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The Junto debated the question of paper money, which was then agitating the Province of Pennsylvania, and Franklin was led to write and publish a pamphlet called “A Modest Inquiry into the Nature and Necessity of a Paper Currency,” a very crude performance, showing the deficiencies of his self-education. The use of the word modest in the title was in pursuance of the shrewd plan he had adopted of affecting great humility in the expression of his opinions. But his description in his Autobiography of the effect of this pamphlet is by no means either modest or humble :
“ It was well received by the common people in general ; but the rich men disliked it, for it increased and strengthened the clamor for more money, and they happening to have no writers among them that were able to answer it their opposition slackened, and the point was carried by a majority in the House."
In other words, he implies that the boyish debate of twelve young workingmen, resulting in the publication of a pamphlet by one of them, was the means of passing the Pennsylvania paper-money act of 1729. His biographers have echoed his pleasant delusion, and this pamphlet, which in reality contains some of the most atrocious fallacies in finance and political economy, has been lauded as a wonder, the beginning of modern political economy, and the source from which Adam Smith stole the material for his “Wealth of Nations."'*
In spite of all his natural brightness and laudable
* Pennsylvania : Colony and Commonwealth, p. 80.
efforts for his own improvement, he was but half educated and full of crude enthusiasm.
He was only twenty-three, and nothing more could be expected.
Fifteen or twenty years afterwards, with added experience, Franklin became a very different sort of person.
The man of forty, laboriously investigating science, discovering the secrets of electricity, and rejecting everything that had not been subjected to the most rigid proof, bore but little resemblance to the precocious youth of twenty-three, the victim of any specious sophism that promised a millennium. But he never fully apologized to the world for his paper-money delusion, contenting himself with saying in his Autobiography, “I now think there are limits beyond which the quantity may be hurtful."
Three years after the publication of his pamphlet on paper money he began to study modern languages, and soon learned to read French, Italian, and Spanish. An acquaintance who was also studying Italian often tempted him to play chess. As this interfered with the Italian studies, Franklin arranged with him that the victor in any game should have the right to impose a task, either in grammar or translation, and as they played equally, they beat each other into a knowledge of the language.
After he had become tolerably well acquainted with these modern languages he happened one day to look into a Latin Testament, and found that he could read it more easily than he had supposed. The modern languages had, he thought, smoothed the
way for him, and he immediately began to study Latin, which had been dropped ever since, as a little boy, he had spent a year in the Boston Grammar School.
From this circumstance he jumped to the conclusion that the usual method pursued in schools of studying Latin before the modern languages was
It would be better, he said, to begin with the French, proceed to the Italian, and finally reach the Latin. This would be beginning with the easiest first, and would also have the advantage that if the pupils should quit the study of languages, and never arrive at the Latin, they would have acquired another tongue or two which, being in modern use, might be serviceable to them in after-life.
This suggestion, though extravagantly praised, has never been adopted, for the modern languages are now taught contemporaneously with Latin. It was an idea founded exclusively on a single and very unusual experience, without any test as to its general applicability. But all Franklin's notions of education were extremely radical, because based on his own circumstances, which were not those of the o.dinary youth, to whom all systems of education have to be adapted.
He wished to entirely abolish Latin and Greek. They had been useful, he said, only in the past, when they were the languages of the learned and when all books of science and important knowledge were written in them. At that time there had been a reason for learning them, but that reason had now passed away. English should be substituted for
them, and its systematic study would give the same knowledge of language-structure and the same mental training that were supposed to be attainable only through Latin and Greek. His own self-education had been begun in English. He had analyzed and rewritten the essays in Addison's Spectator, and, believing that in this way he had acquired his own most important mental training, he concluded that the same method should be imposed on every one. He wished to set up the study of that author and of Pope, Milton, and Shakespeare as against Cicero, Virgil, and Homer.
One of our most peculiar American habits is that every one who has a pet fancy or experience immediately wants it adopted into the public school system. We not uncommonly close our explanation of something that strikes us as very important by declaring, “and I would have it taught in the public schools.” It has even been suggested that the game of poker should be taught as tending to develop shrewdness and observation.
Franklin's foundation for all education was English. He would have also French, German, or Italian, and practical subjects,-natural science, astronomy, history, government, athletic sports, good manners, good morals, and other topics ; for when one is drawing up these ideal schemes without a particle of practical experience in teaching it is so easy to throw in one thing after another which seems noble or beautiful for boys and girls to know. But English he naturally thought from his own experience was the gate-way to everything.
In the course of his life Franklin received the honorary degree of doctor of laws from Harvard, Yale, Oxford, Edinburgh, and St. Andrew's, and he founded a college. It has been said in support of his peculiar theories of education that when, in 1776, the Continental Congress, which was composed largely of college graduates, was considering who should be sent as commissioner to France, the only member who knew enough of the language to be thoroughly eligible was the one who had never been near a college except to receive honorary degrees for public services he had performed without the assistance of a college training.
This is, of course, an interesting statement; but as an argument it is of no value. Franklin could read French, but could not speak it, and he had to learn to do so after he reached France. By his own confession he never was able to speak it well, and disregarded the grammar altogether,-a natural consequence of being self-taught. John Adams and other members of the Congress could read French as well as Franklin ; and when, in their turn, they went to France, they learned to speak it as fluently
In 1743 Franklin attempted to establish an academy in Philadelphia. The higher education was very much neglected at that time in the middle colonies. The nearest colleges were Harvard and Yale, far to the north in New England, and William and Mary, far to the south in Virginia. The Presbyterians had a few good schools in Pennsylvania of almost the grade of academies, but none in