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BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, L. L. D.
President of the American Philosophical Society, Fellow of the Royal Society of London, Member of the Royal Academy of Sciences at Paris, of the lioyal Society at Gottingen, the Bataviau Society inHolland, and of many other Literary Societies in F.uropc and America; late Minister Plenipotentiary for the United States of America at the Court of Paris, sometime President, and for more than half a century a revered citizen, of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
DELIVERED MARCH 1, 1791,
GERMAN LUTHERAN CHURCH
OF THE CITY OF PHILADELPHIA,
THE AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY,
AGREEABLY TO THEIR APPOINTMENT.
This Solemnity Was Also Honoured With The Presence Of The President, Senate, And House Of Representatives Of The United States Of America, I He Senate And House Of Representatives Of T He Commonwealth Of Pennsylvania, The Corporation, And Most Of The Public Bodies, As Well As Respectable Private Citizens, Of Philadelphia.
CITIZENS OF PENNSYLVANIA! LUMINARIES OF SCIENCE! ASSEMBLED FATHERS OF AMERICA!
Xl EARD you not that solemn interrogatory?
Who is He that now recedes from his labours among you?
What citizen, super-eminent in council, do you now deplore?
What luminary, what splendid sun of science, from the hallowed walks of philosophy, now withdraws his beams?
What father of his country, what hero, what statesman, what law-giver, is now extinguished from your political hemisphere; and invites the mournful obsequies?
Is it He—your Franklin?—It cannot be!— Long since, full of years, and full of honours, hath he submitted to the inexorable call, and proceeded on his fated journey*. From west to east, by land and on the wide ocean, to the utmost extent of the civilized globe, the tale hath been told—That the vene
• He died April 17, 1790.
rable sage of Pennsylvania, the patriot and patriarch of America, is no more. With the plaudits of the wise and good; with the eulogies of whole* nations and communities, he hath received his dismission, and obtained the award of glory—" As a citizen, "whose genius was not more an ornament to human "nature, than his various exertions of it have been "precious to science, to freedom, and to his coun"tryf."
What new occasion, then, (methinks I hear it inquired) invites the present solemnity, and convenes this illustrious assembly of citizens, philosophers, patriots, and law-givers? Must it be said in answer, "That, after the name of Franklin hath been consecrated to deathless fame in the most distant countries, the American Philosophical Society are now, for the first time, assembled, to pay the tribute of public homage, so long due to the memory and the manes of their beloved founder and head?
On me! on me, I fear, must the blame of this delay, in some degree, fall! On me, perhaps, a much greater blame will fall, than of a delay, rendered unavoidable, on my part, by some mournful familycircumstances—I mean the blame of having attempted a duty, which might have been better discharged by other members of this society, and at the time first proposed.
• See the Eulogiums of the Abbe Fauciet and M. de la Rochefoucault, before the deputies of the national assembly of France and the municipality of Paris.
•f See Mr. Madison's motion, and the act of the representatives of the United States of America in congress, for wearing the customary badge of mourning, for one month, on occasion of his death.
Yet I know not whether this delay is to be accounted inauspicious to the subject before us. There are some phenomena so luminous, that they dazzle and dim the sight, at too near an approach; some structures so grand, that they can be beheld with advantage, only at a distance; some characters so interesting, that they can be duly appreciated, only bv time.
The truth of this remark hath been feelingly acknowledged, and finely described, by the celebrated Pericles, in his anniversary commemoration of the Athenians slain in battle.
"It is difficult," says he, "to handle a subject judiciously, where even probable truth will hardly gain assent. When the debt of public gratitude is to be paid to the memory of those, in whom whole communities have been interested, their nearest relatives, those who have borne a share in their illustrious actions, enlightened by an intimate acquaintance with their worth, warm in their grief and warm in their affections and praise, may quickly pronounce every eulogium to be unfavourably expressed, in respect to what they wish to be said, and what they know to be the truth; while the stranger pronounceth all to be exaggerated, through envy of those deeds, which, he is conscious, are above his own achievement:" For men endure with patience the praise of those actions only, in their cotemporaries, which their self-love represents as within their own reach. But time mellows a character into true relish, and ripens it into venerable beauty. The public, indeed, may sometimes too hastily bestow, and may likewise too long withhold, the tribute of applause due to merit; but, in the latter case, will always make full amends, and decide at length with solidity of judgment, assigning to every worthy his true place in the temple of fame.
It seldom happens, however, that they who are first called to give celebrity to the actions of great men, are placed in that exact situation, either in respect to time or point of view, which may enable them to delineate a whole character, in all its proportions and beauty. This is a work, of all others, the most difficult in the performance; nor is the difficulty lessened by the acknowledged lustre and eminence of the character in view. And from hence it hath happened, perhaps, that, in eulogy and penegyric, but few of the moderns, and not many of the ancients, have been successful. While they have been striving to weave the garlands of others, their own laurels have withered and dropt from their brow!
Yet, neither the risque of character, nor the difficulties of the subject, ought to deter us from attempting, at least, to pay the honours due to transcendent merit. The inimitable Longinns furnishes our excuse
"In great attempts, 'tis glorious even to fail"—
The desire of fame and posthumous glory, " grasping at ages to come," as it bespeaks the native dignity of the soul of man, and anticipates his existence in another world, is also the most powerful incentive to moral excellence in this world. It is for the interest of mankind that so divine a passion should be culti