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BY W. T. FRANKLIN.
AN apology for presenting to the Republic of Letters the authentic memorials of BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, illustrative of his Life and Times, written almost entirely with his own hand, would be at once superfluous and disrespectful. If any observation be at all requisite, in the shape of explanation, it must be in answer to the inquiry, why such interesting documents have been so long withheld from public view? To this the Editor has no hesitation in replying, that were he conscious of having neglected a solemn trust, by disobeying a positive injunction; or could he be convinced, that the world has sustained any real injury by the delay of the publication, he certainly should take shame to himself for not having sooner committed to the press, what at an earlier period, would have been much more to his pecuniary advantage. But aware, as he is, of the deference due to the general feeling of admira. tion for the illustrious dead, he is no less sensible that there are times and seasons when prudence imposes the restriction of silence in the gratification even of the most laudable cų. riosity.
It was the lot of this distinguished character above most men, to move, in the prominent parts of his active life, within a sphere agitated to no ordinary degree of heat by the inflammatory passions of political fury; and he had scarcely seated bimself in the shade of repose, from the turmoil of public em.
ployment, when another revolution burst forth with far more tremendous violence; during the progress of which his name was adduced by anarchists as a sanction for their practices, and his authority quoted by dreaming theorists in support of their visionary projects. Whether, therefore, the publication of his Memoirs and other papers, amidst such a scene of perturbation, would have been conducive to the desirable ends of peace, may be a matter of question; but at all events the sober and inquisitive part of mankind can have no cause to regret the suspension of what might have suffered from the perverted talents of designing partizans and infuriated zealots. It may fairly be observed, that the writings of DR. FRANKLIN are calculated to serve a far more important purpose than that of ministering to the views of party, and keeping alive national divisions, which, however necessitated by circumstances, ought to cease with the occasion, and yield to the spirit of philanthropy. Even amidst the din of war and the contention of faction, it was the constant ain of this excellent man, to promote a conciliatory disposition, and to correct the acerbity of controversy. Though no one could feel more sensibly for the wrongs of his country, or have more enlarged ideas on the subject of general liberty, his powerful efforts to redress the one and extend the other, were always connected with the paramount object of social improvement, in the recommendation of those habits which tend most effectually to unite men together in the bonds of amity. Happening, however, to live himself in a turbulent period, and called upon to take a leading part in those scenes wbich produced a new empire in the western world; much of his latter memoirs and correspondence will be found to exhibit his undisguised thoughts upon the public men and occurrences of his day. These sketches, anecdotes, and reflections will now be read by men of opposite sentiments, without awakening painful
recollections, or rekindling the dying embers of animosity: while the historian and the moralist may learn from them the secret springs of public events, and the folly of being carried away by political prejudice.
While, therefore, some contracted minds in different countries may be querulously disposed to censure the delay that has taken place in the publication of these posthumous papers, it is presumed that the more considerate and liberal on either side of the Atlantic, will approve of the motives which have operated for the procrastination, even though the period has so far exceeded the nonum prematur annum, assigned by Horace, the oldest and best of critics, for the appearance of a finished performance.
The Editor, in offering this justificatory plea to the public, and taking credit for having exercised so much discretion as to keep these relics in his private custody, till the return of halcyon days and a brightened horison, when their true value might be best appreciated, feels that he has discharged bis. duty in that manner which the venerable writer himself would have prescribed, could he have anticipated the disorders which have ravaged the most polished and enlightened states since his removal from this scene of pride and weakness; where nations as well as individuals have their periods of infancy and decrepitude, of moral vigor and wild derangement.
Shortly after the death of Dr. Franklin there were not wanting the usual train of Literary Speculators to exercise their industry in collecting his avowed productions, together with those which public rumor ascribed to his pen. These miscellanies were printed in various forms both in England and America, greatly to the advantage of the publishers; nor did the possessor of the originals avail himself of the general avidity and the celebrity of his ancestor, to deprive those persons of the profits which they continued to reap from repeated
editions of papers that had cost them nothing. When, however, they had reason to apprehend that the genuine memoirs and other works of Franklin, as written and corrected by himself, would be brought forward in a manner suitable to their importance, and the dignified rank of the author, in the political and literary world, invidious reports were sent abroad, and circulated with uncommon diligence, asserting that all the literary remains of Dr. Franklin had been purchased at an enormous rate by the British ministry, who (mirabile dictu) it seems were more afraid of this arsenal of paper than of the power of France, with all her numerous resources and auxiliaries. This convenient tale, absurd as it was, found reporters both in Europe and in the United States, who bruited it about with so much art, as to make many who were unacquainted with the legatee of the manuscripts, believe it to be true, and to lament feelingly, that such inestimable productions should be suppressed, and lost for ever, through the cupidity of the person to whom they were bequeathed. Provoking as the story was, the party whom it most affected, and whose interests it was designed to injure, felt too much of the conscia mens recti to do otherwise than treat the ridiculous invention with contempt, from a persuasion that the refutation of an improbable falsehood is beneath the dignity of truth. He therefore endured the opprobrium without complaint, and even suffered it to be repeated without being goaded into an explanation; contentedly waiting for the time when he might best fulfil his duty, and shame his calumniators. That period has at length arrived, and the world will now see whether an enlightened government could be weak enough to be frightened by the posthumous works of a philosopher; or whether a man of integrity, bred under Franklin, bearing his name, and entrusted with bis confidence, could be bribed into an act of treachery to his memory,
Of the present collection it remains to be observed, that the only portion which has hitherto appeared in any form, is the first fasciculus of the Memoirs of Dr. Franklin, extending from his birth to the year 1757, forming one hundred and seventy-five pages only of the present volume. But even what has formerly been printed of this part, can scarcely lay any claim to originality, since the English edition is no more than a translation from the French, which of itself is a professed version of a transcription; so that the metamorphoses of this interesting piece of biography, may be said to resemble the fate of Milton's epic poem, which a French Abbé paraphrased into inflated prose, and which an English writer, ignorant of its origin, turned back again under the same double disguise into its native language.
Admitting, however, that the small portion of the memoir given to the world, is substantially correct in the materials of the narrative, the present publication of it must be infinitely more estimable by being printed literally from the original autograph.
It is much to be regretted, that Dr. Franklin was not enabled, by his numerous avocations and the infirmities of old age, to complete the narrative of his life in his own inimitable manner. That he intended to bave done this is certain, from his correspondence, as well as from the parts in continuation of the memoir which are now for the first time communicated to the world. But the convulsed state of things during the American revolution, the lively concern which he had in that event, and his multiplied public engagements, after contributing to the establishment of the independence of his country, prevented him from indulging bis own inclinations and complying with the earnest desire of his numerous friends.
Upon the Editor, therefore, has devolved the task of filling up the chasms in the best manner that he could, from the let