Benjamin Franklin, formerly of Boston, came very near being an only child. If seventeen children had not come to bless the home of Benjamin’s parents, they would have been childless. Think of getting up in the morning and picking out your shoes and stockings from among seventeen pairs of them. Imagine yourself a child, gentle reader, in a family where you would be called upon, every morning, to select your own cud of spruce gum from a collection of seventeen similar cuds stuck on a window sill. And yet B. Franklin never murmured or repined. He desired to go to sea, and to avoid this he was apprenticed to his brother James, who was a printer. It is said that Franklin at once took hold of the great Archimedean lever, and jerked it early and late in the interests of freedom. It is claimed that Franklin at this time invented the deadly weapon known as the printer’s towel. He found that a common crash towel could be saturated with glue, molasses, antimony, concentrated lye, and roller composition, and that after a few years of time and perspiration it would harden so that the “Constant Reader” or “Veritas” could be stabbed with it and die soon.
Many believe that Franklin’s other scientific experiments were productive of more lasting benefit to mankind than this, but I do not agree with them.
This paper was called the New England Courant. It was edited jointly by James and Benjamin Franklin, and was started to supply a long-felt want. Benjamin edited a part of the time and James a part of the time. The idea of having two editors was not for the purpose of giving volume to the editorial page, but it was necessary for one to run the paper while the other was in jail. In those days you couldn’t sass the king, and then, when the king came in the office the next day and stopped his paper, and took out his ad., you couldn’t put it off on “our informant” and go right along with the paper. You had to go to jail, while your subscribers wondered why their paper did not come, and the paste soured in the tin dippers in the sanctum, and the circus passed by on the other side.
How many of us to-day, fellow journalists, would be willing to stay in jail while the lawn festival and the kangaroo came and went? Who, of all our company, would go to a prison cell for the cause of freedom while a double-column ad. of sixteen aggregated circuses, and eleven congresses of ferocious beasts, fierce and fragrant from their native lair, went by us?
At the age of 17, Ben got disgusted with his brother, and went to Philadelphia and New York, where he got a chance to “sub” for a few weeks, and then got a regular “sit.” Franklin was a good printer, and finally got to be a foreman. He made an excellent foreman, sitting by the hour in the composing room and spitting on the stone, while he cussed the make-up and press work of the other papers. Then he would go into the editorial rooms and scare the editors to death with a wild shriek for more copy. He knew just how to conduct himself as a foreman, so that strangers would think he owned the paper.
In 1730, at the age of 24, Franklin married and established the Pennsylvania Gazette. He was then regarded as a great man, and most everyone took his paper. Franklin grew to be a great journalist, and spelled hard words with great fluency. He never tried to be a humorist in any of his newspaper work, and everybody respected him.
Along about 1746 he began to study the construction and habits of lightning, and inserted a local in his paper, in which he said that he would be obliged to any of his readers who might notice any new or odd specimens of lightning, if they would send them into the Gazette office by express for examination. Every time there was a thunder storm, Franklin would tell the foreman to edit the paper, and, armed with a string and an old fruit jar, he would go out on the hills and get enough lightning for a mess.
In 1753 Franklin was made postmaster-general of the colonies. He made a good postmaster-general, and people say there were less mistakes in distributing their mail than there has ever been since. If a man mailed a letter in those days, old Ben Franklin saw that it went where it was addressed.
Franklin frequently went over to England in those days, partly on business, and partly to shock the king. He used to delight in going to the castle with his breeches tucked in his boots, figuratively speaking, and attract a good deal of attention. It looked odd to the English, of course, to see him come into the royal presence, and, leaving his wet umbrella up against the throne, ask the king: “How’s trade?” Franklin never put on any frills, but he was not afraid of a crowned head. He used to say, frequently, that to him a king was no more than a seven spot.
He did his best to prevent the Revolutionary war, but he couldn’t do it, Patrick Henry had said that the war was inevitable, and given it permission to come, and it came. He also went to Paris and got acquainted with a few crowned heads there. They thought a good deal of him in Paris, and offered him a corner lot if he would build there and start a paper. They also promised him the county printing, but he said no, he would have to go back to America, or his wife might get uneasy about him.
Franklin wrote “Poor Richard’s Almanac” in 1732-57, and it was republished in England. Benjamin Franklin had but one son, and his name was William. William was an illegitimate son, and, though he lived to be quite an old man, he never got over it entirely, but continued to be but an illegitimate son all his life. Everybody urged him to do differently, but he steadily refused to do so.