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have written," added James. "I don't expect it will be quite equal to Shakespeare."
"Well, read it, I don't care." And Benjamin passed it over to his brother without further hesitation.
James read it over carefully, and then he re-read it before making a remark, as if to be sure that he was not mistaken in the quality of the composition.
"That is good, Ben. It is really good, much better than
I supposed you could write.
Indeed, I did not know that you could write poetry at all. It is not quite equal to Virgil or Homer, but good for a printer-boy to write. Have you any other pieces ?"
James was honest, in these last remarks, and felt more kindly at the time than he often did towards his brother.
"Yes, I have two or three pieces more which I am going to improve somewhat. You had better wait till I have re-written them before you read them." Benjamin was greatly encouraged by his brother's favourable opinion of his literary venture, when he made this reply.
"No need of that. Let me see them now, and I can tell you whether they are worth making better. Some things are not worth making better; and I think this must be particularly true of poetry. Poor poetry is poor stuff; better write new than to try to improve it."
James's last plea prevailed, and Benjamin produced the articles for his examination. They were read with as much interest as the first one, and they were re-read too, that there might be no mistake in his judgment. Then his enthusiasm broke out.
"I tell you what it is, Ben, these are good, and I believe that you can write something worthy of print if you try hard; and if you will undertake it, you may print and sell a sheet on the street. I have no doubt that it will sell well."
"I will see what I can do," Benjamin replied, very much elated over his success. "I hardly think my poetry will
read well in print, though. I have not been writing for the press."
"We can tell best when we read it in print. Get up something as soon as you can, and let us see," said James. "I will go right about it, and I will not be long in getting up something, good, bad, or indifferent."
Within a few days Benjamin produced two street ballads, after the style of that day. They were better than anything he had written, but still susceptible of great improvement. One was entitled "The Lighthouse Tragedy," and was founded on the shipwreck of Captain Worthilake and his two daughters. The other was a sailor's song on the capture of the famous Teach, or Blackbeard, the Pirate." James read them critically, to see if it would do to put them in print and offer them to the public.
"These are really better than what I read the other day," he remarked, when he had examined them all he desired. "Now you may put them into type, and sell them about the town, if you are willing. I think a good number of them may be disposed of."
"How many copies will you print?"
"We can print a few to begin with, and let the type remain standing until we see how they go. Then we shall 'run no risk."
"Shall I do it immediately?"
"Just as soon as you can. The quicker the better. I am anxious to see how they take with the public."
Benjamin was not long in printing the two ballads, and having them ready for sale. Under the direction of his brother, he went forth, in due time, to offer them about the Whether he cried them on the streets as the newsboys do the daily papers now we have no means of knowing. But he was successful in selling his wares, whatever his method was. "The Lighthouse Tragedy" sold the most readily. That commemorated an event of recent occurrence, and which excited much public feeling and sympathy at the
time, so that people were quite prepared to purchase it. It sold even beyond his expectations, and seemed to develop what little vanity there was in his soul. He began to think that he was a genuine born poet, and that distinction and a fortune were before him. If he had not been confronted by his father on the subject, it is possible that the speculation might have proved a serious injury to him. But Mr. Franklin learned of his enterprise, and called him to an account. Perhaps he stepped into his shop, as he was selling them about town, and gave him a copy. Whether so or not, his father learned of the fact, and the following interview will show what he thought of it:
"I am ashamed to see you engaged in such a business, Benjamin. It is unworthy of a son of Josiah Franklin." 'Why so, father? I can't understand you."
"Because it is not an honourable business. You are not a poet, and can write nothing of that sort worth printing."
"James approved of the pieces, and proposed that I should print and sell them," Benjamin pleaded.
"James is not a good judge of poetry, nor of the propriety of hawking them about town. It is wretched stuff, and I am ashamed that you are known as the author. Look here; let me show you wherein it is defective."
Benjamin was so dumfounded that he could not say much in reply; and his father proceeded to expose the faults of the poetical effusion. He did not spare the young author at all; nor was he cautious and lenient in his criticisms. On the other hand, he was severe. And he went on until Benjamin began to feel sorry that he had ever written a scrap of poetry.
There, I want you should promise me," continued his father, "that you will never deal in such wares again, and that you will stick to your business of setting up type." "Perhaps I may improve by practice," suggested Benjamin, whose estimation of his literary venture was modified
considerably by this time. "Perhaps I may yet write something worthy of being read. You couldn't expect me to write like Pope to begin with."
"No; nor to end with," retorted his father. "You are not a poet, and there is no use in your trying to be. Perhaps you can learn to write prose well; but poetry is another thing. Even if you were a poet I should advise you to let the business alone, for poets are usually beggars -poor, shiftless members of society."
"That is news to me," responded Benjamin. "How does it happen, then, that some of their works are so popular?"
"Because a true poet can write something worthy of being read, while a mere verse-maker, like yourself, writes only doggerel, that is not worth the paper on which it is printed. Now I advise you to let verse-making alone, and attend closely to your business, both for your own sake and your brother's."
Mr. Franklin was rather severe upon his son, although what he said of his verses was substantially true, as his son freely admitted in manhood. He overlooked the important fact that it was a commendable effort of the boy to try to improve his mind. Some of the best poets who have lived wrote mere doggerel when they began. Also, many of our best prose writers were exceedingly faulty at first. It is a noble effort for a boy to put his thoughts into language, and Mr. Franklin ought to have recognized it as such. If he does not succeed in the first instance, by patience, industry, and perseverance he may triumph at last. Benjamin might not have acted wisely in selling his verses about town; but his brother, so much older and more experienced than himself, should have borne the censure of that, since it was done by his direction. Doubtless, his brother regarded the propriety of the act less, because he had an eye on the pecuniary profits of the scheme.
The decided opposition that Mr. Franklin showed to verse-making put a damper upon Benjamin's poetic aspirations. The air-castle that his youthful imagination had built, in consequence of the rapid sale of his wares, tumbled in ruins. He went back to the office and his work quite crestfallen.
The reader must bear in mind that this incident occurred before the discussion of Benjamin with John Collins upon female education, related in a former chapter. We shall see that his father's criticisms on his arguments in that discussion proved of great value to him.
"What has happened now, Ben?" inquired James, observing that his brother looked despondent and anxious. "Are you bringing forth more poetry?"
"Father doesn't think much of my printing and selling verses of my own," answered Benjamin. "He has given me such a lecture that I am almost ashamed of myself.” "How is that? Don't he think they are worthy of print?"
"No. He don't see any merit in them at all. He read them over in his way, and counted faults enough to show that there is precious little poetry in me. A beggar and a poet mean about the same thing to him."
"He ought to remember that you are not as old as you will be, if you live; and you will make improvement from year to year. You can't expect to write either prose or verse well without beginning and trying."
"All the trial in the world can do nothing for me, I should judge, from father's talk. You ought to have heard him; and he did not spare you for suggesting the printing and sale of the pieces on the street." Benjamin said this in a tone of bitter disappointment.
Well, I suppose that he has heard of two men disagreeing on a matter," remarked James. "All is he and I do not agree. I consider the whole thing wise and proper, and he does not. That is all there is to it."