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It was Walter Scott who first raised his voice against the folly of writing down to the child, saying, wisely enough, that the true object among authors for the young should be to write the child up to the man. As people talk broken English to Frenchmen, and nurses prattle the baby dialect to babies, so it was once thought that boys' books should be essentially puerile-as puerile in subject and puerile in style as the tales about “Don't-care Harry" (who was torn to pieces by a hungry lion merely because he would persist in declaring that he didn't care" about certain things in life), and such-like tender bits of verdure that used to grace the good old English spelling-books of some quarter of a century back.
Conformably to the Walter Scott theory, this volume has not been penned with the object of showing boys the delight of slaying a buffalo or a bison, nor yet with the view of impressing upon them the nobility of fighting or fagging at school. The one purpose of the book is to give young men some sense of the principles that should guide a prudent, honorable, generous, and refined gentleman through the world. It does not pretend to teach youth the wonders of optics, chemistry, or astronomy, but to open young eyes to the universe of beauty that encompasses every enlightened spirit, and to give the young knights of the present day some faint idea of the chivalry of life, as well as to develop in them some little sense of, and taste for, the poetry of action and the grace of righteous conduct.
It has long appeared to the author that the modern system of education is based on the fallacy that to manufacture a wise man is necessarily to rear a good one. The intellect, however, is but the servant of the conscience (the impulses or propensities of mankind being merely the executive, rather than the governing and originating faculty of our natures); and hence the grand mistake of the teachers of our time has been to develop big brains at the cost of little hearts — to cram with science and to ignore poetry-to force the scholar with a perfect hot-bed of languages, and yet to stunt the worthy with an utter want of principle; in fine, to rear Palmers, Dean Pauls, Redpaths, Davisons, Robsons, Hughes, Watts, and a whole host of well-educated and hypocritical scoundrels, rather than a race of fine upright gentlemen. Society, however, seems to have had its fill of the mechanics' institute mania; the teachy-preachy fever appears to have come to a crisis; and, in the lull of the phrensy, the author of the present book wishes to say his say upon the means of worldly welfare, the laws of worldly
happiness, and the rules of worldly duty to the young men of the present generation.
As to the handling of the subject, some explanation is needed. Uncle Benjamin, who is made the expounder of the Franklinian philosophy to the boy Benjamin himself, is not a purely imaginary character. He has been elaborated into greater importance here, certainly, than he assumes in the biography of his nephew; but this has been done upon that Shaksperian rule of art, which often throws an internal moral principle into an external dramatis persona ; and as the witches in Macbeth are merely the outward embodiment, in a weird and shadowy form, of Macbeth's own ambition, and have obviously been introduced into the play with the view of giving a kind of haunted and fatalistic air to a bloody and devouring passion (a passion, indeed, that, if represented really and crudely, rather than ideally and grandly, as it is, would have made the tragedy an object of execration instead of sympathy -a bit of filthy literality out of the Royal Newgate Calendar, instead of a fine supernatural bit of fate, overshadowed with the same sense of doom as an old Greek play); even so, in a small way, has Uncle Ben here been made the exponent of the Franklin view of life, rather than his nephew Benjamin to be the first to conceive and develop it. Some may urge that, by this means, the genius of Franklin is reduced from its original, cast-iron, economic character, to a mere sec
ond-rate form of prudential mind. Nevertheless, there must have been some reason for the printerembassador's “Poor Richardism;" say it was organization, temperament, or idiosyncrasy, if you will, that made him the man he was; still the replication to such a plea is, that even these are now acknowledged to be more or less derivative qualities, in which the family type is often found either exaggerated into genius or dwarfed into idiocy. Hence it is believed that no very great historic violence has been committed here in making a member of the Franklin family the father of Benjamin Franklin's character, even as his parents were assuredly the progenitors of his "lithiasis.” Moreover, Uncle Benjamin was his godfather, and that in the days when godfathership was regarded as a far different duty (the duty of moral and religious supervision) from the mere bit of silver-spoon-and-fork-odand that it is now. Again, from the printer's own description of the character of his uncle, it is plain that Uncle Ben was not the man to ignore any duty he had taken upon himself. Besides, the old man lived in the house with Benjamin's father, and had himself only one son (who was grown up and settled as a cutler in the town); so that, as the uncle was comparatively childless, it has been presumed that the instinctive fondness of age for youth might have led the old boy to be taken with the budding intellect and principles of his little nephew and namesake, and thus to have exceeded his
sponsorial duties so far as to have become the boy's best friend and counselor, loving him like a son, and training him like a novice. Farther we know that Uncle Benjamin was a man of some observation and learning; he appears also to have been a person of considerable leisure, and perhaps of some little means (for we do not hear of his following any occupation in America); so that, when we remember how slight is the addition that even the profoundest geniuses make to the knowledge-fund of the world, and how little advance those who take even the longest strides make upon such as have
gone before them, we can not but admit that Franklin must have got the substratum of his knowledge and principles somewhere—since, born under different circumstances, he would have been a wholly different man. Surely, then, there is no great offense offered to truth in endeavoring to explain artistically how Benjamin Franklin became the man he was, nor any great wrong done to history in using Uncle Ben as the means of making out to youths what was the peculiar “Old Richard” philosophy that distinguished the printer-sage in after life. The main object was to give the young reader a sense of the early teachings Benjamin Franklin when a boy might have received (and doubtlessly did receive) from his old Non-conformist uncle, and accordingly the latter has been made, if not the virtual hero, at least the prime mover of the incidents in the present book.