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From Boyhood to Manhood
VII. Choosing a Trade and Stealing Sport.
by Thayer, William M.


Mr. and Mrs. Franklin canvassed the subject thoroughly, and wisely decided that Benjamin might engage in some other pursuit.

"To be successful a man must love his calling," remarked Mr. Franklin, "and Benjamin hates his. He appears to go to each day's work with a dread, and as long as he feels so he will not accomplish any thing."

"You have come to a wise decision, I think," responded "Uncle Benjamin." "Ordinarily a boy should choose his own occupation. He may be instructed and assisted by his parents, but if he makes his own selection he is likely to choose what he has tact and taste for. Certainly, I would not compel a son to follow a business that he hates as Benjamin does candle-making."

"That is true on the whole, but circumstances alter cases," remarked Mr. Franklin. "I believe I shall take him around to examine different trades in town, and he can see for himself and choose what he likes best."

"He has seemed to be interested in my son's business," added "Uncle Benjamin."

His son Samuel was a cutler, and he had established the cutlery business in Boston, in which he was quite successful.

"Well, he can look into that; I have no objections to it; it is a good business. I will let him examine others, however, and take his choice. I want he should settle the matter of occupation now for life. I do not want to go through another experience with him, such as I have been through two years in the candle-factory."

Mr. Franklin had evidently acquired new views about boys, judging from his last remarks. He saw but one way out of the difficulty. Choice of an occupation was a more important matter than he had dreamed of. However, he had acted in accordance with the custom of that day, to choose occupations for sons without the least regard to fitness or their preferences. Boys must not have their own way in that matter any more than they should in other things, was the opinion of that age. But progress has been made on this line. It is thought now that the more nearly the aptitudes of the person fit the occupation, the more congenial and successful is the career. To follow the "natural bent," whenever it is possible, appears to be eminently wise. For square men should be put into square holes and round men into round holes. Failing to regard the drift of one's being in the choice of an occupation, is almost sure to put square men into round holes, and round men into square holes. In this way good mechanics have been spoiled to make poor clergymen or merchants, and a good minister spoiled to make a commonplace artisan.

The celebrated English engineer, Smeaton, displayed a marvellous ability for mechanical pursuits even in his childhood. Before he had donned jacket and pants in the place of short dress, his father discovered him on the top of the barn, putting up a windmill that he had made. But he paid no regard to the boy's aptitude for this or that position. He was determined to make a lawyer of him, and sent him to school with that end in view. But the boy thought more of windmills and engines than he did of Euclid or Homer, and the result was unfavorable. His father was trying to crowd a square boy into a round hole, and it was repugnant to the born engineer.

Josiah Franklin tried to do with Benjamin just what Smeaton tried to do with his son, squeeze a square boy into a round hole. That was a mistake. The son did not like the operation, and rebelled against the squeezing. This created trouble for both, until, with the aid of "Uncle Benjamin," Josiah discovered the way out of the difficulty.

Benjamin was delighted when his father disclosed to him his new plan.

"Anything is preferable to making candles," he said. "It will not take me long to choose something in place of a soap-factory."

"You have considerable mechanical ingenuity," his father said; "you like to work with tools, and you can see how tools are handled in different trades. How would you like your Cousin Samuel's business?"

"I should like it vastly better than making candles, though I have not examined it much. I can tell better when have looked in upon other trades When shall we go?"

"Begin to-morrow, and first call upon your Cousin Samuel. His cutlery trade is good, and it must increase as the population grows. Then we will examine other kinds of business. It will take some time to go the rounds."

On the morrow, as agreed upon, they went forth upon the memorable errand. Benjamin felt like an uncaged bird, and was highly elated by his prospects. Their first call was at Samuel's shop, where they could see a line of cutlery that was quite ample for that day. Samuel explained his methods, use of tools, etc., and Benjamin listened. He was well pleased with the trade, as Samuel saw at once, who encouraged him to choose it.

"I was never sorry that I learned the business," he said. "There is no easier way of getting a living, and the work is interesting, because it requires some ingenuity and skill. Benjamin has both, and will succeed."

"But I want he should examine other trades," replied his father. "When he has taken in several he will know more what he wants."

"Perhaps he will not know as well what he wants," rejoined Samuel. "If he is like some boys he will be less settled in his mind what to choose than he is now."

"My mind is partly settled now," said Benjamin. "I should choose any trade on earth in preference to making candles and boiling soap. I should be content with your business."

Next they called on a brazier, who manufactured many articles in brass. This was entirely new to Benjamin; he had never seen any thing of the kind before, and he examined the methods of work with much interest. The brazier was communicative, and explained matters fully and clearly, at the same time assuring Benjamin that he would like to teach a boy like him.

In like manner they visited a joiner, or carpenter, as he is called in New England now; also, a turner, who formed various things with a lathe; also, a silversmith, bricklayer, and stone-mason. A part of several days was occupied in this examination; and it was time well spent, for it put much information into Benjamin's head, and enlarged his ideas. Referring to the matter when he had become an old man, he said: "It has ever since been a pleasure to me to see good workmen handle their tools. And it has often been useful to me to have learned so much by it as to be able to do some trifling jobs in the house when a workman was not at hand, and to construct little machines for my experiments at the moment when the intention of making these was warm in my mind."

"I like Samuel's trade as well as any," Benjamin remarked, after the trips of examination were concluded; and his father rejoiced to hear it. From the start Mr. Franklin showed that none of the trades suited him so well as his nephew's; so that he was particularly gratified to hear the above remark.

"Do you like it well enough to choose it, Benjamin?"

"Yes, father; on the whole, I think I shall like it best of any; and cutlery will always be needed."

"We will understand, then, that you choose that trade, and I will see Samuel at once. It may be best for you to go into the shop for a short time before I make a bargain with him. Then he will know what you can do, and you will know how you like it."

At that time it was customary to bind boys to their employers, in different pursuits, until twenty-one years of age. Benjamin was twelve, and, if he should be bound to his cousin, as was the custom, it would be for nine years. For this reason it was a step not to be hastily taken. If a short service in the shop should prove favorable for both sides, the long apprenticeship could be entered upon more intelligently and cheerfully.

Mr. Franklin lost no time in securing a place in Samuel's shop. Both parties agreed that it would be best for Benjamin to spend a brief period in the business before settling the terms of apprenticeship. Accordingly he entered upon his new trade immediately, and was much pleased with it. It was so different from the work of candle-making, and required so much more thought and ingenuity, that he enjoyed it. He went to each day's work with a light and cheerful heart. He was soon another boy in appearance, contented, happy, and hopeful. Samuel recognized his ingenuity and willingness to work, and prophesied that he would become an expert cutler. He was ready to receive him as an apprentice, and Benjamin was willing to be bound to him until he was twenty-one years of age.

But when Mr. Franklin conferred with Samuel as to the terms of the apprenticeship, they could not agree. The latter demanded an exorbitant fee for his apprenticeship, which the former did not feel able to pay. With good nature they discussed the subject, with reference to an agreement on the terms; but Samuel was immovable. He had but one price. Benjamin might stay or go. Very much to the disappointment of both father and son, the plan failed and was abandoned.

Benjamin was afloat again. He had no disposition to return to candle-making, nor did his father desire that he should. He must choose an occupation again. As it turned out, it would have been better to settle the terms of apprenticeship in the first place.

It has been said that "there is no loss without some gain." So there was some gain to Benjamin. He was sadly disappointed; and he had given some time to a trade that amounted to nothing, but it was not all loss. He had learned much about the trades: the importance of a trade to every boy, and its necessity as a means of livelihood, and he never lost the lesson which he learned at that time. In his ripe manhood he wrote,--
   "He that hath a trade hath an estate.
   He that hath a calling hath an office of honor."
He believed that a trade was as good as a farm for a livelihood, and that a necessary calling was as honorable as a public office of distinction. How much his early discipline about trades had to do with these noble sentiments of his mature life, we may not say, but very much, without doubt.

While Benjamin was waiting for something to turn up, an incident occurred which may be rehearsed in this place. He was already an expert in swimming and rowing, and he loved the water and a boat passionately. He was fond of fishing, also; and there was a marsh, flooded at high tides, where the boys caught minnows. Here they repaired for a fine time one day, Benjamin and several companions.

"All aboard!" exclaimed Benjamin, as he bounded into the boat lying at the water's edge. "Now for a ride; only hurry up, and make the oars fly"; and several boys leaped in after him from the shaky, trampled quagmire on which they stood.

"We shall be heels over head in mud yet," said one of the number, "unless we try to improve this marsh. There is certainly danger that we shall go through that shaky place, and we do not know where we shall stop when we begin to go down."

"Let us build a wharf; that will get rid of the quagmire," suggested Benjamin. "It won't be a long job, if all take hold."

"Where will you get your lumber?" inquired John.

"Nowhere. We do not want any lumber; stones are better."

"That is worse yet, to bring stones so far, and enough of them," said John. "You must like to lift better than I do, and strain your gizzard in tugging stones here."

"Look there," continued Benjamin, pointing to a heap of stones only a few rods distant, "there are stones enough for our purpose, and one or two hours is all the time we want to build a wharf with them."

"Those stones belong to the man who is preparing to build a house there," said Fred. "The workmen are busy there now."

"That may all be, but they can afford to lend them to us for a little while; they will be just as good for their use after we have done with them." There was the rogue's sly look in Benjamin's eye when he made the last remark.

"Then you expect they will loan them to you; but I guess you will be mistaken," responded Fred.

"I will borrow them in this way: We will go this evening, after the workmen have gone home, and tug them over here, and make the wharf before bedtime." Benjamin made this proposition for the purpose of adding to their sport.

"And get ourselves into trouble thereby," answered a third boy. "I will agree to do it if you will bear all the blame of stealing them."

"Stealing!" exclaimed Benjamin, who was so bent on sport that he had no thought of stealing. "It is not stealing to take stones. A man could not sell a million tons of them for a copper."

"Well, anyhow, the man who has borne the expense of drawing them there won't thank you for taking them."

"I do not ask them to thank me. I do not think the act deserves any thanks." And a roguish twinkle of the eye showed that Benjamin knew he was doing wrong for the sake of getting a little sport. "Wouldn't it be a joke on those fellows if they should find their pile of stones missing in the morning?"

"Let us do it," said John, who was taken with the idea of playing off a joke. "I will do my part to put it through."

"And I will do mine."

"And so will I."

"And I, too."

By this time all were willing to follow Benjamin, their leader. Perhaps some of them were afraid to say "No," as their consciences suggested, now that the enterprise was endorsed by one or two of their number. Both boys and men are quite disposed to "go with the multitude to do evil." They are too cowardly to do what they know is right.

The salt marsh bounding a part of the mill-pond where their boat lay was tramped into a quagmire. The boys were wont to fish there at high water, and so many feet treading on the spot reduced it to a very soft condition. It was over this miry marsh that they proposed to build a wharf. The evening was soon there, and the boys, too, upon their rogues' errand. They surveyed the pile of stones, and found it ample for their purpose, though it appeared to be a formidable piece of work to remove them.

"Two of us can't lift and carry some of them," said Fred.

"Then three of us will hitch on and carry them," replied Benjamin. "They must all be worked into a wharf this evening. Let us begin--there is no time to lose."

"The largest must go first," suggested John. "They are capital stones for the foundation. Come, boys, let us make quick work of it."

So they went to work with a will and "where there's a will there's a way," in evil as well as good. It was unfortunate for Benjamin that he did not hate such an enterprise as much as he did candle-making. If he had, he would have given a wide berth to the salt marsh and the wharf project. But neither he nor his companions disliked the evil work in which there was sport. We say that they worked with a will; and their perseverance was the only commendable thing about the affair. Sometimes three or four of them worked away at a stone, rolling it along or lifting, as necessity required. Then one alone would catch up a smaller one, and convey it to the wharf at double-quick. Half their zeal, tact, and industry, in doing this wrong, would have made the candle-trade, or any other business, a success.

The evening was not quite spent when the last stone was carried away, and the wharf finished,--a work of art that answered their purpose very well, though it was not quite as imposing as Commercial Wharf is now, and was not calculated to receive the cargo of a very large Liverpool packet.

"A capital place now for fishing!" exclaimed Fred. "It is worth all it cost for that."

"It may cost more than you think for before we get through with it," suggested John. "We sha'n't know the real cost of it until the owner finds his stones among the missing."

"I should like to hear his remarks to-morrow morning, when he discovers his loss," remarked Benjamin; "they will not be very complimentary, I think."

"I am more anxious to know what he will do about it," responded John.

"We shall find out before long, no doubt," said Benjamin. "But I must hurry home, or I shall have more trouble there than anywhere else. Come, boys, let us go."

They hastened to their homes, not designing to divulge the labors of the evening, if they could possibly avoid interrogation. They knew that their parents would disapprove of the deed, and that no excuse could shield them from merited censure. Not one of their consciences was at ease. Their love of sport had got the better of their love of right-doing. And yet they were both afraid and ashamed to tell of what they had done. They were at home and in bed and asleep about as early as usual.

Twenty-four hours passed away, during which Benjamin's fears had increased rather than diminished. He was all the while thinking about the stones--what the owner would say and do--whether he would learn who took his stones away. His conscience was on duty.

It was evening, and Mr. Franklin took his seat at the fireside. Benjamin was reading, the unattractive tallow candle furnishing him light.

"Benjamin," said Mr. Franklin, after a little, "where were you last evening?"

If his father had fired off a pistol he could not have been more disturbed. His heart leaped into his throat. He thought of the stones. He knew something was up about them--that trouble was ahead.

"I was down to the water," Benjamin replied, with as much coolness as he could muster.

"What were you doing there?"

"Fixing up a place for the boat." He suspected, from his father's appearance, that he would have to tell the whole story.

"Benjamin, see that you tell me the truth, and withhold nothing. I wish to know exactly what you did there."

"We built a wharf."

"What did you build it with?"

"We built it of stones."

"Where did you get your stones?"

"There was a pile of them close by."

"Did they belong to you?"

"No, sir."

"Then you stole them, did you?"

"It isn't stealing to take stones."

"Why, then, did you take them in the evening, after the workmen had gone home? Why did you not go after them when the workmen were all there? It looks very much as if you thought taking them was stealing them."

Benjamin saw that he was fairly cornered. Such a catechetical exercise was somewhat new to him. The Westminster Assembly's Catechism never put him into so tight a place as that. Bright as he was, he could not discover the smallest hole out of which to crawl. It was a bad scrape, and he could see no way out of it except by telling the truth. We dislike very much to say it, but, judging from all the circumstances, he would have told a lie, could he have seen a place to put one in. But there was no chance for a falsehood. He was completely shut up to the truth. He saw that the wharf cost more than he estimated--that stealing stones violated a principle as really as stealing dollars. He was so completely cornered that he made no reply. His father continued:

"I see plainly how it is. It is the consequence of going out in the evening with the boys, which I must hereafter forbid. I have been willing that you should go out occasionally in the evening, because I thought it might be better for you than so much reading. But you have now betrayed my confidence, and I am more than ever satisfied that boys should spend their evenings at home, trying to improve their minds. You are guilty of an act that is quite flagrant, although it may have been done thoughtlessly. You should have known better after having received so much instruction at home."

"I did know better," was Benjamin's frank confession, determined to make a clean breast of it.

"And that makes your guilt so much the greater. Will you learn a lesson from this, and never do the like again?"

"I promise that I never will."

Thus frankly Benjamin confessed his wrong-doing; and, in mature life, he often referred to it as his "first wrong act" from which he learned a lesson for life. It was another way of paying too dear for a whistle. What the whistle was to him at seven, the wharf of stones was to him at twelve years of age--sport. The first was innocent sport, however; the last was guilty.

It appears that the workmen missed their stones when they first reached the spot in the morning, and soon discovered them nicely laid into a wharf. The proprietor was indignant, and set about learning who were the authors of the deed. In the course of the day he gained the information he sought, and very properly went to the parents of each boy with his complaint. In this way the boys were exposed, and received just rebuke for their misdemeanor. Benjamin was convinced, as he said of it many years thereafter, "that that which is not honest could not be truly useful."

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