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BOOKS OF HIS BOYHOOD.
OLERIDGE divided readers into four classes, thus:
"The first may be compared to an hour-glass, their reading being as the sand; it runs in, and it runs out, and leaves not a vestige behind. A second class resembles a sponge, which imbibes everything, and returns it merely in the same state, only a little dirtier. A third class is like a jelly-bag, which allows all that is pure to pass away, and retains only the refuse and the dregs. The fourth class may be compared to the slave in the diamond mines of Golconda, who, casting aside all that is worthless, preserves only the pure gem."
Benjamin belonged to the fourth class, which is the smallest class of all. The " hour-glass" class, who simply let what they read "run in and run out," is very large. It is not entitled to much respect, however, for it will bring no more to pass than the class who do not read at all.
Benjamin sought the "pure gem." If he had anything he wanted diamonds. Nor did he accept "a stone for bread." He knew what bread was, which is not true of many readers; and so he had bread or nothing, His mind was a voracious eater, much more of an eater than his body. It demanded substantial food, too, the bread, meat, and potato of literature and science. It did not crave cake and confectionery. There was no mincing and nibbling when it went to a meal. It just laid in as if to shame starvation; it almost gobbled up what was on the table. It devoured
naturally and largely. It was fortunate for him that his mind was so hungry all the time; otherwise, his desire to go to sea, his love of sport, and his unusual social qualities might have led him astray. Thousands of boys have been ruined in this way, whom passionate fondness of reading might have made useful and eminent. Thomas Hood said, "A natural turn for reading and intellectual pursuits probably preserved me from the moral shipwrecks so apt to befall those who are deprived in early life of their parental pilotage. My books kept me from the ring, the dog-pit, the tavern, and saloon. The closet associate of Pope and Addison, the mind accustomed to the noble though silent discourse of Shakespeare and Milton, will hardly seek or put up with that sort of company."
It was probably as true of Benjamin Franklin as it was of Thomas Hood, that reading saved him from a career of worldliness and worthlessness. In his manhood he regarded the habit in this light, and said: "From my infancy I was passionately fond of reading, and all the money that came into my hands was laid out in the purchasing of books." If he had laid out his money in billiards, boating, theatre-going, and kindred pleasures, as so many do, he might have been known in manhood as Ben, the Bruiser, instead of “Ben, the Statesman and Philosopher."
The first book Benjamin read was Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress." He was fascinated with it, and read it over and over, much to the gratification of his parents.
"What is there about it that interests you so much?" inquired his father, hoping that it might be the subject alone.
"The dialogues that are carried on in it," replied Benjamin.
"Then you think more of the style than you do of the matter?" remarked his father, evidently somewhat disappointed that he was not specially taken with Christian's journey.
"It is all interesting. I should never get tired of reading such a book." This reply reassured his father, and he got considerable comfort out of it, after having set before the boy the true idea of Christian's flight from the City of Destruction.
"It was written in Bedford jail, England," continued his father. "There was much persecution in his day, and he was thrust into prison to keep him from preaching the Gospel; but the plan did not succeed very well, for he has been preaching it ever since through that book, that he never would have written had he not been imprisoned." "Then he was a minister, was he?" said Benjamin.
No, he was not a minister; he was a tinker, and a very wicked man, so profane that he was a terror to good people. But he was converted and became a Christian, and went about doing good, as Christ did, preaching the Gospel in his way, in houses, by the wayside, anywhere that he could, until he was sent to prison for doing good."
"A strange reason for sending a man to jail," remarked Benjamin.
"They thought that he was doing evil, no doubt. I mean the enemies of the Gospel. They did not believe in the Christian religion which Bunyan had embraced; they thought it would stir up the people to strife and contention, and prove a curse instead of a blessing." Mr. Franklin knew that such information would increase the interest of his son in the book; and it did. The impression wrought upon him by reading this book lasted through his life, and led him to adopt its style in much of his writing when he became a man. He said in manhood:
"Narrative mingled with dialogue is very engaging, not only to the young, but to adults, also. It introduces the reader directly into the company, and he listens to the conversation, and seems to see the parties. Bunyan originated this colloquial style, and Defoe and Richardson were his imitators. It is a style so attractive, conveying instruc
tion so naturally and pleasantly, that it should never be superseded."
Mr. Franklin owned all of Bunyan's works, his "Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners,” and his "Holy War,” and "Pilgrim's Progress" just spoken of. Benjamin read them all, but "Pilgrim's Progress" was the one that charmed his soul and more or less influenced his life.
Defoe's "Essay upon Projects" was another volume of his father's, written in the same style as "Pilgrim's Progress,' and, for that reason, very interesting to him. He devoured its contents. Its subject-matter was much above the capacity of most boys of his age; but the dialogue method of imparting instruction made it clear and attractive to him. One subject which it advocated was the liberal education of girls; and it was here, without doubt, that Benjamin obtained his views upon advanced female education, which he advocated in his discussion with John Collins.
Plutarch's "Lives" was still another volume his father owned, one of the most inspiring books for the young ever published. He read this so much and carefully that he was made very familiar with the characters therein-information that was of great service to him, later on, in his literary labours and public services.
"There was another book in my father's little library, by Doctor Mather, called, 'Essays to do Good,'" said Doctor Franklin, in his " Autobiography," "which, perhaps, gave me a turn of thinking that had an influence on some of the principal future events of my life.” He wrote to a son of Doctor Mather about it, late in life, as follows:
"When I was a boy, I met with a book, entitled 'Essays to do Good,' which I think was written by your father (Cotton Mather). It had been so little regarded by a former possessor that several leaves of it were torn out; but the remainder gave me such a turn of thinking as to have an influence on my conduct through life; for I have always set a greater value on the character of a doer of
good than on any other kind of reputation; and if I have been, as you seem to think, a useful citizen, the public owe the advantage of it to that book."
The "Essays to do Good" consisted of twenty-two short essays of a practical character, inculcating benevolence as a duty and privilege, and giving directions to particular classes. It had lessons for ministers, lawyers, doctors, merchants, magistrates, teachers, mechanics, husbands, wives, gentlemen, deacons, sea-captains, and others. The style was quaint, earnest, and direct, exactly suited to appeal to such a boy as Benjamin; and withal it was so practical that it won his heart.
Mr. Parton records a singular incident about this Doctor Mather, as follows:-" How exceedingly strange that such a work as this should have been written by the man who, in 1692, at Salem, when nineteen people were hanged and one was pressed to death for witchcraft, appeared among the crowd, openly exulting in the spectacle! Pro bably his zeal against the witches was as much the offspring of his benevolence as his 'Essays to do Good.' Concede his theory of witches, and it had been cruelty to man not to hang them. Were they not in league with Satan, the arch-enemy of God and man? Had they not bound themselves by solemn covenant to aid the devil in destroying human souls and afflicting the elect? Cotton Mather had not the slightest doubt of it."
When Benjamin had exhausted the home stock of reading he showed his sound judgment by saying to his father :— "I wish I could have Burton's Historical Collections'; it would be a great treat to read those books.”
"It would, indeed; they are very popular, and I should like to have you read them. But how to get them is more than I can tell."
"Would you be willing that I should exchange Bunyan's works for them?"
"I did not suppose that you would part with 'Pilgrim's