I will speak ill of no man, not even in matter of truth; but rather excuse the faults I hear charged upon others, and upon proper occasion speak all the good I know of everybody.
Benjamin Franklin was twelve years old. He was large and strong and fat and good-natured, and had a full-moon face and red cheeks that made him look like a country bumpkin. He was born in Boston within twenty yards of the church called “Old South,” but the Franklins now lived at the corner of Congress and Hanover Streets, where to this day there swings in the breeze a gilded ball, and on it the legend, “Josiah Franklin, Soap-Boiler.”
Benjamin was the fifteenth child in the family; and several having grown to maturity and flown, there were thirteen at the table when little Ben first sat in the high chair. But the Franklins were not superstitious, and if little Ben ever prayed that another would be born, just for luck, we know nothing of it. His mother loved him very much and indulged him in many ways, for he was always her baby boy, but the father thought that because he was good-natured he was also lazy and should be disciplined.
Once upon a time the father was packing a barrel of beef in the cellar, and Ben was helping him, and as the father always said grace at table, the boy suggested he ask a blessing, once for all, on the barrel of beef and thus economize breath. But economics along that line did not appeal to Josiah Franklin, for this was early in Seventeen Hundred Eighteen, and Josiah was a Presbyterian and lived in Boston.
The boy was not religious, for he never “went forward,” and only went to church because he had to, and read “Plutarch’s Lives” with much more relish than he did “Saints’ Rest.” But he had great curiosity and asked questions until his mother would say, “Goodness gracious, go and play!”
And as the boy wasn’t very religious or very fond of work, his father and mother decided that there were only two careers open for him: the mother proposed that he be made a preacher, but his father said, send him to sea.
To go to sea under a good strict captain would discipline him, and to send him off and put him under the care of the Reverend Doctor Thirdly would answer the same purpose–which course should be pursued? But Pallas Athene, who was to watch over this lad’s destinies all through life, preserved him from either.
His parents’ aspirations extended even to his becoming captain of a schooner or pastor of the First Church at Roxbury. And no doubt he could have sailed the schooner around the globe in safety, or filled the pulpit with a degree of power that would have caused consternation to reign in the heart of every other preacher in town; but Fate saved him that he might take the Ship of State, when she threatened to strand on the rocks of adversity, and pilot her into peaceful waters, and to preach such sermons to America that their eloquence still moves us to better things.
Parents think that what they say about their children goes, and once in an awfully long time it does, but the men who become great and learned usually do so in spite of their parents–which remark was first made by Martin Luther, but need not be discredited on that account.
Ben’s oldest brother was James. Now, James was nearly forty; he was tall and slender, stooped a little, and had sandy whiskers, and a nervous cough, and positive ideas on many subjects–one of which was that he was a printer. His apprentice, or “devil,” had left him, because the devil did not like to be cuffed whenever the compositor shuffled his fonts. James needed another apprentice, and proposed to take his younger brother and make a man of him if the old folks were willing. The old folks were willing and Ben was duly bound by law to his brother, agreeing to serve him faithfully, as Jacob served Laban, for seven years and two years more.