Benjamin Franklin and the American Character

By Charles L. Sanford | Go to book overview

Frank Davidson: THREE PATTERNS OF LIVING

A SCIENTIST asserted in a recent number of the Bulletin of the American Association of University Professors that "our real job at teacher" is "to cultivate a well-balanced appreciation of values,to teach whatis most worth while in life and how to go about to achieve it."1Walt Whitman once spoke of the acquisition of appreciation of values as prudence and clarified his peculiar meaning of the word with a line suggestive of the Scriptures,"that the young man who composedly periled his life and lost it has done exceeding well for himself, while the man who has not periled his life and retains it to old age in riches and ease has perhaps achieved nothing for himself worth mentioning." Centuries ago Jesus gave a lesson in the appreciation of values in his parable of the Good Samaritan, the Levite, and the Priest. "Which of these three," he asked, "thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves?" The scientist, Whitman, and Jesus properly imply values beyond the material ones. And our experiences daily testify to the truth of their implications.

With these obserbations in mind, let us project a problem in values. Jonathan Edwards, Benjamin Franklin, and John Woolman, three eighteen century Americans, each left an autobiographical statement expressive of his personal pattern of living.What is the relative value of their contributions to those of us who are interested in "what is most worth while in life" and who would know "how to go about to achieve it"?


II

Jonathan Edwards, born in 1703, was of the Connecticut pulpit aristocracy. He was a man of culture. A prodigy of learning and of logical thinking, he was writing scientific essays at twelve. He kept an interest in science - biological and psychological--throughout his life, but alU+0AD ways in a position subordinateti that of theology and religion. Both his scientific and his religious bents made him sympathetic with the natural world about him. To some extent it was revelatory of God, though it was not God. After one particular experience he expressed his insight into nature as a poet might, suggesting a beauty there beyond the merely physical.

God's excellence [he muses], his wisdom, his purity and love, seemed to appear in every thing; in the sun, moon, and stars; in the clouds, and blue sky; in the grass, flowers, trees; in the water, and all nature; which used greatly to fix my mind. . . . And scarce any thing, among all the works of nature was so delightful to me as thunder and lightning; formerely, nothing had been so terrible to me. Before, I used to be uncommonly terrified with thunder, and to be struck with terror when I saw a thunder storm rising; but now, onthe contrary, it rejoiced me. I felt God, so to speak, at the first appearance of a thunder storm; and used to take the opportunity, at such times, to fix myself in order to view the clouds, and see the lightning play, and hear the majestic and awful voice of God's thunder. . . .

____________________
Reprinted with permission from the Bulletin, American Association of University Professors, Volume 34 (Summer, 1948), pp.364-374.
1
C. judson Herrick, "A Liberal Education," Autumn, 1945, Vol. 31, No. 3, p. 365.

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