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Book Review: Benjamin Franklin The Autobiography and Other Writings

Benjamin Franklin The Autobiography and Other Writings begins with the autobiography portion which Franklin has addressed to his son. Franklin writes, “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.” The choppy autobiography may lack the tidbits concerning his relationships with other founding fathers which some will unquestionably find essential to his story, but we should be grateful for the in-depth accounting of his rise out of Boston to his settlement in Philadelphia.

Among the numerous groups with whom Franklin associated, we are told of the discussions which made up some of the groups’ time. When a friend, Ralph, displayed an interest in poetry, another friend, Osborne, tells Ralph “no way.” Franklin writes, “Osborne dissuaded him, assured him he had no genius for poetry, and advised him to think of nothing beyond the business he was bred to; that, in the mercantile way, though he had no stock, he might, by his diligence and punctuality, recommend himself to employment as a factor (A business agent), and in time acquire wherewith to trade on his own account.”

Franklin’s private club, Junto, met to discuss numerous affairs concerning society. When the argument about the distribution of more paper money arose, Franklin tells his opinion of the situation: “We had discussed this point in our Junto where I was on the side of an addition, being persuaded that the first small sum struck in 1723 had done much good by increasing the trade, employment, and number of inhabitants in the province, since I now saw all the old houses inhabited, and many new ones building;…” Franklin was a social giant whose opinion rarely went unexpressed.

One topic Franklin divulges his thoughts on is the teaching of language in his lifetime. He seemed to think it foolish to begin teaching Latin first, since it is the most difficult language. He wrote, “But certainly, if you begin with the lowest you will with more ease ascend to the top;….”

When the British government sent troops over to the colonies, they landed in Virginia and Maryland. On this subject, Franklin wrote, “I happened to say I thought it was pity they had not been landed rather in Pennsylvania, as in that country almost every farmer had his wagon.” Again, Franklin asserting his opinion and seeing his thoughts taken seriously and thus utilized.

In the autobiography, Franklin writes a lot about political figures, his association with them, and his, and the other citizens’ reactions to them. Concerning the passage of an act, Franklin writes, “But the proprietaries were enraged at Governor Denny for having passed the act, and turned him out with threats of suing him for breach of instructions which he had given bond to observe.”

Among Franklin’s concerns during 1751 was the increase of mankind and the peopling of countries. Franklin asks, “Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a colony of aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us, instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our language or customs any more than they can acquire our complexion?” He was a huge supporter of Pennsylvania, though perhaps a surprise to some, he was born in New England.

I don’t like when people use phrases such as “must-read”. I feel those terms are very exaggerated, but Benjamin Franklin The Autobiography and Other Writings, though not a must-read, is a great book for history buffs and those looking for inspiration. His scientific and societal contributions are largely unmatched.