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From Boyhood to Manhood
The Ruse, and What Came of It
by Thayer, William M.


Mr. Parton says of the Courant, "It was a most extraordinary sheet. Of all the colonial newspapers, it was the most spirited, witty, and daring. The Bostonians, accustomed to the monotonous dullness of the News-letter, received, some with delight, more with horror, all with amazement, this weekly budget of impudence and fun. A knot of liberals gathered around James Franklin, physicians most of them, able, audacious men, who kept him well supplied with squibs, essays, and every variety of sense and nonsense known in that age. The Courant was, indeed, to borrow the slang of the present day, a 'sensational paper.' Such a tempest did it stir up in Boston that the noise thereof was heard in the remote colony of Pennsylvania."

The "knot of liberals" who wrote articles for it, met often at the office to discuss their contributions, and the state of public sentiment more or less affected by this venture. The News-letter came in for a large share of the opposition, and they declared war against many of the existing customs,--governmental, political, and social. The scope and circulation of the paper was a frequent topic of remark.

Benjamin's ears were always open to their conversation. He heard the merits of different articles set forth, and learned that certain ones were quite popular and elicited favorable remarks from readers generally. This excited his ambition, and he strongly desired to try his own ability in writing for the paper. He feared, however, that his composition would not be regarded favorably, if it were known who was the author; so he resorted to the following expedient:

"I will write an anonymous article," he said within himself, "in the best style I can, and get it into James' hand in some way that will not arouse his suspicions. I will disguise my handwriting, and give it some fictitious name, so that he will not dream that it was written in the office."

Accordingly the article was prepared, describing his ideal of character, and that was the character he himself formed, and was forming then; and he signed it SILENCE DOGOOD. This article he slipped under the printing office door at night, where James found it in the morning, and read it with evident satisfaction, as Benjamin thought, who narrowly watched him. In a little while some of the "knot of liberals" came in, and the article was read to them.

"It is a good article, and it was slipped under the door last night," said James. "It is signed 'Silence Dogood.'"

"You have no idea who wrote it, then?" inquired one.

"Not the least whatever."

"It is capital, whoever the author may be," remarked one of the critics.

"Somebody wrote it who knows how to wield his pen," said another.

"Ordinarily I shall not publish articles without knowing who the author is," remarked James; "but this is so good that I shall not stop to inquire. I shall put it into the next issue."

"By all means, of course," replied one. "No doubt we shall soon learn who the author is; it is a difficult matter to keep such things secret for a long time."

"The author is evidently a person of ability," added another; "every sentence in the article is charged with thought. I should judge that he needed only practice to make him a writer of the first class."

"Publishing the article will be as likely as any thing to bring out the author," suggested James.

"That is so; and the sooner it is published the better," remarked one of the company approvingly.

Much more was said in praise of the article. The names of several prominent citizens of Boston were mentioned as the possible author. James himself named one or two, who were Boston's most intelligent and influential citizens, as the possible author.

All approved the insertion of the article in the next issue of the paper, much to the satisfaction of Benjamin, who was the most deeply interested party in the office. He scarcely knew how to act in regard to the article, whether to father it at once, or still conceal its parentage. On the whole, however, he decided to withhold its authorship for the present, and try his hand again in the same way.

The reader may judge of Benjamin's emotions when he came to put his own article in type for the paper. It was almost too good to be real. Fact was even stranger than fiction to him. In the outset he dreamed that somehow and sometime the columns of the Courant might contain a contribution of his own; and here he was setting up his first article with the approval of James and the whole "knot of liberals." This was more than he bargained for; and his heart never came so near beating through his jacket as then. Never was a printer-boy so happy before. He was happy all over and all through--a lump of happiness. Not one boy in a hundred could have managed to keep the secret as he did, in the circumstances. Their countenances would have exposed it on the spot. But Benjamin possessed his soul in patience, and carried out his ruse admirably.

The issue containing Benjamin's article appeared on time, and was greatly praised. "Who is 'Silence Dogood'?" was the most common inquiry. "I wonder who 'Silence Dogood' can be," was a frequent remark, showing that the article attracted much attention. Benjamin wondered as much as any of them. "A queer signature to put to an article," he said. "What in the world could suggest such a nom de plume to a writer?" He enjoyed his ruse more and more: it became the choicest fun of his life. It was so crammed with felicity that he resolved to continue it by writing more articles as well-chosen and good.

He was able to prepare a better article for the second one, because he brought to its preparation the enthusiasm and encouragement awakened by the favorable reception of the first. Besides, the many remarks he had heard about it gave him points for another communication, so as to make it sharper, better adapted to the times, and hence more timely. Within a short time, the second article was slipped under the door at night for James to pick up in the morning.

"Another article from 'Silence Dogood,'" exclaimed James, as he opened it and read the signature.

"I thought we should hear from that writer again," was all the remark that Benjamin vouchsafed.

"A good subject!" added James, as he read the caption. "I will read it," and he proceeded to read the article to Benjamin.

The latter listened with attention that was somewhat divided between the excellent reception the article was having and the grand success of his ruse.

"Better even than the first article," remarked James after having read it. "We must not rest until we find out who the author is. It is somebody of note."

The second article was submitted to the "knot of liberals," the same as the first one, and all approved it highly.

"It is sharper than the first one, and hits the nail on the head every time," said one of the number. "Dogood is a good name for such a writer."

"And we shall have more of them, no doubt," suggested James; "it is quite evident that the writer means to keep on."

"I hope he will; such articles will call attention to the paper, and that is what we want," added another.

"In the mean time, let us find out if possible who the writer is," suggested still another. "It will be a help to the paper to have it known who is the author, if it is one of the scholars."

Charles Dickens was a poorer boy than Benjamin ever was, knowing what it was to go to bed hungry and cold; but his young heart aspired after a nobler life, and, while yet a boy, he wrote an article for the press, disclosing the fact not even to his mother, and then, on a dark night, he dropped it "into a dark letter box, in a dark office, up a dark court in Fleet street." His joy was too great for utterance when he saw it in print. It was the beginning of a career as a writer unparalleled in English or American history. And he told the secret of it when he wrote, "While other boys played, I read Roderick Random, Tom Jones, The Vicar of Wakefield, Don Quixote, Gil Bias, and other books. They kept alive my fancy, and my hope of something beyond that place and time."

Benjamin heard all that was said, and still kept his secret. It would not have been strange if his vanity had been inflated by these complimentary remarks. Ordinary humanity could scarcely be exposed to so high praise without taking on a new sense of its importance. But Benjamin kept down his pride, and his heart continued to abide under his jacket though it beat mightily. Was it any wonder?

Without stopping to narrate details, it is sufficient to say that Benjamin wrote several articles, and sent them forward to James under the door; and they were all pronounced good by James and his friends. He began to think that it was almost time to let out the secret. James was fairly committed to the excellence of all the articles, and so were the other critics. This was important to the success of Benjamin's plan. He had feared, as he had continued industriously to set up type, that a disclosure would knock all his plans into "pi"; but he had no fears now. But how should he disclose? That was the question. It was not long, however, before the question was settled. His brother made some remark about the last article slipped under the door, and wondered that the author had not become known.

"I know who the author is," said Benjamin under such a degree of excitement as even an older person would experience on the eve of an important revelation.

"You know!" exclaimed James in great surprise. "If you know, why have you not disclosed it before?"

"Because I thought it was not wise. It is not best to tell all we know always."

"But you have heard us discuss this matter over and over, and take measures to discover the author, and yet you have never intimated that you knew any thing about it."

"Well, the author did not wish to be known until the right time came, and that is a good reason for keeping the matter secret, I think."

"Will you tell who the author is now?" asked James, impatient to obtain the long-sought information.

"Perhaps I will if you are very anxious to know."

"Of course I am, and every one else who is interested in the paper."

That was the crisis to James. We can scarcely conceive of its interest to the boy-writer. His time of triumph had come. James had not treated him very well, and we think he enjoyed that moment of victory a little more for that reason. That would have been human, and Benjamin was human. His ruse had proved successful, and his talents, too. Now he could startle his brother as much as would a thunder-bolt out of a clear sky. So he answered his inquiry by saying,--

"Benjamin Franklin "; and he said it with emphasis and an air of triumph.

If James' countenance could have been photographed at that moment, it would have shown a mixture of amazement, incredulity, and wonder. It was several moments before he so far recovered from the shock as to be able to speak.

"What! Do you mean to say that you wrote those articles?" Benjamin might have discovered some doubt in James' tone and appearance when he spoke.

"Certainly I do."

"But it is not your handwriting."

"It is my handwriting disguised. I wa' n't fool enough to let you have the articles in my own handwriting without disguise, when I wished to conceal the authorship."

"What could possibly be your object in doing so?"

"That the articles might be fairly examined. If I had proposed to write an article for your paper, you would have said that I, a printer-boy, could write nothing worthy of print."

"But if I had seen and read the articles, knowing them to be yours, I should have judged them fairly," James insisted, evidently feeling somewhat hurt by his brother's last remark. Nevertheless, Benjamin was right. It is probable that his articles would have been rejected, had he offered them in his own name to the critics.

"Well, that was my plan, and the articles have had a fair show, and I am satisfied, whether you are or not," was Benjamin's reply in an independent spirit.

Here the conversation dropped. James bestowed no words of commendation upon his brother's ability. Perhaps he thought that he had praised the articles enough when he did not know who the author was. But he appeared to be abstracted in thought until some of the "knot of liberals" came in.

"I have discovered who 'Silence Dogood' is," he said.

"You have? Who can it be?" and the speaker was very much surprised.

"No one that you have dreamed of."

"Is that so? I am all the more anxious to learn who it is," he continued.

"There he is," replied James, pointing to Benjamin, who was setting type a little more briskly than usual, as if he was oblivious to what was going on.

"What! Benjamin? You are joking, surely," replied one.

"Your brother out there!" exclaimed another, pointing to Benjamin; "you do not mean it!"

"Yes, I do mean it. He is the author, and he has satisfied me that he is. You can see for yourselves."

The "knot of liberals" was never so amazed, and now they all turned to Benjamin, and he had to speak for himself. They were not entirely satisfied that there was not some mistake or deception about the matter. But he found little difficulty in convincing them that he was the real author of the communications, whereupon they lavished their commendations upon him to such an extent as to make it perilous to one having much vanity in his heart.

From that time Benjamin was a favorite with the literary visitors at the office. They showed him much more attention than they did James, and said so much in his praise, as a youth of unusual promise, that James became jealous and irritable. He was naturally passionate and tyrannical, and this sudden and unexpected exaltation of Benjamin developed his overbearing spirit. He found more fault with him, and became very unreasonable in his treatment. Probably he had never dreamed that Benjamin possessed more talents than other boys of his age. Nor did he care, so long as his brother was an apprentice, and he could rule over him as a master. He did not appear to regard the blood-relationship between them, but only that of master and apprentice. In other words, he was a poor specimen of a brother, and we shall learn more about him in the sequel.

In his "Autobiography," Franklin tells the story of his ruse as follows:
"James had some ingenious men among his friends, who amused themselves by writing little pieces for this paper, which gained it credit, and made it more in demand, and these gentlemen often visited us. Hearing their conversations, and their accounts of the approbation their papers were received with, I was excited to try my hand among them. But, being still a boy, and suspecting that my brother would object to printing any thing of mine in his paper, if he knew it to be mine, I contrived to disguise my hand, and, writing an anonymous paper, I put it at night under the door of the printing house. It was found in the morning, and communicated to his writing friends, when they called in as usual. They read it, commented on it in my hearing, and I had the exquisite pleasure of finding it met with their approbation, and that, in their different guesses at the author, none were named but men of some character among us for learning and ingenuity. I suppose that I was rather lucky in my judges, and that they were not really so very good as I then believed them to be. Encouraged, however, by this attempt, I wrote and sent in the same way to the press several other pieces, that were equally approved; and I kept my secret till all my fund of sense for such performances was exhausted, and then discovered it, when I began to be considered a little more by my brother's acquaintance.

"However, that did not quite please him, as he thought it tended to make me too vain. This might be one occasion of the differences we began to have about this time. Though a brother he considered himself as my master, and me as his apprentice, and accordingly expected the same services from me as he would from another, while I thought he degraded me too much in some he required of me, who from a brother expected more indulgence."
The foregoing was one of the incidents of Benjamin's boyhood that decided his future eminent career. It was a good thing to bring out his talents as a writer thus early, and it introduced him to an exercise that was of the first importance in the improvement of his mind. From the time he wrote the first article for the Courant, he did not cease to write for the public. Probably no other American boy began his public career so early--sixteen. He had written much before, but it was not for the press. It was done for self-improvement, and not for the public eye. The newspaper opened a new and unexpected channel of communication with the public that was well suited to awaken his deepest interest and inspire his noblest efforts.

The incident reminds us of Canning's Microcosm. He, the great English statesman, was scarcely as old as Benjamin when he established a boy's periodical in the school at Eton, whither he was sent. It was christened Microcosm, which means, literally, "the little world." It was a weekly publication issued from Windsor. It was conducted "after the plan of the Spectator"--a work that was of immense value to Benjamin, as we shall see,--"the design being to treat the characteristics of the boys at Eton as Addison and his friends had done those of general society." In this paper several members of the school figured with credit to themselves, though no one was more prominent and capable than Canning.

It became one of the prominent influences that decided his future course, as he always affirmed, developing his talents, and stimulating his mind to labor in this honorable way. It also exerted a decided influence upon the character of another boy, named Frere, who afterwards shone as a writer on the pages of the Anti-Jacobin.

Examples of industry, enterprise, despatch, promptness, punctuality, and circumspection are inspiring to both old and young; and nowhere do these noble qualities appear to better advantage than they do where busy brains and hands make the newspaper in the printing office. It is a remarkably useful school. It was so when Benjamin was a boy. It was a far better school for him than that of Williams or Brownwell. Here he laid the foundation of his learning and fame. The same was true of Horace Greeley, who founded the New York Tribune, and of Henry J. Raymond, who made the Times what it is. The late Vice-President Schuyler Colfax was schooled in a printing office for his honorable public career; and the same was true of other distinguished statesmen. But none of these examples are so remarkable as the following, that was made possible by Benjamin Franklin's example.

A waif two years of age was taken from a benevolent institution in Boston, and given to a childless sailor, on his way from a voyage to his home in Maine on the Penobscot River. The sailor knew not from what institution the child was taken, nor whence he came. He carried it home, without a name, or the least clue to his ancestry. The sailor's wife was a Christian woman, and had prayed for just such a gift as that. She resolved to train him for the Lord. At twelve years of age he became a Christian, and, from that time, longed to be a minister. But poverty stood in his way, and there was little prospect of his hopes being realized.

At length, however, he read the life of Benjamin Franklin; and he learned how the printing office introduced him into a noble life-work. "I will go through the printing office into the ministry," he said to his adopted mother. So, at fifteen, he became a printer in Boston. After a while, his health broke down, and the way to regain it seemed to be through service to a wealthy man on his farm in the country. There his health was restored, and his benevolent employer got him into Andover Academy, where he led the whole class. Near the close of his preparatory course, on a Saturday night, the author met him under the following circumstances:

He was then nineteen years of age. On that day he had learned from what institution he was taken, and, going thither, he ascertained that he had a sister three years older than himself, living thirty miles north of Boston. It was the first knowledge he had received about any of his relatives. He was ten years old when his adopted parents informed him that he was taken, a waif, from an institution in Boston. From that time he was curious to find the institution and learn something of his ancestry. He was too young, when he was taken away, to remember that he had a sister. But on that day he learned the fact; and he took the first train to meet her. The author took the train, also, to spend the Sabbath with the minister who reared the sister. We met in the same family. What a meeting of brother and sister! The latter had mourned, through all these years, that she knew not what had become of her baby-brother, whom she well remembered and loved; but here he was, nineteen years of age, a manly, noble, Christian young man! Could she believe her eyes? Could we, who were lookers on, think it real? We received the story of his life from his own lips.

He was the best scholar in his class through academy, college, and theological seminary, and is now an able and useful minister of the Gospel, indebted TO THE EXAMPLE AND EXPERIENCE OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN IN THE PRINTING OFFICE FOR WHAT HE IS!

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