From Boyhood to Manhood
by William M. Thayer
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The late President Garfield began this method when he began to study, with a view to a liberal education, at about seventeen years of age. He continued it as long as he lived. His notes and references, including scrap-books, filled several volumes before his Congressional career closed, on a great variety of subjects. A large number of books, in addition to those in his own library, were made available in this way. It was said that his notes were of great service to him in Congress, in the discussion of almost any public question.



Having delayed the narrative to learn of the books that helped to make him the man he became, it is necessary to delay further to see how he practised writing composition, both prose and poetry, in his early life, thus laying the foundation for the excellence of his writings in manhood.

Benjamin was not more than seven years old when he began to write poetry. His "Uncle Benjamin's" frequent poetic addresses to him inspired him to try his hand at the art, and he wrote something and forwarded to his uncle in England. Whatever it was, it has not been preserved. But we know that he wrote a piece, doggerel of course, and sent to him, from the fact that his uncle returned the following reply:

"'T is time for me to throw aside my pen, When hanging sleeves read, write, and rhyme like men. This forward spring foretells a plenteous crop; For, if the bud bear grain, what will the top? If plenty in the verdant blade appear, What may we not soon hope for in the ear! When flowers are beautiful before they're blown, What rarities will afterwards be shown!

"If trees good fruit uninoculated bear, You may be sure 't will afterwards be rare. If fruits are sweet before they've time to yellow, How luscious will they be when they are mellow! If first-year's shoots such noble clusters send, What laden boughs, Engedi-like, may we expect in end!"

There was no time, from the above date, when Benjamin did not indulge, to some extent, his inclination to write. It was done for his own amusement and profit, so that he was not in the habit of showing or speaking of his productions. None of them were preserved.

But his talent for composition developed rapidly from the time he was fairly settled in the printing business. He practised putting original thoughts, and thoughts culled from books, into sentences and paragraphs, a very sensible method of self-improvement. He often tried his hand at poetry, if it was only a couplet at a time. Longer compositions he wrote, for no one to see and read but himself. One day his brother James, curious to see what Benjamin was writing so much about, looked over his shoulder.

"What have you there, Ben?" he said. "Writing a sermon or your will? Ay! poetry is it?" catching a glimpse of it. "Then you are a poet are you?"

"Seeing what I can do," Benjamin replied. "We do not know what we can do till we try. It is not much any way."

"Let me read it, and I will tell you whether it is much or not. Authors are not good judges of their own productions. They are like parents, who think their own children handsomest and most promising; they think their articles are better than they are."

James was in a happy mood for him when he thus spoke. He knew nothing about Benjamin's ability in writing composition; for this was quite a while before the newspaper was started for which he wrote.

"I have been reading much poetry of late," added Benjamin, "and I am anxious to know if I can write it. I like to read it, and I have read several of the poets since I had access to Mr. Adams' library," This was after Mr. Adams invited him take books from his library, of which we have already given an account.

"So much the more reason that I should read what you have written," added James. "I do not expect it will be quite equal to Shakespeare."

"Well, read it, I do not care." And Benjamin passed it over to his brother without further hesitation.

James read it over carefully, and then he re-read it before making a remark, as if to be sure that he was not mistaken in the quality of the composition.

"That is good, Ben. It is really good, much better than I supposed you could write. Indeed, I did not know that you could write poetry at all. It is not quite equal to Virgil or Homer, but good for a printer-boy to write. Have you any other pieces?"

James was honest in these last remarks, and felt more kindly at the time than he often did towards his brother.

"Yes, I have two or three pieces more which I am going to improve somewhat. You had better wait till I have rewritten them before you read them." Benjamin was greatly encouraged by his brother's favorable opinion of his literary venture, when he made this reply.

"No need of that. Let me see them now, and I can tell you whether they are worth making better. Some things are not worth making better; and I think this must be particularly true of poetry. Poor poetry is poor stuff; better write new than to try to improve it."

James' last plea prevailed, and Benjamin produced the articles for his examination. They were read with as much interest as the first one, and they were re-read too, that there might be no mistake in his judgment. Then his enthusiasm broke out.

"I tell you what it is, Ben, these are good, and I believe that you can write something worthy of print if you try hard; and if you will undertake it, you may print and sell a sheet on the street. I have no doubt that it will sell well."

"I will see what I can do," Benjamin replied, very much elated over his success. "I hardly think my poetry will read well in print, though. I have not been writing for the press."

"We can tell best when we read it in print. Get up something as soon as you can, and let us see," said James.

"I will go right about it, and I will not be long in getting up something, good, bad, or indifferent."

Within a few days Benjamin produced two street ballads, after the style of that day. They were better than any thing he had written, but still susceptible of great improvement. One was entitled "The Light-house Tragedy," and was founded on the shipwreck of Captain Worthilake and his two daughters. The other was a sailor's song on the capture of the famous Teach, or "Blackbeard, the Pirate." James read them critically, to see if it would do to put them in print and offer them to the public.

"These are really better than what I read the other day," he remarked, when he had examined them all he desired. "Now, you may put them into type, and sell them about the town, if you are willing. I think a good number of them may be disposed of."

"How many copies will you print?"

"We can print a few to begin with, and let the type remain standing until we see how they go Then we shall run no risk."

"Shall I do it immediately?"

"Just as soon as you can. The quicker the better. I am anxious to see how they take with the public."

Benjamin was not long in printing the two ballads, and having them ready for sale. Under the direction of his brother, he went forth, in due time, to offer them about the town. Whether he cried them on the streets as the newsboys do the daily papers now, we have no means of knowing. But he was successful in selling his wares, whatever his method was. "The Light-house Tragedy" sold the most readily. That commemorated an event of recent occurrence, and which excited much public feeling and sympathy at the time, so that people were quite prepared to purchase it. It sold even beyond his expectations, and seemed to develop what little vanity there was in his soul. He began to think that he was a genuine born poet, and that distinction and a fortune were before him. If he had not been confronted by his father on the subject, it is possible that the speculation might have proved a serious injury to him. But Mr. Franklin learned of his enterprise, and called him to an account. Perhaps he stepped into his shop, as he was selling them about town, and gave him a copy. Whether so or not, his father learned of the fact, and the following interview will show what he thought of it:

"I am ashamed to see you engaged in such a business, Benjamin. It is unworthy of a son of Josiah Franklin."

"Why so, father? I can't understand you."

"Because it is not an honorable business. You are not a poet, and can write nothing of that sort worth printing."

"James approved of the pieces, and proposed that I should print and sell them," Benjamin pleaded.

"James is not a good judge of poetry, nor of the propriety of hawking them about town. It is wretched stuff, and I am ashamed that you are known as the author. Look here; let me show you wherein it is defective."

Benjamin was so dumbfounded that he could not say much in reply; and his father proceeded to expose the faults of the poetical effusion. He did not spare the young author at all; nor was he cautious and lenient in his criticisms. On the other hand, he was severe. And he went on until Benjamin began to feel sorry that he had ever written a scrap of poetry.

"There, I want you should promise me," continued his father, "that you will never deal in such wares again, and that you will stick to your business of setting up type."

"Perhaps I may improve by practice," suggested Benjamin, whose estimation of his literary venture was modified considerably by this time. "Perhaps I may yet write something worthy of being read. You could not expect me to write like Pope to begin with."

"No; nor to end with," retorted his father. "You are not a poet, and there is no use in your trying to be. Perhaps you can learn to write prose well; but poetry is another thing. Even if you were a poet I should advise you to let the business alone, for poets are usually beggars—poor, shiftless members of society."

"That is news to me," responded Benjamin. "How does it happen, then, that some of their works are so popular?"

"Because a true poet can write something worthy of being read, while a mere verse-maker, like yourself, writes only doggerel, that is not worth the paper on which it was printed. Now I advise you to let verse-making alone, and attend closely to your business, both for your own sake and your brother's."

Mr. Franklin was rather severe upon his son, although what he said of his verses was substantially true, as his son freely admitted in manhood. He overlooked the important fact that it was a commendable effort of the boy to try to improve his mind. Some of the best poets who have lived wrote mere doggerel when they began. Also, many of our best prose writers were exceedingly faulty at first. It is a noble effort for a boy to put his thoughts into language, and Mr. Franklin ought to have recognized it as such. If he does not succeed in the first instance, by patience, industry, and perseverance, he may triumph at last. Benjamin might not have acted wisely in selling his verses about town; but his brother, so much older and more experienced than himself, should have borne the censure of that, since it was done by his direction. Doubtless, his brother regarded the propriety of the act less, because he had an eye on the pecuniary profits of the scheme.

The decided opposition that Mr. Franklin showed to verse-making put a damper upon Benjamin's poetic aspirations. The air-castle that his youthful imagination had built, in consequence of the rapid sale of his wares, tumbled in ruins. He went back to the office and his work quite crestfallen.

The reader must bear in mind that this incident occurred before the discussion of Benjamin with John Collins upon female education, related in a former chapter. We shall see that his father's criticisms on his arguments in that discussion proved of great value to him.

"What has happened now, Ben?" inquired James, observing that his brother looked despondent and anxious. "Are you bringing forth more poetry?"

"Father doesn't think much of my printing and selling verses of my own," answered Benjamin. "He has given me such a lecture that I am almost ashamed of myself."

"How is that? Don't he think they are worthy of print?"

"No. He do not see any merit in them at all. He read them over in his way, and counted faults enough to show that there is precious little poetry in me. A beggar and a poet mean about the same thing to him."

"He ought to remember that you are not as old as you will be, if you live; and you will make improvement from year to year. You can't expect to write either prose or verse well without beginning and trying."

"All the trial in the world can do nothing for me, I should judge from father's talk. You ought to have heard him; and he did not spare you for suggesting the printing and sale of the pieces on the street." Benjamin said this in a tone of bitter disappointment.

"Well, I suppose that he has heard of two men disagreeing on a matter," remarked James. "All is, he and I do not agree. I consider the whole thing wise and proper, and he does not. That is all there is to it."

Perhaps it was a good thing for Benjamin to meet with this obstacle in his path to success. Rather discouraging, it is true, nevertheless suited to keep him humble. Benjamin confessed in manhood, that his vanity was inflated by the sale of his ballads, and he might have been puffed up to his future injury, had not his father thus unceremoniously taken the wind out of his sails. That removed the danger. After such a severe handling he was not inclined to over-rate his poetical talents. It had the effect, also, to turn his attention almost wholly to prose writing, in which he became distinguished, as we shall see hereafter.

A single verse of these ballads only has descended to our times. It is from the second mentioned—the capture of the pirate, as follows:

"Come, all you jolly sailors, You all so stout and brave; Come, hearken, and I'll tell you What happened on the wave. Oh! 't is of that bloody Blackbeard I'm going now to tell; How as to gallant Maynard He soon was sent to hell— With a down, down, down, derry down."

Franklin said of this ballad episode:

"I now took a strong inclination for poetry, and wrote some little pieces. My brother, supposing it might turn to account, encouraged me, and induced me to compose two occasional ballads. One was called 'The Light-house Tragedy,' and contained an account of the shipwreck of Captain Worthilake with his two daughters; the other was a sailor's song, on taking the famous Teach, or 'Blackbeard, the Pirate.' They were wretched stuff, in street-ballad style; and when they were printed, my brother sent me about the town selling them. The first sold prodigiously, the event being recent, and having made a great noise. This success flattered my vanity; but my father discouraged me by criticising my performances and telling me that verse-makers were generally beggars. Thus I escaped being a poet, and probably a very bad one."

From the time that Mr. Franklin criticised his son's argument with John Collins on female education, Benjamin made special efforts to improve his style. He knew that Addison's style was regarded as a model, so he purchased an old volume of his 'Spectator,' and set himself to work with a determination to make his own style Addisonian. He subjected himself to the severest test in order to improve, and counted nothing too hard if he could advance toward that standard. His own account of his perseverance and industry in studying his model, as it appears in his "Autobiography," will best present the facts.

"About this time I met with an odd volume of the 'Spectator.' I had never before seen any of them. I bought it, read it over and over, and was much delighted with it. I thought the writing excellent, and wished if possible to imitate it. With that view I took some of the papers, and making short hints of the sentiments in each sentence, laid them by a few days, and then, without looking at the book, tried to complete the papers again, by expressing each hinted sentiment at length, and as fully as it had been expressed before, in any suitable words that should occur to me. Then I compared my Spectator with the original, discovered some of my faults, and corrected them. But I found that I wanted a stock of words, or readiness in recollecting and using them, which I thought I should have acquired before that time, if I had gone on making verses; since the continual search for words of the same import, but of different length to suit the measure, or of different sound for the rhyme, would have laid me under a constant necessity of searching for variety, and also have tended to fix that variety in my mind, and make me master of it. Therefore, I took some of the tales in the 'Spectator,' and turned them into verse; and, after a time, when I had pretty well forgotten the prose, turned them back again.

"I also sometimes jumbled my collection of hints into confusion, and after some weeks endeavored to reduce them into the best order before I began to form the full sentences and complete the subject. This was to teach me method in the arrangement of the thoughts. By comparing my work with the original, I discovered many faults, and corrected them; but I sometimes had the pleasure to fancy that, in certain particulars of small consequence, I had been fortunate enough to improve the method or the language, and this encouraged me to think that I might in time come to be a tolerable English writer; of which I was extremely ambitious. The time I allotted for writing exercises, and for reading, was at night, or before work began in the morning, or on Sundays, when I contrived to be in the printing house, avoiding as much as I could the constant attendance at public worship, which my father used to exact of me when I was under his care, and which I still continued to consider a duty, though I could not afford time to practise it."

Let any boy of even moderate abilities subject himself to such rigid discipline for intellectual improvement as Benjamin did, and his progress will be rapid, and his attainments remarkable. Such application and persistent effort win always.

In a similar manner Benjamin acquired the Socratic method of reasoning, which he found at the end of the English grammar that he studied. Subsequently he purchased "Xenophon's Memorabilia" because it would afford him assistance in acquiring the Socratic style. He committed to memory, wrote, practised doing the same thing over and over, persevering, overcoming, conquering. He acquired the method so thoroughly as to be expert therein, and practised it with great satisfaction to himself. Many years thereafter he spoke of the fact as follows:

"While I was intent on improving my language, I met with an English grammar (I think it was Greenwood's), having at the end of it two little sketches on the Arts of Rhetoric and Logic, the latter finishing with a dispute in the Socratic method. And, soon after, I procured Xenophon's 'Memorable Things of Socrates,' wherein there are many examples of the same method. I was charmed with it, adopted it, dropped my abrupt contradiction and positive argumentation, and put on the humble inquirer. And being then, from reading Shaftesbury and Collins, made a doubter, as I already was in many points of our religious doctrines, I found this method the safest for myself, and very embarrassing to those against whom I used it; therefore I took delight in it, practised it continually, and grew very artful and expert in drawing people, even of superior knowledge, into concessions the consequences of which they did not foresee, entangling them in difficulties out of which they could not extricate themselves, and so obtaining victories that neither myself nor my cause always deserved.

"I continued this method some few years, but gradually left it, retaining only the habit of expressing myself in terms of modest diffidence, never using, when I advanced any thing that may possibly be disputed, the words certainly, undoubtedly, or any others that give the air of positiveness to an opinion; but rather saying, I conceive, or apprehend, a thing to be so and so; It appears to me, or I should not think it, so or so, for such and such reasons; or, I imagine it to be so; or, It is so, if I am not mistaken. This habit, I believe, has been of great advantage to me, when I have had occasion to inculcate my opinions, and persuade men into measures that I have been from time to time engaged in promoting."

This and the preceding chapter show that a book may decide the future character and destiny of a man, by inspiring thought, kindling ambition and a lofty aim, stimulating the mental powers, inspiring practical and, perhaps, elegant composition, and consecrating the whole being to a definite purpose. All this was true of Benjamin Franklin.

Rev. John Sharp said, "Shakespeare and the Bible have made me bishop of York." Wesley claimed that the "Imitation of Christ" and "Taylor's Holy Living and Dying" determined his calling and character. Henry Martyn was made a missionary by reading the lives of Brainard and Carey. Pope was indebted to Homer for his poetical inspiration, and it was the origin of his English "Iliad." Bentham read "Telemachus" in his youth, and, many years afterwards, he said, "That romance may be regarded as the foundation-stone of my whole character." Goethe became a poet in consequence of reading the "Vicar of Wakefield." Carey was fired to go on a mission to the heathen by reading "Voyages of Captain Cook." Samuel Drew credited his eminent career to reading Locke's "Essay on the Understanding." The lives of Washington and Henry Clay awakened aspirations in Lincoln's soul, that impelled him forward and gave direction to his life. The national system of education in Great Britain grew out of a book. Joseph Lancastar read "Clarkson on the Slave Trade," when he was fourteen years of age, and it awakened his enthusiasm to teach the blacks in the West Indies. Without the knowledge of his parents he went thither, and commenced labors for their mental and moral improvement. His parents learned where he was and sent for him; but his heart was thoroughly in sympathy with benevolent work, and he opened a school for the poor at home. So great was his success that the town, after a few years, erected a commodious building for his school; and here was the foundation of the present system of education in the mother-country.

The author once advised a youth of fourteen to read certain books, accustoming himself to write down in a note-book striking facts and thoughts for preservation. At the same time he was advised to procure a blank book and write therein a sentence or short paragraph each day, without omission, the sentence or paragraph to contain the development of some thought that was waiting utterance. At that time there was no prospect that the youth would ever receive a liberal education. He was a farmer's son, and his father was unable to educate him. The most the author had in view was to provide him,—a bright, active, promising boy, fond of reading,—with a source of improving entertainment and profit. But he caught the idea with so much enthusiasm, and reduced it to practice so thoroughly, that an unquenchable desire for an education was nursed into controlling power; and he went through college, studied theology, became pastor of one of the largest Congregational churches in the country, stood among the most eloquent preachers in the land at thirty, received the degree of Doctor of Divinity at forty, and now, at a little more than fifty, is the beloved and able pastor of a large church in a New England city. This result was brought about by the discipline of reading and writing in his youth, very similar to that which made Benjamin a statesman and philosopher.



"The Legislature is calling you to an account," said a customer to James Franklin, as he entered the office. "The officials can't put up with your cutting criticisms."

"I am aware of that. I heard that they were going to haul the Courant over the coals; but I do not see what they can do about it."

"They can stop your printing it, I suppose. It would be an intolerant act, of course; but governments have never been tolerant towards the press, you know."

"The day is coming when they will be," responded James. "A free press is indispensable to human progress. So long as I run the Courant it shall speak plainly of intolerance and hypocrisy of every form. I shall hit the corruption of the times in high places or low."

"That is sound doctrine," replied the customer. "I endorse it, but government officials do not. They feel very sore, and will make trouble for you if they can."

At that moment Benjamin came rushing into the office under considerable excitement.

"The Assembly are having a hot debate over the Courant," he said. "I heard a gentleman say that they would stop the publication of the paper, if possible."

"Perhaps they will, but I doubt it," replied James. "The Courant will not be muzzled so long as I own it."

"It ought not to be," responded the customer. "We need an outspoken paper that will rebuke corruption and shams everywhere."

"And that is all the trouble," said Benjamin. "That is what the Assembly and the ministers denounce. They are better friends of the British government than they are of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay."

"True, very true," rejoined the customer. "The tyrannical control of the English press is a shame; and yet these officials who truckle to the English government want to try it on here. But such intolerance ought not to be borne."

The Courant was exceedingly sarcastic, and no writer was more so than Benjamin, young as he was. This was the real cause of the action of the Assembly. A letter appeared in the Courant, justly rebuking the government for dilatoriness in looking after a piratical craft off Block Island. The letter purported to come from Newport, and represented that the Colony were fitting out two vessels to capture her. It concluded thus:

"We are advised from Boston that the government of the Massachusetts are fitting out a ship (the Flying Horse) to go after the pirates, to be commanded by Capt. Peter Papillon, and it is thought he will sail sometime this month, wind and weather permitting."

This thrust at the government for tardiness would be regarded as a good joke now, but it was a crime then, and the aristocracy of the Province, always working in harmony with the King and Parliament, was stirred up by it to intolerance.

James was summoned before the Council, and his apprentice also, both of whom stood upon their dignity, refusing to answer some of the questions put. Benjamin was dismissed, because it was found that he was only an apprentice. But James was put on trial and pelted with questions. The legislators were determined to find out who wrote the "scurrilous article aforesaid," as they called it, but James refused to tell. He placed himself squarely upon his personal rights as a citizen, and heroically stood by his guns. Come what might, he resolved to defend his course before this august tribunal.

The Council became more exasperated by his defiant spirit, and threatened him with incarceration. But James stood his ground like a martyr, without thinking he would soon become one. Benjamin was equally defiant, and refused to answer some questions, but was excused on the ground that "an apprentice was bound not to betray his master's secrets." James was convicted of "a high affront to the government," and the sheriff was directed to commit him to the Boston jail. These new quarters were unexpected to him, but he went thither with the consciousness that he was suffering for a brave effort to correct public wrongs.

We have called attention to a single paragraph reflecting upon the government in the Courant. It should be told that such criticisms were frequent in its columns. The Governor, Council, and nearly all the ruling class of the Province were in full sympathy with Great Britain, while others were restive under what they regarded as oppressive rule. Most of the ministers belonged to the first class, and so came in for a share of the Courant's sarcastic utterances. The Courant represented the second class—the common people—who read its columns gladly.

Dr. Cotton Mather attacked the paper in a paragraph that shows what the paper contained:

"We find a notorious, scandalous paper called The Courant, full freighted with nonsense, unmanliness, raillery, profaneness, immorality, arrogance, calumnies, lies, contradictions, and what not, all tending to quarrels and divisions, and to debauch and corrupt the mind and manners of New England."

Increase Mather, also, assailed the Courant over his own signature, denouncing it as a "wicked libel," because it represented him as one of its supporters, using language uncommonly expressive.

"I do hereby declare," he said, "that, although I had paid for two or three of them, I sent him word I was extremely offended with it. In special, because in one of his vile Courants, he insinuates, that if a minister of God approve of a thing, it is a sign it is of the Devil; which is a horrid thing to be related! And he doth frequently abuse the Ministers of Religion, and many other worthy persons, in a manner which is intolerable. For these and such like reasons I signified to the Printer that I would have no more of their Wicked Courants. I, that have known what New England was from the Beginning, cannot but be troubled to see the Degeneracy of this Place. I can well remember when the Civil Government would have taken an effectual Course to suppress such a Cursed Libel! which if it be not done I am afraid that some Awful Judgment will come upon this Land, and the Wrath of God will arise, and there will be no Remedy. I cannot but pity poor Franklin, who, though but a Young Man, it may be Speedily he must appear before the Judgment Seat of God, and what answer will he give for printing things so vile and abominable?"

It is quite evident that neither James nor Benjamin had that respect for the "Judgment Seat," which became Christians; but James replied in the Courant to this onslaught, maintaining that Mather had garbled his quotations from the paper, or based his opinion on parts of paragraphs which did not convey the full and correct meaning. He turned the tables upon him, also, by declaring that, while Mather ceased to be a subscriber to his paper, "he sent his grandson every week to buy it; and, paying in this way a higher price, he was more of a supporter of the paper than ever." In the same issue, too, James said:

"I would likewise advise the enemies of the Courant not to publish any thing more against me unless they are willing to have the paper continued. What they have already done has been resented by the Town so much to my advantage, that above forty persons have subscribed for the Courant since the first of January, many of whom were before subscribers to the other papers. And by one Advertisement more, the Anti-Couranters will be in great danger of adding forty more to my list before the first of March."

James showed that he did not say "if the Ministers of God approve of a thing, it is a Sign it is of the Devil"; but that he did say, "Most of the Ministers are for it, and that induces me to think it is from the Devil; for he often makes use of good men as instruments to obtrude his delusions on the world." There would be decided objection to the first utterance, at that time or since; but the second one, what the Courant did say, was as near the truth as either side was found in most matters.

To return to James in prison. He was confined in a cell, and was very uncomfortable. It was a dirty, dismal place, meant to be a place of punishment, indeed. James found it so, and he soon was ready to do almost any thing for freedom of the yard. He sat down and addressed a very humble petition to the Council, confessing his wrong, and imploring forgiveness and release from his cell.

"I am truly sensible of and heartily sorry for the offense I have given to the Court in the late Courant, relating to the fitting out of a ship by the government, and I truly acknowledge my inadvertency and folly therein in affronting the government, as also my indiscretion and indecency when before the Court; for all of which I intreat the Court's forgiveness, and pray for a discharge from the stone prison, where I am confined by order of the Court, and that I may have the liberty of the yard, being much indisposed, and suffering in my health by the said confinement."

While the Council are considering this petition, we will see what has become of the Courant. The whole charge of it devolved on Benjamin from the time his brother was imprisoned, and he fearlessly and ably met the emergency. It was truly wonderful that a boy of sixteen should shoulder the responsibility of such an enterprise, in such circumstances, and carry it with so much courage and ease.

"I can look after it; there's no trouble in that," said Benjamin to the "liberal club," who assembled as soon as possible after James was incarcerated. "The action of the Court will increase our subscribers; and I propose to make the paper more spicy than ever."

"Glad to hear that," responded one of the club. "Let us defy such intolerance, though all the magistrates and ministers in Boston support it; the mass of the people are with us."

"That is so," remarked another; "and more are coming over to our side every day. Intimidation does not become us now. We must continue to be outspoken; and if Benjamin can look after the paper, we are all right."

"That I can do, and I want no better sport," replied the plucky printer-boy. "You may be sure that such persecution will not be sustained by a great majority of New England people. We are living in New England, and not in Old England, and the people know it."

"I think Benjamin understands it," added a third member of the club; "and his courage and ability will meet the occasion. For one I want the Courant to continue to be what it has been, the General Court to the contrary notwithstanding."

Benjamin did understand it, and edited the paper on the same line. He forgot all his disagreements with his brother in his sympathy with him under persecution, and in his utter contempt for the action of the Court. In these circumstances, his attacks upon the administration were rather more severe than ever. "The proceedings of the Council were assailed by argument, eloquence, and satire, in prose and verse, in squib and essay. One number, issued just after James Franklin's release, was nearly filled with passages from 'Magna Charta,' and comments upon the same, showing the unconstitutionality of the treatment to which he had been subjected. It is evident that a considerable number of the people of Boston most heartily sympathized with the Courant in its gallant contest for the liberty of the press, and that the issue of the number was, to these and to others, the most interesting event of the week."[1]

The authorities considered James' petition, and granted it, but they kept him four weeks in prison before they let him out. He returned to his printing office, resolved to make the Courant more outspoken still for the freedom of the press. The club met him with warm congratulations.

"A great many printers have suffered more than you have," said one of the number; "for you have not lost your head, not even an ear. In Old England persecution of printers has been in order for a long time. Less than two years ago, one John Matthews, a youth nineteen years of age, was executed at Tyburn for writing and publishing a tract in favor of the expelled Stuarts."

"But such things do not fit our country," answered James. "My father came here to escape that spirit of caste and intolerance that abounds in England, and so did those who came long before he did. To repeat them here is a greater abomination than to act them there."

"Let me read to you," interrupted Benjamin, "an account of a printer's execution in England, about twenty years before my father emigrated to this country. I came across it in this book, a few days ago. It is horrible." Benjamin read as follows:

"The scene is in a court-room in the Old Bailey, Chief Justice Hyde presiding. The prisoner at the bar was a printer, named John Gwyn, a poor man, with a wife and three children. Gwyn was accused of printing a piece which criticised the conduct of the government, and which contained these words and others similar: 'If the magistrates pervert judgment, the people are bound, by the law of God, to execute judgment without them, and upon them.' This was all his offense; but it was construed as a justification of the execution of Charles I, as well as a threat against Charles II, then king of England. The poor man protested he had never read the offensive matter; it was brought to him by a maid-servant; he had earned forty shillings by printing it.

"When he was pronounced guilty, he humbly begged for mercy, pleading poverty, his young children, and his ignorance of the contents of the paper. 'I'll tell you what you shall do,' roared the brutal wretch who sat on the bench, 'ask mercy of them that can give it—that is, of God and the king.' The prisoner said, 'I humbly beseech you to intercede with his majesty for mercy.' 'Tie him up, executioner,' cried the judge; 'I speak it from my soul: I think we have the greatest happiness in the world in enjoying what we do under so good and gracious a king; yet you, Gwyn, in the rancor of your heart, thus to abuse him, deserve no mercy.' In a similar strain he continued for several minutes, and then passed upon the prisoner the following sentence: He was to be drawn to the place of execution upon a hurdle, and there hanged by the neck. While still alive he was to be cut down, castrated, and disemboweled. 'And you still living,' added the judge, 'your entrails are to be burnt before your eyes, your head to be cut off, and your head and quarters to be disposed of at the pleasure of the king's majesty.' The printer was overwhelmed with terror, and in his great agony he cried to the judge again to intercede for him. The heartless magistrate replied, 'I would not intercede for my own father in this case.' The prisoner was removed and executed. His head and limbs were set up over the gates of the city."

"That was in 1663," said Benjamin as he closed the account; "and, though we have no record of another so fiendish affair, it is a fact that within a few years some printers and editors in England have had their ears cropped, others have been flogged publicly, and others still put into the stocks and pillory. We have not come to that yet."

"Not quite," answered one of the club; "but the authorities who would please the king and suppress liberty of the press will go as far as they dare to go in that direction; depend on that. It becomes us to vindicate our rights fearlessly, or we shall yet share the fate of Gwyn."

"I do not propose to spike one of my guns," said James, who listened to the last remarks with profound emotion. "We are right, and Americans will support us. The Courant was started for a purpose, and we must not lose sight of it."

"Benjamin has run the paper to suit while you were in jail, so that I think both of you together will satisfy us perfectly in the future," added another of the club. "I fully believe, with the rest of you, that it is no time now to cringe before the authorities. A stand for the right is more necessary now than ever before."

We should have stated before that, in the infancy of the Courant, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu returned from Turkey with the remedy for the small-pox—inoculation. This disease had prevailed fearfully in Boston. When the town had but five or six thousand inhabitants, seven hundred of them died of small-pox in six months. In 1721, when Benjamin was in the printing office, and the population of the town was twelve thousand, the number of deaths by small-pox was eight hundred and fifty. Many persons attacked with it died within two or three days, so that it was a terror to the people. Of course inoculation was received with delight by many. Cotton Mather examined its claims, and so did his father, Increase Mather; and both endorsed it. But the Courant, for some reason, opposed it, and brought all its resources of ridicule and sarcasm to make it appear ridiculous. A writer in its columns called it the "minister's remedy," because the clergy favored it. Week after week it denounced the method, and warned the people. Finally, Increase Mather publicly called attention to the scandalous sheet, and besought the people to crush it, lest the judgments of God be brought down upon the land for its highhanded wickedness.

That the treatment of James Franklin by the authorities was not justified by thoughtful citizens in other parts of the country is evident from the following extract from the Philadelphia Mercury:

"The injustice of imprisoning a man without a hearing must be apparent to all. An indifferent person would judge from this conduct, that the Assembly of Massachusetts are oppressors and bigots, who make religion only an engine of destruction to the people. We pity the people who are compelled to submit to the tyranny of priestcraft and hypocrisy." Then followed a sarcastic postscript, over which the reader may smile: "P.S. By private letter from Boston, we are informed, that the bakers are under great apprehensions of being forbid baking any more bread, unless they will submit to the Secretary as supervisor general and weigher of the dough, before it is baked into bread and offered to sale."

The closing sentence referred to the action of the Legislature in enacting that Franklin should publish nothing more without first submitting it to the Secretary of the Province and receiving his endorsement—legislation that will be quoted in the next chapter.

Franklin continued to issue the Courant after his imprisonment with more plainness and exposure of public wrongs than he did before. For several months he handled the governor and public officers severely, never forgetting those ministers who supported the cause of the king instead of the cause of New England. He little thought that he was fighting a battle for the ages to come. From his day the press in our country began to enjoy liberty. He began a conflict which did not end until liberty of speech and press was proclaimed throughout the land.

Men have often contended for right, and started enterprises, the results of which the divinest prophet could never have foretold. When John Pounds, the poor Portsmouth shoemaker, with a passion for doing good to those who needed it most, gathered a few street-arabs into his shanty to teach them something good, while he hammered his leather and mended shoes, he did not dream that he was inaugurating a benevolent enterprise that would spread throughout the Christian world. But he did, and to-day the fifteen millions of old and young in the Sabbath schools of our Republic are but the growth and development he began in his shop. In like manner, the Franklin brothers inaugurated a measure that culminated in the complete freedom of the press.

[1] Parton's Life of Franklin, vol. i, p. 88.



For six months the Courant continued its attacks upon the government, after the editor came out of prison. It took up also, the inconsistencies of church members, and discussed them with great plainness. But the number of the paper for Jan. 14, 1723, was too much for aristocratic flesh and blood, and almost too much for blood that was not aristocratic. The Council was incensed, and adopted the following order:

"IN COUNCIL, Jan. 14, 1723.

"WHEREAS, The paper, called The New England Courant of this day's date, contains many passages in which the Holy Scriptures are perverted, and the Civil Government, Ministers, and People of the Province highly reflected on,

"Ordered, That William Tailer, Samuel Sewell, and Penn Townsend, Esqrs., with such as the Honorable House of Representatives shall join, be a committee to consider and report what is proper for the Court to do thereon."

The House of Representatives concurred in the measure, and it was rushed through, as measures are likely to be when the dander of legislators is up, and the committee reported as follows:

"That James Franklin, the printer and publisher thereof, be strictly forbidden by the Court to print or publish The New England Courant, or any other pamphlet or paper of the like nature, except that it is first supervised by the Secretary of the Province; and the Justices of His Majesty's Sessions of the Peace for the County of Suffolk, at their next adjournment, be directed to take sufficient bonds of the said Franklin for twelve months' time."

As soon as the Council took this action, the Courant club was called together, and the whole matter canvassed.

"The next thing will be an order that no one of us shall have a pair of breeches without permission from the Secretary of the Province," remarked one, sarcastically. "The Secretary has not brains enough to pass judgment upon some of our articles, and he is too English to judge rightly of New England necessities."

"We should appear smart, tugging our articles over to the Secretary each week for his permission to print them," suggested James. "I shall never do it as long as my name is James Franklin."

"Nor I," added one of the club.

"Nor I," another.

"Nor I," another still.

There was but one mind in the company; and all were disposed to fight it out on the line of freedom of the press.

"But, do you notice," added one of the club, "that no one but James Franklin is forbidden to publish the Courant? Some other person can publish it."

"Sure enough, that is so," responded James, "and here is our way out of the difficulty."

"Of course you can not publish it yourself," addressing James, "in defiance of this order of the Council."

"Of course not; but Benjamin Franklin can do it, as he is not forbidden. How would that do?"

"That can not be done, because he is only an apprentice," suggested a former speaker. "They can prove that he is your apprentice readily."

"Well, I can meet that difficulty without any trouble," said James, who was intent upon evading the order of the Court.

"Pray, tell us how? By changing the name of the paper?"

"Not by any means. Now is not the time to part with a name that the magistrates and ministers are so much in love with."

"How, then, can you meet the difficulty?"

"Well, I can return his indenture, with his discharge upon the back of it, and he can show it in case of necessity. At the same time he can sign a new indenture that will be kept a secret."

"Capital!" exclaimed one; "I never thought of that. The measure is a practical one, and I move that we reduce it to practice at once."

"I support it with all my heart, not only as practical, but ingenious," added another. "It is honorable to meet the tyranny of the Council with an innocent subterfuge like that."

All agreed to the plan, and adopted it enthusiastically.

"Benjamin Franklin, Editor of the Courant," exclaimed a member of the club, rising from his seat and patting Benjamin on the shoulder. "Don't that sound well, my boy? Rather a young fellow to have in charge such an enterprise, but a match, I guess, for the General Court of the Province."

"The youngest editor, proprietor, and publisher of a paper in the whole land, no doubt," suggested another. "But it is as true here as it is in other things, 'Old men for counsel, young men for war.' We are at war now, and we do not want an editor who will cry peace, when there is no peace."

"A free man, too," suggested another facetiously, "an apprentice no longer, to be knocked about and treated as an underling. At the top, with the laurels of manhood on the brow of sixteen!"

Benjamin had not spoken, but he had listened. Affairs had taken an unexpected turn. In the morning he had no idea of becoming editor-in-chief of the paper that made more stir in Boston than the other two combined. The promotion rather startled him. Not that he shrank from the responsibility; for he had no hesitation in assuming that; but the promotion was wholly unexpected. The honors came upon him suddenly, in a way he never dreamed of. It is not strange that he was somewhat dumbfounded, though not confounded. He maintained silence, because, in the circumstances, he could say nothing better than silence.

The plan of James having been adopted, all hastened to carry out the details. Benjamin received his indenture, with the endorsement that constituted him a free man, and he was announced as the publisher of the Courant, and as such his name appeared upon the paper, also as editor.

In the next issue James inserted the following in the Courant:

"The late publisher of this paper, finding so many inconveniences would arise, by his carrying the manuscripts and the public news to be supervised by the Secretary, as to render his carrying it on unprofitable, has entirely dropped the undertaking."

Benjamin inserted an amusing salutatory, as if the Courant was appearing before the public for the first time. It was as follows:

"Long has the press groaned in bringing forth a hateful brood of pamphlets, malicious scribbles, and billingsgate ribaldry. No generous and impartial person then can blame the present undertaking, which is designed purely for the diversion and merriment of the reader. Pieces of pleasantry and mirth have a secret charm in them to allay the heats and tumults of our spirits, and to make a man forget his restless resentment. The main design of this weekly paper will be to entertain the town with the most comical and diverting incidents of human life, which, in so large a place as Boston, will not fail of a universal exemplification. Nor shall we be wanting to fill up these papers with a grateful interspersion of more serious words, which may be drawn from the most ludicrous and odd parts of life."

Pretty good for a boy of sixteen! Good sense, tact, humor, and rhetoric combined in one brief paragraph! Not only the youngest editor in 1723, but the youngest editor of a city paper from that day to this, so far as we know. On the fact hangs a tale of the wonderful powers of a boy who can occupy such a place, and fill it.

We have said that the Courant of Jan. 14, 1723, was filled with matter that exasperated officials of the Province. The reader will want to know what some of those utterances were. We will copy a few:

"Religion is indeed the principal thing, but too much of it is worse than none at all. The world abounds with knaves and villains; but, of all knaves, the religious knave is the worst, and villainies acted under the cloak of religion the most execrable. Moral honesty, though it will not itself carry a man to heaven, yet I am sure there is no going thither without it."

"But are there such men as these in thee, O New England? Heaven forbid there should be any; but, alas, it is to be feared the number is not small. 'Give me an honest man,' say some, 'for all a religious man'; a distinction which I confess I never heard of before. The whole country suffers for the villainies of a few such wolves in sheep's clothing, and we are all represented as a pack of knaves and hypocrites for their sakes."

"In old Time it was no disrespect for Men and Women to be called by their own Names. Adam was never called Master Adam; we never heard of Noah, Esquire, Lot, Knight and Baronet, nor the Right Honorable Abraham, Viscount Mesopotamia, Baron of Canaan. No, no; they were plain Men, honest Country Graziers, that took care of their Families and their Flocks. Moses was a great Prophet, and Aaron a priest of the Lord; but we never read of the Reverend Moses, nor the Right Reverend Father in God, Aaron, by Divine Providence, Lord Arch-Bishop of Israel. Thou never sawest Madam Rebecca in the Bible, My Lady Rachel, nor Mary, tho' a Princess of the Blood after the death of Joseph, called the Princess Dowager of Nazareth. No; plain Rebecca, Rachel, Mary, or the Widow Mary, or the like. It was no Incivility then to mention their naked Names as they were expressed.

"Yet, one of our Club will undertake to prove, that tho' Abraham was not styled Right Honorable, yet he had the Title of Lord given him by his Wife Sarah, which he thinks entitles her to the Honour of My Lady Sarah; and Rachel, being married into the same Family, he concludes that she may deserve the Title of My Lady Rachel. But this is but the Opinion of one Man; it was never put to vote in the Society."

"On the whole, Friend James, we may conclude, that the Anti-Couranteers [opponents of the Courant] are a sort of Precisians, who, mistaking Religion for the peculiar Whims of their own distemp'rd Brain, are for cutting or stretching all Men to their own Standard of Thinking. I wish Mr. Symmes' Character may secure him from the Woes and Curses they are so free of dispensing among their dissenting neighbours, who are so unfortunate as to discover a Cheerfulness becoming Christianity."

It is not questioned that Benjamin wrote these paragraphs, among others; and for keen satire they are very remarkable as the composition of a boy of sixteen. At the present day they would be regarded as quaint, able and truthful, without awakening opposition. But, in 1723, no doubt there were tender consciences among the official sycophants of the English Government, that made a just application of these cutting words, so as to become exasperated and bitter. Hence, their tyrannical and unjustifiable legislation.

Mr. Parton mentions a fact that should be noted here: "Until the Revolution, the business of publishing newspapers in America was carried on almost exclusively by postmasters. Newspapers went free of postage in the colonies as late as 1758. Until that time, the postmasters had not only the privilege of sending papers through the mail free, but the still more valuable right of excluding from the mail papers published by others. Accordingly, we find that nearly all the pioneers of the press, in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, were postmasters. When a postmaster lost his office he generally sold out his newspaper, and a new postmaster soon bought or established one. John Campbell, however, feeling himself aggrieved by his removal, did not dispose of the News-letter [first paper in this country]; which induced his successor, William Brocker, to set up a paper of his own, the Boston Gazette, which appeared in December, 1719. Mr. Brocker expressly says, in his prospectus, that he started the new paper at the request of several merchants, and others, who 'have been prevented from having their newspaper sent them by the post, ever since Mr. Campbell was removed from being postmaster.'"[2]

It is a significant fact that, in 1758, newspapers ceased to be carried free in the mails, and a charge of ninepence a year for each fifty miles of carriage was assessed; and our Benjamin brought about the change. He was then known as Deputy Postmaster General, and made the change in the interest of the public welfare. We think that, at the time, he must have recalled his tussle with the General Court, when, at sixteen, he edited the Courant.

Benjamin continued in his brother's printing office eight months after the occurrence just narrated, editor and publisher of the Courant. His brother never run the paper again in his own name, and, subsequently, he removed to Newport, R.I., where he established the Rhode Island Gazette in 1732.

Benjamin kept up his running fire against the truckling representatives of the British government, including ministers who were not outspoken against oppression and the censorship of the press. The blade of his satire became brighter and keener, and the circulation of the paper increased largely, showing that the portion of the population having the true American spirit, were in sympathy with the purpose of the paper. Mr. Sparks says of it:

"It touched with great freedom the vices and follies of the time. The weapon of satire was used with an unsparing hand. Neither the government nor the clergy escaped. Much caution was practised, however, in regard to individuals, and names were seldom introduced. There are some severe and humorous criticisms on the poets of the day, which may be classed with the best specimens of this kind of composition in the modern reviews. The humor sometimes degenerates into coarseness, and the phraseology is often harsh; but, bating these faults, the paper contains nothing, which in later times would have been deemed reprehensible."

Of the action of the General Court, imprisoning James Franklin, Mr. Sparks says: "He was sentenced by a vote of the Assembly, without any specification of offensive passages, or any trial before a court of justice. This was probably the first transaction, in the American Colonies, relating to the freedom of the press; and it is not less remarkable for the assumption of power on the part of the legislature, than for their disregard of the first principles and established forms of law."

This is a fair and just estimate of the affair. Probably officials saw their mistake, and concluded not to repeat it; for Benjamin was not molested in his business, though he continued to be as saucy and sarcastic as ever. From that day freedom of the press was assured in this country.

This narrative of Benjamin's connection with the printing office, at the time a new paper was to be established, shows that the circumstances called out a certain kind of talent he possessed, and thus helped to make him what he became. Success depends in a great measure on early directing the young in the path to which their natural endowments point. Square men should be put into square holes, and round men into round holes. Many careers are spoiled by reversing this law of nature, getting square men into round holes, and round men into square holes. A good mechanic has often been spoiled to make an indifferent clergyman or merchant, and a good minister has been spoiled to make a commonplace artisan. Overlooking the "natural bent," the youth has selected an occupation (or his father for him) for which he has no special aptitude, and he brings little to pass.

Benjamin was a square youth, and he got into a square hole, which he just fitted. He was not there by his own election; he was there by the lead of Providence, and he cheerfully acquiesced. Becoming the right boy in the right place, he grew into stalwart manhood and a useful life, as naturally as the sapling on congenial soil grows into the thrifty, fruit-bearing tree.

In the second chapter we spoke of Boston, in the infancy of Benjamin, as a place where bears were plenty, and other wild animals roamed. The Courant contained the following paragraph, about the time of its contest with the Court, and we copy it as a fitting close to this chapter:

"It is thought that not less than twenty Bears have been killed in about a week's time within two miles of Boston. Two have been killed below the Castle, as they were swimming from one island to another, and one attempted to board a boat out in the bay, but the men defended themselves so well with the boat-hook and oars, that they put out her eyes, and then killed her. On Tuesday last two were killed at Dorchester, one of which weighed sixty pounds a quarter. We hear from Providence that the bears appear to be very thick in those parts."

[2] Vol. i, p. 78.



"What book have you there, Ben?" inquired John Collins, some time before the newspaper enterprise was started.

"Lord Shaftesbury's work. I have been looking into it for some time; and Anthony Collins' work, too," answered Benjamin. "I suppose that my father would say they are not quite Orthodox; but they are very interesting, and I think their views are reasonable."

"I have been questioning your Orthodoxy for some time, Ben, but I thought you would come out all right in the end, and so I have said nothing. I do not know about your coming out right if you become a disciple of Shaftesbury." John made this reply more in jest than in earnest, for he cared little whether Benjamin was a skeptic or not. Perhaps he was skeptical himself at that time; some things indicate as much.

"I think it is rather difficult to tell how I shall come out, John; but I do not propose to believe any thing in religion, science, or any thing else, just because my father does," responded Benjamin. "I know that I have accepted some religious dogmas because I was taught them, and for no other reason."

"Then you do not now believe all that you have been taught about religion, if I understand you?"

"No, I am free to say that I do not. There is neither reason nor wisdom in portions of the creed of the Church."

"Why, Ben, you surprise me. You are getting to be quite an infidel for a boy. It won't do for you to read Shaftesbury and Collins any more, if you are so easily upset by them. I do not know any thing about them, only from what I hear. I never read a paragraph of either."

"One thing is sure," continued Benjamin. "I mean to be classed among the few people who think for themselves. It is a small company I shall be found in, but it is an independent one. Most people are religious because they are so instructed. They embrace the religion of their fathers and mothers, without asking what is true or false. I will not be of that class. I will not be Orthodox or Heterodox because my ancestors were."

"There is not much danger that you will do that, Ben. Present appearances rather indicate that the religious opinions of your father will be blown sky-high." John did not mean quite as much as his language in this reply denoted.

"You do not understand me. I respect my parents and their religious opinions, though I doubt some of the doctrines they have taught me. I never examined them until I began to read Shaftesbury and Collins, but accepted them as correct because my father and grandfather believed them. I shall do that no more, that is all I meant."

"Well, I can not say that you are wrong, Ben. If you make half as good a man as your father is, by believing half the truths he believes and advocates, you will stand pretty well in the world. I expect that we ought to avoid religious cant, bigotry, and intolerance."

"I expect so, too; and there is much of all three existing to-day," Benjamin answered. "A bigot may be a well-meaning man, but so much the worse for him. There is so much bigotry in Boston to-day, that the minister of each denomination thinks his denomination has all the truth and all the religion there is. I think that idea is a falsehood, to begin with."

"I shall agree with you there, Ben. I have no question that a man may be a Christian without believing half that most denominations profess to believe. And I suppose that the main thing is to be Christians, and not theologians."

"You are drifting to my side as fast as is necessary," remarked Benjamin, laughing. "You will come clear over in due time. I am sure you will, if you read Shaftesbury."

"Well, I must drift home in a hurry," responded John. "Whether I shall drift to you, the future will reveal. You are now in too deep water for me. I should drown if I got in where you are."

John left, and Benjamin went on thinking, as he was wont. He put more thinking into every twenty-four hours than any three boys together in Boston. At this time he was quite a doubter,—really a young skeptic. In the printing office he drifted in that direction faster and faster. He was a kind of speculator from childhood. He loved to argue. He enjoyed being on the opposite side, to indulge his propensity to argue. After he learned the Socratic method of reasoning, he was more inclined to discuss religion with different parties. Perhaps he did it to practise the method, rather than to show his aversion to religion. But, judging from what followed, in the next three or four years, he grew decidedly unbelieving. We can discover his lack of reverence for the Christian religion, and want of confidence in it, in articles he wrote for the Courant. Nothing very marked, it is true, but some of his articles lean in that direction.

Besides, Benjamin was one of those talented, independent boys, who think it is manly to break away from ancestral creeds. When he was eleven years old he was assisting his father to pack a barrel of pork for winter use. When the work was done he said to his father:

"Father, it would save time if you would say grace over the whole barrel now, instead of saying it over a piece at a time."

Whether his father flogged him for such irreverence, we are not told; nevertheless, the fact is suggestive of an element in the boy's make-up to which the ingenious skeptic may appeal with success. Possibly it was only the native humor of the boy, which, with his love of fun, cropped out on that occasion. It was irreverence, however, whatever may have been his motive.

Many were the conversations that Benjamin had with his friend, John Collins, upon religion, after becoming thoroughly poisoned by reading Shaftesbury and Collins.

"By the way, John, I should like to read to you what your namesake says on the subject. Perhaps you descended straight from this illustrious infidel."

"Perhaps so; but I shall not spend time in tracing my pedigree," John replied. "I never dared to trace my ancestors far back, for fear I should run into some disreputable family."

"It is probably an accident that you are a Collins, so that we can't lay it up against you, John; but I should really like to read two or three paragraphs from Collins' work, that you may judge of him."

"Go ahead, and I will give you respectful attention. If it is above my capacity to understand, I will not hold you responsible."

Benjamin proceeded to read from Collins' work as follows:

"Opinions, how erroneous soever, when the Effect of an impartial Examination, will never hurt Men in the sight of God, but will recommend Men to his Favour. For impartial Examination in the Matter of Opinion is the best that a Man can do towards obtaining Truth, and God, who is a wise, good, and just Being, can require no more of Men than to do their best, and will reward them when they do their best; and he would be the most unjust Being imaginable, if he punished Men, who had done their best endeavor to please him. Besides, if men were to be punished by God for mistaken Opinions, all men must be damned; for all Men abound in mistaken Opinions."

"While Rome was in the Height of its glory for Arms, Learning, and Politeness, there were six hundred different Religions professed and allowed therein. And this groat Variety does not appear to have had the least Effect on the Peace of the State, or on the Temper of Men; but, on the contrary, a very good Effect, for there is an entire Silence of History, about the Actions of those ancient Professors, who, it seems, lived so quietly together as to furnish no Materials for an Ecclesiastical History, such as Christians have given an Occasion for, which a Reverend Divine thus describes: 'Ecclesiastical History' says he, 'is chiefly spent in reciting the wild Opinions of Hereticks (that is, in belying Hereticks); the Contentions between Emperors and Popes; the idle and superstitious Canons, and ridiculous Decrees and Constitutions of packed Councils; their Debates about frivolous Matters, and playing the Fool with Religion; the Consultations of Synods about augmenting the Revenues of the Clergy, and establishing their Pride and Grandure; the impostures of Monks and Fryars; the Schisms and Factions of the Church; the Tyranny, Cruelty, and Impiety of the Clergy; insomuch that the excellent Grotius says, 'He that reads Ecclesiastical history reads nothing but the Roguery and Folly of Bishops and Churchmen.'"

"Matthew says, Jesus came and dwelt at Nazareth that it might be fulfilled, which was spoken by the Prophet saying, 'He shall be called a Nazarene.' Which Citation does not expressly occur in any Place of the Old Testament, and therefore cannot be literally fulfilled."

"In fine, the Prophecies, cited from the Old Testament by the Authors of the New, do plainly relate, in their obvious and primary Sense, to other Matters than those which they are produced to prove."

"Well," said John, interrupting, "I think that will do for my namesake. There is nothing very wonderful to me about that. True enough, I guess, but nothing remarkable. But how about Shaftesbury? What has he written?"

"He disproves the miracles of the New Testament. His 'Inquiry Concerning Virtue' and his 'Essay on the Freedom of Wit and Humour' are interesting as novels to me."

"I prefer the novels," interrupted John.

"Perhaps you do; but Shaftesbury is one of the most ingenious and pleasant writers known. He does not discard religion; he assails spurious religion only."

"And spurious religion is all religion that he do not believe in, I suppose," suggested John, "come from above or below? When a man does not believe the Bible he tries to show it up; and so when a man do not believe any religion but his own, he tries to explode all others."

"Read Shaftesbury, and judge for yourself," added Benjamin. "You will fall in love with him, as I have. He is one of the most graceful and fascinating writers I know of."

"Perhaps I will read him sometime," replied John. "I must go now; and when I am ready for it I will call for the book."

We have not time to follow the companionship of these two youth. It was intimate, and Benjamin succeeded in making a Shaftesbury disciple of John, so that one was about as much of an unbeliever as the other. In his "Autobiography," Benjamin confesses that he "was made a doubter by reading Shaftesbury and Collins," although he began to dissent from his father, as we have already seen, in his boyhood, when he read the religious tracts of Boyle.

We know that Benjamin was charged with being an atheist by his brother. True, it was when his brother was angry because he left him; still, he would not have been likely to make such a statement to others without some foundation for it. Franklin himself gives one reason for his leaving Boston (in his "Autobiography"): "My indiscreet disputations about religion began to make me pointed at with horror by good people as an infidel and atheist."

Another admission in his "Autobiography" reflects upon this subject:

"The time I allotted for writing exercises and for reading, was at night, or before work began in the morning, or on Sundays, when I contrived to be in the printing house, avoiding as much as I could the constant attendance upon public worship, which my father used to exact of me when I was under his care, and which I still continued to consider a duty, though I could not afford time to practise it."

There is an intimate connection between loose religious views and the non-observance of the Sabbath. Skeptics are not friendly to the Sabbath as a class. It is an institution they inveigh against with much spirit. No doubt the change going on in Benjamin's opinions had much to do with his ceasing to attend public worship.

Fifteen years afterwards, when Benjamin was fully established in business in Philadelphia, his parents became very anxious about his skeptical ideas, and wrote to him about it. Their letter is not preserved, but we have his in reply, which, while it confirms the fact, shows him to be more reverent and thoughtful than they feared. It is, also, evidence of a filial regard for his father and mother that is always as beautiful as it is honorable. We furnish the letter below:

"PHILADELPHIA, April 13, 1738.

"Honored Father,—I have your favors of the 21st of March, in which you both seem concerned lest I have imbibed some erroneous opinions. Doubtless I have my share, and when the natural weakness and imperfection of human understanding is considered, the unavoidable influence of education, custom, books, and company, upon our ways of thinking, I imagine a man must have a good deal of vanity who believes, and a good deal of boldness who affirms, that all the doctrines he holds are true, and all he rejects are false. And, perhaps, the same may be justly said of every sect, church, and society of men, when they assume to themselves that infallibility which they deny to the pope and councils.

"I think opinions should be judged of by their influences and effects; and if man holds none that tend to make him less virtuous or more vicious, it may be concluded he holds none that are dangerous,—which, I hope, is the case with me.

"I am sorry you should have any uneasiness on my account, and, if it were a thing possible for one to alter his opinions in order to please another's, I know none whom I ought more willingly to oblige in that respect than yourselves. But, since it is no more in a man's power to think than to look like another, methinks 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 blame me; in the mean time your care and concern for me is what I am very thankful for.

"My mother grieves that one of her sons is an Arian, another an Arminian; what an Arminian or an Arian is, I can not 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; and our recommendation will not be that we said, Lord! Lord! but that we did good to our fellow-creatures. See Matt. xx.

"As to the free masons, I know no way of giving my mother a better account of them than she seems to have at present (since it is not allowed that women should be admitted into that secret society). She has, I must confess, on that account, some reason to be displeased with it; but, for any thing else, I must entreat her to suspend her judgment till she is better informed, unless she will believe me when I assure her that they are in general a very harmless sort of people, and have no principles or practices that are inconsistent with religion and good manners.


His sister also, later on, in her great anxiety for his spiritual welfare, wrote to him, and he replied as follows:

"PHILADELPHIA, July 28, 1743.

"Dearest Sister Jenny,—I took your admonition very kindly, and was far from being offended at you for it. If I say any thing about it to you, 't is only to rectify some wrong opinions you seem to have entertained of me; and this I do only because they give you some uneasiness, which I am unwilling to be the occasion of. You express yourself as if you thought I was against worshipping of God, and doubt that good works would merit heaven; which are both fancies of your own, I think, without foundation. I am so far from thinking that God is not to be worshipped, that I have composed and wrote a whole book of devotions for my own use; and I imagine there are few if any in the world so weak as to imagine that the little good we can do here can merit so vast a reward hereafter.

"There are some things in your New England doctrine and worship which I do not agree with; but I do not therefore condemn them, or desire to shake your belief or practice of them. We may dislike things that are nevertheless right in themselves; I would only have you make me the same allowance, and have a better opinion both of morality and your brother. Read the pages of Mr. Edwards' late book, entitled, 'Some Thoughts concerning the present Revival of Religion in New England,' from 367 to 375, and, when you judge of others, if you can perceive the fruit to be good, do not terrify yourself that the tree may be evil; be assured it is not so, for you know who has said, 'Men do not gather grapes off thorns, and figs off thistles.'

"I have not time to add, but that I shall always be your affectionate brother,


"P.S. It was not kind in you, when your sister commended good works, to suppose she intended it a reproach to you. 'T was very far from her thoughts."

The sequel will show much more concerning the skepticism of Franklin; and that the time came when he saw the folly of such unbelief, and gave his adherence to the Christian religion. At the same time, he learned from experience the danger of reading infidel publications, and warned the young against following his example. Indeed, there is good reason to believe that, as early as 1728, when he was but twenty-two years of age, he was not so much of an infidel as some of his friends supposed; for then he prepared a code of morals and belief for his own use, entitled "Articles of Belief and Acts of Religion." In this document he avows his belief in "One Supreme, most perfect Being," and prays to "be preserved from atheism, impiety, and profaneness." Under the head of "Thanks" occur the following:

"For peace and liberty, for food and raiment, for corn, and wine, and milk, and every kind of healthful nourishment,—Good God, I thank Thee!

"For the common benefits of air and light, for useful fire and delicious water,—Good God, I thank Thee!

"For knowledge, and literature, and every useful art, for my friends and their prosperity, and for the fewness of my enemies,—Good God, I thank Thee!

"For all my innumerable benefits, for life, and reason, and the use of speech; for health, and joy, and every pleasant hour,—Good God, I thank Thee!"

It is true, there is not much religion in these things; and though they may have been adopted to satisfy the demands of conscience only, they prove that he was not an atheist, as many supposed.

Benjamin's experience with skeptical and infidel books recalls the experience of two young men, when about the same age, with publications of kindred character, which came very near depriving the United States of two good Presidents.

Before Abraham Lincoln began the study of law, he was connected with a clique or club of young men, who made light of religion, and read books that treated it as a delusion. It was at this time that he read Paine's "Age of Reason" and Volney's "Ruins," through which he was influenced to array himself against the Bible for a time,—as much of a skeptic, almost, as any one of his boon companions. But his early religious training soon asserted itself, and we hear no more of hostility to religion as long as he lived. On the other hand, when he was elected President, he spoke as follows to his friends and neighbors, who had assembled at the station to bid him adieu on leaving for Washington, on the eve of the late bloody Civil war:

"My Friends: No one not in my position can appreciate the sadness I feel at this parting. To this people I owe all that I am. Here I have lived more than a quarter of a century. Here my children were born, and here one of them lies buried. I know not how soon I shall see you again. A duty devolves on me, which is greater, perhaps, than that which has devolved upon any other man since the days of Washington. He never would have succeeded except for the aid of Divine Providence, upon which he at all times relied. I feel that I can not succeed without the same Divine aid which sustained him, and on the same Almighty Being I place my reliance for support; and I hope you, my friends, will pray that I may receive that Divine assistance, without which I can not succeed, but with which success is certain. Again I bid you all an affectionate farewell."

When James A. Garfield became a member of the "Black Salter's" family, he found "Marryatt's Novels," "Sinbad the Sailor," "The Pirates' Own Book," "Jack Halyard," "Lives of Eminent Criminals," "The Buccaneers of the Caribbean Seas"; and being a great reader, he sat up nights to read these works. Their effect upon him was to weaken the ties of home and filial affection, diminish his regard for religious things, and create within him an intense desire for a seafaring life. Nothing but a long and painful sickness, together with the wise counsels of his mother and a popular teacher, saved him from a wild and reckless life upon the sea, by leading him to Christ and a nobler life, in consequence of which his public career was one of honor, and closed in the highest office of the land.

Neither Lincoln nor Garfield would have been President of the United States if the spell, with which the influence of corrupt books bound them for the time, had not been broken by juster views of real life and nobler aims.



"I tell you how it is, John," exclaimed Benjamin, under great excitement; "I have withstood my brother's ill treatment as long as I am going to. I shall leave him."

"How is that, Ben? I thought your brother would treat you with more consideration after you immortalized yourself as an editor. I knew you had a hard time with him before the Courant was started." John Collins knew somewhat of Benjamin's troubles, the first two years of his apprenticeship.

"He has been worse since my prominence on the Courant; that is, at times. I think my success aroused his jealousy, so that it fretted him to see me, his apprentice, occupy a higher position than himself. Once in a while he has seemed to be pleased with my prominence on the paper, and then again it annoyed him."

"I should think you had helped him out of trouble enough to stir up his gratitude a little, even if he had no pride in possessing so bright a brother."

"Brother! brother!" exclaimed Benjamin. "He never thought of that relation. I was his apprentice, to be lorded over until twenty-one years of age. I do not think he would have treated the greatest stranger as an apprentice more unkindly than he has me. He seemed to think that the relation of master to an apprentice obliterates all blood relationship."

"That is unfortunate for both of you," remarked John, "but most unfortunate for him, whom public opinion will judge as a brother, and not as a master. But how will you get along with your indenture if you leave him?"

"I am justified by the circumstances in using the indenture, on the back of which is his own endorsement of my freedom. He released me from all obligations to him, that I might run the paper when he could not."

"But the understanding between you was, if I remember, that it was only a formality to evade the action of the General Court. He did not mean that you should take advantage of it and refuse to serve him."

"That is true; but I say the circumstances justify me in using it as if he really meant to give me my freedom. He has another indenture which I signed, designed to be kept private, but he won't dare to bring that out to the light of day, because it may get him into further trouble with the General Court."

"You have the advantage of him there, I see, if you see fit to avail yourself of it. Does James know how you feel about it?"

"He ought to know, for I have told him that I should leave him if he continued to treat me as he has done. Probably he does not believe that I shall quit, but I am not responsible for that. He ought to see that such treatment would cause any apprentice to leave his master."

"What does he do that is so bad?" inquired John.

"He undertook to flog me, the other day. He did strike me, but I showed him that I believed in self-defense, and he desisted. He has beaten me often. I did not like the looks of an elder brother licking a younger one, and so I put myself in a position to make such a scene impossible."

"Well, I do not think that such a scene is particularly attractive," responded John in his droll way. "Such a scene in the theatre would be tragedy, I think; it could not be comedy in a civilized land."

"That is no worse than other things he does. If he would get mad and beat me, and then be kind and considerate for a while, I should be quite well satisfied. But he is constantly domineering over me, as if he meant I should realize all the while that he is my legal master."

"Does your father know about it?"

"Yes, and he has been decidedly in my favor until now. We have often laid our differences before him, and in nearly every instance, he has supported me. But for some reason, since the last trouble he has upheld James. Perhaps it was because I did not allow James to beat me as masters often do their apprentices."

"What do you propose to do if you leave your brother?" continued John.

"Go to New York. I can find work there. If there is nothing there for an extra printer to do, I will turn my hand to something else. I shall leave Boston."

"Why not get into one of the other printing offices in town? I do not want you should quit Boston until I do."

"For two good reasons. The first is that my connection with the Courant stirred up the officials of the government, so that I am obnoxious to them; and the second is, that my religious opinions have become so well known, and have been so misrepresented, that ministers and other good people consider me no better than an atheist. I prefer to go among strangers, where I can have a chance to make a record for myself."

"Better make a record here,—the best chance in the world. Here people know who you are, or they ought to know by this time. Take my advice, and secure a place in another printing office in Boston."

The result of this interview with John was, that Benjamin resolved to secure a position in Boston if he could. But when he applied, subsequently, for a situation, each printer declined to employ him. James had been to them, anticipating that he might take this step, and warned them against making any bargain with him. He assured them that he should take legal steps, under the indenture of apprenticeship, to maintain his rights if they employed him. Besides, he told them that Benjamin did not believe the Christian religion, and he had no respect for those who did; that, in short, he was "no better than an atheist."

James meant to compel Benjamin to continue to work for him; and he thought if no other printer would hire him, that would end the trouble. But the opposite effect was produced. It determined Benjamin to quit Boston as soon as he could arrange for the change, though he did not make known his decision to his brother. Probably his brother did not dream of his leaving Boston for New York, or any other place. However, Benjamin embraced the first opportunity to announce to him that he should quit.

"I am my own man from this time," he cried, holding up his indenture which his brother had returned to him. "This paper makes me free, and I shall take advantage of it to leave you," and he shook the document in James' face.

"You know that I never gave up the indenture because I relinquished the bargain we had made. If you use it to assert and establish your freedom, you will be guilty of a mean, contemptible act."

"I shall so use it!" and Benjamin was very defiant when he said it. "I have borne your abuse long enough, and I will bear it no longer."

"We shall see about that. Father will have a word to say about it, you will find. You are not of age yet." James spoke with remarkable coolness for him, in the circumstances. He probably realized that Benjamin had the advantage of him.

"Neither father nor any other man can force me to work for you any longer. You have even been around to other printers, to influence them not to employ me; and you have lied about me, telling them that I am an atheist, and other things as bad."

"I told them nothing but the truth," replied James. "You know as well as I do, that you believe Shaftesbury instead of the Bible."

"Well, no matter what I believe. I shall not work for you another day. I will resort to the most menial employment for my bread and butter before I will serve a man who will treat his own brother like a slave." And again Benjamin flourished his indenture before the eyes of James, defiantly.

It was not fair in Benjamin to take this advantage of his brother, and he knew it; but his resentment triumphed over his regard for right at the time. James returned his indenture only that he might be able to publish the Courant unmolested. It was a deceitful arrangement in the first place, and Benjamin's use of the indenture to assert his liberty was no more unfair and sinful than was James' device to make him the proprietor of the paper, and thus evade the law. James was paid in his own coin. He laid a plan to cheat the government, and he got cheated himself. He was snared in the work of his own hands. This, however, did not justify Benjamin in his course, as he afterwards saw and frankly confessed. In his "Autobiography" he said:

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