Page images
PDF
EPUB

as an American than a European. He lived so much among us, frequenting the best society, cultivating the habits, and conversant with the authors of the Old World, that the peculiarities of the New, neither as to language nor character, seem to have retained any impression upon him. Those peculiarities, moreover, have been exceedingly increased since the separation.

********* If the example of this eminent person may well teach respect for philanthropic sentiments to one set of scoffers, it may equally impress upon the minds of another class the important lesson, that veneration for religion is quite compatible with a sound practical understanding. Franklin was a man of a truly pious turn of mind. The great truths of natural theology were not only deeply engraven on his mind, but constantly present to his thoughts. As far as can be collected from his writings, he appears to have been a Christian of the Unitarian school; but, if his own faith had not gone so far, he at least would greatly have respected the religion of his country and its professors, and done every thing to encourage its propagation, as infinitely beneficial to mankind, even if doubts had existed in his own mind as to some of its fundamental doctrines.

We have already observed, that the characteristic of Franklin's understanding was his always choosing the shortest and easiest way to his object. A remarkable simplicity, a strict economy of the means employed, was always to be seen in his operations. The parsimony with which he was, from his narrow circumstances in early life, obliged habitually to conduct himself, seems to have sharpened his ingenuity in all respects, and taught him how far industry and contrivance could go in sparing the use of adventitious helps. In him, more than in any other philosopher, we observe all the web of speculation to be wrought out of himself. He conducts his inquiries with fewer appeals to detailed experiments, and more constant reliance upon known observable facts. When he has recourse to any experimental process, he contents himself with the smallest quantity of apparatus, and of the simplest kind. He often stops to simplify and reduce it; stepping aside from the course of the investigation, to show how the experiment may be made with the most ordinary implements—a very important advantage gained to the evidence on which the inference rests. His moral and political speculations are carried on with a similar frugality; he delights in homely illustrations; he chooses the plainest and most obvious topics; and he throws away neither ideas nor words— employing only the reasons or remarks requisite to explain and to prove his positions—and the language necessary to carry these distinctly home. His benevolence was exerted with a similar regard to the economizing of his powers, without the least parsimony, but so judiciously as to make his limited means produce the greatest possible effect. And, in the management of public concerns, whether connected with the affairs of the political or literary world, the same rigid eco

[graphic]

nomy of resources was to be observed, and the same happy facility of converting trifles into engines of great power. ♦ * * •

The peculiar sagacity of perception, and force of plain expression, which distinguished every effort of Franklin's mind, gave an especial value to his practical philosophy; and it derived an additional charm from the lively fancy with which he was also largely gifted. His fondness for matter of fact, and his constant habit of attentive observation, directed to every thing that passed around him, great and little, threw many of his remarks or arguments into the form of stories, insomuch that a cursory observer would think he was only amusing himself with those little narratives, while he was in reality proving or illustrating some important principle. The love of conciseness gave him a tendency to deliver apophthegms of a proverbial cast, in which he could at once condense his meaning, and make it easily remembered by the sportive and epigrammatic turn of the proposition. His predilection for whatever was the result of actual experiment, inclined him to adopt, and, as it were, rely upon those received adages, in which mankind have embodied the lessons of practical wisdom taught them by experience and observation. When we recollect also the constant play of a good humoured imagination, which, through all his moral writings, enlivens without fatiguing, and enlightens without ever giving pain, we cannot wonder at the extraordinary merit universally allowed to those productions. In truth, they are superior to almost any others, in any language; whether we regard the sound, and striking, and useful truths in which they abound, or the graceful and entertaining shape in which they are conveyed. Anonymous.

SOAME JENYNS.

A Disagreement about a name or a date will mar the best story that ever was put together. Sir Joshua Reynolds luckily could not hear an interrupter of this sort; Johnson would not hear, or if he heard him, would not heed him; Soame Jenyns heard him, heeded him, set him right, and took up his tale, where he had left it, without any diminution of its humour, adding only a few more twists to his snuff-box, a few more taps upon the lid of it, with a preparatory grunt or two, the invariable forerunners of the amenity that was at the heels of them. He was the man who bore his part in all societies with the most even temper and undisturbed hilarity of all the good companions whom I ever knew. He came into your house at the very moment you had put upon your card; he dressed himself to do your party honour in all the colours of the jay; his lace indeed had long since lost its lustre; but his coat had faithfully retained its cut since the days when gentlemen wore embroidered figured velvets, with short sleeves, boot-cuffs, and buckram skirts; as nature had cast him in the exact mould of an ill made pair of stiff stays, he followed her so close in the fashion of his coat, that it was doubted if he did not wear them; because

he had a protuberant wen just under his pole he wore a wig, that did not cover above half his head. His eyes were protruded like the eyes of a lobster, who wears them at the end of his feelers, and yet there was room between one of these and his nose for another wen, that added nothing to his beauty: yet I heard this good man very innocently remark, when Gibbon published his history, that he wondered any body so ugly could write a book.

Such was the exterior of a man, who was the charm of the circle, and gave a zest to every company he came into; his pleasantry was of a sort peculiar to himself; it harmonized with every thing; it was like the bread to our dinner; you did not perhaps make it the whole, or principal part of your meal, but it was an admirable and wholesome auxiliary to your other viands. Soame Jenyns told you no long stories, engrossed not much of your attention, and was not angry with those that did: his thoughts were original, and were apt to have a very whimsical affinity to the paradox in them. He wrote verses upon dancing, and prose upon the origin of evil; yet he was a very indifferent metaphysician, and a worse dancer. Ill nature and personality, with the single exception of his lines upon Johnson, I never heard fall from his lips; those lines I have forgotten, though I believe I was the first person to whom he recited them: they were very bad: but he had been told that Johnson ridiculed his metaphysics, and some of us had just then been making extemporary epitaphs upon each other. Though his wit was harmless, yet the general

vOL. U. T T

« PreviousContinue »