The Private Franklin: The Man and His Family

By Claude-Anne Lopez ; Eugenia W. Herbert | Go to book overview

XXIV
"Our Little Fleet of Barques"

Let us sit till the Evening of Life is spent; the last Hours were always the most joyous. When we can stay no longer 'tis Time enough then to bid each other good Night, separate, and go quietly to bed.
--Franklin to Hugh Roberts, July 7, 1763

WHEN THE DAY CAME, April 17, 1790, he was ready.

All his life he had been gingerly taming death, stripping it of its awe and power, clothing it in appealing metaphors of travel and bliss, humoring it, giving it a place in the family circle until finally, obsessively, longingly it became "going to bed."

In the Puritan Boston of his childhood, death was not all that grim an event. Those who attended funerals expected gifts of gloves, rings, scarves. Had it not been for burials, weddings, and executions people would have had little occasion to congregate. Children often attended and acted as honorary pallbearers for other children.

Franklin's first tentative approach was the facetious epitaph he composed for himself when still young enough to be flippant about the faraway end:

The Body of
B. Franklin,
Printer;
Like the Cover of an old Book,
Its Contents torn out,
And stript of its Lettering and Gilding,
Lies here, Food for Worms.
But the Work shall not be wholly lost:
For it will, as he believ'd, appear once more,
In a new & more perfect Edition,
Corrected and amended
By the Author.1

With the passing of years his outlook became more serious but remained resolutely optimistic, whether he was brooding on the af

-308-

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The Private Franklin: The Man and His Family
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Contents v
  • Preface ix
  • A Subjective Preface xi
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • Prologue: the Sweet Air of Twyford 1
  • I - Son and Sibling 5
  • II - Errata Committed, Errata Corrected 16
  • III - Industry, Frugality, Fertility 30
  • IV - Out of the Home and into the World 42
  • V - "Much of a Beau" 59
  • VI - "The Seeds of Every Female Virtue" 70
  • VII - London 78
  • VIII - Homecoming, Homesickness 93
  • IX - Faith or Deeds? 104
  • X - The Dream and the Nightmare 116
  • XI - Father of the Bride 135
  • XII - The Patriarch of Craven Street 149
  • XIII - "Sorrows Roll Upon Me like The, Waves of the Sea" 158
  • XIV - "Your a Feck Shonet Wife" 166
  • XV - Steering Through Storms 176
  • XVI - "You Are a Thorough Courtier" 190
  • XVII - Tug of War 200
  • XVIII - No Watch for Benny, No Feathers for Sally 218
  • XIX - "Temple, is My Right Hand" 236
  • XX - "Nothing Has Ever Hurt Me So Much" 253
  • XXI - Indian Summer 266
  • XXII - From Seine to Schuylkill 281
  • XXIII - Slaves 296
  • XXIV - "Our Little Fleet of Barques" 308
  • Bibliography 343
  • Index 351
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