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Title: Benjamin Franklin
Author: More, Paul Elmer, 1864-1937
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Benjamin Franklin" ***

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The Riverside Biographical Series


Each about 140 pages, 16mo, with photogravure portrait, 65 cents,
_net_; _School Edition_, each, 50 cents, _net._


The Riverside Biographical Series





The Riverside Press Cambridge



CHAP.                                                          PAGE

  I. EARLY DAYS IN BOSTON                                         1


III. RELIGIOUS BELIEFS.--THE JUNTO                               37


  V. FIRST AND SECOND MISSIONS TO ENGLAND                        85

 VI. MEMBER OF CONGRESS--ENVOY TO FRANCE                        109




When the report of Franklin's death reached Paris, he received, among
other marks of respect, this significant honor by one of the
revolutionary clubs: in the café where the members met, his bust was
crowned with oak-leaves, and on the pedestal below was engraved the
single word VIR. This simple encomium, calling to mind Napoleon's _This
is a man_ after meeting Goethe, sums up better than a volume of eulogy
what Franklin was in his own day and what his life may still signify to
us. He acted at one time as a commander of troops, yet cannot be called
a soldier; he was a great statesman, yet not among the greatest; he
made famous discoveries in science, yet was scarcely a professional
scientist; he was lauded as a philosopher, yet barely outstepped the
region of common sense; he wrote ever as a moralist, yet in some
respects lived a free life; he is one of the few great American
authors, yet never published a book; he was a shrewd economist, yet
left at his death only a moderate fortune; he accomplished much as a
philanthropist, yet never sacrificed his own weal. Above all and in all
things he was a man, able to cope with every chance of life and wring
profit out of it; he had perhaps the alertest mind of any man of that
alert century. In his shrewdness, versatility, self-reliance, wit, as
also in his lack of the deeper reverence and imagination, he, I think,
more than any other man who has yet lived, represents the full American
character. And so in studying his life, though at times we may wish
that to his practical intelligence were added the fervid insight of
Jonathan Edwards, who was his only intellectual equal in the colonies,
or the serene faith of an Emerson, who was born "within a kite string's
distance" of his birthplace in Boston, yet in the end we are borne away
by the wonderful openness and rectitude of his mind, and are willing to
grant him his high representative position.

Franklin's ancestors were of the sturdy sort that have made the
strength of the Anglo-Saxon race. For three hundred years at least his
family had lived on a freehold of thirty acres in the village of Ecton,
Northamptonshire; and for many generations father and son had been
smiths. Parton, in his capital Life of Franklin, has observed that
Washington's ancestors lived in the same county, although much higher
in the social scale; and it may well have been that more than one of
Franklin's ancestors "tightened a rivet in the armor or replaced a shoe
upon the horse of a Washington, or doffed his cap to a Washington
riding past the ancestral forge." During these long years the family
seems to have gathered strength from the soil, as families are wont to
do. Seeing how the Franklins, when the fit of emigrating seized upon
them, blossomed out momentarily, and then dwindled away, we are
reminded of Poor Richard's wise observation,--

    "I never saw an oft-removëd tree
    Nor yet an oft-removëd family
    That throve so well as those that settled be."

About the year 1685, Josiah Franklin, the youngest of four sons, came
with his wife and three children to Boston. He had been a dyer in the
old home, but now in New England, finding little to be done in this
line, he set up as a tallow-chandler and soap-boiler, and prospered in
a small way. By his first wife he had four more children, and then by a
second wife ten others,--a goodly sheaf of seventeen, among whom
Benjamin, the destined philosopher, was the fifteenth.

The second wife, Benjamin's mother, was the daughter of Peter Folger,
one of the settlers of Nantucket,--"a godly and learned Englishman,"
who, like many of the pious New England folk, used to relieve his heart
in doggerel rhymes. In his "Looking-Glass for the Times" he appeals
boldly for liberty of conscience in behalf of the persecuted
Anabaptists and Quakers, and we are not surprised that Franklin should
have commended the manly freedom of these crude verses. Young Benjamin
was open to every influence about him, and something of the large and
immovable tolerance of his nature may have been caught from old Peter
Folger, his grandfather. We can imagine with what relish that sturdy
Protestant, if he had lived so long, would have received Benjamin's
famous "Parable against Persecution," which the author used to pretend
to read as the last chapter of Genesis, to the great mystification of
his audience,--"And it came to pass after these things that Abraham sat
in the door of his tent," etc. Try the trick to-day, and you will find
most of your hearers equally mystified, so perfectly has Franklin
imitated the tone of Old Testament language.

But we forget that our hero, like Tristram Shandy, is still in the
limbo of non-existence. Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston, January 6
(old style), 1706. At that time the family home was in Milk Street,
opposite the Old South Church, to which sacred edifice the child was
taken the day of his birth, tradition asserting that his own mother
carried him thither through the snow. Shortly afterwards the family
moved to a wooden house on the corner of Hanover and Union streets.

Naturally in so large a family, where the means of support were so
slender, young Benjamin had to get most of his education outside of the
schoolroom, and something of this practical unscholastic training clung
to his mind always. Perhaps this was just as well in that age and
place, where theology and education were synonymous terms. Certainly
his consequent lack of deep root in the past and his impressionability,
though limitations to his genius, make him the more typical of American
intelligence. At the age of eight he was sent to the grammar school,
where he remained less than a year, and then passed under the charge of
Mr. George Brownell, a teacher of the three R's. Benjamin had learned
to read so young that he himself could not remember being unable to
read, and at school he did notably well. It is curious, however, that
he found difficulty with his arithmetic, and was never a mathematician,
though later in life he became skillful in dealing with figures. No
error could be greater than Carlyle's statement that ability in
mathematics is a test of intelligence. Goethe, scientist as well as
poet, could never learn algebra; and Faraday, the creator of electrical
science, knew no mathematics at all.

When ten years old the lad was taken from school and set to work under
his father. But his education was by no means ended. There is a
temptation to dwell on these early formative years because he himself
was so fond of deducing lessons from the little occurrences of his
boyhood; nor do I know any life that shows a more consistent
development from beginning to end. There is, too, a peculiar charm in
hearing the world-famous philosopher discourse on these petty
happenings of childhood and draw from them his wise experience of life.
So, for instance, at sixty-six years of age he writes to a friend in
Paris the story of "The Whistle." One day when he was seven years old
his pocket was filled with coppers, and he immediately started for the
shop to buy toys. On the way he met a boy with a whistle, and was so
charmed with the sound of it that he gave all his money for one. Of
course his kind brothers and sisters laughed at him for his extravagant
bargain, and his chagrin was so great that he adopted as one of his
maxims of life, "Don't give too much for the whistle." As he grew up,
came into the world, and observed the actions of men, he thought he met
with many, very many, who gave too much for the whistle,--men
sacrificing time and liberty and virtue for court favor; misers, giving
up comfort and esteem and the joy of doing good for wealth; others
sacrificing every laudable improvement of the mind and fortune and
health to mere corporal sensations, and all the other follies of
exorbitant desire.

Another experience, this time a more painful lesson in honesty, he
relates in his Autobiography. Having one day stolen some stones from an
unfinished house while the builders were away, he and his comrades
built up a wharf where they might stand and fish for minnows in the
mill-pond. They were discovered, complained of, and corrected by their
fathers; "and though I demonstrated the utility of our work," says
Franklin, "mine convinced me that that which was not honest could not
be truly useful."

It is interesting, too, to see the boy showing the same experimental
aptitude which brought scientific renown to the man. Like all American
boys living on the coast, he was strongly attracted to the water, and
early learned to swim. But ordinary swimming was not enough for
Benjamin: with some skill he made a pair of wooden paddles for his
hands, which enabled him to move through the water very rapidly,
although, as he says, they tired his wrists. Another time he combined
the two joyful pursuits of swimming and kite-flying in such a manner
perhaps as no boy before him had ever conceived. Lying on his back, he
held in his hands the stick to which the kite-string was attached, and
thus "was drawn along the surface of the water in a very agreeable
manner." Later in life he said he thought it not impossible to cross in
this manner from Dover to Calais. "But the packet-boat is still
preferable," he added. We shall see how he managed to put even his
knowledge of swimming to practical use; and kite-flying, every one
knows, served him in his most notable electrical experiment. Certainly,
if it could ever be said of any one, it might be said of him, "The
child is father of the man."

But swimming and boyish play formed a small, though it may be
important, part of his education. He was from childhood up
"passionately fond of reading," and he was moreover a wise reader,
which is still better. Books were not so easy to get in those days; and
the good libraries of the country were composed chiefly of great
theological volumes in folio on the shelves of the clergymen's studies.
But in one way and another Franklin contrived to lay hands on the food
he most needed. All the money he could save he devoted to buying books,
and he even had recourse to unusual methods of saving for this purpose.
When sixteen he chanced to read a treatise commending a vegetable diet,
and forthwith he put himself under this regimen, finding he could thus
set aside half his board money to increase his library. He also made
the acquaintance of the booksellers' apprentices from whom he could
borrow books; and often he would read late into the night so as to
return the purloined volume early the next morning.

The first book he owned was the "Pilgrim's Progress," which remained a
favorite with him through life and even served to a certain extent as a
model for his own work. This book he sold to buy Burton's "Historical
Collections" in forty volumes. His father's library was mainly
theological, and the young lad was courageous enough to browse even in
this dry pasture, but to his little profit as he thought. There was,
however, a book on his father's shelves which was admirably suited to
train one destined himself to play a large part in a great drama of
history. Where could patriotism and fortitude of character better be
learnt than in Plutarch? and Plutarch he read "abundantly" and thought
his "time spent to great advantage." That was in the good days before
children's books and boys' books were printed. In place of--whom shall
we say, Henty or Abbott or another?--boys, if they read at all, read
Plutarch and the "Spectator." They came to the intellectual tasks of
manhood with their minds braced by manly reading and not deboshed by
silly or at best juvenile literature. It is safe to say that no book
written primarily for a boy is a good book for a boy to read. Apart
from lessons in generous living, Franklin may have had his natural
tendency to moralize strengthened by this study of Plutarch. It is
indeed notable that in one respect eighteenth-century literature has
marked affinity with the Greek. The writers of that age, and among them
Franklin, were like the Greeks distinctly ethical. In telling a story
or recording a life, their interest was in the moral to be drawn,
rather than in the passions involved.

Another book which had a special influence on his style may be
mentioned. An odd volume of the "Spectator" coming into his hands, he
read the essays over and over and took them deliberately as a model in
language. This was before the date of Johnson's well-known dictum:
"Whoever wishes to attain an English style, familiar but not coarse,
and elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days and nights to the
volumes of Addison." His method of work was "to make short hints of the
sentiments in each sentence," lay these by for a few days, and then
having reconstructed the essay from his notes to compare his version
with the original. Sometimes he jumbled the collection of hints into
confusion and thus made a study of construction as well as of style; or
again he turned an essay into verse and after a while converted it back
into prose. And this we believe to be the true method of acquiring a
good style, more efficacious than any English course in Harvard

At sixteen he was reading Locke "On Human Understanding,"--very strong
meat for a boy--and the Port Royal "Art of Thinking." From Xenophon's
"Memorable Things of Socrates" he acquired a lesson which he never
forgot and which he always esteemed of importance in his education.
This was the skillful assumption of ignorance or uncertainty in
dispute, the so-called "irony" of Socrates. At first he employed this
ironical method to trap his opponents into making unwary statements
that led to their confusion; and in this way he grew expert in
obtaining victories that, as he said, neither he nor his cause
deserved. Accordingly he afterwards gave up this form of sophistry and
only retained the habit of expressing himself in terms of modest
diffidence, always saying: He conceived or imagined such a thing to be
so, and never using the words _certainly_, _undoubtedly_, and the like.

Books, however, occupied but a small part of his life at this time.
After leaving school he was first made to assist his father in the
tallow-chandler business; but his distaste for this trade was so great
that his father, fearing the boy would run away to sea, began to look
about for other employment for him. He took the lad to see "joiners,
brick-layers, turners, braziers, etc., at their work," in order to
discover where the boy's inclination lay. And this event of his boyhood
he as an old man remembered, saying, that it had ever since been a
pleasure to him to see good workmen handle their tools, and adding that
it was useful to him in his business and science to have learned so
much in the way of handicraft. At length Benjamin's love of books
determined his occupation, and like many another famous author he was
set to the printing-press. In 1717 his brother James had come back from
England with a press and letters, and at the age of twelve Benjamin was
bound to his brother as an apprentice.

James soon discovered Benjamin's cleverness with the pen and induced
him to compose two ballads, "The Light-House Tragedy," being the story
of a recent shipwreck, and "Blackbeard," a sailor's song on the capture
of that notorious pirate. These ballads, which the author frankly, and
no doubt truthfully, describes as "wretched stuff," were printed and
hawked about the streets by the boy. "The Light-House Tragedy" at least
sold prodigiously, and the boy's vanity was correspondingly flattered;
but the father stepped in and discouraged such work, warning Benjamin
that "verse-makers were generally beggars." So, perhaps, we were spared
a mediocre poet and given a first-rate prose writer, for the stuff of
poetry was not in Franklin's sober brain.

At this time the good people of Massachusetts were dependent for the
news of the world on a single paper, the "Boston News-Letter,"
afterwards called the "Gazette" (and indeed there was no other paper in
the whole country), published, as was commonly the case in those days,
by the postmaster of the town. But in 1721 James Franklin, much against
the advice of his friends, started a rival paper, the "New England
Courant," which the young apprentice had to carry about to subscribers
after helping it through the press. Benjamin, however, soon played a
more important part than printer's devil. Several ingenious men were in
the habit of writing little Addisonian essays for the paper, and
Benjamin, hearing their conversation, was fired to try his own skill.
"But being still a boy,"--so he tells the story himself,--"and
suspecting that my brother would object to printing anything of mine in
his paper if he knew it to be mine, I contrived to disguise my hand,
and writing an anonymous paper, I put it at night under the door of the
printing-house. It was found in the morning and communicated to his
writing friends when they called in as usual. They read it, commented
on it in my hearing, and I had the exquisite pleasure of finding it met
with their approbation, and that in their different guesses at the
author none were named but men of some character among us for learning
and ingenuity." Naturally the lad was flattered by the success of his
ruse; and he continued to send in his anonymous essays for more than a
year. They have been pretty conclusively identified as the series of
articles signed "Silence Dogood," and are a clever enough imitation of
the "Spectator's" style of allegory and humorous satire, such as
Franklin was fond of using all his life. The signature, too, Silence
Dogood, was characteristic of the man who turned all religion into a
code of morality, and was famous for his power of keeping a secret.
Like the ancient poet Simonides, he knew the truth of the saying,
_Silence hath a safe reward_.

Those days were not easy times for printers, nor was the freedom of the
press any more respected than liberty of conscience. Trouble very soon
arose between the new paper and the authorities chiefly on account of
the "Courant's" free handling of the church. Already the free-thinking
party which afterwards formed into the Unitarian church was showing its
head, and the writers for the "Courant" were among the most outspoken.
The climax was reached when one day the paper appeared with a diatribe
containing such words as these: "For my own part, when I find a man
full of religious cant and palaver, I presently suspect him to be a
knave,"--a sentiment which the religious authorities very properly took
as an insult to themselves. James was arrested and imprisoned for a
month, and on his release was forbidden to print the "Courant." To
escape this difficulty the old indenture of Benjamin was canceled and
the paper was printed in his name; at the same time, however, a new
indenture was secretly made so that James might still, if he desired,
claim his legal rights in the apprentice. It was a "flimsy scheme," and
held but a little while.

Bickerings had been constant between the two brothers, and Benjamin was
especially resentful for the blows his master's passion too often urged
him to bestow.

    "My mind now is set,
    My heart's thought, on wide waters,"--

said the youth in the old Anglo-Saxon poem, and this same sea-longing
was bred in the bones of our Boston apprentice. Now at length the boy
would break away; at least he would voyage to another home, though he
might give up the notion of becoming a sailor. He intimates, moreover,
that the narrow bigotry of New England in religion was distasteful to
him--as we may well believe it was. Yet he always retained an
affectionate memory of the place of his birth; and only two years
before his death he wrote pleasantly regarding the citizens of that
town, "for besides their general good sense, which I value, the Boston
manner, turn of phrase, and even tone of voice and accent in
pronunciation, all please and seem to refresh and revive me." The
newspapers of those days were full of advertisements for runaway
apprentices, and Benjamin was one to get his freedom in the same way.
He sold his books for a little cash, took secret passage in a sloop for
New York, and in three days (some time in October, 1723) found himself
in that strange city "without the least recommendation or knowledge of
anybody in the place." The voyage had been uneventful save for an
incident which happened while they were becalmed off Block Island. The
crew here employed themselves in catching cod, and to Franklin, at this
time a devout vegetarian, the taking of every fish seemed a kind of
unprovoked murder, since none of them had done or could do their
catchers any injury. But he had been formerly a great lover of fish,
and the smell of the frying-pan was most tempting. He balanced some
time between principle and inclination, till, recollecting that when
the fish were opened he had seen smaller fish taken out of their
stomachs, he bethought himself: "If you eat one another I don't see why
we may not eat you;" so he dined upon cod very heartily, and continued
through life, except at rare intervals, to eat as other people. "So
convenient a thing it is," he adds, "to be a reasonable creature, since
it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind
to do."



The only printer then in New York was old William Bradford, formerly of
Philadelphia, whose monument may still be seen in Trinity Churchyard.
To Mr. William Bradford accordingly young Franklin applied for work;
but there was little printing done in the town and Bradford had no need
of another hand at the press. He told Franklin, however, that his son
at Philadelphia had lately lost his principal assistant by death, and
advised Franklin to go thither.

Without delay Franklin set out for that place, and after a somewhat
adventurous journey arrived at the Market Street wharf about eight or
nine o'clock of a Sunday morning.

Philadelphia at that time was a comfortable town of some ten thousand
inhabitants, extending a mile or more along the Delaware and reaching
only a few blocks back into the country. It was a shady easy-going
place, with pleasant gardens about the houses, and something of Quaker
repose and substantial thrift lent a charm to its busy life. Men were
still living who could remember when unbroken forests held the place of
Penn's city:--

    "And the streets still reëcho the names of the trees of the forest,
    As if they fain would appease the Dryads whose haunts they molested."

Franklin was fond of contrasting his humble entrance into his adopted
home with the honorable station he afterwards acquired there. He was,
as he says, in his working dress, his best clothes coming round by sea.
He was dirty from being so long in the boat. His pockets were stuffed
out with shirts and stockings, and he knew no one nor where to look for
lodging. Fatigued with walking, rowing, and the want of sleep, he was
very hungry; and his whole stock of cash consisted in a single dollar
and about a shilling in copper coin, which he gave to the boatmen for
his passage. At first they refused it on account of his having rowed,
but he insisted on their taking it. "Man is sometimes," he adds, "more
generous when he has little money than when he has plenty; perhaps to
prevent his being thought to have but little."

It was indeed a strange entrance for the future statesman and
scientist. As he walked up to Market Street he met a boy with bread,
which reminded him forcibly of his hunger, and asking the boy where he
had got his loaf he went straight to the same baker's. Here, after some
difficulty due to difference of names in Boston and Philadelphia, he
provided himself with three "great puffy rolls" for threepence, and
with these he started up Market Street, eating one and carrying one
under each arm, as his pockets were already full. On the way he passed
the door of Mr. Read's house, where his future wife saw him and thought
he made an awkward, ridiculous appearance. At Fourth Street he turned
across to Chestnut and walked down Chestnut and Walnut, munching his
roll all the way. Coming again to the river he took a drink of water,
gave away the two remaining rolls to a poor woman, and started up
Market Street again. He found a number of clean-dressed people all
going in one direction, and by following them was led into the great
meeting-house of the Quakers. There he sat down and looked about him.
It was apparently a silent meeting, for not a word was spoken, and the
boy, being now utterly exhausted, fell into a sleep from which he was
roused only at the close of the service.

That night he lodged at the Crooked Billet, which despite its ominous
name seems to have been a comfortable inn, and the next morning, having
dressed as neatly as he could, set out to find employment. Andrew
Bradford had no place for him; but another printer named Keimer, who
had recently set up in business, was willing to give him work. It was a
queer house and a queer printer. There was an old damaged press, on
which Franklin exercised his skill in repairing, and a small worn-out
font of type. Keimer himself, who seems to have been a grotesque
compound of knave and crank, was engaged at once in composing and
setting up in type an elegy on the death of a prominent young man. He
is the only poet to my knowledge who ever used the composition-stick
instead of a pen for the vehicle of inspiration. The elegy may still be
read in Duyckinck's Cyclopædia, and on perusing it we may well repeat
the first line:--

    "What mournful accents thus accost mine ear!"

Now began a period of growing prosperity for our philosopher. The two
printers of Philadelphia were poorly qualified for their business, and
Franklin by his industry and intelligence soon rendered himself
indispensable to Keimer. He was making money, had discovered a few
agreeable persons to pass his evenings with, and was contented. He took
lodging with Mr. Read, and now, as he says, "made rather a more
respectable appearance in the eyes of Miss Read."

He was even in a fair way to forget Boston when an incident occurred of
some importance in his life. Robert Holmes, who had married his sister,
being at Newcastle, forty miles below Philadelphia, heard of him and
wrote entreating him to return home. To this appeal Franklin replied
giving his reasons for leaving Boston. Now Sir William Keith, governor
of Pennsylvania, chanced at this time to be at Newcastle, and, being
shown the letter by Holmes, was so much impressed with it that he
determined to offer encouragement to the writer. Great, then, was the
surprise of Benjamin and his master when one day the governor and
another gentleman in their fine clothes called at the printing-house
and inquired for the young man. They took him to a tavern at the corner
of Third Street, and there over the Madeira the governor proposed that
Benjamin should start an independent shop, promising in this case to
give him the government printing. Benjamin was skeptical, but at last
it was decided that he should go to Boston and seek help of his father;
and in April, 1724, with a flattering letter from the governor, he set
out for his old home. Benjamin's father, however, though pleased by the
governor's approval, thought the boy too young to assume so much
responsibility, and sent him back to Philadelphia with no money, but
with his blessing and abundant good counsel, advising him to restrain
his natural tendency to lampoon, and telling him that by steady
industry and prudent parsimony he might save enough by the time he was
twenty-one to set himself up, and withal promising help if he came near
the matter.

The return voyage was unimportant save for an amusing incident which
showed Franklin's innocence at that time whatever he may have been
later on, and for an agreement he made to collect a debt of thirty-five
pounds in Pennsylvania for one Vernon,--an agreement which was to cost
him considerable anxiety. While stopping in New York, too, his
reputation as a reader got him an invitation to visit Governor Burnet,
who showed him his library and conversed with him on books and authors.
"This," as Franklin observes, "was the second governor who had done me
the honor to take notice of me, and for a poor boy like me it was very

In New York he had picked up his old friend Collins, a companion of his
childhood, who had preceded him from Boston. Collins had passed from
license of belief to license of morals, and was now besotting himself
with drink. On the way to Philadelphia Franklin had collected the money
due to Vernon, and Collins pressed him until he drew largely on this
sum to help the spendthrift. Franklin regarded this as one of the chief
_errata_ of his life, and would have repented his error still more
seriously perhaps if Vernon had not allowed him time to make good the
defalcation. It was some five years before he was able to restore the
money, and then, having paid both principal and interest, he felt a
load taken off his mind.

His association with Collins came to an amusing end. Once when they
were on the Delaware with some other young men, Collins refused to row
in his turn. "I will be rowed home," said he. "We will not row you,"
said Franklin. "You must," said he, "or stay all night on the water,
just as you please." The others were willing to indulge him, but
Franklin, being soured with his other conduct, continued to refuse.
Collins swore he would make Franklin row or throw him overboard, and
came along stepping on the thwarts to carry out his threat. But he
mistook his man. Franklin clapped his head under the fellow's thighs
and, rising, pitched him headforemost into the river. Collins was a
good swimmer, but they kept him pulling after the boat until he was
stifled with vexation and almost drowned. And that was the end of the
friendship between the two. Collins later went to the Barbadoes, that
limbo of the unsuccessful in colonial days, and Franklin never heard of
him again.

With his employer, Keimer, Franklin had little sympathy, despising both
his knavery and his false enthusiasms. Keimer wore his beard at full
length, because somewhere in the Mosaic law it is said, "Thou shalt not
mar the corners of thy beard." He likewise kept the seventh day
Sabbath. Franklin disliked both practices, but agreed to them on
condition of their adopting a vegetarian diet, this whim suiting him at
the time, both because he could save money by it and because he wished
to give himself some diversion in half starving the gluttonous fanatic.
Poor Keimer suffered grievously, grew tired of the project in three
months, longed for the fleshpots of Egypt, and ordered a roast pig. He
invited Franklin and two women friends to dine with him; but the pig
being brought too soon upon the table, he could not resist the
temptation, and ate the whole before his guests came.

Having to do with such a man, Franklin was very glad to accept Sir
William Keith's offer to set him up alone. It was agreed that Franklin
should sail to London, with letters of introduction, and also with
letters of credit for purchasing press, types, paper, and such like.
But for one reason and another the governor delayed writing the
letters, and at last Franklin actually found himself afloat and on the
way to London without a word from his patron. Great was his chagrin
when he learned during the passage that it was a habit of this amiable
magistrate to promise anything and perform nothing. Franklin's comment
on the occasion displays the imperturbable justice of his mind: "But
what shall we think of a governor playing such pitiful tricks and
imposing so grossly on a poor ignorant boy! It was a habit he had
acquired. He wished to please everybody, and having little to give he
gave expectations. He was otherwise an ingenious, sensible man, a
pretty good writer, and a good governor for the people, though not for
his constituents, the proprietaries."

Franklin reached London December 24, 1724, and remained there some
nineteen months, doing many things and learning many things during this
time that were of use to him in after life. But interesting as his
experiences were, we pass over them with a few words. Without
difficulty he got work with the printers, and employed his time
industriously--of that there could be no doubt. As always, his head was
full of plans of economy; and we are amused to see him carry his
reforms into the printing chapel, attempting to persuade the men to
give up their expensive beer and take to hot-water gruel.

But though Franklin was always industrious, he was far from leading a
confined life. Then as ever he mixed much with men, and his experience
in London added largely no doubt to his knowledge of human nature. He
even saw something of the ways of Grub Street through his friend Ralph,
who had come with him from Philadelphia. "This low writer," as Pope
called him, is now remembered only for a couple of vicious lines in the
Dunciad, and for the ignominious part he plays in Franklin's
Autobiography. For many months he was a continual drain on Franklin's
pocket, and seems to have been the boy's evil genius in immorality as

Another acquaintance introduced him to a phase of character quite new
to the youth from America. This was an old maiden lady of seventy, who
occupied the garret of his lodging house. She was a Roman Catholic, and
lived the secluded life of a nun, having given away to charities all
her estate except twelve pounds a year, out of which small sum she
still gave a part, living herself on water gruel only, and using no
fire but to boil it. Franklin was permitted to visit her once, and
remarks that she was cheerful and polite, as also that the room was
almost without furniture. "She looked pale," he says, "but was never
sick; and I give it as another instance on how small an income life and
health may be supported."--Not another word! Ah, Doctor Franklin, you
were very wise in this world's wisdom! Your life was for a young
struggling nation a splendid example of probity and thrift and
self-culture. And yet we think your countrymen could wish you had used
this poor enthusiast's folly as something else than a mere lesson in

But the religious imagination played a small part in our philosopher's
life, and least of all was it active in these London days. His
skepticism in fact became acute, and sought relief in public
expression. As a compositor Franklin was engaged in setting up one of
the many religious treatises then pouring out against the deists, and
as the author's arguments seemed insufficient to the young reasoner, he
wrote and printed a rejoinder. This is the pamphlet called "A
Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain," which he
inscribed to his friend Ralph, and whose printing he afterwards
regretted as one of the _errata_ of his life. It is a disquisition
quite after the manner of the day, and, though it has no permanent
value, is nevertheless a most unusual production for a boy of nineteen.
He accepts the belief in a God and an all-powerful Providence, and
argues thence the complete absence of free will in man; pleasure and
pain are necessary correlatives, and cannot exist apart; the soul is
perhaps immortal, but loses its personal identity at death.

It was time for Franklin to come home and prepare for the great work
before him. He was indeed ready to come when his skill in swimming
almost lost him to this country. He had made such an impression by his
feats in the water that one of his friends and pupils in the art
proposed they should travel over Europe together, and support
themselves by giving exhibitions. Fortunately Mr. Denham, an older and
wiser friend, persuaded Franklin to return with him to America.



Franklin reached Philadelphia some time in October, 1726, and found
many things had changed during his absence. Keith was no longer
governor, but walked the streets as a common citizen. He seemed a
little ashamed at seeing Franklin, and passed him by without saying
anything. Miss Read, too, whom he had left under the pledge of an
engagement, had grown tired of his long neglect, and at the insistence
of her friends had married a potter named Rogers. The union, however,
had proved unfortunate, and the lady was again living at home under her
maiden name, it being believed that Rogers had a previous wife.

Franklin at once entered the employment of his friend Denham, who
opened a thriving business on Water Street. But after an engagement of
four months he was left idle by Mr. Denham's death, and, finding
nothing better to do, returned to his old employer, Keimer. Here he
received good wages as foreman of the shop, but soon discovered that he
was engaged only to teach Keimer's raw hands the trade, and was to be
dismissed as soon as this was accomplished. Franklin had a habit
apparently of breaking with a burdensome friend by means of a judicious
quarrel. He had done so with his brother James, with Collins, with
Ralph, and now he parted with Keimer in the same way. After an interval
of a few months, during which he was again for a while in the
employment of Keimer, he entered into partnership with one of the
hands, Meredith by name, and in the spring of 1728 started an
independent printing-house.

At this point Franklin interrupts the narrative of his life to give
some account of his religious beliefs, and we will follow his example.
And first of all let us say frankly that Parton, whose work is likely
long to remain the standard biography of Franklin, gives a false color
to the religious experience of his hero. Of regeneration there is in
Franklin no sign, but instead of that a constant growth,--which is far
more wholesome. He was always an amused and skeptical observer of the
revivals and wild enthusiasms kindled by his friend Whitefield and by
the inspired preacher of Northampton. And it is quite absurd to speak
of Franklin as "the consummate Christian of his time." There was in him
none of the emotional nature and little of the spirituality that go to
make the complete Christian. His strength lay in his temperance,
prudence, justice, and courage,--eminently the pagan virtues; and
indeed he was from first to last a great pagan, who lapsed now and then
into the pseudo-religious platitudes of the eighteenth century deists.

His family had early adopted the reformed faith, and had possessed the
courage to continue of this faith through the bloody persecutions of
Queen Mary. Under Charles II. Benjamin's father went a step further,
casting in his lot with the non-conformist Presbyterians; and it was
the persecutions of that society which drove him with his family to
America. Independence, or even recalcitrance, together with broad
toleration of the faith of others, was in the family blood, and
Benjamin continued the good tradition. From revolt against Rome to
revolt against the established English Church, and from this to
complete independence of individual belief, was after all a natural

Among the books which Franklin had read in Boston were Shaftesbury and
Collins, representative deistical writers of the time, and he had been
led by them, as he says, to doubt "many points of our religious
doctrines." Now there are in religion two elements quite distinct and
at times even antagonistic, though by the ordinary mind they are
commonly seen as blended together. These are the emotional and the
moral natures. In many religious ceremonies of the Orient, religion is
purely an emotion, an exaltation of the nerves, accompanied at times by
outbreaking immorality; and unfortunately the same phenomena have been
too often seen in our own land. This emotional element is always
connected with the imagination and with belief in some form of
revelation. The other element of religion is the law of morality which
has been taught the world over by true philosophers, and which depends
at last on the simple feeling that a man should to a certain varying
extent sacrifice his personal advantage for the good of the community.
Now the deists of the eighteenth century, of whom Voltaire was the
great champion, denied revelation and sought to banish the emotions
from religion. They believed in a God who manifested himself in the
splendid pageantry of nature, and this they called natural revelation.
They laid especial emphasis on morality, but in their attempt to sever
morals from enthusiasm (_enthousiasmos_, god-in-us) they too often
reduced human life to a barren formula. From this brief account it will
be seen how naturally Franklin, with his parentage and particular
genius, fell a prey to the teachings of Shaftesbury.

After a little while, however, he began to notice that certain of his
friends who protested most loudly against religion were quite
untrustworthy in their morals as well. Moreover he attributed several
_errata_ of his own early life to lack of religious principles, and to
remedy this defect he now undertook--deliberately if we may credit his
later confessions--to build up a religion of his own. There is, one
must acknowledge, something grotesque in this endeavor to supply the
warmth of the emotional imagination by the use of cold reason, and had
Franklin possessed less wit and more humor he would never have fallen
into such bathos. The little book still exists in which Franklin wrote
out his creed and private liturgy. The creed expresses a belief in "one
Supreme, most perfect Being, Author and Father of the gods themselves."
Finding this God to be infinitely above man's comprehension, our
religionist goes on to say: "I conceive, then, that the Infinite has
created many beings or gods vastly superior to man, who can better
conceive his perfections than we, and return him a more rational and
glorious praise.... It may be these created gods are immortal; or it
may be that, after many ages, they are changed, and others supply their
places. Howbeit, I conceive that each of these is exceeding wise and
good, and very powerful; and that each has made for himself one
glorious sun, attended with a beautiful and admirable system of
planets. It is that particular wise and good God, who is the author and
owner of our system, that I propose for the object of my praise and
adoration." Thereupon follows the form of adoration, or liturgy,
including an invocation, psalm, indication of philosophic reading to
take the place of the lessons, singing of the Hymn to the Creator from
Milton's Paradise Lost, and litany. The whole is not without elevation,
and the litany, composed as it is by a young man of twenty-two, touches
one with a feeling almost of pathos for its true humility and reaching
out after virtue.

Franklin continued to use this form of worship for a number of years;
but its fantastic nature seems to have dawned on him at last, and he
gave it up for a still simpler creed consisting merely in reverence for
the Deity and in respect for the moral law. In the matter of public
worship he was of the same opinion as Spinoza and many other
philosophers. He esteemed public worship salutary for the state, and
paid an annual subscription to the Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia;
but he also esteemed it his privilege to stay away from service, and
indulged in this privilege to the full, making Sunday his chief day of
study. Though affiliated in this way to the Presbyterians, he showed
perfect impartiality, or even indifference, to the various
denominations of the Christian world. The only sect he ever really
praised was the Dunkers, whom he commended for their modesty in not
formulating a creed. He quotes with pleasure the character given
himself of being merely "an honest man of no sect at all." Tolerance in
religion and in every other walk of life was indeed a marked and
distinguishing trait of his character. He was of the mind of Bishop
Warburton, when he said, "Orthodoxy is my doxy and Heterodoxy is your

It is a little disconcerting to find our philosopher himself proposing
a new sect, which should be called the Society of the Free and Easy,
and which actually progressed so far as to possess two enthusiastic
disciples. The creed of this projected sect may be taken as an
expression of Franklin's mature belief:--

"That there is one God, who made all things.

"That he governs the world by his providence.

"That he ought to be worshipped by adoration, prayer, and thanksgiving.

"But that the most acceptable service to God is doing good to man.

"That the soul is immortal.

"And that God will certainly reward virtue and punish vice, either here
or hereafter."

The real religion of his life consisted in the practice of virtue with
a minimum of emotional imagination. His methodical mind found it
convenient to tabulate the virtues in a manner more precise, as he
thought, than they usually appear. His table is not without interest:--

"1. TEMPERANCE.--Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.

"2. SILENCE.--Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid
trifling conversation.

"3. ORDER.--Let all your things have their places; let each part of
your business have its time.

"4. RESOLUTION.--Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without
fail what you resolve.

"5. FRUGALITY.--Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself;
i.e., waste nothing.

"6. INDUSTRY.--Lose no time; be always employed in something useful;
cut off all unnecessary actions.

"7. SINCERITY.--Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly; and
if you speak, speak accordingly.

"8. JUSTICE.--Wrong none by doing injuries or omitting benefits that
are your duty.

"9. MODERATION.--Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as
you think they deserve.

"10. CLEANLINESS.--Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or

"11. TRANQUILLITY.--Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common
or unavoidable.

"12. CHASTITY....

"13. HUMILITY.--Imitate Jesus and Socrates."

These virtues he has arranged in such an order that the acquisition of
one naturally leads to the acquisition of the following. As regards
chastity, he says himself: "The hard-to-be-governed passion of youth"
had more than once led him astray. But there is every reason to suppose
he exercised great self-control in this as in all other passions. We
may remark here that Franklin had an illegitimate son, William, whom he
reared in his own home, but who caused him great pain by siding with
the Tories in the Revolution. An illegitimate son of William, born in
London and named William Temple Franklin, adhered to the grandfather
and was a great comfort to him in his old age. One other of these
virtues Franklin could never acquire. He confesses sadly that try as he
might he could never learn orderliness. But in general it may be said
that few men have ever set before themselves so wise a law of conduct,
and that still fewer men have ever come so near to attaining their
ideal. This was both because his ideal was so thoroughly practical, and
because he was a man of indomitable will who had genuinely chosen true
Philosophy as his guide. "O vitæ Philosophia dux! O virtutum
inda-gatrix expultrixque vitiorum!"--O Philosophy, thou guide of life!
thou searcher out of virtues and expeller of vices!--he wrote as one of
the mottoes on his little book of conduct, and to him the words were a
living reality.

The virtues in Franklin were eminently human. Though dwelling in a
community of Quakers and often identified with them, he looked to
anything rather than the inner light for guidance, nor could he
conceive the meaning of those "divine pleasures" which William Penn
declared "are to be found in a free solitude." On his voyage home from
London the boy philosopher had written in his journal: "Man is a
sociable being, and it is, for aught I know, one of the worst of
punishments to be excluded from society." Accordingly on his return to
Philadelphia he began to cultivate seriously his "sociable being."

Among the few clubs famous in literature is the Junto which Franklin
established in 1727, and which lasted for forty years. This club was a
little circle of friends, never more than twelve, who met on Friday
evenings to discuss matters of interest. Twenty-four questions were
read, with a pause after each for filling and drinking a glass of wine.
Two or three of these questions will suffice to show their general aim.

"1. Have you met with anything in the author you last read, remarkable,
or suitable to be communicated to the Junto, particularly in history,
morality, poetry, physic, travels, mechanic arts, or other parts of

"11. Do you think of anything at present, in which the Junto may be
serviceable to mankind, to their country, to their friends, or to

"15. Have you lately observed any encroachment on the just liberties of
the people?

"20. In what manner can the Junto, or any of them, assist you in any of
your honorable designs?"

Besides the answering of these questions, there were regular debates,
declamations, and the reading of essays; while the wise Franklin took
care always that no undue heat should enter into the proceedings.
Singing and drinking and other amusements also claimed a fair share of
the time. It is curious to observe that in his Autobiography Franklin
half apologizes for mentioning the Junto, and declares that his reason
for so doing was to show how the various members of the club aided him
in his business. Were the Autobiography our only source of information,
we might sum up the lessons of Franklin's life in the one word
_Thrift_. The truth is that many of Franklin's schemes for public
improvement first found a hearing in the secrecy of these friendly

Before returning to Franklin's active life, let us insert here an
amusing epitaph which he composed about this time, and which has become
justly famous:--




Franklin was twenty-two years old when he began business with Meredith.
They had no capital, and in fact were in debt for part of their
appurtenances. Meredith proved not only incompetent, but a hard drinker
as well; so that Franklin, accepting the kindness of two friends who
lent him the money, soon bought his partner out and conducted the shop
alone. He prospered steadily, and in twenty years was able to retire
from active business. From the beginning friends came to his aid:
through a member of the Junto he got printing from the Quakers; by his
careful work he drew away from old Bradford the public printing for the
Assembly; he engaged assistants, and before many years was far the most
important printer in the colonies. Besides his regular trade he was
bookbinder, sold books and stationery, and dealt in soap and any other
commodity that came handy. The description of his thrift we must give
in his own words: "In order to secure my credit and character as a
tradesman, I took care not only to be in reality industrious and
frugal, but to avoid the appearance to the contrary. I dressed plain,
and was seen at no places of idle diversion. I never went out a-fishing
or shooting; a book indeed sometimes debauched me from my work, but
that was seldom, was private, and gave no scandal; and to show that I
was not above my business I sometimes brought home the paper I
purchased at the stores through the streets on a wheelbarrow."

When Franklin became independent of Keimer he turned to his favorite
project of establishing a newspaper. But in this case his usual habit
of secrecy failed him, and knowledge of his plans reached Keimer's
ears. Immediately his old master anticipated him by issuing proposals
for a paper which he grandiloquently styled "The Universal Instructor
in all Arts and Sciences, and Pennsylvania Gazette,"--an utterly absurd
sheet, whose contents were taken chiefly from an encyclopædia recently
published in London. To counteract this Franklin published in
Bradford's paper, "The Mercury," a series of essays after the manner of
Addison, to which he subscribed the name "Busy-Body." Other members of
the Junto contributed to the series; and Keimer, being stung by their
satire, replied with coarse abuse, and also with attempted imitation.
But Keimer was quite unequal to the conflict, and after publishing
thirty-nine numbers of the paper sold it for a small sum to Franklin
and Meredith, and himself moved to the Barbadoes. Number 40, October 2,
1729, under the simple title of "The Pennsylvania Gazette," came from
Franklin's press. The encyclopædic extracts were cut short, and in
their stead appeared what news could be gathered, with occasional
clever essays such as only Franklin could write. It was for the times a
good paper, and the printing was admirably done.

With prosperity Franklin began to think of matrimony. A family of
Godfreys lived in the same house with him, and now Mrs. Godfrey
undertook to make a match between him and the daughter of a relative of
hers. Franklin's account of this affair for its coolness and placidity
may almost be compared with Gibbon's "I sighed as a lover, I obeyed as
a son." On learning that the girl's parents could not or would not give
with her enough money to pay off his debts, the gallant suitor at once
and irrevocably withdrew.

He then looked about him for another match, but found to his chagrin
that an adventurous printer could not command an agreeable wife and a
dowry at the same time. Being determined to marry, that he might bring
order into his life, he at last turned to Miss Read, with whom he had
maintained a friendly correspondence, and notwithstanding the
difficulties in the way married her on the 1st of September, 1730. If
he rejected Miss Godfrey because she brought no dowry with her, he
praised his wife chiefly because she aided him in his economies. "He
that would thrive must ask his wife," he quotes, and congratulates
himself that he has a wife as much disposed to frugality as himself.
She helped in the business; they kept no idle servants; their table was
plain and simple, their furniture of the cheapest. His breakfast for a
long time was bread and milk, and he ate it out of a twopenny earthen
porringer with a pewter spoon. "But mark," he adds, "how luxuries will
enter families and make a progress despite of principles: being called
one morning to breakfast, I found it in a china bowl, with a spoon of
silver! They had been bought for me without my knowledge by my wife,
and had cost her the enormous sum of twenty-three shillings, for which
she had no other excuse or apology to make but that she thought _her_
husband deserved a silver spoon and china bowl as well as any of his
neighbors. This was the first appearance of plate and china in our
house, which afterward, in a course of years as our wealth increased,
augmented gradually to several hundred pounds in value."

Mrs. Franklin's temper was not of the serenest, and her manners perhaps
were not such as would have honored him had she followed him into the
great world; but she made him a good wife,--and we need not repeat the
tattle which we are told is still current among some of the high
families of Philadelphia. They had two children,--a son, the idol of
his father's heart, who died as a child; and a daughter, who married
Richard Bache, and is the ancestress of a large family.

In this happy home, and as his business prospered, Franklin found more
and more time for study and self-improvement. In 1733 he began the
acquisition of languages, teaching himself to read French fluently, and
then passing on to Italian and Spanish. Chess was always a favorite
amusement with him; and we can imagine the grave philosopher playing a
cautious and invulnerable game, with now and then, when least expected,
a brilliant sally. But his conscience seems always to have protested
against the waste of time involved, and he now made use of the game to
forward his studies. With his favorite antagonist he agreed that the
victor in each game should impose some task in Italian, which the other
on his honor was to complete before the next meeting. As his opponent
was a pretty even match for him they both made steady progress in the
language. In Latin he had had a year's instruction at school, and later
in life he dabbled a little in that language; but his knowledge of the
classics was always superficial, and he seems to have entertained
something like a spite against them.

In 1732 Franklin began the publication of an almanac under the name of
Richard Saunders, which he continued for twenty-five years, and which
gained immense popularity as Poor Richard's Almanac. It was the
flourishing time of such publications. Since the year 1639, when
Stephen Daye printed his first almanac at Cambridge, these annual
messages had increased in number until after theology they became
perhaps the most genuine feature of colonial literature. And from the
first they displayed the sort of shrewdness and humor which have always
been characteristic of the American mind. So, too, the bulk of Poor
Richard's production was humor, sometimes blunt and coarse, and
sometimes instinct with the finest irony. Perhaps the best of Poor
Richard's jokes is that played at the expense of Titan Leeds, his rival
in Philadelphia. In the first issue Mr. Saunders announces the imminent
death of his friend Titan Leeds: "He dies, by my calculation, made at
his request, on October 17, 1733, 3 ho., 29 m., P.M., at the very
instant of the [symbol for conjunction] of [symbol for sun] and [symbol
for Mercury].[1] By his own calculation, he will survive till the 26th
of the same month. This small difference between us we have disputed
whenever we have met these nine years past; but at length he is
inclined to agree with my judgment. Which of us is most exact a little
time will now determine. As, therefore, these Provinces may not longer
expect to see any of his performances after this year, I think myself
free to take up the task." Naturally Mr. Titan Leeds objected with
strenuous voice to this summary manner of being shuffled out of the
world; and Franklin's yearly protest that Leeds is really dead, and his
appeal to the degenerating wit of Leeds's almanac to prove his
assertion, is one of the most successful and malicious jokes ever
perpetrated. We ought to add, however, that this venomous jest is
borrowed bodily from Dean Swift's treatment of the poor almanac-maker,
Partridge. Indeed it might be said of Franklin, as Molière said of
himself, that he took his own wherever he found it.

      [1] [conjunction symbol] signifies _conjunction_; [sun symbol]
      _the sun_; [Mercury symbol] _Mercury_.

But what gave the almanac its permanent fame was the cleverness of the
maxims scattered through its pages. These wise saws Franklin gathered
from far and wide, often, however, reshaping them and marking them,
with the stamp of his peculiar genius. As might be expected, they are
chiefly directed to instill the precepts of industry and frugality. On
ceasing to edit the almanac in 1757 Franklin gathered together the best
of these proverbs and wove them into a continuous narrative, which he
pretends to have heard spoken at an auction by an old man called Father
Abraham. This speech of Father Abraham became immediately famous, was
reprinted in England, was translated into the languages of Europe, and
still lives. It made the name of Poor Richard a household word the
world over.

Franklin, however, had many intellectual interests besides reading and
writing. He was always interested in music, himself playing the guitar
and harp and violin; and one of his proudest achievements was the
perfection of a musical instrument called the armonica, which consisted
of a series of glasses so designed as to give forth the notes of the
musical scale when chafed with the moistened finger.

He was moreover sensitive in his own way to the various spiritual
movements that swept over the country. This was the period of wild
revivals, when religion, entering into the converted soul with
inconceivable violence, found expression in gasping shrieks, rigid
faintings, and strong convulsions; and the leader of this movement,
strange as it may seem, was a warm friend of Franklin's. George
Whitefield first visited Philadelphia in 1739, and immediately filled
the city with enthusiasm by his powerful oratory. Franklin was
astonished at the hold he got on the people, especially as he assured
them they were naturally half beasts and half devils; but our
philosopher admits that he himself succumbed once to the preacher's
spell. Whitefield was preaching a begging sermon for a project which
Franklin did not approve, and the latter made a silent resolve that he
would not contribute. He had in his pocket a handful of copper money,
three or four silver dollars, and five pistoles in gold. As the orator
proceeded, he began to soften and concluded to give the copper. Another
stroke of eloquence made him ashamed of that and determined him to give
the silver; and the peroration was so admirable that he emptied his
pocket wholly into the collector's dish, gold and all. But he was never
too much carried away to omit analyzing and observing; and on one
occasion, when Whitefield was preaching in the open air, he calculated
by a clever experiment that the speaker might be heard by more than
thirty thousand persons. Nor did he suffer Whitefield's cant phrases to
pass unchallenged. At one time he invited the preacher to stop at his
house, and Whitefield in accepting declared that if Franklin made the
kind offer for Christ's sake he should not miss of a reward. To which
the philosopher replied: "Don't let me be mistaken; it was not for
_Christ's_ sake, but for _your_ sake."

This intimate acquaintance with Whitefield forms something like a bond
of union between Franklin and his only intellectual compeer, Jonathan
Edwards; and the different attitude of the two men towards the
wandering revivalist is a good illustration of the great contrast in
their characters. If Franklin may in some ways be called the typical
American, yet the lonely, introverted, God-intoxicated soul of Edwards
stands as a solemn witness to depths of understanding in his countrymen
which Dr. Franklin's keen wit had no means of fathoming. But in one
respect the two minds were alike: they were both acute observers of
nature, and we have only to read Edwards's treatise on spiders, written
when he was twelve years old, and to follow his later physical
investigations, which indeed foreshadowed some of Franklin's electrical
discoveries, to learn how brilliant a part he might have played in
science if his intelligence had not been troubled by the terrible
theology of the day. As for Franklin, we have seen the inquisitive bent
of his mind in childhood, and as he grew older the habit of observing
and recording and theorizing became his master passion. Though scarcely
a professional scientist, his various discoveries in natural history
and his mechanical inventions brought great renown to him as a man, and
were even an important factor in the national struggle for

Nothing was too small or too great to attract his investigating eyes.
All his life he was interested in the phenomena of health and in the
care of the body, and even as a boy, it will be remembered, he had
experimented in the use of a vegetarian diet. He had his own theory in
regard to colds, maintaining that they are not the result of exposure
to a low temperature, but are due to foul air and to a relaxed state of
the body,--as in general they no doubt are. His letters are full of
clever protests against the common theory, and at times he was brought
by his opinions into amusing conflict with the habits of other persons.
On one occasion in a tavern he was compelled to occupy the same bed
with John Adams, who, being an invalid and afraid of night air, shut
down the window. "Oh!" says Franklin, "don't shut the window, we shall
be suffocated." Adams answered that he feared the evening air. Dr.
Franklin replied, "The air within the chamber will soon be, and indeed
now is, worse than that without doors. Come, open the window and come
to bed, and I will convince you. I believe you are not acquainted with
my theory of colds." Whereupon Adams got into bed, and the Doctor began
an harangue upon air and cold, respiration and perspiration, with which
the Bostonian was so much amused that he soon fell asleep and left
Franklin and his philosophy together. The effect of drafts on chimneys
was just as interesting to our philosopher as their effect on the human
system, and it was one of his diversions when visiting the great houses
of England and Europe to cure smoky fireplaces. From chimneys to stoves
is an easy step, and the invention of the so-called Pennsylvania stove
is one of his best known achievements.

All his life he was an observer of the weather, and a student of the
winds and tides. His first discovery in natural history was an
observation of the fact that storms move against the wind, that is, for
instance, that a northeast storm along the coast is felt at
Philadelphia earlier than at Boston. He made a careful study of the
temperature of the gulf stream in the Atlantic; and in a letter written
when he was seventy-nine years old he gives a long account of his
inventions and observations in nautical matters.

But his discoveries in electricity quite overshadow all his other work
of the sort, and on them must rest his real claim to scientific renown.
For many years the world had been amusing itself with various machines
for making sparks and giving shocks, and after the discovery of the
Leyden jar, in 1745, the manipulation of electrical toys and machines
became the rage among scientists and even among the people of society.
Just about this time a friend in England sent Franklin specimens of the
glass tubes used to create electricity by friction, and immediately
Franklin's inquisitive mind was fired to take up the new study. So
fully indeed was his attention engrossed by the series of experiments
he now undertook, alone and with several investigating friends in the
city, that business became irksome to him and he retired from active
management of the printing house. Besides making many ingenious toys
and showy experiments, Franklin added three contributions of real
importance to science.

1. He anticipated Faraday in the discovery that the electricity in a
charged Leyden jar resides on the glass and not on the metal coatings.
He, however, made no generalizations from this discovery.

2. He advanced the fluid theory of electricity, recognizing clearly the
dual nature of the varieties commonly called positive and negative from
the mathematical symbols used to express them.

3. He established the identity of lightning and electricity.

To understand the importance of this last discovery we must remember
with what terror the world had hitherto regarded this bewildering
apparition of the sky. It was not so much the dread of feeling above
one an irresponsible power subject to a law that knows no sympathy with
human life, as the more debasing fear of superstition, that sees in the
red thunderbolt a deadly instrument of vengeance hurled by the hand of
an angry deity, and that loosens the inmost sinews of a man's moral
courage. With the knowledge that lightning is only a magnified
electrical spark, fell one of the last strongholds of false religion.
And there is something eminently fit in the fact that this lurking
mystery of the heavens was finally exploded by Dr. Franklin, the
exponent of common sense.

I am told by a specialist that the neatness and thoroughness of the
reasoning by which Franklin established his theory before proceeding to
experimentation are most laudable, and I am sure his letters of
explanation have a literary charm not often found in scientific
writing. The paper in which Franklin developed his theory and showed
how it might be tested by drawing lightning from the clouds by means of
a pointed wire set up on a steeple, was sent to his friend in England,
and there printed; and at the suggestion of the great Buffon the same
paper was translated into French. The pamphlet created a sensation in
France, and the proposed experiment was actually performed in the
presence of the king. Before the report, however, of the successful
experiment reached Franklin he had himself verified his theory, using a
kite to attain an altitude, as there was no spire or high building in
Philadelphia. Taking his son with him, he went to an old cow house in
the country, before a storm, and there, to catch the electric fluid,
sent up his kite made of an old silk handkerchief. A wire extended from
the upright stick of the kite, and this was connected with the cord,
which when wet acted as a good conductor. The part of the cord held in
his hand was of silk, and between this and the wet hempen cord a key
was inserted and connected with a Leyden jar. How successful the
experiment proved to be, all the world knows. Somehow all the important
events of Franklin's life are dramatic and picturesque, and this scene,
especially, of the philosopher in the storm drawing down the very
thunderbolts of heaven has always had a fascination for the popular
mind. The detailed story of the experiment became public only through
Franklin's conversation with his friends. When he learned that his
theory had been previously verified in France, his modesty was so great
that in writing he simply told how the experiment might be performed
with a kite, never that he himself had actually accomplished it. In
consequence of this discovery he was at once elected a member of the
Royal Society of London, Yale and Harvard gave him the honorary degree
of master of arts, and everywhere he was celebrated as the foremost
philosopher of the day.

When the time comes we shall see that Franklin's scientific fame was a
real aid to him in his diplomatic career; now we must turn our eyes
backward and trace from the beginning his slow rise in political and
civic power. And it is a peculiar feature of the day and of Franklin's
individual character that many of his reforms took their start in the
gayety of social intercourse. There was nothing morose, nothing stern,
in our genial philosopher. Though always temperate, his vivacity and
easy politeness made him welcome in any merry company of the day. He
could sing with the best of the young blades and even compose his own
ditties; and one of these songs, "The Old Man's Wish," he tells us he
sang at least a thousand times. The chorus of the song is
characteristic enough to be quoted:--

    "May I govern my passions with absolute sway,
    Grow wiser and better as my strength wears away,
    Without gout or stone, by gentle decay;"

and another ballad in praise of his wife still has a kind of

    "Of their Chloes and Phyllises poets may prate,
      I sing my plain country Joan,
    These twelve years my wife, still the joy of my life,
      Blest day that I made her my own."

Franklin's first public improvement carries us back to the early
leathern-apron days of the Junto. Books were a rare commodity among the
frugal members of that club, and for a while they increased their
resources by keeping all their volumes together in the club room for
common use. But this plan proving hardly feasible, Franklin in the year
1731 drew up proposals for a city library. His method of arousing
public interest in the scheme was one to which he always had recourse
on such occasions, and is a credit to his modesty as well as to his
shrewdness. "I put myself," he says, "as much as I could out of sight,
and stated it as a scheme of a number of friends, who had requested me
to go about and propose it to such as they thought lovers of reading."
He succeeded, as he always did in his projects, and the library, still
an honored institution of Philadelphia, is the parent of all the
subscription libraries of the country.

Through the aid of the Junto, also, Franklin set in motion another
project. As a boy he had seen the first fire company started in Boston,
and now that his Quaker home had grown to be a thriving city, he
undertook to introduce the same system there. No doubt many of our
readers have seen the curious relics of these colonial fire
companies,--old leathern buckets stamped with various devices and with
the owner's name, which were used to pass water rapidly from hand to
hand. The companies had a social as well as a useful aim, so that
families were proud to preserve such memorials of the old days.

Owing to the wretched system in vogue, the night watch of the city had
fallen into a deplorable state, the watchmen consisting of a set of
ragamuffins who passed their nights in tippling and left the town to
take care of itself. To remedy this evil Franklin made use of the Junto
and of his paper, "The Gazette," and once more his efforts were

It seemed, indeed, as if there were no limits to his activity. At
different times he bent his energies to getting the streets paved, to
improving the lighting of the city, to introducing various novelties in
agriculture, and to assisting other projects, such as the establishment
of the Pennsylvania hospital. More important, perhaps, than these was
the founding of the academy which has since developed into the
University of Pennsylvania. As early as 1743 we find Franklin
regretting that there was no convenient college where he might send his
son to be educated; and in 1749 he took up the matter seriously,
publishing a pamphlet which he called, "Proposals relating to the
Education of Youth in Pennsylvania." Nor did his zeal end here. He
continued to urge on the project, and in a short time the money was
raised and the school actually opened. Franklin was for more than forty
years a trustee of the institution, and took just pride in the good
which it accomplished for the community. His purpose in one respect,
however, was foiled; he was an ardent advocate of English and the
sciences in education, and would have been glad to have the study of
Latin and Greek utterly banished from the schools. Fortunately in this
matter public opinion was too strong for him, and he was obliged to
succumb to the regular curriculum. For some reason, whether because of
early lack of training in these studies or because his mind was of such
a sort as to be completely absorbed in the present, he was all his life
violently prejudiced against the classics, and on his very death-bed
one of his last acts was to compose a mocking diatribe against the use
of those languages. It is one of the few cases where his judgment was
marred, not by the limitations of his intelligence, but a lack of the
deeper imagination,--where he applied his footrule of utility to
measure quantities beyond its reach.

With Franklin's increasing prosperity and popularity his influence in
matters political grew more and more dominant. His first recognition in
this field was in 1736, when he was chosen clerk of the General
Assembly,--a position which he continued to hold until he was elected a
member of the Assembly itself. He found this office very tedious, but
amused himself during the long debates by constructing magic squares of
figures and by other diversions of the sort. Constant to his practice
he lets us know that he retained the position chiefly because it
enabled him to get control of the public printing, and once when
threatened by the advent of a new member with loss of this lucrative
employment he saved himself by his usual recourse to honorable
stratagem. Having heard that this gentleman had in his library a
certain very scarce and curious book, Franklin wrote him a note
expressing a desire to read the volume and asking to borrow it for a
few days. The book came immediately, and the two students were at once
bound together in friendship. "This is another instance," Franklin
adds, "of the truth of an old maxim I had learned, which says: 'He that
has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than
he whom you yourself have obliged.'"

Other positions came to Franklin in due time. The very next year he was
made postmaster of Philadelphia, and filled the office so well that
some years later he was put at the head of the postal system for the
colonies. This gave him an opportunity to become familiar with the
political affairs of the whole country and enhanced his usefulness very

What first brought him into real prominence was his activity during the
troublesome times that now followed with the Indians. England was at
war with France, and as usual the combatants stirred up the savages to
commit all kinds of atrocities. Franklin was much incensed that the
peace-loving Quakers of his colony should refuse to make any provision
for defense against the Indians on the western frontier or against
possible attacks of the French from the river. His indignation was
increased by a visit to Boston in 1746, where he found the people in a
state of warlike fervor after the conquest of Louisburg; and on
returning home he wrote an eloquent pamphlet, called "Plain Truth," to
rouse the colony to a sense of its peril. Despite the half-hearted
opposition of the Quakers in the Assembly companies were raised,
cannon, by the shrewd policy of Franklin, were got from New York, and
the promoter of the movement was even asked to act as colonel of the
troops,--an honor which he declined. One of Franklin's friends now
warned him that the Quakers in the Assembly would dismiss him from his
position as clerk and advised him to resign at once to avoid the
disgrace. Franklin's reply, which he was fond of quoting in after life,
shows the sturdy nature of the man: "I shall never _ask_, never
_refuse_, nor ever RESIGN an office." As it happened, however, he was
again chosen unanimously at the next election, and we may suppose that
he was keen enough to know with whom he had to deal. The good Quakers
would not fight, but they were not always averse to have some one do
their fighting for them.

We are approaching the tumultuous times of the Seven Years' War, when
the sound of cannon was indeed heard round the world, and when the
prowess of England's arms added India and Canada to her empire. In 1752
Franklin, who was now a member of the legislature, was sent, together
with the speaker of the Assembly, to confer with the Indians of Ohio;
and if no important results came from the conference it at least helped
to give Franklin an insight into Indian character such as few men
possessed. Two years later, when actual war became imminent, he was
chosen one of the commissioners from Pennsylvania to meet those of the
other colonies at Albany and consult on measures of common defense. Any
one might see that the colonies would be stronger united than
separated, and several of the commissioners came prepared with
proposals of union. Franklin had already published in his "Gazette" an
article on the subject, to which he had added a wood-cut showing a
snake cut in thirteen pieces with the device JOIN OR DIE. On the way to
Albany he had drawn up a plan of union which pleased the Congress, and
which resembled very much the form of union afterwards adopted during
the Revolution; but as Franklin observes, "Its fate was singular; the
Assemblies did not adopt it, as they all thought there was too much
prerogative in it; and in England it was judged to have too much of the
democratic." Instead of this scheme the London Board of Trade devised a
plan of their own which, besides other objectionable features, involved
the deplorable principle of taxing the colonies without their consent.
It is interesting to find Franklin the next winter in Boston discussing
the improprieties of this plan with Governor Shirley, and it has been
truly observed that his arguments include almost all that was later
brought out when the question of taxation without representation became
a burning question.

In 1755 we find Franklin connected with an event which first brought
Washington into prominence. That was the year of Braddock's unfortunate
campaign, and the Assembly of Pennsylvania, which had refused to grant
money for the war and now feared that Braddock would take revenge by
ravaging the colony, sent Franklin into Maryland to consult with the
general and pacify him if possible. It is needless to say that Franklin
succeeded. By cunning advertisements and appeals to the farmers in
Pennsylvania he got wagons and teams for the army; but to do this he
had to pledge himself for a considerable sum of money, his own credit
being higher than that of the government, and after the general rout in
which many of the wagons and horses were lost he was compelled to pay
out large sums of money for which he was never entirely reimbursed. He
also persuaded the Assembly of Pennsylvania to provide the younger
officers of the regiment with horses and stores for the campaign,
although to Washington, as we know, all this accumulation of provisions
for such an expedition seemed no better than a nuisance. Franklin, too,
had his fears, and even went so far as to caution Braddock against the
ambuscades of the Indians. Braddock smiled at his ignorance, and
replied: "These savages may indeed be a formidable enemy to your raw
American militia, but upon the king's regular and disciplined troops,
sir, it is impossible they should make any impression." Franklin tells
us he was conscious of the impropriety of disputing with a military man
in matters of his profession, and said no more. The story of Braddock's
defeat is only too well known; but to Franklin at least the campaign
brought some profit. When later he went to England he found that the
general's account of his intelligence and generosity had added
considerably to his reputation.

The failure of the expedition had left the western frontier open to the
savage raids of the Indians, and Pennsylvania, owing to her unprotected
condition, suffered more than the other colonies. Franklin came to the
rescue with a bill to raise volunteers which was carried through the
Assembly; troops were quickly organized, and the philosopher was
himself appointed general. He was two months in the field and conducted
himself with admirable prudence, although he did not undergo the test
of actual fighting. After that time he was recalled by the governor to
Philadelphia, for the Assembly was about to meet and his services were
needed at home.

The old trouble between the proprietary governor and the Assembly had
now reached an acute stage. The two sons of William Penn, into whose
hands the colony had descended, pursued a narrow and selfish policy,
forcing the governor to veto every bill for raising money unless the
estates owned by the proprietors were exempted from taxation. From the
beginning Franklin had stood with the popular party in opposing these
regulations, yet curiously enough had always been a favorite with the
governors. These magistrates were bound to follow the proprietors' will
under penalty of being recalled; but on the other hand their salary was
dependent on the pleasure of the Assembly, and they may well have clung
to a wise and tolerant intermediary like Franklin. Nothing, however,
could now allay the hostile feelings. The Assembly voted money for
immediate defense under the conditions imposed, but at the same time
declared that the measure was not to be held as a precedent for the
future; and Franklin was sent to England to treat with the
proprietaries in person, and if necessary with the Crown.



Franklin reached London July 27, 1757, when he was fifty-one years old.
He remained in England five years, and during that period his life was
one of manifold interests and vexations. His business with the Penns
first engaged his attention; but from those stubborn gentlemen he got
nothing but insolence and delays. After much manoeuvring the dispute
was brought before a committee of the Privy Council, where the
Pennsylvania Assembly through its representative virtually won its
case. The proprietary estates were made subject to taxation, and this
bone of contention was for a time removed. It was indeed a great
victory for the Philadelphia printer; but perhaps its chief value was
the training it gave him for the more important diplomatic negotiations
that were to come later. There was that in Franklin's nature which made
him an ideal diplomatist. Under the utmost candor and simplicity he
concealed a penetration into character and a skill in using legitimate
chicanery that rarely missed their mark. Then, too, he was persistent:
what he undertook to do he never left until it was done. Though far
from being an orator, he wielded a pen that for clearness and logical
pointedness has scarcely been surpassed, and his powers of irony and
sarcasm were worthy of Swift himself.

Among other subjects which engaged Franklin's pen at this time was a
question of vital interest, as he thought, to the empire. Under the
masterly guidance of the great Pitt, England had come out victorious in
the struggle with France, and the government was now debating whether
Canada should be retained or given back to the French. The chief
argument for surrendering the province was ominous of the future. "A
neighbor that keeps us in some awe is not always the worst of
neighbors.... If we acquire all Canada, we shall soon find North
America itself too powerful and too populous to be governed by us at a
distance." To this timid reasoning, which was attributed to William
Burke, Franklin replied in a pamphlet, discussing the whole question
with the utmost acumen, displaying the future greatness of the empire
in America, and denying that the colonies would ever revolt. Touching
this last apprehension he says: "There are so many causes that must
operate to prevent it that I will venture to say a union amongst them
for such a purpose is not merely improbable, it is impossible.... When
I say such a union is impossible, I mean without the most grievous
tyranny and oppression.... _The waves do not rise but when the wind
blows._... What such an administration as the Duke of Alva's in the
Netherlands might produce, I know not; but this, I think, I have a
right to deem impossible." Strange words to come from Franklin in those
days; but it is thought they were of considerable influence in the
final decision of the question. Franklin indeed was always fond of
prophesying the future greatness of America, and again in the
diplomatic debates after the revolutionary war he long insisted that
Canada should be severed from England and joined to the thirteen

But our philosopher had much to occupy him besides politics. He had
taken lodgings at No. 7 Craven Street with a Mrs. Stevenson, in whom
and in whose daughter he found warm and congenial friends. His
correspondence with "Dear Polly," the daughter, contains some of his
most entertaining letters; and he even planned, but unsuccessfully, to
make her the wife of his son William. His fame as a scientist had
preceded him, and introduced him into the society of many distinguished
men in England and Scotland, among whom his genial nature freely
expanded. And nothing could stop the activity of his mind, not even
sickness. For eight weeks he struggled with a fever, but the letter to
his wife conveying the story of his illness reads as if he were almost
willing to undergo such an experience for the opportunity of studying
pathology which it offered.

At last he was ready to return home. The University of St. Andrews had
conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Laws, and afterwards Oxford
had done the same. He had succeeded in his mission, his son had been
appointed governor of New Jersey, and he looked forward to a life of
honorable ease in his adopted city. Just before sailing he wrote to
Lord Kames: "I am now waiting here only for a wind to waft me to
America, but cannot leave this happy island and my friends in it
without extreme regret, though I am going to a country and a people
that I love. I am going from the old world to the new, and I fancy I
feel like those who are leaving this world for the next. Grief at the
parting, fear of the passage, hope of the future,--these different
passions all affect their minds at once, and these have _tendered_ me
down exceedingly."

Peace had come to Europe in 1763, but not to America. The Indians, who
had been aroused by European intrigue, were not so easily pacified, and
western Pennsylvania especially continued to suffer from their ravages.
The men of the frontier banded together for retaliation, and
unfortunately their revenge equaled the brutality of the red savages.
Religious odium added bitterness to the passions. The Scotch-Irish
Presbyterians of the west, enraged at the supineness of the eastern
Quakers, made the extermination of the Indians a point of religion. The
horror reached its climax when the good people of Paxton in cold blood
massacred twenty helpless and innocent Indians, and then with a large
following marched towards Philadelphia with the avowed purpose of
murdering in the name of an angry God one hundred and forty peaceful
Moravian Indians. The governor, a nephew of the proprietaries, came, as
all men did, to Franklin in his perplexity; he even lodged in
Franklin's house, and concerted with him hourly on the means of
repelling the invaders. The "Paxton boys" had reached Germantown. The
city was in a panic, and there was no time to lose. Franklin first got
together a regiment of militia, and then, with three other gentlemen,
went out to Germantown to remonstrate with the fanatics. His mission
was successful, and the insurrection was quelled; but Franklin himself
had gained many enemies by his action. The people were largely in favor
of the Paxton rioters; and the governor, now relieved of his immediate
fears, made an infamous proclamation setting a price upon Indian
scalps. A strong coalition was formed against Franklin; to the enmity
of the proprietary party was now added the distrust of the people.

Just at this time the old trouble between the governor and the Assembly
broke out more virulently. Despite the decision of the London Council,
the governor vetoed an important bill because the proprietary estates
were not exempted from taxation. An angry debate arose in the Assembly
as to whether they should petition the king to withdraw Pennsylvania
from the proprietaries and make it a crown colony. Franklin took an
active part in this contest, and threw all the weight of his authority
in favor of the petition; but in the election which followed in 1764
the combination of the aristocrats, who sided with the proprietaries,
and of the fanatics, who favored the Paxton uprising, was too strong
for him, and he was not returned. After a stormy debate, however, the
Assembly adopted the petition; and Franklin, despite the bitter
personal attacks of John Dickinson, was chosen as agent to carry the
request to England.

The petition was not allowed, and Pennsylvania remained in the hands of
the proprietaries until it became an independent state. But other
questions, far more important than the local difficulties of any one
colony, were to occupy Franklin's and the other commissioners' time.
Franklin was in England from December, 1764, until March of 1775, and
during these ten years was busily engaged in supporting the colonies in
their unequal struggle against the British Parliament. He was the
accredited representative of Pennsylvania, Georgia, New Jersey, and
Massachusetts, and before the government and the people of England
stood as the champion of the whole province. Every one knows the nature
of the acts which finally created a new empire in the West,--the Stamp
Act, the duty on tea, the Boston Port bill. Their very names still stir
the patriotic blood of America. The principle at issue was clearly
announced in the battle cry, "No taxation without representation."
Franklin was a stanch advocate of the American claims, and threw all
the weight of his personal influence and of his eloquent pen into the
work. But in one respect he seems to have been deceived: during the
first years of his mission he held Parliament responsible for all the
tyrannical measures against the colonies, and looked upon the king as
their natural protector. It was a feeling common among Americans who
wished to preserve their allegiance to the empire while protesting
against the authority of the laws. Even as late as 1771 he could write
these words about George III: "I can scarcely conceive a king of better
dispositions, of more exemplary virtues, or more truly desirous of
promoting the welfare of his subjects." When at last the bigoted
character of that sovereign was fully revealed to him, he despaired
utterly of reconciliation with the mother country.

Franklin's labors may well be portrayed in two dramatic incidents: his
examination before Parliament in 1766, and the so-called Privy Council
outrage in 1774.

After the passage of the Stamp Act, Franklin wrote to a friend: "Depend
upon it, my good neighbor, I took every step in my power to prevent the
passing of the Stamp Act. Nobody could be more concerned and interested
than myself to oppose it sincerely and heartily.... We might as well
have hindered the sun's setting. That we could not do. But since it is
down, my friend, and it may be long before it rises again, let us make
as good a night of it as we can. We can still light candles. Frugality
and industry will go a great way towards indemnifying us. Idleness and
pride tax with a heavier hand than kings and parliaments. If we can get
rid of the former, we may easily bear the latter." But Franklin's
philosophical habit of accepting the inevitable,--a habit which for a
time brought him the hostility of such strenuous patriots as the
Adamses,--did not prevent him from doing all in his power to further
the repeal of that act when the matter was again taken up by
Parliament. Nor did America lack friends in Parliament itself, and
these gentlemen now arranged that Franklin should give testimony before
the bar of the House.

In the examination which followed, Franklin showed the fullness of his
knowledge and the keenness of his wit better perhaps than in any other
act of his life. It is impossible to give at length the replies with
which he aided the friends of repeal and baffled its foes; but a few of
his answers may indicate the nature of all.

_Q._ "What was the temper of America towards Great Britain before the
year 1763?"

_A._ "The best in the world. They submitted willingly to the government
of the Crown, and paid in their courts obedience to acts of Parliament....
They had not only a respect, but an affection for Great Britain; for
its laws, its customs, and manners; and even a fondness for its
fashions, that greatly increased the commerce. Natives of Britain were
always treated with particular regard; to be an _Old England man_ was,
of itself, a character of some respect, and gave a kind of rank among

_Q._ "What is their temper now?"

_A._ "Oh, very much altered."

_Q._ "How would the Americans receive a future tax, imposed on the same
principle as the Stamp Act?"

_A._ "Just as they do the Stamp Act; _they would not pay it_".

_Q._ "Would the colonists prefer to forego the collection of debts by
legal process rather than use stamped paper?"

_A._ "I can only judge what other people will think and how they will
act by what I feel within myself. I have a great many debts due to me
in America, and I had rather they should remain unrecoverable by any
law than submit to the Stamp Act. They will be debts of honor."

The examination was a complete success; not even the Tories could
object to it, and to Burke it seemed like the examination of a master
by a parcel of schoolboys. A few days later the repeal was carried.

But the relief was only temporary, and Parliament soon returned to its
high-handed measures of repression. One day in the midst of the contest
Franklin was talking with a friendly member of Parliament and
inveighing against the violence of the government towards Boston. The
Englishman replied that these measures of repression did not originate
in England, and to prove his assertion placed in Franklin's hands a
packet of letters written by Hutchinson, governor of Massachusetts, and
others to a member of Parliament with the intention of reaching the
ears of Lord Grenville. These letters, written by native-born
Americans, advised the quartering of troops on Boston, advocated the
making of judges and governors dependent on England for their salaries,
and were full of such sentiments as that "there must be an abridgment
of what are called English liberties." Franklin by permission sent them
to Boston, where they naturally raised a furor of indignation. A
petition was immediately sent over to have Governor Hutchinson removed
from office, but for a while government took no action. After a time
the letters got into the London newspapers with the most deplorable
result. One Thomas Whately, brother of the gentleman to whom they had
been addressed, was accused of purloining the letters and sending them
to America. This caused a duel, and a second duel was about to be
fought when Franklin published a note in the "Public Advertiser"
avowing that the letters had not passed through Mr. Whately's hands,
that he himself was responsible for sending them to Boston, and that no
blame could be attached to the action as the letters were really of a
public nature. The Tories now saw their opportunity to attack Franklin.
The petition for removing Hutchinson was taken up by the Committee for
Plantation Affairs, and Franklin was summoned to appear before them.
Wedderburn, the king's solicitor-general, was there to speak for
Hutchinson, and Franklin, having no counsel, had the proceedings
delayed for three weeks.

On the appointed day the Council met in a building called the Cockpit,
and Franklin appeared before them. The room was furnished with a long
table down the middle, at which the lords sat. At one end of the room
was a fireplace, and in a recess at one side of the chimney Franklin
stood during the whole meeting. His advocates spoke, but without much
effect, and the defense of Hutchinson was then taken up by Wedderburn.
But instead of arguing the point at issue, Wedderburn made it the
occasion for delivering, much to the delight of the Tory lords present,
a long and utterly unjustified tirade against Franklin. With thunderous
voice and violent beating of his fist on the cushion before him, he
denounced Franklin as the "prime mover of this whole contrivance
against his majesty's two governors." Although the letters had been
given to Franklin for the express purpose of having them conveyed to
America, Wedderburn accused him of base treachery; turning to the
committee he said: "I hope, my Lords, you will mark and brand the man,
for the honor of this country, of Europe, and of mankind. Private
correspondence has hitherto been held sacred, in times of the greatest
party rage, not only in politics but religion." "He has forfeited all
the respect of societies and of men. Into what companies will he
hereafter go with an unembarrassed face, or the honest intrepidity of
virtue? Men will watch him with a jealous eye; they will hide their
papers from him, and lock up their escritoirs. He will henceforth
esteem it a libel to be called _a man of letters_; _homo TRIUM
litterarum_ (i.e., _fur_, thief)!" "But he not only took away the
letters from one brother; but kept himself concealed till he nearly
occasioned the murder of the other. It is impossible to read his
account, expressive of the coolest and most deliberate malice, without
horror." "Amidst these tragical events, of one person nearly murdered,
of another answerable for the issue, of a worthy governor hurt in his
dearest interests, the fate of America in suspense; here is a man, who,
with the utmost insensibility of remorse, stands up and avows himself
the author of all. I can compare it only to Zanga, in Dr. Young's

    "'Know then 'twas--I;
    I forged the letter, I disposed the picture;
    I hated, I despised, and I destroy.'

I ask, my Lords, whether the revengeful temper attributed, by poetic
fiction only, to the bloody African is not surpassed by the coolness
and apathy of the wily American?"

The picture of Franklin standing unmoved under this torrent of abuse
is, I think, the most dramatic incident of his life. It was a victory
of glorious endurance; it was the crown of unmerited infamy which was
needed to give depth of interest to his successful career. An
eyewitness thus described the scene: "Dr. Franklin's face was directed
towards me, and I had a full, uninterrupted view of it, and his person,
during the whole time in which Mr. Wedderburn spoke. The Doctor was
dressed in a full dress suit of spotted Manchester velvet, and stood
_conspicuously erect_ without the smallest movement of any part of his
body. The muscles of his face had been previously composed, so as to
afford a placid, tranquil expression of countenance, and he did not
suffer the slightest alteration of it to appear during the continuance
of the speech, in which he was so harshly and improperly treated. In
short, to quote the words which he employed concerning himself on
another occasion, he kept his 'countenance as immovable as if his
features had been made of _wood_.'"

Fortunately, to sustain him in these trials, Franklin had a cheerful
home and the society of the best men in England. He was living at the
old house on Craven Street, where Mrs. Stevenson did all in her power
to make him forget that he was an exile. Indeed, were it not that Mrs.
Franklin had an unconquerable dread of crossing the water, it is quite
possible that our philosopher might have carried his family to England
and lived permanently among his new friends; and in estimating the
services of Franklin to America we should never forget to give due
credit to his loyal wife who stayed quietly at home, managing his
affairs for him in Philadelphia and keeping warm his attachment for his
adopted city. Besides the eminent statesmen, such as Pitt and Burke,
with whom Franklin's business brought him naturally in contact, he
associated much with liberal clergymen,--with Priestley particularly,
the discoverer of oxygen, and with the family of the good Bishop of St.
Asaph's, at whose house he had almost a second home. To one of the
bishop's daughters he sent the inimitable epitaph on the squirrel Mungo
which he had given her as a present from America. The influence for
good is almost incalculable which Franklin thus exercised by the noble
type of American character he displayed to the liberal party in

Nor did he ever lose an opportunity to accomplish what he could with
the pen. At one time, to lay bare the suicidal policy of the
government, he published in a newspaper a satirical squib quite in the
vein of Dean Swift, entitled "Rules for reducing a Great Empire to a
Small One." The opening sentences were as follows: "An ancient sage
valued himself upon this, that, though he could not fiddle, he knew how
to make a great city of a little one. The science that I, a modern
simpleton, am about to communicate, is the very reverse;" and with this
introduction the author proceeds to give a detailed account of the
treatment of the colonies by Parliament.

In another paper Franklin reduced certain arguments of the ministry to
the absurd. This was a pretended "Edict of the King of Prussia," in
which Frederick was supposed to announce the same sovereignty over
England, which had been originally settled by Germans, as Parliament
now claimed over America. Speaking of these two papers Franklin says,
in a letter to his son: "I sent you one of the first, but could not get
enough of the second to spare you one, though my clerk went the next
morning to the printer's, and wherever they were sold.... I am not
suspected as the author, except by one or two friends; and have heard
the latter spoken of in the highest terms, as the keenest and severest
piece that has appeared here a long time. Lord Mansfield, I hear, said
of it, that it _was very ABLE and very ARTFUL indeed_; and would do
mischief by giving here a bad impression of the measures of government;
and in the colonies, by encouraging them in their contumacy.... What
made it the more noticed here was, that people in reading it were, as
the phrase is, _taken in_, till they had got half through it, and
imagined it a real edict, to which mistake I suppose the King of
Prussia's _character_ must have contributed. I was down at Lord Le
Despencer's, when the post brought that day's papers. Mr. Whitehead was
there, too (Paul Whitehead, the author of "Manners"), who runs early
through all the papers, and tells the company what he finds remarkable.
He had them in another room, and we were chatting in the breakfast
parlor, when he came running in to us, out of breath, with the paper in
his hand. 'Here!' says he, 'here's news for ye! Here's the King of
Prussia, claiming a right to this kingdom!' All stared, and I as much
as anybody; and he went on to read it. When he had read two or three
paragraphs, a gentleman present said, 'Damn his impudence, I dare say
we shall hear by next post, that he is upon his march with one hundred
thousand men to back this.' Whitehead, who is very shrewd, soon after
began to smoke it, and looking in my face, said, 'I'll be hanged if
this is not some of your American jokes upon us.' The reading went on,
and ended with abundance of laughing, and a general verdict that it was
a fair hit."

After the Privy Council outrage there was very little for Franklin to
do. Lord Chatham consulted with him before introducing in Parliament a
liberal bill for conciliating the colonies, and Franklin himself was
present in the House of Lords when the old statesman, despite the
protests of his gout, plead for fairer measures. It may very well be
that if these troubles had occurred in Chatham's vigorous days he might
have been able to preserve the integrity of the empire. But now he was
crippled by the gout and debarred from active life; and in the
interesting "Dialogue between Franklin and the Gout" the philosopher
might have retorted upon that exacting lady the mischief she had done
his people by laming Pitt. Again Franklin had to stand the bitter
denunciation of the Tories, while Lord Sandwich held him up as "one of
the bitterest and most mischievous enemies this country had ever
known;" but he also had the satisfaction of hearing a noble eulogy of
his character pronounced by the great Chatham.

Then, after a good deal of secret negotiation with Lord Howe, Franklin
reluctantly abandoned the situation and turned homeward. His last day
in London was passed with Dr. Priestley, who has left an interesting
record of their conversation. He says of Franklin that "the unity of
the British empire in all its parts was a favorite idea of his. He used
to compare it to a beautiful china vase, which, if ever broken, could
never be put together again; and so great an admirer was he of the
British constitution that he said he saw no inconvenience from its
being extended over a great part of the globe. With these sentiments he
left England."



Franklin reached Philadelphia May 5, 1775; and what a home-coming it
was! His wife had died, and he was now to live with his daughter Mrs.
Bache. The battle of Lexington had been fought while he was at sea, and
the whole country was in a ferment of excitement. It was in regard to
this battle, it may be remembered, that he uttered one of his famous
witticisms. To a critic who accused the Americans of cowardice for
firing from behind stone walls, he replied: "I beg to inquire if those
same walls had not two sides to them?"

He received the most honorable welcome home, and on the very morning
after his arrival was unanimously chosen one of the Pennsylvania
delegates to the Continental Congress about to meet in Philadelphia.

Our philosopher, now seventy years old, had come home to rest, but
found himself instead in the very vortex of public affairs. He was a
member of the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety and a burgess in the
Assembly, but later he gave himself entirely to Congress. Afterwards
when in Paris he declared that he used to work twelve hours out of the
twenty-four on public business. His part in Congress was one of
conciliation between conflicting interests,--a rôle he was admirably
adapted to fill. Very early he proposed, as he had done at Albany, a
union of the thirteen colonies, but the times were not yet ripe for
such a measure.

Of the great act of this Congress, the Declaration of Independence,
Franklin's share was small, as might be inferred from the nature of the
man. He did indeed serve with Jefferson and three others on the
committee appointed to draft this document, but, as every one knows,
the actual writing of the Declaration was the work of Jefferson.
Franklin is chiefly remembered for one or two witticisms in connection
with the affair. "We must be unanimous," said Hancock, when it came to
signing the document, "there must be no pulling different ways; we must
all hang together." "Yes," replied Franklin, "we must, indeed, all hang
together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately."

Over Franklin's manifold occupations we may now pass rapidly, for,
though he was connected with almost every prominent transaction of the
times, yet he was not a true leader of the revolutionary movement. He
was easily the most illustrious man in America, and, since the death of
Jonathan Edwards, the most intellectual; but his mind was inquisitive
and contemplative rather than aggressive, and rougher hands were now
needed at the helm. He acted as postmaster for the colonies, and served
on many committees. So, for instance, he went with John Adams and
Edward Rutledge to confer with Lord Howe on Staten Island. The embassy,
however, came to nothing, as Lord Howe utterly refused to treat with
them as envoys of a Congress whose existence he could not acknowledge.
It was too late for negotiations. And now we are to see Franklin in a
new part.

Of the great leaders of the Revolution each had his peculiar task.
There was Samuel Adams in Boston, the herald of division and battle,
whose office it was to make clear the mind of the country and to stir
up in the people the proper enthusiasm; there was Thomas Jefferson,
imbued with French eighteenth-century notions of the rights of man,
incapable perhaps of distinguishing between theory and fact, but for
that very reason suited to formulate the national Declaration of
Independence, a document not rigorously true in philosophy but
inimitable as the battle cry of freedom and progress; there was
Washington, whose military genius, indomitable will, and noble solidity
of character were able to carry the war through to the end; and there
was Franklin, too cool-headed ever to have inflamed the hearts of the
people with the inspiration of hope and revenge, incapable of uttering
political platitudes which could express tersely the national feeling,
a lover of peace and without the grim determination of a soldier, but
still able in his own way to serve the state more effectually perhaps
than any other man except the great Captain himself. It was absolutely
necessary, both for actual help in money and arms and for moral
support, that the young nation should receive recognition abroad. To
win this recognition was just the task of Franklin. Already he was
known personally to many of the leading spirits of England and the
Continent. The respect and friendship felt for him by Burke, Fox, Lord
Shelburne, Lord Rockingham, did much to augment the power of the
opposition in England, and on the Continent the high reputation of
Franklin as a philosopher and statesman contributed largely to the
general confidence in the ultimate success of the rebellion.

The first really important communication from Europe came to Congress
through Dr. Dubourg, of Paris, who wrote a long letter to Franklin,
addressing him as "My dear Master," and assuring him of the sympathies
of France. Congress hereupon appointed Franklin, Silas Deane, and
Arthur Lee commissioners to Paris, the two last being already in

Before departing Franklin got together what money he could, "between
three and four thousand pounds," and lent it to Congress; he then
sailed with his two grandsons, William Temple Franklin and Benjamin
Franklin Bache, reaching Paris December 21, 1776. Considering the
dangers and hardships of the voyage this was no light undertaking for a
man of his age, and he was in fact physically exhausted when he arrived
on the other side.

Franklin came now to reap the fruits of a long and well spent life. His
personal fame aided him in a land where philosophers had become the
fashion of the day, and as the representative of a people struggling
for liberty he was peculiarly dear to the French, who were themselves
speculating on such matters and preparing for their own revolution. It
is of course easy to exaggerate the influence of sentiment in the case.
France was glad to encourage America because the loss of the colonies
would weaken the British Empire, and that was natural; but it is, I
think, a mistake not to acknowledge the generous sentiments of the
people and even of the grandees of the land. Voltaire and Rousseau had
not been preaching in vain; the American Declaration of Independence
was quite in the drift of French political ideas. But to awaken trust
in a people who dwelt in a far-off wilderness and who were commonly
esteemed little better than savages, the presence of such a man as
Franklin was of incalculable value.

After a brief interval M. de Chaumont, one of the wealthy Frenchmen of
the day, offered Franklin rooms at Passy in his Hôtel de Valentinois,
and there our philosopher fixed his abode, living in some style, and
spending perhaps about thirteen thousand dollars a year. His popularity
was immediate and almost unexampled. The great people of
France--philosophers, statesmen, titled noblemen, and fine
ladies--thought it an honor to receive the famous American; and it is
said that so great was his fame among the common people that the
shopkeepers would run to their doors to see him pass down the street.
Innumerable pictures were drawn and medallions cut of his figure,
until, as he wrote, his countenance was made "as well known as that of
the moon, so that he durst not do anything that would oblige him to run
away, as his phiz would discover him wherever he should venture to show
it." Parton quotes this interesting account of the commissioners from
the Memoirs of Count Sigur: "Nothing could be more striking than ...
the almost rustic apparel, the plain but firm demeanor, the free and
direct language, of the envoys, whose antique simplicity of dress and
appearance seemed to have introduced within our walls, in the midst of
the effeminate and servile refinement of the eighteenth century, some
sages contemporary with Plato, or republicans of the age of Cato and of
Fabius. This unexpected apparition produced upon us a greater effect in
consequence of its novelty, and of its occurring precisely at the
period when literature and philosophy had circulated amongst us an
unusual desire for reforms, a disposition to encourage innovations, and
the seeds of an ardent attachment to liberty."

But life was not all roseate for Franklin; he and the other envoys had
plenty of work to do. Among other things an endless number of foreign
officers applied to Franklin for commissions in the American army. Some
of these applicants--such as Lafayette and Steuben--were heartily
welcome, and really aided the cause; but he was beset by innumerable
others who would have been merely a burden on the army. For men of this
stamp he drew up and actually used more than once a blank
recommendation beginning with these ominous words: "The bearer of this,
who is going to America, presses me to give him a letter of
recommendation, though I know nothing of him, not even his name. This
may seem extraordinary, but I assure you it is not uncommon here," etc.
He was also kept busy managing the affairs of the small but active
navy, which was largely fitted out in France, and which brought most of
its prizes into French ports. But of all his labors the most difficult
and the most important was the raising of money for Congress. Into the
details of this exasperating task we cannot here enter. Congress was
not wise, and its necessities were desperate, and, despite the
generosity of the French court, he had often to employ extreme measures
to borrow money on doubtful security or none at all.

To excite interest in favor of the colonies Franklin wrote several
papers, whose practical ideas of political liberty were not without
effect in guiding the French people on to their own revolution. Even
the wit of "the old fox," as he was called in England, appealed
strongly to that nation of esprit. So, for instance, when asked if a
certain story of American defeat told by Lord Stormont, the British
ambassador, was a truth, he answered: "No, monsieur, it is not a truth;
it is only a Stormont." And straightway "a stormont" became the polite
word for a lie. Again, when told that Howe had taken Philadelphia he
retorted: "I beg your pardon, sir, Philadelphia has taken Howe."

But though Franklin could maintain his philosophic calm, and could even
joke in the presence of disaster, yet the strain on his nerves was
tremendous. I believe that only once in his life was he betrayed into
manifesting a strong emotion. Mr. Austin, a messenger from Boston, is
coming with important news. All the American commissioners, together
with Beaumarchais, are at Passy waiting his arrival. His chaise is
heard in the court, and they go out to meet him. But before he even
alights Franklin cries out, "Sir, _is_ Philadelphia taken?" "Yes, sir,"
says Austin. It seemed then that all was over. Without a word Franklin
clasped his hands and turned toward the house. "But, sir," said Austin,
"I have greater news than that GENERAL BURGOYNE AND HIS WHOLE ARMY ARE
PRISONERS OF WAR!" "The news," as one of the party afterwards declared,
"was like a sovereign cordial to the dying." How deep the impression
upon Franklin was we may judge from his gratitude to the messenger. Mr.
Austin relates that often he "would break from one of those musings in
which it was his habit to indulge, and clasping his hands together,
exclaim, 'Oh, Mr. Austin, you brought us glorious news!'"

It was indeed glorious news. The result in France was instantaneous and
immense. Franklin and his companions had long wished the court to
acknowledge publicly the independence of the United States and to make
a treaty of commerce with them. The news of Burgoyne's surrender
reached Paris on the 4th of December, 1777; the desired treaty was
actually signed on the 6th of February following. Dr. Bancroft, who was
present when both parties signed the document, tells us that Franklin
on that occasion wore the old suit of Manchester velvet which he had
worn on the day of his outrage in the Privy Council, and which had been
long laid aside. It was apparently a bit of quaint and secret revenge
in which the philosopher indulged himself. But when Dr. Bancroft
intimated to Franklin his suspicions in the matter, the philosopher
only smiled, and said nothing.

Several weeks later the new treaty was to receive formal recognition,
and the American commissioners were to be presented to Louis XVI in
their public capacity. Franklin intended to wear the regular court
costume at the presentation, but was balked of his desire. The costume
did not come in time; and when the perruquier brought his wig it
refused to sit on the Doctor's head. Franklin suggested that the wig
might be too small. "Monsieur, it is impossible," cried the perruquier,
and then, dashing the wig to the floor, exclaimed, "No, Monsieur!--it
is not the wig which is too small; it is your head which is too large."
At any rate the wig could not be worn, and Franklin appeared in his own
gray hair, dressed in black velvet, with white silk stockings,
spectacles on nose, and no sword at his side. The king received the
envoys courteously, saying: "Gentlemen, I wish the Congress to be
assured of my friendship. I beg leave also to observe that I am
exceedingly satisfied in particular with your own conduct during your
residence in my kingdom;" and with these words walked out of the
apartment. Immediately Lord Stormont, the British ambassador, left
Paris; and a few days later M. Gérard, the first minister of France to
this country, sailed for America.

Franklin had met the king; he had now to meet a greater and more famous
man than Louis,--the only man living whose fame was equal to his own.
Voltaire, eighty-four years old, feeble in body but with intellect
unconquered, had just come to Paris after his long exile to hear the
plaudits of his countrymen, and to die. The American envoys asked
permission to wait upon the great man, and were received by Voltaire
lying on his couch. He quoted a few lines from Thomson's "Ode to
Liberty," and then began to talk with Franklin in English; but his
niece, not understanding that language, begged them to speak in French.
Whereupon Voltaire replied: "I beg your pardon. I have for a moment
yielded to the vanity of showing that I can speak in the language of a
Franklin." When Dr. Franklin presented his grandson, the old
philosopher pronounced over his head only these words: "_God and
Liberty!_" All who were present shed tears.

John Adams tells the story of a more public meeting between the two men
at the Academy of Sciences: "Voltaire and Franklin were both present,
and there presently arose a general cry that M. Voltaire and M.
Franklin should be introduced to each other. This was done, and they
bowed and spoke to each other. This was no satisfaction; there must be
something more. Neither of our philosophers seemed to divine what was
wished or expected. They, however, took each other by the hand; but
this was not enough. The clamor continued until the exclamation came
out, 'Il faut s'embrasser à la Française!'[2] The two aged actors upon
this great theatre of philosophy and frivolity then embraced each other
by hugging one another in their arms and kissing each other's cheeks,
and then the tumult subsided. And the cry immediately spread throughout
the kingdom, and I suppose over all Europe, 'Qu'il était charmant de
voir embrasser Solon et Sophocle!'"[3]

      [2] They must embrace like Frenchmen.

      [3] How charming it was to see Solon and Sophocles embrace.

The mention of John Adams recalls us to the most disagreeable part of
Franklin's experience. During all his sojourn in France he was subject
to continual and annoying interference from his colleagues. Before his
arrival in Paris, Silas Deane had entered for Congress into
semi-commercial relations with the French government through the
eccentric and industrious Beaumarchais. Franklin was content to leave
these affairs to him, and did not at the time even know their real
nature. But with Arthur Lee it was different. Of all characters in
American history Lee is almost the hardest to endure. He was patriotic,
and in a way honest, but meddlesome, suspicious, vain, and quarrelsome
to an incredible degree. He immediately made up his mind that Deane was
peculating, and never ceased writing accusatory letters until Congress
recalled the unfortunate envoy. All this time he was also acting toward
Franklin in a manner which can only be described as insane. He fumed at
Franklin's easy way of conducting business; his vanity suffered
indescribable tortures at every mark of respect paid to his
distinguished colleague; he suspected him of treason and every other
crime; and with his partisans (whose names we need not here mention) he
wrote voluble letters of incrimination to Congress. When Silas Deane
was recalled, John Adams was sent over to take his place, and for a
while Franklin received support from his new colleague,--for Adams,
with all his faults, was at least single-hearted in his patriotism. But
their characters were too widely different for them to work easily
together in harness. Adams's vanity was almost as great as Arthur
Lee's. The homage paid to Franklin drove him almost into a frenzy of
rage, both because he thought himself overlooked and because such
homage savored of aristocracy. In Franklin's catalogue of the virtues
there were two which he could not claim to have attained,--chastity and
orderliness; and these two weaknesses now rose to exact their penalty.
Adams could not believe that a man who had been lax with women could be
honest in anything else; Adams was the spirit of petty orderliness, and
Franklin's easy ways seemed to him the destruction of all business. At
last Congress came to the rescue, and for once acted sensibly: Lee and
Adams were recalled, and Franklin was left as sole plenipotentiary in

With other Americans Franklin's relationship was of a pleasanter sort.
To the American navy and privateers Franklin was the American
government; and, though he was often annoyed by the unreasonable
conduct of importunate captains, yet he also shared in the glory of
their deeds. John Paul Jones was one of the many forced to endure
Arthur Lee's impertinences, and had it not been for Franklin's aid and
friendship our navy would have lost the honor of that name. At one time
Paul Jones was in Paris with no ship to command, and though he tried
every channel to obtain a vessel from the French court, was always put
off. At last, as he was reading a French translation of Poor Richard's
Almanac, his eye was struck by this sentence: "If you would have your
business done, go; if not, send." Without delay he went himself to
Versailles, and obtained an order to purchase an old ship of forty
guns. This good vessel he christened Le Bon Homme Richard, which is
French for Poor Richard, and the story of how she beat the Serapis need
not here be retold.

Through all these difficulties in France, as before in England,
Franklin found consolation and amusement in the intellectual society of
a great capital. And what a society this was! The very list of names of
Franklin's friends is an inspiration. With the scientists of the day he
continued to discuss philosophic questions; and with the great ladies
of society he could find relaxation from his graver cares. Chess still
absorbed more of his time than his conscience approved, and there are
several well known stories of him in connection with that game. Once
when playing with the old Duchess of Bourbon, the lady happened to put
her king into prize, and the Doctor took it. "Ah," says she, "we do not
take kings so." "We do in America," said the Doctor; and this pleasant
joke he seems to have repeated several times in different forms. To
Madame Brillon, a wealthy and amiable lady of the neighborhood, he
wrote a number of those clever sketches which might well find a place
in the "Spectator,"--such as The Ephemera, The Petition of the Left
Hand, The Whistle, The Dialogue between Franklin and the Gout, and
others almost as well known.

One of his best friends was Madame Helvetius, widow of the celebrated
philosopher, and it was to her he wrote his famous dream ending with
the words, "Let us avenge ourselves." We must at least find space for
Mrs. Adams's curious account of that lady: "She entered the room with a
careless, jaunty air; upon seeing ladies who were strangers to her, she
bawled out, 'Ah! mon Dieu, where is Franklin? Why did you not tell me
there were ladies here?' You must suppose her speaking all this in
French. 'How I look!' said she, taking hold of a chemise made of
tiffany, which she had on over a blue lute-string, and which looked as
much upon the decay as her beauty, for she was once a handsome woman;
her hair was frizzled; over it she had a small straw hat, with a dirty
gauze half-handkerchief round it, and a bit of dirtier gauze than ever
my maid wore was bowed on behind. She had a black gauze scarf thrown
over her shoulders. She ran out of the room; when she returned, the
Doctor entered at one door, she at the other; upon which she ran
forward to him, caught him by the hand, 'Hélas! Franklin;' then gave
him a double kiss, one upon each cheek, and another upon his forehead.
When we went into the room to dine, she was placed between the Doctor
and Mr. Adams. She carried the chief of the conversation at dinner,
frequently locking her hand into the Doctor's, and sometimes spreading
her arms upon the backs of both the gentlemen's chairs, then throwing
her arm carelessly upon the Doctor's neck."

Another house to which Franklin was welcome was that of the Countess
d'Houdetot celebrated for her part in the life of Rousseau. It was at
her château that Franklin had to undergo the ordeal of such a
glorification as must have tried his philosophic nerves to the
uttermost. The chronicler of the occasion declares that "the venerable
sage, with his gray hair flowing down upon his shoulders, his staff in
hand, the spectacles of wisdom on his nose, was the perfect picture of
true philosophy and virtue." But the "sage" must have found his virtue
a burden on that day. He was escorted through the grounds; wine was
poured out freely; music was played, and the company in turn celebrated
the guest in stanzas which were none the less fulsome because they were
true. The ceremony closed with the planting of a Virginia locust by the

The surrender of Burgoyne in 1777 had brought about the treaty with
France; the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown, four years later, was
the beginning of peace and the cause of the treaty with England. What
effect the news of Cornwallis's defeat had in England; how Lord North,
the Prime Minister, received the message "as he would have taken a ball
in his breast," walking wildly up and down the room, tossing his arms,
and crying out, "Oh God! it is all over! it is all over!"--all this is
known to everybody.

The diplomacy which now passed between the belligerent parties is a
most complicated chapter of history. Franklin, Jay, and Adams were
appointed by Congress to treat with England concerning peace, with
instructions to consult the French government in every measure. The
first difficulty was one of form. England was ready to sign a treaty of
peace and acknowledge the independence of the colonies; but the envoy
sent to Paris for this purpose was empowered to treat only with
commissioners of the "colonies or plantations," and Jay and Adams felt
incensed that the United States did not receive recognition by name.
Franklin regarded the matter as a mere formality and was eager to push
on the proceedings; but his colleagues were obdurate, and after some
delay England made the required recognition. Three important points had
then to be settled: 1. Whether the Americans should be allowed to fish
on the New Foundland banks; 2. Whether the western boundary should
extend to the Mississippi River; 3. Whether the United States
government should reimburse the losses of the Tories.

Adams, who as a Bostonian understood the importance of the first
measure, insisted stubbornly that England should cede this point, and
finally won the day. That the United States were not confined to a
strip of land along the seacoast was chiefly due to Jay. And here a new
complication came in. Jay had from the first suspected that France was
playing a double game, and convincing evidence of duplicity now fell
into his hands. To obtain concessions for herself, France was secretly
encouraging England to refuse the American claims on the New Foundland
fishing banks and on the territory lying between the Alleghanies and
the Mississippi. Jay thereupon insisted that the American envoys should
treat secretly with England without consulting the French court, and
Adams sided with him. Franklin was at first much averse to this mode of
procedure, both because Congress had distinctly commanded them to act
in concert with Versailles, and because he could not believe in the
treachery of his French friends. When, however, Jay laid the matter
clearly before him he gave up the point, and the negotiations
proceeded. England acknowledged the American right to the western
territory, but was more obstinate in regard to the Tory
indemnification. Franklin was willing to grant this if England in
return would cede Canada to the American union, and for a time the
question was debated in this form. Finally a compromise was adopted,
Congress promising to recommend to the state legislatures "to restore
the estates, rights, and properties of real British subjects,"--which
was of course a concession in words only, as Congress had no authority
to enforce such a recommendation. The preliminary treaty between
England and America was signed November 30, 1782, and Franklin had at
once to appease the wrath of the French government which felt it had
been duped. With consummate skill he accomplished this task, and all
the vexing questions at issue were settled by the signing, on September
3, 1783, of separate definitive treaties between the three hostile

Franklin's great work was done. He had before this urged Congress to
release him from his heavy duties, and at last--in 1785, after he had
assisted in making treaties with the other powers of Europe--his
resignation was accepted, and he was free to return home. Thomas
Jefferson came over to Paris as plenipotentiary in his stead. When
asked if he replaced Dr. Franklin, Jefferson used to reply: "I
_succeed_. No one can _replace_ him."

Franklin returned to Philadelphia laden with years and honors; yet
still his country could not let him repose. For three successive years
he was elected President of Pennsylvania; but the labors entailed were
not severe, and the old man found time for amusement and quiet study.
We have a beautiful picture of his life at home with his daughter and
her family in one of his letters of the time: "The companions of my
youth are indeed almost all departed; but I find an agreeable society
among their children and grandchildren. I have public business enough
to preserve me from ennui, and private amusement besides in
conversation, books, my garden, and cribbage. Considering our
well-furnished, plentiful market as the best of gardens, I am turning
mine, in the midst of which my house stands, into grass plots and
gravel walks, with trees and flowering shrubs. Cards we sometimes play
here in long winter evenings; but it is as they play at chess,--not for
money, but for honor, or the pleasure of beating one another. This will
not be quite a novelty to you, as you may remember we played together
in that manner during the winter at Passy. I have indeed now and then a
little compunction in reflecting that I spend time so idly. But another
reflection comes to relieve me, whispering: '_You know that the soul is
immortal. Why, then, should you be such a niggard of a little time,
when you have a whole eternity before you?_' So, being easily
convinced, and, like other reasonable creatures, satisfied with a small
reason when it is in favor of doing what I have a mind to, I shuffle
the cards again, and begin another game." Yet the old man could not but
feel lonely at times in the new society growing up about him. He says
pathetically in another letter: "I seem to have intruded myself into
the company of posterity, when I ought to have been abed and asleep."

In 1787 the constitutional convention met in Philadelphia, and it was a
fitting thing that the statesman and philosopher should live to aid in
framing laws by which his country is still governed. He was now too
weak to stand long, so that his speeches on various questions had to be
read out by a friend. His work in the convention was altogether
subordinate to that of Madison and one or two other leading spirits;
but his part in reconciling various factious elements in the convention
was of the greatest importance. When at last the deadlock came between
the smaller and the larger States on the question of representation in
the legislature, it was Franklin who saved the day by a suggestion
which led to the famous compromise, making the Senate represent the
individual States, while the lower house is proportioned to population.
Washington presided over the assembly; and we are told that while "the
last members were signing, Dr. Franklin, looking towards the
president's chair, at the back of which a rising sun happened to be
painted, observed to a few members near him that painters had found it
difficult to distinguish in their art a rising from a setting sun. 'I
have,' said he, 'often and often in the course of the session and the
vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue looked at that
behind the president without being able to tell whether it was rising
or setting; but now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a
rising, and not a setting sun.'"

It was, however, the setting sun for Franklin. The few years that
remained to him were peaceful and noble; but his old maladies increased
on him, until at the last he was confined to his bed. Yet through it
all he showed the same untiring energy. He wrote against the study of
the classics, against the abuse of the liberty of the press, and from
his very deathbed sent out a stinging letter against slavery. The end
was come: at eleven o'clock at night, April 17, 1790, he passed away.
Philadelphia knew that she had lost her most distinguished citizen, and
he was followed to the grave by a procession including all that was
honorable in the city.

In closing this brief Life of a great and good man we cannot do better
than quote the words sent to him by America's greatest citizen: "If to
be venerated for benevolence, if to be admired for talent, if to be
esteemed for patriotism, if to be beloved for philanthropy, can gratify
the human mind, you must have the pleasing consolation to know that you
have not lived in vain. And I flatter myself that it will not be ranked
among the least grateful occurrences of your life to be assured that so
long as I retain my memory you will be recollected with respect,
veneration, and affection by your sincere friend." To receive such
praise from Washington is sufficient answer to all the petty cavils
that have been raised against the memory of Benjamin Franklin.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Benjamin Franklin" ***

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