Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

By Benjamin Franklin | Go to book overview
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TEN years before the breaking out of the war of the Revolution, Hume called Franklin " the first philosopher and indeed the first great man of letters " in the new world ; on the very eve of that struggle, Samuel Johnson, in his astonishing pamphlet Taxation no Tyranny, described him as " a master of mischief," who knew " how to put in motion the engine of political electricity"; and during the war, while Franklin was pressing the claims of the American patriots upon France, he was often represented in various attitudes as commanding and using the lightning as a servant of the cause of liberty. Turgot's famous line

" Eripuit cœlo fulmen, septrumque tyrannis,"

happily expressed the two sides of Franklin's activity which made a deep impression on Europe : his fruitful passion for science, and his ardent advocacy of liberty. During the eventful years from 1765 to his death in 1790, Franklin was, from the European standpoint, distinctly the foremost man in America; and after the lapse of more than a century, probably no American save Lincoln is more widely known beyond the sea In this country other figures have to a certain extent withdrawn public attention from his extraordinary career and sensibly diminished his reputation ; a process which has been aided by Franklin's lack of idealism in mind


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