Self-Portraiture: The Autobiography

BY
MAX FARRAND, Ph.D.,
Director, The Huntington Library, San Marino, Cal.

My immediate interest in Benjamin Franklin centers in his autobiography and was stimulated through the more or less accidental circumstance of the Huntington Library being the fortunate possessor of the original and only known manuscript of that important document. Therein lies a story that cannot be told here. One need only say that the editing of the manuscript for publication presents an intricate problem in textual criticism. While seeking a solution to that problem over several years, these questions persistently intruded: What led Franklin to write his memoirs? And what are the qualities in those memoirs that have made them one of the great autobiographies of all literature and the first great American literary classic?

You may notice that the word "memoirs" is used, for that is what Franklin always called them. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the date of the first use of "autobiography" as 1809 by Southey in the Quarterly Review.

What is said to you this afternoon carries answers to the questions propounded, having only this much weight and value: they are the most acceptable the speaker has found as yet. He wishes, at this point, to express his gratitude for the suggestions and criticisms of his friend, George Simpson Eddy, Esq., of New York City, the most knowledgeable student of Franklin we have today.

Many biographies of Franklin had, of course, been examined but the autobiography is also a part of our literary heritage. So not long ago, having gathered several ideas for presentation on this occasion, I made the fatal mistake of going to the shelves where in one section were gathered a large number of histories of American literature. To my dismay I found, on looking through twenty or thirty different works, that almost everything intended to be said here had already

-27-

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Meet Dr. Franklin
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Table of Contents iii
  • Foreword v
  • Meet Doctor Franklin 1
  • Benjamin Franklin as a Scientist 11
  • Self-Portraiture: the Autobiography 27
  • Dr. Franklin as the English Saw Him 43
  • Franklin's Political Journalism in England 63
  • Benjamin Franklin: Student of Life 83
  • Molding the Constitution 105
  • Benjamin Franklin: Philosophical Revolutionist 127
  • Looking Westward 135
  • Benjamin Franklin: the Printer at Work 151
  • Benjamin Franklin: Adventures In Agriculture 179
  • Dr. Franklin: Friend of the Indians 201
  • Concluding Paper 221
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