All Rights Reserved.
Site last updated
13 January, 2012
From Boyhood to Manhood|
V. Out of School.
by Thayer, William M.
|Mr. Franklin's finances did not improve. It was clearer every day to
him that he would not be able to keep Benjamin in school. Besides, in
a few months, John, who had learned the tallow-chandler's business of
his father, was going to be married, and establish himself in that
trade in Providence. Some body must take his place. It was quite
impossible for his father to prosecute his business alone.
"I see no other way," remarked Mr. Franklin to his wife; "I shall be
obliged to take Benjamin out of school to help me. My expenses
increase from month to month, and must continue to increase for some
years, so far as I can see. They will increase heavily if I am obliged
to hire a man in John's place."
"I am not surprised at all that you have come to that conclusion,"
replied Mrs. Franklin. "I expected it, as I have intimated to you.
Parents must be better off than we are to be able to send a son to
"If they have as many children to support as we have, you might add. I
could easily accomplish it with no larger family than most of my
neighbors have. Yet I find no fault with the number. I accept all the
"I am sorry for Benjamin," continued Mrs. Franklin. "He will be
dreadfully disappointed. I am afraid that he will think little of work
because he thinks so much of his school. What a pity that boys who
want an education, as he does, could not have it, and boys who do not
want it should do the work."
"That is the way we should fix it, no doubt, if the ordering were left
to us," said Mr. Franklin; "but I never did have my own way, and I
never expect to have it, and it is fortunate, I suppose, that I never
did have it. If I could have it now, I should send Benjamin to
"It has been my prayer that he might give his life and his services to
the Church," added Mrs. Franklin; "but Providence appears to indicate
now that he should make candles for a livelihood, and it is not in me
to rebel against the ordering. If frustrated in this plan, I mean to
believe that Providence has some thing better in store for him and
"I was never so reluctant to adopt a conclusion as I have been to take
Benjamin out of school," continued Mr. Franklin. "Yet, there has been
one thought that reconciled me in part to the necessity, and that is,
that there is less encouragement to a young man in the Church now than
formerly. It is more difficult to suit the people, and, consequently,
there are more trials and hardships for ministers; and many of them
appear to be peculiar."
"If ministers have a harder time than you do I pity them," rejoined
Mrs. Franklin. "I suppose as that is concerned, we are all in the same
boat. If we meet them with Christian fortitude, as we should, so much
the better for us."
"True, very true, and my uppermost desire is to put Benjamin where
duty points. But it is clear to me now that Providence has blocked his
way to the ministry."
"You will not take him out of school until John leaves, will you?"
inquired Mrs. Franklin.
"I shall have him leave the public school at the close of this term,
and that will give him a full year's schooling. And then I shall put
him into Mr. Brownwell's school for a while to improve him in
penmanship and arithmetic. By that time I must have him in the
Mr. Brownwell had a private school, in which he taught penmanship and
arithmetic. It was quite a famous school, made so by his success as a
teacher in these departments.
Benjamin had received no intimation, at this time, that he would be
taken out of school. His father shrunk from disclosing his final plan
to him because he knew it would be so disappointing. But as the close
of the school year drew near, he was obliged to open the subject to
him. It was an unpleasant revelation to Benjamin, although it was not
altogether unexpected. For, in the outset, his father had said that
such might be the necessity.
"You are a poor penman and deficient in your knowledge of numbers,"
said his father; "and improvement in these branches will be of great
service to you in my business. You will attend Mr. Brownwell's school
for a while in order to perfect yourself in these studies."
"I shall like that," answered Benjamin; "but why can I not attend
school until I am old enough to help you?"
"You are old enough to help me. There are many things you can do as
well as a man."
"I should like to know what?" said Benjamin, rather surprised that he
could be of any service in the candle business at nine years of age.
"John had to learn the trade before he could help you much."
"You can cut the wicks, fill the moulds for cast-candles, keep the
shop in order, run hither and thither with errands, and do other
things that will save my time, and thus assist me just as much as a
man could in doing the same things."
"I am sure that is inducement enough for any boy, but a lazy one, to
work," remarked his mother, who had listened to the conversation.
"Your father would have to pay high wages to a man to do what you can
do as well, if I understand it."
"In doing errands you will aid as much, even perhaps more, than in
doing any thing else," added Mr. Franklin. "I have a good deal of such
running to do, and if you do it I can be employed in the more
important part of my business, which no one else can attend to.
Besides, your nimble feet can get over the ground much quicker than my
older and clumsier ones, so that you can perform that part of the
business better than I can myself."
This was a new view of the case to Benjamin, and he was more favorably
impressed with candle-making by these remarks. He desired to be of
good service to his father, and here was an opportunity--a
consideration that partially reconciled him to the inevitable change.
At that time--about one hundred and seventy-five years ago--boys were
put to hard work much earlier than they are now. They had very small
opportunities for acquiring knowledge, and the boys who did not go to
school after they were ten years old were more in number than those
who did. Besides, the schools were very poor in comparison with those
of our day. They offered very slim advantages to the young. It was not
unusual, therefore, for lads as young as Benjamin to be made to work.
Benjamin was somewhat deficient in arithmetic, as his father said, and
he had given little attention to penmanship. He did not take to the
science of numbers as he did to other studies. He allowed his dislike
to interpose and hinder his progress.
"I do not like arithmetic very well," he said to his father.
"Perhaps not; but boys must study some things they do not like," his
father replied. "It is the only way of preparing them for usefulness.
You will not accomplish much in any business without a good knowledge
of arithmetic. It is of use almost everywhere."
"I know that," said Benjamin, "and I shall master it if I can, whether
I like it or not. I am willing to do what you think is best."
"I hope you will always be as willing to yield to my judgment. It is a
good sign for any boy to accept cheerfully the plans of his father,
who has had more experience."
Benjamin was usually very prompt to obey his parents, even when he did
not exactly see the necessity of their commands. He understood full
well that obedience was a law of the household, which could not be
violated with impunity; therefore, he wisely obeyed. His father was
quite rigid in his requirements, a Puritan of the olden stamp, who
ruled his own house. Among other things, he required his children to
observe the Sabbath by abstaining from labor and amusements, reading
the Scriptures, and attending public worship. A walk in the streets, a
call upon a youthful friend, or the reading of books not strictly
religious, on Sunday, were acts not tolerated in his family. A child
might wish to stay away from the house of God on the Sabbath, but it
was not permitted. "Going to meeting" was a rule in the family as
irrevocable as the laws of the Medes and Persians.
It was fortunate for Benjamin that he belonged to such a family; for
he possessed an imperious will, that needed to be brought into
constant subjection. Though of a pleasant and happy disposition, the
sequel will show that, but for his strict obedience, his great talents
would have been lost to the world. Nor did he grow restless and
impatient under these rigid parental rules, nor cherish less affection
for his parents in consequence. He accepted them as a matter of
course. We have no reason to believe that he sought to evade them; and
there can be no doubt that the influence of such discipline was good
in forming his character. He certainly honored his father and mother
as long as he lived. In ripe manhood, when his parents were old and
infirm, and he lived in Philadelphia, he was wont to perform frequent
journeys from that city to Boston, to visit them. It was on one of
these journeys that the following incident is related of him:
Landlords, and other people, were very inquisitive at that time. They
often pressed their inquiries beyond the bounds of propriety. At a
certain hotel the landlord had done this to Franklin, and he resolved,
on his next visit, to administer a sharp rebuke to the innkeeper. So,
on his next visit, Franklin requested the landlord to call the members
of his family together, as he had something important to communicate.
The landlord hastened to fulfill his request, and very soon the family
were together in one room, when Franklin addressed them as follows:
"My name is Benjamin Franklin; I am a printer by trade; I live, when
at home, in Philadelphia; in Boston I have a father, a good old man,
who taught me, when I was a boy, to read my Bible and say my prayers;
I have ever since thought it my duty to visit and pay my respects to
such a father, and I am on that errand to Boston now. This is all I
can recollect at present of myself that I think worth telling you. But
if you can think of any thing else that you wish to know about me, I
beg you to out with it at once, that I may answer, and so give you an
opportunity to get me something to eat, for I long to be on my journey
that I may return as soon as possible to my family and business, where
I most of all delight to be."
A more cutting rebuke was never administered. The landlord took in the
full significance of the act, and learned a good lesson therefrom. It
is doubtful if his inquisitiveness ever ran away with him again. But
the narrative is given here to show that the strict rules of his
father's house did not diminish filial affection, but rather
solidified and perpetuated it.
It is good for boys, who are likely to want their own way, to be
brought under exact rules. Franklin would have gone to ruin if he had
had his way. The evil tendencies of boyhood need constant restraint.
Obedience at home leads to obedience in the school and State.
Sir Robert Peel ascribed his success in life to such a home; and he
related the following interesting incident to illustrate the sort of
obedience that was required and practised in it: A neighbor's son
called one day to solicit his company and that of his brothers upon an
excursion. He was a young man of fine address, intelligent, smart, and
promising, though fond of fun and frolic. He was a fashionable young
man, too; we should call him a dude now. He wore "dark brown hair,
tied behind with blue ribbon; had clear, mirthful eyes; wore boots
that reached above his knees, and a broad-skirted scarlet coat, with
gold lace on the cuffs, the collar, and the skirts; with a long
waistcoat of blue silk. His breeches were buckskin; his hat was
three-cornered, set jauntily higher on the right than on the left
side." His name was Harry Garland. To his request that William, Henry,
and Robert might go with him, their father replied:
"No, they can not go out. I have work for them to do, and they must
never let pleasure usurp the place of labor."
The boys wanted to go badly, but there was no use in teasing for the
privilege; it would only make a bad matter worse. "Our father's yea
was yea, and his nay, nay; and that was the end of it."
The three brothers of the Peel family became renowned in their
country's brilliant progress. But Harry Garland, the idle, foppish
youth, who had his own way, and lived for pleasure, became a ruined
spendthrift. The fact verifies the divine promise, "Honor thy father
and mother (which is the first commandment with promise), that it may
be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth." True
filial love appears to conciliate the whole world by its consistent
and beautiful expression. Such an act as that of the great engineer,
George Stephenson, who took the first one hundred and sixty dollars he
earned, saved from a year's wages, and paid his blind old father's
debts, and then removed both father and mother to a comfortable
tenement at Killingworth, where he supported them by the labor of his
hands, awakens our admiration, and leads us to expect that the author
will achieve success.
When the statue of Franklin was unveiled in Boston, in 1856, a
barouche appeared in the procession which carried eight brothers, all
of whom received Franklin medals at the Mayhew school in their
boyhood, sons of Mr. John Hall. All of them were known to fame by
their worth of character and wide influence. As the barouche in which
they rode came into State street, from Merchants' row, these brothers
rose up in the carriage, and stood with uncovered heads while passing
a window at which their aged and revered mother was sitting--an act of
filial regard so impressive and beautiful as to fill the hearts of all
beholders with profound respect for the obedient and loving sons. They
never performed a more noble deed, in the public estimation, than this
one of reverence for a worthy parent.
We have made this digression to show that Franklin's home, with its
rigid discipline, was the representative home of his country, in which
the great and good of every generation laid the foundation of their
* * * * *
Benjamin was taken out of school, as his father decided, and was put
under Mr. Brownwell's tuition in arithmetic and penmanship. As he had
endeared himself to Mr. Williams, teacher of the public school, so he
endeared himself to Mr. Brownwell by his obedience, studious habits,
and rapid progress. He did not become an expert in arithmetic, though,
by dint of persistent effort, he made creditable progress in the
study. In penmanship he excelled, and acquired an easy, attractive
style that was of great service to him through life.