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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
"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
"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
"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
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
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.
"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
"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.
At one time he seriously thought of organizing a "United Party for
Virtue," in connection with which he prepared this religious creed:
"2. SILENCE.--Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid
"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
"11. TRANQUILITY.--Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common
"13. HUMILITY.--Imitate Jesus and Socrates."
"That there is one God, who made all things.
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
"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."
"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
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."