The Life of Benjamin Franklin - Vol. 1

The Life of Benjamin Franklin - Vol. 1

The Life of Benjamin Franklin - Vol. 1

The Life of Benjamin Franklin - Vol. 1


Named "one of the best books of 2006" by The New York Sun

Described by Carl Van Doren as "a harmonious human multitude," Benjamin Franklin was the most famous American of his time, of perhaps any time. His life and careers were so varied and successful that he remains, even today, the epitome of the self-made man. Born into a humble tradesman's family, this adaptable genius rose to become an architect of the world's first democracy, a leading light in Enlightenment science, and a major creator of what has come to be known as the American character. Journalist, musician, politician, scientist, humorist, inventor, civic leader, printer, writer, publisher, businessman, founding father, and philosopher, Franklin is a touchstone for America's egalitarianism.

The first volume traces young Franklin's life to his marriage in 1730. It traces the New England religious, political, and cultural contexts, exploring previously unknown influences on his philosophy and writing, and attributing new writings to him. After his move to Philadelphia, made famous in his Autobiography, Franklin became the Water American in London in 1725, where he was welcomed into that city's circle of freethinkers. Upon his return to the colonies, the sociable Franklin created a group of young friends, the Junto, devoted to self-improvement and philanthropy. He also started his own press and began to edit and publish the Pennsylvania Gazette, which became the most popular American paper of its day and the first to consistently feature American news.


Volume 1 takes Benjamin Franklin from his birth early in 1706 to his marriage in 1730. Much of the information in the early chapters is based on Franklin’s Autobiography and on various anecdotes recorded in his letters or conversations. Beginning in 1721, when his brother James started the New England Courant, there is abundant material about Franklin’s day-to-day activities. The Courant began as an anti-inoculation and anti-establishment paper, especially opposing Increase and Cotton Mather and their supporters. Franklin wrote the first essay series in America in 1722, fourteen letters supposedly by a middle-aged widow named “Silence Dogood,” a pseudonym that mocked Cotton Mather. After writing the Silence Dogood essays, Franklin composed several hoaxes, satires, and essays for his brother’s press, one a skit that used the first African American persona in American journalism and another a pamphlet (Hoop-Petticoats Arraigned and Condemned by the Light of Nature, and Law of God, 1722) travestying a recent sermon by the Reverend Solomon Stoddard, the grandfather of Jonathan Edwards.

In 1722 and again in 1723, James Franklin was jailed by the authorities, and Franklin took over the printing shop. Though James Franklin’s friends helped, Benjamin Franklin ran the shop during James’s two imprisonments.

The Franklin brothers often quarreled, and James Franklin sometimes beat his young apprentice, so Franklin quit and ran away at the age of seventeen. Finding no work in New York, he went on to Philadelphia where, in October 1723, he began employment with the eccentric Philadelphia printer Samuel Keimer. Franklin lodged next door to the printing shop with John and Sarah Read, whose daughter, Deborah, was to be his future wife. Pennsylvania Governor William Keith, impressed with Franklin’s abilities, promised to make him the printer for the government if he could open his own shop. With a letter from Keith, Franklin returned to Boston to try to borrow money from his father, who had no funds to loan him, still being in debt for the money he had borrowed to set up James Franklin.

Back in Philadelphia, Governor Keith promised to set up Franklin in business but suggested he first go to London to buy the press and types and to arrange for exchanges with printers there. Franklin and Deborah Read became engaged, but her mother discouraged their courtship, asking them to wait until after Franklin returned from England. On 5 November 1724, Franklin sailed for London, arriving on Christmas Eve, when he discovered that Keith had sent no letters or bills of credit for him. Confused, he applied to a Philadelphia Quaker . . .

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