Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

By Benjamin Franklin

Page 90

my faults in it
vexed me so much, and I made so little progress in amendment, and had
such frequent relapses, that I was almost ready to give up the
attempt, and content myself with a faulty character in that respect,
like the man who, in buying an ax of a smith, my neighbour, desired to
have the whole of its surface as bright as the edge. The smith
consented to grind it bright for him if he would turn the wheel; he
turn'd, while the smith press'd the broad face of the ax hard and
heavily on the stone, which made the turning of it very fatiguing. The
man came every now and then from the wheel to see how the work went
on, and at length would take his ax as it was, without farther
grinding. "No," said the smith, "turn on, turn on; we shall have it
bright by-and-by; as yet, it is only speckled." "Yes," says the man,
"_but I think I like a speckled ax best_." And I believe this may have
been the case with many, who, having, for want of some such means as I
employ'd, found the difficulty of obtaining good and breaking bad
habits in other points of vice and virtue, have given up the struggle,
and concluded that "_a speckled ax was best_"; for something, that
pretended to be reason, was every now and then suggesting to me that
such extream nicety as I exacted of myself might be a kind of foppery
in morals, which, if it were known, would make me ridiculous; that a
perfect character might be attended with the inconvenience of being
envied and hated; and that a benevolent man should allow a few faults
in himself, to keep his friends in countenance.

[Illustration: "The smith consented to grind it bright for him if he
would turn the wheel"]

[70] Professor McMaster tells us that when Franklin was
American Agent in France, his lack of business order was
a source of annoyance to his colleagues and friends.
"Strangers who came to see him were amazed to behold
papers of the greatest importance scattered in the most
careless way over the table and floor."

In truth, I found myself incorrigible with respect to Order; and now I
am grown old, and my memory bad, I feel very sensibly the want of it.
But, on the whole, tho' I never arrived at the perfection I had been
so ambitious

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Although he lived in a century notable for the rapid evolution of scientific and political thought and activity, yet no less a keen judge and critic than Lord Jeffrey, the famous editor of the _Edinburgh Review_, a century ago said that "in one point of view the name of Franklin must be considered as standing higher than any of the others which illustrated the eighteenth century.
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A question was once, somehow or other, started between Collins and me, of the propriety of educating the female sex in learning, and their abilities for study.
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[22] Alexander Pope (1688-1744), the greatest English poet of the first half of the eighteenth century.
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I endeavour'd to put his press (which he had not yet us'd, and of which he understood nothing) into order fit to be work'd with; and, promising to come and print off his Elegy as soon as he should have got it ready, I return'd to Bradford's, who gave me a little job to do for the present, and there I lodged and dieted.
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I was not a little surprised, and Keimer star'd like a pig poison'd.
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Hugh Meredith, Stephen Potts, and George Webb I have characteriz'd before.
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