Franklin taking home his paper.
Reconciliation of Franklin with his brother.
Ben Franklin flying a kite in stormy weather.
The following Preface to the Life of Columbus will explain the plan of the series, of which this is the third volume: —
“There is no kind of reading more attractive than biography, and, if properly treated, there is none more instructive. It appears, therefore, to be peculiarly fitted to the purposes of education; it readily excites the curiosity and awakens the interest of the pupil, and, while it stores his mind with facts, dates and events, displays to his view the workings of the human heart, and makes him better acquainted with himself and mankind.
“In the selection of subjects for a biographical series of works for youth, the editor has been led, by two considerations, to prefer those which belong to our own country. In the first place, it is more particularly necessary that our youth should be made acquainted with the lives of those men who were associated with the history of their native land; and, in the second place, no country can afford happier subjects for biography than this. There are few such lives as those of Columbus, Washington, and Franklin, in the annals of any nation.
“In the preparation of the work, the author has sought to adapt it to youth, by the use of a simple style, and by the introduction of many illustrative tales, sketches, anecdotes and adventures. Questions for examining the pupils are printed in the pages, which may be used, or not, at the choice of the Teacher.”
The Life of Columbus and the Life of Washington, on a plan similar to this, have been already published; and other volumes, containing the lives of celebrated Indian Chiefs, celebrated American Statesmen, &c., will appear hereafter, if those already in progress should meet with success.
An old printing press.
Franklin standing at an old-style desk.
Birth of Franklin. Early Education. Anecdote. Choice of a Trade. He is placed with a Cutler. His Fondness for Reading. Bound Apprentice to his Brother. Makes a couple of Ballads. His Friend Collins. Reads the Spectator.
1. Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston, New England, on the seventeenth of January, 1706. He was the youngest son in a family of seventeen children. His elder brothers were, at an early age, put apprentices to different trades; for their father was a man of honest industry, but with little or no property, and unable to support the expense of keeping them long at school.
2. Benjamin, however, was intended for the church, and at eight years of age was put to a grammar school. His readiness in learning, and his attention to study, confirmed the first intention of his parents. The plan also met with the approbation of his uncle Benjamin, who promised to give him some volumes of sermons that he had taken down in short hand, from the lips of the most eminent preachers of the day.
3. He continued at the grammar school, however, only about a year, though he had risen to the head of his class, and promised to be a very fine scholar. His father was burthened with a numerous family, and could not carry him through a course of college education. He accordingly changed his first purpose, and sent Benjamin to a school for writing and arithmetic, kept by Mr. George Brownwell.
4. This master was quite skilful in his profession, being mild and kind to his scholars, but very successful in teaching them. Benjamin learned to write a good hand in a short time, but he could not manage arithmetic so easily. At ten years of age he was taken from school to help his father in the business of a tallow-chandler; and was employed in cutting the wick for the candles, going errands, and tending the shop.
5. Benjamin disliked the trade, and had a strong inclination to go to sea; but his father opposed his wishes in this respect, and determined to keep him at home. The house in which he lived happened to be near the water, and Benjamin was always playing with boats, and swimming. When sailing with other boys, he was usually the leader, and he confesses that he sometimes led them into difficulties.
6. There was a salt marsh which bounded part of the mill-pond, on the edge of which the boys used to stand to fish for minnows. They had trampled it so much, however, as to make it a mere quagmire. Franklin proposed to his friends to build a wharf there, for them to stand upon; and showed them a large heap of stones, which were intended for a new house near the marsh, and would answer their purpose exactly.
7. Accordingly, that evening, when the workmen were gone home, he assembled a number of his playfellows, and they worked diligently, like so many emmets, sometimes two or three to a stone, till they had brought them all to make their little wharf. On the next morning, the workmen were surprised on missing the stones. The authors of the removal were detected, complained of, and punished by their parents. Franklin attempted to show the usefulness of their work; but his father took that occasion to convince him, that that which was not truly honest could not be truly useful.
8. Benjamin continued employed in the business of his father about two years, that is, till he was twelve years old. His brother John, who had also been brought up to the trade, had left his father, married, and set up for himself in Rhode Island. There was now every appearance that Benjamin was destined to become a tallow-chandler. As his dislike to the trade continued, his father was afraid that, if he did not put Benjamin to one that was more agreeable, he would run away, and go to sea, as an elder brother of his had done. In consequence of this apprehension, he used to take him to walk, to see joiners, bricklayers, turners and braziers at their work, that he might observe his inclination, and fix it on some trade or profession that would keep him on land.
9. His father at length determined on the cutler’s trade, and placed him for some days on trial with his cousin Samuel, who was bred to that trade in London, and had just established himself in Boston. It was then usual to ask a sum of money for receiving an apprentice, and the cutler charged so much for taking Benjamin, that his father was displeased, and put him to his old business again.
10. From his infancy Benjamin had been passionately fond of reading; and all the money that he could get was laid out in purchasing books. He was very fond of voyages and travels. The dangers and adventures of sailors in the different parts of the world, and stories of the strange people and customs they met with, he would always read with delight.
11. The first books that he was able to buy were the works of a famous old English writer, named John Bunyan. These he afterwards sold, in order to purchase some volumes of Historical Collections. His father’s library consisted principally of works on divinity, most of which he read at an early age. Beside these, there was a book by De Foe, the author of Robinson Crusoe; and another called An Essay to do Good, by Dr. Mather, an old New England divine.
12. This fondness for books at length determined his father to bring him up as a printer, though he had already one son in that employment. In 1717, this son returned from England with a press and letters to set up his business in Boston. Benjamin liked this trade much better than that of his father, but still had a desire to go to sea. To prevent this step, his father was impatient to have him bound apprentice to his brother, and at length persuaded him to consent to it.
13. He was to serve as apprentice till he was twenty-one years of age, and during the last year was to be allowed the wages of a journeyman. In a little time, he made great progress in the business, and became quite useful. He was now able to obtain better books. An acquaintance with the apprentices of the booksellers sometimes enabled him to borrow a small one, which he was careful to return clean and in good season. He often sat up in his chamber the greater part of the night, to read a book that he was obliged to return in the morning.
Franklin reading at night.
14. After some time, an ingenious and sensible merchant, Mr. Matthew Adams, who had a pretty collection of books, took notice of Franklin at the printing office, and invited him to see his library. He very kindly offered to lend him any work that he might like to read.
15. He now took a strong inclination for poetry, and wrote some little pieces. His brother supposed that he might use this talent to advantage, and encouraged him to cultivate it. About this time, he produced two ballads. One was called the Light-House Tragedy, and contained an account of the shipwreck of Captain Worthilake, with his two daughters; the other was a sailor’s song, on the taking of the famous Blackbeard, the pirate.
16. They were written in the doggerel street-ballad style, and when they were printed, his brother sent Benjamin about the town to sell them. The first sold very rapidly, as the event on which it was founded had recently occurred, and made a great deal of noise. This success flattered his vanity very much, but his father discouraged him by criticising his ballads, and telling him that verse-makers were generally beggars.
17. This prevented him from giving any further attention to poetry, and led him to devote more time and care to prose compositions. He was at this time intimately acquainted with another lad very fond of books, named John Collins. They sometimes discussed different questions together, and had become very apt to indulge in arguments and disputes.
18. A question was once started between them, on the propriety of educating the female sex in learned studies, and their abilities for these studies. As they parted without settling the point, and were not to see one another again for a long time, Franklin sat down to put his arguments in writing. He then made a fair copy of them, and sent it to Collins.
19. Three or four letters passed between them on the subject, when the father of Franklin happened to find the papers, and read them. Without entering into the subject in dispute, he took occasion to talk to him about his manner of writing. He marked the defects in his expressions, and in the arrangement of his sentences, but gave him the credit of spelling and pointing with great correctness. This he had learned in the printing office, but he had never before been taught any thing about manner and style.
20. About this time, he met with an odd volume of the Spectator, a very famous work, published by several English wits in the year 1711. He bought it, read it over and over, and was much delighted with it. This book was now his continual study, and he himself tried to write as much as possible in its very pleasant and popular style. The improvement which he made was encouraging, and led him to hope he might some day become a good English writer; a distinction of which he was very ambitious.
1. Where was Franklin born? When?
2. For what profession did his parents intend to educate him?
3. What induced his father to change his intention?
4. To what trade was Benjamin put, and when?
6. Relate the anecdote about Franklin and his companions.
7. What maxim did his father teach him in consequence of this adventure?
8. What were his father’s fears in relation to his new occupation?
9. On what trade did his father finally determine?
10. Describe his early fondness for reading, and the books of which he was most fond.
11. What books did he first buy?
12. What induced his father to bring up Benjamin as a printer? To whom was he bound apprentice?
13. How did he succeed in his new trade?
14. What advantages did it afford him for pursuing his studies?
15. Relate the account of his first attempts in poetry.
16. How did his ballads succeed?
17. How did his father discourage his new taste?
18. What was the subject of his discussion with his friend Collins?
19. What praise and advice did his father give him on this occasion?
20. With what book was Franklin at this time so much pleased? Did he attempt to imitate it?