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From Boyhood to Manhood
In School.
by Thayer, William M.

Uncle Benjamin was so deeply interested in his namesake that he wrote many letters about him. Nearly every ship that sailed for Boston brought a letter from him to the Franklin family, and almost every letter contained a piece of poetry from his pen. One of his letters about that time contained the following acrostic on Benjamin's name:
   "Be to thy parents an obedient son;
   Each day let duty constantly be done;
   Never give way to sloth, or lust, or pride,
   If free you'd be from thousand ills beside.
   Above all ills be sure avoid the shelf,
   Man's danger lies in Satan, sin and self.
   In virtue, learning, wisdom, progress make;
   Ne'er shrink at suffering for thy Savior's sake.

   "Fraud and all falsehood in thy dealings flee;
   Religious always in thy station be;
   Adore the maker of thy inward part;
   Now's the accepted time; give him thine heart;
   Keep a good conscience, 'tis a constant friend,
   Like judge and witness this thy acts attend,
   In heart, with bended knee, alone, adore
   None but the Three in One for evermore."
The sentiment is better than the poetry, and it shows that the hero of our tale had a treasure in the uncle for whom he was named. Doubtless "Uncle Benjamin's" interest was largely increased by the loss of his own children. He had quite a number of sons and daughters, and one after another of them sickened and died, until only one son remained, and he removed to Boston. It was for these reasons, probably, that "Uncle Benjamin" came to this country in 1715.

Among his letters was one to his brother Josiah, our Benjamin's father, when the son was seven years old, from which we extract the following:
"A father with so large a family as yours ought to give one son, at least, to the service of the Church. That is your tithe. From what you write about Benjamin I should say that he is the son you ought to consecrate specially to the work of the ministry. He must possess talents of a high order, and his love of learning must develop them rapidly. If he has made himself a good reader and speller, as you say, without teachers, there is no telling what he will do with them. By all means, if possible, I should devote him to the Church. It will be a heavy tax upon you, of course, with so large a family on your hands, but your reward will come when you are old and gray-headed. Would that I were in circumstances to assist you in educating him."
"He does not know how much thought and planning we have given to this subject," remarked Mr. Franklin to his wife, when he read this part of the letter. "I would do any thing possible to educate Benjamin for the Church, and I think he would make the most of any opportunities we can give him."

"There is no doubt of that," responded Mrs. Franklin. "Few parents ever had more encouragement to educate a son for the ministry than we have to educate him."

"Doctor Willard said as much as that to me," added Mr. Franklin, "and I think it is true. I do not despair of giving Benjamin an education yet, though I scarcely see how it ever can be done."

"That is the way I feel about it," responded Mrs. Franklin. "Perhaps God will provide a way; somehow I trust in Providence, and wait, hoping for the best."

"It is well to trust in Providence, if it is not done blindly," remarked Mr. Franklin. "Providence sometimes does wonders for people who trust. It is quite certain that He who parted the waters of the Red Sea for the children of Israel to pass, and fed them with manna from the skies, can provide a way for our Benjamin to be educated. But it looks to me as if some of his bread would have to drop down from heaven."

"Well, if it drops that is enough," replied Mrs. Franklin. "I shall be satisfied. If God does any thing for him he will do it in his own time and way, and I shall be content with that. To see him in the service of the Church is the most I want."

"Uncle Benjamin's" letter did not introduce a new subject of conversation into the Franklin family; it was already an old theme that had been much canvassed. Outside of the family there was an interest in Benjamin's education. He was the kind of a boy to put through Harvard College. This was the opinion of neighbors who knew him. Nothing but poverty hindered the adoption and execution of that plan.

"Uncle Benjamin's" letter did this, however: it hastened a favorable decision, though Benjamin was eight years old when his parents decided that he might enter upon a course of education.

They had said very little to their son about it, because they would not awaken his expectations to disappoint them. And finally the decision was reached with several ifs added.

"I do not know how I shall come out," added Mr. Franklin, "he may begin to study. It won't hurt him to begin, if I should not be able to put him through a course."

The decision to send him to school was arrived at in this doubtful way, and it was not laid more strongly than this before Benjamin for fear of awakening too high hopes in his heart.

"I have decided to send you to school," said his father to him, "but whether I shall be able to send you as long as I would like is not certain yet. I would like to educate you for the ministry if I could; how would you like that?"

"I should like to go to school; I should like nothing better," answered Benjamin. "About the rest of it I do not know whether I should like it or not."

"Well, it may not be best to discuss that," continued his father, "as I may not be able to carry out my plan to the end. It will cost a good deal to keep you in school and educate you, perhaps more than I can possibly raise with so large a family to support. I have to be very industrious now to pay all my bills. But if you are diligent to improve your time, and lend a helping hand at home, out of school hours, I may be able to do it."

"I will work all I can out of school, if I can only go," was Benjamin's cheerful pledge in the outset. "When shall I begin?"

"Begin the next term. It is a long process to become educated for the ministry, and the sooner you begin the better. But you must understand that it is not certain I can continue you in school for a long time. Make the most of the advantages you have, and we will trust in Providence for the future."

Josiah Franklin's caution was proverbial. He was never rash or thoughtless. He weighed all questions carefully. He was very conscientious, and would not assume an obligation that he could not see his way clear to meet. He used the same careful judgment and circumspection about the education of his son that he employed in all business matters. For this reason he was regarded as a man of sound judgment and practical wisdom, and his influence was strong and wide. When his son reached the height of his fame, he wrote as follows of his father:
"I suppose you may like to know what kind of a man my father was. He had an excellent constitution, was of a middle stature, well set, and very strong. He could draw prettily and was skilled a little in music. His voice was sonorous and agreeable, so that when he played on his violin, and sung withal, as he was accustomed to do after the business of the day was over, it was extremely agreeable to hear. He had some knowledge of mechanics, and on occasion was handy with other tradesmen's tools. But his great excellence was his sound understanding, and his solid judgment in prudential matters, both in private and public affairs. It is true he was never employed in the latter, the numerous family he had to educate, and the straitness of his circumstances, keeping him close to his trade; but I remember well his being frequently visited by leading men, who consulted him for his opinion in public affairs, and those of the church he belonged to; and who showed a great respect for his judgment and advice. He was also consulted much by private persons about their affairs, when any difficulty occurred, and frequently chosen an arbitrator between contending parties."
Of his mother he wrote, at the same time:
"My mother had likewise an excellent constitution; she suckled all her ten children. I never knew either my father or mother to have any sickness, but that of which they died--he at eighty-nine, and she at eighty-five years of age. They lie buried together at Boston, where I some years since placed a marble over their grave, with this inscription:




J.F., BORN 1655, DIED 1744, AET. 89.
A.F., BORN 1667, DIED 1752, AET. 85."
We may say here that the stone which Doctor Franklin erected, as above, became so dilapidated that in 1827, the citizens of Boston replaced it by a granite obelisk. The bodies repose in the old Granary cemetery, beside Park-street church.

* * * * *

It was arranged that Benjamin should begin his school-days, and enjoy the best literary advantages which the poverty of his father could provide. He acceded to the plan with hearty good-will, and commenced his studies with such zeal and enthusiasm as few scholars exhibit.

The school was taught by Mr. Nathaniel Williams, successor of the famous Boston teacher, Mr. Ezekiel Cheever, who was instructor thirty-five years, and who discontinued teaching, as Cotton Mather said, "only when mortality took him off." The homely old wooden school-house, one story and a half high, stood near by the spot on which the bronze statue of Franklin is now seen, and there was the "school-house green" where "Ben" and his companions played together. Probably it was the only free grammar school that Boston afforded at that time; for the town could not have numbered a population of over eight thousand.

From his first day's attendance at school Benjamin gave promise of high scholarship. He went to work with a will, improving every moment, surmounting every difficulty, and enjoying every opportunity with a keen relish. Mr. Williams was both gratified and surprised. That a lad so young should take hold of school lessons with so much intelligence and tact, and master them so easily, was a surprise to him, and he so expressed himself to Mr. Franklin.

"Your son is a remarkable scholar for one so young. I am more than gratified with his industry and progress. His love of knowledge is almost passionate."

"Yes, he was always so," responded Mr. Franklin. "He surprised us by reading well before we ever dreamed of such a thing. He taught himself, and a book has always been of more value to him than any thing else."

"You will give him an education, I suppose?" said Mr. Williams, inquiringly. "Such a boy ought to have the chance."

"My desire to do it is strong, much stronger than my ability to pay the bills. It is not certain that I shall be able to continue him long at school, though I shall do it if possible."

"Such love of knowledge as he possesses ought to be gratified," continued Mr. Williams. "He excels by far any scholar of his age in school. He will lead the whole school within a short time. His enthusiasm is really remarkable."

Within a few months, as the teacher predicts, Benjamin led the school. He was at the head of his class in every study except arithmetic. Nor did he remain at the head of his class long, for he was rapidly promoted to higher classes. He so far outstripped his companions that the teacher was obliged to advance him thus, that his mental progress might not be retarded. Of course, teachers and others were constantly forecasting his future and prophesying that he would fill a high position in manhood. It is generally the case that such early attention to studies, in connection with the advancement that follows, awakens high hopes of the young in the hearts of all observers. These things foreshadow the future character, so that people think they can tell what the man will be from what the boy is. So it was with Franklin, and so it was with Daniel Webster. Webster's mother inferred from his close attention to reading, and his remarkable progress in learning, that he would become a distinguished man, and so expressed herself to others. She lived to see him rise in his profession, until he became a member of Congress, though she died before he reached the zenith of his renown. The same was true of David Rittenhouse, the famous mathematician. When he was but eight years old, he constructed various articles, such as a miniature water-wheel, and at seventeen years of age he made a complete clock. His younger brother declared that he was accustomed to stop, when he was plowing in the field, and solve problems on the fence, and sometimes cover the plow handles with figures. The highest expectations of his friends were more than realized in his manhood. The peculiar genius which he exhibited in his boyhood gave him his world-wide fame at last.

Also George Stephenson, the great engineer, the son of a very poor man, who fired the engine at Wylam colliery, began his life-labor when a mere boy. Besides watching the cows, and barring the gates after the coal-wagons had passed, at four cents a day, he amused himself during his leisure moments, in making clay engines, in imitation of that which his father tended. Although he lived in circumstances so humble that ordinarily he would have been entirely unnoticed, his intense interest in, and taste for, mechanical work, attracted the attention of people and led them to predict his future success and fame.

In like manner, the first months of Benjamin Franklin's school days foreshadowed the remarkable career of his manhood. Relatives and friends believed that he would one day fill a high place in the land; and in that, their anticipations were fully realized.


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