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In December, 1787, he had a fall down the stone steps of his garden, spraining his right wrist and bringing on another attack of the stone. But he recovered in the spring; and at this period, and indeed to the end of his life, his wonderful vitality bore up so well against severe disease that his mental faculties were unimpaired, his spirits buoyant, and his face fresh and serene.
But towards the end he had to take to his bed, and the last two or three years of his life were passed in terrible pain, with occasional respites of a few weeks, during which he would return to some of his old avocations, writing letters or essays of extraordinary brightness and gayety. He wrote a long letter on his religious belief to President Stiles about five weeks before his death, his humorous protest against slavery two weeks later, and an important letter to Thomas Jefferson on the Northeast Boundary question nine days before his death.
His grandchildren played around his bedside ; friends and distinguished men called to see him, and went away to write notes of what they recollected of his remarkable conversation and cheerfulness. One of his grandchildren, afterwards Mrs. William J. Duane, was eight years old during the last year of his life, and she has related that every evening after tea he insisted that she should bring her Webster's spelling-book and say her lesson to him.
“A few days before he died, he rose from his bed and begged that it might be made up for him so that he might die in a decent
His daughter told him that she hoped he would recover and live many years longer. He calmly replied, “I hope not.'
Upon being advised to change his position in bed, that he might breathe easy, he said, “A dying man can do nothing easy.'" (Bigelow's Franklin from his own Writings, vol. iii. p. 464.)
His physician, Dr. Jones, has described his last illness,—
“ About sixteen days before his death he was seized with a fever. ish indisposition, without any particular symptoms attending it, till the third or fourth day, when he complained of a pain in the left breast, which increased till it became extremely acute, attended with a cough and laborious breathing. During this state when the severity of his pains drew forth a groan of complaint, he would observe—that he was afraid he did not bear them as he oughtacknowledged his grateful sense of the many blessings he had received from that Supreme Being, who had raised him from small and low beginnings to such high rank and consideration among men-and made no doubt but his present afflictions were kindly intended to wean him from a world, in which he was no longer fit to act the part assigned him. In this frame of body and mind he continued till five days before his death, when his pain and difficulty of breathing entirely left him, and his family were flattering them. selves with the hopes of his recovery, when an imposthumation, [abscess) which had formed itself in his lungs suddenly burst, and discharged a great quantity of matter, which he continued to throw up while he had sufficient strength to do it; but, as that failed, the organs of respiration became gradually oppressed--a calm lethargic state succeeded--and, on the 17th of April, 1790, about eleven o'clock at night, he quietly expired, closing a long and useful life of eighty-four years and three months."
(SELF-MADE men of eminence have been quite numerous in America for a hundred years.) Franklin was our first hero of this kind, and I am inclined to think our greatest. The others have achieved wealth or political importance ; sometimes both. But Franklin achieved not only wealth and the reputation of a diplomatist and a statesman, but made himself a most accomplished scholar, a man of letters of world-wide fame, a philosopher of no small importance, and as an investigator and discoverer in science he certainly enlarged the domain of human knowledge.
His father, Josiah Franklin, an industrious candlemaker in Boston, intended that his youngest son, Benjamin, should enter the ministry of the Puritan Church. With this end in view he sent him, when eight years old, to the Boston Grammar School; but before a year had expired he found that the cost of even this slight schooling was too much for the slender means with which he had to provide for a large family of children. So · Franklin went to another school, kept by one George Brownell, where he stayed for about a year, and then his school-days were ended forever. He entered his father's shop to cut wicks and melt tallow. During his two years of
schooling he had learned to read and write, but was not very good at arithmetic.
His associations were all humble, but they cannot be said to have been those of either extreme poverty or ignorance. ) At Ecton, Northamptonshire, England, whence his father came, the family had lived for at least three hundred years, and how much longer is not known. (Several of those in the lineal line of Benjamin had been blacksmiths. They were plain people who, having been always respectable and lived long in one neighborhood, could trace their ancestry back for several centuries.
They were unambitious, contented with their condition, and none of them except Benjamin ever rose much above it, or even seriously tried to rise. This may not have been from any lack of mental ability. Franklin's father was a strong, active man, as was to be expected of the descendant of a line of blacksmiths. He was intelligent and inquiring, conversed well on general subjects, could draw well, played the violin and sang in his home when the day's work was done, and was respected by his neighbors as a prudent, sensible citizen whose advice was worth obtaining. It does not appear that he was studious. But his brother Benjamin, after whom our Franklin was named, was interested in politics, collected pamphlets, made short-hand notes of the sermons he heard, and was continually writing verses.
This Uncle Benjamin, while in England, took a great interest in the nephew, in America who was named after him, and he sent verses to him on all sorts of subjects. He was unsuccessful in business,