The True Benjamin Franklin

Nov 16, 2012 by

The True Benjamin Franklin by Sydney George Fisher was originally published in 1898 and then 1903.  It is an attempt by the author to humanize Benjamin Franklin.

Here are  a few words from the author’s preface explaining:

“Almost every event of his life has been distorted until, from the great and accomplished man he really was, he has been magnified into an impossible prodigy. Almost everything he wrote about m science has been put down as a discovery. His wonderful ability in expressing himself has assisted in this ; for if ten men wrote on a subject and Franklin was one of them, his statement is the one most likely to be preserved, because the others, being inferior in language, are soon forgotten and lost.

Every scrap of paper he wrote upon is now considered a precious relic and a great deal of it is printed, so that statements which were but memoranda or merely his way of formulating other men’s knowledge for his own convenience or for the sake of writing a pleasant letter to a friend, are given undue importance. Indeed, when we read one of these letters or memoranda it is so clearly and beautifully expressed and put in such a captivating form that, as the editor craftily forbears to comment on it, we instinctively conclude that it must have been a gift of new knowledge to mankind. The persistency with which people have tried to magnify Franklin is curiously shown in the peculiar way in which James Logan’s translation of Cicero’s essay on old age was attributed to him. This translation with notes and a preface was made by Logan and printed in 1744 by Franklin in his Philadelphia printing-office, and at the foot of the title page Franklin’s name appeared as the printer. In 1778 the book was reprinted in London, with Franklin’s name on the title page as the translator. In 1809 one of his editors, William Duane, actually had this translation printed in his edition of Franklin’s works. The editor was afterwards accused of having done this with full knowledge that the translation had not been made by Franklin ; but, under the code of literary morals which has so long prevailed, I suppose he would be held excusable.

One of Franklin’s claims to renown is that he was a self-made man, the first distinguished American who was created in that way ; and it would seem, therefore, all the more necessary that he should be allowed to remain as he made himself I have endeavored to act upon this principle and so far as possible to let Franklin speak for himself The analytical method of writing a man’s life is well suited to this purpose. There are already chronological biographies of Franklin in two volumes or more giving the events in order with very full details from his birth to his death. The present single volume is more in the way of an estimate of his position, worth, and work, and yet gives, I believe, every essential fact of his career with enough detail to enable the reader to appreciate it At the same time the chapters have been arranged with such regard to chronological order as to show the development of character and achievement from youth to age. ”

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