Excerpts for Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
By Benjamin Franklin
Copyright © 1996
All right reserved.
The Autobiography of
Franklin's Draft Scheme of the Autobiography
Copie d'un Projet très Curieux de Benjamin Franklin-Iere Esquisse de ses
Mémoires. Les additions à l'encre rouge sont de la main de Franklin.*
My writing. Mrs. Dogood's letters. Differences arise between my Brother and
me (his temper and mine); their cause in general. His Newspaper. The
Prosecution he suffered. My Examination. Vote of Assembly. His manner of
evading it. Whereby I became free. My attempt to get employ with other
Printers. He prevents me. Our frequent pleadings before our Father. The
final Breach. My Inducements to quit Boston. Manner of coming to a
Resolution. My leaving him and going to New York (return to eating flesh);
thence to Pennsylvania. The journey, and its events on the Bay, at Amboy.
The road. Meet with Dr. Brown. His character. His great work. At
Burlington. The Good Woman. On the River. My Arrival at Philadelphia. First
Meal and first Sleep. Money left. Employment. Lodging. First acquaintance
with my afterward Wife. With J. Ralph. With Keimer. Their characters.
Osborne. Watson. The Governor takes notice of me. The Occasion and Manner.
His character. Offers to set me up. My return to Boston. Voyage and
accidents. Reception. My Father dislikes the proposal. I return to New York
and Philadelphia. Governor Burnet. J. Collins. The Money for Vernon. The
Governor's Deceit. Collins not finding employment goes to Barbados much in
my Debt. Ralph and I go to England. Disappointment of Governor's Letters.
Colonel French his Friend. Cornwallis's Letters. Cabbin. Denham. Hamilton.
Arrival in England. Get employment. Ralph not. He is an expense to me.
Adventures in England. Write
a Pamphlet and print 100. Schemes. Lyons. Dr. Pemberton.
My diligence, and yet poor through Ralph. My Landlady. Her character.
Wygate. Wilkes. Cibber. Plays. Books I borrowed. Preachers I heard.
Redmayne. At Watts's. Temperance. Ghost. Conduct and Influence among the
Men. Persuaded by Mr. Denham to return with him to Philadelphia and be his
clerk. Our voyage and arrival. My resolutions in Writing. My Sickness. His
Death. Found D. R. married. Go to work again with Keimer. Terms. His
ill-usage of me. My Resentment. Saying of Decow. My Friends at Burlington.
Agreement with H. Meredith to set up in Partnership. Do so. Success with
Assembly. Hamilton's Friendship. Sewell's History. Gazette. Paper money.
Webb. Writing Busy Body. Breintnal. Godfrey. His character. Suit against
us. Offer of my Friends, Coleman and Grace. Continue the Business, and M.
goes to Carolina. Pamphlet on Paper Money. Gazette from Keimer. Junto
credit; its plan. Marry. Library erected. Manner of conducting the project.
Its plan and utility. Children. Almanac. The use I made of it. Great
industry. Constant study. Father's Remark and Advice upon Diligence.
Carolina Partnership. Learn French and German. Journey to Boston after ten
years. Affection of my Brother. His Death, and leaving me his Son.
Art of Virtue. Occasion. City Watch amended. Post-office. Spotswood.
Bradford's Behaviour. Clerk of Assembly. Lose one of my Sons. Project of
subordinate Juntos. Write occasionally in the papers. Success in Business.
Fire companies. Engines. Go again to Boston in 1743. See Dr. Spence.
Whitefield. My connection with him. His generosity to me. My
returns. Church Differences. My part in them. Propose a College. Not then
prosecuted. Propose and establish a Philosophical Society. War.
Electricity. My first knowledge of it. Partnership with D. Hall, etc.
Dispute in Assembly upon Defence. Project for it. Plain Truth. Its success.
Ten thousand Men raised and disciplined. Lotteries. Battery built. New
Castle. My influence in the Council. Colors, Devices, and Mottos. Ladies'
Military Watch. Quakers chosen of the Common Council. Put in the commission
of the peace. Logan fond of me. His Library. Appointed Postmaster-General.
Chosen Assemblyman. Commissioner to treat with Indians at Carlisle and at
Easton. Project and establish Academy. Pamphlet on it. Journey to Boston.
At Albany. Plan of union of the colonies. Copy of it. Remarks upon it. It
fails, and how. Journey to Boston in 1754. Disputes about it in our
Assembly. My part in them. New Governor. Disputes with him. His character
and sayings to me. Chosen Alderman. Project of Hospital. My share in it.
Its success. Boxes. Made a Commissioner of the Treasury. My commission to
defend the frontier counties. Raise Men and built Forts. Militia Law of my
drawing. Made Colonel. Parade of my Officers. Offence to Proprietor.
Assistance to Boston Ambassadors. Journey with Shirley, etc. Meet with
Braddock. Assistance to him. To the Officers of his Army. Furnish him with
Forage. His concessions to me and character of me. Success of my Electrical
Experiments. Medal sent me. Present Royal Society, and Speech of President.
Denny's Arrival and Courtship to me. His character. My service to the Army
in the affair of Quarters. Disputes about the Proprietor's Taxes continued.
Project for paving the City. I am sent to England. Negotiation there.
Canada delenda est. My Pamphlet. Its reception and effect. Projects drawn
from me concerning the Conquest. Acquaintance made and their services to
me-Mrs. S. M. Small, Sir John P., Mr. Wood, Sargent Strahan, and others.
Their characters. Doctorate from Edinburgh, St. Andrew's. Doctorate from
Oxford. Journey to Scotland. Lord Leicester. Mr. Prat. De Grey. Jackson.
State of Affairs in England. Delays. Eventful Journey into Holland and
Flanders. Agency from Maryland. Son's appointment. My Return.
Allowance and thanks. Journey to Boston. John Penn, Governor. My conduct
toward him. The Paxton Murders. My Pamphlet. Rioters march to Philadelphia.
Governor retires to my House. My conduct. Sent out to the Insurgents. Turn
them back. Little thanks. Disputes revived. Resolutions against continuing
under Proprietary Government. Another Pamphlet. Cool thoughts. Sent again
to England with Petition. Negotiation there. Lord H. His character.
Agencies from New Jersey, Georgia, Massachusetts. Journey into Germany,
1766. Civilities received there. Göttingen Observations. Ditto into France
in 1767. Ditto in 1769. Entertainment there at the Academy. Introduced to
the King and the Mesdames, Mad. Victoria and Mrs. Lamagnon. Duc de
Chaulnes, M. Beaumont, Le Roy, D'Alibard, Nollet. See Journals. Holland.
Reprint my papers and add many. Books presented to me from many authors.
My Book translated into French. Lightning Kite. Various
Discoveries. My manner of prosecuting that Study. King of Denmark invites
me to dinner. Recollect my Father's Proverb. Stamp Act. My opposition to
it. Recommendation of J. Hughes. Amendment of it. Examination in
Parliament. Reputation it gave me. Caressed by Ministry. Charles Townsend's
Act. Opposition to it. Stoves and chimney-plates. Armonica. Acquaintance
with Ambassadors. Russian Intimation. Writing in newspapers. Glasses from
Germany. Grant of Land in Nova Scotia. Sicknesses. Letters to America
returned hither. The consequences. Insurance Office. My character. Costs me
nothing to be civil to inferiors; a good deal to be submissive
to superiors, etc., etc. Farce of Perpetual Motion. Writing
for Jersey Assembly. Hutchinson's Letters. Temple. Suit in Chancery. Abuse
before the Privy Council. Lord Hillsborough's character and conduct. Lord
Dartmouth. Negotiation to prevent the War. Return to America. Bishop of St.
Asaph. Congress. Assembly. Committee of Safety. Chevaux-de-frise. Sent to
Boston, to the Camp. To Canada, to Lord Howe. To France. Treaty, etc.
Twyford, at the Bishop of St. Asaph's, 1771.
Dear son: I have ever had 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 know the
circumstances of my life, many of which you are yet unacquainted with, and
expecting the enjoyment of a week's uninterrupted leisure in my present
country retirement, I sit down to write them for you. To which I have
besides some other inducements. Having emerged from the poverty and
obscurity in which I was born and bred, to a state of affluence and some
degree of reputation in the world, and having gone so far through life with
a considerable share of felicity, the conducing means I made use of, which
with the blessing of God so well succeeded, my posterity may like to know,
as they may find some of them suitable to their own situations, and
therefore fit to be imitated.
That felicity, when I reflected on it, has induced me sometimes to say,
that were it offered to my choice, I should have no objection to a
repetition of the same life from its beginning, only asking the advantages
authors have in a second edition to correct some faults of the first. So I
might, besides correcting the faults, change some sinister accidents and
events of it for others more favorable. But though this were denied, I
should still accept the offer. Since such a repetition is not to be
expected, the next thing most like living one's life over again seems to be
a recollection of that life, and to make that recollection as durable as
possible by putting it down in writing.
Hereby, too, I shall indulge the inclination so natural in old men, to be
talking of themselves and their own past actions; and I shall indulge it
without being tiresome to others, who, through respect to age, might
conceive themselves obliged to give me a hearing, since this may be read or
not as any one pleases. And, lastly (I may as well confess it, since my
denial of it will be believed by nobody), perhaps I shall a good deal
gratify my own vanity. Indeed, I scarce ever 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 that 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 owe the mentioned happiness of my past life to His kind providence,
which lead me to the means I used and gave them 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 as others have done; the
complexion of my future fortune being known to Him only in whose power it
is to bless to us even our afflictions.
The notes one of my uncles (who had the same kind of curiosity in
collecting family anecdotes) once put into my hands, furnished me with
several particulars relating to our ancestors. From these notes I learned
that the family had lived in the same village, Ecton, in Northamptonshire,
for three hundred years, and how much longer he knew not (perhaps from the
time when the name of Franklin, that before was the name of an order of
people, was assumed by them as a surname when others took surnames all over
the kingdom), on a freehold of about thirty acres, aided by the smith's
business, which had continued in the family till his time, the eldest son
being always bred to that business; a custom which
he and my father followed as to their eldest sons. When I searched the
registers at Ecton, I found an account of their births, marriages and
burials from the year 1555 only, there being no registers kept in that
parish at any time preceding. By that register I perceived that I was the
youngest son of the youngest son for five generations back. My grandfather
Thomas, who was born in 1598, lived at Ecton till he grew too old to follow
business longer, when he went to live with his son John, a dyer at Banbury,
in Oxfordshire, with whom my father served an apprenticeship. There my
grandfather died and lies buried. We saw his gravestone in 1758. His eldest
son Thomas lived in the house at Ecton, and left it with the land to his
only child, a daughter, who, with her husband, one Fisher, of
Wellingborough, sold it to Mr. Isted, now lord of the manor there. My
grandfather had four sons that grew up, viz.: Thomas, John, Benjamin and
Josiah. I will give you what account I can of them, at this distance from
my papers, and if these are not lost in my absence, you will among them
find many more particulars.
Thomas was bred a smith under his father; but, being ingenious, and
encouraged in learning (as all my brothers were) by an Esquire Palmer, then
the principal gentleman in that parish, he qualified himself for the
business of scrivener; became a considerable man in the county; was a chief
mover of all
public-spirited undertakings for the county or town of Northampton, and his
own village, of which many instances were related of him; and much taken
notice of and patronized by the then Lord Halifax. He died in 1702, January
6, old style, just four years to a day before I was born. The account we
received of his life and character from some old people at Ecton, I
remember, struck you as something extraordinary, from its similarity to
what you knew of mine. "Had he died on the same day," you said, "one might
have supposed a transmigration."
John was bred a dyer, I believe of woolens. Benjamin was bred a silk dyer,
serving an apprenticeship at London. He was an ingenious man. I remember
him well, for when I was a boy he came over to my father in Boston, and
lived in the house with us some years. He lived to a great age. His
grandson, Samuel Franklin, now lives in Boston. He left behind him two
quarto volumes, MS., of his own poetry, consisting of little occasional
pieces addressed to his friends and relations, of which the following, sent
to me, is a specimen. He had formed a short-hand of his own, which he
taught me, but, never practising it, I have now forgot it. I was named
after this uncle, there being a particular affection between him and my
father. He was very pious, a great attender of sermons of the best
preachers, which he took down in his short-hand, and had with him many
volumes of them. He was also much of a politician; too much, perhaps, for
his station. There fell lately into my hands, in London, a collection he
had made of all the principal pamphlets relating to public affairs, from
1641 to 1717; many of the volumes are wanting as appears by the numbering,
but there still remain eight volumes in folio, and twenty-four in quarto
and in octavo. A dealer in old books met with them, and knowing me by my
sometimes buying of him, he brought them to me. It seems my uncle must have
left them here when he went to America, which was above fifty years since.
There are many of his notes in the margins.
Excerpted from The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
by Benjamin Franklin
Copyright © 1996 by Benjamin Franklin.
Excerpted by permission.
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