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FORTUNES AND MISFORTUNES OF THE AUTOGRAPH
FRANKLIN'S MEMOIRS OF HIS OWN LIFE#
T is well known that Franklin prepared so much of
the celebrated Memoirs of his life as was originally intended for publication, mainly at the solicitation of one of his most cherished friends in France-M. le Veillard, then Mayor of Passy. Towards the close of the year 1789 he presented to this gentleman a copy of all this sketch that was then finished. At the Doctor's death,f his papers, including the original of the manuscript, passed into the hands of one of his grandsons, William Temple Franklin, who undertook to prepare an edition of the
* Revised from Bigelow's Autobiography of Franklin, Lippincott, 1868.
† Benjamin Franklin died on the 17th of April, 1790, aged eighty. four years and three months.
life and writings of his grandfather for a publishing house in London.
For the greater convenience of the printer in the preparation of this edition-so goes the tradition in the Le Veillard family-William Temple Franklin exchanged the original autograph with Mrs. le Veillard, then a widow, for her copy of the Memoirs; and thus the autograph passed out of the Franklin family.
At the death of the widow le Veillard this manuscript passed to her daughter; and at her death, in 1834, it became the property of her cousin, M. de Senarmont, whose grandson, M. P. de Senarmont, transferred it to me on the 26th of January, 1867, with several other memorials of Franklin which had descended to him with the manuscript. Among the latter were the famous pastel portrait of Franklin by Duplessis which he presented to M. le Veillard; a number of letters to M. le Veillard from Dr. Franklin and from his grandsons, William Temple Franklin and Benjamin Franklin Bache; together with a minute outline of the topics of his Memoirs, brought down to the termination of his mission to France.
I availed myself of my earliest leisure to subject the Memoirs to a careful collation with the edition which appeared in London in 1817, and which was the first and only edition that ever purported to have been printed from the manuscript. The results of this collation revealed the curious fact that more than twelve hundred separate and distinct changes had been made in the text, and, what is more remarkable, that the last eight pages of the manuscript, which are second in value to no other eight pages of the work, were omitted entirely.
Many of these changes are mere modernizations of style ; such as would measure some of the modifications which English prose had undergone between the days of Goldsmith and Southey. Some, Franklin might have approved of; others he might have tolerated; but it is safe to presume that very many he would have rejected without ceremony.
A few specimens taken from the first chapter will show the general character of these changes.
It is a curious fact that the very first words of the edition of 1817 are interpolations. It commences:
“ To William Franklin, Governor of New Jersey. “Dear Son, &c."
The autograph commences with “Dear Son,” naming no person.
Though William was the Doctor's only surviving son, and in 1771, when this was commenced, was also Governor of New Jersey, it is very unlikely that the Doctor would have given his son any titles in addressing him a communication of this domestic and confidential character. This improbability is increased by the circumstance that at the time this manuscript was revised and copied to be sent to his friend Le Veillard, William Franklin not only was not Governor of New Jersey, but was not living upon terms even of friendly correspondence with his father. The fact that the French version commences with “Mon cher fils,” omitting the name and title, leaves no doubt that the titles were added by the editor in the edition of 1817.
(From the Edition of 1817, p. 1.*) (From the Autograph, p. 1.)
Imagining it may be equally Imagining it may be equally agreeable to you to learn the cir- agrecable to you to know the circumstances of my life, many of cumstances of my life, many of which you are unacquainted with, which you are yet unacquainted and expecting the enjoyment of a with, and expecting a weck's unfew weeks' uninterrupted leisure, I interrupted leisure in my present sit down to write them. Besides, country retirement, I sit down to there are some other inducements
write them for you. that excite me to this undertaking. To which I have besides some From the poverty and obscurity in other inducements. Having emerged which I was born, and in which I from the poverty and obscurity in passed my earliest years, I have which I was born and bred to a raised myself to a state of affluence state of afiluence and some de. and some degree of celebrity in the gree of reputation in the world, world. As constant good fortune has and having gone so far through life accompanied me even to an advanced with a considerable share of felicity, period of life, my posterity will per the conducing means I made use of, haps be desirous of learning the which, with the blessing of God, so means which I employed, and which, well succeeded, my posterity may like thanks to Providence, so well suc to know, as they may find some of ceeded with me.
They may also them suitable to their own situations, deem them fit to be imitated, should and therefore fit to be imitated. any of them find themselves in similar circumstances.
(From the Edition of 1817, P. 4.) (From the Autograph, P. 1.)
My grandfather Thomas, who My grandfather Thomas, who was born 1598, lived at Ecton till was born in 1598, lived at Ecton he was too old to continue his busi
till he grew too old to follow business, when he retired to Banbury ness longer when he went to live in Oxfordshire to the house of his with his son John, a dyer, at Banson John with whom my father bury in Oxfordshire with whom served an apprenticeship. There my father served an apprenticemy uncle died and lies buried.
ship. There my grandfather died and lies buried.
* Whenever I shall have occasion to cite the edition of 1817, refer. ence will be made to the American edition of this work, in six vols., published in Philadelphia in 1818.