Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin

Excerpt

From sometime midway through Benjamin Franklin's life when he achieved fame as a moralist, civic leader, and scientist, until well into the twentieth century, few doubted his standing as a "great American thinker." Excepting perhaps only Emerson, he was the country's most authentic sage, the fountain of the ideas and outlook thought to be characteristically American. Though a succession of literary critics from Joseph Dennie and Nathaniel Hawthorne to Mark Twain and D. H. Lawrence have persistently debunked his life and thought, to most Americans he was the wise and practical preceptor of his Autobiography. As the climate of opinion increasingly reflected modes of thought antithetical to Franklin's, however--positivism in philosophy, behaviorism in social science, relativism in ethics, obscurantiam in literature, and specialization in all fields of knowledge--his intellectual stature seemed to diminish. His serene assurance that as reason, common sense, and freedom spread, men would increase steadily in virtue and prosperity seemed more and more superficial and irrelevant. Franklin became either a quaint fossil or a pernicious fraud to many sophisticated students of American thought. But with the publication of Carl Van Doren's great biography in 1938, the brilliant work of Verner W. Crane, I. Bernard Cohen, and others since then, and the enriched view of Franklin apparent in the . . .

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