BY CARL VAN DOREN, Ph.D., Litt.D., L.H.D. Author and Editor, New York.
Since I have at one time or other spoken about so many aspects of Franklin to so many groups in Philadelphia I may not be able to avoid some repetitions this afternoon, but I will do what I can to avoid it. At this opening talk of this interesting series I shall have to be a little more discursive than some of the more systematic speakers who come later.
Franklin had, I think, the most eminent mind that has ever existed in America. No wonder there are so many legendary misconceptions of him that it is difficult now to restore and comprehend him in the great integrity of his mind, character, and personality. He appears, somehow, to be a syndicate of men. We study him as a scientist, as a diplomat, as a statesman, as a business man, as an economist, as a printer, as a humorist and wit, as a great writer, as a sage, and as a landmark in the history of human speech about the common ways of life. What had been said before he so often said better. He was great in friendship, and in his later years was probably the most renowned private citizen on earth. It has recently been more than once remarked--and printed--that Benjamin Franklin was the American Leonardo di Vinci. This is American modesty, if not colonialism. Why not occasionally say that Leonardo di Vinci was the Italian Benjamin Franklin?
Franklin was the earliest American whom, without limiting ourselves to national terms, we can call a very great man. When you try to define his particular greatness you run into what John Adams felt in his jealous days in Paris. Adams was a great man, but not a very great man. A great man such as Adams living with a very great man such as Franklin cannot tell the difference between himself and the other. Adams could not tell why people thought the difference to be so enormous. Nor can anybody express the difference better