Page images





FRANKLIN availed himself of his newspaper, as he did of his almanac, to make it not merely a gazette of news and advertisements, but a vehicle of useful knowledge, and the means of promoting a relish for instructive reading and a just taste. With these views he inserted, from time to time, selections from the best writers in the language, and occasionally an essay of his own, which had been prepared for the Junto. Some of his early performances, which first came before the public in this way, have been justly deemed worthy of preservation in the collections of his writings. One of these pieces, published in 1730, aside from its literary merits, has a further interest as presenting another view of the action of his mind and of his way of thinking, at that period, on important points of morality; and as indicating also something of the influences at work in that club, which contributed so much to exercise and develop his faculties.

The piece referred to is a dialogue, in the Socratic manner, between two friends, “ Concerning Virtue and Pleasure ;' aiming “ to show that a vicious man, whatever may be his abilities, can not be properly called a man of sense." In this performance the author inculcates the wisdom and duty of that comprehensive tem



perance, or self-control, which is not less indispensable to the lasting enjoyment of even those pleasures of which the senses are the medium, than it is to the discharge of duty, or to the attainment of any kind of real and permanent good. Among other things, he touches upon the grave question of the moral responsibility involved in the formation of opinions ; maintaining the doctrine that a man is culpable for wrong opinions of the nature of human actions, so far as he neglects the means within his power to rectify them; and that wrong actions induced by such opinions are not excused by mere good intentions. He holds, also, that a man's truest good is to be found in well-doing, or in “ doing all the good he can to others ;' that “this is that constant and durable good which will afford contentment and satisfaction always alike;" and is the only species of pleasure that "grows by repetition," and "ends but with our being."

The moral principles which governed him in the conduct of his newspaper give honorable evidence of rectitude and firmness. He “carefully excluded all libelling and personal abuse;" and when the insertion of such articles was urged on the plea of “the liberty of the press,' and that “a newspaper was like a stagecoach, in which any one who would pay, had a right to a place,” he replied that “ he would not take it upon him to spread detraction; and that, having contracted with his subscribers to furnish them with what might be either useful or entertaining, he could not fill their paper with private altercation, in which they had no concern, without doing them great injustice.”

Such principles are worthy of all praise ; and the observance of them, as Franklin urges from his own ample experience, will be found, in the main, as profitable as it is honest and just. Franklin, it appears, established the first printing-office

in Charleston, South Carolina. On learning that such an establishment was desired there, he fitted out one of his journeymen with the necessary apparatus, in 1733, under a contract with him to sustain one third of the expenses and receive one third of the profits. The person thus sent is represented as an intelligent man, but neglectful of his accounts ; and though he remitted money occasionally, yet never, while he lived, did he furnish a regular and full statement of the affairs of the partnership. Upon his death, however, his widow continued the business; and having been born and bred in Holland, where, as in other parts of Europe, females are taught book-keeping as a customary part of education, she lost no time in looking into the concerns of the printingoffice; and not only furnished as clear and exact an exhibit of the past transactions of the office as the books and papers left by her husband permitted, but she “continued to account, with the greatest regularity and exactness, every quarter afterward.

This discreet and usefully-educated woman managed the business so well, as to derive from it the means of bringing up several children, in a very judicious and reputable manner; and at the close of the partnership term, was able to buy out her partner's interest, and place her eldest son at the head of the establishment.

This case is related by Franklin, as he remarks, for the purpose of commending the practice of making a knowledge of account-keeping, sufficient at least for the ordinary transactions of business, a part of the common education of both sexes alike; and as being likely to prove more useful to

our young women and their children, in case of widowhood, than either music or dancing, by preserving them from the imposition of crafty men, and enabling them to continue perhaps a profitable mercantile house, with established correspondents, till a son is grown



up, fit to go on with it, to the lasting advantage and enriching of the family.”

About this period a young Presbyterian clergyman took charge of the congregation to which Franklin nominally belonged, who soon became exceedingly popular. In his preaching he chiefly insisted, it appears, on the various duties of life; endeavoring to awaken the consciences of his hearers to the importance of a faithful discharge of those duties, as the best evidence of a true Christian spirit — the good fruit of the good tree; and saying little of doctrinal points, and nothing of sectarian controversy

His discourses, being delivered in a very impressive manner, without notes, and uncommonly well composed, " drew together considerable numbers of different persuasions, who joined in admiring them;" and as they constituted the kind of preaching which Franklin believed most likely to do good, he became a constant and gratified attendant upon them.

At length, however, a charge of heresy was brought against the preacher, and he was arraigned thereon before the synod. This occasioned a warm contest, in which Franklin sided with the accused ; and, as he remarks, " finding him, though an elegant preacher, a poor writer, wrote for him two or three pamphlets,” besides an article in his

paper. This was in the spring of 1735; and so much of a party was enlisted for the young minister, as to raise at first some hope of success.

An opponent, however, on hearing one of these much-applauded sermons, was strongly impressed with the conviction that he had already seen much of it elsewhere ; and after a little search he found its 'most striking portions in some extracts, “ in one of the British reviews, from a discourse of Dr. Foster ;' the same eloquent divine, doubtless, whom Pope, in the Epilogue to his Satires, styles "modest Foster,” and celebrates for “preaching well."

This exposure was followed by the sentence of the synod against the young minister, who subsequently confessed to Franklin, that he did not write one of the sermons which had been so much admired ; and he stated that his memory was so retentive, that from a single reading of such a discourse, he could repeat the whole of it. Soon after being silenced, he went from Philadelphia ; and Franklin, though he paid his annual contribution, for many years, to support the minister of the congregation, ceased all further personal intercourse with it.

Franklin made some valuable acquisitions, at this period, which show how much may be done, in this way, even by a man of business, if he will only adhere, with steady perseverance, to some plan judiciously adapted to the opportunities allowed by his occupation, for the pursuit of collateral objects. In 1733, he began to study the French language; and without the smallest neglect of his business, he soon learned to read it with ease. He then took up Italian; but being very fond of chess, and often playing the game with another person, who was engaged in acquiring the same language, Franklin found his favorite amusement encroaching so much upon his time, that he determined to quit it, unless his companion would agree that the winner, at the close of every game, should require of the loser a task in Italian to be performed at their next meeting. This course was pursued; and, says Franklin, " as we played pretty equally, we thus beat each other into that language." He adds that afterward, “ with a little pains-taking,” he acquired enough Spanish to read that language also.

When a boy he had received, it will be remembered, some instruction in the rudiments of the Latin, but was soon obliged to relinquish it, and had never resumed the study. After acquiring the three modern languages mentioned, on looking over a Latin Testament,” he states

« PreviousContinue »