Benjamin Franklin

THIS celebrated individual, the youngest but two of a family of seventeen children, was born at Boston, in Massachusetts, on the 17th of January, 1706. His father was at first a dyer, and afterwards a soap-boiler and tallow-chandler, and had quitted England in order to escape the prosecution of the non-conformists, under Charles II. His son Benjamin was sent to a grammar-school at eight years of age, with a view of being educated for the church; but this design was soon abandoned, and the subject of our memoir, after having made a slight progress in writing and arithmetic, returned home, and assisted at his father's trade. This employment was very irksome to Franklin, whose inclinations had become directed to a sea-faring life; and it was at length agreed that he should be apprenticed to his cousin who was a cutler. An obstacle to this, however, arose in the amount of premium required, and he was eventually bound, in his twelfth year, to his brother James, a printer.

He soon made great progress in this business, and an acquaintance formed with several booksellers' apprentices, enabled him to indulge his love of reading, by borrowing books, which they had facilities to obtain. It has often happened to me,' he says, in a memoir of the early part of his life, to pass the greater part of the night in reading by my bed-side, when the book had been lent to me in the evening, and was to be returned the next morning, lest it might be missed or wanted.' This disposition being noticed by a Mr. Matthew Adams, who had a large collection of books, he offered the use of them to Franklin, who soon became an author, and composed several little pieces in verse. Two of these, a ballad, called The Lighthouse Tragedy,' and a song on the noted pirate, Blackbeard, were, by his brother's directions, printed: but the most unpoetic part of the story remains to be told - their author was despatched about the town to sell them. Franklin says, the first had a prodigious run, because the event was recent, and had made a great noise but they were wretched verses in point of style mere blindman's ditties.' His father seems to have been of the same opinion, for he ridiculed . the productions; and thus,' says their author, my exultation was checked, and I escaped the misfortune of being a very miserable poet.' At this period he formed an acquaintance with a young man of the name of Collins, who was also a great lover of books. They were frequently together, and were both fond of disputation, which they sometimes carried on in writing. This, probably, assisted in bringing out some of the dormant qualities of Franklin's mind; but his style was greatly inferior to that of his rival, to improve which he took the following method I bought,' he says, an odd volume of The Spectator, read it over and over, and was much delighted with it. I thought the writing excellent, and wished, if possible, to imitate it. With this view, I took some of the papers, and making short hints of the sentiments in each sentence, laid them by a few days; and then, without looking at the book, tried to complete the papers again, by expressing each hinted sentiment at length, and as fully as it had been expressed before in any suitable words that should occur to me. Then I compared my Spectator with the original, discovered some of my faults, and corrected them. But I found I wanted a stock of words, or a readiness in recollecting and using them, which I thought I should have acquired before that time, if I had gone on making verses; since the continual search for words of the same import, but of different length to suit the measure, or of different sound, for the rhyme, would have laid me under constant necessity of searching for variety, and also have tended to fix that variety in my mind, and make me master of it. Therefore I took some of the tales in the Spectator, and turned them into verse; and, after a time, when I had pretty well forgotten the prose, turned them back again. I also, sometimes jumbled my collection of hints into confusion, and, after some weeks, endeavored to reduce them into the best order, before I began to form the full sentences and complete the subject, This was to teach me method in the arrangement of my thoughts. By comparing my works with the original, I discovered many faults, and corrected them; but sometimes had the pleasure to fancy that, in certain particulars of small consequence, I had been fortunate enough to improve the method of the language; and this encouraged me to think that I might, in time, come to be a tolerable English writer, of which I was extremely ambitious.

Franklin added to his habits of industry a self-denial and control over his passions, even at this early age, which were truly surprising. When. about sixteen, a work fell into his hands, which recommended vegetable diet: this he determined to follow, and undertook to provide for himself, upon his brother's allowing him one-half of the ordinary expense of his board, of which half, even, he contrived, by great abstemiousness, to save a considerable portion. Here was a new fund for the purchase of books; and he accordingly obtained such as enabled him to perfect himself in those elementary branches of knowledge in which he was deficient, among which were arithmetic and geometry.