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26 June, 2013
From Boyhood to Manhood
VI. From School to Candle-Shop.
by Thayer, William M.


While Benjamin was attending Mr. Brownwell's school, his "Uncle Benjamin," for whom he was named, came over from England. His wife and children were dead, except his son Samuel, who had immigrated to this country. He had been unfortunate in business also, and lost what little property he possessed. With all the rest, the infirmities of age were creeping over him, so that nearly all the ties that bound him to his native land were sundered; and so he decided to spend the remnant of his days in Boston, where Samuel lived.

Samuel Franklin was an unmarried young man, intelligent and enterprising, willing and anxious to support his father in this country. But having no family and home to which to introduce his aged parent, "Uncle Benjamin" became a member of his brother Josiah's family, and continued a member of it about four years, or until Samuel was married, when he went to live with him.

"Uncle Benjamin" was very much pained to find that his namesake had relinquished the purpose of becoming a minister. His heart was set on his giving his life-service to the Church.

"Any body can make candles," he said, "but talents are required for the ministry, and, from all I learn, Benjamin has the talents."

"Partly right and partly wrong," rejoined Josiah, who seemed to think that his brother's remark was not altogether complimentary. "Talents are required for the ministry, as you say, but judgment, tact, and industry are required to manufacture candles successfully. A fool would not make much headway in the business."

"I meant no reflection upon Boston's tallow-chandler," and a smile played over his face as "Uncle Benjamin" said it; "but I really think that Benjamin is too talented for the business. Five talents can make candles well enough; let ten talents serve the Church."

"Well, that is sound doctrine; I shall not object to that," replied Josiah; "but if poverty makes it impossible for ten talents to serve the Church, it is better that they make candles than to do nothing. Candle-making is indispensable; it is a necessary business, and therefore it is honorable and useful."

"The business is well enough; a man can be a man and make candles. This way of lighting dwellings is really a great invention; and it will be a long time, I think, when any thing better will supersede it. This new country is fortunate in having such a light, so cheap and convenient, so that the business is to be respected and valued. But Benjamin is greater than the business."

The last remark set forth "Uncle Benjamin's" views exactly. He really supposed that no improvement could be made in the method of lighting houses and shops by candles. That was the opinion of all the Franklins. To them a tallow-candle was the climax of advancement on that line. If a prophet had arisen, and foretold the coming of gas and electricity for the lighting of both houses and streets, in the next century, he would have been regarded as insane--too crazy even to make candles. Progress was not a prevailing idea of that day. It did not enter into any questions of the times as a factor. If succeeding generations should maintain the standard of theirs, enjoying as many privileges, it would be all that could be reasonably expected. Candles would be needed until the "new heaven and new earth" of Revelation appeared. Possibly they would have believed that their method of lighting would be popular in "that great city, the Holy Jerusalem," had it not been declared in the Bible that they will "need no candle," because "there shall be no night there."

"Uncle Benjamin" added, what really comforted Josiah: "Of course, if you are not able to send Benjamin to college, he can't go, and that ends it. If I were able to pay the bills, I should be only too glad to do it. Benjamin is a remarkable boy, and his talents will manifest themselves whatever his pursuit may be. He will not always make candles for a living; you may depend on that."

"Perhaps not," responded Josiah; "if Providence introduces him into a better calling, I shall not object; but I want he should be satisfied with this until the better one comes."

As the time drew near for Benjamin to exchange school for the candle-factory, his disappointment increased. To exchange school, which he liked so well, for a dirty business that he did not like at all, was almost too much for his flesh and blood. His feelings revolted against the uncongenial trade.

"You do not know how I dread to go into the candle-factory to make it my business for life," he said to his mother. "I feel worse and worse about it."

"We are all sorry that you are obliged to do it," replied Mrs. Franklin. "I am sure that your father would have made any sacrifice possible to send you to college, but it was simply impossible. You will have to make the best of it. God may open the way to employment that will be more congenial to you some time. For the present he means that you should help your father, I have no doubt of that; and you must do the best for him that you can."

"That is what I intend to do, however much I dislike the business. I want to help father all I can; he has a hard time enough to provide for us."

Benjamin expressed himself as frankly to his father, adding, "I really wish you would engage in some other business."

"And starve, too?" rejoined his father. "In such times as these we must be willing to do what will insure us a livelihood. I know of no other business that would give me a living at present--certainly none that I am qualified to pursue."

"Well, I should rather make soap and candles than starve, on the whole," Benjamin remarked in reply; "but nothing short of starvation could make me willing to follow the business."

"One other thing ought to make you willing to do such work," added his father; "a determination to be industrious. Idleness is the parent of vice. Boys like you should be industrious even if they do not earn their salt. It is better for them to work for nothing than to be idle."

"I think they better save their strength till they can earn something," said Benjamin. "People must like to work better than I do, to work for nothing."

"You do not understand me; I mean to say that it is so important for the young to form industrious habits, that they better work for nothing than to be idle. If they are idle when they are young, they will be so when they become men, and idleness will finally be their ruin. 'The devil tempts all other men, but idle men tempt the devil'; and I hope that you will never consent to verify the proverb."

Mr. Franklin had been a close observer all his life, and he had noticed that industry was characteristic of those who accomplished any thing commendable Consequently he insisted that his children should have employment. He allowed no drones in his family hive. All must be busy as bees. All had some thing to do as soon as they were old enough to toil. Under such influences Benjamin was reared, and he grew up to be as much in love with industry as his father was. Some of his best counsels and most interesting sayings, when he became a man, related to this subject. There is no doubt that his early discipline on this line gave to the world his best sayings on this and other subjects. The following are some of his counsels referred to:

"Sloth, like rust, consumes faster than labor wears, while the used key is always bright."

"But dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of."

"If time be of all things the most precious, wasting time must be the greatest prodigality."

"Sloth makes all things difficult, but industry all easy; and he that riseth late must trot all day, and shall scarce overtake his business at night; while laziness travels so slowly that poverty soon overtakes him."

"At the working-man's house hunger looks in but dares not enter."

"Diligence is the mother of good luck, and God gives all things to industry."

"One to-day is worth two to-morrows."

"Drive thy business! let not thy business drive thee."

"God helps those that help themselves."

He wrote to a young tradesman as follows:

"Remember that time is money. He that can earn ten shillings a day by his labor, and goes abroad or sits idle one-half that day, though he spend but sixpence during his diversion or idleness, ought not to reckon that the only expense; he has really spent, or rather thrown away, five shillings besides.

"The sound of your hammer at five in the morning, or nine at night, heard by a creditor, makes him easy six months longer; but, if he sees you at a billiard-table, or hears your voice at a tavern, when you should be at work, he sends for his money the next day; demands it before he can receive it in a lump."

Benjamin became a better teacher than his father; and, no doubt, was indebted to his father for the progress. Had he gone to college instead of the candle-shop, the world might not have received his legacy of proverbial wisdom. For these were the outcome of secular discipline, when he was brought into direct contact with the realities of business and hardship. Colleges do not teach proverbs; they do not make practical men, but learned men. Practical men are made by observation and experience in the daily work of life. In that way Franklin was made the remarkable practical man that he was.

Had "Uncle Benjamin" lived to read such words of wisdom from the pen of his namesake, when his reputation had spread over two hemispheres, he would have said, "I told you so. Did I not say that Benjamin would not always make candles? Did I not prophesy that he would make his mark in manhood?"

Benjamin became a tallow-chandler when he was ten years old; and he meant to make a good one, though the business was repulsive to his feelings. At first his industry and tact were all that his father could desire. He devoted the hours of each workday closely to the trade, though his love for it did not increase at all. If any thing, he disliked it more and more as the weeks and months dragged on. Perhaps he became neglectful and somewhat inefficient, for he said, in his manhood, that his father often repeated to him this passage from the Bible:

"Seest thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men."

When Benjamin became the famous Dr. Franklin, and was in the habit of standing before kings, he often recalled this maxim of Solomon, which his father dinged rebukingly in his ear. It was one of the pleasantest recollections of his life.

Mr. Franklin watched his boy in the candle-trade closely, to see whether his dislike for it increased or diminished. His anxiety for him was great. He did not wish to compel him to make candles against an increasing desire to escape from the hardship. He had great sympathy for him, too, in his disappointment at leaving school. And it was a hard lot for such a lover of school and study to give them up forever at ten years of age. No more school after that! Small opportunity, indeed, in comparison with those enjoyed by nearly every boy at the present day! Now they are just beginning to learn at this early age. From ten they can look forward to six, eight, or ten years in school and college.

Mr. Franklin saw from month to month that his son more and more disliked his business, though little was said by either of them. "Actions speak louder than words," as Mr. Franklin saw to his regret; for it was as clear as noonday that Benjamin would never be contented in the candle-factory. He did his best, however, to make the boy's situation attractive; allowed him frequent opportunities for play, and praised his habit of reading in the evening and at all other times possible. Still, a tallow-candle did not attract him. It shed light, but it was not the sort of light that Benjamin wanted to radiate. One day, nearly two years after he engaged in the candle-business, he said to his father:

"I wish I could do something else; I can never like this work."

"What else would you like to do?" inquired his father.

"I would like to go to sea," was the prompt and straight reply; and it startled Mr. Franklin. It was just what he feared all along. He was afraid that compulsion to make him a tallow-chandler might cause him to run away and go to sea, as his eldest son, Josiah, did. Emphatically his father said:

"Go to sea, Benjamin! Never, never, with my consent. Never say another word about it, and never think about it, for that is out of the question. I shall never give my consent, and I know your mother never will. It was too much for me when your brother broke away from us and went to sea. I can not pass through another such trial. So you must not persist in your wish, if you would not send me down to the grave."

Josiah, the eldest son, named for his father, became dissatisfied with his home when Benjamin was an infant, ran away, and shipped as a sailor. The parents knew not where he had gone. Month after month they waited, in deep sorrow, for tidings from their wayward boy, but no tidings came. Years rolled on, and still the wanderer was away somewhere--they knew not where. Morning, noon, and night the memory of him lay heavy upon their hearts, turning their cup of earthly joy to bitterness, and furrowing their faces with anxiety and grief. He might be dead. He might be alive and in want in a strange land. The uncertainty and suspense hanging over his fate magnified their sorrow. The outlook was unpleasant; there was no comfort in it. They appealed to God. Before Him they pleaded for their prodigal son--for his safety, his return, his salvation.

Not long after Benjamin had expressed his longing for the sea, when almost the last hope of seeing the lost son again had vanished, Josiah returned and startled his parents by his sudden and unexpected presence. They could scarcely believe their eyes. Twelve years, and hard service before the mast, had wrought a great change in his appearance. He was a youth when he ran away,--he was a man now, toughened by exposure, dark as an Indian, stalwart and rough; but still the eldest son and brother, Josiah Franklin, Jr. They were glad to see him. They rejoiced more over this one returning prodigal than they did over the sixteen that went not astray. "The father said: Bring forth the best robe and put it on him; and put a ring on his finger, and shoes on his feet. And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost and is found. And they began to be merry."

It was the first time in twelve years that family had been "merry." Past sorrows were forgotten in the joy of their meeting. On that day a new life began around that hearthstone. Father and mother began to live again. As if they had never shed a tear or felt a pang, they looked into the future with cheerful hope and expectation.

To return to Benjamin. His father's quick and sharp reply left no room for doubt. If he went to sea it must be against his father's will. He turned to his mother, but was repulsed with equal decision.

"You surprise me, Benjamin. Want to go to sea! You must not harbor such a thought. Is it not enough that we have lost one son in that way? You might have known that I should never give my consent. I should almost as lief bury you. How can you want to leave your good home, and all your friends, to live in a ship, exposed to storms and death all the time?"

"It is not because I do not love my home and friends; but I have a desire to sail on a voyage to some other country. I like the water, and nothing would suit me better than to be a cabin-boy."

"You surprise and pain me, Benjamin. I never dreamed of such a thing. If you do not like work in the candle-factory, then choose some other occupation, but never think of going to sea."

"I would choose any other occupation under the sun than candle-making," replied Benjamin. "I have tried to like it for two years, but dislike it more and more. If I could have my own way, I would not go to the factory another day."

Perhaps the opposition of his parents would have prevented his going to sea, but the return of Josiah, with no words of praise for the calling, might have exerted a decided influence in leading him to abandon the idea altogether.

"Uncle Benjamin," of course, could not tolerate the idea of his nephew becoming a sailor. With his poor opinion of the candle-trade, he would have him pursue the business all his life rather than become a sailor.

"Do any thing rather than follow the seas," he said. "If you want to throw yourself away, body and soul, go before the mast. But if you want to be somebody, and do something that will make you respectable and honored among men, never ship for a voyage, long or short. A boy of one talent can be a cabin-boy, but a boy of ten talents ought to be above that business, and find his place on a higher plane of life."

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