The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin/Section Seven
From a Child I was fond of Reading, and all the little Money that came into my Hands was ever laid out in Books. Pleas’d with the Pilgrim’s Progress, my first Collection was of John Bunyan’s Works, in separate little Volumes. I afterwards sold them to enable me to buy R. Burton’s Historical Collections; they were small Chapmen’s Books and cheap, 40 or 50 in all. My Father’s little Library consisted chiefly of Books in polemic Divinity, most of which I read, and have since often regretted, that at a time when I had such a Thirst for Knowledge, more proper Books had not fallen in my Way, since it was now resolv’d I should not be a Clergyman. Plutarch’s Lives there was, in which I read abundantly, and I still think that time spent to great Advantage. There was also a Book of Defoe’s, called an Essay on Projects, and another of Dr. Mather’s, call’d Essays to do Good which perhaps gave me a Turn of Thinking that had an Influence on some of the principal future Events of my Life.
This Bookish Inclination at length determin’d my Father to make me a Printer, tho’ he had already one Son, (James) of that Profession. In 1717 my Brother James return’d from England with a Press & Letters to set up his Business in Boston. I lik’d it much better than that of my Father, but still had a Hankeringfor the Sea. To prevent the apprehended Effect of such an Inclination, my Father was impatient to have me bound to my Brother. I stood out some time, but at last was persuaded and signed the Indentures, when I was yet but 12 Years old. I was to serve as an Apprentice till I was 21 Years of Age, only I was to be allow’d Journeyman’s Wages during the last Year. In a little time I made great Proficiency in the Business, and became a useful Hand to my Brother. I now had Access to better Books. An Acquaintance with the Apprentices of Booksellers, enabled me sometimes to borrow a small one, which I was careful to return soon & clean. Often I sat up in my Room reading the greatest Part of the Night, when the Book was borrow’d in the Evening & to be return’d early in the Morning lest it should be miss’d or wanted. And after some time an ingenious Tradesman Mr Matthew Adams who had a pretty Collection of Books, & who frequented our Printinghouse, took Notice of me, invited me to his Library, & very kindly lent me such Books as I chose to read. I now took a Fancy to Poetry, and made some little Pieces. My Brother, thinking it might turn to account encourag’d me, & put me on composing two occasional Ballads. One was called the Light House Tragedy, & contain’d an Account of the drowning of Capt. Worthilake with his Two Daughters; the other was a Sailor Song on the Taking of Teach or Blackbeard the Pirate. They were wretched Stuff, in the Grub-street Ballad Style, and when they were printed he sent me about the Town to sell them. The first sold wonderfully, the Event being recent, having made a great Noise. This flatter’d my Vanity. But my Father discourag’d me, by ridiculing my Performances, and telling me Verse- makers were always Beggars; so I escap’d being a Poet, most probably a very bad one. But as Prose Writing has been of great Use to me in the Course of my Life, and was a principal Means of my Advancement, I shall tell you how in such a Situation I acquir’d what little Ability I have in that Way.