CHAPTER XII
THE CANOROUS EIGHTEENTH CENTURY

THE anonymous phrenologist who in 1818 soberly undertook in Blackwood Edinburgh Magazine1 to deduce Franklin's moral and intellectual characteristics from portraits found it significant that his subject's forehead was "apparently well advanced, although not uncommonly high," and that it "narrows a little from the lower part." The shape of the skull bespoke limitations in imagination and in the "metaphysical and comparative organs." But the same configuration assured Franklin of a compensatory gain in powers of observation, a bent for the "mechanical arts," and a "good ear for music." Whatever the explanation, music was indeed one of Franklin's keen interests. Living in a century that favored amateurism in music as in other spheres of activity, Franklin found time to dabble as a practical musician, a critic of sorts, and a composer. He sang willingly, and acquired some skill with the harp, violin, and guitar. He also learned to play his own invention, the armonica, and may have known something about the violoncello.2

This interest in music was bound to bring Franklin into contact with Italy, the nation then the arbiter in matters musical. It is perhaps but little less inevitable that he should have revolted against the sophisticated musical tastes of his day dictated largely by Italy. Not that his reaction was unique: the satire of Benedetto Marcello, the so-called Guerre des Buffons, the reforms of Gluck and Ranieri Calzabigi, and the development of ballad opera and Singspiel all pointed to a contemporary reappraisal of formalized neoclassic canons and a "return to nature." However, such protests and reforms probably had little direct effect upon Franklin's attitude. His practical turn of mind made it constitutionally impossible for him to condone the musical extravagance of pre-revolutionary Europe. To illustrate social parasitism, he could think of no better symbol than a "fiddling man," whose activity results in no tangible product--bricks, for example--so that either the poverty or the labor of the rest of mankind is increased.3 The current specimens of that tardy flower of the Italian Renaissance, the opera, aroused hardly a comment, and no sign of approval. Franklin noted the frequency with which operas and plays were given in Paris at the time of his first trip to France in 1767, but was more interested in the means used by the French to ventilate their theaters than in the performances.4 In the bloodcurdling satire The Sale of theHessians

-268-

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Benjamin Franklin and Italy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents ix
  • Illustrations xiii
  • Introduction xv
  • Scientist 15
  • Chapter II Eripuit Coelo Fulmen . . . . 17
  • Chapter III A Scientific Friendship: Giambatista Beccaria 49
  • Statesman 91
  • Chapter V The Practical Diplomat 93
  • Chapter VI Franklin and the American Mirage: The Eighteenth Century 120
  • Chapter VII The Neapolitan Circle 144
  • Chapter VIII Franklin in the American Mirage Of the Risorgimento 167
  • Printer 185
  • Chapter IX B. Franklin Artis Typographicae Decus 187
  • Popular Philosopher 203
  • Chapter X Il Povero Riccardo 205
  • Literature and the Arts 235
  • Chapter XII The Canorous Eighteenth Century 268
  • Chapter XIII The Italian Iconography 284
  • Conclusion 299
  • Notes 315
  • Appendix 365
  • Bibliography of Italian Frankliniana 411
  • Index of Personal Names 441
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