Imágenes de página

have come to a treaty on any other terms. It was a standing expression of his, that there could not be a bad peace, or a good war; and, to those who could not realize the deep philosophy upon which the remark was founded, he appeared to be for giving up any thing and every thing, if he could only stop the cutting of throats therewithal: But the truth is and it meets us at every corner of his Correspondence--there never was a man who loved his country better than Dr. Franklin, or who fought her diplomatic battles more skilfully, more ardently, more patiently, or more successfully. He submitted, as long as it was compatible with our interests, to all the ambidexterity of the British Government in the negotiation for peace; and did so, indeed, for the purpose of turning it to his own account. He went through a patient correspondence with unofficial persons, before the treaty was commenced; and then suffered the pumping of all the secret and anonymous emissaries, which the English Government saw fit to depute. He had a peculiar felicity, however, of making all these things work together for his own cause;-a felicity which made him be thought a cunning man; but which, we think, considerably differed from true cunning: And we were struck with Mr. Laurens' fine remark on the subject--that Dr. Franklin knew how to manage a cunning man; but that, when he conversed or treated with a man of candor, there was no man more candid than himself. Priv. Cor. p. 312.

We have but a word or two to say respecting Mason L. Weems' edition of Dr. Franklin's Essays; and, indeed, we placed it by the side of the other works, chiefly because it is, in a small way, another example of the editorial abuse which that philosopher has suffered. We had another motive, also, in the character of the editor; who, if we have a correct account of him, has the power of doing considerable good, and considerable mischief, among the lower order of readers in this country.

If he of Lodge No. 50, Dumfries' be the same that was formerly Rector of Mount Vernon Parish,' he has written a Life of Washington, which has reached the • seventeenth edition-greatly improved;' and, from the manner in which we understand he gets off a book, we suppose his Life of Franklin will go through an equal number of republications. Our readers should know, that he is an au. thor, a pedlar, and a preacher. He writes a book; and carries it about the country; holding forth a goodly sermon in every village, and taking occasion to exhort all manner of persons to open their eyes and read fructifying books. The

p. 138.

cart stands ready at the door; and, after a congregation have heard a sermon for nothing, they will seldom be so hardhearted as not to pay for a book. This is the account we have of the matter. We cannot vouch for its accuracy; and, indeed, until we read his Life of Franklin, we could not ourselves believe, that the part which concerns the preaching had any foundation. The following passage, however, seems to be something like it.

• Ye blind parents, who can think hard of laying out a few dollars for books (we use his own italics,) and education of your chil. dren; meanly grumbling all the time, as if it were so much precious money thrown away, and lost forever, o attend to this story of Dr. Franklin's! (That is to say, give me a dollar for the book.'). God grant it may open your eyes; and convince you that the most profitable pounds, shillings, and pence, which his father ever laid out on him, were laid out on his education and books.' &c. &c.

Now, as we take Mr. Weems to be one of those men, who mean no harm, we have a little piece of information for his own especial ear-namely, that, when he re-prints the memoir of a person, written by himself, the critics will not hold him guiltless, if he presumes to add or to omit any thing whatsoever,—and that, when he professes to give himself a continuation of such a memoir, he should be careful to avoid copying too closely, in any instance, a similar continuation by another hand. These things he does not seem to have been aware of, in editing his Life of Dr. Franklin. The continuation by Dr. Stuber was written in a plain and simple manner, and corresponded very well with the other part of the Life, Mr. Weems has made it the substratum of his own article; but he has stuffed it so full of queer expressions, that it is very greatly altered ab illo. Sundry passages are entirely omitted; while others, again, have given away to such substitutions as none but a Lodger at 50, Dumfries, could ever have composed. The following 6ambrates passage must suffice:

• To a common kite, made of silk rather than paper, because of the rain, he fixed a slender iron point. The string which he chose for his kite was of silk because of the fondness of lightning for silk; and for the same reason, at the lower end of the string he tied a key. With this simple preparation, he went out on the commons, back of Philadelphia, as a thundergust was coming on, and raised his kite towards the clouds. The lightning soon found out his metallic rod, as it soared aloft on the wings of the kite, and greeted its polished point with a cordial kiss. With joy he beheld the loose fibres of his string raised by the fond touch of the

celestial salatant, like the rich plumage of the pheasant's neck at the approach of her wanton mate.'

The conclusion we draw from the foregoing review-isthat a skilful edition of Dr. Franklin's complete works is still a desideratum in English literature. And we had rather it might always remain a desideratum, than to have an inadequate hand undertake to supply it. The editor of Dr. Franklin's works should be somewhat like Dr. Franklin himself, a man of great penetration of versatile abilities of considable research-of inexhaustible patience—and of irrefragable integrity. He should at least have penetration enough to enter into his author's train of thought-abilities enough to be at home on almost every sort of subject-research enough to ascertain when, and where, and how, the different treatises were published-patience enough to set them in proper order-and integrity enough to reject such as are not genuine. Almost all the Doctor's works appeared originally in the newspapers; the editors of which, we have no doubt, took the liberty of making many alterations in such as were political, and often misprinted, because they did not understand, such as were philosophical. Neither as a politician, nor as a philosopher, therefore, is he adequately represented in our collections of his writings; and we are afraid he never will be adequately represented, till we have ascertained how many of his papers have been thus mutilated, and how much mutilation they have undergone. We hope, that, some day or other, we may be able to notice an edition, which will satisfy us upon all these subjects. And, in the mean time, we think we can ourselves communicate some facts, not commonly known, respecting three of his productions.

In literature, as well as in all other trades, those who are worth the most, generally have credit for more than they are worth; and, borrowing with ease because they are not suspected of poverty, they frequently enrich themselves, with the riches of others. We do not always stigmatize, or even question the fairness of these gains; and if we sometimes engage in counting them, it is merely as a matter of amusement. It is curious, however, to follow such speculations to their source;—to inquire from whence the funds were obtained, --how they have been employed and what profit they have yielded; and, as we usually find that the public, at least, get back the principal with interest, we are the less inclined to find fault with the borrower, even if he should not always acknowledge his obligations. It is in this spirit that we have traced to the Juliet of Shakspeare, some of the delicate and affecting tenderness of Mr. Moore; and have found, or thought we found, the melancholy and metaphysical Hamlet lending here and there a trait to the Harold of a favourite poet. In this spririt, too, we have seen in Voltaire's vision of Babouk, Burke's celebrated metaphor on laxation,--and in Marivaux's story of the strolling player, one of Goldsmith's most entertaining Essays. Dr. Franklin, although perhaps the most original thinker of his age, was nevertheless indebted to his predecessors for the original hints of some of his works.

The Morals of Chess is not altogether an original essay. During the middle ages, it became a sort of mania to moral. ize the works of profane authors; and even the game of . chess was moralized (says Mr. Douce*); for the reader who may take up Caxton's translation of Jacobus de Caesolis, will be grievously disappointed should he expect to find any didactic or even historical information. We are sorry we have not access to the book, in order to see how far the Doctor followed his prototype, --if, indeed, he followed him at all. On the Parable againt Persecution, another article which is not altogether original, we can speak with more knowledge. Jerem. Taylor says he found such an one in the Jews' Books.'t

'I end (the treatise on Communicating with Dissenting Churches) with a story which I find in the Jews' Books. “When Abraham sate at his tent-door, according to his custom, waiting to entertain strangers; he espied an old man stooping and leaning on his staff, weary with age and travell, coming towards him, who was an hundred years of age: he received him kindly, washed his feet, provided supper, caused him to sit down: but observing that the old man eat and prayed not, nor begged for a blessing on his meat, he asked him why he did not worship the God of Heaven. The old man told him that he worshipped the Fire only, and acknowledged no other God. At which answer Abraham grew so zealously angry, that he thrust the old man out of his tent, and exposed him to all the evils of the night. When the old man was gone, God called to Abraham and asked him where the stranger

He replied, I thrust him away, because he did not worship thee. God answered him, I have suffered him these hundred years, although he dishonoured me; and canst thou not endure him one night, when he gave thee no trouble. Upon this, such is the story, Abraham fetcht him back again and gave him hospitable entertainment and wise instruction.'

The Conversation of a company of Ephemeræ; with the Soliloquy of one advanced in Age-is still more apparently


* Illustrations of Shakspeare, &c. London. 1807. Vol. II, p. 341. + Discourse on the Liberty of Prophesying, &c. Sect. XXII.

an imitation. The Abbe Le Blanc says he found nearly the same thing in an obscure English author.*

• Cicero in the first book of his Tusculans shows ingeniously the falsity of the judgments we form concerning the duration of the human life compared with eternity. To give the more force to his reasoning he quotes a passage from the Natural History of Aristotle touching a kind of insects, that are common upon the banks of the Hypanist who never live beyond the day in which they are produced.

• To pursue the idea of this elegant writer, let us suppose that one of the niost robust of these Hypanians (so they are call'd in history) was according to his own notions as ancient as time itself; that he had begun to exist at break of day, and by the extraordinary force of his constitution, had been able to support the fatigues of an active life thro' the number of seconds in ten or twelve hours. During such a long course of instants, by his experience, and his reflections on all he had seen, he must have acquired very sublime wisdom. He looks upon his fellow creatures who died about noon as happily deliver'd from the great number of inconveniences to which old age is subject. He has astonishing traditions to relate to his grand children, concerning facts that were prior to all the memorials of their nation. The young swarm composed of beings who may have already liv'd a full hour, approach with respect this venerable sire, and hear his instructive discourses with admiration. Every thing that he relates to them will appear a prodigy to that generation whose life is so very short: the space of a day will seem the greatest duration of time, and day break in their chronology will be call'd the great æra of the creation.

* Letters on the English and French Nations. 2 vols. London. 1747. Vol. II., p. 150. “As our author (says the translator) gives us no hint by which to find out this obscurė English author, we are obliged to translate the passage back again.'

t • A river in Scythia, at present called the Bog. Aristotle says there, are small animals upon the river Hypanis which live but a day. He that dies at eight in the morning dies in his youth; he that dies at five in the evening dies in decrepid old age. Who among us does not laugh to see the happiness or misery of this moment of existence brought into consideration? The shortest and longest life among us, if we compare it with eternity, or only with the duration of mountains, stars, trees, or even of some animals, is not less ridiculous.-Montaigne's Essays.'

Our classical readers will recollect the original passage. Apud Hypanim fluvium, qui ab Europæ parte in Pontum influit, Aristoteles ait bestiolas quasdam nasci, quæ unum diem vivant. Ex his igitur, hora octava quæ mortua est, provecta ætate mortua est: quæ vero occidente sole, de. crepita: eo magis, si etiam solestiali die. Confer nostram longissimam ætatem cum æternitate, in eadem propemodum brevitate, qua illæ bestiolæ, reperiemur.--Tusc. Qæst. I. 1, § 39. VOL. IX.


« AnteriorContinuar »