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The 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. 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, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF work as a printer but after a few months he was induced by. 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. WITH INTRODUCTION AND NOTES EDITED who gave him a position in his business On Denman s death. BY CHARLES W ELIOT L L D he returned to his former trade and shortly set up a print. P F COLLIER SON COMPANY NEW YORK ing house of his own from which he published The Pennsyl. 1909 vania Gazette to which he contributed many essays and. which he made a medium for agitating a variety of local. INTRODUCTORY NOTE reforms In 1732 he began to issue his famous Poor Richard s. Almanac for the enrichment of which he borrowed or com. Benjamin Franklin was born in Milk Street Boston on Janu posed those pithy utterances of worldly wisdom which are. ary 6 1706 His father Josiah Franklin was a tallow chan the basis of a large part of his popular reputation In 1758. dler who married twice and of his seventeen children Ben the year in which he ceases writing for the Almanac he. jamin was the youngest son His schooling ended at ten printed in it Father Abraham s Sermon now regarded as. and at twelve he was bound apprentice to his brother James the most famous piece of literature produced in Colonial. a printer who published the New England Courant To this America. journal he became a contributor and later was for a time its Meantime Franklin was concerning himself more and more. nominal editor But the brothers quarreled and Benjamin with public affairs He set forth a scheme for an Academy. ran away going first to New York and thence to Philadel which was taken up later and finally developed into the. phia where he arrived in October 1723 He soon obtained University of Pennsylvania and he founded an American. The 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. The 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,The 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. The 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. The 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. Here follow in the margin the words in brackets here insert it down again upon its feet when the Bible remained con. 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. in possession of Mrs Emmons of Boston great granddaughter Benjamin The family continued all of the Church of En. of their author,The 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. The 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. The 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. The 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. dren By this means he turned our attention to what was and. ABIAH his Wife, good just and prudent in the conduct of life and little or lie here interred. no notice was ever taken of what related to the victuals on They lived lovingly together in wedlock. fifty five years, the table whether it was well or ill dressed in or out of Without an estate or any gainful employment. season of good or bad flavor preferable or inferior to this By constant labor and industry. with God s blessing, or that other thing of the kind so that I was bro t up in They maintained a large family.
such a perfect inattention to those matters as to be quite comfortably. and brought up thirteen children, indifferent what kind of food was set before me and so and seven grandchildren. unobservant of it that to this day if I am asked I can scarce reputably. From this instance reader, tell a few hours after dinner what I dined upon This has Be encouraged to diligence in thy calling. been a convenience to me in travelling where my compan And distrust not Providence. He was a pious and prudent man, ions have been sometimes very unhappy for want of a suit She a discreet and virtuous woman. able gratification of their more delicate because better in Their youngest son. 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,The 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. The 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. The 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.

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