INTRODUCTION
A Life in Laughter

They used to say that George Washington was first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen, and Franklin was first in everything else. But at the nation’s bicentennial, the mass-circulating Reader’s Digest replaced Washington in the hearts of his countrymen with Ben Franklin because Franklin represented what Americans liked best about themselves.1 If Washington was the father of his countrymen, Franklin was their foxy grandpa, the designated humorist they could always rely on for a sharp saying or merry tale with the “Magical power” to cool the heat and dispel “melancholy fumes.”2

Franklin could have called himself a doctor, diplomat, electrician, frontier general, insurance man, inventor, legislator, librarian, magistrate, newsman, postmaster, promoter, or publisher, but in his will, he called himself merely “printer.” In an age when printers were also writers, he wrote humorous pieces for his brother’s newspaper in Boston, later for his own Pennsylvania Gazette and Poor Richard’s Almanac, for newspapers in London and Paris, and for pamphlets for fun or propaganda at home and abroad. In journalism, humor gave him a competitive edge and in propaganda, a shield for both attack and defense.

At fifteen, impersonating a feisty widow, Silence Dogood, Franklin wrote a series of comical essays for his brother James’s New-England Courant. Her pieces helped in James’s continuing competition with other printers. Most impressive was the lively way that Mrs. Dogood monitored Bostonians’ manners and morals. Her sharp eye for precise detail and keen ear for dialogue and dialect on the streets of cosmopolitan Boston created dramatic immediacy for the new voice of America laughing.

-1-

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Benjamin Franklin's Humor
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Introduction - A Life in Laughter 1
  • 1- Silence Dogood 1722–1723 11
  • 2- Paragraphs in Philadelphia 1729–1735 27
  • 3- Philadelphia’s Poor Richard 1733–1748 47
  • 4- Philadelphia Comic Relief 1748–1757 65
  • 5- Making Friends Overseas 1757–1774 85
  • 6- Losing London 1773–1776 103
  • 7- Seducing Paris 1776–1782 119
  • 8- Comic Release 1783–1785 137
  • 9- Revising Past and Future 1786–1790 153
  • Notes 169
  • Sources 175
  • Index 181
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