Imágenes de páginas

was quick to seize every opportunity of gaining access to the English mind; but the breach had grown too wide to be bridged. In 1776 he was in Paris as Ambassador of the United States. For nine years he was one of the most striking figures in the French capital; the most influential men and women of France counted his acquaintance an honor and his friendship a distinction; he was recognized on all sides as the foremost man of the new world. He was as well-known among the people at large as among the scientists and public men. His achievements in science had done much to give him this extraordinary reputation. Poor Richard had done more; but his advocacy of liberty had done most. To the French people he was the representative of the democratic movement; the exponent of the rights of man. He was cheered, crowned, kissed, and caricatured; his portrait was everywhere conspicuously displayed. Meanwhile his pen flagged somewhat, but he still conducted the great debate between England and her colonies with astonishing skill and undiminished vivacity; for as he grew older Franklin gained in freedom and ease of style. Ten large volumes do not contain all he wrote; so great was his industry and so persistent his productive power. Letters, essays, pamphlets poured from his active mind in an almost continuous stream. And this voluminous production was characterized in every form by transparent clearness, directness, simplicity, and humor.

In 1771, during a visit to Twyford as the guest of the Bishop of St. Asaph, Franklin began writing his Autobiography. Five chapters were completed and the work was laid aside until 1784, when the story was resumed, to be interrupted a second time the following year by Franklin's return to Philadelphia. Three years later, in response to the urgent solicitation of friends, the work was resumed and the story brought down to 1757; it was never completed. In point of time it was the first real contribution to American literature, but it was not given to the public in this country in any complete fonn until several years after the publication of Knickerbocker's History of New York. It remains one of the most important contributions which that literature has yet received. It is a piece of sincere and genuine literary work; simple, honest, unaffected, and full of human interest. It is a classic, both in form and substance; for it presents, with singular clearness and charm, one of the most original and fertile men who has yet appeared in America; a man whose greatness is revealed not in elevation but in extension; not in insight but in understanding; not in imagination but in practical reason; not in spiritual vision but in broad, varied, and useful productivity.

Franklin's literary and philosophical training was of the old world; his sympathies, characteristics, and convictions were wholly of the new world. He was the first American to secure European reputation; he was the foremost contributor from the American side to the great debate which preceded the breaking out of the Revolutionary War; he was the most effective interpreter of America to Europe; he did more for science and for practical life than any other American of his time; and, beginning and continuing all his life, a journalist* he made the first enduring contribution to our literature.




I Have ever had a pleasure in obtaining any little anecdotal 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 you to learn the circumstances of my life, ninny of which you are unacquainted with, and expecting the enjoyment of a few weeks' uninterrupted leisure, I sit down to write them. Besides, there are some other inducements that excite me to this undertaking. From the poverty and obscurity in which I was born and in which I passed my earliest years, I have raised myself to a state of affluence and some degree of celebrity in the world. Ae constant good fortune has accompanied me even to an advanced period of life, my posterity will perhaps be desirous of learning the means which I employed, and which, thanks to Providence, eo well succeeded with me. They may also deem them fit to be imitated, should any of them find themselves in similar circumstances.

This good fortune, when I reflect on it (which is frequently the case), has induced me sometimes to say that if it were left to my choice I should have no objection to go over the same life from its beginning to the end; requesting only the advantage authors have of correcting in a second edition the faults of the first. So would I also wish to change some incidents of it for others more favorable. Notwithstanding, if this condition was denied I should still accept the offer recommencing the same life. But as this repetition is not to be expected, that which resembles most living one's life over again seems to be to recall all the circumstances of it, and, to render this remembrance more durable, to record them in writing.

In thus employing myself, I shall yield to the inclination, so natural to old men, of talking of themselves and their own actions; and I shall indulge it without being tiresome to those who, from respect to my age, might conceive themselves obliged to listen to me, since they will be always free to read me or not. An.'l lastly (I may as well confess it, as the denial of it would be believed by nobody), I shall, perhaps, not a little gratify my own vanity. Indeed, I never heard or saw the introductory words, "Without vanity I may say," etc., 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 who 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 attribute the mentioned happiness of my past life to His divine providence, which led me to the means I used and gave the 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 ar

« AnteriorContinuar »