|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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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.
ABIAH, HIS WIFE,
LIE HERE INTERRED.
THEY LIVED LOVINGLY TOGETHER, IN WEDLOCK, FIFTY-FIVE YEARS,
AND WITHOUT AN ESTATE, OR ANY GAINFUL EMPLOYMENT, BY CONSTANT
LABOR AND HONEST INDUSTRY (WITH GOD'S BLESSING), MAINTAINED A
LARGE FAMILY COMFORTABLY; AND BROUGHT UP THIRTEEN CHILDREN AND
SEVEN GRANDCHILDREN REPUTABLY.
FROM THIS INSTANCE, READER, BE ENCOURAGED TO DILIGENCE IN THY
CALLING, AND DISTRUST NOT PROVIDENCE. HE WAS A PIOUS AND PRUDENT
MAN, SHE A DISCREET AND VIRTUOUS WOMAN. THEIR YOUNGEST SON, IN
FILIAL REGARD TO THEIR MEMORY, PLACES THIS STONE.
J.F., BORN 1655, DIED 1744, AET. 89.
A.F., BORN 1667, DIED 1752, AET. 85."
* * * * *
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
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
"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
"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.