Nobody knows just what a genius is or what he may do next; he boils at an unknown temperature, and often explodes at a touch. He is uncertain and therefore unsafe. His best results are conjured forth, but no man has yet conjured forth a Nation—it is all slow, patient, painstaking work along mathematical lines. Washington was a mathematician and therefore not a genius. We call him a great man, but his greatness was of that sort in which we all can share; his virtues were of a kind that, in degree, we too may possess. Any man who succeeds in a legitimate business works with the same tools that Washington used. Washington was human. We know the man; we understand him; we comprehend how he succeeded, for with him there were no tricks, no legerdemain, no secrets. He is very near to us.
Washington is indeed first in the hearts of his countrymen. Washington has no detractors. There may come a time when another will take first place in the affections of the people, but that time is not yet ripe. Lincoln stood between men who now live and the prizes they coveted; thousands still tread the earth whom he benefited, and neither class can forgive, for they are of clay. But all those who lived when Washington lived are gone; not one survives; even the last body-servant, who confused memory with hearsay, has departed babbling to his rest.
We know all of Washington we will ever know; there are no more documents to present, no partisan witnesses to examine, no prejudices to remove. His purity of purpose stands unimpeached; his steadfast earnestness and sterling honesty are our priceless examples.
We love the man.
We call him Father.
I will speak ill of no man, not even in matter of truth; but rather excuse the faults I hear charged upon others, and upon proper occasion speak all the good I know of everybody. —Franklin’s Journal
[Illustration: Benjamin Franklin]
Benjamin Franklin was twelve years old. He was large and strong and fat and good-natured, and had a full-moon face and red cheeks that made him look like a country bumpkin. He was born in Boston within twenty yards of the church called “Old South,” but the Franklins now lived at the corner of Congress and Hanover Streets, where to this day there swings in the breeze a gilded ball, and on it the legend, “Josiah Franklin, Soap-Boiler.”
Benjamin was the fifteenth child in the family; and several having grown to maturity and flown, there were thirteen at the table when little Ben first sat in the high chair. But the Franklins were not superstitious, and if little Ben ever prayed that another would be born, just for luck, we know nothing of it. His mother loved him very much and indulged him in many ways, for he was always her baby boy, but the father thought that because he was good-natured he was also lazy and should be disciplined.