« PreviousContinue »
(Thus far Dr. Franklin, in his usual style of ingenuous simplicity and philosophical discernment, has communicated' to the world a memoir of himself. It is, however, well known both in this country and America, that amongst his papers was found a continuation of 'it to a much later period of his life; but this, with many other invaluable, moral, political, and philosophical writings, the legatee has thought proper to suppress. In order, therefore, to gratify the laudable curiosity of the public, the following continuation has been subjoined, written by the late Dr. Stuber of Philadelphia; who for a series of years, was honoured with the friendship and unlimited confidence of Dr. Franklin). EDITOR.
THE promotion of literature had been little attended to in Pensylvania. Most of the inhabitants were too much immersed in business to think of scientific pursuits; and those few, whose inclinations led them to study, found it difficult to gratify them, from the want of libraries sufficiently large. In such circumstances, the establishment of a public library was an important event. This was first set on foot by Franklin, about the year 1731. Fifty persons subscribed forty shillings each, and agreed to pay ten shillings annually. The number increased; and in 1743, the company was incorporated by the name of “The Library Company of Philadelphia. » Several other companies were formed in this city in imitation of it. These were all at length united with the Library Company of Philadelphia, which thus received a considerable accession of books and property. It now contains about eight thousand volumes on all subjects, a philosophical apparatus, and a well-chosen collection of natural and artificial curiosities. For its support the company now possesses landed property of considerable value. They have lately built an elegant house in Fifth-street, in the front of which will be erected a marble statue of their founder, Benjamin Franklin.
This institution was greatly encouraged by the friends of literature in America and in Great Britain. The Penn family distinguished themselves by their donations. Amongst the earliest friends of this institution must be mentioned the late Peter Collinson, the friend and correspondent of Dr. Franklin. He not only made considerable presents himself, and obtained others from his friends, but voluntarily undertook to manage the business of the Company in London, recommending books, purchasing and shipping them. His extensive knowledge, and zeal for the promotion of science, enabled him to execute this important trust with the greatest advantage. He continued to perform these services for more than thirty years, and uniformly refused to accept of any compensation. During
this time, he communicated to the directors every information relative to improvements and discoveries in the arts, agriculture, and philosophy.
The beneficial influence of this institution was soon evident. The terms of subscription to it were so moderate that it was accessible to every one. Its advantages were not confined to the opulent. The citizens in the middle and lower walks of life were equally partakers of them. Hence a degree of information was extended amongst all classes of people. The example was soon followed. Libraries were established in various places, and they are now become very numerous in the United States, and particularly in Pennsylvania. It is to be hoped that they will be still more widely extended, and that information will be every where increazed. This will be the best security for maintaining our liberties. A nation of wellinformed men, who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God has given them, cannot be enslaved. It is in the regions of ignorance that tyranny reigns. It flies before the light of science. Let the citizens of America, then, encourage institutions calculated to diffuse knowledge amongst the people; and amongst these, public libraries are not the least important.
In 1732, Franklin began to publish Poor Richard's Almanack. This was remarkable for the numerous and valuable concise maxims which it contained, all tending to exhort to industry and frugality. It was continued for many years. In the almanack for the last year, all the maxims were collected in an address to the reader, entitled, The Way to Wealth. This has been translated into various languages, and inserted in different publications. It has also been printed on a large sheet, and may be seen framed in many houses in this city. This address contains, perhaps, the best practical system of economy that ever has appeared. It is written in a manner intelligible to every one, and which cannot fail of convincing every reader of the justice and propriety of the remarks and advice which it contains. The demand for this almanack was so great, that ten thousand have been sold in one year, which must be considered as a very large number, especially when we reflect, that this country was, at that time, but thinly peopled. It cannot be doubted that the salutary maxims con ained in these almanacks must have made a favourable impression upon many of the readers of them.
It was not long before Franklin entered upon his political career. In the year 1736, he was appointed clerk to the general assembly of Pennsylvania, and was re-elected by succeeding assemblies for several years until he was chosen a representative for the city of Philadelphia.
Bradford, the printer, mentioned above, was possessed of some advantages over Franklin, by beeing post-master, thereby having an opportunity of circulating his paper
more extensively, and thus rendering it a better vehicle for advertisements, etc. Franklin, in his turn, enjoyed these advantages, by being appointed post-master of Philadelphia in 1737. Bradford, while in office, had acted ungenerously towards Franklin, preventing as much as possible the circulation of his paper. He had now an opportunity of retaliating; but his nobleness of soul prevented him from making use of it.
The police of Philadelphia had early appointed watchmen, whose duty it was to guard the citizens against the midnight robber, and to give an immediate alarm in case of fire. This duty is, perhaps, one of the most important that can be committed to any set of men. The regulations, however, were not sufficiently strict. Franklin saw the dangers arising from this cause, and suggested an alteration, so as to oblige the guardians of the night to be more watchful over the lives and property of the citizens. The propriety of this was immediately perceived, and a reform was effected.
There is nothing more dangerous to growing cities than fires. Other causes operate slowly, and almost imperceptibly; but these in a moment render abortive the labours of ages. On this account there should be, in all cities, ample provisions to prevent fires from spreading. Franklin early saw the necessity of these; and, about the year 1738, formed the first fire company in this city. The example was soon followed by others; and there are now numerous fire companies in the city and liberties. To these may be attributed in a great degree the activity in extinguishing fires, for which the citizens of Philadelphia are distinguished, and the inconsiderable damage this city has sustained from this cause. Some time after, Franklin suggested the plan for an association for insuring houses from losses by fire, which was adopted; and the association continues to this day. The advantages experienced from it have been great.
From the first settlement of Pennsylvania, a spirit of dispute appears to have prevailed among its inhabitants. During the life-time of William Penn, the constitution had been three times altered. After this period the history of Pennsylvania is little else than a recital of the quarrels between the proprietaries, or their governors, and the assembly. The proprietaries contended for the right of exempting their land from taxes; to which the assembly would by no means consent. This subject of dispute interfered in almost every question, and prevented the most salutary laws from being enacted. This at times subjected the people to great inconveniences. In the year 1744, during a war between France and Great Britain, some French and Indians had made inroads upon the frontier inhabitants of the province, who were unprovided for such an attack. It became necessary that the citizens should arm for their defence. Governor Thomas recommended to the assembly, who were then sitting, to pass
a militia law. To this they would agree only upon condition, that he should give his assent to certain laws, which appeared to them calculated to promote the interests of the people. As he thought these laws would be injurious to the proprietaries, he refused his assent to them; and the assembly broke up without passing a militia bill. The situation of the province was at this time truly alarming: exposed to the continual inroad of an enemy, and destitute of every means of defence. At this crisis Franklin stepped forth, and proposed to a meeting of the citizens of Philadelphia, a plan of a voluntary association for the defence of the province. This was approved of, and signed by twelve hundred persons immediately. Copies were circulated without delay through the province; and in a short time the number of signatures amounted to ten thousand. Franklin was chosen colonel of the Philadelphia regiment; but he did not think proper to accept of the honour.
Pursuits of a different nature now occupied the greatest part of his attention for some years. He engaged in a course of electrical experiments, with all the ardor and thirst for discovery which characterized the philosophers of that day. Of all the branches of experimental philosophy, electricity had been least explored. The attractive power of amber is mentioned by Theophrastus and Pliny, and from them, by later naturalists. In the year 1600, Gilbert, an English physician, enlarged considerably the catalogue of substances which have the property of attracting light bodies. Boyle, Otto Guericke, a burgomaster of Magdeburg, celebrated as the inventor of the air-pump, Dr. Wall, and Sir Isaac Newton, added some facts. Guericke first observed the repulsive power of electricity, and the light and noise produced by it. In 1709, Hawkesbec communicated some important observations and experiments to the world. For several years electricity was entirely neglected, until Mr. Grey applied himself to it, in 1728, with great assiduity. He and his friend Mr. Wheeler, made a great variety of experiments, in which they demonstrated, that electricity may be communicated from one body to another, even without being in contact, and in this way may be conducted to a great distance. Mr. Grey afterwards found, that, by suspending rods of iron by silk or hair lines, and bringing an excited tube under them, sparks might be drawn, and a light perceived at the extremities in the dark. M. du Faye, intendant of the French king's gardens, made a number of experiments, which added not a little to the science. He made the discovery of two kinds of electricity, which he called vi. treous and resinous; the former produced by rubbing glass, the latter from excited sulphur, sealing-wax, etc. But this he afterwards gave up as erroneous. Between the years 1739 and 1742, Desaguliers made a number of experiments, but added' little of importance. He first used the terms conductors and electrics per se. In 1742,
several ingenious Germans engaged in this subject, of these the principal were, professor Boze of Wittemberg, professor Winkler of Leipsic, Gordon, a Scotch Benedictine monk, professor of philosophy at Erfurt, and Dr. Ludolf of Berlin. The result of their researches astonished the philosophers of Europe. Their apparatus was large, and by means of it they were enabled to collect large quantities of the electric fluid, and thus to produce phenomena which had been hitherto unobserved. They killed small birds, and set spirits on fire. Their experiments excite the curiosity of her philosophers. Collinson, about the year 1745, sent to the Library Company of Philadelphia, an account of these experiments, together with a tube, and directions how to use it. Franklin, with some of his friends, immediately engaged in a course of experiments, the result of which is well known. He was enabled to make a number of important discoveries, and to propose theories to account for various phenomena, which have been universally adopted, and which bid fair to endure for ages. His observations he communicated in a series of letters, to his friend Collinson, the first of which is dated March 28, 1747. In these he shews the power of points in drawing and throwing off the electrical matter, which had hitherto escaped the notice of eleetricians. He also made the grand discovery of a plus and minus, or of a positive and negative state of electricity. We give him the honour of this, without hesitation; although the English have claimed it for their countryman, Dr. Watson. Watson's paper is dated January 21, 1748; Franklin's July 11, 1747: several months prior. Shortly after, Franklin, from his principles of the plus and minus state, explained, in a satisfactory manner, the phenomena of the Leyden phial, first observed by Mr. Cuneus, or by professor Muschenbroeck, of Leyden, which had much perplexed philosophers. He shewed 'clearly, that when Charged, the bottle contained no
more electricity than before, but that as much was taken from one side as was thrown on the other; and that, to discharge it, nothing was necessary but to produce a communication between the two sides, by which the eqnilibrium might be restored, and that then no signs of electricity would remain. He afterwards demonstrated, by experiments, that the electricity did not reside in the coating, as had been supposed, but in the pores of the glass itself. After a phial was charged, he removed the coating, and found that upon applying a new coating, the shoek might still be received. In the year 1749, he first suggested his idea of explaining the phenomena of thunder-gusts, and of the aurora borealis, upon electrical principles. He points out many particulars in which lightning and electricity agree; and he adduces many facts, and reasonings from facts, in support of his positions. In the same year he conceived the astonishingly bold and grand idea of ascertaining the truth of his doctrine, by actually drawing down the