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I-HOW I LEARNED TO WRITE PROSE.
1. From a child I was fond of reading, and all the little money that came into my hands was laid out in books. Pleased with the "Pilgrim's Progress," my first collection was of John Bunyan's works, in separate little volumes. I afterward sold them to enable me to buy Burton's "Historical Collections"; they were small books, and cheap, forty or fifty in all.
2. "Plutarch's Lives" I read abundantly, and I still think that time spent to great advantage. There was also a book of De Foe's, called "An Essay on Projects," and another of Dr. Mather's, called "Essays to do Good," which perhaps gave me a turn of thinking that had an influence on some of the principal future events of my life.
3. This bookish inclination at length determined my father to make me a printer, though he had already one son (James) of that profession. In 1717 my brother James returned from England with a press and letters, to set up his business in Boston. I liked it much better than that of my father, but still had a hankering for the To prevent the apprehended effect of such an incli
nation, my father was impatient to have me bound to my brother.
4. I stood out some time, but at last was persuaded, and signed the indentures when I was yet but twelve years old. I was to serve as an apprentice till I was twenty-one years of age, only I was to be allowed journeyman's wages during the last year. In a little time I made great proficiency in the business, and became a useful hand to my brother. I now had access to better books.
5. An acquaintance with the apprentices of booksellers enabled me sometimes to borrow a small book, which I was careful to return soon and clean. Often I sat up in my room reading the greatest part of the night, when the book was borrowed in the evening and to be returned early in the morning, lest it should be missed or wanted.
6. After some time an ingenious tradesman, Mr. Matthew Adams, who had a pretty collection of books, and who frequented our printing-house, took notice of me, invited me to his library, and very kindly lent me such books as I chose to read. I now took a fancy to poetry, and made some little pieces. My brother, thinking it might turn to account, encouraged me, and put me on composing occasional ballads.
7. One was called the "Lighthouse Tragedy," and contained an account of the drowning of Captain Worthilake, with his two daughters; the other was a sailor's song, on the taking of Teach (or Blackbeard), the pirate. They were wretched stuff, in the Grub Street ballad style; and, when they were printed, he sent me about town to sell them. The first sold wonderfully, the event being recent, having made a great noise.
8. This flattered my vanity; but my father discour aged me by ridiculing my performances, and telling me verse-makers were generally beggars. So I escaped being a poet-most probably a very bad one; but as prosewriting has been of great use to me in the course of my life, and was a principal means of my advancement, I shall tell you how, in such a situation, I acquired what little ability I have in that
9. About this time I met with an odd volume of the Spectator. It was the third. I had never before seen any of them. I bought it, read it over and over, and was much delighted with it. I thought the writing excellent, and wished, if possible, to imitate it. With this view I took some of the papers, and, making short hints of the sentiment in each sentence, laid them by a few days, and then, without looking at the book, tried to complete the papers again, by expressing each hinted sentiment at length, and as fully as it had been expressed before, in any suitable words that should come to hand.
10. Then I compared my Spectator with the original, discovered some of my faults, and corrected them. But I found I wanted a stock of words, or a readiness in recollecting and using them, which I thought I should have acquired before that time if I had gone on making verses; since the continual occasion for words of the same import, but of different length, to suit the measure, or of different sound for the rhyme, would have laid me under a constant necessity of searching for variety, and also have tended to fix that variety in my mind, and make me master of it. Therefore I took some of the tales and turned them into verse, and, after a time, when I had pretty well forgotten the prose, turned them back again.
11. I also sometimes jumbled my collection of hints into confusion, and after some weeks endeavored to reduce them into the best order, before I began to form the full sentences and complete the paper. This was to teach me method in the arrangement of thoughts. By comparing my work afterward with the original, I discovered many faults, and amended them; but I sometimes had the pleasure of fancying that, in certain particulars of small import, I had been lucky enough to improve the method or the language; and this encouraged me to think I might possibly, in time, come to be a tolerable English writer-of which I was extremely ambitious.
12. My brother had, in 1720 or 1721, begun to print a newspaper. It was the second that appeared in America, and was called the New England Courant. He 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.
13. Hearing their conversation, 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 anything 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.
14. 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, now, that I was rather lucky in my judges, and that, perhaps, they were not really so very good ones as I then esteemed them. Benjamin Franklin.
FOR PREPARATION.-I. This extract is taken from "Franklin's Autobiography." The method here described has been followed by many who have "learned to write prose." Dr. Johnson, the celebrated critic, said, "Whoever wishes to attain an English style, familiar but not coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days and nights to the volumes of Addison." The best of Addison's essays appeared in the Spectator, a daily periodical edited by himself and Steele, and the most famous that ever appeared in England. "Plutarch's Lives" (of the great men of Greece and Rome). "De Foe "-have you read his "Robinson Crusoe "? "Grub Street" (in London, inhabited by writers of popular ballads, histories, etc.; any mean production was called "Grub Street ").
II. De-light'-ed, suit'-a-ble, read'-i-ness, ae-quired', fan'-cy-ing, dis-guişe', print'-ing-house, book'-sell-ers, beg'-garş, rhyme (rim).
III. Explain the use of capitals in the words New England Courant, Essays to do Good," Boston, English, Dr. Mathers.
IV. What is the difference in meaning between principal and principle? Explain the meaning, in your own words, of hankering, apprehended, indentures, proficiency, frequented, occasional (for occasions), tolerable, ingenious, commented.
V. Dr. Franklin's style is famous for its simplicity, directness, and idiomatic strength. It is, however, possible to find many slight blemishes, as, for example, where he sits up "the greatest (greater?) part of the night,” or returns the borrowed books "soon and clean" (soon and in a clean condition; the "and" should not connect an adverb and an adjective).
II. TRANSLATION OF THE TWENTY-THIRD PSALM.