Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by John Bigelow (1817–1911)
THE YOUNGEST son of the seventeen children of a Boston tallow-chandler named Franklin was born a subject of Queen Anne of England, on the 6th of January, 1706; and on the same day received the baptismal name of Benjamin at the Old South Church in that city. He continued for more than seventy of the eighty-four years of his life a subject of four successive British monarchs. During that period, neither Anne nor either of the three Georges who succeeded her had a subject of whom they had more reason to be proud, nor one whom at his death their people generally supposed they had more reason to detest. No Englishman of his generation can now be said to have established a more enduring fame, in any way, than Franklin established in many ways. As a printer, as a journalist, as a diplomatist, as a statesman, as a philosopher, he was easily first among his peers.  1
  On the other hand, it is no disparagement of the services of any of his contemporaries on either side of the Atlantic, to say that no one of his generation contributed more effectually to the dissolution of the bonds which united the principal British-American colonies to the mother country, and towards conferring upon them independence and a popular government.  2
  As a practical printer Franklin was reported to have had no superiors; as a journalist he exerted an influence not only unrivaled in his day, but more potent, on this continent at least, than either of his sovereigns or their Parliaments. The organization of a police, and later of the militia, for Philadelphia; of companies for extinguishing fires; making the sweeping and paving of the streets a municipal function; the formation of the first public library for Philadelphia, and the establishment of an academy which has matured into the now famous University of Pennsylvania, were among the conspicuous reforms which he planted and watered in the columns of the Philadelphia Gazette. This journal he founded; upon the earnings of it he mainly subsisted during a long life, and any sheet of it to-day would bring a larger price in the open market probably than a single sheet of any other periodical ever published.  3
  Franklin’s Almanack, his crowning work in the sphere of journalism, published under the pseudonym of Richard Saunders,—better known since as Poor Richard,—is still one of the marvels of modern literature. Under one or another of many titles the contents of this publication, exclusive of its calendars, have been translated into every tongue having any pretensions to a literature; and have had more readers, probably, than any other publication in the English or indeed in any other language, with the single exception of the Bible. It was the first issue from an American press that found a popular welcome in foreign lands, and it still enjoys the special distinction of being the only almanac ever published that owed its extraordinary popularity entirely to its literary merit.  4
  What adds to the surprise with which we contemplate the fame and fortunes of this unpretentious publication, is the fact that its reputation was established by its first number, and when its author was only twenty-six years of age. For a period of twenty-six years, and until Franklin ceased to edit it, this annual was looked forward to by a larger portion of the colonial population and with more impatience than now awaits a President’s annual message to Congress.  5
  Franklin graduated from journalism into diplomacy as naturally as winter glides into spring. This was simply because he was by common acclaim the fittest man for any kind of public service the colony possessed, and especially for any duty requiring talents for persuasion, in which he proved himself to be unquestionably past master among the diplomatists of his time.  6
  The question of taxing the Penn proprietary estates in Pennsylvania, for the defense of the province from the French and Indians, had assumed such an acute stage in 1757 that the Assembly decided to petition the King upon the subject; and selected Franklin, then in the forty-first year of his age, to visit London and present their petition. The next forty-one years of his life were practically all spent in the diplomatic service. He was five years absent on this his first mission. Every interest in London was against him. He finally surmounted all obstacles by a compromise, which pledged the Assembly to pass an act exempting from taxation the unsurveyed lands of the Penn estate,—the surveyed waste lands, however, to be assessed at the usual rate. For his success the Penns and their partisans never forgave him, and his fellow colonists never forgot him.  7
  Franklin returned to Philadelphia in 1762, but not to remain. The question of taxing the colonies without representation was soon thrust upon them in the shape of a stamp duty, and Franklin was sent out again to urge its repeal. He reached London in November 1764, where he remained the next eleven years and until it became apparent that the surrender of the right to arbitrarily tax the colonies would never be made by England during the life of the reigning sovereign, George III. Satisfied that his usefulness in England was at an end, he sailed for Philadelphia on the 21st of March, 1775; and on the morning of his arrival was elected by the Assembly of Pennsylvania a delegate to the Continental Congress which consolidated the armies of the colonies, placed General George Washington in command of them, issued the first Continental currency, and assumed the responsibility of resisting the imperial government; his last hope of maintaining the integrity of the empire having been dissipated by recent collisions between the people and the royalist troops at Concord and Lexington. Franklin served on ten committees in this Congress. He was one of the five who drew up the Declaration of Independence in July 1776, and in September following was chosen unanimously as one of the three commissioners to be sent out to solicit for the infant republic the aid of France and the sympathies of continental Europe. In this mission, the importance of which to his country can hardly be exaggerated, he was greatly favored by the reputation which had preceded him as a man of science. While yet a journalist he had made some experiments in electricity, which established its identity with lightning. The publication by an English correspondent of the letters in which he gave an account of these experiments, secured his election as an honorary member of the Royal Society of London and undisputed rank among the most eminent natural philosophers of his time. When he arrived in Paris, therefore, he was already a member of every important learned society in Europe, one of the managers of the Royal Society of London, and one of the eight foreign members of the Royal Academy in Paris, where three editions of his scientific writings had already been printed. To these advantages must be added another of even greater weight: his errand there was to assist in dismembering the British Empire, than which nothing of a political nature was at this time much nearer every Frenchman’s heart.  8
  The history of this mission, and how Franklin succeeded in procuring from the French King financial aid to the amount of twenty-six millions of francs, at times when the very existence of the republic depended upon them, and finally a treaty of peace more favorable to his country than either England or France wished to concede, has been often told; and there is no chapter in the chronicles of this republic with which the world is more familiar.  9
  Franklin’s reputation grew with his success. “It was,” wrote his colleague John Adams, “more universal than that of Leibnitz or Newton, Frederick the Great or Voltaire, and his character more beloved and esteemed than all of them…. If a collection could be made of all the gazettes of Europe for the latter half of the eighteenth century, a greater number of panegyrical paragraphs upon le grand Franklin would appear, it is believed, than upon any other man that ever lived.”  10
  A few weeks after signing the definitive treaty of peace in 1783, Franklin renewed an application which he had previously made just after signing the preliminary treaty, to be relieved of his mission; but it was not until the 7th of March, 1785, that Congress adopted a resolution permitting “the Honorable Benjamin Franklin to return to America as soon as convenient.” Three days later, Thomas Jefferson was appointed to succeed him.  11
  On the 13th of September, 1785, and after a sojourn of nearly nine years in the French capital, first in the capacity of commissioner and subsequently of minister plenipotentiary, Franklin once more landed in Philadelphia, on the same wharf on which, sixty-two years before, he had stepped, a friendless and practically penniless runaway apprentice of seventeen.  12
  Though now in his seventy-ninth year, and a prey to infirmities not the necessary incidents of old age, he had scarcely unpacked his trunks after his return when he was chosen a member of the municipal council of Philadelphia, and its chairman. Shortly after, he was elected president of Pennsylvania, his own vote only lacking to make the vote unanimous. “I have not firmness,” he wrote to a friend, “to resist the unanimous desire of my countryfolks; and I find myself harnessed again into their service another year. They engrossed the prime of my life; they have eaten my flesh, and seem resolved now to pick my bones.”  13
  He was unanimously re-elected to this dignity for the two succeeding years, and while holding that office was chosen a member of the convention which met in May 1787 to frame the Constitution under which the people of the United States are still living.  14
  With the adoption of that instrument, to which he probably contributed as much as any other individual, he retired from official life; though not from the service of the public, to which for the remaining years of his stay on earth his genius and his talents were faithfully consecrated.  15
  Among the fruits of that unfamiliar leisure, always to be remembered among the noblest achievements of his illustrious career, was the part he had in organizing the first anti-slavery society in the world; and as its president, writing and signing the first remonstrance against slavery ever addressed to the Congress of the United States.  16
  In surveying the life of Dr. Franklin as a whole, the thing that most impresses one is his constant study and singleness of purpose to promote the welfare of human society. It was his daily theme as a journalist, and his yearly theme as an almanac-maker. It is that which first occurs to us when we recall his career as a member of the Colonial Assembly; as an agent of the provinces in England; as a diplomatist in France; and as a member of the conventions which crowned the consistent labors of his long life. Nor are there any now so bold as to affirm that there was any other person who could have been depended upon to accomplish for his country or the world, what Franklin did in any of the several stages of his versatile career.  17
  Though holding office for more than half of his life, the office always sought Franklin, not Franklin the office. When sent to England as the agent of the colony, he withdrew from business with a modest competence judiciously invested mostly in real estate. He never seems to have given a thought to its increase. Frugal in his habits, simple in his tastes, wise in his indulgences, he died with a fortune neither too large nor too small for his fame as a citizen or a patriot. For teaching frugality and economy to the colonists, when frugality and economy were indispensable to the conservation of their independence and manhood, he has been sneered at as the teacher of a “candle-end-saving philosophy,” and his ‘Poor Richard’ as a “collection of receipts for laying up treasures on earth rather than in heaven.” Franklin never taught, either by precept or example, to lay up treasures on earth. He taught the virtues of industry, thrift, and economy, as the virtues supremely important in his time, to keep people out of debt and to provide the means of educating and dignifying society. He never countenanced the accumulation of wealth for its own sake, but for its uses,—its prompt convertibility into social comforts and refinements. It would be difficult to name another man of any age to whom an ambition to accumulate wealth as an end could be imputed with less propriety. Though probably the most inventive genius of his age, and thus indirectly the founder of many fortunes, he never asked a patent for any of his inventions or discoveries. Though one of the best writers of the English language that his country has yet produced, he never wrote a line for money after he withdrew from the calling by which he made a modest provision for his family.  18
  For the remaining half of his life both at home and abroad, though constantly operating upon public opinion by his pen, he never availed himself of a copyright or received a penny from any publisher or patron for any of these labors. In none of the public positions which he held, even when minister plenipotentiary, did his pay equal his expenditures. He was three years president of Pennsylvania after his return from France, and for his services declined to appropriate to his own use anything beyond his necessary expenditures for stationery, postage, and transportation. It is not by such methods that men justly incur the implied reproach of “laying up treasures on earth,” or of teaching a candle-end-saving philosophy.  19
  Franklin courted fame no more than fortune. The best of his writings, after his retirement from journalism, he never gave to the press at all; not even his incomparable autobiography, which is still republished more frequently than any of the writings of Dickens or of Thackeray. He always wrote for a larger purpose than mere personal gratification of any kind. Even his bagatelles and jeux d’esprit read in the salons of Paris, though apparently intended for the eyes of a small circle, were inspired by a desire to make friends and create respect for the struggling people and the great cause he represented. Few if any of them got into print until many years after his decease.  20
  Franklin was from his youth up a leader, a lion in whatever circle he entered, whether in the printing-house, the provincial Assemblies, as agent in England, or as a courtier in France. There was no one too eminent in science or literature, on either side of the Atlantic, not to esteem his acquaintance a privilege. He was an honorary member of every important scientific association in the world, and in friendly correspondence with most of those who conferred upon those bodies any distinction; and all this by force of a personal, not to say planetary, attraction that no one brought within his sphere could long resist.  21
  Pretty much all of importance that we know of Franklin we gather from his private correspondence. His contemporaries wrote or at least printed very little about him; scarcely one of the multitude whose names he embalmed in his ‘Autobiography’ ever printed a line about him. All that we know of the later half of his life not covered by his autobiography, we owe almost exclusively to his private and official correspondence. Though reckoning among his warm friends and correspondents such men as David Hume, Dr. Joseph Priestley, Dr. Price, Lord Kames, Lord Chatham, Dr. Fothergill, Peter Collinson, Edmund Burke, the Bishop of St. Asaph and his gifted daughters, Voltaire, the habitués of the Helvétius salon, the Marquis de Ségur, the Count de Vergennes, his near neighbors De Chaumont and Le Veillard, the maire of Passy,—all that we learn of his achievements, of his conversation, of his daily life, from these or many other associates of only less prominence in the Old World, might be written on a single foolscap sheet. Nor are we under much greater obligations to his American friends. It is to his own letters (and except his ‘Autobiography,’ he can hardly be said to have written anything in any other than the epistolary form; and that was written in the form of a letter to his son William, and most of it only began to be published a quarter of a century after his death) that we must turn to learn how full of interest and importance to mankind was this last half-century of his life. Beyond keeping copies of his correspondence, which his official character made a duty as well as a necessity, he appears to have taken no precautions to insure the posthumous fame to which his correspondence during that period was destined to contribute so much. Hence, all the biographies—and they are numberless—owe almost their entire interest and value to his own pen. All, so far as they are biographies, are autobiographies; and for that reason it may be fairly said that all of them are interesting.  22
  It is also quite remarkable that though Franklin’s life was a continuous warfare, he had no personal enemies. His extraordinary and even intimate experience of every phase of human life, from the very lowest to the very highest, had made him so tolerant that he regarded differences of opinion and of habits much as he regarded the changes of the weather,—as good or bad for his purposes, but which, though he might sometimes deplore, he had no right to quarrel with or assume personal responsibility for. Hence he never said or did things personally offensive. The causes that he represented had enemies, for he was all his life a reformer. All men who are good for anything have such enemies. “I have, as you observe,” wrote Franklin to John Jay the year that he retired from the French mission, “some enemies in England, but they are my enemies as an American; I have also two or three in America who are my enemies as a minister; but I thank God there are not in the whole world any who are my enemies as a man: for by his grace, through a long life, I have been enabled so to conduct myself that there does not exist a human being who can justly say, ‘Ben Franklin has wronged me.’ This, my friend, is in old age a comfortable reflection. You too have or may have your enemies; but let not that render you unhappy. If you make a right use of them, they will do you more good than harm. They point out to us our faults; they put us upon our guard and help us to live more correctly.”  23
  Franklin’s place in literature as a writer has not been generally appreciated, probably because with him writing was only a means, never an end, and his ends always dwarfed his means, however effective. He wrote to persuade others, never to parade his literary skill. He never wrote a dull line, and was never nimious. The longest production of his pen was his autobiography, written during the closing years of his life. Nearly all that he wrote besides was in the form of letters, which would hardly average three octavo pages in length. And yet whatever the subject he touched upon, he never left the impression of incompleteness or of inconclusiveness. Of him may be said, perhaps with as much propriety as of any other man, that he never said a word too soon, nor a word too late, nor a word too much. Tons of paper have been devoted to dissuasives from dueling, but the argument was never put more effectively than Franklin put it in these dozen lines of a letter to a Mr. Percival, who had sent him a volume of literary and moral dissertations.
          “A gentleman in a coffee-house desired another to sit further from him. ‘Why so?’—‘Because you stink.’—‘That is an affront, and you must fight me.’—‘I will fight you if you insist upon it, but I do not see how that will mend the matter. For if you kill me, I shall stink too; and if I kill you, you will stink, if possible, worse than at present.’ How can such miserable sinners as we are, entertain so much pride as to conceit that every offense against our imagined honor merits death? These petty princes, in their opinion, would call that sovereign a tyrant who should put one of them to death for a little uncivil language, though pointed at his sacred person; yet every one of them makes himself judge in his own cause, condemns the offender without a jury, and undertakes himself to be the executioner.”
  Some one wrote him that the people in England were abusing the Americans and speaking all manner of evil against them. Franklin replied that this was natural enough:
          “They impute to us the evil they wished us. They are angry with us, and speak all manner of evil of us; but we flourish notwithstanding. They put me in mind of a violent High Church factor, resident in Boston when I was a boy. He had bought upon speculation a Connecticut cargo of onions which he flattered himself he might sell again to great profit; but the price fell, and they lay upon his hands. He was heartily vexed with his bargain, especially when he observed they began to grow in his store he had filled with them. He showed them one day to a friend. ‘Here they are,’ said he, ‘and they are growing too. I damn them every day, but I think they are like the Presbyterians; the more I curse them, the more they grow.’”
  Mr. Jefferson tells us that Franklin was sitting by his side in the convention while the delegates were picking his famous declaration of Independence to pieces, and seeing how Jefferson was squirming under their mutilations, comforted him with the following stories, the rare excellence of which has given them a currency which has long since worn off their novelty:—
          “‘I have made it a rule,’ said he, ‘whenever in my power, to avoid becoming the draftsman of papers to be reviewed by a public body. I took my lesson from an incident which I will relate to you.
  “‘When I was a journeyman printer, one of my companions, an apprenticed hatter, having served out his time, was about to open shop for himself. His first concern was to have a handsome sign-board with the proper inscription. He composed it in these words: John Thompson, Hatter, makes and sells Hats for ready Money, with a figure of a hat subjoined. But he thought he would submit it to his friends for their amendments. The first he showed it to thought the word hatter tautologous, because followed by the words makes hats, which showed he was a hatter. It was struck out. The next observed that the word makes might as well be omitted, because his customers would not care who made the hats; if good and to their mind, they would buy, by whomsoever made. He struck it out. A third said he thought the words for ready money were useless, as it was not the custom of the place to sell on credit: every one who purchased expected to pay. They were parted with, and the inscription now stood, John Thompson sells hats. “Sells hats,” says his next friend; “why, nobody will expect you to give them away. What then is the use of that word?” It was stricken out, and hats followed, the rather as there was one painted on the board. So his inscription was ultimately reduced to John Thompson, with the figure of a hat subjoined.’”
  When the members were about to sign the document, Mr. Hancock is reported to have said, “We must be unanimous; there must be no pulling different ways; we must all hang together.” “Yes,” replied Franklin, “we must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”  27
  The Doric simplicity of his style; his incomparable facility of condensing a great principle into an apologue or an anecdote, many of which, as he applied them, have become the folk-lore of all nations; his habitual moderation of statement, his aversion to exaggeration, his inflexible logic, and his perfect truthfulness,—made him one of the most persuasive men of his time, and his writings a model which no one can study without profit. A judicious selection from Franklin’s writings should constitute a part of the curriculum of every college and high school that aspires to cultivate in its pupils a pure style and correct literary taste.  28
  There was one incident in Franklin’s life, which, though more frequently referred to in terms of reproach than any other, will probably count for more in his favor in the Great Assize than any other of his whole life. While yet in his teens he became a father before he was a husband. He never did what men of the loftiest moral pretensions not unfrequently do,—shirk as far as possible any personal responsibility for this indiscretion. On the contrary, he took the fruit of it to his home; gave him the best education the schools of the country then afforded. When he went abroad, this son accompanied him, was presented as his son wherever he went, was presented in all the great houses in which he himself was received; he entered him at the Inns of Court, and in due time had him admitted to the English bar; made him his private secretary, and at an early age caused him to be appointed by the Crown, Governor of New Jersey. The father not only did everything to repair the wrong he had done his son, but at a time when he was at the zenith of his fame and official importance, publicly proclaimed it as one of the great errors of his life. The world has always abounded with bastards; but with the exception of crowned heads claiming to hold their sceptres by Divine right, and therefore beyond the reach of popular criticism or reproach, it would be difficult to name another parent of his generation of anything like corresponding eminence with Franklin, who had the courage and the magnanimity to expiate such a wrong to his offspring so fully and effectively.  29
  Franklin was not a member of the visible Church, nor did he ever become the adherent of any sect. He was three years younger than Jonathan Edwards, and in his youth heard his share of the then prevailing theology of New England, of which Edwards was regarded, and perhaps justly, as the most eminent exponent. The extremes to which Edwards carried those doctrines at last so shocked the people of Massachusetts that he was rather ignominiously expelled from his pulpit at Northampton; and the people of Massachusetts, in very considerable proportions, gradually wandered over into the Unitarian communion. To Jonathan Edwards and the inflexible law of action and reaction, more than to Priestley or any one else of their generation, that sect owes to this day its numerical strength, its influence, and its dignity, in New England. With the creed of that sect Dr. Franklin had more in common than with any other, though he was much too wise a man to suppose that there was but one gate of admission to the Holy City. He believed in one God; that Jesus was the best man that ever lived, and his example the most profitable one ever given us to follow. He never succeeded in accepting the doctrine that Jehovah and Jesus were one person, or that miracles attributed to the latter in the Bible were ever worked. He thought the best service and sufficient worship of God was in doing all the good we can to his creatures. He therefore never occupied himself much with ecclesiastical ceremonies, sectarian differences, or theological subtleties. A reverend candidate for episcopal orders wrote to Franklin, complaining that the Archbishop of Canterbury had refused to ordain him unless he would take the oath of allegiance, which he was too patriotic a Yankee to do. Franklin, in reply, asked what necessity there was for his being connected with the Church of England; if it would not be as well were it the Church of Ireland. Perhaps were he to apply to the Bishop of Derry, who was a man of liberal sentiments, he might give him orders, as of that Church. Should both England and Ireland refuse, Franklin assumed that the Bishops of Sweden and Norway would refuse also, unless the candidates embraced Lutheranism. He then added:—
          “Next to becoming Presbyterians, the Episcopalian clergy of America, in my humble opinion, cannot do better than to follow the example of the first clergy of Scotland, soon after the conversion of that country to Christianity. When the King had built the cathedral of St. Andrew’s, and requested the King of Northumberland to lend his bishops to ordain one for them, that their clergy might not as heretofore be obliged to go to Northumberland for orders, and their request was refused, they assembled in the cathedral, and the mitre, crosier, and robes of a bishop being laid upon the altar, they after earnest prayers for direction in their choice elected one of their own number; when the King said to him, “Arise, go to the altar, and receive your office at the hand of God.” His brethren led him to the altar, robed him, put the crosier in his hand and the mitre on his head, and he became the first Bishop of Scotland.
  “If the British islands were sunk in the sea (and the surface of this globe has suffered great changes), you would probably take some such method as this; and if they persist in denying your ordination, it is the same thing. A hundred years hence, when people are more enlightened, it will be wondered at that men in America, qualified by their learning and piety to pray for and instruct their neighbors, should not be permitted to do it till they had made a voyage of six thousand miles out and home, to ask leave of a cross old gentleman at Canterbury.”
  Franklin, however, was in no sense an agnostic. What he could not understand he did not profess to understand or believe; neither was he guilty of the presumption of holding that what he could not understand, he might not have understood if he had been a wiser and better man. Though impatient of cant and hypocrisy, especially in the pulpit, he never spoke lightly of the Bible, or of the Church and its offices. When his daughter Sally was about to marry, he wrote to her:—
          “My dear child, the natural prudence and goodness of heart God has blest you with, make it less necessary for me to be particular in giving you advice. I shall therefore only say, that the more attentively dutiful and tender you are towards your good mamma, the more you will recommend yourself to me. But why should I mention me, when you have so much higher a promise in the Commandments, that such conduct will recommend you to the favor of God? You know I have many enemies, all indeed on the public account (for I cannot recollect that I have in a private capacity given just cause of offense to any one whatever): yet they are enemies, and very bitter ones; and you must expect their enmity will extend in some degree to you, so that your slightest indiscretions will be magnified into crimes, in order the more sensibly to wound and afflict me. It is therefore the more necessary for you to be extremely circumspect in all your behavior, that no advantage may be given to their malevolence.
  “Go constantly to church, whoever preaches. The act of devotion in the Common Prayer Book is your principal business there, and if properly attended to will do more towards amending the heart than sermons generally can do. For they were composed by men of much greater piety and wisdom than our common composers of sermons can pretend to be; and therefore I wish you would never miss the prayer days: yet I do not mean you should despise sermons, even of the preachers you dislike, for the discourse is often much better than the man, as sweet and clear waters come through very dirty earth. I am the more particular on this head, as you seemed to express a little before I came away some inclination to leave our church, which I would not have you do.”
  I cannot more fitly close this imperfect sketch of America’s most illustrious citizen, than by quoting from a touching and most affectionate letter from Mrs. Hewson (Margaret Stevenson),—one of Franklin’s worthiest, most faithful, and most valued friends,—addressed to one of Franklin’s oldest friends in England.
          “We have lost that valued, venerable, kind friend whose knowledge enlightened our minds and whose philanthropy warmed our hearts. But we have the consolation to think that if a life well spent in acts of universal benevolence to mankind, a grateful acknowledgment of Divine favor, a patient submission under severe chastisement, and an humble trust in Almighty mercy, can insure the happiness of a future state, our present loss is his gain. I was the faithful witness of the closing scene, which he sustained with that calm fortitude which characterized him through life. No repining, no peevish expression ever escaped him during a confinement of two years, in which, I believe, if every moment of ease could be added together, would not amount to two whole months. When the pain was not too violent to be amused, he employed himself with his books, his pen, or in conversation with his friends; and upon every occasion displayed the clearness of his intellect and the cheerfulness of his temper. Even when the intervals from pain were so short that his words were frequently interrupted, I have known him to hold a discourse in a sublime strain of piety. I say this to you because I know it will give you pleasure.
  “I never shall forget one day that I passed with our friend last summer. I found him in bed in great agony; but when that agony abated a little I asked if I should read to him. He said yes; and the first book I met with was Johnson’s ‘Lives of the Poets.’ I read the ‘Life of Watts,’ who was a favorite author with Dr. Franklin; and instead of lulling him to sleep, it roused him to a display of the powers of his memory and his reason. He repeated several of Watts’s ‘Lyric Poems,’ and descanted upon their sublimity in a strain worthy of them and of their pious author. It is natural for us to wish that an attention to some ceremonies had accompanied that religion of the heart which I am convinced Dr. Franklin always possessed; but let us who feel the benefit of them continue to practice them, without thinking lightly of that piety which could support pain without a murmur, and meet death without terror.”
  Franklin made a somewhat more definite statement of his views on the subject of religion, in reply to an inquiry from President Styles of Yale College, who expressed a desire to know his opinion of Jesus of Nazareth. Franklin’s reply was written the last year of his life, and in the eighty-fourth of his age:—
          “You desire to know something of my religion. It is the first time I have been questioned upon it. But I cannot take your curiosity amiss, and shall endeavor in a few words to gratify it. Here is my creed. I believe in one God, the creator of the universe. That he governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshiped. That the most acceptable service we render to him is doing good to his other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental points in all sound religion, and I regard them as you do in whatever sect I meet with them.
  “As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think his system of morals and his religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is like to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting changes, and I have, with most of the present Dissenters in England, some doubts as to his Divinity; though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble. I see no harm, however, in its being believed, if that belief has the good consequence, as probably it has, of making his doctrines more respected and more observed; especially as I do not perceive that the Supreme takes it amiss, by distinguishing the unbelievers in his government of the world with any peculiar marks of his displeasure.
  “I shall only add, respecting myself, that, having experienced the goodness of that Being in conducting me prosperously through a long life, I have no doubt of its continuance in the next, though without the smallest conceit of meriting such goodness. My sentiments on this head you will see in the copy of an old letter inclosed, which I wrote in answer to one from an old religionist whom I had relieved in a paralytic case by electricity, and who, being afraid I should grow proud upon it, sent me his serious though rather impertinent caution.”  33

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