Benjamin Franklin Representative selections, with introduction, bibliograpy, and notes

By Benjamin Franklin

Page 43

men of science may have helped to motivate Franklin's
prose style, and to what degree his acceptance of deism augmented by
Newtonianism may have furnished him with a rationale which lent sanction
to his demand for a simple style.

Sir Humphrey Davy found in Franklin's scientific papers a language lucid
and decorous, "almost as worthy of admiration as the doctrine"[i-160]
they contain. S. G. Fisher buoyantly maintained that Franklin's "is the
most effective literary style ever used by an American." After reading
Franklin's paper on stoves he was "inclined to lay down the principle
that the test of literary genius is the ability to be fascinating about
stoves."[i-161] Whether he writes soberly (albeit tempered by Gallic
fancy) of the mutability of life, as in _The Ephemera_, or of
sophisticated social amenities, as in the letters to Madame Brillon and
Madame Helvetius, or in his memoirs, in which solid fact follows solid
fact, sifted by the years of good fortune, Franklin's style never loses
its compelling charm and vigor. If he never wrote (or uttered) less than
was demanded by the nature of his subject, neither would he have
disgusted the Clerk of Oxenford who

Nought o word spak he more than was nede.

He was no formal literary critic such as Boileau, Lessing, or Coleridge,
and no acknowledged arbiter of taste, such as Dr. Johnson. Yet Franklin,
in voluminous practice, enjoying tremendous international vogue, proved
that his theories bore the acid test of effectiveness. Indirectly he
challenged his readers to honor principles of rhetoric which could so
trenchantly serve the demands of his catholic pen, and make him one of
the most widely read of all Americans.


Franklin was a printer chiefly because of two proclivities which were
basic in his personality from childhood to old age--a bent toward
practical mechanics ("handiness") and a fondness for reading
(bookishness). Further, he was a journalist and publisher chiefly
because he was a printer.

A thorough printer is both an artisan and an artist; he has both the
manual dexterity of a good workman and the aesthetic appreciation of the
amateur of beauty. Franklin always took pride in his ability to handle
the printer's tools, from the time when, at the age of twelve, he became
"a useful hand"[i-162] in the print shop of his brother James, until the
very end of his life. One of the pleasantest anecdotes of the old
printer is that which tells of his visit to the famous Didot printing
establishment in Paris, when he stepped up to a press, and motioning the
printer aside, himself took possession

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Text Comparison with The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Page 3
Indeed, I scarce ever heard or saw the introductory words, "Without vanity I may say," &c.
Page 6
The six concluding lines I remember, though I have forgotten the two first of the stanza; but the purport of them was, that his censures proceeded from good-will, and, therefore, he would be known to be the author.
Page 17
The only one before it was the Boston News-Letter.
Page 28
My father received the governor's letter with some apparent surprise, but said little of it to me for some days, when Capt.
Page 29
The sloop putting in at Newport, Rhode Island, I visited my brother John, who had been married and settled there some years.
Page 34
I have since kept several Lents most strictly, leaving the common diet for that, and that for the common, abruptly, without the least inconvenience, so that I think there is little in the advice of making those changes by easy gradations.
Page 38
Denham, a Quaker merchant, and Messrs.
Page 51
I told him his wish was unnecessary, for I would leave him that instant; and so, taking my hat, walk'd out of doors, desiring Meredith, whom I saw below, to take care of some things I left, and.
Page 54
It happened that they wrought an effect on me quite contrary to what was intended by them; for the arguments of the Deists, which were quoted to be refuted, appeared to me much stronger than the refutations; in short, I soon became a thorough Deist.
Page 57
Andrew's in.
Page 58
I perceive that I am apt to speak in the singular number, though our partnership still continu'd; the reason may be that, in fact, the whole management of the business lay upon me.
Page 73
The institution soon manifested its utility, was imitated by other towns, and in other provinces.
Page 82
10 } 11 } NOON.
Page 85
In truth, I found myself incorrigible with respect to Order; and now I am grown old, and my memory bad, I feel very sensibly the want of it.
Page 91
Now, many of our printers make no scruple of gratifying the malice of individuals by false accusations of the fairest characters among ourselves, augmenting animosity even to the producing of duels; and are, moreover, so indiscreet as to print scurrilous reflections on the government of neighboring states, and even on the conduct of our best national allies, which may be attended with the most pernicious consequences.
Page 101
Being among the hindmost in Market-street, I had the curiosity to learn how far he could be heard, by retiring backwards down the street towards the river; and I found his voice distinct till I came near Front-street, when some noise in that street obscur'd it.
Page 106
This Mr.
Page 114
"For," says he, "I am often ask'd by those to whom I propose subscribing, Have you consulted Franklin upon this business? And what does he think of it? And when I tell them that I have not (supposing it rather out of your line), they do not subscribe, but say they will consider of it.
Page 124
Hamilton, grew tir'd of the contest, and quitted the government.
Page 143
Collinson, Fellow of the Royal Society of London, a present of a glass tube, with some account of the use of it in making such experiments.