Benjamin Franklin's Humor

Synopsis

Although he called himself merely a "printer" in his will, Benjamin Franklin could have also called himself a diplomat, a doctor, an electrician, a frontier general, an inventor, a journalist, a legislator, a librarian, a magistrate, a postmaster, a promoter, a publisher -- and a humorist. John Adams wrote of Franklin, "He had wit at will. He had humor that when he pleased was pleasant and delightful... [and] talents for irony, allegory, and fable, that he could adapt with great skill, to the promotion of moral and political truth." In Benjamin Franklin's Humor, author Paul M. Zall shows how one of America's founding fathers used humor to further both personal and national interests. Early in his career, Franklin impersonated the feisty widow Silence Dogood in a series of comically moralistic essays that helped his brother James outpace competitors in Boston's incipient newspaper market. In the mid-eighteenth century, he displayed his talent for comic impersonation in numerous editions of Poor Richard's Almanac, a series of pocket-sized tomes filled with proverbs and witticisms that were later compiled in Franklin's The Way to Wealth (1758), one of America's all-time bestselling books. Benjamin Franklin was sure to be remembered for his early work as an author, printer, and inventor, but his accomplishments as a statesman later in life firmly secured his lofty stature in American history. Zall shows how Franklin employed humor to achieve desired ends during even the most difficult diplomatic situations: while helping draft the Declaration of Independence, while securing France's support for the American Revolution, while brokering the treaty with England to end the War for Independence, and while mediating disputes at the Constitutional Convention. He supervised and facilitated the birth of a nation with customary wit and aplomb. Zall traces the development of an acute sense of humor throughout the life of a great American. Franklin valued humor not as an end in itself but as a means to gain a competitive edge, disseminate information, or promote a program. Early in life, he wrote about timely topics in an effort to reach a mass reading class, leaving an amusing record of early American culture. Later, Franklin directed his talents toward serving his country. Regardless of its origin, the best of Benjamin Franklin's humor transcends its initial purpose and continues to evoke undying laughter at shared human experiences.