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The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin

Part One, second section

Part One, first section

Part One, third section

Summary

Throughout his teens, Franklin developed a number of new ideas, including vegetarianism, which he practices religiously for a brief period. He also adopted a skepticism towards religion through his readings. When others complained of his arrogance, he made efforts to become more humble, speaking "with seeming diffidence."

In 1720, James started the New England Courant, which according to Franklin is the second newspaper in America. Franklin worked as a delivery boy. Meanwhile, he worked hard at writing. When he published anonymously one of his articles and ov erheard his brother praising it (not knowing Ben had written it), Ben developed much confidence in his style. However, he and James did fight often over trifling matters. When James was jailed for political reasons, Ben had the chance to take over the p aper briefly, a job which Ben held in name even after James was released under the stipulation that he could no longer work on the paper. After another fight with James, however, Ben suddenly broke his contract and quit his job. James immediately instru cted the other printers in Boston not to hire his brother, and as a result, Ben realizes that he would have to travel to a different city if he wished to find work. At age 17, he secretly leaves home and traveled to New York City. He finds no work there , but learns that he could get a job in Philadelphia working for a printer named Andrew Bradford. His journey to Philadelphia is eventful as he gets caught in a storm, during which he saved the life of a drunken Dutchman, who nearly drowned. The boat dropped him off near Burlington, about 18 miles from Philadelphia. He finally arrived in the city on October 6, 1723 in the Market Street Wharf.

Wandering around, Franklin stumbled into a Quaker meeting near the market. One of these Quakers showed him a place to stay the night, and the following day, he goes to Bradford's to find work. Although Bradford can provide him with housing, Franklin is disappointed to learn that he can offer no actual work. He instead sets up Franklin with a man named Keimer who runs a different printing shop in town. Ben soon comes to think that both men are "poorly qualified" as printers. Before long, he moves in with a man named John Read, whose daughter, Deborah, Franklin will later marry.

Franklin then goes about befriending other Philadelphia youth, although he stills writes to Collins often. The rest of Boston he forgets until he receives a letter from Robert Holmes, his brother-in-law, asking him to return. When Franklin wrote an elegant letter back explaining why he would not return to Boston, Holmes showed the letter to Pennsylvania Gov. William Keith , who is moved by Franklin's strong writing skills. Keith resolves to help Franklin set up a printing house, and he visits F ranklin at Keimer's office to discuss such plans. They agree that Franklin will receive help from the government, but he must also receive financial assistance from his father. To request such help, Franklin returns to Boston for seven months, where he meets with his father, Josiah, who refuses his request for financial help because he deems Franklin too young. Josiah promises to help Franklin when he turns 21. Meanwhile, Ben learns that James is still very bitter over Ben's resignation.

Franklin decides to return to Philadelphia, this time with Collins in tow. Before getting back, he visits his brother in Rhode Island, and he nearly falls victim to two thieves posing as loose women on a boat to New York, where he meets up with Collins a nd Gov. Burnet of New York, who takes an interest in Franklin's book collection. Collins has become a drunk, and Franklin loans him much money on their trip to Philadelphia. When Collins refuses to row his turn on the boat, however, a fight ensues, and Collins is thrown overboard by Franklin. Collins is humiliated and decides to go to work in Barbados rather than Philadelphia. He never sees Franklin again, and never repays him the borrowed money.

Back in Philadelphia, Franklin tells Keith of his father's refusal to provide financial support, and so Keith agrees to support Franklin himself. Franklin, however, decides first to travel to England so that he may make acquaintances in the bookselling a nd stationery industries. Meanwhile, he works for Keimer, with whom he practices debate and vegetarianism until Keimer gives up. He also begins courting Miss Read, but his upcoming trip to England will not allow him to marry her. He befriends three men --Charles Osborne, Joseph Watson and James Ralph--all of whom are "lovers of reading." Together they hold poetry writing contests and various debates, and Ralph went on to achieve some poetic fame, although he is mostly forgotten today. Franklin dec ides that Ralph will accompany him on his trip to England.

Commentary

Franklin mentions in this section one of his "first errata," when he quits his job with his brother. Franklin's mention of his errors blends in well with the overall theme of self-improvement. Franklin mentions them for one reason so as to show others h ow not to live their lives. He also points them out as a means of showing humility. He wants to make it clear that he has never acted perfectly in all situations, and he wishes to indicate that he recognizes the mistakes he has made during his life. Th e mention of his second erratum has the same effect.

There are times in the Autobiography when Franklin sounds like he is trying to prove to the reader one of his virtues. In his commitment to practice vegetarianism with Keimer, he tells of how he was able to maintain the diet because of his great d etermination. Keimer, Franklin points out, was unable to keep up the practice. Thus, Franklin points out to the reader his own skills of determination by showing that another person was unable to accomplish the same things he did.

His use of Keimer to show his own virtue is particularly interesting because Keimer holds a position of authority over Franklin; he is Franklin's boss. Franklin, as we know, does not think much of Keimer as a printer, and so criticizing Keimer in the Autobiography is a means of getting revenge on Keimer for all time. Many literary critics have often thought of Franklin's Autobiography as a prototypical revenge narrative. The book itself outlines all the ways in which Franklin rises up to become better than the people who were superior to him earlier on in life. He writes about his conflicts with his brother who thought himself superior, and so as a means of getting revenge Franklin goes to Philadelphia and ends up printing the most succe ssful newspaper in Philadelphia if not the New World. Franklin gets revenge on all the Royal Governors who looked down on him by becoming a great political figure himself and condemning them in his book. He gets revenge on John Collins by forever immort alizing him as a drunk who never achieved close to what Franklin achieved because Collins had no work ethic. Franklin even admits to a type of "aristocracy worship" when he discusses how pleased he was and how special he thought it was to meet the New Wo rld Governors and see them take an interest in him. However, later on in life Franklin himself assumes those same types of prominent positions so that, as some critics argue, he could end up being just as good as those he worshiped early on in life.

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