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TWYFORD, at the Bishop of St. Asaph's,* 1771. EAR SON: I have ever had pleasure in ob

taining any little anecdotes of my ancestors. You may remember the inquiries I made among the remains of my relations when you were with me in England, and the journey I undertook for that purpose. Imagining it may be equally agreeable tof you to know the circumstances of my life, many of which you are yet unacquainted with, and expecting the enjoyment of a week's uninterrupted leisure in my present country retirement, I sit down to write them for you. To which I have besides some other inducements. Having emerged from the poverty and obscurity in which I was born and bred, to a state of affluence and some degree of reputation in the world, and having gone so far through life with a considerable share of felicity, the conducing means I made use of, which with the blessing of God so

The country-seat of Bishop Shipley, the good bishop, as Dr. Franklin used to style him.-ED.

† After the words “agreeable to” the words“ some of” were interlined and afterward effaced.-ED.

well succeeded, my posterity may like to know, as they may find some of them suitable to their own situations, and therefore fit to be imitated.

That felicity, when I reflected on it, has induced me sometimes to say, that were it offered to my choice, I should have no objection to a repetition of the same life from its beginning, only asking the advantages authors have in a second edition to correct some faults of the first. So I might, besides correcting the faults, change some sinister accidents and events of it for others more favorable. But though this were denied, I should still accept the offer. Since such a repetition is not to be expected, the next thing most like living one's life over again seems to be a recollection of that life, and to make that recollection as durable as possible by putting it down in writing.

Hereby, too, I shall indulge the inclination so natural in old men, to be talking of themselves and their own past actions; and I shall indulge it without being tiresome to others, who, through respect to age, might conceive themselves obliged to give me a hearing, since this may be read or not as any one pleases. And, lastly (I may as well confess it, since my denial of it will be believed by nobody), perhaps I shall a good deal gratify my own vanity. Indeed, I scarce ever heard or saw the introductory words, “Without vanity I may say,” &c., but some vain thing immediately followed. Most people dislike vanity in others, whatever share they have of

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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 that 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. *

Some twenty years before he commenced his Memoirs, Franklin threw his mantle over this not unprofitable weakness which he termed Vanity, in a letter to his friend Jared Elliott :

“PHILADELPHIA, September 12th, 1751.


What you mention concerning the love of praise is indeed very true : it reigns more or less in every heart; though we are generally hypocrites, in that respect, and pretend to disregard praise, and our nice, modest ears are offended, forsooth! with what one of the ancients calls the sweetest kind of music. This hypocrisy is only a sacrifice to the pride of others, or to their envy, both which, I think, ought rather to be mortified. The same sacrifice we make when we forbear to praise ourselves, which naturally we are all inclined to; and I suppose it was formerly the fashion, or Virgil, that courtly writer, would not have put a speech into the mouth of his hero, which now-a-days we should esteem so great an indecency:

'Sum pius Æneas

famâ super æthera notus.'
One of the Romans, I forget who, justified speaking in his own praise
by saying: “Every freeman had a right to speak what he thought of
himself, as well as of others.” That this is a natural inclination appears
in that all children show it, and say freely, I am a good boy; am I not
a good girl? and the like, till they have been frequently chid, and told
their trumpeter is dead, and that it is unbecoming to sound their own
praise, etc. But

Naturam espellas furcâ, tamen usque recurret.
Being forbid to praise themselves, they learn instead of it

to ensure

And now I speak of thanking God, I desire with all humility to acknowledge that I owe the men

others, which is only a roundabout way of praising themselves ; for condemning the conduct of another, in any particular, amounts to as much as saying, I am so honest, or wise, or good, or prudent, that I could not do or approve of such an action. This fondness for ourselves, rather than malevolence to others, I take to be the general source of censure and backbiting; and I wish men had not been taught to dam up natural currents, to the overflowing and damage of their neighbor's grounds. Another advantage, methinks, would arise from freely speaking our good thoughts of ourselves, viz. : if we were wrong in them, somebody or other would readily set us right; but now, while we conceal so carefully our vain, erroneous self-opinions, we may carry them to our grave, for who would offer physic to a man that seems to be in health? And the privilege of recounting freely our own good actions might be an inducement to the doing of them, that we might be enabled to speak of them without being subject to be justly contradicted or charged with falsehood; whereas now, as we are not allowed to mention them, and it is an uncertainty whether others will take due notice of them or not, we are perhaps the more indifferent about them; so that, upon the whole, I wish the out-of-fashion practice of praising ourselves would, like other old fashions, come round into fashion again. But this, I fear, will not be in our time. So we must even be contented with what little praise we can get from one another. And I will endeavor to make you some amends for the trouble of reading this long scrawl by telling you, that I have the sincerest esteem for you, as an ingenious young man, and a good one, which, together, make the valuable member of society. As such, I am with great respect and affection, dear sir, “ Your obliged, humble servant,

“B. FRANKLIN." -Sparks' Works of Franklin, vol. viii. p. 52.

There is, perhaps, no more interesting or profitable standard with which to compare men than the terms in which they speak of them. selves. The year that Franklin wrote the last pages of his Memoirs, Gibbon commenced his. It is curious to observe the different styles in which the diplomatist and the scholar enumerate vanity among the leading and legitimate motives in which the two most fascinating and most renowned autobiographies in any language had their origin:

tioned happiness of my past life to His kind providence, which lead me to the means I used and gave

"A lively desire of knowing and of recording our ancestors so generally prevails that it must depend on the influence of some common principle in the minds of men. We seem to have lived in the persons of our fore. fathers; it is the labor and reward of vanity to extend the term of this ideal longevity. Our imagination is always active to enlarge the narrow circle in which nature has confined us. Fifty or a hundred years may be allotted to an individual; but we step forward beyond death with such hopes as religion and philosophy will suggest; and we fill up the silent vacancy that precedes our birth by associating ourselves to the authors of our existence. Our calmer judgment will rather tend to moderate than to suppress the pride of an ancient and worthy race. The satirist may laugh, the philosopher may preach, but Reason herself will respect the prejudices and habits which have been consecrated by the experience of mankind. Few there are who can sincerely despise in others an advantage of which they are secretly ambitious to partake. The knowledge of our own family from a remote period will be always esteemed as an abstract pre-eminence, since it can never be promiscuously enjoyed; but the longest series of peasants and mechanics would not afford much gratification to the pride of their descendant. We wish to discover our ancestors, but we wish to discover them possessed of ample fortunes, adorned with honorable titles, and holding an eminent rank in the class of hereditary nobles, which has been maintained for the wisest and most beneficial purposes in almost every climate of the globe and in almost every modification of political society. Wherever the distinction of birth is allowed to form a superior order in the State, education and example should always, and will often, produce among them a dignity of sentiment and propriety of conduct, which is guarded from dishonor by their own and the public esteem. If we read of some illustrious line so ancient that it has no beginning, so worthy that it ought to have no end, we sympathize in its various fortunes; nor can we blame the generous enthusiasm, or even the harmless vanity, of those who are allied to the honors of its name. For my own part, could I draw my pedigree from a general, a statesman, or a celebrated author, I should study their lives with the diligence of filial love. In the investigation of past events, our curiosity is stimulated by the immediate or indirect reference to ourselves ; but in the estimate of honor we should learn to value the gifts of nature above those of fortune ; to esteem in

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