An anonymous writer in the early Ninteenth Century expands upon a chance encounter on the street.
I mention this industry the more particularly and the more freely, tho’ it seems to be talking in my own praise, that those of my posterity, who shall read it, may know the use of that virtue, when they see its effects in my favour throughout this relation.—Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.
“So Was Franklin.”
“OH, you’re a ‘prentice!” said a little boy, the other day, tauntingly, to his companion.—The boy addressed turned proudly round, and, while the fire of injured pride and the look of pity were strangely blended in his countenance, coolly answered, “So was Franklin!”
This dignified reply struck me forcibly, and I turned to mark the disputants more closely. The former, I perceived by his dress, was of a higher class in society than his humble, yet more dignified companion. The latter was a sprightly, active lad, scarce twelve years old, and coarsely, but neatly attired. But, young as he was, there was visible in his countenance much of genius, manly dignity, and determinate resolution; while that of the former showed only fostered pride, and the imagined superiority of riches.
That little fellow, thought we, gazing at our young hero, displays already much of the man—though his calling be a humble one; and, though poverty extends to him her dreary, cheerless reality—still he looks on the brightest side of the scene, and already rises in anticipation from poverty and wretchedness! Once, “So was Franklin!” and the world may one day witness in our little “ ‘prentice” as great a philosopher as they have already seen in his noble pattern! And we passed on, buried in meditation.
The motto of our infantile philosopher contains much,—too much to be forgotten, and should be engraven on the minds of all. What can better cheer man in a humble calling, than the reflection that the greatest and the best of earth—the greatest statesmen, the brightest philosophers, and the proudest warriors—have once graced the same profession?
Look at Cincinnatus! At the call of his country he laid aside the plow and seized the sword. But having wielded it with success, when his country was no longer endangered, and public affairs needed not his longer stay—he “beat his sword into a plowshare,” and returned with honest delight to his little farm.
Look at Washington! What was his course of life? He was first a farmer—next a Commander in chief of the hosts of freedom, fighting for the liberation of his country from the thralls of despotic oppression—next, called to the highest seat of government by his ransomed brethren, a President of the largest Republic on earth, and lastly, a farmer again.
Look at Franklin! He who
“With the thunder talked, as friend to friend,
And wove his garland of the lightning’s wing,
In sportive twist.”
What was he? A printer! once a subordinate in a printing office! Poverty stared him in the face—but her blank, hollow look, could nothing daunt him. He struggled against a harder current than most are called to encounter; but he did not yield. He pressed manfully onward—bravely buffeted misfortune’s billows, and gained the desired haven!
What was the famous Ben Jonson? He was first a brick-layer, or mason! What was he in after years? ‘Tis needless to answer.
What was Burns? An Ayrshire plowman! What was he in after life, in the estimation of his countrymen, and the world? Your library gives the answer!
But shall we go on, and call up, in proud array, all the mighty host of worthies that have lived and died, who were cradled in the lap of penury, and received their first lessons in the school of affliction? Nay! we have cited instances enough already,—Yea! more than enough to prove the point in question—namely, that there is no profession, however low in the opinion of the world, but has been honored with earth’s greatest and worthiest.
Young man! Does the iron hand of misfortune press hard upon you, and disappointments well nigh sink your despairing soul? Have courage! Mighty ones have been your predecessors, and have withstood the current of opposition that threatened to overwhelm their fragile bark.
Do you despise your humble station, and repine that Providence has not placed you in some nobler sphere? Murmur not against the dispensations of an All-wise Creator! Remember that wealth is no criterion of moral rectitude or intellectual worth,—that riches dishonestly gained, are a lasting curse,—that virtue and uprightness work out a rich reward,—and that
“An honest man’s the noblest work of God.”
And when dark Disappointment comes, do not wither at her stare; but press forward, and the prize is yours! It was thus with Franklin,—it can be thus with you. He strove for the prize, and he won it! So may you! ‘Tis well worth contending for; and may success attend you!—and the “stars” will be brighter, as the “stripes” were deeper.
—Author Unknown (c. 1830).