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Franklin's Autobiography (Eclectic English Classics)   By: (1706-1790)

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Copyright, 1896 and 1910, by AMERICAN BOOK COMPANY


W. P. 12


When Franklin was born, in 1706, Queen Anne was on the English throne, and Swift and Defoe were pamphleteering. The one had not yet written "Gulliver's Travels," nor the other "Robinson Crusoe;" neither had Addison and Steele and other wits of Anne's reign begun the "Spectator." Pope was eighteen years old.

At that time ships bringing news, food and raiment, and laws and governors to the ten colonies of America, ran grave chances of falling into the hands of the pirates who infested the waters of the shores. In Boston Cotton Mather was persecuting witches. There were no stage coaches in the land, merely a bridle path led from New York to Philadelphia, and a printing press throughout the colonies was a raree show.

Only six years before Franklin's birth, the first newspaper report for the first newspaper in the country was written on the death of Captain Kidd and six of his companions near Boston, when the editor of the "News Letter" told the story of the hanging of the pirates, detailing the exhortations and prayers and their taking off. Franklin links us to another world of action.

His boyhood in Boston was a stern beginning of the habit of hard work and rigid economy which marked the man. For a year he went to the Latin Grammar School on School Street, but left off at the age of ten to help his father in making soap and candles. He persisted in showing such "bookish inclination," however, that at twelve his father apprenticed him to learn the printer's trade. At seventeen he ran off to Philadelphia and there began his independent career.

In the main he led such a life as the maxims of "Poor Richard"[1] enjoin. The pages of the Autobiography show few deviations from such a course. He felt the need of school training and set to work to educate himself. He had an untiring industry, and love of the approval of his neighbor; and he knew that more things fail through want of care than want of knowledge. His practical imagination was continually forming projects; and, fortunately for the world, his great physical strength and activity were always setting his ideas in motion. He was human hearted, and this strong sympathy of his, along with his strength and zeal and "projecting head" (as Defoe calls such a spirit), devised much that helped life to amenity and comfort. In politics he had the outlook of the self reliant colonist whose devotion to the mother institutions of England was finally alienated by the excesses of a power which thought itself all powerful.

In this Autobiography Franklin tells of his own life to the year 1757, when he went to England to support the petition of the legislature against Penn's sons. The grievance of the colonists was a very considerable one, for the proprietaries claimed that taxes should not be levied upon a tract greater than the whole State of Pennsylvania.

Franklin was received in England with applause. His experiments in electricity and his inventions had made him known, and the sayings of "Poor Richard" were already in the mouths of the people. But he waited nearly three years before he could obtain a hearing for the matter for which he had crossed the sea.

During the delay he visited the ancient home of his family, and made the acquaintance of men of mark, receiving also that degree of Doctor of Civil Law by which he came to be known as Dr. Franklin. In this time, too, he found how prejudiced was the common English estimate of the value of the colonies. He wrote Lord Kames in 1760, after the defeat of the French in Canada: "No one can more sincerely rejoice than I do on the reduction of Canada; and this is not merely as I am a colonist, but as I am a Briton... Continue reading book >>

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