Benjamin Franklin, the First Civilized American

By Phillips Russell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII London and "The Dangerous Time of Youth"

I

FRANKLIN, with the penniless Ralph in tow, arrives in London for the first time in his nineteenth year. The month is foggy old December, but rain and soot fail to darken his rainbow anticipations.

It is only four years since he read the third volume of The Spectator, and it is still The Spectator's London. It is a period prolific in poetry, essays, and plays. Pope is being eagerly read. Dryden is dead, but his works grow in esteem. James Thomson comes to London in this same year of 1724, and the next year finds Voltaire there as a visitor. The coffee-houses buzz with the arguments of literary loungers. A fresh brawl between religion and science is gathering. At night the theatres are filled with men-about- town and ladies-about-their-business. The current of the Restoration is still running strong. This to the lads from colonial America is Life. They investigate it, "going," as the Autobiography expresses it, "to the plays and other places of amusement." In these days plays and places of resort are very "broad" in character, relying in most cases on the appeal of sex, which was then, as now, being highly exploited. Among the spicy and popular plays of the period are those by Dryden, Wycherly and Congreve. From what we know of Benjamin at this stage, he probably enjoyed them hugely.

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