« EelmineJätka »
In September, 1752, Franklin entered upon a course of experiments, to determine the state of electricity in the clouds. From a number of experiments he formed this conclusion:“That the clouds of a thunder gust are most commonly in a negative state of electricity, but sometimes in a positive state;” and from this it follows, as a necessary consequence, “that for the most part, in thunder strokes, it is the earth that strikes into the clouds, and not the clouds that strike into the earth.” The letter containing these observations is dated in September, 1753; and yet the discovery of ascending thunder has been said to be of a modern date, and has been attributed to the Abbe Bertholon, who published his Memoir on the subject in 1776.
Franklin's letters have been translated into most of the European languages, and into Latin. In proportion as they have become known, his principles have been adopted. Some opposition was made to his theories, particularly by the Abbe Nollet, who was, however, but feebly supported, while the first philosophers in Europe stepped forth in defence of Franklin's principles, amongst whom D’Alibard and Beccaria were the most distinguished. The opposition has gradually ceased, and the Franklinian system is now universally adopted, where science flourishes.
The important practical use which Franklin made of his discoveries, the securing of houses from injury by lightning, has been already mentioned. Pointed conductors are now very common in America; but prejudice has hitherto prevented their general introduction into Europe, notwithstanding the most undoubted proofs of their utility have been given. But mankind can with difficulty be brought to lay aside established practices, or to adopt new ones. And perhaps
we have more reason to be surprised that a practice, however rational, which was proposed about forty years ago, should in that time have been adopted in so inany places, than that it has not universally prevailed. It is only by degrees that the great body of mankind can be led into new practices, however salutary their tendency. It is now nearly eighty years since inoculation was introduced into Europe and America; and it is so far from being general at present, that it will require one or two centuries to render it so.
In the year 1745, Franklin published an account of his newly invented Pennsylvania fireplaces, in which he minutely and accurately states the advantages of different kinds of fireplaces; and endeavors to show, that the one which he describes is to be preferred to any other. This contrivance has given rise to the open stoves now in general use, which, however, differ from it in construction, particularly in not having an air-box at the back, through which a constant supply of air, warmed in its passage, is thrown into the room. The advantages of this are, that as a stream of warm air is continually flowing into the room, less fuel is necessary to preserve a proper temperature, and the room may be so tightened as that no air may enter through the cracks—the consequences of which are colds, toothaches, &c.
Although philosophy was a principal object of Franklin's pursuit for several years, he confined himself not to this. In the year 1747, he became a member of the general assembly of Pennsylvania, as a burgess for the city of Philadelphia. Warm disputes subsisted at this time between the Assembly and the Proprietaries; each contending for what they conceived to be their just rights. Franklin, a friend to the rights of
man from his infancy, soon distinguished himself a steady opponent of the unjust schemes of the Proprietaries. He was soon looked up to as the head of the opposition; and to him have been attributed many of the spirited replies of the Assembly to the messages of the Governors. His influence in the body was very great. This arose not from any superior powers of eloquence; he spoke but seldom, and he never was known to make any thing like an elaborate harangue. His speeches often consisted of a single sentence, of a well-told story, the moral of which was obviously to the point. He never attempted the flowery fields of oratory. His manner was plain and mild. His style in speaking was, like that of his writings, simple, unadorned, and remarkably concise. With this plain manner, and his penetrating and solid judgment, he was able to confound the most eloquent and subtle of his adversaries, to confirm the opinions of his friends, and to make converts of the unprejudiced who bad opposed him. With a single observation, he has rendered of no avail an elegant and lengthy discourse, and determined the fate of a question of importance.
But he was not contented with thus supporting the rights of the people. He wished to render them permanently secure, which can only be done by making their value properly known; and this must depend upon increasing and extending information to every class of men. We have already seen that he was the founder of the public library, which contributed greatly towards improving the minds of the citizens. But this was not sufficient. The schools then subsisting were in general of little utility. The teachers were men ill qualified for the important duty which they had undertaken; and, after all, noth
ing more could be obtained than the rudiments of a common English education. Franklin drew up a plan of an academy, to be erected in the city of Philadelphia, suited to “the state of an infant country;” but in this, as in all his plans, he confined not his views to the present time only. He looked forward to the period when an institution on an enlarged plan would become necessary. With this view, he considered his academy as "a foundation for posterity to erect a seminary of learning more extensive and suitable to future circumstances.” In pursuance of this plan, the constitutions were drawn up and signed on the 13th of November, 1749. In these, twenty-four of the most respectable citizens of Philadelphia were named as trustees. In the choice of these, and in the formation of his plan, Franklin is said to have consulted chiefly with Thomas Hopkinson, Esq. the Rev. Richard Peters, then secretary of the province, Tench Francis, Esq. attorney-general, and Dr. Phineas Bond.
The following article shows a spirit of benevolence worthy of imitation; and for the honor of our city, we hope that it continues to be in force.
“In case of the disability of the Rector, or any master (established on the foundation by receiving a certain salary) through sickness, or any other natural infirmity, whereby he may be reduced to poverty, the trustees shall have power to contribute to his support, in proportion to his distress and merit, and the stock in their hands."
The last clause of the fundamental rule is expressed in language so tender and benevolent, so truly parental, that it will do everlasting honor to the hearts and heads of the founders.
“It is hoped and expected that the trustees will make it their pleasure, and in some degree their business, to visit the academy often; to encourage and countenance the youth, to countenance and assist the masters, and, by all means in their power, advance the usefulness and reputation of the design; that they will look on the students as, in some measure, their own children, treat them with familiarity and affection; and, when they have behaved well, gone through their studies, and are to enter the world, they shall zealously unite, and make all the interest that can be made to promote and establish them, whether in business, offices, marriages, or any other thing for their advantage, in preference to all other persons whatsoever, even of equal merit."
The constitution being signed and made public, with the names of the gentlemen proposing themselves as trustees and founders, the design was so well approved of by the public-spirited citizens of Philadelpbia, that the sum of eight hundred pounds per annum, for five years, was in the course of a few weeks subscribed for carrying it into execution; and in the beginning of January following (viz. 1750) three of the schools were opened, namely, the Latin and Greek schools, the Mathematical school, and the English school. In pursuance of an article in the original plan, a school for educating sixty boys and thirty girls (in the charter since called the Charitable School) was opened; and amidst all the difficulties with which the trustees have struggled in respect to their funds, has still been continued full for the space of forty years; so that allowing three years education for each boy and girl admitted into it, which is the general rule, at least twelve hundred children have received