Gambar halaman
PDF
ePub

case of conflagration. Attention being excited to the subject, he now suggested the formation of a company, each of the members of which should engage to keep a certain number of leathern buckets, and baskets and bags for packing goods, which were to be sent to any fire; the number of members not to be more than could conveniently meet once a month, and spend an evening in the discussion of those topics. When, therefore, more than thirty citizens were willing to unite, they were advised to form a distinct company; and thus arose a number of associations, which included nearly all the respectable inhabitants. Attendance upon the meetings of these useful conclaves was enforced 'by small fines, which were devoted to the increase and repairs of the engines, ladders, &c. Philadelphia became, by means of these institutions, remarkable for its general security from fire ; never losing, says Franklin, for a space of fifty years, more than one or two houses at a time by that calamity, and this but seldom.

Another of his early public efforts was the regulation of the night-police. This was also effected through the discussions of the Junto. The old plan was, for the constables of the day to summon a number of the householders indiscriminately, to act as a night-watch; those who chose to be exempted paying them a compliment of six shillings a year. Franklin objected to the irregularity with which this tax pressed upon the public, being levied upon all housekeepers, independent of the value of their property, and subject to the constant abuse of bad substitutes being provided. He therefore proposed the hiring of competent men, who should constantly serve, and be remunerated by an ad valorem tax impartially levied. The Assembly of the province afterwards embodied Franklin's original ideas into a law of this kind. . : Our narrative now conducts us to a connexion between two of the most remarkable characters of the 18th century, the sceptical FRANKLIN, and the enthusiastic WHITFIELD. The latter was, in 1739,

returning to Georgia from England (where he had just obtained priest's orders) having previously made a considerable impression, in the Trans-Atlantic Continent, in favour of his orphan-house in that state. He had been, in England, too bold or too irregular to be fully allowed the use of their pulpits by the clergy; and the same objections to his peculiar strain of preaching followed him to Philadelphia. Our philosopher however was not to be deterred by the example of the great or the interested ; and though never himself a powerful speaker, he seems throughout life to have admired and

duly appreciated good oratory. He decidedly ranks · Whitfield among the most efficient of the public * Speakers with whom he ever came in contact ; he regularly attended him to the fields, to which he was now driven, and amused himself with observing his progressive influence, and the number of his hearers. “ It was matter of speculation to me,” he says, “to observe the extraordinary influence of his oratory on his hearers, and how much they admired and respected him, notwithstanding his common abuse of them, by assuring them they were naturally half beasts and half devils ;” but he testifies that the revolution effected on the public mind at Philadelphia was as unquestionable as it was creditable to the talent which produced it. Sometimes he gathered a quiet and most extensive congregation in the streets of Philadelphia; and Mr Franklin, on one of these occasions, was at the pains of ascertaining the possible radius of a semicircle throughout which he could be distinctly heard. Whitfield took his station on the steps of the court-house in Market-street; and Franklin, retiring backward as far as he could plainly distinguish the preacher's voice, found it possible to do so to Front-street, which gave, as he calculated, an area that would accommodate more than thirty thousand hearers, allowing two square feet for each person. Franklin particularly admired the distinctness of his articulation and the energy of his manner;

and exhibited in his own conduct a fair instance of Whitfield's success, as an advocate for works of charity. He had advised him to build his orphanhouse at Philadelphia, rather than in the state of Georgia, as it would be much easier to transfer the children to the former place, than materials and -workmen to the latter ; but Whitfield rejected his counsel, and therefore Franklin refused to contribute to his scheme. In this temper he attended one of his charity sermons for the funds of the orphanhouse ; and having in his pocket a handful of copper money, three or four dollars in silver, and five pistoles in gold, he resolved to give him no part of them. In the progress of the sermon, Whitfield so far shook his resolution, that our philosopher determined to afford him the copper; at another successful -stroke of his oratory, the silver he thought must go; and so admirable was the final appeal, “ that I emptied my pockets wholly,” he says,“ into the collector's dish, gold and all !” We do not remember to have met with a fairer proof of the triumph of clerical eloquence than this. Franklin was ordinarily of no enthusiastic temperament; he was, on this occasion, averse from the immediate object of the preacher, · and indifferent, at least, to the religious basis of his arguments.

We must give our readers an instance of superior caution in this affair, on the part of one of Franklin's friends. This gentleman, being of the same opi- nion as Franklin about the Georgian orphan-house,

emptied his pocket before he left home, lest he should be led into temptation. But being moved at the meeting equally with his friend, he applied to a Quaker who stood by, for a loan of money to contribute.

Any other time, friend Hopkinson,' he replied, “I would lend to thee freely ; but not now, for thou seemest to me to be out of thy right senses.' By frequently hearing him, Franklin asserts, he could accurately distinguish the sermons Mr Whitfield had delivered repeatedly, from those which were composed

for the occasion ; and he gave a decided preference to the former ; certain points of the argument and emphatical passages being pressed with a dexterity much improved by repetition, until every accent and modification of the voice, he says, was in inimitable musical cadence,

Franklin became an intimate private acquaintance of Whitfield, and took an active part in procuring a large covered building for the accommodation of his congregation. On a subsequent occasion he offered to accommodate him at his house during his stay at Philadelphia, and continued to correspond with him at intervals during the rest of the preacher's life. He says nobly, that while some of his enemies affected to suppose Whitfield had sinister views in his public collections, he, who knew him intimately (being employed in printing his sermons, journals, &c.) never suspected it, but believed him to be in all his conduct decidedly an honest man. Franklin however blames him for committing himself so often to paper, and contends that he would have left a much more numerous and respectable body of admirers, had he never written any thing for the press. The following letter is too characteristic of the writer, and too excellent in its sentiments, to be here omitted :

Mr FRANKLIN to the Rev. GEORGE Whitfield,

: Philadelphia, June 6, 1753. SIR, I received your kind letter of the 2nd instant, and am glad to hear that you increase in strength. I hope you will continue mending till you recover your former health and firmness. Let me know whether you still use the cold bath, and what effect it has.

As to the kindness you mention, I wish it could have been of more service to you. But if it had, the only thanks I should desire is, that you would always be equally ready to serve any other person that may need your assistance, and so let good offices go round, for mankind are all of a family.

For my own part, when I am employed in serving others, I do not look upon myself as conferring favours, but as paying debts. In my travels, and since my settlement, I have received much kindness from men to whom I shall never have any opportu. nity of making the least direct return, and numberless mercies from God, who is infinitely above being benefited by our services. Those kindnesses from men I can therefore only return to their fellow-mèn, and I can only shew my gratitude for these mercies from God, by a readiness to help his other children, and my brethren. For I do not think that thanks and compliments, though repeated weekly, can discharge our real obligations to each other, and much less those to our Creator. You will see, in this my notion of good works, that I am far from expecting to merit heaven by them. By heaven we understand a state of happiness, infinite in degree, and eternal in duration. I can do nothing to deserve such rewards. He that, for giving a draught of water to a thirsty person, should expect to be paid with a good plantation, would be modest in his demands, compared with those who think they deserve heaven for the little good they do on earth. Even the mixed imperfect pleasures we enjoy in this world, are rather from Ĝod's goodness than our merit: how much more such happiness of heaven! For my part, I have not the vanity to think I deserye it, the folly to expect it, nor the ambition to desire it ; but.content myself in submitting to the will and disposal of that God who made me, who has hitherto preserved and blessed me, and in whose fatherly goodness I may well confide, that he will never make me miserable, and that even the afflictions I may at any time suffer shall tend to my benefit.

The faith you mention has certainly its use in the world. I do not desire to see it diminished, nor would I endeavour to lessen it in any man, but I

[ocr errors]
« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »