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Inaugural address, October 23rd, 1903, before the Birmingham and Midland Institute.
EDUCATION is now in all civilized countries
the question of the hour, and the unsolved problems of secondary, technical, and university education are engaging universal attention. As a diversion from this general discussion, it may not be uninteresting to study the lives of those great and rare men who, without any of these extraneous aids, achieve undying fame and confer priceless blessings on mankind. For them schools, colleges, and universities are of little account, and are not required for their development. The world is their school, and necessity is often their only teacher, but their lives are the world's treasures. It is in this view that I ask your attention for a brief hour to the life, character, and achievements of Benjamin Franklin of Philadelphia.
His whole career has been summed up by the great French statesman who was one of his personal friends and correspondents in six words, Latin words of course:
Eripuit cœlo fulmen, sceptrumque tyrannis, which, unfortunately for our language, cannot be translated into English in less than twelve:— "He snatched the lightning from the skies and the sceptre from tyrants."
Surely the briefest and most brilliant biography ever written. He enlarged the boundaries of human knowledge by discovering laws and facts of Nature unknown before, and applying them to the use and service of man, and that entitles him to lasting fame. But his other service to mankind differed from this only in kind, and was quite equal in degree. For he stands second only to Washington in the list of heroic patriots who on both sides of the Atlantic stood for those fundamental principles of English liberty, which culminated in the independence of the United States, and have ever since been shared by the English-speaking race the world over.
You must all be familiar with the principal facts in Franklin's life. He was born a British subject at Boston in Massachusetts, then a village of about 12,000 inhabitants, in 1706, the year in which Marlborough won the battle of Ramillies and made every New Englander very proud of being a subject of Queen Anne. He was the fifteenth child in a family of seventeen, a rate of multiplication enough to frighten the life out of Malthus, and more than sufficient to satisfy the extreme demands of President Roosevelt. His father, born at Ecton in Northamptonshire, came of that ancient and sturdy Saxon yeomanry which has done so much for the making of England. Having followed the trade of a dyer for some years at Banbury, he emigrated in 1685 to Boston, where, finding little encouragement for his old trade, he engaged in the business of tallow chan
dler and soap boiler. The boy could never remember when he learned to read and write, and at eight years old he was sent to the Boston Grammar School, one of those free common schools then and ever since the pride of the Colony and the State. But in two years, at the age of ten, his school days were over for ever. His father finding that with the heavy burden of his great family he could afford him no more education, took the child home to assist in his business, and the next two years the future philosopher and diplomatist spent in cutting candle wicks, filling moulds, tending the shop and running errands.
That he highly valued the little schooling that he had, meagre as it must have been, appears from his last will made sixty-two years afterwards, in which he says that he owed his first instruction in literature to the free grammar schools of his native town of Boston, and leaves to the town one hundred pounds sterling, the annual interest to be laid out in silver medals to be distributed as honorary rewards in those schools, and to this day the Franklin Medals are striven for and valued as the most honorable prize that a Boston boy can win.
But how did this particular boy, without an hour's tuition of any kind after he was ten years old, come to be the most famous American of his time, and win his place in the front rank of the world's scientists, diplomatists, statesmen, men of letters, and men of affairs? It was by sheer force of brains, character, severe self-discipline,