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One of these productions might certainly have been suggested by the other. But Franklin's grandson, William Temple Franklin, who professed to have the original in his possession, in his grandfather's handwriting, said that it was dated 1728, and it is printed with that date in one of the editions of Franklin's works. If this date is correct, it would be too early for the epitaph to have been copied from the one in the Gentleman's Magazine for February, 1736. It might be said that possibly the Eton boy knew of Franklin's epitaph ; but I cannot find that it was printed or in any way made public before 1736. There is no reason why both should not be original, for everybody wrote epitaphs in that century.
Franklin has been credited by one of his biographers with the invention of the comic epitaph, and Smollett's famous inscription on Commodore Trunnion's tomb in “ Peregrine Pickle” is described as a mere imitation of Franklin's epitaph on himself. But there is no evidence that Smollett had seen Franklin's production before “Peregrine Pickle” was published in 1750, and it was not necessary that he should. There were plenty of similar productions long before that time. Franklin's own Gazette, January 6 to January 15, 1735/6, gives a very witty inscription on a dead greyhound, which is described as cut on the walls of Lord Cobham's gardens at Stow. In writing comic epitaphs Franklin was merely following the fashion of his time, and he was hardly as good at it as Smollett.
He has himself told us the source of one of his best short essays, “The Ephemera," a beautiful little
allegory which he wrote to please Madame Brillon in Paris. In a letter to William Carmichael, of June 17, 1780, he describes the circumstances under which it was written, and says that “the thought was partly taken from a little piece of some unknown writer, which I met with fifty years since in a newspaper."* It was in this way that he worked over old material for "Poor Richard.” Everything he had read seemed capable of supplying suggestions, and it must be said that he usually improved on the work of other men.
He was very fond of paraphrasing the Bible as a humorous task and also to show what he conceived to be the meaning of certain passages.
He altered the wording of the Book of Job so as to make it a satire on English politics. He did it cleverly, and it was amusing ; but it was a very cheap sort of humor.
His most famous joke of this kind was his “Parable against Persecution." He had learned it by heart, and when he was in England, and the discussion turned on religious liberty, he would open the Bible and read his parable as the last chapter in Genesis. The imitation of the language of Scripture was perfect, and the parable itself was so interesting and striking that every one was delighted with it. His guests would wonder and say that they had never known there was such a chapter in Genesis.
The parable was published and universally admired, but when it appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine some one very quickly discovered that it had been taken from Jeremy Taylor's Polemical Dis
* Bigelow's Franklin from His Own Writings, vol. ii. p. 511.
courses, and there was a great discussion over it. Franklin afterwards said, in a letter to Mr. Vaughan, that he had taken it from Taylor ; and John Adams said that he never pretended that it was original.* It is interesting to see how cleverly he improved on Taylor's language :
FRANKLIN. “ When Abraham sat at his “s' And it came to pass after tent door according to his cus these things, that Abraham sat tom, waiting to entertain stran in the door of his tent, about the gers, he espied an old man stoop- going down of the sun. 1 ? And ing and leaning on his staff; behold a man, bent with age, weary with age and travel, com coming from the way of the ing towards him, who was an wilderness leaning on his staff. hundred years old. He received f 3 And Abraham rose and met him kindly, washed his feet, pro him, and said unto him : Turn in, vided supper, and caused him to I pray thee, and wash thy feet, sit down; but observing that the and tarry all night; and thou old man ate and prayed not, nor shalt arise early in the mornbegged for a blessing on his meat, ing and go on thy way. But he asked him why he did not the man said, Nay, for I will worship the God of heaven? abide under this tree. 5 And The old man told him, that he Abraham pressed him greatly : worshipped the fire only and ac so he turned and they went into knowledged no other god. At the tent, and Abraham baked which answer Abraham grew so unleavened bread, and they did zealously angry, that he thrust eat. And when Abraham saw the old man out of his tent, and that the man blessed not God he exposed him to all the evils of said unto him, wherefore dost the night and an unguarded con thou not worship the Most High dition. When the old man was God, Creator of heaven and gone, God called to Abraham, earth ? s? And the man answered, and asked him where the stran and said, I do not worship thy
He replied, I thrust God, neither do I call upon his him away, because he did not name; for I have made to myworship thee. God answered self a god, which abideth in my
* Bigelow's Works of Franklin, vol. v. p. 376; also vol. x. p. 78; Adams's Works, vol. i. p. 659.
him, I have suffered him these house and provideth me with all hundred years, although he disa | things. 1 % And Abraham's zeal honoured me; and couldst not was kindled against the man; thou endure him one night, and and he arose and fell upon him, when he gave thee no trouble ? and drove him forth with blows Upon this, saith the story, Abra into the wilderness. [ And at ham fetched him back again, and midnight God called unto Abragave him hospitable entertain
ham saying, Abraham, where is ment and wise instruction. Go
the stranger ? 10 And Abraham thou and do likewise and thy answered and said, Lord, he charity will be rewarded by the
would not worship thee, neither God of Abraham."
would be call upon thy name; therefore have I driven him out from before my face into the wilderness. T" And God said, have I borne with him these hundred and ninety and eight years, and nourished him, and Cloathed him, notwithstanding his rebellion against me; and couldest not thou, who art thyself a sinner, bear with him one night? T 12 And Abraham said, Let not the anger of the Lord wax hot against his servant; lo, I have sinned; forgive me I pray thee. | 13 And Abraham arose and went forth into the wilderness and sought diligently for the man and found him, and returned with him to the tent; and when he had entreated him kindly, he sent him away on the morrow with gifts. | 14 And God spake unto Abraham, saying, For this thy sin shall thy seed be afflicted four hundred years in a strange land. | 25 But for thy repentance will I deliver them; and they shall come forth with power and gladness of heart, and with much
The parable was, indeed, older than Taylor for Taylor said he had found it in “The Jews' Book," and at length it was discovered in a Latin dedication of a rabbinical work, called “The Rod of Judah," published at Amsterdam in 1651, which ascribed the parable to the Persian poet Saadi. None of them, however, had thought of introducing it into the Old Testament, nor had they told it so well as Franklin, who gave it a new currency, and it was reprinted as a half-penny tract and also in Lord Kames's “Sketches of the History of Man."
While on this question of plagiarism it may be said that Franklin's admirable style was in part modelled on that of the famous Massachusetts divine, Cotton Mather, whom he had known and whose books he had read in his boyhood. The similarity is, indeed, quite striking, and for vigorous English he could hardly have had a better model. But he improved so much on Mather that his style is entirely his own. It is the most effective literary style ever used by an American. Nearly one hundred and fifty years have passed since his Autobiography was written, yet it is still read with delight by all classes of people, has been called for at some public libraries four hundred times a year, and shows as much promise of immortality as the poems of Longfellow or the romances of Hawthorne.
Besides his almanac and newspaper, Franklin extended his business by publishing books, consisting mostly of religious tracts and controversies. He also imported books from England, and sold them along with the lamp-black, soap, and groceries contained in