Benjamin Franklin: His Contribution to the American Tradition

By I. Bernard Cohen | Go to book overview

II ◆ The Lessons of Experience

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN'S Autobiography is one of the most widely read documents in American literature. Americans have cherished this story for its bold and joyous style and because of a genuine affection for its author. It is a moral tale about the rewards of a good life, and an adventure in self-improvement and in selfless devotion to the needs of others. Americans have respected Franklin's Autobiography because of the frank admission of faults, weaknesses and mistakes -- as a good printer Franklin called them "errata." It offers proof that there is no limit to what a man of virtue can achieve in a land of opportunity: America.

The introductory section printed below is taken from the first part of Franklin's autobiography, written in about two weeks during the summer of 1771. It is addressed to Franklin's son William, and was first written as a kind of family document. As the years went by, Franklin revised the text and made additions to it and showed the manuscript to a number of friends. Thus the Autobiography was transformed into a public document for his countrymen as well as his posterity, and for the whole world, although the manuscript still bore (at the time of the author's death) the salutation, "Dear son." Known universally as Franklin's Autobiography, this account of his life was called by Franklin his "Memoirs." Although the eighteenth century produced many notable autobiogra-

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Benjamin Franklin: His Contribution to the American Tradition
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • General Introduction For The Makers of the American Tradition Series vii
  • Foreword xi
  • Contents xxi
  • Chronology xxiii
  • I Introduction 27
  • II ◆ The Lessons of Experience 68
  • III · Self-Improvement and Mutual Aíd 112
  • IV ◆ In the Service of the Community 164
  • V Inventions and Applications of Science 189
  • VI ◆ The Style of Being American 225
  • Bibliography 307
  • Index 309
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