Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
Reputation: Model of the self-made man
For Openers: Though Franklin makes clear his belief in God, his belief in rationalism, science, and self-fashioning (self-reliance) in his Autobiography seems to depart from the Puritan/Christian beliefs established during the Colonial period, as evident in his
- Synthesis of new ideas of rationalism and old beliefs of Puritanism
- Shift from emphasis on dogma and theism to humanitarianism, tolerance, and reason
- Devotion to the ideals of reason, this-worldliness, success, and philosophy of accommodation
- Devotion to self-fashioning/perfection of human
- Movement away from faith in providence toward a belief in the efficacy of self-reliance
- Quest for exemplary citizenship and moral perfection in which the condition of the soul plays little or no significant part
- Practical view of life that seems to be secular or deistic in nature
- Refusal to use the word sin, but instead using the word “erratum” to describe moral failings.
Autobiography: Brief Outline
Part 1: Written in 1771; the most personal
- Begins with statement of intention and guide to life for his 40yr old son.
Note: this is a mask or personae or pose which he rather uses indirectly to offer advice to readers.
- Family tree
- Young life: childhood mistakes and accomplishments
- Colonial schooling and the self-educated individual: studious, hardworking, and independent minded youth
- Age10 : helped dad in shop
- Age 12 : apprenticed to older brother James (developed ambition to read and write)
- 1721: Established The New England Courant; anonymously wrote “Silence Dogood”
- 1722: Brother jailed and forbidden to “print or publish”; Franklin became printer and publisher
- Age 17: left home, went to Philadelphia, encountered some false starts, but nevertheless made his way up
- Age 20: formed the Junto
- Married Miss Deborah Read (Note: Love, marriage, Dowry, and businesslike approach to marriage)
- Embarks on first act of community betterment: founding of a public library
- Begins with a discussion of library project
- Focuses on way to moral perfection; expounds 13 virtues of his self-improvement course:
Temperance Silence Order Resolution Frugality
Industry Sincerity Justice Moderation Cleanliness
Tranquility Chastity Humility
Part 3: Largest of 4 sections
- Concerns public activities and Philadelphia political concerns
- Charts his rise and success as a printer and local politician
- Involvement in Indian and French war
- Participation in Penn family versus Philadelphia assembly debate
- Involvement with scientific experiments, inventions, and international societies
- Diplomatic mission to England
- Mission successful, Autobiography ends.
Major literary influences
Classics, Addison, Locke, Swift, Bunyan, and Defoe
Concluding Thoughts and Questions
What factors contributed to Franklin’s success in public life
- Involvement in projects: police force, volunteer fire company, an academy and college, hospital for the poor, paving streets etc.
- Involvement in public affairs
- Use of plain style, the language of common people
- Shared common people’s practical philosophy of life
- Advocated down to earth get-ahead-in-life virtues
- Discovery that it was useful to be educated and to have friends
- Membership in clubs: Junto, American scientific society, American philosophical society, etc.
- Application of common sense in the brave new world of opportunity
- Appeal as guide to morality and success
- Advocated way to wealth practices:
practice of industry
paying attention to business
What factors contributed to Franklin’s success as a writer
- Skillful use of plain style
- Effective use of art of persuasion
- Clarity and precision
- Logical step-by-step development of points
- Use of humor, wit, and clever satire
- Humane in his treatment of others
- Use of worldly wisdom
Discuss factors that made Franklin the ideal American Statesman
- Public life
- Career as man of letters
- Mastery of the human touch
Discuss the Autobiography as a morality tale with Franklin as the hero, overcoming obstacles in life.
Explain how Autobiography is an example of the rag-to-riches literature that offered an optimistic American ideal.
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