National Geographic : 1975 Jul
where a seventh grader was describing Franklin. "You had to work for what you wanted in those days, and not wait for others to give it to you." "Franklin invented things he needed," an other scholar affirmed, impressed by Frank lin's stove, bifocals, and lightning rod. "Most inventions today are just for entertainment." Education began to look like entertainment to Josiah Franklin, who realized he could not afford to send his son on to Harvard College. Ben dropped out of school. But he dropped into a lifelong avocation-self-education. In his father's library the youngster sailed on mind-expanding To cease to think is but little different from ceasing to be. * ments and gained a voyages with Plutarch, Defoe, and Bunyan. Imitating Socrates, he "put on the humble Enquirer and Doubt er" role, shunning even the "Air of Positive ness to an Opinion." Thus he avoided argu hearing for his ideas. Using the Spectator, a London paper fa mous for satire, he taught himself to write. After taking notes on an essay, he set them aside; later he would try to write the piece from memory, correcting it against the origi nal. Eventually, he credited prose writing as "a principal Means of my Advancement." For a while Benjamin helped his father as a tallow chandler. Ben boiled the noxious ani mal fat, skimmed, mixed, and dipped, turning out candles for the town watch, and fragrant green cakes of soap. And he hated it all. The salt air filled his lungs, and with the gulls his spirit took flight; he longed to go to sea. Finally, at 12 years of age, Benjamin pledged himself to an apprenticeship, the most common schooling in colonial America. His master was his overbearing 21-year-old brother, James. The occupation-printing would win him a basic freedom: economic independence. To learn about his tasks, I signed on as a printer's devil at a demonstration print shop at the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of History and Technology near my office in Washington, D. C. "I always wanted to be a printer," said graphic-arts specialist Stan Nel son (page 99), "and Franklin is still my hero." From a typecase resembling a giant egg *Franklin at 19 wrote this line in his first published pamphlet; other inset quotations come from his letters, speeches, articles, and PoorRichard's Almanack. Benjamin Franklin,Philosopherof Dissent Rattling the Boston establishment, Ben had helped his brother James begin a cru sading weekly newspaper, the New-England Courant, in 1721. Benjamin wrote lively satires under the byline Silence Dogood. These and other articles tweaked the town's leading minister, Cotton Mather, and ridi culed the government. Mather called the Franklins "the Hell-Fire Club," and James spent a few weeks in jail. To earn extra money, Benjamin wrote and hawked bal lads through the streets of Boston. Here, near the Common, science student Tom Smith helps finance his education by selling two of Boston's younger newspapers.