Booker Washington and Benjamin Franklin
HAS any one pointed out the singular parallel between the recently published autobiography of Booker Washington and the famous autobiography of Franklin ? Some one commented the other day, it is true, upon the similarity between Mr. Washington’s first arrival in Richmond, when he slept under a board sidewalk, and Franklin’s walking the streets of Philadelphia with his rolls of bread under his arm. But the likeness of these two life records of great and useful Americans goes much further than such accidental coincidences.
Both men were born poor and had to make their way against social barriers, though the task of the tallow chandler’s son was as nothing compared with that struggle against race antagonism which has always been the lot of the American negro. Both had boundless patience, tact, self-mastery. Both were shrewd and practical, with feet planted firmly on the ground. Each has magnified the humble virtues of health, prudence, thrift; and Booker Washington’s homely gospel of the bath and the toothbrush has already reached more millions of people than ever endeavored, in our colonial days, to follow the maxims of “ Poor Richard.” Both men have exhibited a rare public spirit, and each has been recognized, in his day and generation, as one of his country’s most distinguished citizens.
Their autobiographies are admirably written : Franklin’s with superior ease, fluency, unction; Washington’s with more naïiveté, candor, warmth. Franklin’s has long been a classic. We think it not unlikely that the story of Booker Washington’s life will also become a classic ; but whether it does or not, it has already proved itself something better than another classic, namely, an inspiration to an unfortunate race, — a book that by an irresistible compulsion teaches youth to live cleanly, to work honestly, to love one’s neighbor, and to have that long patience which is another name for faith.