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
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
"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
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
"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,
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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,
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.