But that knowledge ought not to be confined to them. He was the fifth and youngest son and the ninth child of a patriarchal family of twelve.
The character of such men as Franklin is, in truth, as much a national possession as their fame and work. The second and third of his four elder brothers (the fourth died in infancy) rose, like himself, to distinction in the public service.
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are written so large across the map of the Arctic Ocean and its coasts; the circumstances of his tragic end have rendered his name and achievements familiar to so many Englishmen not otherwise specially conversant with the subject of Polar exploration; the story of his voyages and discoveries has so often been related as a part of the general history of English adventure, that the appearance of this biography, nearly half a century after his death, may seem to require a few explanatory words. The family tradition, at any rate, is, that John Franklin, the grandfather of the explorer, following paternal example, so greatly reduced the ancestral patrimony as to leave little more at his death than 'a moderate subsistence for his widow'; and, forced to rebuild their fortunes, the Franklins passed, as many a good English house has done before and since, from the ranks of the country gentry into those of trade.
It has been felt by his surviving relatives, as it was felt by his devoted wife and widow, that to the records, ample and appreciative as many of them have been, of the career of the explorer there needed the addition of some personal memoir of the man. John Franklin's widow, 'a woman', writes one of her descendants, 'of masculine capacity and great resolution of character', rose to the occasion.
What Franklin did may be sufficiently well known to his countrymen already. She apprenticed her eldest son Willingham to a grocer and draper in Lincoln, and as soon as he was out of his indentures removed with him to the market town of Spilsby, where she opened a little shop, and, 'not content with acting as housekeeper for her son, superintended the business in every department which admitted of female supervision with the utmost activity and success.' Thanks to her assistance and to his own energy, Willingham prospered in his trade, added to it in due time a banking business, married the daughter of a substantial farmer in 1773, and, six years later, had accumulated sufficient capital to acquire the freehold of his house and shop in the town, and to purchase a small property a few miles off as a place of retreat for his old age.
What he was—how kindly and affectionate, how modest and magnanimous, how loyal in his friendships, how faithful in his allegiance to duty, how deeply and unaffectedly religious—has never been and never could be known to any but his intimates. It was in the house at Spilsby, on April 15, 1786, that John Franklin first saw the light.