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Old 03-20-2011, 12:55 PM   #1
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Discussion: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Hi All... wow... time flies. Let's talk about the man, the myth the... wait... that might be someone else.

BOb
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Old 03-20-2011, 04:08 PM   #2
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So I'm the first?

My first comment concerns the scope of this “autobiography.” Anyone expecting a complete biography of Franklin will be disappointed. A more appropriate title might have been “How I Became the Man I Am,” as the book is pretty much limited to his youth and young manhood during which he becomes a successful printer. There is basically no mention of his years from the time of the American Revolution and on.

That said I found the work very informative in what it reveals about Franklin as a man of his time. He reveals him self to be the prototype of the sort of man who formed the American Republic, a man of the Enlightenment who sees one of the primary purposes of a successful man to work to better society. The sort of Puritan ethic is also revealed in him in his proposal that he achieve moral perfection and that by making a list of the characters of the perfectly moral man and one by one achieving each item on the list.

I will put my other comments in spoiler tags both for not revealing to much to those who have not yet read this and to keep this post at reasonable length.

Spoiler:
Franklin on religion (from Chapter VIII):

“I had been religiously educated as a Presbyterian; and though some of the dogmas of that persuasion, such as the eternal decrees of God, election, reprobation, etc., appeared to me unintelligible, others doubtful, and I early absented myself from the public assemblies of the sect, Sunday being my studying day, I never was without some religious principles. I never doubted, for instance, the existence of the Deity; that he made the world, and govern'd it by his Providence; that the most acceptable service of God was the doing good to man; that our souls are immortal; and that all crime will be punished, and virtue rewarded, either here or hereafter. These I esteem'd the essentials of every religion; and, being to be found in all the religions we had in our country, I respected them all, tho' with different degrees of respect, as I found them more or less mix'd with other articles, which, without any tendency to inspire, promote, or confirm morality, serv'd principally to divide us, and make us unfriendly to one another. This respect to all, with an opinion that the worst had some good effects, induc'd me to avoid all discourse that might tend to lessen the good opinion another might have of his own religion; and as our province increas'd in people, and new places of worship were continually wanted, and generally erected by voluntary contribution, my mite for such purpose, whatever might be the sect, was never refused.”

Franklin reveals himself to be a deist like so many of the 'Founding Fathers” but does not subscribe to any sect, or even to just Christianity, and definitely not dogmatic or fundamentalist.


Spoiler:
Franklin on achieving moral perfection (from Chapter IX):

“T was about this time I conceived the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wish'd to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into. As I knew, or thought I knew, what was right and wrong, I did not see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other. But I soon found I had undertaken a task of more difficulty than I had imagined.[66] While my care was employ'd in guarding against one fault, I was often surprised by another; habit took the advantage of inattention; inclination was sometimes too strong for reason. I concluded, at length, that the mere speculative conviction that it was our interest to be completely virtuous, was not sufficient to prevent our slipping; and that the contrary habits must be broken, and good ones acquired and established, before we can have any dependence on a steady, uniform rectitude of conduct. For this purpose I therefore contrived the following method. . . .

. . . then suggesting to me that such extream nicety as I exacted of myself might be a kind of foppery in morals, which, if it were known, would make me ridiculous; that a perfect character might be attended with the inconvenience of being envied and hated; and that a benevolent man should allow a few faults in himself, to keep his friends in countenance.”

How like a Puritan to set a goal of moral perfection. Also how like Franklin to come to the realization of the impossibility and his acknowledging anyone who who claimed to have achieved this would thought a prig.


Spoiler:
Franklin on freedom of the press and responsibility of the press (from Chapter IX):

“In the conduct of my newspaper, I carefully excluded all libeling and personal abuse, which is of late years become so disgraceful to our country. Whenever I was solicited to insert anything of that kind, and the writers pleaded, as they generally did, the liberty of the press, and that a newspaper was like a stage-coach, in which anyone who would pay had a right to a place, my answer was, that I would print the piece separately if desired, and the author might have as many copies as he pleased to distribute himself, but that I would not take upon me to spread his detraction; and that, having contracted with my subscribers to furnish them with what might be either useful or entertaining, I could not fill their papers with private altercation, in which they had no concern, without doing them manifest injustice. 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. These things I mention as a caution to young printers, and that they may be encouraged not to pollute their presses and disgrace their profession by such infamous practices, but refuse steadily, as they may see by my example that such a course of conduct will not, on the whole, be injurious to their interests.”

If only current news outlets like FOX News would adhere.


Spoiler:
Franklin on the role of women in society and education of women (from Chapter X):

“In 1733 I sent one of my journeymen to Charleston, South Carolina, where a printer was wanting. I furnish'd him with a press and letters, on an agreement of partnership, by which I was to receive one-third of the profits of the business, paying one-third of the expense. He was a man of learning, and honest but ignorant in matters of account; and, tho' he sometimes made me remittances, I could get no account from him, nor any satisfactory state of our partnership while he lived. On his decease, the business was continued by his widow, who, being born and bred in Holland, where, as I have been inform'd, the knowledge of accounts makes a part of female education, she not only sent me as clear a state as she could find of the transactions past, but continued to account with the greatest regularity and exactness every quarter afterwards, and managed the business with such success, that she not only brought up reputably a family of children, but, at the expiration of the term, was able to purchase of me the printing-house, and establish her son in it.

I mention this affair chiefly for the sake of recommending that branch of education for our young females, as likely to be of more use to them and their children, in case of widowhood, than either music or dancing, by preserving them from losses by imposition of crafty men, and enabling them to continue, perhaps, a profitable mercantile house, with establish'd correspondence, till a son is grown up fit to undertake and go on with it, to the lasting advantage and enriching of the family.”

Very enlightened for his time?


Spoiler:

Franklin on the benefits of childhood innoculations (from Chapter X):

“In 1736 I lost one of my sons, a fine boy of four years old, by the small-pox, taken in the common way. I long regretted bitterly, and still regret that I had not given it to him by inoculation. This I mention for the sake of parents who omit that operation, on the supposition that they should never forgive themselves if a child died under it; my example showing that the regret may be the same either way, and that, therefore, the safer should be chosen.”


Spoiler:
Franklin favors progressive taxation (from Chapter XI):

“BEGAN now to turn my thoughts a little to public affairs, beginning, however, with small matters. The city watch was one of the first things that I conceiv'd to want regulation. It was managed by the constables of the respective wards in turn; the constable warned a number of housekeepers to attend him for the night. Those who chose never to attend, paid him six shillings a year to be excus'd, which was suppos'd to be for hiring substitutes, but was, in reality, much more than was necessary for that purpose, and made the constableship a place of profit; and the constable, for a little drink, often got such ragamuffins about him as a watch, that respectable housekeepers did not choose to mix with. Walking the rounds, too, was often neglected, and most of the nights spent in tippling. I thereupon wrote a paper to be read in Junto, representing these irregularities, but insisting more particularly on the inequality of this six-shilling tax of the constables, respecting the circumstances of those who paid it, since a poor widow housekeeper, all whose property to be guarded by the watch did not perhaps exceed the value of fifty pounds, paid as much as the wealthiest merchant, who had thousands of pounds' worth of goods in his stores.”


Spoiler:
Franklin on freedom of religion and separation of government and religion (from Chapter XI):

“And it being found inconvenient to assemble in the open air, subject to its inclemencies, the building of a house to meet in was no sooner propos'd, and persons appointed to receive contributions, but sufficient sums were soon receiv'd to procure the ground and erect the building, which was one hundred feet long and seventy broad, about the size of Westminster Hall;[80] and the work was carried on with such spirit as to be finished in a much shorter time than could have been expected. Both house and ground were vested in trustees, expressly for the use of any preacher of any religious persuasion who might desire to say something to the people at Philadelphia; the design in building not being to accommodate any particular sect, but the inhabitants in general; so that even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.”
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Old 03-21-2011, 08:50 AM   #3
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I first read Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson and now have completed the autobiography. It seems like both books talked about two different people. But Ben did not really become interesting until after his wife died and he moved to France. He really liked the ladies.

One thing for sure; both books showed him to be a free thinker. I wonder what he would do with the information access of the internet today?
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Old 03-22-2011, 04:10 PM   #4
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One thing for sure; both books showed him to be a free thinker. I wonder what he would do with the information access of the internet today?
As a printer and lover of truth, he certainly would have had a lot to say about the access we now have to books & information, and the developing ownership issues.
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Old 03-22-2011, 07:08 PM   #5
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Responding to Hamlet's not-so-gentle reproof in the April B.C. Nominations today!!....

I started G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy (another March nomination) before I started the book ultimately selected, so I'm only about a quarter of the way through but I'm liking it a lot. It's not something I would have ever read w/out a nudge...not sure why because biography/autobiography are two of my favorite catagories; maybe because you've heard about it since grade school and it's just sort of background noise. Reading these two books though I've been able to answer my own question about why I liked A Room With a View so much—why I like Churchill's histories. I'm impressed with a formal writing style! Cormac McCarthy's books have some of this formality.

I am really behind in my reading this month. Too much in the news...Libya, Bahrain, Japan, Egypt...the additions to the crises list just seems to get longer every month.

Plan on adding more when I finish the Autobiography, but it will be tough to top Hamlet's spiffy post!
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Old 03-23-2011, 08:17 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by CharlieBird View Post
Responding to Hamlet's not-so-gentle reproof in the April B.C. Nominations today!!....

I started G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy (another March nomination) before I started the book ultimately selected, so I'm only about a quarter of the way through but I'm liking it a lot. It's not something I would have ever read w/out a nudge...not sure why because biography/autobiography are two of my favorite catagories; maybe because you've heard about it since grade school and it's just sort of background noise. Reading these two books though I've been able to answer my own question about why I liked A Room With a View so much—why I like Churchill's histories. I'm impressed with a formal writing style! Cormac McCarthy's books have some of this formality.

I am really behind in my reading this month. Too much in the news...Libya, Bahrain, Japan, Egypt...the additions to the crises list just seems to get longer every month.

Plan on adding more when I finish the Autobiography, but it will be tough to top Hamlet's spiffy post!
Sorry if I came across as overly heavy. It just strikes me that the reason for these monthly book selections is to have a discussion amongst MR participants. Not that I ever mind just pontificating.


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As a printer and lover of truth, he certainly would have had a lot to say about the access we now have to books & information, and the developing ownership issues.
My guess is that he would have come done on the no copyright or very limited copyright side. I base this on his refusal to attempt to patent the “Franklin Stove” and other inventions he came up with, saying that (paraphrasing I'm sure) that he did it for the betterment of society.
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Old 03-23-2011, 08:26 AM   #7
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As a printer and lover of truth, he certainly would have had a lot to say about the access we now have to books & information, and the developing ownership issues.
I hope no one uses the truth since I have it copyrighted!
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Old 03-23-2011, 10:29 AM   #8
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I hope no one uses the truth since I have it copyrighted!
Too many people in this old world believe that they have the truth copyrighted. Or so they will say.
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Old 03-23-2011, 10:51 AM   #9
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Sorry, Hamlet, but about 2 pages in, I hated it and deleted it. The guy was an SOB to his son, so I was not a fan going into the selection. That is why I can not discuss it.

I'm looking forward to April. almost all of the nominees look interesting. Lots to discuss there.
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Old 03-23-2011, 11:32 AM   #10
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Here is the most telling passage on religion that I found in the work, showing plainly that Franklin was, indeed, a Deist:

Spoiler:
.....Before I enter upon my public appearance in business, it may be well to let you know the then state of my mind with regard to my principles and morals, that you may see how far those influenc'd the future events of my life. My parents had early given me religious impressions, and brought me through my childhood piously in the Dissenting way. But I was scarce fifteen, when, after doubting by turns of several points, as I found them disputed in the different books I read, I began to doubt of Revelation itself. Some books against Deism fell into my hands; they were said to be the substance of sermons preached at Boyle's Lectures. 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. My arguments perverted some others, particularly Collins and Ralph; but, each of them having afterwards wrong'd me greatly without the least compunction, and recollecting Keith's conduct towards me (who was another freethinker), and my own towards Vernon and Miss Read, which at times gave me great trouble, I began to suspect that this doctrine, tho' it might be true, was not very useful. My London pamphlet, which had for its motto these lines of Dryden:

.........."Whatever is, is right. Though purblind man Sees but a part o' the chain, the nearest link: His eyes not carrying to the equal beam, That poises all above;"

and from the attributes of God, his infinite wisdom, goodness and power, concluded that nothing could possibly be wrong in the world, and that vice and virtue were empty distinctions, no such things existing, appear'd now not so clever a performance as I once thought it; and I doubted whether some error had not insinuated itself unperceiv'd into my argument, so as to infect all that follow'd, as is common in metaphysical reasonings.
.....I grew convinc'd that truth, sincerity and integrity in dealings between man and man were of the utmost importance to the felicity of life; and I form'd written resolutions, which still remain in my journal book, to practice them ever while I lived. Revelation had indeed no weight with me, as such; but I entertain'd an opinion that, though certain actions might not be bad because they were forbidden by it, or good because it commanded them, yet probably these actions might be forbidden because they were bad for us, or commanded because they were beneficial to us, in their own natures, all the circumstances of things considered. And this persuasion, with the kind hand of Providence, or some guardian angel, or accidental favorable circumstances and situations, or all together, preserved me, thro' this dangerous time of youth, and the hazardous situations I was sometimes in among strangers, remote from the eye and advice of my father, without any willful gross immorality or injustice, that might have been expected from my want of religion.


His thirteen virtues (I suspect he allowed a broad interpretation of #12):

Spoiler:
.....I included under thirteen names of virtues all that at that time occurr'd to me as necessary or desirable, and annexed to each a short precept, which fully express'd the extent I gave to its meaning.
.....These names of virtues, with their precepts, were:
..... 1. TEMPERANCE. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
..... 2. SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
..... 3. ORDER. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
..... 4. RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
..... 5. FRUGALITY. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
..... 6. INDUSTRY. Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
..... 7. SINCERITY. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
..... 8. JUSTICE. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
..... 9. MODERATION. Avoid extreams; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
..... 10. CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
..... 11. TRANQUILLITY. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
..... 12. CHASTITY. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dulness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.
..... 13. HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

Last edited by WT Sharpe; 03-23-2011 at 11:34 AM.
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Old 03-23-2011, 11:44 AM   #11
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Outside of the reputation as a ladies' man that has survived to this day, one of the reasons I feel Mr. Franklin allowed a broad interpretation of his moral rule #12 is from another of his own writings, "On Choosing a Mistress" (1745):

Spoiler:
Benjamin Franklin, Advice to a Young Man on the Choice of a Mistress (1745).



June 25, 1745

My dear Friend,

I know of no Medicine fit to diminish the violent natural Inclinations you mention; and if I did, I think I should not communicate it to you. Marriage is the proper Remedy. It is the most natural State of Man, and therefore the State in which you are most likely to find solid Happiness. Your Reasons against entering into it at present, appear to me not well-founded. The circumstantial Advantages you have in View by postponing it, are not only uncertain, but they are small in comparison with that of the Thing itself, the being married and settled. It is the Man and Woman united that make the compleat human Being. Separate, she wants his Force of Body and Strength of Reason; he, her Softness, Sensibility and acute Discernment. Together they are more likely to succeed in the World. A single Man has not nearly the Value he would have in that State of Union. He is an incomplete Animal. He resembles the odd Half of a Pair of Scissors. If you get a prudent healthy Wife, your Industry in your Profession, with her good Economy, will be a Fortune sufficient.

But if you will not take this Counsel, and persist in thinking a Commerce with the Sex inevitable, then I repeat my former Advice, that in all your Amours you should prefer old Women to young ones. You call this a Paradox, and demand my Reasons. They are these:

1. Because as they have more Knowledge of the World and their Minds are better stor'd with Observations, their Conversation is more improving and more lastingly agreable.

2. Because when Women cease to be handsome, they study to be good. To maintain their Influence over Men, they supply the Diminution of Beauty by an Augmentation of Utility. They learn to do a 1000 Services small and great, and are the most tender and useful of all Friends when you are sick. Thus they continue amiable. And hence there is hardly such a thing to be found as an old Woman who is not a good Woman.

3. Because there is no hazard of Children, which irregularly produc'd may be attended with much Inconvenience.

4. Because thro' more Experience, they are more prudent and discreet in conducting an Intrigue to prevent Suspicion. The Commerce with them is therefore safer with regard to your Reputation. And with regard to theirs, if the Affair should happen to be known, considerate People might be rather inclin'd to excuse an old Woman who would kindly take care of a young Man, form his Manners by her good Counsels, and prevent his ruining his Health and Fortune among mercenary Prostitutes.

5. Because in every Animal that walks upright, the Deficiency of the Fluids that fill the Muscles appears first in the highest Part: The Face first grows lank and wrinkled; then the Neck; then the Breast and Arms; the lower Parts continuing to the last as plump as ever: So that covering all above with a Basket, and regarding only what is below the Girdle, it is impossible of two Women to know an old from a young one. And as in the dark all Cats are grey, the Pleasure of corporal Enjoyment with an old Woman is at least equal, and frequently superior, every Knack being by Practice capable of Improvement.

6. Because the Sin is less. The debauching a Virgin may be her Ruin, and make her for Life unhappy.

7. Because the Compunction is less. The having made a young Girl miserable may give you frequent bitter Reflections; none of which can attend the making an old Woman happy.

8thly and Lastly. They are so grateful!

Thus much for my Paradox. But still I advise you to marry directly; being sincerely Your affectionate Friend.

Last edited by WT Sharpe; 03-23-2011 at 08:00 PM. Reason: minor typos
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Old 03-23-2011, 12:09 PM   #12
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>3. Because there is no hazard of Children, which irregularly produc'd may be attended with much Inconvenience.


Oh wait, this isn't the Joke thread?

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Old 03-23-2011, 01:11 PM   #13
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One aspect of Ben Franklin's life, only mentioned briefly once in the text of the autobiography, was the famous kite experiment. One biography of Franklin that I read years ago (and, forgive me, I've forgotten the title and author), speculated that one possible reason he didn't play up this this particular experiment while he seemed to relish relating others was shame. There was a hint in that book that perhaps Franklin was not holding the string, but rather, had it held by someone of a class who would not be missed were the experiment to prove fatal.

What is known is that in his 80s, Franklin freed his slaves and became an abolitionist.

An attempt at atonement?

Last edited by WT Sharpe; 03-23-2011 at 01:14 PM. Reason: Add last line.
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Old 03-23-2011, 01:59 PM   #14
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Here is the most telling passage on religion that I found in the work, showing plainly that Franklin was, indeed, a Deist:

Spoiler:
.....Before I enter upon my public appearance in business, it may be well to let you know the then state of my mind with regard to my principles and morals, that you may see how far those influenc'd the future events of my life. My parents had early given me religious impressions, and brought me through my childhood piously in the Dissenting way. But I was scarce fifteen, when, after doubting by turns of several points, as I found them disputed in the different books I read, I began to doubt of Revelation itself. Some books against Deism fell into my hands; they were said to be the substance of sermons preached at Boyle's Lectures. 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. My arguments perverted some others, particularly Collins and Ralph; but, each of them having afterwards wrong'd me greatly without the least compunction, and recollecting Keith's conduct towards me (who was another freethinker), and my own towards Vernon and Miss Read, which at times gave me great trouble, I began to suspect that this doctrine, tho' it might be true, was not very useful. My London pamphlet, which had for its motto these lines of Dryden:

.........."Whatever is, is right. Though purblind man Sees but a part o' the chain, the nearest link: His eyes not carrying to the equal beam, That poises all above;"

and from the attributes of God, his infinite wisdom, goodness and power, concluded that nothing could possibly be wrong in the world, and that vice and virtue were empty distinctions, no such things existing, appear'd now not so clever a performance as I once thought it; and I doubted whether some error had not insinuated itself unperceiv'd into my argument, so as to infect all that follow'd, as is common in metaphysical reasonings.
.....I grew convinc'd that truth, sincerity and integrity in dealings between man and man were of the utmost importance to the felicity of life; and I form'd written resolutions, which still remain in my journal book, to practice them ever while I lived. Revelation had indeed no weight with me, as such; but I entertain'd an opinion that, though certain actions might not be bad because they were forbidden by it, or good because it commanded them, yet probably these actions might be forbidden because they were bad for us, or commanded because they were beneficial to us, in their own natures, all the circumstances of things considered. And this persuasion, with the kind hand of Providence, or some guardian angel, or accidental favorable circumstances and situations, or all together, preserved me, thro' this dangerous time of youth, and the hazardous situations I was sometimes in among strangers, remote from the eye and advice of my father, without any willful gross immorality or injustice, that might have been expected from my want of religion.


His thirteen virtues (I suspect he allowed a broad interpretation of #12):

Spoiler:
.....I included under thirteen names of virtues all that at that time occurr'd to me as necessary or desirable, and annexed to each a short precept, which fully express'd the extent I gave to its meaning.
.....These names of virtues, with their precepts, were:
..... 1. TEMPERANCE. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
..... 2. SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
..... 3. ORDER. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
..... 4. RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
..... 5. FRUGALITY. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
..... 6. INDUSTRY. Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
..... 7. SINCERITY. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
..... 8. JUSTICE. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
..... 9. MODERATION. Avoid extreams; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
..... 10. CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
..... 11. TRANQUILLITY. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
..... 12. CHASTITY. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dulness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.
..... 13. HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

Definitely he had a very broad view of virtue #12. Well evidenced that he thought his major failing in all 13 was #3.


Spoiler:

My scheme of Order gave me the most trouble;[70] and I found that, tho' it might be practicable where a man's business was such as to leave him the disposition of his time, that of a journeyman printer, for instance, it was not possible to be exactly observed by a master, who must mix with the world, and often receive people of business at their own hours. Order, too, with regard to places for things, papers, etc., I found extreamly difficult to acquire. I had not been early accustomed to it, and, having an exceeding good memory, I was not so sensible of the inconvenience attending want of method. This article, therefore, cost me so much painful attention, and my faults in it vexed me so much, and I made so little progress in amendment, and had such frequent relapses, that I was almost ready to give up the attempt, and content myself with a faulty character in that respect, like the man who, in buying an ax of a smith, my neighbour, desired to have the whole of its surface as bright as the edge. The smith consented to grind it bright for him if he would turn the wheel; he turn'd, while the smith press'd the broad face of the ax hard and heavily on the stone, which made the turning of it very fatiguing. The man came every now and then from the wheel to see how the work went on, and at length would take his ax as it was, without farther grinding. "No," said the smith, "turn on, turn on; we shall have it bright by-and-by; as yet, it is only speckled." "Yes," says the man, "but I think I like a speckled ax best." And I believe this may have been the case with many, who, having, for want of some such means as I employ'd, found the difficulty of obtaining good and breaking bad habits in other points of vice and virtue, have given up the struggle, and concluded that "a speckled ax was best"; for something, that pretended to be reason, was every now and then suggesting to me that such extream nicety as I exacted of myself might be a kind of foppery in morals, which, if it were known, would make me ridiculous; that a perfect character might be attended with the inconvenience of being envied and hated; and that a benevolent man should allow a few faults in himself, to keep his friends in countenance.

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. But, on the whole, tho' I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavour, a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it; as those who aim at perfect writing by imitating the engraved copies, tho' they never reach the wish'd-for excellence of those copies, their hand is mended by the endeavour, and is tolerable while it continues fair and legible.
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Old 03-23-2011, 02:01 PM   #15
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Outside of the reputation as a ladies' man that has survived to this day, one of the reasons I feel Mr. Franklin allowed a broad interpretation of his moral rule #12 is from another of his own writings, "On Choosing a Mistress" (1745):

Spoiler:
Benjamin Franklin, Advice to a Young Man on the Choice of a Mistress (1745).



June 25, 1745

My dear Friend,

I know of no Medicine fit to diminish the violent natural Inclinations you mention; and if I did, I think I should not communicate it to you. Marriage is the proper Remedy. It is the most natural State of Man, and therefore the State in which you are most likely to find solid Happiness. Your Reasons against entering into it at present, appear to me not well-founded. The circumstantial Advantages you have in View by postponing it, are not only uncertain, but they are small in comparison with that of the Thing itself, the being married and settled. It is the Man and Woman united that make the compleat human Being. Separate, she wants his Force of Body and Strength of Reason; he, her Softness, Sensibility and acute Discernment. Together they are more likely to succeed in the World. A single Man has not nearly the Value he would have in that State of Union. He is an incomplete Animal. He resembles the odd Half of a Pair of Scissors. If you get a prudent healthy Wife, your Industry in your Profession, with her good Economy, will be a Fortune sufficient.

But if you will not take this Counsel, and persist in thinking a Commerce with the Sex inevitable, then I repeat my former Advice, that in all your Amours you should prefer old Women to young ones. You call this a Paradox, and demand my Reasons. They are these:

i. Because as they have more Knowledge of the World and their Minds are better stor'd with Observations, their Conversation is more improving and more lastingly agreable.

2. Because when Women cease to be handsome, they study to be good. To maintain their Influence over Men, they supply the Diminution of Beauty by an Augmentation of Utility. They learn to do a 1000 Services small and great, and are the most tender and useful of all Friends when you are sick. Thus they continue amiable. And hence there is hardly such a thing to be found as an old Woman who is not a good Woman.

3. Because there is no hazard of Children, which irregularly produc'd may be attended with much Inconvenience.

4. Because thro' more Experience, they are more prudent and discreet in conducting an Intrigue to prevent Suspicion. The Commerce with them is therefore safer with regard to your Reputation. And with regard to theirs, if the Affair should happen to be known, considerate People might be rather inclin'd to excuse an old Woman who would kindly take care of a young Man, form his Manners by her good Counsels, and prevent his ruining his Health and Fortune among mercenary Prostitutes.

5. Because in every Animal that walks upright, the Deficiency of the Fluids that fill the Muscles appears first in the highest Part: The Face first grows lank and wrinkled; then the Neck; then the Breast and Arms; the lower Parts continuing to the last as plump as ever: So that covering all above with a Basket, and regarding2 only what is below the Girdle, it is impossible of two Women to know an old from a young one. And as in the dark all Cats are grey, the Pleasure of corporal Enjoyment with an old Woman is at least equal, and frequently superior, every Knack being by Practice capable of Improvement.

6. Because the Sin is less. The debauching a Virgin may be her Ruin, and make her for Life unhappy.

7. Because the Compunction is less. The having made a young Girl miserable may give you frequent bitter Reflections; none of which can attend the making an old Woman happy.

8thly and Lastly. They are so grateful!

Thus much for my Paradox. But still I advise you to marry directly; being sincerely Your affectionate Friend.
". . . The Face first grows lank and wrinkled; then the Neck; then the Breast and Arms; the lower Parts continuing to the last as plump as ever: So that covering all above with a Basket, and regarding2 only what is below the Girdle, it is impossible of two Women to know an old from a young one. And as in the dark all Cats are grey, the Pleasure of corporal Enjoyment with an old Woman is at least equal, and frequently superior, every Knack being by Practice capable of Improvement. . . ."

A basket? Oh, but of course paper bags had not yet been invented.
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