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practical affairs. Carlyle called him the father of all the Yankees. He founded a fire company, assisted in founding a hospital, and improved the cleaning and lighting of streets. He developed journalism, established the American Philosophical Society, the public library in Philadelphia, and the University of Pennsylvania. He organized a postal system for the colonies, which was the basis of the present United States Post Office. Bancroft, the eminent historian, called him “the greatest diplomatist of his century." He perfected the Albany Plan of Union for the colonies. He is the only statesman who signed the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Alliance with France, the Treaty of Peace with England, and the Constitution. As a writer, he has produced, in his Autobiography and in Poor Richard's Almanac, two works that are not surpassed by similar writing. He received honorary degrees from Harvard and Yale, from Oxford and St. Andrews, and was made a fellow of the Royal Society, which awarded him the Copley gold medal for improving natural knowledge. He was one of the eight foreign associates of the French Academy of Science, an honor which he has shared with only one other American.
Franklin's life falls naturally into three parts; his early years in Boston, his business and scientific career in Philadelphia, and his political career at home and abroad.
It is a strange coincidence that the sturdy, democratic blacksmiths from whom Franklin was descended, lived for at least two hundred years at Ecton in Northamptonshire, England, only twelve miles from the manor house of Washington's aristocratic ancestors at Sulgrave. One of Franklin's latest biographers notes that "the pink-coated huntsmen of the Washington family may often have stopped in Ecton to have their horses shod by the leather-aproned Franklins at the forge."
Benjamin Franklin was born opposite the old South Church in Boston, Massachusetts, on January 17, 1706. From his father he inherited his marked business capacity; and from his mother, a descendant of a progressive New England family, his fine physique and liberal mind. After a brief schooling, which ended when he was only ten years old, he began his career humbly in the tallowchandler shop of his father. A little later he was apprenticed to his brother, James, a printer and editor of a newspaper.
Young Franklin had already begun that eager and careful reading which was to fortify him for his life work better than a school or college education could have done. In the New England libraries and book-shops, almost barren of reading matter except treatises on religious subjects, which had little or no claim to be called literature, Franklin managed to get hold of Plutarch's Lives, some of Defoe's writings, Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress - which the boy read and re-read — and a volume of Addison's Spectator. The witty, graceful, worldly-wise style of Addison appealed to Franklin, and he imitated it with patient zeal, thus laying the foundation for his own style. He soon put his new accomplishment to the test by contributing to his brother's paper a series of letters signed by “Silence Dogood." These Dogood papers were a palpable imitation of Addison, but they were so fair an imitation as to give Franklin a start in journalism. As a result of these contributions young Franklin soon came to manage the paper. However, the two brothers could not agree; and Benjamin finally declared himself free and sailed away from the Puritan town, which was too narrow and strict for his rapidly developing tendency to freethinking.
After an interesting journey, Franklin landed in Philadelphia on an October Sunday in 1723. His awkward appearance as he walked up Market Street, and the amusement it afforded his future wife, is one of the familiar pictures of the Autobiography.
The period which now began (1723-1756) saw the struggle of the young printer to secure a foothold in the world, and his gradual rise to independence, wealth, and eminence as a scientist and man of affairs. During this time Franklin laid the foundation for his later reputation by many of the most remarkable of his achievements.
At this time, Franklin had no strong religious principle of morals. He was a free-thinker and even wrote a pamphlet, while spending a year in London, to prove that man is no better than the brutes — that there is no future life and no religion. Of these early irregularities or
errata,” as he calls them, he was later heartily ashamed, and he made amends for them as far as he could by precept and practice. While he never professed any particular form of the Christian faith, he taught and practiced consistently the fundamental principles of Christianity.
Franklin soon settled down in his adopted city to the steady occupation of printer. By enterprise, shrewdness and common sense, he developed the character, the keynote of which is cleverly expressed in a comparison made by Mr. Brander Matthews between Emerson's teachings and Franklin's. "Emerson,” says Mr. Matthews, “exhorts you' to hitch your wagon to a star,' Franklin is ready with an improved axle-grease for the wheels.” Franklin's ideals were circumscribed by the practicable. His virtues did not find their reward in themselves but in tangible benefits. If he was honest it was not because of the commandment “Thou shalt not steal," but because "honesty is the best policy." He found by experience that the way to health, wealth, and happiness lay in obeying the commandment of God to live a virtuous life.
He wrote a clear argument in favor of paper money
and then secured the printing of the large issue that followed as a result of his pamphlet. He contributed a series of breezy papers to the Mercury signed “The Busybody," in order to destroy a rival newspaper that had unfairly forestalled his own scheme to start a paper in opposition to the Mercury. When his plan succeeded, he bought the defeated rival's publication at his own price and set up the Pennsylvania Gazette, which soon became the most popular newspaper in the colonies. To the Gazette, Franklin contributed for almost twenty years, his writings ranging all the way from stories of his own mishaps or bits of foolish pleasantry to moral and political essays. Most of the reforms he brought about were first suggested in letters to the paper signed by some fictitious name. Franklin would then carry on with himself a lively discussion for and against the proposed change. Thus the Council or Assembly would soon have the matter under advisement and the reform would be secured. He obtained the public printing, bought out his partner, and became the chief printer in the province.
He soon added to his fame as well as to his wealth by Poor Richard's Almanac, the most successful and widely influential of his publications. For the twenty-five years of its existence it had an annual sale of 10,000 copies. Its homely wit and wisdom, its shrewd maxims, its worldly honesty, not only became a great force in shaping American national character, but the little book was translated into many languages and proved a guide and teacher to no small part of humanity. Having thus acquired a fortune, Franklin now retired from 'business at the age of forty-two, in order that he might devote his entire time to the scientific studies in which he had already become interested.
Franklin's success in practical affairs brought him attention and influence. He was public-spirited and soon
became a leader in the community, which he greatly benefited by his genius and practical wisdom. He started and urged forward scheme after scheme of social and public improvement; among others, a circulating library, the Union Fire Company, a plan for defending the city and province, the Philadelphia Academy, which developed later into the University of Pennsylvania, a hospital, and a system of cleaning and lighting the streets. He also invented the Franklin stove, which marks the beginning of the great American stove industry.
In the midst of all these employments Franklin found time to indulge his fondness for experiments in science. Here again his philosophy was the philosophy of the useful. He pursued scientific studies only to make life safer or easier for mankind. He became deeply engrossed in the study of electricity, but his experiments aimed to demonstrate the practical application of the newly discovered energy, or the means of protecting property and life from the effects of its destructive power as displayed in lightning. He wrote numerous letters explaining his experiments, many of which were published in magazines and pamphlets. The most important of these publications was Opinions and Conjectures, containing the paragraph on the uses of the lightning-rod. This pamphlet, published in England and France, and later printed in German, Latin, and Italian, created a great sensation among the leading scientists of the world, and led to the famous kite experiment of Franklin himself, by which he proved that lightning and electricity are the same. He was now made a member of the Royal Society and honored with the Copley medal. His fame in the scientific world was due almost as much to his modest, simple, and sincere manner of presenting his discoveries and to the precision and clearness of the style in which he described his experiments, as to the results he was able to announce. Sir Humphrey