Autobiography of Benjamin franklin an excerpt summary

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An Electronic Classics Series PublicationThe Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin with introduction and notes edited by Charles W. Eliot is a publication of The Electronic Classics Series. This Portable Document file is furnished free and without any charge of any kind. Any person using this document file, for any purpose, and in any way does so at his or her own risk. Neither the Pennsylvania State University nor Jim Manis, Editor, nor anyone associated with the Pennsylvania State University as- sumes any responsibility for the material contained within the document or for the file as an electronic transmission, in any way. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin with introduction and notes edited by Charles W. Eliot , The Electronic Classics Series, Jim Manis, Editor, PSU-Hazleton, Hazleton, PA 18202 is a Portable Document File produced as part of an ongoing publication project to bring classical works of literature, in English, to free and easy access of those wishing to make use of them. Jim Manis is a faculty member of the English Department of The Pennsylvania State University. This page and any preceding page(s) are restricted by copyright. The text of the following pages are not copyrighted within the United States; however, the fonts used may be. Cover design: Jim Manis Copyright © 1998 - 2012 The Pennsylvania State University is an equal opportunity University.The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin work as a printer, but after a few months he was induced by THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF Governor Keith to go to London, where, finding Keith’s prom- BENJAMIN FRANKLIN ises empty, he again worked as a compositor till he was brought back to Philadelphia by a merchant named Denman, who gave him a position in his business. On Denman’s death WITH INTRODUCTION AND NOTES EDITED he returned to his former trade, and shortly set up a print- BY CHARLES W. ELIOT, L.L.D., ing house of his own from which he published “The Pennsyl- P. F. COLLIER & SON COMPANY, NEW YORK vania Gazette,” to which he contributed many essays, and (1909) which he made a medium for agitating a variety of local reforms. In 1732 he began to issue his famous “Poor Richard’s INTRODUCTORY NOTE Almanac” for the enrichment of which he borrowed or com- posed those pithy utterances of worldly wisdom which are Benjamin Franklin was born in Milk Street, Boston, on Janu- the basis of a large part of his popular reputation. In 1758, ary 6, 1706. His father, Josiah Franklin, was a tallow chan- the year in which he ceases writing for the Almanac, he dler who married twice, and of his seventeen children Ben- printed in it “Father Abraham’s Sermon,” now regarded as jamin was the youngest son. His schooling ended at ten, the most famous piece of literature produced in Colonial and at twelve he was bound apprentice to his brother James, America. a printer, who published the “New England Courant.” To this Meantime Franklin was concerning himself more and more journal he became a contributor, and later was for a time its with public affairs. He set forth a scheme for an Academy, nominal editor. But the brothers quarreled, and Benjamin which was taken up later and finally developed into the ran away, going first to New York, and thence to Philadel- University of Pennsylvania; and he founded an “American phia, where he arrived in October, 1723. He soon obtained 3The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin Philosophical Society” for the purpose of enabling scientific he lost his seat in the Assembly; but in 1764 he was again men to communicate their discoveries to one another. He despatched to England as agent for the colony, this time to himself had already begun his electrical researches, which, petition the King to resume the government from the hands with other scientific inquiries, he called on in the intervals of the proprietors. In London he actively opposed the pro- of money-making and politics to the end of his life. In 1748 posed Stamp Act, but lost the credit for this and much of he sold his business in order to get leisure for study, having his popularity through his securing for a friend the office of now acquired comparative wealth; and in a few years he had stamp agent in America. Even his effective work in helping made discoveries that gave him a reputation with the learned to obtain the repeal of the act left him still a suspect; but throughout Europe. In politics he proved very able both as he continued his efforts to present the case for the Colonies an administrator and as a controversialist; but his record as as the troubles thickened toward the crisis of the Revolu- an office-holder is stained by the use he made of his posi- tion. In 1767 he crossed to France, where he was received tion to advance his relatives. His most notable service in with honor; but before his return home in 1775 he lost his home politics was his reform of the postal system; but his position as postmaster through his share in divulging to fame as a statesman rests chiefly on his services in connec- Massachusetts the famous letter of Hutchinson and Oliver. tion with the relations of the Colonies with Great Britain, On his arrival in Philadelphia he was chosen a member of and later with France. In 1757 he was sent to England to the Continental Congress and in 1777 he was dispatched to protest against the influence of the Penns in the govern- France as commissioner for the United States. Here he re- ment of the colony, and for five years he remained there, mained till 1785, the favorite of French society; and with striving to enlighten the people and the ministry of En- such success did he conduct the affairs of his country that gland as to Colonial conditions. On his return to America he when he finally returned he received a place only second to played an honorable part in the Paxton affair, through which that of Washington as the champion of American indepen- 4The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin dence. He died on April 17, 1790. anecdotes of my ancestors. You may remember the inquiries The first five chapters of the Autobiography were com- I made among the remains of my relations when you were posed in England in 1771, continued in 1784-5, and again with me in England, and the journey I undertook for that in 1788, at which date he brought it down to 1757. After a purpose. Imagining it may be equally agreeable to you to most extraordinary series of adventures, the original form know the circumstances of my life, many of which you are of the manuscript was finally printed by Mr. John Bigelow, yet unacquainted with, and expecting the enjoyment of a and is here reproduced in recognition of its value as a pic- week’s uninterrupted leisure in my present country retire- ture of one of the most notable personalities of Colonial ment, I sit down to write them for you. To which I have times, and of its acknowledged rank as one of the great besides some other inducements. Having emerged from the autobiographies of the world. poverty and obscurity in which I was born and bred, to a state of affluence and some degree of reputation in the world, BENJAMIN FRANKLIN and having gone so far through life with a considerable share HIS AUTOBIOGRAPHY of felicity, the conducing means I made use of, which with 1706-1757 the blessing of God so well succeeded, my posterity may like to know, as they may find some of them suitable to TWYFORD, at the Bishop of St. Asaph’s, 1771. their own situations, and therefore fit to be imitated. That felicity, when I reflected on it, has induced me some- The country-seat of Bishop Shipley, the good bishop, as times to say, that were it offered to my choice, I should Dr. Franklin used to style him.B. have no objection to a repetition of the same life from its beginning, only asking the advantages authors have in a DEAR SON: I have ever had pleasure in obtaining any little After the words “agreeable to” the words “some of” were inter- lined and afterward effaced.—B. 5The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin second edition to correct some faults of the first. So I might, tive of good to the possessor, and to others that are within besides correcting the faults, change some sinister accidents his sphere of action; and therefore, in many cases, it would and events of it for others more favorable. But though this not be altogether absurd if a man were to thank God for his were denied, I should still accept the offer. Since such a vanity among the other comforts of life. repetition is not to be expected, the next thing most like And now I speak of thanking God, I desire with all humil- living one’s life over again seems to be a recollection of that ity to acknowledge that I owe the mentioned happiness of life, and to make that recollection as durable as possible by my past life to His kind providence, which lead me to the putting it down in writing. means I used and gave them success. My belief of this in- Hereby, too, I shall indulge the inclination so natural in duces me to hope, though I must not presume, that the old men, to be talking of themselves and their own past same goodness will still be exercised toward me, in continu- actions; and I shall indulge it without being tiresome to ing that happiness, or enabling me to bear a fatal reverse, others, who, through respect to age, might conceive them- which I may experience as others have done: the complex- selves obliged to give me a hearing, since this may be read ion of my future fortune being known to Him only in whose or not as any one pleases. And, lastly (I may as well confess power it is to bless to us even our afflictions. it, since my denial of it will be believed by nobody), per- The notes one of my uncles (who had the same kind of haps I shall a good deal gratify my own vanity. Indeed, I curiosity in collecting family anecdotes) once put into my scarce ever heard or saw the introductory words, “Without hands, furnished me with several particulars relating to our vanity I may say,” &c., but some vain thing immediately ancestors. From these notes I learned that the family had followed. Most people dislike vanity in others, whatever share lived in the same village, Ecton, in Northamptonshire, for they have of it themselves; but I give it fair quarter wher- three hundred years, and how much longer he knew not ever I meet with it, being persuaded that it is often produc- (perhaps from the time when the name of Franklin, that 6The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin before was the name of an order of people, was assumed by jamin and Josiah. I will give you what account I can of them as a surname when others took surnames all over the them, at this distance from my papers, and if these are not kingdom), on a freehold of about thirty acres, aided by the lost in my absence, you will among them find many more smith’s business, which had continued in the family till his particulars. time, the eldest son being always bred to that business; a Thomas was bred a smith under his father; but, being custom which he and my father followed as to their eldest ingenious, and encouraged in learning (as all my brothers sons. When I searched the registers at Ecton, I found an were) by an Esquire Palmer, then the principal gentleman in account of their births, marriages and burials from the year that parish, he qualified himself for the business of scriv- 1555 only, there being no registers kept in that parish at ener; became a considerable man in the county; was a chief any time preceding. By that register I perceived that I was mover of all public-spirited undertakings for the county or the youngest son of the youngest son for five generations town of Northampton, and his own village, of which many back. My grandfather Thomas, who was born in 1598, lived instances were related of him; and much taken notice of at Ecton till he grew too old to follow business longer, when and patronized by the then Lord Halifax. He died in 17O2, he went to live with his son John, a dyer at Banbury, in January 6, old style, just four years to a day before I was Oxfordshire, with whom my father served an apprenticeship. born. The account we received of his life and character from There my grandfather died and lies buried. We saw his grave- some old people at Ecton, I remember, struck you as some- stone in 1758. His eldest son Thomas lived in the house at thing extraordinary, from its similarity to what you knew of Ecton, and left it with the land to his only child, a daugh- mine. ter, who, with her husband, one Fisher, of Wellingborough, “Had he died on the same day,” you said, “one might sold it to Mr. Isted, now lord of the manor there. My grand- have supposed a transmigration.” father had four sons that grew up, viz.: Thomas, John, Ben- John was bred a dyer, I believe of woolens. Benjamin was 7The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin bred a silk dyer, serving an apprenticeship at London. He wanting as appears by the numbering, but there still remain was an ingenious man. I remember him well, for when I was eight volumes in folio, and twenty-four in quarto and in a boy he came over to my father in Boston, and lived in the octavo. A dealer in old books met with them, and knowing house with us some years. He lived to a great age. His grand- me by my sometimes buying of him, he brought them to me. son, Samuel Franklin, now lives in Boston. He left behind It seems my uncle must have left them here, when he went him two quarto volumes, MS., of his own poetry, consisting to America, which was about fifty years since. There are of little occasional pieces addressed to his friends and rela- many of his notes in the margins. tions, of which the following, sent to me, is a specimen. He This obscure family of ours was early in the Reformation, had formed a short-hand of his own, which he taught me, and continued Protestants through the reign of Queen Mary, but, never practicing it, I have now forgot it. I was named when they were sometimes in danger of trouble on account after this uncle, there being a particular affection between of their zeal against popery. They had got an English Bible, him and my father. He was very pious, a great attender of and to conceal and secure it, it was fastened open with sermons of the best preachers, which he took down in his tapes under and within the cover of a joint-stool. When my short-hand, and had with him many volumes of them. He great-great-grandfather read it to his family, he turned up was also much of a politician; too much, perhaps, for his the joint-stool upon his knees, turning over the leaves then station. There fell lately into my hands, in London, a collec- under the tapes. One of the children stood at the door to tion he had made of all the principal pamphlets, relating to give notice if he saw the apparitor coming, who was an of- public affairs, from 1641 to 1717; many of the volumes are ficer of the spiritual court. In that case the stool was turned down again upon its feet, when the Bible remained con- Here follow in the margin the words, in brackets, “here insert it,” but the poetry is not given. Mr. Sparks informs us (Life of cealed under it as before. This anecdote I had from my uncle Franklin, p. 6) that these volumes had been preserved, and were Benjamin. The family continued all of the Church of En- in possession of Mrs. Emmons, of Boston, great-granddaughter of their author. 8The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin gland till about the end of Charles the Second’s reign, when as ‘a godly, learned Englishman,” if I remember the words some of the ministers that had been outed for nonconfor- rightly. I have heard that he wrote sundry small occasional mity holding conventicles in Northamptonshire, Benjamin pieces, but only one of them was printed, which I saw now and Josiah adhered to them, and so continued all their lives: many years since. It was written in 1675, in the home-spun the rest of the family remained with the Episcopal Church. verse of that time and people, and addressed to those then Josiah, my father, married young, and carried his wife concerned in the government there. It was in favor of lib- with three children into New England, about 1682. The con- erty of conscience, and in behalf of the Baptists, Quakers, venticles having been forbidden by law, and frequently dis- and other sectaries that had been under persecution, as- turbed, induced some considerable men of his acquaintance cribing the Indian wars, and other distresses that had be- to remove to that country, and he was prevailed with to fallen the country, to that persecution, as so many judg- accompany them thither, where they expected to enjoy their ments of God to punish so heinous an offense, and exhort- mode of religion with freedom. By the same wife he had ing a repeal of those uncharitable laws. The whole appeared four children more born there, and by a second wife ten to me as written with a good deal of decent plainness and more, in all seventeen; of which I remember thirteen sitting manly freedom. The six concluding lines I remember, though at one time at his table, who all grew up to be men and I have forgotten the two first of the stanza; but the purport women, and married; I was the youngest son, and the young- of them was, that his censures proceeded from good-will, est child but two, and was born in Boston, New England. My and, therefore, he would be known to be the author. mother, the second wife, was Abiah Folger, daughter of Pe- ter Folger, one of the first settlers of New England, of whom “Because to be a libeller (says he) honorable mention is made by Cotton Mather in his church I hate it with my heart; history of that country, entitled Magnalia Christi Americana, From Sherburne town, where now I dwell 9The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin My name I do put here; large a family he could not well afford, and the mean living Without offense your real friend, many so educated were afterwards able to obtainreasons It is Peter Folgier.” that be gave to his friends in my hearingaltered his first intention, took me from the grammar-school, and sent me My elder brothers were all put apprentices to different trades. to a school for writing and arithmetic, kept by a then fa- I was put to the grammar- school at eight years of age, my mous man, Mr. George Brownell, very successful in his pro- father intending to devote me, as the tithe of his sons, to fession generally, and that by mild, encouraging methods. the service of the Church. My early readiness in learning to Under him I acquired fair writing pretty soon, but I failed in read (which must have been very early, as I do not remem- the arithmetic, and made no progress in it. At ten years old ber when I could not read), and the opinion of all his friends, I was taken home to assist my father in his business, which that I should certainly make a good scholar, encouraged was that of a tallow-chandler and sope-boiler; a business he him in this purpose of his. My uncle Benjamin, too, ap- was not bred to, but had assumed on his arrival in New proved of it, and proposed to give me all his short-hand England, and on finding his dying trade would not maintain volumes of sermons, I suppose as a stock to set up with, if I his family, being in little request. Accordingly, I was em- would learn his character. I continued, however, at the gram- ployed in cutting wick for the candles, filling the dipping mar-school not quite one year, though in that time I had mold and the molds for cast candles, attending the shop, risen gradually from the middle of the class of that year to going of errands, etc. be the head of it, and farther was removed into the next I disliked the trade, and had a strong inclination for the class above it, in order to go with that into the third at the sea, but my father declared against it; however, living near end of the year. But my father, in the meantime, from a the water, I was much in and about it, learnt early to swim view of the expense of a college education, which having so well, and to manage boats; and when in a boat or canoe 10The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin with other boys, I was commonly allowed to govern, espe- though I pleaded the usefulness of the work, mine convinced cially in any case of difficulty; and upon other occasions I me that nothing was useful which was not honest. was generally a leader among the boys, and sometimes led I think you may like to know something of his person and them into scrapes, of which I will mention one instance, as character. He had an excellent constitution of body, was of it shows an early projecting public spirit, tho’ not then justly middle stature, but well set, and very strong; he was inge- conducted. nious, could draw prettily, was skilled a little in music, and There was a salt-marsh that bounded part of the mill- had a clear pleasing voice, so that when he played psalm pond, on the edge of which, at high water, we used to stand tunes on his violin and sung withal, as he sometimes did in to fish for minnows. By much trampling, we had made it a an evening after the business of the day was over, it was mere quagmire. My proposal was to build a wharff there fit extremely agreeable to hear. He had a mechanical genius for us to stand upon, and I showed my comrades a large too, and, on occasion, was very handy in the use of other heap of stones, which were intended for a new house near tradesmen’s tools; but his great excellence lay in a sound the marsh, and which would very well suit our purpose. Ac- understanding and solid judgment in prudential matters, cordingly, in the evening, when the workmen were gone, I both in private and public affairs. In the latter, indeed, he assembled a number of my play-fellows, and working with was never employed, the numerous family he had to edu- them diligently like so many emmets, sometimes two or three cate and the straightness of his circumstances keeping him to a stone, we brought them all away and built our little close to his trade; but I remember well his being frequently wharff. The next morning the workmen were surprised at visited by leading people, who consulted him for his opin- missing the stones, which were found in our wharff. Inquiry ion in affairs of the town or of the church he belonged to, was made after the removers; we were discovered and com- and showed a good deal of respect for his judgment and plained of; several of us were corrected by our fathers; and advice: he was also much consulted by private persons about 11The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin their affairs when any difficulty occurred, and frequently suckled all her ten children. I never knew either my father chosen an arbitrator between contending parties. or mother to have any sickness but that of which they dy’d, At his table he liked to have, as often as he could, some he at 89, and she at 85 years of age. They lie buried together sensible friend or neighbor to converse with, and always at Boston, where I some years since placed a marble over took care to start some ingenious or useful topic for dis- their grave, with this inscription: course, which might tend to improve the minds of his chil- JOSIAH FRANKLIN, and dren. By this means he turned our attention to what was ABIAH his Wife, good, just, and prudent in the conduct of life; and little or lie here interred. They lived lovingly together in wedlock no notice was ever taken of what related to the victuals on fifty-five years. the table, whether it was well or ill dressed, in or out of Without an estate, or any gainful employment, By constant labor and industry, season, of good or bad flavor, preferable or inferior to this with God’s blessing, or that other thing of the kind, so that I was bro’t up in They maintained a large family comfortably, such a perfect inattention to those matters as to be quite and brought up thirteen children indifferent what kind of food was set before me, and so and seven grandchildren reputably. unobservant of it, that to this day if I am asked I can scarce From this instance, reader, tell a few hours after dinner what I dined upon. This has Be encouraged to diligence in thy calling, And distrust not Providence. been a convenience to me in travelling, where my compan- He was a pious and prudent man; ions have been sometimes very unhappy for want of a suit- She, a discreet and virtuous woman. Their youngest son, able gratification of their more delicate, because better in- In filial regard to their memory, structed, tastes and appetites. Places this stone. My mother had likewise an excellent constitution: she J.F. born 1655, died 1744, AEtat 89. A.F. born 1667, died 1752, —— 95. 12The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin By my rambling digressions I perceive myself to be grown machines for my experiments, while the intention of mak- old. I us’d to write more methodically. But one does not ing the experiment was fresh and warm in my mind. My dress for private company as for a public ball. ’Tis perhaps father at last fixed upon the cutler’s trade, and my uncle only negligence. Benjamin’s son Samuel, who was bred to that business in To return: I continued thus employed in my father’s busi- London, being about that time established in Boston, I was ness for two years, that is, till I was twelve years old; and sent to be with him some time on liking. But his expecta- my brother John, who was bred to that business, having left tions of a fee with me displeasing my father, I was taken my father, married, and set up for himself at Rhode Island, home again. there was all appearance that I was destined to supply his From a child I was fond of reading, and all the little money place, and become a tallow-chandler. But my dislike to the that came into my hands was ever laid out in books. Pleased trade continuing, my father was under apprehensions that with the Pilgrim’s Progress, my first collection was of John if he did not find one for me more agreeable, I should break Bunyan’s works in separate little volumes. I afterward sold away and get to sea, as his son Josiah had done, to his great them to enable me to buy R. Burton’s Historical Collections; vexation. He therefore sometimes took me to walk with him, they were small chapmen’s books, and cheap, 40 or 50 in all. and see joiners, bricklayers, turners, braziers, etc., at their My father’s little library consisted chiefly of books in po- work, that he might observe my inclination, and endeavor lemic divinity, most of which I read, and have since often to fix it on some trade or other on land. It has ever since regretted that, at a time when I had such a thirst for knowl- been a pleasure to me to see good workmen handle their edge, more proper books had not fallen in my way since it tools; and it has been useful to me, having learnt so much was now resolved I should not be a clergyman. Plutarch’s by it as to be able to do little jobs myself in my house when Lives there was in which I read abundantly, and I still think a workman could not readily be got, and to construct little that time spent to great advantage. There was also a book of 13The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin De Foe’s, called an Essay on Projects, and another of Dr. the greatest part of the night, when the book was borrowed Mather’s, called Essays to do Good, which perhaps gave me a in the evening and to be returned early in the morning, lest turn of thinking that had an influence on some of the prin- it should be missed or wanted. cipal future events of my life. And after some time an ingenious tradesman, Mr. Mat- This bookish inclination at length determined my father thew Adams, who had a pretty collection of books, and who to make me a printer, though he had already one son (James) frequented our printing-house, took notice of me, invited of that profession. In 1717 my brother James returned from me to his library, and very kindly lent me such books as I England with a press and letters to set up his business in chose to read. I now took a fancy to poetry, and made some Boston. I liked it much better than that of my father, but little pieces; my brother, thinking it might turn to account, still had a hankering for the sea. To prevent the apprehended encouraged me, and put me on composing occasional bal- effect of such an inclination, my father was impatient to lads. One was called The Lighthouse Tragedy, and contained have me bound to my brother. I stood out some time, but at an account of the drowning of Captain Worthilake, with his last was persuaded, and signed the indentures when I was two daughters: the other was a sailor’s song, on the taking yet but twelve years old. I was to serve as an apprentice till of Teach (or Blackbeard) the pirate. They were wretched stuff, I was twenty-one years of age, only I was to be allowed in the Grub-street-ballad style; and when they were printed journeyman’s wages during the last year. In a little time I he sent me about the town to sell them. The first sold won- made great proficiency in the business, and became a useful derfully, the event being recent, having made a great noise. hand to my brother. I now had access to better books. An This flattered my vanity; but my father discouraged me by acquaintance with the apprentices of booksellers enabled ridiculing my performances, and telling me verse-makers were me sometimes to borrow a small one, which I was careful to generally beggars. So I escaped being a poet, most probably return soon and clean. Often I sat up in my room reading a very bad one; but as prose writing bad been of great use to 14The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin me in the course of my life, and was a principal means of my to it. I took the contrary side, perhaps a little for dispute’s advancement, I shall tell you how, in such a situation, I sake. He was naturally more eloquent, had a ready plenty of acquired what little ability I have in that way. words; and sometimes, as I thought, bore me down more by There was another bookish lad in the town, John Collins his fluency than by the strength of his reasons. As we parted by name, with whom I was intimately acquainted. We some- without settling the point, and were not to see one another times disputed, and very fond we were of argument, and again for some time, I sat down to put my arguments in very desirous of confuting one another, which disputatious writing, which I copied fair and sent to him. He answered, turn, by the way, is apt to become a very bad habit, making and I replied. Three or four letters of a side had passed, people often extremely disagreeable in company by the con- when my father happened to find my papers and read them. tradiction that is necessary to bring it into practice; and Without entering into the discussion, he took occasion to thence, besides souring and spoiling the conversation, is talk to me about the manner of my writing; observed that, productive of disgusts and, perhaps enmities where you may though I had the advantage of my antagonist in correct spell- have occasion for friendship. I had caught it by reading my ing and pointing (which I ow’d to the printing-house), I fell father’s books of dispute about religion. Persons of good far short in elegance of expression, in method and in per- sense, I have since observed, seldom fall into it, except law- spicuity, of which he convinced me by several instances. I yers, university men, and men of all sorts that have been saw the justice of his remark, and thence grew more atten- bred at Edinborough. tive to the manner in writing, and determined to endeavor A question was once, somehow or other, started between at improvement. Collins and me, of the propriety of educating the female sex About this time I met with an odd volume of the Specta- in learning, and their abilities for study. He was of opinion tor. It was the third. I had never before seen any of them. I that it was improper, and that they were naturally unequal bought it, read it over and over, and was much delighted 15The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin with it. I thought the writing excellent, and wished, if pos- deavored to reduce them into the best order, before I began sible, to imitate it. With this view I took some of the papers, to form the full sentences and compleat the paper. This was and, making short hints of the sentiment in each sentence, to teach me method in the arrangement of thoughts. By laid them by a few days, and then, without looking at the comparing my work afterwards with the original, I discov- book, try’d to compleat the papers again, by expressing each ered many faults and amended them; but I sometimes had hinted sentiment at length, and as fully as it had been ex- the pleasure of fancying that, in certain particulars of small pressed before, in any suitable words that should come to import, I had been lucky enough to improve the method or hand. Then I compared my Spectator with the original, dis- the language, and this encouraged me to think I might pos- covered some of my faults, and corrected them. But I found sibly in time come to be a tolerable English writer, of which I wanted a stock of words, or a readiness in recollecting and I was extremely ambitious. My time for these exercises and using them, which I thought I should have acquired before for reading was at night, after work or before it began in the that time if I had gone on making verses; since the con- morning, or on Sundays, when I contrived to be in the print- tinual occasion for words of the same import, but of differ- ing-house alone, evading as much as I could the common ent length, to suit the measure, or of different sound for attendance on public worship which my father used to ex- the rhyme, would have laid me under a constant necessity act on me when I was under his care, and which indeed I of searching for variety, and also have tended to fix that still thought a duty, though I could not, as it seemed to me, variety in my mind, and make me master of it. Therefore I afford time to practise it. took some of the tales and turned them into verse; and, When about 16 years of age I happened to meet with a after a time, when I had pretty well forgotten the prose, book, written by one Tryon, recommending a vegetable diet. turned them back again. I also sometimes jumbled my col- I determined to go into it. My brother, being yet unmarried, lections of hints into confusion, and after some weeks en- did not keep house, but boarded himself and his appren- 16The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin tices in another family. My refusing to eat flesh occasioned and went through the whole by myself with great ease. I an inconveniency, and I was frequently chid for my singu- also read Seller’s and Shermy’s books of Navigation, and be- larity. I made myself acquainted with Tryon’s manner of pre- came acquainted with the little geometry they contain; but paring some of his dishes, such as boiling potatoes or rice, never proceeded far in that science. And I read about this making hasty pudding, and a few others, and then proposed time Locke On Human Understanding, and the Art of Think- to my brother, that if he would give me, weekly, half the ing, by Messrs. du Port Royal. money he paid for my board, I would board myself. He in- While I was intent on improving my language, I met with stantly agreed to it, and I presently found that I could save an English grammar (I think it was Greenwood’s), at the end half what he paid me. This was an additional fund for buy- of which there were two little sketches of the arts of rheto- ing books. But I had another advantage in it. My brother ric and logic, the latter finishing with a specimen of a dis- and the rest going from the printing-house to their meals, I pute in the Socratic method; and soon after I procur’d remained there alone, and, despatching presently my light Xenophon’s Memorable Things of Socrates, wherein there are repast, which often was no more than a bisket or a slice of many instances of the same method. I was charm’d with it, bread, a handful of raisins or a tart from the pastry-cook’s, adopted it, dropt my abrupt contradiction and positive ar- and a glass of water, had the rest of the time till their re- gumentation, and put on the humble inquirer and doubter. turn for study, in which I made the greater progress, from And being then, from reading Shaftesbury and Collins, be- that greater clearness of head and quicker apprehension come a real doubter in many points of our religious doc- which usually attend temperance in eating and drinking. trine, I found this method safest for myself and very embar- And now it was that, being on some occasion made asham’d rassing to those against whom I used it; therefore I took a of my ignorance in figures, which I had twice failed in learn- delight in it, practis’d it continually, and grew very artful ing when at school, I took Cocker’s book of Arithmetick, and expert in drawing people, even of superior knowledge, 17The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin into concessions, the consequences of which they did not given to us, to wit, giving or receiving information or plea- foresee, entangling them in difficulties out of which they sure. For, if you would inform, a positive and dogmatical could not extricate themselves, and so obtaining victories manner in advancing your sentiments may provoke contra- that neither myself nor my cause always deserved. I continu’d diction and prevent a candid attention. If you wish infor- this method some few years, but gradually left it, retaining mation and improvement from the knowledge of others, and only the habit of expressing myself in terms of modest dif- yet at the same time express yourself as firmly fix’d in your fidence; never using, when I advanced any thing that may present opinions, modest, sensible men, who do not love possibly be disputed, the words certainly, undoubtedly, or disputation, will probably leave you undisturbed in the pos- any others that give the air of positiveness to an opinion; session of your error. And by such a manner, you can seldom but rather say, I conceive or apprehend a thing to be so and hope to recommend yourself in pleasing your hearers, or to so; it appears to me, or I should think it so or so, for such persuade those whose concurrence you desire. Pope says, and such reasons; or I imagine it to be so; or it is so, if I am judiciously: not mistaken. This habit, I believe, has been of great advan- tage to me when I have had occasion to inculcate my opin- “Men should be taught as if you taught them not, ions, and persuade men into measures that I have been from And things unknown propos’d as things forgot;” time to time engag’d in promoting; and, as the chief ends of conversation are to inform or to be informed, to please or to farther recommending to us persuade, I wish well-meaning, sensible men would not lessen their power of doing good by a positive, assuming manner, “To speak, tho’ sure, with seeming diffidence.” that seldom fails to disgust, tends to create opposition, and to defeat every one of those purposes for which speech was And he might have coupled with this line that which he has 18The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin coupled with another, I think, less properly, some of his friends from the undertaking, as not likely to succeed, one newspaper being, in their judgment, enough “For want of modesty is want of sense.” for America. At this time (1771) there are not less than five-and-twenty. He went on, however, with the undertak- If you ask, Why less properly? I must repeat the lines, ing, and after having worked in composing the types and printing off the sheets, I was employed to carry the papers “Immodest words admit of no defense, thro’ the streets to the customers. For want of modesty is want of sense.” He had some ingenious men among his friends, who amus’d themselves by writing little pieces for this paper, which gain’d Now, is not want of sense (where a man is so unfortunate as it credit and made it more in demand, and these gentlemen to want it) some apology for his want of modesty? and would often visited us. Hearing their conversations, and their ac- not the lines stand more justly thus? counts of the approbation their papers were received with, I was excited to try my hand among them; but, being still a “Immodest words admit but this defense, boy, and suspecting that my brother would object to print- That want of modesty is want of sense.” ing anything of mine in his paper if he knew it to be mine, I contrived to disguise my hand, and, writing an anonymous This, however, I should submit to better judgments. paper, I put it in at night under the door of the printing- My brother had, in 1720 or 1721, begun to print a news- house. It was found in the morning, and communicated to paper. It was the second that appeared in America, and was his writing friends when they call’d in as usual. They read called the New England Courant. The only one before it was it, commented on it in my hearing, and I had the exquisite the Boston News-Letter. I remember his being dissuaded by pleasure of finding it met with their approbation, and that, 19The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin in their different guesses at the author, none were named because the judgment was generally in my favor. But my but men of some character among us for learning and inge- brother was passionate, and had often beaten me, which I nuity. I suppose now that I was rather lucky in my judges, took extreamly amiss; and, thinking my apprenticeship very and that perhaps they were not really so very good ones as tedious, I was continually wishing for some opportunity of I then esteem’d them. shortening it, which at length offered in a manner unex- Encourag’d, however, by this, I wrote and convey’d in the pected. same way to the press several more papers which were equally One of the pieces in our newspaper on some political point, approv’d; and I kept my secret till my small fund of sense which I have now forgotten, gave offense to the Assembly. for such performances was pretty well exhausted and then I He was taken up, censur’d, and imprison’d for a month, by discovered it, when I began to be considered a little more by the speaker’s warrant, I suppose, because he would not dis- my brother’s acquaintance, and in a manner that did not cover his author. I too was taken up and examin’d before quite please him, as he thought, probably with reason, that the council; but, tho’ I did not give them any satisfaction, it tended to make me too vain. And, perhaps, this might be they content’d themselves with admonishing me, and dis- one occasion of the differences that we began to have about missed me, considering me, perhaps, as an apprentice, who this time. Though a brother, he considered himself as my was bound to keep his master’s secrets. master, and me as his apprentice, and accordingly, expected During my brother’s confinement, which I resented a good the same services from me as he would from another, while deal, notwithstanding our private differences, I had the I thought he demean’d me too much in some he requir’d of management of the paper; and I made bold to give our rul- me, who from a brother expected more indulgence. Our dis- ers some rubs in it, which my brother took very kindly, while putes were often brought before our father, and I fancy I I fancy his harsh and tyrannical treatment of me might be a was either generally in the right, or else a better pleader, means of impressing me with that aversion to arbitrary power that has stuck to me through my whole life. 20