Page images
PDF
EPUB

INTRODUCTION.

It has been frequently observed, that one of the most interesting and instructive employments of an expanded mind, is the contemplation of characters remarkable for their genius and their virtues; and from this cause it is, that the life of Dr. Franklin has been held in such high estimation in the literary world. Whether we regard this great man as a philosopher, a politician, or a moralist, we are equally amused and benefited. In every page we discover incidents to excite our curiosity, knowledge to eward our researches, something to admire, and some. hing to imitate. We trace the course of a life marked in its origin by obscurity, to its advancement as a legis. lator; we pursue the gradations of genius from a state unaided by scientific tuition, to that of ranking with the first of philosophers; we mark the means and the good fortune, by which an individual emerged from poverty to opulence and fame; and we contemplate an instance of industry, econoniy, and perseverance, accompanied by inflexible integrity, unostentatious manners, strong talents, and true benevolence of mind, elevating an humble printer to almost the highest pinnacle of human ambition.

But it is not intended here to pronounce an elaborate eulogium on the eminent qualities which distingạished this great man in the various and important scenes in which he was engaged, or to write a splendid panegyric on the extent of his genius or the benevolence of his heart: it is intended merely to give a sketch of his character, withont exaggeration, or prejudice, and containing one good quality, that of plain and simple truth.

The powers of Dr. Franklin's mind were strong and various. There were few subjects of common utility on which he could not comment, and he turned his thoughts to none which he did not improve and illustrate. As a philosopher his merit is universally acknowledged, and Science, while she glories in his discoveries, will record his name in the inpartial registers of fame. In solid practical wisdom, which consists in pursuing valuable ends by

be longest also; that it was protracted so far beyond the ordinary span allotted to humanity, as to avail us of his wisdom and virtue, in the establishment of our freedom ia the west; and to bless him with a view of its dawn in the east, where men seemed till now to have learned every thing — but how to be free.

The character of Dr. Franklin in private life was mark. ed with those finer feelings which are calculated to render mankind and particularly friends and descendants happy. On every occasion he seems to have exerted himself in the promotion of virtue, toleration, and liberality of sen. timent: to excite a spirit of diligence and industry among his countrymen; to improve literature and science; and to advance the interests of humanity and universal benevolence.

In company he was sententious but not fluent; more inclined to listen than to talk; an instructive rather than a pleasing companion. Yet his conversation was valuable, not only on account of the prominence of truth and vir tue to be discovered in it, but from a precision and accuracy of definition which rendered him intelligible to the meanest capacity; a habit he had acquired from mathematical study. He was ever impatient of interruption; and often mentioned the custom of the Indians, who always remain silent some time before they give an answer to a question which they have heard attentively; very unlike some of the politer societies in Europe, among whom it is difficult to complete a single sentence before another begins to reply.

The Doctor, in early life, was economical from principle; in his latter days perhaps from labit. « Poor Richard, held the purse strings of the president of Philadelphia; yet the following anecdote related by Dr. Underhill, will prove the goodness of his heart as well as the generosity of his disposition. Soon after I was introduced, writes the Doctor, an airy thoughtless relation of Dr. Franklin's, from New England state, entered the room. It seems he was on a party of pleasure; and had been so much involved in it, for three weeks, as not to have paid his respects to his venerable relative. The purpose of his present visit was to solicit the loan of a small sum of money, to enable him to pay his bills and transport himself home. He preluded his request with a detail of embarrassments which might have befallen the most circumspect. The Doctor inquiring how much was

he replied, with some hesitation, fifty dollars. Franklin went to his escritoir, and counted out a hundred. He received them with many promises of punctual pay: ment, and hastily took up a pen to draw a note of hand for the cash. The Doctor, who perceived the nature of the borrower's embarrassment better than he was aware, and prepossessed with the improbability of ever recovering his cash, again stepped across the room, and laying his

the sum,

hand gently upon his cousin's arm, said, "Stop, cousin, we will save the paper; a quarter of a sheet is not of great value, but it is worth saving: , conveying at once a liberal gift and gentle reprimand for the borrower's prevarication and extravagance.

Respecting religion, after renouncing his sceptical principles, as neither true, nor beneficial to society, he became a firm believer in the Scriptures, and never undertook any important transaction without having first petitioned the Almighty to prosper his endeavours.

The death of Dr. Franklin caused a vacancy in society which will not easily be occupied. By it mankind lost a benefactor, humanity a friend, and philosophy its brightest ornament. The celebrated Dr. Richard Price thus writes to a gentleman in Philadelphia upon the subject of Franklin's memoirs of himself.

«1 am hardly able to tell you how kindly I take the letters with which you favour me. Your last, containing an account of the death of our excellent friend, Dr. Frank. lin, and the circumstances attending it, deserves my par. ticular gratitude. The account which he has left of his life will show, in a striking example, how a man, by talents, industry, and integrity, may rise from obscurity to the first eminence and consequence in the world: but it brings his history no lower than the year 1757 *), and ! understand that since he sent once the copy, which I have read, he has been able to make no additions to it. It is with a melancholy regret that I think of his death; but to death we are all bound by the irrevocable order of nature, and in looking forward to it, there is comfort in being able to reflect — that we have not lived in vain, and that all the useful and virtuous shall meet in a better country beyond the grave.

“ Dr. Franklin, ill the last letter I received from him, after mentioning his age and infirmities, observes, that it has been kiudly ordered by the Author of Nature. that as we draw nearer the conclusion of life, we are furnished with more helps to wear us from it, amongst which one of the strong st is the loss of dear friends. I was delighted with the account you gave me in your letter of the honour shewn to his memory at Philadelphia, and by Cougress; and yesterday I received a high additional pleasure, by being informed that the National Assembly of France had determined to go into mourning for hini. What a glorious scene is opened there! The annals of the world furnish no parallel to it. One of the honours of our departed friend is, that he has contributed much to it.,

[ocr errors]

lis

much to be regretted that the papers here mentioned by Dr. Price have not been given to the public, as ai present the memoirs of Dr, Pranklin written by himself, conclude on the day of his variada, in 1730.

Philadelphia never displayed a scene of superior grandeur than at the funeral of this great man. His remains were interred on the 21st of April, 1790; and the con. course of people assembled was inimense. The body was attended to the grave by thirty clergymen, and persons of all ranks and professions, arranged in the greatest order. The bells in the city were muffled and tolled, accompanied by a discharge of artillery; even the newspapers were put in mourning; and nothing omitted which could shew the respect and

veneration of his fellowcitizens. The Congress, on this occasion, ordered a general mourning for one month throughout the United States; and the National Assembly of France decreed a general mourning for three days. “The august spectacle of the first free people on earth in mourning for the father of the liberty of two worlds, " says a gentleman in a letter dated Paris, June 14, “added a peculiar interest and solemnity to the session of this day, So memorable a victory of philosophy over prejudice, is not recorded in the annals of the human race. The com. mon council of Paris paid an extraordinary tribute of homage to his memory by attending at the funeral oration delivered by the Abbé Fauchett, at the Rotunda, in the New Market, which was hung with black, illuminated with lamps and chandeliers, and decorated for the occasion with the most expensive devices.

« Thou bright luminary of freedom,» apostrophized the Abbé, « why should I call thee great? Grandeur is too often the scourge of the human kind, whose felicity thy goodness was ever exerted to promote. Thou hast been the benefactor of the Universe! Be thy name ever revered! May it be the comfort of the wretched, and the joy of those who are free! What man is more entitled to our gratitude? It was not sufficient to controul the lightning of heaven, and to avert the fury of the growling tempest: thou hast rendered unto mankind a service still greater; thou extinguished the thunder of earthly despots, which was ready to be hurled upon their trembling subjects. What pleasure must it have been to tliee on earth to perceive others profiting by thy precepts and thy example! With what greater rapture must thou now contemplate thy own diffusion of light! It will illumine the world? and man, perceiving his natural dignity, will raise his soul to heaven, and bow to no empire but that which is founded on virtue and reason. I have but one wish to utter; it is a wish dear to my heart; a wish always cherished in thy virtuous and benevolent bosom. Surely it will derive some favour from the throne of God, when uttered in the name of Franklin! It is, that in becoming free, men may become also wiser and better: there is no other means of deserving liberty.»

Panegyric, which has so often been disgracefully employed in strewing flowers on the tombs of the worthless, redeenis her credit when she comes forth with Truth by

her side, to immortalize the memory of the great and the good. To these epithets, if greatness and goodness be measured by the capacity and the inclination to serve mankind, no man had ever a fairer title than Benjamin Franklin.

The following brief character of this great man is extracted from the account of one of his intimate friends, and is allowed to contain the most faithful description, and just encomium, of any that has yet appeared. The genius of Franklin was vigorous. He was qualified to penetrate into every science; and his unremitted diligence left no field of knowledge unexplored. His curiosity was unbounded; his inquiries extended over the face of nature; but he appeared most interested in the study of man. Truth was the sole object of his researches, he was therefore no sectary. Reason was his guide, and the volume of nature being always open, he carefully, diligently, and faithfully perused it. His political and philosophical attainments were very considerable and extraordinary. He never aimed to attain the splendor of eloquence, because the demonstrative plainness of his manner was superior to it. Though he neither loved political debate, nor excelled in it, yet he maintained great influence in public assemblies, and discovered an uncommon aptitude in his remarks on all occasions. He was averse to taking the lead in investigations, which were unlikely to terminate in any degree of certainty. To come forward in questions which in their nature are definite, and in their issue problematic, does not comport with the caution of a man accustomed to look for demonstration. Franklin reserved his observations for those cases which science could enlighten, and common sense approve. His style was simple, his understanding clear, his judgments decisive, and he never involved his ideas in a croud of expressions. If he used metaphors, it was to illustrate, and not to embellish the truth. But whatever claims to eminence Dr. Franklin may have as a politician or scholar he shone with superior lustre as a man and a citizen. He was eminently great in common things. Perhaps no man ever existed whose life can with more justice be denominated useful. Nothing passed through his hands without receiving improvement. No person went into his company without gaining wisdom. His sagacity was so sharp, and his scientific knowledge so varions, that whatever might be the profession or occupation of those with whom he conversed, he could meet them upon their own ground. He coul enliven every conversation with an anecdote, and conclude it with a moral. His life was a perpetual lecture against the idle, the extravagant, and the proud. He ainied to inspire mankind with a love of industry, temperance, and frugality; and he uniformly endeavoured to promote the important interests of humanity. He never wasted a moment of time, or lavished one farthing of money in folly or dissipation. Such expences as the dignity of his

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »