The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin/Section Thirty Five
Section Thirty Five
We have an English Proverb that says, He that would thrive Must ask his Wife;
it was lucky for me that I had one as much dispos’d to Industry & Frugality as myself. She assisted me cheerfully in my Business, folding & stitching Pamphlets, tending Shop, purchasing old Linen Rags for the Paper-makers, &c. &c. We kept no idle Servants, our Table was plain & simple, our Furniture of the cheapest. For instance my Breakfast was a long time Bread & Milk, (no Tea) and I ate it out of a twopenny earthen Porringer with a Pewter Spoon. But mark how Luxury will enter Families, and make a Progress, in Spite of Principle. Being call’d one Morning to Breakfast, I found it in a China Bowl with a Spoon of Silver. They had been bought for me without my Knowledge by my Wife, and had cost her the enormous Sum of three and twenty Shillings, for which she had no other Excuse or Apology to make, but that she thought her Husband deserved a Silver Spoon & China Bowl as well as any of his Neighbors. This was the first Appearance of Plate & China in our House, which afterwards in a Course of Years as our Wealth increas’d augmented gradually to several Hundred Pounds in Value.
I had been religiously educated as a Presbyterian; and tho’ some of the Dogmas of that Persuasion, such as the Eternal Decrees of God, Election, Reprobation, &c. appear’d to me unintelligible, others doubtful, & I early absented myself from the Public Assemblies of the Sect, Sunday being my Studying- Day, I never was without some religious Principles; I never doubted, for instance, the Existence of the Deity, that he made the World, & govern’d it by his Providence; that the most acceptable Service of God was the doing Good to Man; that our Souls are immortal; and that all Crime will be punished & Virtue rewarded either here or hereafter; these I esteem’d the Essentials of every Religion, and being to be found in all the Religions we had in our Country I respected them all, tho’ with different degrees of Respect as I found them more or less mix’d with other Articles which without any Tendency to inspire, promote or confirm Morality, serv’d principally to divide us & make us unfriendly to one another. This Respect to all, with an Opinion that the worst had some good Effects, induc’d me to avoid all Discourse that might tend to lessen the good Opinion another might have of his own Religion; and as our Province increas’d in People and new Places of worship were continually wanted, & generally erected by voluntary Contribution, my Mite for such purpose, whatever might be the Sect, was never refused.
Tho’ I seldom attended any Public Worship, I had still and Opinion of its Propriety, and of its Utility when rightly conducted, and I regularly paid my annual Subscription for the Support of the only Presbyterian Minister or Meeting we had in Philadelphia. He us’d to visit me sometimes as a Friend, and admonish me to attend his Administrations, and I was now and then prevail’d on to do so, once for five Sundays successively. Had he been, in my Opinion, a good Preacher perhaps I might have continued, notwithstanding the occasion I had for the Sunday’s Leisure in my Course of Study: But his Discourses were chiefly either polemic Arguments, or Explications of the peculiar Doctrines of our Sect, and were all to me very dry, uninteresting and unedifying, since not a single moral Principle was inculcated or enforc’d, their Aim seeming to be rather to make us Presbyterians than good Citizens. At length he took for his Text that Verse of the 4th Section of Philippians, Finally, Brethren, Whatsoever Things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, or of good report, if there be any virtue, or any praise, think on those Things; & I imagin’d, in a Sermon on such a Text, we could not miss of having some Morality: But he confin’d himself to five Points only as meant by the Apostle, viz. 1. Keeping holy the Sabbath Day. 2. Being diligent in Reading the Holy Scriptures. 3. Attending duly the Public Worship. 4. Partaking of the Sacrament. 5. Paying a due Respect to God’s Ministers. These might be all good Things, but as they were not the kind of good Things that I expected from that Text, I despaired of ever meeting with them from any other, was disgusted, and attended his Preaching no more. I had some Years before compos’d a little Liturgy or Form of Prayer for my own Private Use, viz. in 1728, entitled, Articles of Belief & Acts of Religion. I return’d to the Use of this, and went no more to the public Assemblies. My Conduct might be blameable, but I leave it without attempting farther to excuse it, my present purpose being to relate Facts, and not to make Apologies for them.