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True Stories from History and Biography By Nathaniel Hawthorne Characters: 11606

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


It was a pleasant sight (for those who had eyes) to see how patiently the blinded little boy now submitted to what he had at first deemed an intolerable calamity. The beneficent Creator has not allowed our comfort to depend on the enjoyment of any single sense. Though he has made the world so very beautiful, yet it is possible to be happy without ever beholding the blue sky, or the green and flowery earth, or the kind faces of those whom we love. Thus it appears that all the external beauty of the universe is a free gift from God, over and above what is necessary to our comfort. How grateful, then, should we be to that Divine Benevolence, which showers even superfluous bounties upon us!

One truth, therefore, which Edward's blindness had taught him, was, that his mind and soul could dispense with the assistance of his eyes. Doubtless, however, he would have found this lesson far more difficult to learn, had it not been for the affection of those around him. His parents, and George and Emily, aided him to bear his misfortune; if possible, they would have lent him their own eyes. And this, too, was a good lesson for him. It taught him how dependent on one another God has ordained us to be; insomuch that all the necessities of mankind should incite them to mutual love.

So Edward loved his friends, and perhaps all the world, better than he ever did before. And he felt grateful towards his father for spending the evenings in telling him stories-more grateful, probably, than any of my little readers will feel towards me for so carefully writing those same stories down.

"Come, dear father," said he, the next evening, "now tell us all about some other little boy, who was destined to be a famous man."

"How would you like a story of a Boston boy?" asked his father.

"Oh, pray let us have it!" cried George eagerly. "It will be all the better if he has been to our schools, and has coasted on the Common, and sailed boats in the Frog Pond. I shall feel acquainted with him then."

"Well, then," said Mr. Temple, "I will introduce you to a Boston boy, whom all the world became acquainted with, after he grew to be a man."

The story was as follows:-

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN

Born 1706. Died 1790.

In the year 1716, or about that period, a boy used to be seen in the streets of Boston, who was known among his schoolfellows and playmates by the name of Ben Franklin. Ben was born in 1706; so that he was now about ten years old. His father, who had come over from England, was a soap-boiler and tallow-chandler, and resided in Milk Street, not far from the old South Church.

Ben was a bright boy at his book, and even a brighter one when at play with his comrades. He had some remarkable qualities which always seemed to give him the lead, whether at sport or in more serious matters. I might tell you a number of amusing anecdotes about him. You are acquainted, I suppose, with his famous story of the WHISTLE, and how he bought it with a whole pocketful of coppers, and afterwards repented of his bargain. But Ben had grown a great boy since those days, and had gained wisdom by experience; for it was one of his peculiarities, that no incident ever happened to him without teaching him some valuable lesson. Thus he generally profited more by his misfortunes, than many people do by the most favorable events that could befall them.

Ben's face was already pretty well known to the inhabitants of Boston. The selectmen, and other people of note, often used to visit his father, for the sake of talking about the affairs of the town or province. Mr. Franklin was considered a person of great wisdom and integrity, and was respected by all who knew him, although he supported his family by the humble trade of boiling soap, and making tallow-candles.

While his father and the visitors were holding deep consultations about public affairs, little Ben would sit on his stool in a corner, listening with the greatest interest, as if he understood every word. Indeed, his features were so full of intelligence, that there could be but little doubt, not only that he understood what was said, but that he could have expressed some very sagacious opinions out of his own mind. But, in those days, boys were expected to be silent in the presence of their elders. However, Ben Franklin was looked upon as a very promising lad, who would talk and act wisely by and by.

"Neighbor Franklin," his father's friends would sometimes say, "you ought to send this boy to college and make a minister of him."

"I have often thought of it," his father would reply; "and my brother Benjamin promises to give him a great many volumes of manuscript sermons in case he should be educated for the church. But I have a large family to support, and cannot afford the expense."

In fact, Mr. Franklin found it so difficult to provide bread for his family, that, when the boy was ten years old, it became necessary to take him from school. Ben was then employed in cutting candlewicks into equal lengths, and filling the moulds with tallow; and many families in Boston spent their evenings by the light of the candles which he had helped to make. Thus, you see, in his early days, as well as in his manhood his labors contributed to throw light upon dark matters.

Busy as his life now was, Ben still found time to keep company with his former schoolfellows. He and the other boys were very fond of fishing, and spent any of their leisure hours on the margin of the mill-pond, catching flounders, perch, eels, and tom-cod, which came up thither with the tide. The place where they fished is now, probably, covered with stone-pavements and brick buildings, and thronged with people, and with vehicles of all kinds. But, at that period, it was a marshy spot on the outskirts of

the town, where gulls flitted and screamed overhead, and salt meadow-grass grew under foot. On the edge of the water there was a deep bed of clay, in which the boys were forced to stand, while they caught their fish. Here they dabbled in mud and mire like a flock of ducks.

"This is very uncomfortable," said Ben Franklin one day to his comrades, while they were standing mid-leg deep in the quagmire.

"So it is," said the other boys. "What a pity we have no better place to stand!"

If it had not been for Ben, nothing more would have been done or said about the matter. But it was not in his nature to be sensible of an inconvenience, without using his best efforts to find a remedy. So, as he and his comrades were returning from the water-side, Ben suddenly threw down his string of fish with a very determined air:

"Boys," cried he, "I have thought of a scheme, which will be greatly for our benefit, and for the public benefit!"

It was queer enough, to be sure, to hear this little chap-this rosy-cheeked, ten-year-old boy-talking about schemes for the public benefit! Nevertheless, his companions were ready to listen, being assured that Ben's scheme, whatever it was, would be well worth their attention. They remembered how sagaciously he had conducted all their enterprises, ever since he had been old enough to wear small-clothes.

They remembered, too, his wonderful contrivance of sailing across the mill-pond by lying flat on his back, in the water, and allowing himself to be drawn along by a paper-kite. If Ben could do that, he might certainly do any thing.

"What is your scheme, Ben?-what is it?" cried they all.

It so happened that they had now come to a spot of ground where a new house was to be built. Scattered round about lay a great many large stones, which were to be used for the cellar and foundation. Ben mounted upon the highest of these stones, so that he might speak with the more authority.

"You know, lads," said he, "what a plague it is, to be forced to stand in the quagmire yonder-over shoes and stockings (if we wear any) in mud and water. See! I am bedaubed to the knees of my small-clothes, and you are all in the same pickle. Unless we can find some remedy for this evil, our fishing-business must be entirely given up. And, surely, this would be a terrible misfortune!"

"That it would!-that it would!" said his comrades, sorrowfully.

"Now I propose," continued Master Benjamin, "that we build a wharf, for the purpose of carrying on our fisheries. You see these stones. The workmen mean to use them for the underpinning of a house; but that would be for only one man's advantage. My plan is to take these same stones, and carry them to the edge of the water and build a wharf with them. This will not only enable us to carry on the fishing business with comfort, and to better advantage, but it will likewise be a great convenience to boats passing up and down the stream. Thus, instead of one man, fifty, or a hundred, or a thousand, besides ourselves, may be benefited by these stones. What say you, lads?-shall we build the wharf?"

Ben's proposal was received with one of those uproarious shouts, wherewith boys usually express their delight at whatever completely suits their views. Nobody thought of questioning the right and justice of building a wharf, with stones that belonged to another person.

"Hurrah, hurrah!" shouted they. "Let's set about it!"

It was agreed that they should all be on the spot, that evening, and commence their grand public enterprise by moonlight. Accordingly, at the appointed time, the whole gang of youthful laborers assembled, and eagerly began to remove the stones. They had not calculated how much toil would be requisite, in this important part of their undertaking. The very first stone which they laid hold of, proved so heavy, that it almost seemed to be fastened to the ground. Nothing but Ben Franklin's cheerful and resolute spirit could have induced them to persevere.

Ben, as might be expected, was the soul of the enterprise. By his mechanical genius, he contrived methods to lighten the labor of transporting the stones; so that one boy, under his directions, would perform as much as half a dozen, if left to themselves. Whenever their spirits flagged, he had some joke ready, which seemed to renew their strength by setting them all into a roar of laughter. And when, after an hour or two of hard work, the stones were transported to the water-side, Ben Franklin was the engineer, to superintend the construction of the wharf.

The boys, like a colony of ants, performed a great deal of labor by their multitude, though the individual strength of each could have accomplished but little. Finally, just as the moon sank below the horizon, the great work was finished.

"Now, boys," cried Ben, "let's give three cheers, and go home to bed. To-morrow, we may catch fish at our ease!" "Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!" shouted his comrades.

Then they all went home, in such an ecstasy of delight that they could hardly get a wink of sleep.

The story was not yet finished; but George's impatience caused him to interrupt it.

"How I wish that I could have helped to build that wharf!" exclaimed he. "It must have been glorious fun. Ben Franklin for ever, say I!"

"It was a very pretty piece of work," said Mr. Temple. "But wait till you hear the end of the story."

"Father," inquired Edward, "whereabouts in Boston was the mill-pond, on which Ben built his wharf?"

"I do not exactly know," answered Mr. Temple; "but I suppose it to have been on the northern verge of the town, in the vicinity of what are now called Merrimack and Charlestown streets. That thronged portion of the city was once a marsh. Some of it, in fact, was covered with water."

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