Franklin, Benjamin. (1706 - 1790).
L i f e a n d W o r k
- a printer, publisher, journalist, essayist, philosopher, merchant, scientist, educator, inventor (Franklin stove, lighting rod, etc.), politician, and diplomat
- born in Boston, apprenticed to his half-brother James in his printing shop
>> Philadelphia: worked in Samuel Keimer’s small and ill-equipped printing shop
>> London: employed in a famous London printing house
>> Philadelphia: worked as a merchant’s clerk and with Keimer again
- developed a systematic schedule of work and self-improvement: his 13 virtues more secular than the 10 Commandments
- purchased a newspaper, opened a stationer’s shop, and established the first circulating public library
- became the deputy postmaster general, organised the American Philosophical Society, and initiated the establishment of the University of Pennsylvania
- established a magazine:
Poor Richard's Almanach (1732):
= a magazine mixing poetic snippets, weather predictions, recipes, medical advice, proverbs, folk wisdom, and moral anecdotes
- established the ‘Junto’: a club for mutual improvement to ‘be serviceable to mankind’
- promoted the colonial independence, co-authored Thomas Jefferson’s “Declaration of Independence” (1776)
>> London: elected to the Royal Society of London, became an agent for the Province of Pennsylvania, and represented the colonies before the House of Commons
>> France: received a diplomatic post
>> Philadelphia: president of the Pennsylvanian Society for the Abolition of Slavery, delegate to the Constitutional Convention (1788)
- also concerned with electricity, magnetism, and others: Experiments and Observations on Electricity (1749), Maritime Observations (1786), Observations on the Causes and Cure of Smoky Chimneys (1787)
The Way to Wealth (1757):
= a best-selling essay describing the way to getting and keeping money by frugality and industry
The Autobiography (published complete first in 1868):
- Part 1: addressed to his son William, ends with his marriage to Deborah Reed
- Part 2: concentrated on his public career and devices to ensure success and happiness
- Part 3: brief, Part 4: remains unfinished
- neither a chronological nor a strictly accurate report, calls it ‘rambling digressions’ himself x but: a conduct book
- opening: an ordinary autobiography, amiable and unserious in tone, as if amused in retrospect x conclusion: a story of success, a model tale for other people to serve as a manual of a successful man
=> the origin of the American dream about a self-made man
(Portrait: Joseph Siffred Duplessis. 1783. Source: Wikimedia Commons).
AuthorBenjamin Franklin. (1706 - 1790). American.
WorkWriter. Publisher. Inventor. Politician. The first American self-made man.
GenresDidactic prose. Scientific writing.
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"Having emerged from the poverty and obscurity in which I was born and bred, to a state of affluence and some degree of reputation in the world, and having gone so far through life with a considerable share of felicity, the conducing means I made use of, which with the blessing of God so well succeeded, my posterity may like to know, as they may find some of them suitable to their own situations, and therefore fit to be imitated".
From The Autobiography (1868).