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From Boyhood to Manhood
III. Paying too Dear for the Whistle.
by Thayer, William M.


When Benjamin was seven years old he had not been to school a day. Yet he was a good reader and speller. In manhood he said: "I do not remember when I could not read, so it must have been very early." He was one of those irrepressible little fellows, whose intuition and observation are better than school. He learned more out of school than he could or would have done in it. His precocity put him in advance of most boys at seven, even without schooling. It was not necessary for him to have school-teachers to testify that he possessed ten talents,--his parents knew that, and every one else who was familiar with him.

The first money he ever had to spend as he wished was on a holiday when he was seven years old. It was not the Fourth of July, when torpedoes and firecrackers scare horses and annoy men and women, for Benjamin's holiday was more than sixty years before the Declaration of Independence was declared, and that is what we celebrate now on the Fourth of July. Indeed, his holiday was a hundred years before torpedoes and fire-crackers were invented. It was a gala-day, however, in which the whole community was interested, including the youngest boy in the Franklin family.

"See that you spend your money well," remarked his mother, who presented him with several coppers; "and keep out of mischief."

"And here is some more," added his father, giving him several coppers to add to his spending money; "make wise investments, Ben, for your reputation depends upon it"; and the latter facetious remark was made in a way that indicated his love for the boy.

"What are you going to buy, Ben?" inquired an older brother, who wanted to draw out some bright answer from the child; "sugar-plums, of course," he added.

Benjamin made no reply, though his head was crammed with thoughts about his first holiday.

"I shall want to know how well you spend your money, Ben," said his mother; "remember that 'all is not gold that glitters'; you've got all the money you can have to-day."

All the older members of the family were interested in the boy's pastime, and while they were indulging in various remarks, he bounded out of the house, with his head filled with bewitching fancies, evidently expecting such a day of joy as he never knew before. Perhaps the toy-shop was first in his mind, into which he had looked wistfully many times as he passed, and perhaps it was not. We say toy-shop, though it was not such a toy-shop as Boston has to-day, where thousands of toys of every description and price are offered for sale. But it was a store in which, with other articles, toys were kept for sale, very few in number and variety compared with the toys offered for sale at the present day. Benjamin had seen these in the window often, and, no doubt, had wished to possess some of them. But there were no toys in the Franklin family; there were children instead of toys, so many of them that money to pay for playthings was out of the question.

Benjamin had not proceeded far on the street when he met a boy blowing a whistle that he had just purchased. The sound of the whistle, and the boy's evident delight in blowing it, captivated Benjamin at once. He stopped to listen and measure the possessor of that musical wonder. He said nothing, but just listened, not only with his ears, but with his whole self. He was delighted with the concert that one small boy could make, and, then and there, he resolved to go into that concert business himself. So he pushed on, without having said a word to the owner of the whistle, fully persuaded to invest his money in the same sort of a musical instrument. Supposing that the whistle was bought at the store where he had seen toys in the window, he took a bee line for it.

"Any whistles?" he inquired, almost out of breath.

"Plenty of them, my little man," the proprietor answered with a smile, at the same time proceeding to lay before the small customer quite a number.

"I will give you all the money I have for one," said Benjamin, without inquiring the price. He was so zealous to possess a whistle that the price was of no account, provided he had enough money to pay for it.

"Ah! all you have?" responded the merchant; "perhaps you have not as much as I ask for them. They are very nice whistles."

"Yes, I know they are, and I will give you all the money I have for one of them," was Benjamin's frank response. The fact was, he began to think that he had not sufficient money to purchase one, so valuable did a whistle appear to him at that juncture.

"How much money have you?" inquired the merchant.

Benjamin told him honestly how many coppers he had, which was more than the actual price of the whistles. The merchant replied:

"Yes, you may have a whistle for that. Take your pick."

Never was a child more delighted than he when the bargain was closed. He tried every whistle, that he might select the loudest one of all, and when his choice was settled, he exchanged his entire wealth for the prize. He was as well satisfied as the merchant when he left the store. "Ignorance is bliss," it is said, and it was to Benjamin for a brief space.

He began his concert as soon as he left the store. He wanted nothing more. He had seen all he wanted to see. He had bought all he wanted to buy. The whole holiday was crowded into that whistle. To him, that was all there was of it. Sweetmeats and knick-knacks had no attractions for him. Military parade had no charm for him, for he could parade himself now. A band of music had lost its charm, now that he had turned himself into a band.

At once he started for home, instead of looking after other sights and scenes. He had been absent scarcely half an hour when he reappeared, blowing his whistle lustily as he entered the house, as if he expected to astonish the whole race of Franklins by the shrillness, if not by the sweetness, of his music.

"Back so quick!" exclaimed his mother.

"Yes! seen all I want to see." That was a truth well spoken, for the whistle just commanded his whole being, and there was room for nothing more. A whistle was all the holiday he wanted.

"What have you there, Ben?" continued his mother; "Something to make us crazy?"

"A whistle, mother," stopping its noise just long enough for a decent reply, and then continuing the concert as before.

"How much did you give for the whistle?" asked his older brother, John.

"All the money I had." Benjamin was too much elated with his bargain to conceal any thing.

"What!" exclaimed John with surprise, "did you give all your money for that little concern?"

"Yes, every cent of it."

"You are not half so bright as I thought you were. It is four times as much as the whistle is worth."

"Did you ask the price of it?" inquired his mother.

"No, I told the man I would give him all the money I had for one, and he took it."

"Of course he did," interjected John, "and if you had had four times as much he would have taken it for the whistle. You are a poor trader, Ben."

"You should have asked the price of it in the first place," remarked his mother to him, "and then, if there was not enough, you could have offered all the money you had for the whistle. That would have been proper."

"If you had paid a reasonable price for it," continued John, "you might had enough money left to have bought a pocket full of good things."

"Yes, peppermints, candy, cakes, nuts, and perhaps more," added a cousin who was present, desiring most of all to hear what the bright boy would say for himself.

"I must say that you are a smart fellow, Ben, to be taken in like that," continued John, who really wanted to make his seven-year-old brother feel bad, and he spoke in a tone of derision. "All your money for that worthless thing, that is enough to make us crazy! You ought to have known better. If you had five dollars I suppose that you would have given it just as quick for the whistle."

Of course he would. The whistle was worth that to him, and he bought it for himself, not for any one else.

By this time Benjamin, who had said nothing in reply to their taunts and reproofs, was running over with feeling, and he could hold in no longer. Evidently he saw his mistake, and he burst into tears, and made more noise by crying than he did with his whistle. Their ridicule, and the thought of having paid more than he should for the whistle, overcame him, and he found relief in tears. His father came to his rescue.

"Never mind, Ben, you will understand how to trade the next time. We have to live and learn; I have paid too much for a whistle more than once in my life. You did as well as other boys do the first time."

"I think so too, Ben," joined in his mother, to comfort him. "John is only teasing you, and trying to get some sport out of his holiday. Better wipe up, and go out in the street to see the sights."

Benjamin learned a good lesson from this episode of his early life. He only did what many grown-up boys have done, over and over again; pay too much for a whistle. Men of forty, fifty, and sixty years of age do this same thing, and suffer the consequences. It is one of the common mistakes of life, and becomes a benefit when the lesson it teaches is improved as Franklin improved it.

In the year 1779, November 10th, Franklin wrote from Passy, France, to a friend, as follows:
"I am charmed with your description of Paradise, and with your plan of living there; and I approve much of your conclusion, that, in the mean time, we should draw all the good we can from this world. In my opinion, we might all draw more good from it than we do, and suffer less evil, if we would take care not to give too much for whistles For to me it seems that most of the unhappy people we meet with are become so by neglect of that caution. You ask what I mean? You love stories, and will excuse my telling one of myself.

"When I was a child of seven years old my friends, on a holiday, filled my pocket with coppers. I went directly to a shop where they sold toys for children; and, being charmed with the sound of a whistle, that I met by the way in the hands of another boy, I voluntarily offered and gave all my money for one. I then came home, and went whistling all over the house, much pleased with my whistle, but disturbing all the family. My brothers, sisters, and cousins, understanding the bargain I had made, told me I had given four times as much for it as it was worth; put me in mind what good things I might have bought with the rest of the money, and laughed at me so much for my folly that I cried with vexation, and the reflection gave me more chagrin than the whistle gave me pleasure.

"This, however, was afterwards of use to me, the impression continuing on my mind; so that often, when I was tempted to buy some unnecessary thing, I said to myself, Don't give too much for the whistle; and I saved my money.

"As I grew up, came into the world, and observed the actions of men, I thought I met with many, very many, who gave too much for the whistle.

"When I saw one too ambitious of court favor, sacrificing his time in attendance on levees, his repose, his liberty, his virtue, and perhaps his friends, to attain it, I have said to myself, This man gives too much for his whistle.

"When I saw another fond of popularity, constantly employing himself in political bustles, neglecting his own affairs, and ruining them by that neglect, He pays, indeed, said I, too much for his whistle.

"If I knew a miser, who gave up every kind of comfortable living, all the pleasure of doing good to others, all the esteem of his fellow-citizens, and the joys of benevolent friendship, for the sake of accumulating wealth, Poor man, said I, you pay too much for your whistle.

"When I met with a man of pleasure, sacrificing every laudable improvement of the mind, or his fortune, to mere corporeal sensations, and ruining his health in their pursuit, Mistaken man, said I, you are providing pain for yourself, instead of pleasure; you give too much for your whistle.

"If I see one fond of appearance, or fine clothes, fine houses, fine furniture, fine equipages, all above his fortune, for which he contracts debts, and ends his career in a prison, Alas! say I, he has paid dear, very dear, for his whistle.

"When I see a beautiful, sweet-tempered girl, married to an ill-natured brute of a husband, What a pity, say I, that she should pay so much for a whistle.

"In short, I conceive that great part of the miseries of mankind are brought upon them by the false estimates they have made of the value of things, and by their giving too much for their whistles.

"Yet I ought to have charity for these unhappy people, when I consider that, with all this wisdom of which I am boasting, there are certain things in the world so tempting,--for example, the apples of King John, which happily are not to be bought; for, if they were put to sale by auction, I might very easily be led to ruin myself in the purchase, and find that I had once more given too much for the whistle."
Thus Benjamin made good use of one of the foolish acts of his boyhood, which tells well both for his head and heart. Many boys are far less wise, and do the same foolish thing over and over again. They never learn wisdom from the past.

When a boy equivocates, or deceives, to conceal some act of disobedience from his parents or teachers, and thereby lays the foundation of habitual untruthfulness, he pays too dear for the whistle, and he will learn the truth of it when he becomes older, and can not command the confidence of his friends and neighbors, but is branded by them as an unreliable, dishonest man.

In like manner the boy who thinks it is manly to smoke and drink beer, will find that he has a very expensive whistle, when he becomes "a hale fellow well met" among a miserable class of young men, and is discarded by the virtuous and good.

So, in general, the young person who is fascinated by mere pleasure, and supposes that wealth and honor are real apples of gold to the possessor, thinking less of a good character than he does of show and glitter, will find that he has been blowing a costly whistle when it is too late to recall his mistake.

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