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Leiler from NIr. Abel James, with Notes on my Life,
(received in Paris.)
“ MY DEAR AND HONORED FRIEND, “ I have often been desirous of writing to thee, but could not be reconciled to the thought that the letter might fall into the hands of the British, Jest some printer or busy body should publish some part of the contents, and give our friend pain, and myself censure.
1 “Some time since there fell into my hands, to my great joy, about twenty-three sheets in thy own hand-writing, containing an account of the parentage and life of thyself, directed to thy son, ending in the year 1730, with which there were notes, likewise in thy writing; a copy of which I enclose, in hopes it may be a means, if thou continued it
up to a later period, that the first and latter part may be put together; and if it is not yet continued, I hope thee will not delay it. Life is uncertain, as the preacher tells us; and what will the world say if kind, humane and benevolent Ben. Franklin, should leave his friends and the world deprived of so pleasing and profitable a work; a work, which would be useful and entertaining not only to a few, but to millions. The influence writings under that class have on the minds of youth is very great, and has no where appeared to me so plain, as in our public friends' journals. It almost insensibly leads the youth into the resolution of endeavouring to become as good and eminent as the journalist, Should thine, for instance, when pubļished, (and I think it could not fail of it,) lead the youth to equal the industry and temperance of thy early youth, what a blessing with that class would such a work be! I know of no character living, nor many of them put together, who has so much in his power as thyself to promote a greater spirit of industry and early attention to business, frugality, and temperance with the American youth. Not that I think the work would have no other merit and use in the world ; far from it; but the first is of such Fast importance, that I know nothing that can equal it."
The foregoing letter and the minutes accompanying it being shewn to a friend, I received from him the following:
LETTER FROM MR. BENJAMIN VAUGHAN.
Paris, January 31, 1783. MY DEAREST SIR, “ When I had read over your sheets of minutes of thé principal incidents of your life, ' recovered
for you by your Quaker acquaintance; I told you I would send you a letter expressing my reasons why I thought it would be useful to complete and publish it as he desired. Various concerns have for some time past prevented this letter being written, and I do not know whether it was worth any expectation : happening to be at leisure however at present, I shall by writing at least interest and instruct myself; but as the terms I am inclined to use may tend to offend a person of your manners, I shall only tell you how I would address
who was as good and as great as yourself, but less diffident. I would say to him, Sir, I solicit the history of your life from the following motives. “ Your history is so remarkable, that if you
do not give it, somebody else will certainly give it; and perhaps so as nearly to do as much harm, as your own management of the thing might do good.
“ It will moreover present a table of the internal circumstances of your country, which will very much tend to invite to it settlers of virtuous and manly minds. And considering the eagerness with which such information is sought by them, and the extent of your reputation, I do not know of a more efficacious advertisement than your Biography would give.
“All that has happened to you is also connected with the detail of the manners and situation of a rising people; and in this respect I do not think that the writings of Cæsar and Tacitus can be more interesting to a true judge of human nature and society.
“ But these, Sir, are small reasons in my opinion, compared with the chance which your life will give for the forming of future great men; and in conjunction with your Art of Virtue, (which you design to publish) of improving the features of private character, and consequently of aiding all happiness both public and domestic.
“ The two works I allude to, Sir, will in particular give a noble rule and example of self-education. School and other education constantly proceed upon false principles, and shew a clumsy apparatus pointed at a false mark; but your apparatus is simple, and the mark a true one; and while parents and young persons are left destitute of other just means of estimating and becoming prepared for a reasonable course in life, your discovery that the thing is in many a man's private power, will be invaluable!
“ Influence upon the private character late in life, is not only an influence late in life, but a weak influence. It is in youth that we plant our chief habits and prejudices; it is in youth that we take our party as to profession, pursuits, and matrimony. In youth therefore the turn is given; in youth the education even of the next generation is given; in youth the private and public character is determin
ed; and the term of life extending but from youth to age, life ought to begin well from youth ; and more especially before we take our party as to our principal objects.
" But your Biography will not merely teach self-education, but the education of a wise man; and the wisest man will receive lights, and improve his progress, by seeing detailed the conduct of another wise man. And why are weaker men to be deprived of such helps, when we see our race has been blundering on in the dark, almost without a guide in this particular, from the furthest trace of time? Shew then, Sir, how much is to be done, both to sons and fathers; and invite all wise men to become like yourself; and other men to become wise.
“ When we see how cruel statesmen and warriors can be to the humble race, and how absurd distinguished men can be to their acquaintance, it will be instructive to observe the instances multiply of pacific acquiescing manners; and to find how compatible it is to be great and domestic ; enviable and yet good-humored.
“ The little private incidents which you will also have to relate, will have considerable use, as we want above all things, rules of prudence in ordinary affairs; and it will be curious to see how you have acted in these. It will be so far a sort of key ta life, and explain many things that all men ought to have once explained to them, to give them a chance of becoming wise by foresight.