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FRANKLIN was the most widely known American of his time, when he began this account of his life in 1771. He continued it in 1784 and 1788. The following pages contain almost all the first part of the autobiography, and more than a third of the whole.
FROM the poverty and obscurity in which I was born, and in which I passed my earliest years, I have raised myself to a state of affluence and some degree of celebrity in the world. As constant good fortune has accompanied me, even to an advanced period of life, my posterity will perhaps be desirous of learning the means which I employed, and which, thanks to Providence, so well succeeded with me. They may also deem them fit to be imitated, should any of them find themselves in similar circumstances.
This good fortune, when I reflect on it, which is frequently the case, has induced me sometimes to say, that, if it were left to my choice, I should have no objection to go over the same life from its beginning to the end; requesting only the advantage authors have of correcting in a second edition the faults of the first. So would I also wish to change some incidents of it for others more favorable. Notwithstanding, if this condition was denied, I should still accept the offer of recommencing the same life. But as this repetition is not to be expected, that which resembles most living one's life over again seems to
be to recall all the circumstances of it; and, to render this remembrance more durable, to record them in writing.
In thus employing myself I shall yield to the inclination, so natural to old men, of talking of themselves and their own actions; and I shall indulge it without being tiresome to those who, from respect to my age, might conceive themselves obliged to listen to me, since they will be always free to read me or not. And, lastly (I may as well confess it, as the denial of it would be believed by nobody), I shall perhaps not a little gratify my own vanity. Indeed, I never heard or saw the introductory words, “Without vanity I may say,” etc., but some vain thing immediately followed. Most people dislike vanity in others, whatever share they have of it themselves ; but I give it fair quarter wherever I meet with it, being persuaded that it is often productive of good to the possessor, and to others who are within his sphere of action; and therefore in many cases it would not be altogether absurd, if a man were to thank God for his vanity among the other comforts of life.
And now I speak of thanking God, I desire with all humility to acknowledge, that I attribute the mentioned happiness of my past life to his divine providence, which led me to the means I used, and gave the success. My belief of this induces me to hope, though I must not presume, that the same goodness will still be exercised towards me in continuing that happiness, or enabling me to bear a fatal reverse, which I may experience as others have done; the
complexion of my future fortune being known to him only, in whose power it is to bless us, even in our afflictions.
My father married young, and carried his wife with three children to New England, about 1685. By the same wife my father had four children more born there, and by a second, ten others; in all seventeen ; of whom I remember to have seen thirteen sitting together at his table; who all grew up to years of maturity and were married. I was the youngest son, and the youngest of all the children except two daughters. I was born in Boston, in New England. My mother, the second wife of my father, was Abiah Folger, daughter of Peter Folger, one of the first settlers of New England; of whom honorable mention is made by Cotton Mather in his ecclesiastical history of that country, as “a godly and learned Englishman,” if I I remember the words rightly. I was informed, he wrote several small occasional works, but only one of them was printed, which I remember to have seen several years since.
since. It was written in 1675. It was in familiar verse, according to the taste of the times and people; and addressed to the government there. It asserts the liberty of conscience, in behalf of the Anabaptists, the Quakers, and other sectaries, that had been persecuted. He attributes to this persecution the Indian wars, and other calamities that had befallen the country; regarding them as so many judgments of God to punish so heinous an offence,
1 January 6th, 1706, Old Style, being Sunday, and the same as January 17th, New Style, in Milk Street, opposite to the Old South Church.