We are all historians, to one degree or another. We tell stories, weave narratives to and about ourselves or others, and recast experience. And we do it all our lives. Some of us of course write and talk professionally. Others because we want to, have to.
My need or desire to tell this story comes from the “discovery” (mine, not history’s) that one of America’s truly iconic figures experienced a searing public humiliation in the prime of his life. And we scarcely mention the fact in our continuous appreciation of the Founders.
Yet we do know and appreciate a great deal about Franklin. Pick a topic or aspect or time of his life, and everyone will have something to add by way of fact, myth, opinion or impression.
He was a self-made man; he ran away from home and found a good trade and made it into something. He was a civic innovator, starting lending libraries and street lighting and volunteer fire departments, self-help clubs. He became a publisher as well as a printer. He was a charmer, clever in politics and journalism. He added to our lore of epigrams in a very profitable venture: Poor Richard’s Almanac. He helped our country with its independence through his diplomacy with the French. He discovered that lightning is a form of electricity. He invented things, the freestanding stove, the lightning rod, a musical instrument, and a new alphabet for the English language.