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Benjamin Franklin
by [?]

Science has explained many things, but it has not yet told why it sometimes happens that when seventeen eggs are hatched, the brood will consist of sixteen barnyard fowls and one eagle.

James Franklin was a man of small capacity, whimsical, jealous and arbitrary. But if he cuffed his apprentice Benjamin when the compositor blundered, and when he didn’t, it was his legal right; and the master who did not occasionally kick his apprentices was considered derelict to duty. The boy ran errands, cleaned the presses, swept the shop, tied up bundles, did the tasks that no one else would do; and incidentally “learned the case.” Then he set type, and after a while ran a press. And in those days a printer ranked considerably above a common mechanic. A man who was a printer was a literary man, as were the master printers of London and Venice. A printer was a man of taste. All editors were printers, and usually composed the matter as they set it up in type. Thus we now have the expressions: a “composing-room,” a “composing-stick,” etc. People once addressed “Mr. Printer,” not “Mr. Editor,” and when they met “Mr. Printer” on the street removed their hats–but not in Philadelphia.

Young Franklin felt a proper degree of pride in his work, if not vanity. In fact, he himself has said that vanity is a good thing, and whenever he saw it come flaunting down the street, always made way, knowing that there was virtue somewhere back of it–out of sight perhaps, but still there. James, being a brother, had no confidence in Ben’s intellect, so when Ben wrote short articles on this and that, he tucked them under the door so that James would find them in the morning. James showed these articles to his friends, and they all voted them very fine, and concluded they must have been written by Doctor So-and-So, Ph.D., who, like Lord Bacon, was a very modest man and did not care to see his name in print.

Yet, by and by, it came out who it was that wrote the anonymous “hot stuff,” and then James did not think it was quite so good as he at first thought, and moreover, declared he knew whose it was all the time. Ben was eighteen and had read Montaigne, and Collins, and Shaftesbury, and Hume. When he wrote he expressed thoughts that then were considered very dreadful, but that can now be heard proclaimed even in good orthodox churches. But Ben had wit and to spare, and he leveled it at government officials and preachers, and these gentlemen did not relish the jokes–people seldom relish jokes at their own expense–and they sought to suppress the newspaper that the Franklin brothers published.

The blame for all the trouble James heaped upon Benjamin, and all the credit for success he took to himself. James declared that Ben had the big head–and he probably was right; but he forgot that the big head, like mumps and measles and everything else in life, is self-limiting and good in its way. So, to teach Ben his proper place, James reminded him that he was only an apprentice, with three years yet to serve, and that he should be seen seldom and not heard all the time, and that if he ran away he would send a constable after him and fetch him back.

Ben evidently had a mind open to suggestive influences, for the remark about running away prompted him to do so. He sold some of his books and got himself secreted on board a ship about to sail for New York.

Arriving at New York, in three days he found the broad-brimmed Dutch had small use for printers and no special admiration for the art preservative; and he started for Philadelphia.

Every one knows how he landed in a small boat at the foot of Market Street with only a few coppers in his pocket, and made his way to a bakeshop and asked for a threepenny loaf of bread, and being told they had no threepenny loaves, then asked for threepenny’s worth of any kind of bread, and was given three loaves. Where is the man who in a strange land has not suffered rather than reveal his ignorance before a shopkeeper? When I was first in England and could not compute readily in shillings and pence, I would toss out a gold piece when I made a purchase and assume a ‘igh and ‘aughty mien. And that Philadelphia baker probably died in blissful ignorance of the fact that the youth who was to be America’s pride bought from him three loaves of bread when he wanted only one.