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It was felt, however, by all reflecting men in America, that the Colonies would have little weight so long as they stood singly, and that their best prospect of prevailing iay in combination. Many pamphlets and articles in newspapers written in a clear and easy style were now published, especially at Boston, serving to render the advantages of union apparent even to the meanest capacity, while the same truth was further enforced in prints and caricatures. One of these, for example, which served as frontispiece to “The Constitu“tional Courant,” represents a snake cut in pieces, with the initial letters of the several Colonies from New England to South Carolina affixed to each piece. Such an emblem might not have been deemed in all points complimentary, but amends were made by the motto; it stood thus—Join or DIE.* Under such impressions, and at the suggestion of the House of Representatives at Boston, several Assemblies appointed delegates (from two to five in number) for a General Congress, which was to meet at New York in the ensuing month of October, and to seek measures of redress from the grievance of the Stamp Act. It will be necessary to revert in full detail to the proceedings in America as soon as the intervening events in England have been told. But I shall conclude this Chapter by attempting to sketch the characters of those two eminent men, who at this time took the foremost part in opposing the pretensions of the mother country on either side of the Atlantic — Patrick Henry in America — and Benjamin Franklin in England. The Colony of Virginia was the place, and the year 1736 the time, of birth to Patrick Henry. His parents were in easy circumstances, but burthened with a numerous family; they resided at a country seat to which the ambitious name of Mount Brilliant had been given. In childhood Patrick
* Annual Register, 1765, part i. p. 50. and Dr. Gordon's History of the American Revolution, vol. i. p. 189. — This emblem and motto had been invented by Franklin many years beforc with the design of uniting the Colonies against the French. See a note by Mr. Sparks to his Writings, vol. iii. p. 25. (1853.)
1765. PATRICK HENRY. 93
Henry gave little promise of distinction. His person is represented as having been coarse, his manners extremely awkward, his dress slovenly, and his aversion to study invincible. No persuasion could bring him either to read or to work.* At sixteen his father gave him means to open a small shop, which failed, however, in less than one year. Then he tried a small farm, and married; then again he entered upon the life of a tradesman, but in a few years more was a bankrupt. It was at this period that he became acquainted with Mr. Jefferson, afterwards President of the United States. “Mr. Henry,” says Jefferson, “had a little “before broken up his store (shop), or rather it had broken “him up, but his misfortunes were not to be traced either in “his countenance or conduct. His manners had something “of coarseness in them; his passion was music, dancing, “and pleasantry. He excelled in the last, and it attached “every one to him.” As a last resource, Patrick Henry now determined to make a trial of the law. It cannot be said that his preparatory studies were unduly arduous, since, as his biographer informs us, they were all comprised in the period of six weeks.” Under such unpromising circumstances, and in the year 1763, he obtained a brief in the long-contested cause then raging in Virginia between the clergy on the one side, and the legislature on the other, as regarding the stipends which the former claimed. On this occasion Henry, to the astonishment of all who knew him, poured forth a strain of such impassioned eloquence as not only carried the cause, contrary to all previous expectation, but placed him ever afterwards at the head of his profession in the Colony. To this very day, says Mr. Wirt, writing in 1818, the impression remains, and the old people of that district think that no higher compliment can be paid to any public speaker than to say of him in their homely phrase, “He is almost equal to “Patrick when he plead (pleaded) against the parsons.”
* Sketches of the Life of Patrick Henry by W. Wirt, p. 6. ed. 1818, * Life by Wirt, p. 16.
The natural eloquence which on this occasion flashed forth from the coarse and unlettered Henry, as the spark of fire from the flint, continued to distinguish him both as a Member of the House of Burgesses at Williamsburg, and afterwards as a Member of Congress. He took from the first a bold and active part against the pretensions of the mother country; indeed Mr. Jefferson goes so far as to declare that “Mr. Henry certainly gave the earliest impulse to the ball of “revolution.” His most celebrated burst of oratory, or rather turn of phrase, was in this very year 1765, when descanting in the House of Burgesses on the tyranny of the Stamp Act. “Caesar —” he cried in a voice of thunder and with an eye of fire – “Caesar had his Brutus — Charles the “First had his Cromwell — and George the Third”—“Treason!” here exclaimed the Speaker, “Treason! Treason!” re-echoed from every part of the House. Henry did not for an instant falter, but fixing his eye firmly on the Speaker, he concluded his sentence thus “—may profit by their “example. If this be treason, make the most of it!”
Indolence and aversion to reading seemed almost as natural to Henry's mind as powers of debate. To the last he never overcame them. Thus, at his death in 1799 his books were found to be extremely few, and these too consisting chiefly of odd volumes.* But his gift of speech was (for his hearers) sufficiently supported by his fiery energy, his practical shrewdness, and his ever keen glance into the feelings and characters of others. Nor were these his only claims to his country's favour. He retained the manners and customs of the common people, with what his friendly biographer terms “religious caution.” – “He “dressed as plainly as the plainest of them,” continues Mr. Wirt, “ate only their homely fare, and drunk their simple “beverage, mixed with them on a footing of the most entire “and perfect equality, and conversed with them even in “their own vicious and depraved pronunciation.”** By
* Life by Wirt, p. 406. ** Life of Patrick Henry, p. 35.
1765. DR. FRANKLIN. 95
such means he soon acquired and long retained a large measure of popularity, and he applied himself with zeal and success before any audience, and on every occasion which arose, to increase and perpetuate the estrangement between the North American Colonies and England. Dr. Benjamin Franklin is one of those men who have made the task of succeeding biographers more difficult by having been in part their own. He was born at Boston in 1706, the youngest of ten sons. “My father,” he says, “intended to devote me, as the tithe of his sons, to the ser“vice of the Church;” but on further reflection, the charges of a College education were thought too burthensome, and young Benjamin became a journeyman printer. From a very early age he showed a passionate fondness for reading, and much ingenuity in argument, but, as he acknowledges, had at first contracted a disputatious and wrangling turn of conversation. “I have since observed,” he says, “that “persons of good sense seldom fall into it, except lawyers, “University-men, and generally men of all sorts who have “been bred at Edinburgh.” Young Franklin was at first bound apprentice to one of his elder brothers, a printer at Boston; but some differences arising between them, he proceeded to Philadelphia, where he soon obtained employment, and ere long set up for himself. His success in life was secured by his great frugality, industry, and shrewdness. In his own words: “I spent no time in taverns, games, or frolics of any “kind; reading was the only amusement I allowed myself.” His knowledge and shrewdness, – great zeal in urging any improvements, and great ingenuity in promoting them, speedily raised him high in the estimation of his fellowtownsmen, and enabled him to take a forward part in all the affairs of his province. In England, and indeed all Europe, he became celebrated by his experiments and discoveries in Electricity. These may deserve the greater credit, when we recollect both their practical utility and their unassisted progress, – how much the pointed rods which he introduced have tended to avert the dangers of lightning, and how far removed was Franklin at the time from all scientific society, libraries, or patronage.* It has also been stated by no less an authority in science than Sir Humphrey Davy, that “the style and manner of “Dr. Franklin's publication on Electricity are almost as “worthy of admiration as the doctrine it contains.” The same remark may indeed be applied to all his writings. All of them are justly celebrated for their clear, plain, and lively style, free from every appearance of art, but, in fact, carefully pointed and micely poised. In public speaking, on the other hand, he was much less eminent. His last American biographer observes of him, that he never even pretended to the accomplishments of an orator or debater. He seldom spoke in a deliberative assembly, except for some special object, and then only for a few minutes at a time. As a slight instance of Franklin's humour and shrewdness in all affairs of common life I may quote the following: “QUESTIon. I am about courting a girl I have had but little “acquaintance with. How shall I come to a knowledge of “her faults? ANswer. Commend her among her female “acquaintance!”** Whether in science and study, or in politics and action, the great aim of Franklin's mind was ever practical utility. Here again we may quote Sir Humphrey Davy as saying of Franklin that he sought rather to make Philosophy a useful inmate and servant in the common habitations of man, than ‘to preserve her merely as an object of admiration in temples and palaces. Thus also in affairs he had a keen eye to his own interest, but likewise a benevolent concern for the public good. Nor was he ever indifferent to cases of individual grievance or hardship. In the pursuit of his objects, public or private, he was, beyond most other men, calm,