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AS A MAN OF LETTERS.
THE story of the life of Benjamin Franklin begins at a time when Queen Anne still ruled the colonies; when the colonies were but ten in number, and when the population of the ten did not sum up to four hundred thousand souls; at a time when witches were plentiful in New England; when foxes troubled the farmers of Lynn; when wolves and panthers abounded in Connecticut; when pirates infested the Atlantic coast; when there was no such thing as a stage-coach in the land; when there were but three colleges and one newspaper in the whole of British North America; when no printingpress existed south of Philadelphia; when New York was still defended by a high stockade; and when Ann Pollard, the first white woman
that ever set foot on the soil of Boston, was still enjoying a hale old age.
On the January morning, 1706, when Franklin received his name in the Old South Church at Boston, the French had not founded the city of Mobile nor the city of New Orleans, nor begun the construction of that great chain of forts which stretched across our country from the St. Lawrence to the Gulf. Philip Jones had not marked out the streets of Baltimore; the proprietors of Carolina had not surrendered their charter, and the colony was still governed on the absurd plan of Locke; Delaware was still the property of William Penn; the founder of Georgia was a lad of eighteen. Of the few places that deserved to be called towns, the largest was Boston. Yet the area of Boston was less than one square mile, and the population did not equal ten thousand souls. The chief features of the place were three hills, since greatly cut down; three coves, long since filled up; the patch of common, where the cows fed at large; and the famous Neck. Across the Neck was a barrier, the gate of which was closed each night at nine, and never opened on the Sabbath. Behind the barrier was a maze of narrow streets, lined with buildings most of which have long since disappeared. On the site of the Old South Church stood a wooden
meeting-house, pulled down in 1729. Near by were the pillory and the stocks, and just over the way on Milk Street was the humble dwelling of Josiah Franklin and Abiah Folger his wife.
Josiah was an Englishman, a dissenter, and a dyer; came to Boston in 1685, and, finding no use for his trade, abandoned it and became a tallow-chandler instead. Abiah Folger was his second wife. The first wife brought him seven children. Abiah brought him ten, and of her ten children Benjamin was the youngest son. This name was given him in honor of an uncle on the day of his birth, which, by the records of the Old South Church, must have been the sixth of January (Old Style), 1706.
Those were the days of compulsory education and compulsory thrift, the days when it was the duty of the selectmen to see that every Boston boy could read and write the English tongue, had some knowledge of the capital laws, knew by heart some orthodox catechism, and was brought up to do some honest work. Benjamin began his education at home; was sent when he was eight to the Latin School, and soon after to that of George Brownell, a pedagogue famed for his skill in arithmetic and the use of the quill. To this school he went regularly till the master ceased to teach
boys to make pot-hooks and loops, and began to teach women to make new-fashioned purses and to paint on glass, to do feather-work and filigree and embroider a new way, to put Turkey work on handkerchiefs, flowers on muslin, and cover their short aprons with rich brocade; till he turned dressmaker and barber, made gowns and furbelowed scarfs, and cut gentlewomen's hair in the newest fashion.
When this change took place Benjamin was ten. His schooling then ended, and for two years he cut wicks, molded candles, tended shop, ran on errands, and talked much of going to sea. The parents had intended to breed him to the church, and an uncle graciously promised to leave him a bundle of sermons taken down from time to time in short-hand.1 But even this could not move him. Benjamin remained steadfast; and Josiah, alarmed at this fondness for ships and sailors, determined to bind him to some trade that should keep him on shore.
Like a man of sense, the father tried to find the lad's bent, took him on long walks about town, went among the bricklayers and the
1 One of the sermons taken down in this way is yet extant. The title is, "A Discourse on Forgiveness. In Three Sermons from Matt. vi. 15. By Nathaniel Vincent. Taken down in short-hand by one of his hearers. Boston, J. Franklin, 1722." The remarks "To the Reader are signed B. F., and this B. F. was undoubtedly Benjamin Franklin the elder.