The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

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THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN
1706-1757
* * *
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN
 
*
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
1706-1757
From a 1793 edition
ISBN 978-1-62011-444-5
Duke Classics
© 2012 Duke Classics and its licensors. All rights reserved.
While every effort has been used to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the information contained in this edition, Duke Classics does not assume liability or responsibility for any errors or omissions in this book. Duke Classics does not accept responsibility for loss suffered as a result of reliance upon the accuracy or currency of information contained in this book.
Contents
*
Introductory Note
*

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN was born in Milk Street, Boston, on January
6, 1706. His father, Josiah Franklin, was a tallow chandler who
married twice, and of his seventeen children Benjamin was the youngest
son. His schooling ended at ten, and at twelve he was bound apprentice
to his brother James, a printer, who published the "New England
Courant." To this journal he became a contributor, and later was for
a time its nominal editor. But the brothers quarreled, and Benjamin
ran away, going first to New York, and thence to Philadelphia, where
he arrived in October, 1723. He soon obtained work as a printer,
but after a few months he was induced by Governor Keith to go to
London, where, finding Keith's promises 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 he returned to his former trade, and shortly set up a printing
house of his own from which he published "The Pennsylvania Gazette,"
to which he contributed many essays, and which he made a medium for
agitating a variety of local reforms. In 1732 he began to issue his
famous "Poor Richard's Almanac" for the enrichment of which he borrowed
or composed those pithy utterances of worldly wisdom which are the
basis of a large part of his popular reputation. In 1758, the year
in which he ceases writing for the Almanac, he printed in it "Father
Abraham's Sermon," now regarded as the most famous piece of literature
produced in Colonial America.

Meantime Franklin was concerning himself more and more with
public affairs. He set forth a scheme for an Academy, which was
taken up later and finally developed into the University of Pennsylvania;
and he founded an "American Philosophical Society" for the purpose
of enabling scientific men to communicate their discoveries to one
another. He himself had already begun his electrical researches,
which, with other scientific inquiries, he called on in the intervals
of money-making and politics to the end of his life. In 1748 he
sold his business in order to get leisure for study, having now
acquired comparative wealth; and in a few years he had made discoveries
that gave him a reputation with the learned throughout Europe. In
politics he proved very able both as an administrator and as a
controversialist; but his record as an office-holder is stained by
the use he made of his position to advance his relatives. His most
notable service in home politics was his reform of the postal system;
but his fame as a statesman rests chiefly on his services in connection
with the relations of the Colonies with Great Britain, and later with
France. In 1757 he was sent to England to protest against the
influence of the Penns in the government of the colony, and for five
years he remained there, striving to enlighten the people and the
ministry of England as to Colonial conditions. On his return to
America he played an honorable part in the Paxton affair, through
which he lost his seat in the Assembly; but in 1764 he was again
despatched to England as agent for the colony, this time to petition
the King to resume the government from the hands of the proprietors.
In London he actively opposed the proposed Stamp Act, but lost the
credit for this and much of his popularity through his securing for
a friend the office of stamp agent in America. Even his effective
work in helping to obtain the repeal of the act left him still a
suspect; but he continued his efforts to present the case for the
Colonies as the troubles thickened toward the crisis of the Revolution.
In 1767 he crossed to France, where he was received with honor; but
before his return home in 1775 he lost his position as postmaster
through his share in divulging to Massachusetts the famous letter of
Hutchinson and Oliver. On his arrival in Philadelphia he was chosen
a member of the Continental Congress and in 1777 he was despatched
to France as commissioner for the United States. Here he remained
till 1785, the favorite of French society; and with such success did
he conduct the affairs of his country that when he finally returned
he received a place only second to that of Washington as the champion
of American independence. He died on April 17, 1790.

The first five chapters of the Autobiography were composed in
England in 1771, continued in 1784-5, and again in 1788, at which
date he brought it down to 1757. After a most extraordinary series
of adventures, the original form of the manuscript was finally printed
by Mr. John Bigelow, and is here reproduced in recognition of its
value as a picture of one of the most notable personalities of Colonial
times, and of its acknowledged rank as one of the great autobiographies
of the world.

Benjamin Franklin - His Autobiography 1706-1757
*

TWYFORD, at the Bishop of St. Asaph's,
[1]
1771.

DEAR SON: I have ever had pleasure in obtaining any little
anecdotes of my ancestors. You may remember the inquiries I made
among the remains of my relations when you were with me in England,
and the journey I undertook for that purpose. Imagining it may be
equally agreeable to
[2]
you to know the circumstances of my life,
many of which you are yet unacquainted with, and expecting the enjoyment
of a week's uninterrupted leisure in my present country retirement,
I sit down to write them for you. To which I have besides some
other inducements. Having emerged from the poverty and obscurity
in which I was born and bred, to a state of affluence and some
degree of reputation in the world, and having gone so far through
life with a considerable share of felicity, the conducing means
I made use of, which with the blessing of God so well succeeded,
my posterity may like to know, as they may find some of them
suitable to their own situations, and therefore fit to be imitated.

That felicity, when I reflected on it, has induced me sometimes
to say, that were it offered to my choice, I should have no objection
to a repetition of the same life from its beginning, only asking
the advantages authors have in a second edition to correct some faults
of the first. So I might, besides correcting the faults, change some
sinister accidents and events of it for others more favorable.
But though this were denied, I should still accept the offer.
Since such a repetition is not to be expected, the next thing
most like living one's life over again seems to be a recollection
of that life, and to make that recollection as durable as possible
by putting it down in writing.

Hereby, too, I shall indulge the inclination so natural in old men,
to be talking of themselves and their own past actions; and I shall
indulge it without being tiresome to others, who, through respect
to age, might conceive themselves obliged to give me a hearing,
since this may be read or not as any one pleases. And, lastly (I may
as well confess it, since my denial of it will be believed by nobody),
perhaps I shall a good deal gratify my own vanity. Indeed, I scarce
ever heard or saw the introductory words, "Without vanity I may say,"
&c., but some vain thing immediately followed. Most people dislike
vanity in others, whatever share they have of it themselves;
but I give it fair quarter wherever I meet with it, being persuaded
that it is often productive of good to the possessor, and to others
that are within his sphere of action; and therefore, in many cases,
it would not be altogether absurd if a man were to thank God for his
vanity among the other comforts of life.

And now I speak of thanking God, I desire with all humility
to acknowledge that I owe the mentioned happiness of my past
life to His kind providence, which lead me to the means I used
and gave them success. My belief of this induces me to hope,
though I must not presume, that the same goodness will still be
exercised toward me, in continuing that happiness, or enabling
me to bear a fatal reverse, which I may experience as others
have done: the complexion of my future fortune being known
to Him only in whose power it is to bless to us even our afflictions.

The notes one of my uncles (who had the same kind of curiosity
in collecting family anecdotes) once put into my hands,
furnished me with several particulars relating to our ancestors.
From these notes I learned that the family had lived in the
same village, Ecton, in Northamptonshire, for three hundred years,
and how much longer he knew not (perhaps from the time when the name
of Franklin, that before was the name of an order of people,
was assumed by them as a surname when others took surnames
all over the kingdom), on a freehold of about thirty acres,
aided by the smith's business, which had continued in the family
till his time, the eldest son being always bred to that business;
a custom which he and my father followed as to their eldest sons.
When I searched the registers at Ecton, I found an account
of their births, marriages and burials from the year 1555 only,
there being no registers kept in that parish at any time preceding.
By that register I perceived that I was the youngest son of the
youngest son for five generations back. My grandfather Thomas,
who was born in 1598, lived at Ecton till he grew too old to
follow business longer, when he went to live with his son John,
a dyer at Banbury, in Oxfordshire, with whom my father served
an apprenticeship. There my grandfather died and lies buried.
We saw his gravestone in 1758. His eldest son Thomas lived in
the house at Ecton, and left it with the land to his only child,
a daughter, who, with her husband, one Fisher, of Wellingborough,
sold it to Mr. Isted, now lord of the manor there. My grandfather
had four sons that grew up, viz.: Thomas, John, Benjamin and Josiah.
I will give you what account I can of them, at this distance from
my papers, and if these are not lost in my absence, you will among
them find many more particulars.

Thomas was bred a smith under his father; but, being ingenious,
and encouraged in learning (as all my brothers were) by an Esquire
Palmer, then the principal gentleman in that parish, he qualified
himself for the business of scrivener; became a considerable man
in the county; was a chief mover of all public-spirited undertakings
for the county or town of Northampton, and his own village,
of which many instances were related of him; and much taken notice
of and patronized by the then Lord Halifax. He died in 1702,
January 6, old style, just four years to a day before I was born.
The account we received of his life and character from some old
people at Ecton, I remember, struck you as something extraordinary,
from its similarity to what you knew of mine.

"Had he died on the same day," you said, "one might have supposed
a transmigration."

John was bred a dyer, I believe of woolens. Benjamin was bred a silk
dyer, serving an apprenticeship at London. He was an ingenious man.
I remember him well, for when I was a boy he came over to my father
in Boston, and lived in the house with us some years. He lived
to a great age. His grandson, Samuel Franklin, now lives in Boston.
He left behind him two quarto volumes, MS., of his own poetry, consisting
of little occasional pieces addressed to his friends and relations,
of which the following, sent to me, is a specimen.
[3]
He had formed
a short-hand of his own, which he taught me, but, never practising it,
I have now forgot it. I was named after this uncle, there being
a particular affection between him and my father. He was very pious,
a great attender of sermons of the best preachers, which he took
down in his short-hand, and had with him many volumes of them.
He was also much of a politician; too much, perhaps, for his station.
There fell lately into my hands, in London, a collection he had
made of all the principal pamphlets, relating to public affairs,
from 1641 to 1717; many of the volumes are wanting as appears
by the numbering, but there still remain eight volumes in folio,
and twenty-four in quarto and in octavo. A dealer in old books
met with them, and knowing me by my sometimes buying of him,
he brought them to me. It seems my uncle must have left them here,
when he went to America, which was about fifty years since.
There are many of his notes in the margins.

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