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able, as it will make a subject of comparison with the lives of various public cutthroats and intriguers, and with absurd monastic self-tormentors, or vain literary triflers. If it encourages more writings of the same kind with your own, and induces more men to spend lives fit to be written; it will be worth all Plutarch's Lives put together.
"But being tired of figuring to myself a character of which every feature suits only one man in the world, without giving him the praise of it; I shall end my letter, my dear Dr. Franklin, with a personal application to your proper self.
"I am earnestly desirous then, my dear Sir, that you should let the world into the traits of your genuine character, as civil broils may otherwise tend to disguise or traduce it. Considering your great age, the caution of your character, and your peculiar style of thinking, it is not likely that any one besides yourself can be sufficiently master of the facts of your life, or the intentions of your mind.
"Besides all this, the immense revolution of the present period, will necessarily turn our attention towards the author of it; and when virtuous principles have been pretended in it, it will be highly important to shew that such have really influenced; and, as your own character will be the principal one to receive a scrutiny, it is proper (even for its effects upon your vast and rising country, as well as upon England and upon Europe), that it should stand respectable and eternal. For the furtherance of human happiness, I have always maintained that it is necessary to prove that man is not even at present a vicious and detestable animal; and still more to prove that good management may greatly amend him; and it is for much the same reason, that I am anxious to see the opinion established, that there are fair characters existing among the individuals of the race; for the moment that all men, without exception, shall be conceived abandoned, good people will cease efforts deemed to be hopeless, and perhaps think of taking their share in the scramble of life, or at least of making it comfortable principally for themselves.
"Take then, my dear Sir, this work most speedily into hand: shew yourself good as you are good, temperate as you are temperate; and above all things, prove yourself as one who from your infancy have loved justice, liberty, and concord, in a way that has made it natural and consistent for you to have acted, as we have seen you act in the last seventeen years of your life. Let Englishmen be made not only to respect, but even to love you. When they think well of individuals in your native country, they will go nearer to thinking well of your country; and when your countrymen see themselves well thought of by Englishmen, they will go nearer to thinking well of England. Extend your views even further; do not stop at those who speak the English tongue, but after having settled so many points in nature and politics, think of bettering the whole race of men.
"As I have not read any part of the life in question, but know only the character that lived it, I write somewhat at hazard. I am sure however, that the life, and the treatise I allude to (on the Art of Virtue), will necessarily fulfil the chief of my expectations; and still more so if you take up the measure of suiting these performances to the several views above stated. Should they even prove unsuccessful in all that a sanguine admirer of yours hopes from them, you will at least have framed pieces to interest the human mind; and whoever gives a feeling of pleasure that is innocent to man, has added so much to the fair side of a life otherwise too much darkened by anxiety, and too much injured by pain.
"In the hope therefore that you will listen to the prayer addressed to you in this letter, I beg to subscribe myself, my dearest Sir, &c. &c. . .
"Signed Benj. Vaughan."
Continuation of the Account of my Life, begun at Passy, near Paris, 1784.
It is some time since I received the above letters, but I have been too busy till now to think of complying with the request they contain. It might too be much better done if I were at home among my papers, which would aid my memory, and help to ascertain dates; but my return being uncertain, and having just now a little leisure, I will endeavour to recollect and write what I can: if I live to get home, it may there be corrected and improved.
Not having any copy here of what is already written, I know not whether an account is given of the means I used to establish the Philadelphia public library; which from a small beginning is now become so considerable. Though I remember to have come down to near the time of that transaction, (1730.) I will therefore begin here with an account of it, which may be struck out if found to have been already given.1
At the time I established myself in Pennsylvania, there was not a good bookseller's shop in any of the colonies to the southward of Boston. In New-York and Philadelphia, the printers were indeed stationers, but they sold only paper, &c. almanacks, ballads, and a few common school-books. Those who loved reading
1 Only a short account of the same, having been given at the close of the first part of the life, it was thought advisable not to suppress this fuller one.
were obliged to send for their books from England: the members of the junto had
each a few. We had left the ale house, where we first met, and hired a room to
hold our club in. I proposed that we should all of us bring our books to that
room; where they would not only be ready to consult in our conferences, but become
a common benefit, each of us being at liberty to borrow such as he wished to read
at home. This was accordingly done, and for some time contented us: finding the
advantage of this little collection, I proposed to render the benefit from the books
more common, by commencing a public subscription library. I drew a sketch of
the plan and rules that would be necessary, and got a skilful conveyancer, Mr.
Charles Brogden, to put the whole in form of articles of agreement to be subscribed;
by which each subscriber engaged to pay a certain sum down for the first purchase
of the books, and an annual contribution for increasing them. So few were the
readers at that time in Philadelphia, and the majority of us so poor, that I was not
able with great industry to find more than fifty persons, (mostly young tradesmen,)
willing to pay down for this purpose forty shillings each, and ten shillings per annum;
with this little fund we began. The books were imported; the library was open
one day in the week for lending them to the subscribers, on their promissory notes
to pay double the value if not duly returned. The institution soon manifested its
utility, was imitated by other towns, and in other provinces. The libraries were
augmented by donations; reading became fashionable; and our people having no
public amusements to divert their attention from study, became better acquainted
with books; and in a few years were observed by strangers to be better instructed,
and more intelligent than people of the same rank generally are in other countries.
When we were about to sign the above-mentioned articles, which were to be binding on us, our heirs, &c. for fifty years; Mr. Brogden, the scrivener, said to us, "" You are young men, but it is scarce probable that any of you will live to see the expiration of the term fixed in the instrument." A number of us however are yet living: but the instrument was after a few years rendered null, by a charter that incorporated and gave perpetuity to the company.
The objections and reluctances I met with in soliciting the subscriptions, made me soon feel the impropriety of presenting oneself as the proposer of any useful project, that might be supposed to raise one's reputation in the smallest degree above that of one's neighbours, when one has need of their assistance to accomplish that project. I therefore put myself as much as I could out of sight, and stated it as a scheme of a number of friends, who had requested me to go about and propose it to such as they thought lovers of reading. In this way my affair went on more smoothly, and I ever after practised it on such occasions; and from my frequent successes can heartily recommend it. The present little sacrifice of your vanity will afterwards be amply repaid. If it remains a while uncertain to whom the merit belongs, some one more vain than yourself will be encouraged to claim it, and then even envy will be disposed to do you justice, by plucking those assumed feathers, and restoring them to their right owner.
This library afforded me the means of improvement by constant study, for which I set apart an hour or two each day; and thus repaired in some degree the loss of the learned education my father once intended for me. Reading was the only amusement I allowed myself. I spent no time in taverns, games or frolics of any kind; and my industry in my business continued as indefatigable as it was necessary. I was indebted for my printing-house, I had a young family coming on to be educated, and I had two competitors to contend with for business, who were established in the place before me. 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 evenhad the honor of sitting down with one, (the King of Denmark,) to dinner.
We have an English proverb that says,
"He that would thrive
it was lucky for me that I had one as much disposed to industry and frugality as myself. She assisted me cheerfully in my business, folding and stitching pamphlets, tending shop, purchasing old linen rags for the paper-makers, &c. We kept no idle servants, our table was plain and simple, our furniture of the cheapest. For instance, my breakfast was for a long time bread and milk, (no tea) and I ate it out of a twopenny earthen porringer, with a pewter spoon: but mark how luxury will enter families, and make a progress in spite of principle; being called one morning to breakfast, I found it in a China bowl, with a spoon of silver. They had been bought for me without my knowledge by my wife, and had cost her the enormous sum of three and twenty shillings; for which she had no other excuse or apology to Vol. I. I
make, but that she thought her husband deserved a silver spoon and China bowl as well as any of his neighbours. This was the first appearance of plate and China in our house, which afterwards, in a course of years, as our wealth increased, augmented gradually to several hundred pounds in value.
I had been religiously educated as a Presbyterian; but though some of the dogmas of that persuasion, such as the eternal decrees of God, election, reprobation, &c. appeared to me unintelligible, others doubtful; and I early absented myself from the public assemblies of the sect, Sunday being my studying day. I never was without some religious principles: I never doubted, for instance, the existence of a Deity, that he made the world and governed it by his providence; that the most acceptable service of God was the doing good to man; that our souls are immortal; and that all crimes will be punished, and virtue rewarded, either here or hereafter: these I esteemed the essentials of every religion, and being to be found in all the religions we had in our country, I respected them all, though with different degrees of respect, as I found them more or less mixed with other articles, which without any tendency to inspire, promote, or confirm morality, served principally to divide us, and make us unfriendly to one another. This respect to all, with an opinion that the worst had some good effects, induced me to avoid all discourse that might tend to lessen the good opinion another might have of his own religion; and as our province increased in people, and new places of worship were continually wanted, and generally erected by voluntary contribution, my mite for such purpose, whatever might be the sect, was never refused.
Though I seldom attended any public worship, I had still an opinion of its propriety, and of its utility when rightly conducted, and I regularly paid my annual subscription for the support of the only Presbyterian minister or meeting we had in Philadelphia. He used to visit me sometimes as a friend, and admonish me to attend his administrations; and I was now and then prevailed on to do so; once for five Sundays successively. Had he been in my opinion a good preacher, perhaps I might have continued, notwithstanding the occasion I had for the Sunday's leisure in my course of study: but his discourses were chiefly either polemic arguments, or explications of the peculiar doctrines of our sect, and were all to me very dry, uninteresting, and unedifying; since not a single moral principle was inculcated or enforced; their aim seeming to be rather to make us Presbyterians than good citizens. At length he took for his text that verse of the 4th chapter to the Philippians, "Finally brethren, whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, or of good report, if there be any virtue, or any praise, think on these things" And I imagined in a sermon on such a text, we could not miss of having some morality.