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when we reflect upon the inadequacy of his early attainments, and the scanty opportunities which public business afforded him of augmenting them afterwards, we are almost astonished at the knowledge which he every where displays, and are sometimes ready to think, that he overtook the learning of the eighteenth century, by the native force of his own original thought. In many things, indeed, he went beyond it; and, though perhaps the physical sciences are the most indebted to him, the moral have to acknowledge the receipt of many valuable improvements at his hands. In the writings of other philosophers, it is common to find the labour of investigation proportioned to the difficulty of the subject; but we believe it is generally conceded to Dr. Franklin--that, upon whatever he undertook to treat, he was equally familiar and at home. In the moral sciences, indeed, he was not comparatively so much at his ease; for, as we learn from many parts of his writings, he had no very exalted idea of the progress which they had already made, nor was he oversanguine as to that which they might hereafter make. In physics, however, he delighted beyond measure.
Even while yet the humble Editor of the Pennsylvania Gazette, he began to take the globe familiarly in his hand;--and it is particularly amusing to read his early speculations upon those meteorological phenomena, which he afterwards elucidated with so much success. He was always desirous to get leisure for the prosecution of these studies; and, when he received the permission of Congress to return from France, he expresses his joy on the occasion in this apostrophic language:
I shall now be free from politics for the rest of my life. Welcome again, my dear philosophical amusements!'-- Priv. Cor. p. 72.
In his love of physical study, Dr. Franklin was not altogether singular; but in his style of treatment, we believe he was. Over his strongest and most durable speculations, there was a playfulness and jocularity, which commended it to the understandings of all readers—and which not more than one or two eminent scientific men, besides himself, have ever been able to display. We may be considered as extravagant, when we venture to think that Lord Bacon, and Dr. Franklin, were almost the only two philosophers of great name, who have ever exercised a vivid and lively imagination with a powerful and solid understanding. In saying this, however, we must not be understood as intimating a complete parallelism between the two greatest luminaries of the eastern and western hemispheres. The imagination of Lord Bacon was employed in superintending the general concerns of univer
sal science; whereas, that of Dr. Franklin entered into the minutest particulars of several departments. The former exercised the same taculty in telling how to do a thing, which the latter employed in doing it.
Neither of them was, by any means, a thorough mathematician: And perhaps it is to this circumstance alone, that we must attribute the freedom and liveliness of their imaginative powers. The mathematics have we must say it-a very peculiar property of suppressing the imagination, and of turning all the strength of our minds into the single faculty of reasoning. Indeed, when our chief employment is to deal only with the ideas that are suggested by the figures of the decade, or the letters of the alphabet, we are not likely to encourage the entertainment of those which we get by the study or polite literature, and the exercise ot imagination. Whatever might have been the case with Lord Varulam, we are pretty sure, it was the comparative neglect of pure mathematical study, that enabled Dr. Franklin to be a polished wit, at the same time that he was a profound reasoner.We do not mean that his imagination, like that of too many others, was exercised without government and without use. We may compare it, indeed, with the humble instrument of some of his best experiments; which, though it soared into the clouds, was never suffered to go out of his controul,—and, instead of being sent up for vain amusement, was always employed in some profitable discovery. The sociable and story-telling wit of Dr. Franklin, too, had the singular property of being reconcileable with great dignity of character. He had not that constitutional levity, which made him lose his equilibrium. The gusts of jocularity which so often swept across him, might agitate the foliage, but could seldom shake the trunk, of his understanding. Lord Bacon, also, had exquisite wit; but it was a wit, which never descended to be jocular. According to our ideas of the two philosophers, the latter could say many witty things, which would make others laugh, without moving one of his own muscles; but, when the former set the table in a roar, his own sides, we suspect, could not help partaking in the general convulsion. Lord Bacon, we should say, would never attempt a witticism, till he saw there was no chance of miscarriage:-Dr. Franklin essayed too often; and sometimes said a thing that was silly.
The fame of such men is constantly augmenting. And the reason is—that they outstrip their own age; and accumulate, during the short period of their lives, a multiplicity of wise plans to ameliorate the world, which its slow and gingerly adoption of improvement, takes a long course of years to exhaust. Both the philosophers we now speak of, were sensible of this. Lord Bacon even made it an article of his will—that his name should belong to posterity, after the lapse of some generations; and Dr. Franklin often intimates, with something like impatience, that his schemes of amelioration would never be adopted, till the world had more sense.' I begin to be almost sorry, (says he to Sir Joseph Banks, Priv. Cor. p. 44,) I was born so soon, since I cannot have the happiness of knowing what will be known an hundred years hence. The same regret is expressed in other places;-—but it must be understood as relating to physical knowledge merely. He was sometimes on the borders of desperation, with regard to politics. See his letter to Dr. Priestley, dated from Passy, June 7, 1782; when he was weary of talking to inattentive heads, and, for the first time, had fairly got out of patience with mankind.
• I should rejoice much if I could once more recover the leisure to search with you into the works of nature; I mean the inanimate, not the animate or moral part of them: the more I discovered of the former, the more I admired them; the more I know of the latter, the more I am disgusted with them. Men, I find to be a sort of beings very badly constructed, as they are generally more easily provoked than reconciled, more disposed to do mischief to each other than to make reparation, much more easily deceived than undeceived, and having more pride and even pleasure in killing than in begetting one another; for without a blush they assemble in great armies at noon-day to destroy, and when they have killed as many as they can, they exaggerate the number to augment the fancied glory; but they creep into corners, or cover themselves with the darkness of night when they mean to beget, as being ashamed of a virtuous action. A virtuous action it would be, and a vicious one the killing of them, if the species were really worth producing or preserving; but of this I begin to doubt. I know you have no such doubts, because in your zeal for their welfare, you are taking a great deal of pains to save their souls. Perhaps as you grow older, you may look upon this as a hopeless project, or an idle amusement, repent of having murdered in mephitic air so many honest, harmless mice, and wish that to prevent mischief you had used boys and girls instead of them.'
Perhaps no philosopher ever laboured more assiduously than Dr. Franklin-to improve the circumstances of every person and thing that came in his way. He seemed to know intuitively the connexions which subsist among objects and events; and hardly a fact ever escaped him, without being turned to good account, in some way or another. Take, for one example, his remarks on domestic architecture, in a letter to Mr. Rhoads:
It appears to me of great importance to build our dwellinghouses, if we can, in a manner more secure from danger by fire. We scarcely ever hear of fire in Paris. When I was there, I took particular notice of the construction of their houses, and I did not see how one of them could well be burnt. The roofs are slate or tile, the walls are stone, the rooms generally lined with stucco or plaster, instead of wainscot, the floors of stucco, or of six-sided tiles painted brown, or of flag stone, or of marble; if any floors were of wood, they were of oak wood, which is not so inflammable as pine. Carpets prevent the coldness of stone or brick floors offending the feet in winter, and the noise of treading on such floors, overhead, is less inconvenient than on boards. The stairs too, at Paris, are either stone or brick, with only a wooden edge or corner for the step; so that, on the whole, though the Parisians commonly burn wood in their chimnies, a more dangerous kind of fuel than that used here, yet their houses escape extremely well, as there is little in a room that can be consumed by fire except the furniture; whereas in London, perhaps scarcely a year passes in which half a million of property and many
lives are not lost by this destructive element. Of late, indeed, they begin here to leave off wainscoting their rooms, and instead of it cover the walls with stucco, often formed into pannels, like wainscot, which, being painted, is very strong and warm. Stone staircases too, with iron rails, grow more and more into fashion here. But stone steps cannot, in some circumstances be fixed; and there, methinks, oak is safer than pine; and I assure you, that in many genteel houses here, both old and new, the stairs and floors are oak, and look extremely well.' Again upon the subject of exercise.
In considering the different kinds of exercise, I have thought that the quantum of each is to be judged of, not by time or by distance, but by the degree of warmth it produces in the body; thus, when I observe if I am cold when I get into a carriage in a inorning, I may ride all day without being warmed by it; that if on horseback my feet are cold, I may ride some hours before they become warm; but if I am ever so cold on foot, I cannot walk an hour briskly, without glowing from head to foot by the quickened circulation; I have been ready to say, (using round numbers without regard to exactness, but merely to make a great difference) that there is more exercise in one mile's riding on horseback, than in five in a coach; and more in one mile's walking on foot, than in five on horseback; to which I may add, that there is more in walking one mile up and down stairs, than in five on a level floor. The two latter exercises may be had within doors, when the weather discourages going abroad; and the last may be had when one is pinched for time, as containing a great quantity of exercise in a handful of minutes. The dumb bell is another ex. VOL. IX.
ercise of the latter compendious kind; by the use of it I have in forty swings quickened my pulse from sixty to one hundred beats in a minute, counted by a second watch: and I suppose the warmth generally increases with quickness of pulse.'
To Dr. Priestly-Moral or prudential Algebra.
• In the affair of so much importance to you, wherein you ask my advice; I cannot for want of sufficient premises, counsel you what to determine; but if you please, I will tell you how. When those clifficult cases occur, they are difficult chiefly because, while we have them under consideration, all the reasons fro, and con, are not present to the mind at the same time; but sometimes one set present themselves; and at other times another, the first being out of sight. Hence the various purposes or inclinations that alternately prevail, and the uncertainty that perplexes us. over this, my way is, to divide half a sheet of paper by a line into two columns, writing over the one pro, and over the other con; then during three or four days' consideration, I put down under the different heads, short hints of the different motives, that at different times occur to me, for or against the measure. When I have thus got them all together in one view, I endeavour to estimate their respective weights, and where I find two, (one on each side) that seem equal, I strike them both out. If I find a reason pro equal to some owo reasons con, I strike outthe three. If I judge some two reasons con, equal to some three reasons pro, I strike out the five; and thus proceeding I find at length where the balance lies; and if after a day or two of farther consideration, nothing new that is of importance occurs on either side, I come to a determination accordingly. And though the weight of reasons, cannot be taken with the precision of algebraic quantities; yet, when each is thus considered separately and comparatively, and the whole lies before me, I think I can judge better, and am less liable to make a rash step; and in fact I have found great advantage from this kind of equation, in what may be called moral or prudential algebra.' The project for a new American coin:
« There has been an intention to strike copper coin that may not only be useful as small change, but serve other purposes. Instead of repeating continually upon every halfpenny the dull story that every body knows, (and what it would have been no loss to mankind if nobody had ever known,) that Geo. III. is King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, &c. &c. To put on one side, some important Proverb of Solomon, some pious moral, prudential or economical precept, the frequent inculcation of which, by seeing it every time one receives a piece of money, might make an impression upon the mind, especially of young persons, and tend to regulate the conduct; such as on some, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; on others, Honesty is the best policy; &c. &c.
How much out of date is his advice, given in 1782, to newspaper cditors.