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been deficient in the chivalrous sentiment which we look for in a lover. In his nineteenth year he “made some courtship” to Miss Read; but, when he went to England, he “forgot by degrees his engagements” to her, and she married another. Some years afterwards he made "serious courtship” to a young lady who had been recommended to him by his friend Mrs. Godfrey. But, before venturing upon an engagement, he apprized the parents that he expected, with his bride, money enough to pay off an encumbrance upon his printing-office, amounting to about a hundred pounds. The parents demurred, and he abandoned his suit, and turned his attention elsewhere. But the business of a printer being looked on with distrust, he soon found (he tells us) that he " was not to expect money with a wife," unless with such a one as he should not otherwise think agreeable.” The tender passion must have had little sway with him at this time, if it could thus be elevated or depressed according to the graduation of his bride's dowry. Let us judge him, however, by the record of his acts, rather than of his words. Franklin returned to his first love, and married her in spite of many obstacles; and she proved "a good and faithful helpmate.
His playful letter,* in his old age, to Madame Helvetius, in which he imagines a visit to the Elysian Fields, where he found his departed wife the mate of Madame's departed husband, though pervaded by an elegant pleasantry, has been quoted as showing that the sentiment which sanctifies connubial affection, and which would have been proof against a thought of levity, was wanting in his case. But Franklin was a humorist, and, when he gave play to the imaginative faculty, it took the direction of humorous fable or anecdote. If, as his French biographers assert, he seriously made proposals of marriage to Madame Helvetius, he could hardly have made a more gallant retreat, after her rejection of his suit, than under the cover of that ingenious apologue. Towards this lady he seems to have entertained a regard which was deep and genuine, and not without a rose-tint of romance. When upwards of eighty, he wrote to her from Philadelphia: "I stretch my arms towards you,
* See page 90.
in spite of the immensity of ocean that separates us, and await that celestial kiss which I firmly hope, one day, to give you ! ” In a letter about a year before he died, to the Abbé Morellet, he alludes to her as "the good lady whom we all love, and whose remembrance I shall cherish while a breath of life remains."***
With regard to Franklin's religious views, we have a very explicit statement in his letter of March 9, 1790, to President Stiles, of Yale College, from which it would appear that Franklin's creed did not materially differ from that of the Humanitarians of the present day. In this letter
“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 worshipped. 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
* Mrs. John Adams dined with Madame Helvetius in 1784, at Dr. Franklin's, and has left her impressions of the lady in a letter to a friend, from which the following is a passage : “She entered the room with a careless, jaunty air. Upon seeing ladies who were strangers to her, she bawled out, 'Ah, mon Dieu ! where is Franklin ? Why did you not tell me there were ladies here?' You must suppose her speaking all this in French. “Ilow I look !' said she, taking hold of a chemise made of tiffany, which she had on over a blue lutestring, and which looked as much upon the decay as her beauty, for she was once a handsome woman. Her hair was frizzled ; over it she had a small straw hat, with a dirtygiluze half-handkerchief round it, and a bit of dirtier gauze than ever my maids wore was bowed on behind. She had a black gauze scarf thrown over her shoulders. She ran out of the room ; when she returned, the Doctor entered at one door, she at the other ; upon which she ran forward to him, caught him by the hand, 'Helas, Franklin !' then gave him a double kiss, one upon each cheek, and another upon his forehead. When we went into the room to dine, she was placed between the Doctor and Mr. Adams. She carried on the chief of the conversation at dinner, frequently locking her hand into the Doctor's, and sometimes spreading her arms upon the backs of both the gentlemen's chairs, then throwing her arm carelessly upon the Doctor's neck. I should have been greatly astonished at this conduct, if the good Doctor had not told me that in this lady I should see a genuine Frenchwoman, wholly free from affectation or stiffness of behavior, and one of the best women in the world. For this I must take the Doctor's word.”
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 believers, 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
of an old letter enclosed."* Even in the adoption of his religious views, Franklin seems to have been biased by his habitual regard for utility as the primary good. Finding, at an early period of his experience, that men destitute of religious convictions were unreliable, treacherous and sensual, he came to consider morality as essential to social and individual well-being, and religion as essential to morality: hence he found in the necessities of human nature a warrant for both. He was penetrated with a vital and abiding conviction of the great realities of a special Providence, and the immortality of the soul. Expressions that frequently occur in his familiar letters and public speeches indicate that his belief in the agency of Deity in the affairs of nations and individuals, his cheerful certainty in regard to another and a better world, were habits of mind the influence of which was powerful and constant. Regarding this state of existence as one
Supposed to be that to George Whitefield, page 412.
of preparatory discipline for another, he looked forward with delight to enlarged opportunities of studying the works of the Creator. " It is to me,” he writes, in his eightyfirst year, "a comfortable reflection, that, since we must live forever in a future state, there is a sufficient stock of amusement in reserve for us to be found in constantly learning something new to eternity, the present quantity of human ignorance infinitely exceeding that of human knowledge."
Of historical theology he seems to have known little. In a letter dated July 18, 1784, he writes of having asked information of the Pope's Nuncio, " whether a Protestant bishop might not be ordained by the Catholic in America." The answer was such as few readers will fail to anticipate : " The thing is impossible.”
As a philanthropist, Franklin was bold, consistent, active, and greatly in advance of his age. From his Quaker brethren in Philadelphia he contracted all their zeal in behalf of humanity, although in his mind it put on the aspect of plain, practical beneficence. He was ever foremost in all humane enterprises. He was never misled, through sympathy with a majority, into the support of measures which, though popular, were inconsistent with a high-toned Christian morality. He was the champion of the Indians when to advocate their cause was to displease the many. He was one of the earliest opponents of the slave-trade and slavery. He omitted no opportunity to protest against war and its iniquity, and he branded as piracy the custom of privateering, however sanctioned by international usage. As a statesman and philosopher, his fame is imperishable. As an active benefactor of his race, he is entitled to its lasting gratitude. As one of the founders of the American Union, he must ever be held in honorable remembrance by all who prize American institutions. As the zealous foe to oppression in all its forms, he merits the thankful regard of good men of all ages and climes.
Genealogy Birth The Folgers School-days Boyish Sports and
Scrapes – His Parents - Fondness for Reading — Apprenticed to his Brother as a Printer – Writes Street Ballads — Disputes with Collins - Exercises in Composition - Tries a Vegetable Diet — Critical Speculations Employed on a Newspaper — Writes for it Anonymously - Ill treated by his Brother — Attack on the Liberty of the Press — Leaves his BrotherStarts for New York - Not getting Work there, he goes to Philadelphia.
I HAVE ever had a 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 you to learn the circumstances of my life, many 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 end 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. As 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, so well succeeded with me. They may also deem them fit to be imitated, should
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
* For the convenience of the reader, the Autobiography is divided into chapters. The first part, which closes with the fourth chapter, was addressed, in the form of a letter, from Twyford, the seat of the Bishop of St. Asaph, to Franklin's son, Wm. Franklin, Governor of New Jersey. It bears date 1771.