bad flavor, preferable or inferior to this or that other thing of the kind; so that I was brought up in such a perfect inattention to those matters, as to be quite indifferent what kind of food was set before me. Indeed, I am so unobservant of it, that to this day I can scarce tell, a few hours after dinner, of what dishes it consisted. This has been a great convenience to me in travelling, where my companions have been sometimes very unhappy for want of a suitable gratification of their more delicate, because better instructed, tastes and appetites."
This was different from much of the table-talk that is heard in many families now.
"I do not want any of that, I do not love it," exclaims one child. "I should think you might have a better dinner than this."
"What would you have if you could get it; roast chicken and plum pudding?" his mother replies, in a facetious way, instead of reproving him.
"I would have something I could eat. You know I do not love that, and never did."
"Well, it does boys good, sometimes, to eat what they do not love, especially such particular ones as you are," adds his father.
"I sha'n't eat what I do not like, anyhow; I shall go hungry first."
"There, now, let me hear no more complaint about your food," adds his father, more sharply. "You are scarcely ever suited with your victuals."
"May I have some?" calling for something that is not on the table.
"If you will hold your tongue, and get it yourself, you can have it."
"And let me have some, too," shouts another child. "I do not love this, neither. May I have some, pa?"
"And I, too," exclaims still another. "I must have some if Henry and James do."
In this way the table-talk proceeds, until fretting, scolding, crying, make up the sum total of the conversation, and family joy are embittered for the remainder of the day. In contrast with the discipline of instructive conversation, such schooling at the fireside is pitiable indeed.
Franklin claimed that this feature of family government exerted a moulding influence upon his life and character. It caused him to value profitable conversation in boyhood and youth. In manhood he frequently found himself posted upon subjects made familiar to him by conversation at the table and hearthstone of his boyhood, especially topics relating to the mother country. He was more particularly edified by conversation at home during the four years that "Uncle Benjamin" was a member of his father's family. For this favorite "Uncle" was a very instructive talker, having been educated by the conversation of his father at home in England, as his nephew Benjamin was by his father in Boston. When "Uncle Benjamin" was very old, he could even recall the expressions which his father used in prayer at the family altar, and he wrote some of them in one of his books of poetry, as follows:
"Holy Father, into thy hand we commit our spirits, for thou hast redeemed them, O Lord God of Truth."
"Command thine angel to encamp round about our habitation."
"Give thine angels charge over us, that no evil may come nigh our dwelling."
"Thou knowest our down-lying and rising-up, thou art acquainted with all our ways, and knowest our tho'ts afar off."
"We know that in us, that is, in our flesh, there dwelleth no good thing."
"Holy Father, keep through thine own name all those that are thine, that none of them be lost."
"We thank thee, O Father, Lord of Heaven and earth. Tho' thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, yet thou hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Holy Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight."
We have copied the language just as it was written by "Uncle Benjamin," and it is chiefly Bible language, showing marked familiarity with the Scriptures.
We infer, from the foregoing, that useful conversation was characteristic of the Franklins of each generation, indicating a good degree of intelligence and talents of high order. Ignorance does not indulge in improving conversation; it could not if it would. Nor do small mental powers show themselves in excellence of conversation. So that it is quite evident that talents in the Josiah Franklin family were not limited to Benjamin. They reached back to former generations.
Mr. Parton says: "Thomas Franklin, the elder, had four sons: Thomas, John, Benjamin, and Josiah. There lived at Ecton, during the boyhood of these four sons, a Mr. John Palmer, the squire of the parish and lord of an adjacent manor, who, attracted by their intelligence and spirit, lent them books, assisted them to lessons in drawing and music, and, in various ways, encouraged them to improve their minds. All the boys appear to have been greatly profited by Squire Palmer's friendly aid; but none of them so much as Thomas, the eldest, inheritor of the family forge and farm."
It was this Thomas who became grandfather of our Benjamin, and whose expressions in prayer we have quoted. Mr. Parton discovers such talents there as make profitable conversation at the table and elsewhere, and are transmitted to posterity. For he says, still further:
"In families destined at length to give birth to an illustrious individual, Nature seems sometimes to make an essay of her powers with that material, before producing the consummate specimen. There was a remarkable Mr. Pitt before Lord Chatham; there was an extraordinary Mr. Fox before the day of the ablest debater in Europe; there was a witty Sheridan before Richard Brinsley; there was a Mirabeau before the Mirabeau of the French Revolution. And, to cite a higher instance, Shakespeare's father was, at least, extraordinarily fond of dramatic entertainments, if we may infer any thing certain from the brief records of his mayoralty of Stratford, for he appears to have given the players the kind of welcome that Hamlet admonished Polonius to bestow upon them. Thomas Franklin, the eldest uncle of our Benjamin, learned the blacksmith's trade in his father's shop, but, aided by Squire Palmer and his own natural aptitude for affairs, became, as his nephew tells us, 'a conveyancer, something of a lawyer, clerk of the county court, and clerk to the archdeacon; a very leading man in all county affairs, and much employed in public business.'"
The quotation Mr. Parton makes, in his closing lines, is from a letter of Benjamin Franklin, addressed to Mrs. Deborah Franklin, dated London, 6 September, 1758. We quote still further from it, as it is interesting matter relating to the prominence and intelligence of the Franklin ancestors:
"From Wellingborough we went to Ecton, about three or four miles, being the village where my father was born, and where his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather had lived, and how many of the family before them we know not. We went first to see the old house and grounds; they came to Mr. Fisher with his wife, and, after letting them for some years, finding his rent something ill-paid, he sold them. The land is now added to another farm, and a school is kept in the house. It is a decayed old stone building, but still known by the name of Franklin House. Thence we went to visit the rector of the parish, who lives close by the church—a very ancient building. He entertained us very kindly, and showed us the old church register, in which were the births, marriages, and burials of our ancestors for two hundred years, as early as his book began. His wife, a good-natured, chatty old lady (granddaughter of the famous Archdeacon Palmer, who formerly had that parish and lived there), remembered a great deal about the family; carried us out into the church-yard and showed us several of their grave-stones, which were so covered with moss that we could not read the letters till she ordered a hard brush and a basin of water, with which Peter scoured them clean, and then Billy copied them. She entertained and diverted us highly with stories of Thomas Franklin, Mrs. Fisher's father, who was a conveyancer, something of a lawyer, clerk of the county courts, and clerk to the archdeacon in his visitations; a very leading man in all county affairs, and much employed in public business. He set on foot a subscription for erecting chimes in their steeple and completed it, and we heard them play. He found out an easy method of saving their village meadows from being drowned, as they used to be sometimes by the river, which method is still in being; but, when first proposed, nobody could conceive how it could be, 'but, however,' they said, 'if Franklin says he knows how to do it, it will be done.' His advice and opinion were sought for on all occasions, by all sorts of people, and he was looked upon, she said, by some, as something of a conjurer. He died just four years before I was born, on the same day of the same month."
Such kind of men are not given to foolish conversation. They are too sensible to indulge in mere twaddle about the weather. Their talents raise them to a higher plane of thought and remark. Josiah Franklin only observed the custom of his ancestors, no doubt unwittingly, when he sought to improve the minds and hearts of his children by instructive conversation at the table and fireside. Benjamin had a right to claim for it a decided educational influence in the family.
Pythagoras set so great value upon useful conversation that he commanded his disciples to maintain silence during the first two years of their instruction. He would have their minds thoroughly furnished, that their conversation might be worthy of the pupils of so illustrious a teacher. He was wont to say: "Be silent, or say something better than silence." No men ever put this wise counsel into practice more thoroughly than Josiah Franklin and his son Benjamin.
Cicero said of the mother of the Gracchi: "We have read the letters of Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi, from which it appears that the sons were educated not so much in the lap of the mother as by her conversation." Josiah Franklin had as poor an opinion of the lap as an educator of his sons, in comparison with conversation, as Cornelia had.
The poet Cowper wrote:
"Though conversation in its better part May be esteemed a gift, and not an art; Yet much depends, as in the tiller's toil, On culture and the sowing of the soil."
Josiah Franklin was enough of a poet to understand this and reduce it to practice. As his son said, he delighted to have some intelligent man or woman for a guest at his table, for the improvement of his children. But when there was no guest at the table, he led the way alone by calling the attention of his sons and daughters to some subject of interest and profit. He thought it would divert their attention from the quality of their food, so that they would not be so apt to complain of it, and, at the same time, impart information and set them thinking. He did not allow one of his children to complain of the food on the table, and he would have prevented it by severe measures, if necessary. Before he found the method cited a wise one, and therefore persevered in it. He often made this remark:
"You must give heed to little things, although nothing can be considered small that is important. It is of far more consequence how you behave than what you eat and wear."
Another remark he would make when the meal was unusually plain was this:
"Many people are too particular about their victuals. They destroy their health by eating too much and too rich food. Plain, simple, wholesome fare is all that Nature requires, and young persons who are brought up in this way will be best off in the end."
Here is found the origin of Benjamin's rigid temperance principles in eating and drinking, for which he was distinguished through life. In his manhood he wrote and talked upon the subject, and reduced his principles to practice. There scarcely ever lived a man who was so indifferent as to what he ate and drank as he was. When he worked in a printing-office in England, his fellow-printers were hard drinkers of strong beer, really believing that it was necessary to give them strength to endure. They were astonished to see a youth like Benjamin able to excel the smartest of them in the printing office, while he drank only cold water, and they sneeringly called him "The Water American."
The temperate habits which Benjamin formed in his youth were the more remarkable because there were no temperance societies at that time, and it was generally supposed to be necessary to use intoxicating drinks. The evils of intemperance were not viewed with so much abhorrence as they are now, and the project of removing them from society was not entertained for a moment. Reformatory movements of this kind did not begin until nearly a century after the time referred to. Yet Benjamin was fully persuaded in his youth that he ought to be temperate in all things. It was a theme of conversation at his father's table and fireside. That conversation instructed him then, as temperance lectures, books, and societies instruct the young now; and it accomplished its purpose. In the sequel we shall learn still more of the moulding power of home lessons, in conversation, to make him the man he became.
It is related of the Washburne family, so well known in the public affairs of our country, four or five brothers having occupied posts of political distinction, that, in their early life, their father's house was open to ministers, and was sometimes called "the ministers' hotel." Mr. Washburne was a great friend of this class, and enjoyed their society much. Nearly all the time some one of the ministerial fraternity would be stopping there. His sons were thus brought into their society, and they listened to long discussions upon subjects of a scientific, political, and religious character, though public measures received a large share of attention. The boys acquired valuable information by listening to their remarks, and this created a desire to read and learn more; and so they were started off in a career that "led them on to fame." Their early advantages were few, but the conversation of educated gentlemen, upon important subjects, laid the foundation of their eminence in public life.
Benjamin was young, and his heart easily impressed, when he listened to profitable conversation in the home of his boyhood. The way the twig is bent the tree is inclined. His father gave the twig the right bent, and the tree was comely and fruitful. It was a very easy and cheap mode of instruction, always at hand, needing neither text-book nor blackboard, yet pleasant and uplifting.
LEADER OF SPORTS AND THOUGHT.
It is unusual that the same boy should be a leader in nearly all innocent sports, and, at the same time, the most thoughtful and studious boy of all. Generally, the fun-loving youth is an indifferent scholar,—having little taste for reading and study. But it was otherwise with Benjamin. He was as much of an expert in sport as he was in reading,—the best jumper, runner, swimmer, and rower of his age in Boston. And he enjoyed it, too. Perhaps he enjoyed being the best more than any part of the sport. Certainly, when he was in school, he enjoyed being the best scholar more than any part of a pupil's experience; and he so managed to continue the best to the end, though the end came much too soon for him.
Swimming was his favorite sport. It was claimed for him that, any time between twelve and sixteen years of age, he could have swam across the Hellespont. Here, as well as elsewhere, his inventive genius was devising ways to promote more rapid swimming.
"I believe that I can double my speed in swimming by an invention I have in mind," he said to John Collins, one day.
"What sort of an invention? You are always up to something of that sort. I think that arms and legs are all the invention that will ever promote swimming, slow or fast."
"Well, you see, John, if I do not invent something to greatly increase speed in swimming," continued Benjamin. "I have been studying on it for some time, and I think I have it."
"You do not need anything to increase your speed, Ben; you can beat everybody now, and you ought to be satisfied with that."
"I am not satisfied. I want to do better yet. I never did so well in anything yet that I did not want to do better."
Right here was really the secret of Benjamin's success,—trying to do better to-morrow than to-day, not satisfied with present attainments, pressing forward to something more desirable, going up higher. Such boys and girls succeed. Difficulties do not alarm or discourage them—they serve to draw them out and make them more invincible. But youth who are satisfied to be just what they are to-day, no larger, broader, or better, live and die mere ciphers. They are destitute of ambition and the spirit of enterprise. They have no just conception of their mission in this world. They do not understand themselves,—what they are for and what they can be if they choose. What is worse, they have no desire to know these things; the effort to know them is too much for their easy, indifferent natures.
"I guess that is so," replied John, to Benjamin's last remark. "I never saw a boy just like you; and I think you are right. I want to know more than I do about many things, and I mean to. But what sort of a swimming apparatus have you in mind?"
"Well, a sort of palette for the hands and sandals for the feet, fastened tightly so as to be used readily. I have an idea that I can throw myself forward with far greater speed."