Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

By Benjamin Franklin

Page 9

and
Goldsmith's _Vicar of Wakefield_. Gibbon wrote _The Decline and Fall
of the Roman Empire_, Hume his _History of England_, and Adam Smith
the _Wealth of Nations_.

In the simplicity and vigor of his style Franklin more nearly
resembles the earlier group of writers. In his first essays he was not
an inferior imitator of Addison. In his numerous parables, moral
allegories, and apologues he showed Bunyan's influence. But Franklin
was essentially a journalist. In his swift, terse style, he is most
like Defoe, who was the first great English journalist and master of
the newspaper narrative. The style of both writers is marked by
homely, vigorous expression, satire, burlesque, repartee. Here the
comparison must end. Defoe and his contemporaries were authors. Their
vocation was writing and their success rests on the imaginative or
creative power they displayed. To authorship Franklin laid no claim.
He wrote no work of the imagination. He developed only incidentally a
style in many respects as remarkable as that of his English
contemporaries. He wrote the best autobiography in existence, one of
the most widely known collections of maxims, and an unsurpassed series
of political and social satires, because he was a man of unusual scope
of power and usefulness, who knew how to tell his fellow-men the
secrets of that power and that usefulness.


The Story of the Autobiography

The account of how Franklin's _Autobiography_ came to be written and
of the adventures of the original manuscript forms in itself an
interesting story. The _Autobiography_ is Franklin's longest work,
and yet it is only a fragment. The first part, written as a letter to
his son, William Franklin, was not intended for publication; and the
composition is more informal and the narrative more personal than in
the second part, from 1730 on, which was written with a view to
publication. The entire manuscript shows little evidence of revision.
In fact, the expression is so homely and natural that his grandson,
William Temple Franklin, in editing the work changed some of the
phrases because he thought them inelegant and vulgar.

Franklin began the story of his life while on a visit to his friend,
Bishop Shipley, at Twyford, in Hampshire, southern England, in 1771.
He took the manuscript, completed to 1731, with him when he returned
to Philadelphia in 1775. It was left there with his other papers when
he went to France in the following year, and disappeared during the
confusion incident to the Revolution. Twenty-three pages of closely
written manuscript fell into the hands of Abel James, an old friend,
who sent a copy to Franklin at Passy, near Paris, urging him to
complete the

Last Page Next Page

Text Comparison with The Complete Works in Philosophy, Politics and Morals of the late Dr. Benjamin Franklin, Vol. 1 [of 3]

Page 23
This was a new fund for the purchase of books; and other advantages resulted to me from the plan.
Page 29
At the moment that he was sinking, I seized him by the fore-top, saved him, and drew him on board.
Page 48
Basket the king's printer, and another to a stationer, who was the first person I called upon.
Page 54
The early hours I kept, and the little trouble I occasioned in the family, made her loth to part with me; and when I mentioned another lodging I had found, nearer the printing-house, at two shillings a week, which fell in with my plan of saving, she persuaded me to give it up, making herself an abatement of two shillings: and thus I continued to lodge with her, during the remainder of my abode in London, at eighteen pence a week.
Page 98
A detachment of their men marched against him.
Page 121
_Philadelphia, July 11, 1747.
Page 137
is not the worse.
Page 138
Two small hemispheres of wood are then fixed with cement to the middle of the upper and under sides, centrally opposite, and in each of them a thick strong wire eight or ten inches long, which together make the axis of the wheel.
Page 153
We know that the electrical fluid is _in_ common matter, because we can pump it _out_ by the globe or tube.
Page 176
_ The terms electric _per se_, and non-electric, were first used to distinguish bodies, on a mistaken supposition that those called electrics _per se_, alone contained electric matter in their substance, which was capable of being excited by friction, and of being produced or drawn from them, and communicated to those called non-electrics, supposed to be destitute of it: for the glass, &c.
Page 185
2.
Page 211
When they were thus placed, I applied the other end of my rod to the prime conductor, and they all dropped together.
Page 212
I find a frank acknowledgment of one's ignorance is not only the easiest way to get rid of a difficulty, but the likeliest way to obtain information, and therefore I practise it: I think it an honest policy.
Page 214
It does not appear to me that Pere Beccaria doubts of the _absolute impermeability of glass_ in the sense I meant it; for the instances he gives of holes made through glass by the electric stroke are such as we have all experienced, and only show that the electric fluid could not pass without making a hole.
Page 253
We learn from hence, that a rod in one continued piece is preferable to one composed of links or parts hooked together.
Page 286
_In Answer to some Queries concerning the Choice of Glass for the Leyden Experiment.
Page 299
It is diverting to see.
Page 312
541.
Page 318
310, 311.
Page 336
_Smoky_ chimnies, observation on the causes and cure of, ii.