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26 June, 2013
From Boyhood to Manhood
XXXII. No Longer a Skeptic.
by Thayer, William M.


"Time is money," Doctor Franklin wrote in age. It was what he practised when he conducted his printing business in Philadelphia. One day a lounger stepped into his shop, and, after looking over the articles, asked:

"What is the price of that book?" holding it up in his hand. Benjamin had commenced to keep a few books on sale.

"One dollar," answered the apprentice in attendance.

"One dollar," repeated the lounger; "can't you take less than that?"

"No less; one dollar is the price."

Waiting a few moments, and still looking over the book, he said, at length:

"Is Mr. Franklin at home?"

"He is in the printing office."

"I want to see him; will you call him?"

Franklin was called.

"Mr. Franklin, what is the lowest price you will take for this book?" at the same time holding up the book.

"One dollar and a quarter," answered Franklin, who had heard the lounger's parleying with his apprentice.

"One dollar and a quarter! Your young man asked but a dollar."

"True," answered Franklin, "and I could have better afforded to take a dollar then, than to have been called from my business."

The Customer seemed puzzled for a few moments, but, finally, concluded that the proprietor was joking. He had not been wont to place so great value upon time.

"Come, now, tell me just the lowest you will take for it," he said.

"One dollar and a half."

"A dollar and a half! Why you offered it yourself for a dollar and a quarter."

"True, and I had better taken the price then, than a dollar and a half now," retorted Benjamin with a good deal of spirit.

The buyer got the truth into his head at last, paid the price of the book, and sneaked away, with the rebuke lying heavily on his heart.

Benjamin wrote of his industry at that time, as follows:
"My circumstances, however, grew daily easier. My original habits of frugality continuing, and my father having, among his instructions to me when a boy, frequently repeated a proverb of Solomon, "Seest thou a man diligent in his calling, he shall stand before kings, he shall not stand before mean men." I thence considered industry as a means of obtaining wealth and distinction, which encouraged me; though I did not think that I should ever literally stand before kings,--which, however, has since happened; for I have stood before five, and even had the honor of sitting down with one, the King of Denmark, to dinner."
It is not strange that such a young man should write such maxims as the following, in his riper years:
"Pride breakfasts with plenty, dines with poverty, and sups with infamy."

"It is as truly folly for the poor to ape the rich, as for the frog to swell in order to equal the ox."

"It is easier to suppress the first desire, than to satisfy all that follow it."
His integrity was no less marked. Strict honesty characterized all his dealings with men. An exalted idea of justice pervaded his soul. His word of honor was as good as his note of hand. Even his disposition to castigate and censure in his writings, so manifest in Boston, at sixteen years of age, and which his father rebuked, was overcome. After he had set up a paper in Philadelphia, a gentleman handed him an article for its columns.

"I am very busy now," said Benjamin, "and you will confer a favor by leaving it for perusal at my leisure."

"That I will do, and call again to-morrow."

The following day the author put in his appearance quite early.

"What is your opinion of my article?" he asked.

"Why, sir, I am sorry to say that I can not publish it."

"Why not? What is the matter with it?"

"It is highly scurrilous and defamatory," replied Benjamin; "but being at a loss, on account of my poverty, whether to reject it or not, I thought I would put it to this issue. At night when my work was done, I bought a twopenny loaf, on which I supped heartily, and then, wrapping myself in my great coat, slept very soundly on the floor until morning, when another loaf and mug of water afforded a pleasant breakfast. Now, sir, since I can live very comfortably in this manner, why should I prostitute my press to personal hatred or party passion for a more luxurious living?"

We have seen that Benjamin began to revise his religious opinions on his return voyage from England. He continued to reflect much upon his loose ways; and there is no doubt that his integrity, industry, economy, and desire to succeed in business had something to do with his moral improvement. He confessed that, along from 1725 to 1730 he was immoral, and was sometimes led astray; but his conscience made him much trouble, and, finally, it asserted its supremacy, and he came off conqueror over his evil propensities. A change from skepticism or deism to a decided belief in the Christian Religion, no doubt exerted the strongest influence in making him a better man.

In 1728 he prepared "Articles of Belief and Acts of Religion" for his own use every day. This was his ritual, beginning and closing with an humble prayer.

Three or four years later, he appears to have taken up this thought of a religious life anew; and he prepared a code of morals, perhaps a revision of his former Articles of Faith, wrote them out carefully in a blank book for use, as follows:
"1. TEMPERANCE.--Eat not to dulness; drink not to elevation.

"2. SILENCE.--Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.

"3. ORDER.--Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.

"4. RESOLUTION.--Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.

"5. FRUGALITY.--Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; that is, waste nothing.

"6. INDUSTRY.--Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.

"7. SINCERITY.--Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.

"8. JUSTICE.--Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.

"9. MODERATION.--Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

"10. CLEANLINESS.--Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.

"11. TRANQUILITY.--Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

"12. CHASTITY....

"13. HUMILITY.--Imitate Jesus and Socrates."
At one time he seriously thought of organizing a "United Party for Virtue," in connection with which he prepared this religious creed:
"That there is one God, who made all things.

"That he governs the world by his providence.

"That he ought to be worshipped by adoration, prayer and thanksgiving.

"But that the most acceptable service to God is doing good to man.

"That the soul is immortal.

"And that God will certainly reward virtue and punish vice, either here or hereafter."
His letters to relatives and friends, from this time, contained strong words for the Christian Religion, and for the imitation of the virtues practised by its Author. Through his long and useful life, he continued to observe the doctrines and precepts that he named in the foregoing extracts. He was a delegate to the convention for forming a Constitution of the United States, which met at Philadelphia, May, 1787, and he introduced the motion for daily prayers, with remarks thus:
"In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for the Divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard; and they were graciously answered. All of us, who were engaged in the struggle, must have observed frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favor. To that kind Providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful Friend? or do we imagine we no longer need his assistance? I have lived, Sir, a long time; and, the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that GOD governs in the affairs of men. And, if a sparrow can not fall to the ground without his notice, is it probably that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that 'except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.' I firmly believe this; and I also believe that, without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel; we shall be divided by our little, partial, local interests, our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and a by-word down to future ages."
We will only add here an epitaph that he wrote for his own monument at twenty-three years of age, supposed to have been a paper for the Junto:
"THE BODY OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, PRINTER (LIKE THE COVER OF AN OLD BOOK, ITS CONTENTS TORN OUT, AND STRIPT OF ITS LETTERING AND GILDING), LIES HERE, FOOD FOR WORMS. BUT THE WORK ITSELF SHALL NOT BE LOST, FOR IT WILL, AS HE BELIEVED, APPEAR ONCE MORE, IN A NEW AND MORE ELEGANT EDITION, REVISED AND CORRECTED BY THE AUTHOR."


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