There is no department of literature more fascinating to the general reader than biography. When a well-known character himself relates the story of his life, the interest is greatly increased. But when through his correspondence we obtain unpremeditated glimpses of his heart or the development of his career, we reach a mine that yields profit not only of interest, but sometimes of incalculable historic value. The exigencies of the rapid life of this century are rendering these sources of historic record more and more rare. Johnson said, “We travel no more; we only arrive at places.” Thus we of the nineteenth century may say in turn. “We correspond no more; we only telegraph.”
It is therefore a matter of growing importance to preserve the correspondence of the men of past ages, and to welcome heartily every newly discovered addition to a class of historic and intellectual wealth that erelong will reach the limit of accretion. Among great representative Americans, no one has left behind him so voluminous a correspondence as Benjamin Franklin. This is doubtless due in part to his methodical habits and thorough mastery of his powers, and in part, most likely, to the fact that during his long and busy career he followed with success a number of entirely distinct pursuits, each of which brought him into relations with a separate class of the world’s workers. But voluminous as are the epistolary remains of Franklin, they are yet of such value and importance that his countrymen are eve ready to welcome additions to these inestimable biographical archives, whereby to increase our knowledge of one of the most extraordinary men America has produced. Naturally, the supply is drawing near its final limit; there was indeed reason to conclude that this limit had already been reached when a group of letters, in Franklin’s own hand, recently came to light in England. These letters were long kept in the family of Mr. Strahan, and for some unexplained reason were finally placed in the hands of a London bookseller, for sale. They were shown immediately after that to an American gentleman, who purchased them and brought them to this country last summer. What adds to the value and interest of this “find” is the fact that these letters represent a very large portion of the correspondence of Franklin with his friend William Strahan. As both were printers and booksellers, these relics of Franklin give us very interesting glimpses at the condition of letters and the practice of the art of printing in the American Plantations at that period.