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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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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."