When we found out we were moving to Philadelphia, I thought it might not be a bad idea to learn a little bit more about Ben Franklin, who figures prominently not only in our nation’s history, but also in the development of the city we now call home. Several months later (I had other reading on my list as well), I have finally finished the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (available free for Kindle here).
It’s maybe not my favorite book ever, but was certainly an interesting read – I would particularly recommend it for anyone living in Philadelphia. Franklin led an impressive life: his reflections on the culture, politics, and religion of his day were fascinating; his drive to get things done (establishing a library, and an “academy” (UPenn), among other local initiatives) were inspiring; his self-importance a bit grating but mostly humorous.
Here is a fantastic example of Franklin’s wit (you may have to squint, but the last few lines through the signature are what I love):
You and I were long friends….
Source: Library of Congress
The volume ends before the Revolutionary War; I’m now interested to learn more about his later life and involvement in the Revolution (The Americanization of Ben Franklin has been recommended).
I’ll leave you with a few of Franklin’s observations:
“…in my first voyage from Boston, being becalm’d off Block Island, our people set about catching cod, and hauled up a great many. Hitherto, I had stuck to my resolution of not eating animal food, and on this occasion consider’d, with my master Tryon, the taking every fish as a kind of unprovoked murder, since none of them had, or ever could do us any injury that might justify the slaughter. All this seemed very reasonable. But I had formerly been a great lover of fish, and, when this came hot out of the frying-pan, it smelt admirably well. I balanc’d some time between principle and inclination, till I recollected that, when the fish were opened, I saw smaller fish taken out of their stomachs; then thought I, ‘If you eat one another, I don’t see why we mayn’t eat you.’ So I din’d upon cod very heartily, and continued to eat with other people, returning only now and then occasionally to a vegetable diet. So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.”
“Thomas Godfrey, a self-taught mathematician…knew little out of his way, and was not a pleasing companion; as, like most great mathematicians I have met with, he expected universal precision in everything said, or was for ever denying or distinguishing upon trifles, to the disturbance of all conversation.”
On marital bliss:
“We have an English proverb that says, ‘He that would thrive, must ask his wife’.”
On increasing church attendance:
“We had for our chaplain a zealous Presbyterian minister, Mr. Beatty, who complained to me that the men did not generally attend his prayers and exhortations. When they enlisted, they were promised, besides pay and provisions, a gill* of rum a day, which was punctually serv’d out to them, half in the morning and the other half in the evening; and I observ’d they were as punctual in attending to receive it; upon which I said to Mr. Beatty, ‘It is, perhaps, below the dignity of your profession to act as steward of the rum, but if you were to deal it out and only just after prayers, you would have them all about you.’ He liked the tho’t, undertook the office, and, with the help of a few hands to measure out the liquor, executed it to satisfaction, and never were prayers more generally and punctually attended.”