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I disliked the trade, and had a strong inclination to go to sea: but my father declared against it . But residing near the water, I was much in it and on it. I learnt to swim well, and to manage boats: and when embarked with other boys, I was commonly allowed to govern, especially in any case of difficulty; and upon other occasions I was generally the leader among the boys, and sometimes led them into scrapes, of which I will mention one instance, as it shews an early projecting public spirit, though not then justly conducted. There was a salt marsh, which bounded part of the mill-pond, on the edge of which, at high water, we used to stand to fish for minnows. By much trampling we had made it a mere quagmire. My proposal was to build a wharf there for us to stand upon, and I shewed my comrades a large heap of stones, which were intended for a new house near the marsh, and which would very well suit our purpose. Accordingly in the evening, when the workmen were gone home, I assembled a number of my play-fellows, and we worked diligently like so many emmets, sometimes two or three to a stone, 'till we brought them all to make our little wharf. The next morning the workmen were surprized at missing the stones which had formed our wharf. Enquiry was made after the authors of this transfer, we were discovered, complained of, and corrected by our fathers; and though I demonstrated the utility of our work, mine convinced me that that which was not honest, could not be truely useful.
I suppose you may like to know what kind of a man my father was. He had an excellent constitution, was of a middle stature, well set and very strong. He could draw prettily, was skilled a little in music. His voice was sonorous and agreeable, so that when he played on his violin, and sung withal, as he was accustomed to do after the business of the day was over, it was extremely agreeable to hear. He had some knowledge of mechanics, and on occasion was very handy with other tradesmen's tools. But his great excellence was his sound understanding and his solid judgment, in prudential matters, both in private and public affairs. It is true he was never employed in the latter, the numerous family he had to educate and the straitness of his circumstances keeping him close to his trade; but I remember well his being frequently visited by leading men, who consulted him for his opinion in public affairs, and those of the church he belonged to; and who shewed great respect for his judgment and advice. He was also much consulted by private persons about their affairs, when any difficulty occurred, and frequently chosen an arbitrator between contending parties. At his table he liked to have as often as he could some sensible friend or neighbour to converse with, and always took care to start some ingenious or useful topic for discourse which might tend to improve the minds of his children. By this means he turned our attention to what was good, just and prudent in the conduct of life; and little or no notice was ever taken of what related to the victuals on the table; whether it was well or ill dressed, in or out of season, of good or bad flavor, preferable or inferior to this or that other thing of the kind: so that I was brought up in such a perfect inattention to those matters, as to be quite indifferent what kind of food was set before me. Indeed I am so unobservant of it, that to this day I can scarce tell a few hours after dinner of what dishes it consisted. This has been a great convenience to me in travelling, where my companions have been sometimes very unhappy for want of a suitable gratification of their more delicate, because better instructed, tastes and appetites.
My mother had likewise an excellent constitution: she suckled all her ten children. I never knew either my father or mother to have any sickness, but that of which they died: He at 89 and she at 85 years of age. They lie buried together at Boston, where I some years since placed a marble over their grave with this inscription.
ABIAH his wife,
Lie here interred.
They lived lovingly together in wedlock,
Fifty-five years; .
And without an estate, or any gainful employment,
By constant labor, and honest industry,
(With God's blessing)
Maintained a large family comfortably;
And brought up thirteen children and seven grand-children,
From this instance, reader,
Be encouraged to diligence in thy calling
And distrust not Providence.
He was a pious and prudent man,
She a discreet and virtuous woman.
Their youngest son,
In filial regard to their memory,
Places this stone.
J. F. born 1655 died 1744. .Etas 89.
A. F. bom 1667 died 1752. Jeuls85.
By my rambling digressions, I perceive myself to be grown old. I used to write more methodically. But one does not dress for private company, as for a public ball. Perhaps 'tis only negligence.
To return: I continued thus employed in my father's business for two years, that is, 'till I was twelve years old ; and my brother John, who was bred to that business, having left my father, married and set up for himself at Rhode Island: there was every appearance that I was destined to supply his place, and become a tallowchandler. But my dislike to the trade continuing, my father had apprehensions that if he did not put me to one more agreeable, I should break loose and go to sea, as my brother Josiah had done, to his great vexation. In consequence he took me to walk with him and see joiners, bricklayers, turners, braziers, &c. at their work that he might observe my inclination, and endeavour to fix it on some trade or profession that would keep me on land. It has ever since been a pleasure to me to see good workmen handle their tools. And it has been often useful to me, to have learnt so much by it, as to be able to do some trifling jobs in the house when a workman was not at hand, and to construct little machines for my experiments at the moment when the intention of making these was warm in my mind. My father determined at last for the cutler's trade, and placed me for some days on trial with Samuel, son to my uncle Benjamin, who was bred to that trade in London, and had just established himself in Boston. But the sum he exacted as a fee for my apprenticeship displeased my father, and I was taken home again.
From my infancy I was passionately fond of reading, and all the money that came into my hands was laid out in the purchasing of books. I was very fond of voyages. My first acquisition was Bunyon's works in separate little volumes. I afterwards sold them to enable me to buy R. Burton's Historical Collections, they were small chapmen's books, and cheap. Forty volumes in all. My father's little library consisted chiefly of books in polemic divinity, most of which I read. I have often regretted that at a time when I had such a thirst for knowledge, more proper books had not fallen in my way, since it was resolved I should not be bred to divinity: there was among them Plutarch's lives which I read abundantly, and I still think that time spent to great advantage. There was also a book of Defoe's called "An Essay on Projects," and another of Dr. Mather's called "An Essay 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.
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 Vol. I. B
liked it much better than that of my father, but still had an hankering for the sea To prevent the apprehended effect of such an inclination, my father was impatient to have me bound to my brother. I stood out some time, but at last was persuaded and signed the indenture, when I was yet but twelve years old. I was to serve an apprenticeship '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 a great progress in the business, and became a useful hand to my brother. I now had access to better books. An acquaintance with the apprentices of booksellers, enabled me sometimes to borrow a small one, which I was careful to return soon and clean. Often I sat up in my chamber, reading the greatest part of the night when the book was borrowed in the evening and to be returned in the morning lest it should be found missing. After some time a merchant, an ingenious sensible man, Mr. Matthew Adams, who had a pretty collection of books, frequented our printing office, took notice of me, and invited me to see his library, and very kindly proposed to lend me such books, as I chose to read. I now took a strong inclination for poetry, and wrote some little pieces. My brother, supposing it might turn to account, encouraged me, and induced me to compose two occasional ballads. One was called "The Light House Tragedy," and contained an account of the shipwreck of Captain Worthilake with his two daughters: the other was a sailor's song, on the taking of the famous Teach (or Blackbeard) the pirate. They were wretched stuff, in street ballad stile; and when they were printed, my brother sent me about the town to sell them. The first sold prodigiously, the event being recent and having made a great noise. This success flattered my vanity: but my father discouraged me by criticising my performances, and telling me verse makers were generally beggars. Thus I escaped being a poet, and probably a very bad one: but as prose writing 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 may be supposed to have in that way.
There was another bookish lad in the town, John Collins by name, with whom I was intimately acquainted. We sometimes disputed, and very fond we were of argument, and very desirous of confuting one another: which disputatious turn, by the way, is apt to become a very bad habit, making people often extremely disagreeable in company by the contradiction that is necessary to bring it into practice; and thence, besides souring and spoiling the conversation, it is productive of disgusts and perhaps enmities with those who may have occasion for friendship. I had caught this by reading my father's books of dispute on Religion. Persons of good sense, I have since observed, seldom fall into it, except lawyers, university men, and generally men of all sorts who have been bred at Edinburgh. A question was once, some how or other, started between Collins and me, on the propriety of educating the female sex in learning, and their abilities for study. He was of opinion that it was improper, and that they were naturally unequal to it. I took the contrary side, perhaps a little for dispute sake. He was naturally more eloquent, having a greater plenty of words, and sometimes, as I thought, I was vanquished more by his fluency than by the strength of his reasons. As we parted without settling the point, and were not to see one another again for some time, I sat down to put my arguments in writing, which I copied fair and sent to him. He answered, and I replied. Three or four letters on a side had passed, when my father happened to find my papers and read them. Without entering into the subject in dispute he took occasion to talk to me about my manner of writing; observed that though I had the advantage of my antagonist in correct spelling and pointing (which he attributed to the printing house) I fell far short in elegance of expression, in method and in perspicuity, of which he convinced me by several instances. I saw the justice of his remarks, and thence grew more attentive to my manner of writing and determined to endeavour to improve my style.
About this time I met with an odd volume of the Spectator. 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 that view, I took some of the papers, and making short hints of the sentiments 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 occur to me. 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 search 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, in the Spectator, and turned them into verse: And after a time when I had pretty well forgotten the prose, turned them back again. I also sometimes jumbled my collection of hints into confusion, and after