Anecdotes of Doctor Benjamin Franklin, whom the Author visits in Philadelphia.
I CARRIED a request to the late Doctor Benjamin Franklin, then president of the state of Pennsylvania, for certain papers, I was to deliver further southward. I anticipated much pleasure, from the interview with this truly great man: To see one, who, from small beginnings, by the sole exertion of native genius, and indefatigable industry, had raised himself to the pinnacle of politics and letters. a man, who, from an hum|ble porter's boy, had elevated himself to be the desirable companion of the great Page 154 ones of the earth: who, from trundling a wheelbarrow in bye lanes, had been advanced to pass in splendour, through the courts of kings; and, from hawking vile ballads, to the contracting and sign|ing treaties, which gave peace and inde|pendence to three millions of his fellow citizens, was a sight interesting in the ex|treme.
I found the doctor surrounded by com|pany, most of whom were young people. He received me with the attention due to a young stranger. He dispatched a person for the papers I wanted; asked me politely to be seated; inquired after the family I sprang from; and told me a pleasing anecdote of my brave ancestor, Captain Underhill. I found, in the doc|tor, all that simplicity of language, which is remarkable in the fragment of his life, published since his decease; and which was conspicuous in my medical precep|tor. I have since been in a room a few Page 155 hours with Governour Jay, of New York; have heard of the late Governour Livingston, of New Jersey; and am now confirmed in the opinion, I have suggest|ed, that men of genuine merit, as they possess the essence, need not the pa|rade of great knowledge. A rich man is often plain in his attire, and the man, who has abundant treasures of learning, simple in his manners and stile.
The doctor, in early life, was economi|cal from principle; in his latter days, perhaps from habit. Poor Richard held the purse strings of the president of Penn|sylvania. Permit me to illustrate this observation, by an anecdote. Soon after I was introduced, an airy, thoughtless re|lation, from a New England state, enter|ed the room. It seems he was on a party of pleasure, and had been so much involved in it, for three weeks, as not to have paid his respects to his ven|erable relative. The purpose of his Page 156 present visit was, to solicit the loan of a small sum of money, to enable him to pay his bills, and transport himself home. He preluded his request, with a detail of embarrassments, which might have befal|len the most circumspect. He said that he had loaded a vessel for B—, and as he did not deal on credit, had purchased be|yond his current cash, and could not read|ily procure a draft upon home. The doctor, inquiring how much he wanted, he replied, with some hesitation, fifty dollars. The benevolent old gentleman went to his escritoir, and counted him out an hundred. He received them with many promises of punctual payment, and hastily took up the writing implements, to draught a note of hand, for the cash. The doctor, who saw into the nature of the borrower's embarrassments, better than he was aware; and was posses|sed with the improbability of ever recov|ering his cash again, stepped across the Page 157 room, laying his hand gently upon his cousin's arm, said, stop cousin, we will save the paper; a quarter of a sheet is not of great value, but it is worth sav|ing: conveying, at once, a liberal gift and gentle reprimand for the borrower's prevarication and extravagance. Since I am talking of Franklin, the reader may be as unwilling to leave him as I was. Allow me to relate another anecdote. I do not recollect how the conversation was introduced; but a young person in company, mentioned his surprize, that the possession of great riches should ever be attended with such anxiety and solic|itude; and instanced Mr. R—M—, who, he said, though in possession of unbound|ed wealth, yet was as busy and more anxious, than the most assiduous clerk in his counting house. The doctor took an apple from a fruit basket, and presented it to a little child, who could just totter a|bout the room. The child could scarce Page 158 grasp it in his hand. He then gave it another, which occupied the other hand. Then choosing a third, remarkable for its size and beauty, he presented that also. The child, after many ineffectual attempts to hold the three, dropped the last on the carpet, and burst into tears. See there, said the philosopher; there is a little man, with more riches than he can en|joy.