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From Boyhood to Manhood|
XI. Starting a Newspaper
by Thayer, William M.
|Benjamin had been in the printing office about three years when his
brother decided to publish a newspaper. It was a doubtful enterprise
from the outset, and friends tried to dissuade him from it. But he
viewed the matter from his own standpoint, as the Franklins were wont
to do, and the paper was started. It was called "THE NEW ENGLAND
COURANT," and the first number was issued Aug. 21, 1721. Only three
papers in the whole country were published before this. The first one
was The Boston News-letter, established April 24, 1704, two years
before the birth of Benjamin. It was only a half-sheet of paper, about
the size of an eight by twelve inch pane of glass, "in two pages
folio, with two columns on each page." It could not have contained
more printed matter than is now compressed into one-third or one-half
page of one of our Boston dailies. The other papers were The Boston
Gazette, established Dec. 21, 1719; and The American Weekly
Mercury, of Philadelphia, Dec. 22, 1719.
There was not a little commotion when James Franklin launched The New
England Courant. It was regarded generally as a wild project. It was
not thought that three newspapers could live in America. The field was
not large enough. This fact, considered in contrast with the supply of
papers and journals now, daily, weekly, and monthly, shows the
wonderful growth of the country. At that time, there was not a daily
paper in the land; now, there are over one thousand,--eight of them in
the city of Boston, having a daily circulation of from three to four
hundred thousand. The papers and magazines of the United States, of
all descriptions, reach the surprising aggregate of nearly twenty
thousand, and their circulation is almost fabulous. One hundred
thousand, and even two hundred thousand, daily, is claimed for some
journals. Some weekly issues reach three hundred thousand, and even
four and five hundred thousand. Bind the daily issues of Boston into
volumes, containing one hundred sheets each, and we have an enormous
library of daily newspapers, numbering about ONE MILLION VOLUMES, the
annual production of the Boston daily press now! And this is the
aggregate of only the eight dailies, while Boston has nearly two
hundred papers and periodicals of all sorts, and the State of
Massachusetts nearly four hundred!
If the eight Boston dailies measure one yard each in width, when
opened, on the average, and they are laid end to end, we have more
than three hundred thousand yards of newspapers laid each day, which
is equal to one hundred and seventy miles daily, over one thousand
miles in a week, and FIFTY-ONE THOUSAND, ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY-SIX
in a year! More than enough papers to reach twice around the earth!
Or, suppose we weigh these papers: If ten of them weigh a single
pound, then each day's issue weighs thirty thousand pounds, each
week's issue one hundred and eighty thousand, the aggregate of the
year amounting to NINE MILLION POUNDS! Load this yearly production
upon wagons, one ton on each, and we have a procession of FOUR
THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED wagons, that reaches, allowing one rod to a
team, over FOURTEEN MILES!
And the New England Courant third in the procession! Benjamin was
much given to prophesying, but no prophecy from his lips ever covered
such a growth as this. He was in favor of starting the paper, but he
could not have had the faintest conception of what was going to
"I want to set up the paper," he said to James; "I think I can make
the best looking paper."
"I think you can; and it is going to require much attention and
planning to make it a success. I may fail in the attempt, but I'll
have the satisfaction of trying."
"I will do all I can to make it succeed, if I have to sit up nights,"
Benjamin continued. "It will give your office notoriety to publish a
paper. But how will you dispose of it?"
"Sell it on the street; and you will be a good hand to do that. No
doubt there will be some regular subscribers, and you can deliver
copies to them from week to week."
"And be collector, too, I suppose," added Benjamin, who had no
objection to any part of the work named.
"As you please about that. Doubtless it will be convenient to have you
attend to that, at times at least."
"You won't make me editor yet, I conclude," remarked Benjamin,
facetiously, thinking that about all the work on the paper, except the
editorship, had been assigned to him.
"Not yet, I think," responded James; "printer, news-dealer,
news-carrier, and collector will be as much honor as any one of the
Franklins can withstand at once"; and he had as little idea of the
part Benjamin would play in the enterprise as the boy himself.
There is no doubt that Benjamin had an idea that the paper might have
in its columns some of his fugitive pieces, sooner or later. He had
been cultivating his talents in this direction, and never was enjoying
it more than he was at the time the New England Courant was
"How many copies shall you publish in the first issue?" inquired
"I am not quite decided about that; anywhere from two to three
hundred. We will see how it goes first."
"How about articles for it? Will you have any trouble about getting
"None at all. I am to have several articles at once for the first
number, from parties who can write well; and when the paper is well
under way there will be a plenty of volunteer contributors. I have no
fears about that."
Benjamin might have responded, "Here is one," for there is no doubt
that he was already flattering himself with the idea that he would be
a contributor to its columns, known or unknown. Here was the real
secret of his enthusiastic interest in the enterprise.
On the day mentioned the new paper was issued, as had been announced,
and great was the anxiety of the publisher. Many citizens awaited its
coming with lively anticipations; and, on the whole, it was a
memorable occasion. No one's interest surpassed that of the
printer-boy, Benjamin, who had no hesitation in selling the paper on
the street, and rather liked that part of the business. In his view,
it was an honorable and enterprising venture, that challenged the
respect and support of every citizen.
The reception of the Courant was all that James anticipated. It sold
as well as he expected, and the comments upon its ability and
character were as favorable as the times and circumstances would
warrant. There were criticisms, of course, and severe ones, too, for,
in that day, all sorts of projects were subjected to a crucial test.
The Courant was no exception to the rule.
Now that the newspaper is launched, and there is new interest and
activity in consequence in the printing office, we will recur to an
episode in Benjamin's career, that occurred two years before; for it
sustains a very close relation to the newspaper enterprise and what
Benjamin had been in the printing office about a year when he
surprised his brother by the inquiry:
"How much will you allow me a week if I will board myself?"
"Do you think I pay more for your board than it is worth?" replied
James, Yankee-like, by asking another question, instead of answering
the one propounded.
"No more than you will be obliged to pay in any other family, but more
than I shall ask you. It costs you now more than you need to pay."
James was still boarding Benjamin in a family near by.
"Then you think of opening a boarding-house for the special
accommodation of Benjamin Franklin, I see," which was treating the
subject rather lightly.
"I propose to board myself," answered Benjamin, distinctly and
emphatically. "I do not eat meat of any kind, as you know, so that I
can board myself easily, and I will agree to do it if you will give me
weekly one-half the money you pay for my board."
"Of course I will agree to it," answered James. "It will be so much in
my pocket, and the bargain is made. When will you begin to keep your
"To-morrow," was Benjamin's quick reply. "A vegetarian can open a
boarding-house for himself without much preparation."
"To-morrow it is, then; but it will not take you long to become sick
of that arrangement. Keeping boarders is not a taking business, even
if you have no boarder but yourself."
"That is my lookout," continued Benjamin. "I have my own ideas about
diet and work, play and study, and some other things; and I am going
to reduce them to practice."
Benjamin had been reading a work on "vegetable diet," by one Tryon,
and it was this which induced him to discard meats as an article of
food. He was made to believe that better health and a clearer head
would be the result, though from all we can learn he was not lacking
in either. Mr. Tryon, in his work, gave directions for cooking
vegetables, such dishes as a vegetarian might use, so that the matter
of boarding himself was made quite simple.
The great object which Benjamin had in view was to save money for
buying books. It seemed to be the only way open to get money for that
purpose. At the same time, he would have more hours to read. He had
been trying the "vegetable diet" at his boarding place for some time,
and he liked it. He was really one of Tryon's converts. Other boarders
ridiculed his diet, and had considerable sport over his "oddity"; but
he cared nothing for that. They could eat what they pleased, and so
could he. He was as independent on the subject of diet as he was on
any other. He did not pin his faith in any thing upon the sleeve of
another; he fastened it to his own sleeve, and let it fly.
The incident illustrates the difference between the two brothers. If
James had been as unselfish and generous as Benjamin was, he would
have paid the latter the full amount of his board weekly. He would
"You have a passion for reading and study. You do this for
self-improvement. You want to know more, and make the most of yourself
that you can. In these circumstances I will not make any money out of
you. If I give you the whole amount I pay for board I shall lose
nothing, and you will gain considerable. It will help you, and I shall
be kept whole in my finances. You shall have it all."
But the fact was, James was avaricious, and was bent on making money,
though he made it out of his younger brother. On the other hand,
Benjamin was large-hearted and generous, or he never would have
offered, in the outset, to take half James paid for his board. Had he
been as niggardly as James, he could have made a better bargain than
that for himself. But it was not a good bargain that he was after; he
was after the books.
James was curious to see how Benjamin would succeed with his new
method of living. So he watched him closely, without saying any thing
in particular about it; perhaps expecting that his brother would soon
tire of boarding himself. Weeks passed by, and still Benjamin was
hale, strong, and wide-awake as ever. His actions indicated that he
was well satisfied both with his bargain and his board. Finally,
however, James' curiosity grew to such proportions that he inquired
"Ben, how much do you make by boarding yourself?"
"I save just half the money you pay me, so that it costs me just
one-quarter as much as you paid for my board."
"You understand economy, I must confess," remarked James. "However, I
ought to be satisfied if you are." Perhaps his conscience might have
troubled him somewhat, and caused him to think how much better off his
young brother would have been, if he had given him the full amount of
the board, as he should have done. If Benjamin had been a common boy,
without high aspirations and noble endeavors, or a spendthrift, or
idler, there might have been some excuse for driving a close bargain
with him; but, in the circumstances, the act was unbrotherly and
"The money I save is not the best part of it," added Benjamin after a
little. "I save a half-hour and more usually every noon for reading.
After I have eaten my meal, I usually read as long as that before you
return from dinner."
"Not a very sumptuous dinner, I reckon; sawdust pudding, perhaps, with
cold water sauce! When I work I want something to work on. Living on
nothing would be hard on me." James indicated by this remark that he
had no confidence in that sort of diet.
"I live well enough for me. A biscuit or a slice of bread, with a tart
or a few raisins, and a glass of water, make a good dinner for me; and
then my head is all the lighter for study."
"Yes, I should think you might have a light head with such living,"
retorted James, "and your body will be as light before many weeks, I
"I will risk it. I am on a study now that requires a clear head, and I
am determined to master it."
"What is that?"
"Begin to wish that you knew something of arithmetic by this time!
Making up for misspent time, I see. Paying old debts is not
James meant this last remark for a fling at Benjamin's dislike for
arithmetic when he attended school. Not devoting himself to it with
the enthusiasm he gave to more congenial studies, he was more
deficient in that branch of knowledge than in any other. He regretted
his neglect of the study now, and was determined to make up his loss.
This was very honorable, and showed a noble aim, which merited praise,
instead of a fling, from his brother.
"I think it must be a sort of luxury to pay old debts, if one has any
thing to pay them with," remarked Benjamin. "If I can make up any loss
of former years now, I enjoy doing it, even by the closest economy of
"Well, you estimate time as closely as a miser counts his money, Ben."
"And I have a right to do it. As little time as I have to myself
requires that I should calculate closely. Time is money to you, or
else you would allow me a little more to myself; and it is more than
money to me."
"It enables me to acquire knowledge, which I can not buy with money.
Unless I were saving of my time, I should not be able to read or study
at all, having to work so constantly."
Perhaps, at this time, Benjamin laid the foundation for that economy
which distinguished him in later life, and about which he often wrote.
Among his wise sayings, in the height of his influence and fame, were
"If you would be wealthy, think of saving as well as of getting."
"What maintains one vice would bring up two children."
"Many a little makes a mickle."
"A small leak will sink a ship."
"At a great penny worth pause awhile."
"Silks and satins, scarlets and velvets, put out the kitchen fire."
"Always taking out of the meal-tub, and never putting in, soon comes
to the bottom."
"It is easier to build two chimneys than to keep one in fuel."
"A penny saved is a penny earned."
"A penny saved is two-pence clear."
"A pin a day is a groat a year."
"He that wastes idly a groat's worth of his time per day, one day with
another, wastes the privilege of using one hundred pounds each day."
"In short, the way to wealth, if you desire it, is as plain as the way
to market. It depends chiefly on two words, industry and
frugality; that is, waste neither time nor money, but make the
best use of both. Without industry and frugality nothing will do, and
with them every thing. He that gets all he can honestly, and saves all
he gets (necessary expenses excepted), will certainly become
rich--if that Being who governs the world, to whom all should look
for a blessing on their honest endeavors, doth not, in his wise
providence, otherwise determine."
The reader may desire to know just how Franklin himself speaks of the
"vegetable diet" experiment in his "Autobiography"; so we quote it
"I happened to meet with a book, written by one Tryon, recommending a
vegetable diet. I determined to go into it. My brother, being yet
unmarried, did not keep house, but boarded himself and his apprentices
in another family. My refusing to eat flesh occasioned an inconvenience,
and I was frequently chid for my singularity. I made myself acquainted
with Tryon's manner of preparing some of his dishes, such as boiling
potatoes or rice, making hasty-pudding, and a few others, and then
proposed to my brother, that if he would give me weekly half the money
he paid for my board, I would board myself. He instantly agreed to it,
and I presently found that I could save half what he paid me. This was
an additional fund for buying of books; but I had another advantage in
it. My brother and the rest going from the printing house to their
meals, I remained there alone, and, despatching presently my light
repast (which was often no more than a biscuit, or a slice of bread, a
handful of raisins, or a tart from the pastry cook's, and a glass of
water), had the rest of the time, till their return, for study; in
which I made the greater progress from that greater clearness of head,
and quicker apprehension, which generally attend temperance in eating
and drinking. Now it was, that, being on some occasion made ashamed of
my ignorance in figures, which I had twice failed learning when at
school, I took Cocker's book on arithmetic, and went through the whole
by myself with the greatest ease."