Abbildungen der Seite

heard to express a conviction, that she should not recover. They had been married forty-four years, and lived together in a state of uninterrupted harmony and happiness. Their correspondence during his long absence, a great part of which has been preserved, is affectionate on both sides, exhibiting proofs of an unlimited confidence and devoted attachment. He omitted no opportunity to send her whatever he thought would contribute to her convenience and comfort, accompanied by numerous little tokens of remembrance and affection. So much did he rely on her prudence and capacity, that, when abroad, he intrusted to her the management of his private affairs. Many years after her death, in writing to a young lady, he said; “Frugality is an enriching virtue; a virtue I never could acquire myself; but I was once lucky enough to find it in a wife, who therefore became a fortune to me.” The little song, which he wrote in her praise, is marked with a playful tenderness, and contains sentiments creditable to his feelings as a man and a husband. In his autobiography and letters he often mentions his wife, and always with a kindness and respect, which could proceed only from genuine sensibility and a high estimate of her character and virtues. * A late English writer, who in the main has done justice to Franklin, thinks it strange, that so little has been said of his family connexions; and insinuates, that, in his days of prosperity, he was less attentive to his poor relations, than would be expected from one, so remarkable for benevolence and philanthropy in his intercourse with society and in all his public acts. To remove such a suspicion, it is only necessary to peruse his writings, and study his history. The tale of his early years is told by himself in his own simple and expressive language, and no one will say, that it is deficient in a lively concern for the welfare of his relatives, or in the natural sympathies of a son and a brother. His circumstances were as humble, and his fortunes as adverse, as those of any of his family; and, before he had gained a competency, many of them had passed off the stage. When his wife died, the last of his sixteen brothers and sisters, except the youngest, had been dead eight years, his father twenty-eight, and his mother twenty. Neither his parents, nor more than two or three of his brothers and sisters, needed his assistance. His brother James died at Newport in Rhode Island, leaving a widow and children, whom he befriended and aided many years. His brother Peter died at an advanced age in Philadelphia, having been established there by Dr. Franklin, and assisted by him in procuring a support. His youngest sister, Jane, who married Edward Mecom, resided the most of her life in Boston, and was left a widow with several children. Her means of support were small, and her misfortunes many; but she was sustained by his affectionate kindness and liberal bounty as long as he lived, of which there are abundant evidences in her letters of grateful acknowledgment. More than any others of the family, she resembled him in the strength of her character and intellect. Her eldest son found a home in his family, till he had learned the printer's trade, when he was set up in business by his uncle. Dr. Franklin met in England a relation of the same name, but of another branch of the family, old and poor, who had an only daughter eleven years of age. This child he took home to his lodgings in London, with no other than charitable motives, and had her educated and maintained at his charge till she was married. No father was ever more kind, devoted, or generous to his own children. His eldest son, William, was his constant companion at home and abroad in his youth, and afterwards the object of his confidence and paternal regard, till he estranged himself by his violent political conduct, sacrificing the ties of kindred to the schemes of ambition. Francis Folger, his second son, died when he was only four years old, of whom his father said, “Though now dead thirty-six years, to this day I cannot think of him without a sigh.” His daughter, Sarah, alone remained to soothe his old age, and administer to his last wants in a lingering disease. From her birth she experienced from him all that a father's fondness, indulgence, and counsel could bestow, and he bequeathed to her the principal part of the fortune, which he had acquired by years of laborious industry, and by the habitual practice of his rigid maxims of economy and prudence. On all occasions he was prompt to assist the necessitous, and liberal in his benefactions and deeds of charity. For public objects his contributions were in full proportion to his means. He had a delicate way of giving money, which he called lending it for the good of mankind. To an English clergyman, a prisoner in France, whose wants he relieved by a sum of money, he wrote; “Some time or other you may have an opportunity of assisting with an equal sum a stranger who has equal need of it. Do so. By that means you will discharge any obligation you may suppose yourself under to me. Enjoin him to do the same on occasion. By pursuing such a practice, much good may be done with little money. Let kind offices go round. Mankind are all of a family.” This was a common practice with him, by which he could spare the feelings of the receiver, and practically inculcate the maxim of doing good. About the middle of December, 1774, Dr. Franklin received the petition of the first Continental Congress to the King, with a letter from the president of Congress to the several colonial agents in London, requesting them to present the petition. All the agents, except Franklin, Bollan, and Lee, declined acting in the business, alleging that they had no instructions. These three gentlemen, however, carried it to Lord Dartmouth, who, after retaining it one day for perusal, during which a cabinet council was held, agreed to deliver it; and in a short time he informed them, that his Majesty had been pleased to receive it “very graciously,” and would lay it before both Houses of Parliament. This was accordingly done, but without any allusion to it in the King's speech, or any message calling the attention of Parliament to the subject. It was sent down with a mass of letters of intelligence, newspapers, and pamphlets, and laid upon the table undistinguished from the other papers with which it was accompanied. The agents requested to be heard at the bar of the House in support of the petition, but were refused. When it came up for consideration, it was rejected by an overwhelming majority, after a heated debate, in which the ministerial members spoke contemptuously of the Americans and of their pretended grievances, and insisted on reducing them to obedience at all events, and by force of arms if that were necessary. While the first Congress was sitting, Galloway, who was a member from Pennsylvania, proposed a VOL. I. 48 F F *

* Mrs. Franklin died at Philadelphia, December 19th, 1774, and was buried in the cemetery of Christ's Church, on the side next to Arch Street.

378 LIFE OF FRANKLIN. [1774.

plan of union between Great Britain and the colonies, which met with so little success, that there was almost a unanimous voice for not permitting it to be entered in the journals. Piqued at this slight, and at the defeat of a scheme from which he had formed high expectations, Galloway caused his plan to be printed, in connexion with disrespectful observations on the proceedings of Congress. He sent a copy of it to Dr. Franklin, who, in his reply, without touching upon its merits, gave his ideas of some preliminary articles, which he said ought to be agreed to before any plan of union could be established. These articles included a repeal of the Declaratory Act, and of all the acts of Parliament laying duties on the colonies, all acts altering the charter, constitution, or laws of any colony, all acts restraining manufactures, with a modification of the navigation acts, which should be reënacted by the legislatures of both countries. It was his opinion, however, that no benefit would result to America by a closer union with Great Britain than already existed. For the year past, Dr. Franklin had foreseen, that, if the ministers persevered in their mad projects against the colonies, a rupture between the two countries and a civil war would soon follow; and he used all the means in his power to induce a change of measures. This was known to gentlemen of influence in the opposition, who were striving to effect the same end, and who accordingly sought his counsel and coöperation. Lord Chatham was among those, who condemned the policy and acts of the administration; and he was resolved to make a strenuous effort in Parliament to avert the calamity, which he saw, as he thought, impending over the nation. In the month of August, 1774, while Dr. Franklin was on a visit

« ZurückWeiter »