ePub 版

In 1744, a Spanish privateer, having entered the bay of Delaware, ascended as high as New-Castle to the great terror of the citizens of Philadelphia. On occasion of this alarm, he wrote his first political pamphlet called Plain Truth, to exhort his fellow ci. tizens to the bearing of arms; which laid the foundation of those military associations which followed, at different times, for the defence of the country

His popularity was now great among all parties and denominations of men. But the unhappy divisions and disputes which commenced in the provincial politics of Pennsylvania, in the year 1754 obliged him soon afterwards to chuse his party. He managed his weapons like a veteran combatant; nor was he opposed with unequal strength or skill. The debates of that day have been read and admired as among the most masterly compositions of the kind, which our language affords; but it is happy for us, at the present day, that the subject of them is no longer interesting; and if it were, he who now addresses you was too much an actor in the scene to be fit for the discussion of it. Dr. Franklin, by the appointment of the general assembly, quitted the immediate field of controversy, and in June 1757, embarked for England, to contest his point at the court of Great-Britain, where he continued for several years with various success in the business of his agency. In the summer of 1762, he returned to America; but the disputes which had so long agitated the province, far from being quieted by his former mission, continued to rage with greater violence than ever, and he was again

appointed by the assembly to resume his agency at .. the court of Great-Britain. Much opposition was made to his re-appointment; which seems greatly to have affected his feelings; as it came from men with whom he had long been connected both in public and private life, “ the very ashes of whose former friendship,” he declared, “ that he revered.” His pathetic farewell to Pennsylvania on the 5th of November, 1764, the day before his departure, is a strong proof of the agitation of his mind on this occasion.

“ I am now," says he, “ to take leave (perhaps a last leave) of the country I love, and in which I have spent the greatest part of my life. Esto perpetua! I wish every kind of prosperity to my friends, and I forgive my enemies.

But under whatsoever circumstances this second embassy was undertaken, it appears to have been a measure pre-ordained in the councils of Heaven; and it will be forever remembered, to the honour of Pennsylvania, that the agent selected to assert and defend the rights of a single province, at the court of GreatBritain, became the bold asserter of the rights of America in general; “and, beholding the fetters that were forging for her, conceived the magnanimous thought of rending them asunder before they could be rivetted*.” And this brings us to consider him, in a more enlarged view, viz.

Secondly-As a citizen of America, one of the chief and greatest workmen in the foundation and establishment of her empire and renown.

Abbe Fauchet.

But on this head little need be said on the present occasion. The subject has been already exhausted by his eulogists, even in distant countries. His opposition to the stamp-act, his noble defence of the liberties of America, at the bar of parliament, and his great services, both at home and abroad, during the revolution, are too well known to need further men. tion in this assembly, or in the presence of so many of his compatriots and fellow labourers in the great work. I hasten, therefore, to consider him in another illustrious point of view, viz.

Thirdly-As a citizen of the world—successfully labouring for the benefit of the whole human race, by the diffusion of liberal science and the invention of useful arts.

Endowed with a penetrating and inquisitive genius, speculative and philosophical subjects engaged his early attention; but he loved them only as they were useful, and pursued them no farther than as he found his researches applicable to some substantial purpose in life. His stock of knowledge and the fruits of his investigations, he never hoarded up for his own private use. Whatever he discovered whatever he considered as beneficial to mankind fresh as it was conceived, or brought forth in his own mind, he communicated to his fellow-citizens, by means of his news papers and almanacs, in delicate and palatable morsels, for the advancement of industry, frugality and other republican virtues; and, at a future day, as occasion might require, he would collect and digest the parts, and set out the whole

into one rich feast of useful maxims and practical wisdom.

Of this kind is his celebrated address, entitled The Way to Wealth,which is a collection or digest of the various sentences, proverbs and wise maxims, which, during a course of many years, he had occasionally published, in his Poor Richard's Almanac, on topics of industry, frugality, and the duty of minding one's own business. Had he never written any thing more than this admirable address, it would have ensured him immortality as—The Farmer's Philosopher, the Rural Sage, the Yeoman's and Peasant's Oracle.

But greater things lay before him! Although as a philosopher, as well as a politician, he remained unconscious of the plenitude of his own strength and talents, until called into further exertions by the magnitude of future objects and occasions.

There is something worthy of observation in the progress of science and human genius. As in the natural world there is a variety and succession of seeds and crops for different soils and seasons; so (if the comparison* may be allowed) in the philosophical world, there have been different æras for seed-time and harvest of the different branches of arts and sciences; and it is remarkable that, in countries far distant from each other, different men have fallen into the same tracks of science, and have made similar and correspondent discoveries, at the same period

• " Grant but as many kinds of mind, as moss."


of time, without the least communication with each other. Whether it be that, at the proper season of vegetation for those different branches, there be a kind of intellectual or mental farina disseminated, which falling on congenial spirits in different parts of the globe, take root at the same time, and spring to a greater or less degree of perfection, according to the richness of the soil and the aptitude of the season?

From the beginning of the year 1746, till about twenty years afterwards, was the æra of electricity, as no other branch of natural philosophy was so much cultivated during that period. In America, and in the mind of Franklin, it found a rich bed: the seed took root and sprung into a great tree, before he knew that similar seeds had vegetated, or risen to any height in other parts of the world.

Before that period, philosophers amused themselves only with the smaller phænomena of electricity; such as relate to the attraction of light bodies; the distances to which such attraction would extend; the luminous appearances produced by the excited glass tube; and the firing spirits and inflammable air by electricity. Little more was known on the subject, than Thales had discovered 2000 years before; that certain bodies, such as amber and glass had this attractive quality. Our most indefatigable searchers into nature, who in other branches seemed to have explored her profoundest depths, were content with what was known in former ages of electricity, without advancing any thing new of their own. Suffi

[ocr errors]
« 上一頁繼續 »