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Progress' for Burton's books or any others," was Mr. Franklin's reply.
"I should rather keep both; but I have read' Pilgrim's Progress' until I know it by heart, so that I would be willing to part with it for Burton's books, if I can get them in no other way."
Well, you can see what you can do. I am willing to do 'most anything to keep you in good books, for they are good companions. I know of no better ones, from all I have heard and read about them, than Burton's Collections.'
"Perhaps I can sell Bunyan's books for enough to buy Burton's," suggested Benjamin. Doubtless he had canvassed the matter, and knew of some opportunity for a trade like that.
"Well, you may do that, if you can ; I have no objection. I hope you will succeed."
The result was that Benjamin sold the works of Bunyan, and bought Burton's books in forty small volumes, quite a little library for that day. He was never happier than when he became the owner of Burton's "Historical Collections," famous in England and America, and extensively sold, not only by booksellers, but also by pedlars. They contained fact, fiction, history, biography, travels, adventures, natural history, and an account of many marvels, curiosities, and wonders, in a series of "twelve-penny books."
Doctor Johnson referred to these books in one of his letters :-"There is in the world a set of books which used to be sold by the booksellers on the bridge, and which I must entreat you to procure me. They are called Burton's books. The title of one is, 'Admirable Curiosities, Rarities, and Wonders in England.' They seem very proper to allure backward readers.”
He might have added, also, forward readers; for they lured Benjamin, who was, perhaps the most thoughtful and ready reader of his age in Boston. In them he discovered
a rich mine of thought and information, and he delved there. He found even nuggets of gold to make his mind richer and his heart gladder.
His father's books were chiefly theological; yet Benjamin's love of reading caused him to read them. He possessed, also, a collection of religious tracts, called the "Boyle Lectures," because Robert Boyle, the youngest son of an Irish earl, a very pious man, originated them, 'designed to prove the truth of the Christian religion among the infidels." Benjamin read all of these, and his father was delighted to have him read them at the time, thinking that the moral results would be good. But the sequel will show that the effect of reading them was bad. In order to refute the arguments of the deists, it was necessary to print them in the tracts. So Benjamin read both sides, and he thought, in some respects, that the deists had the best argument.
Not long after Benjamin became a printer, a prominent citizen of Boston, Matthew Adams, who had heard of his talents and love of reading, met him in the printing office, and entered into conversation with him.
"You are a great reader, I learn," he said.
"Not all. I should like to read some, books I can't get." "Perhaps you can find them in my library; you can come and take out of it any book you would like.”
"Thank you very much," answered Benjamin, exceedingly gratified by this unexpected offer. "I shall take the first opportunity to call."
Boys who like to read as well as you do, ought to have books enough," continued Mr. Adams. "I think you will find quite a number of entertaining and useful ones. You will know when you examine for yourself."
"That I shall do very soon, and be very grateful for the privilege," answered Benjamin.
Within a few days, the printer-boy paid Mr. Adams a visit. The latter gave him a cordial welcome, causing him to feel at ease and enjoy his call. He examined the library to his heart's content, and found many books therein he desired to read.
"Come any time; take out any and all the books you please, and keep them till you have done with them," was Mr. Adams' generous offer. He had great interest in the boy, and wanted to assist him; and Benjamin fully appreciated his interest and kindness, and paid the library many visits. As long as he lived he never forgot the generous aid of this man, of whom he wrote in his "Autobiography":
"After some time, a merchant, an ingenious, sensible man, Mr. Matthew Adams, who had a pretty collection of books, frequented our printing office, took notice of me, and invited me to see his library, and very kindly proposed to lend me such books as I chose to read."
The printing office was frequented by booksellers' apprentices, whose employers wanted jobs of printing done. Benjamin made their acquaintance, and they invited him to call at their stores to examine the books. There were several book-stores in Boston at that time, although the number of books was very limited as compared with the present time.
"I will lend you that book to-night," said one of these apprentices to Benjamin, who was manifesting a deep interest in a certain volume. "You can return it in the morning before customers come in."
"Very much obliged. I shall be glad to read it. I think I can read it through before I go to bed, and I can leave it when I go to the office in the morning."
"You won't have much time for sleep if you read that book through before going to bed. But you are used to short naps, I expect."
"I can afford to have a short nap whenever I have the reading of such a book as this," answered Benjamin.
"I shall return it in just as good a condition as it is now."
"The book is for sale, and we might have a customer for it to-morrow, or I would let you have it longer. If you do not read it through to-night, and we do not sell it to-morrow, you can take it again to-morrow night. I frequently read a volume through, a little at a time, before we have a chance to sell it."
This offer of the apprentice was very generous, and Benjamin suitably expressed his appreciation of it.
"Your favour is so great that I shall feel myself under special obligation to return the book in season for any customer to-morrow who may want it. If I were in a bookstore, as you are, I fear that my love of reading would overcome my love of work. It would just suit me to be in the company of so many books all the time."
"You could not have your evenings here for reading, as you do now. Our busiest time is in the evening; so that I catch only fragments of time to read-pretty small fragments, some days," said the apprentice.
"Well, it might be only an aggravation to live among so many books, without time to read them," responded Benjamin. "I am content where I am,- -a printing office has some advantages over all other places for me."
Benjamin made the most of this new opportunity. Borrowing the first book was followed by borrowing many of the apprentices at the book-store. All the stores were patronized by him, and many a night was shortened at both ends, that he might devour a book. He fairly gorged himself with book-knowledge.
The reader must not forget that books were very few in number at that time, and it was long before a public library was known in the land. In Boston there were many literary people, who had come there from England, and they had a limited supply of books. So that Boston was then better supplied with books than any other part of the
country, though its supply was as nothing compared with the supply now. Book-stores, instead of being supplied with thousands of volumes to suit every taste in the reading world, offered only a meagre collection of volumes, such as would be scarcely noticed now. There were no large publishing houses, issuing a new book each week-day of the year, as there are at the present time, manufacturing hundreds of cords of them every year, and sending them all over the land. Neither were there any libraries then, as we have before said. Now the Public Library of Boston offers three or four hundred thousand volumes, free to all the citizens, and that number is constantly increasing. With the Athenæum, and other large libraries for public use, Boston offers a MILLION volumes, from which the poor printer-boy and all other boys, can make their choice. In almost every town, too, of two thousand inhabitants, a public library is opened, where several hundred or thousand volumes are found from which to select, while private libraries of from one to thirty thousand volumes are counted by the score. The trouble with boys now is, not how to get books to read, but what they shall select from the vast number that load the shelves of libraries and bookstores. Benjamin had no trouble about selecting books; he took all he could get, and was not overburdened at that.
Another book that was of great benefit to Benjamin was an old English grammar which he bought at a book-store. He said of it, in manhood :
"While I was intent on improving my language, I met with an English grammar (I think it was Greenwood's), having at the end of it two little sketches on the Arts of Rhetoric and Logic, the latter finishing with a dispute on the Socratic method."
"What do you want with such a book as that?" inquired John Collins, when he saw it in the printing office.
"To study, of course; I did not study grammar at school,