Benjamin Franklin and the American Character

By Charles L. Sanford | Go to book overview

novel combinations. His native inquisitiveness had been stimulated by a young civilization's manifold necessities, mothering manifold inventions, and had been supplemented by a certain moral and idealizing passion for improvement. The practical nature of many of his devices, his absorption in agriculture and navigation, his preoccupation with stoves and chimneys, the image of him firing the gas of ditch water or pouring oil on troubled waves, and the celebrity of the kite incident rather tend to fix an impression that he was but a tactful empiricist and a lucky dilettante of discovery. It is interesting in this connection to note that he confesses his lack of patience for verification. His prime scientific faculty, as he himself felt, was the imagination which bodies forth the shapes and relations of things unknown, which constructs the theory and the hypothesis. His mind was a teeming warren of hints and suggestions. He loved rather to start than to pursue the hare. Happily what he deemed his excessive penchant for forming hypotheses was safeguarded by his perfect readiness to hear all that could be urged against them. He wished not his view but truth to prevail -- which explains the winsome cordiality of his demeanor towards other savants. His unflagging correspondence with investigators, his subscription to learned publications, his active membership in philosophical societies and his enterprise in founding schools and academies all betoken his prescience of the wide domain in which science had to conquer and of the necessity for cooperation in the task of subduing it. Franklin was so far a Baconian that he sought to avoid unfruitful speculation and to unite contemplation and action in a stricter embrace for the generation of knowledge useful to man. But in refutation of any charge that he was a narrow-minded utilitarian and lacked the liberal views and long faith of the modern scientific spirit may be adduced his stunning retort to a query as to the usefulness of the balloons then on trial in France: "What is the use of a new born baby?"


Herbert W. Schneider: UNGODLY PURITANS

NOT long after the appearance of Cotton Mather's Essays to Do Good, the readers of the New England Courant were startled by the satirical articles of one Mrs. Silence Dogood. She agreed with the Reverend Mr. Mather that doing good was the most important business of life; but she made it her business to expose evil in high places. She began by attacking college life among the "scollars" at Harvard; then she reprimanded their parents for sending them merely to display their own wealth; then she made fun of the theological debates and pretensions of the professors. The fashionable clergy came in for their share of moral treatment by Mrs. Dogood, and even the magistrates and members of the council were not spared. Such essays to do good were not exactly to the Mathers' taste and, when James Franklin, the editor of the Courant, and Silence Dogood, whose real name was Benjamin Franklin, continued in their efforts despite warnings, fines and

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From The Puritan Mind by Herbert Wallace Schneider. Copyright, 1930, by Henry Holt and Company, Inc. Used by permission of the publishers.

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