Benjamin Franklin and Jonathan Edwards: Selections from Their Writings

By Benjamin Franklin; Jonathan Edwards et al. | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

The careers of Benjamin Franklin and Jonathan Edwards, most considerable among American writers of the eighteenth century, for more years than have been noted were almost as nearly parallel as they were impressively divergent later, when the contrast between the two men came to be so remarkable, so dramatic, that we may now regard them as protagonists and symbols of the hostile movements which strove for the mastery of their age. Franklin, chief of the victors, we know far better than the defeated Edwards, who all his life upheld a cause which even in his youth was lost, had he but known it, and who seems on most of his pages to speak of forgotten issues in a forgotten dialect; while Franklin seems contemporaneous, fresh, full of vitality. Yet we know even Franklin too exclusively through his Autobiography, which is a great book but not half varied enough to display its author entire -- a great book but one written for his children, and an eager world, with a somewhat patriarchal pen; or else we know him through the scientific, or philanthropic, or civic essays and pamphlets in which he urged the countless good measures now associated with his fame. In either case, the racy, robust, colonial humorist is overlooked, the correspondent of so much variety, the finished wit who in his old age matched himself gracefully and equally with the most elegant wits of France. Edwards survives, so far as he may be said to survive at all, outside technical histories of Calvinism and metaphysics, chiefly as a dim figure preaching sermons full of awful imprecations, and hardly at all as a remarkable scientific observer, and one of the impressive mystics of the world. Judged both of them by those of their writings which seem most intelligible and living today, -- Franklin's merely utilitarian and Edwards' merely theological performances left out of ac

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