In relating this incident of my youth, I propose to identify a pivotal point in my career. It is on account of a certain tutor that I was prevailed with to abandon a destructive path and undertake the more honorable path of school master. His closeness with my father, and the abruptness with which he entered my life at an evidently crucial stage, led me to cultivate a respect for him that radiated in the direction of others components of my life. Harris had been appointed to his position at the school at the behest of my father, whose influence with the school board had always rendered them ineffective in their dealings with me.
Harris was, however, a friend of my fathers, and he had spent with our family the week preceding the school’s opening for the new school year. My father dealt strangely with my temper by somehow altering my intentions and making them honorable. Mr. Harris had apparently observed my father’s tactics. With this new teacher I was wont to be especially careful for he had been privy to my father’s subtle ways of handling my tempers and was in an excellent position to alter the pecking order of the classroom.
No other teacher had succeeded in clipping my wings, which I often extended to its fullest span without regard for any student or authority figure that purported to exert influence over me. Mr. Harris had the stature of a well-built man who was lacking only in height. His facial bones set harsh contours upon his face, and this harshness lent an element of intolerance to his whole air. He recognized me directly, and recognition mingled with resolve that hardened his stare. Yet he was also perfectly suited to his profession.
He was intelligent: astute with figures and ingenious with language; he sang well, which made it difficult to make fun of him in music class; and he wore confidence like a revered monarch. In all this he was affable, gaining a place in the heart of the students he taught, and somehow sidestepping my initial resolve to oppose him and edging his way into my good graces. It happened on the eve of a fight. The word had been passed around the school grounds and the atmosphere was buzzing with anticipation.
On this particular night, the new teacher visited my house under the pretence of seeing his old friend, my father. After the obligatory chat with him, he found me in the rear of the property a few chains behind the stables. He began to regale me with exploits that he undertook as a member of the 16th Regiment of the nation’s infantry. He had escalated up the ranks owing to his uncanny ability to locate and exploit the weaknesses of his opponents. His offer to demonstrate on me met with untold arrogance on my part—one that was swiftly humbled as I found myself flat on my back with one of his maneuvers.
No one had ever been able to tackle me before, and I desperately wanted to learn his secrets. He exacted a promise of me—one I was reluctant but compelled to make. He told me to postpone all decisions to enter into any altercations with students or other persons until he had taught me all he knew about his art of fighting. I agreed. The lesson took years to complete, and with the physical maneuvers he intertwined moral and ethical lessons that were to shape my character and mold me into the person I am today.
In this narrative I tried to imitate formality of Benjamin Franklin’s language. If I thought of an every day phrase, I tried to reword it so that it would have more of an air of formality. The diction Benjamin Franklin uses is also connected to formality. Choosing among the different ways of saying things, I was able to imitate a version of the English language that made the narrator appear to be from a different, older time. I also tried to imitate Franklin in his description, imagery, and use of figurative language.
In this one sentence, “He had an excellent constitution of body, was of middle stature, but well set, and very strong; he was ingenious, could draw prettily, was skilled a little in music) describes all aspects of the personality in one fell swoop” (Franklin, 6), he describes several dimensions of the person’s personality. I tried to do that too in my initial description of the teacher Mr. Harris.
Franklin, Benjamin. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. New York: Touchstone, 2004.