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The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin

Part One, third section

Part One, second section

Part Two

Summary

On route to England with Ralph, Franklin meets a Quaker called Mr. Denham with whom he will stay friends in England. They arrive in London in December 24, 1724. Franklin quickly learns, however, that despite what Keith promised, he did not actually write Franklin a letter of recommendation to be shown to all the printers and stationery sellers in London with whom Franklin was hoping to make connections. Denham advises Franklin to get a job at Palmer's, a famous printing house, where Franklin works for the next year while living with Ralph. Ralph slowly forgets his wife and children and Franklin forgets Miss Read as they live life to the fullest, always having fun and always going broke. Franklin, meanwhile, befriends a man named Wilcox, and together they work out a deal for a small lending library, and idea which will come to greater fruition back in Philadelphia. Franklin prints a pamphlet called A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain. The pamphlet is read by a well known surgeon in London, who makes a point of befriending Franklin and introducing him to a number of famous London figures.

Meanwhile, Ralph decides to move out of London into the countryside with his new girlfriend. Ralph becomes a school teacher and begins writing epic poetry, most of which is very bad, and mailing it to Franklin to read. Ralph's girlfriend begins to worry about Ralph, and she goes to Franklin for advice. Franklin, however, thinks that she is flirting with him, and so when he propositions her, she runs back and tells Ralph about it, forcing Ralph and Franklin to break off their friendship.

Franklin eventually gets promoted out of presswork and into composing articles. He makes more money and moves out of his old lodgings. He begins renting a room from an elderly woman who tells him lots of stories. He makes more friends and spends much of his time swimming (he even thinks of opening a swimming school), but after 18 months in London, Mr. Denham persuades him to leave London and return to Philadelphia.

Back in America, Franklin sees that Keith has lost his job as Governor and has become a common citizen. Keimer offers Franklin a manager job on his return, which Franklin at first declines so that he may work for Denham in his goods store. When Denham dies, however, Franklin takes over managerial work at Keimer's, "putting his printing house in order." Although some employees quit, Franklin gets along with them all very well. He becomes a full-fledged workaholic, making a mold for duplicate types and spending all hours of the day at the presses. When Keimer seeks to cut Franklin's wages, however, Franklin quits. With his friend Meredith, Franklin agrees to take over Keimer's printing house when it goes broke and use it to begin a new newspaper with printing supplies (often called cuts and types) from London. Keimer, however, gets a new job in New Jersey, and offers Franklin a partnership, which Franklin accepts so that he can meet new people in New Jersey. Although Keimer gains a lot from being able to use Franklin's cuts and types, Franklin gains from his new connections. He then returns to Philadelphia and, with his new material from London, begins work in a new printing house with Meredith.

Around this time, Franklin explores his own intellectualism, and he fully converts to Deism. He adopts the ideals of "truth, sincerity and integrity," and as a means of debating these, he forms a group called the Junto, which meets every Friday to discuss questions of philosophy and morality. The group lasts approximately 40 years, and expands substantially later on.

Through Franklin's great industry, his new paper avoids bankruptcy. However, when Keimer falls on the verge of bankruptcy, Franklin buys his paper and turns it around (Keimer later goes fully broke and moves to the Caribbean). He also become the official printer for the Pennsylvania Assembly, the colonial government, thanks to his connections with a Mr. Hamilton whom he met on a boat to England. Franklin begins to make a substantial amount of money which he uses to pay off all the debts he ever incurred, plus interest. Meredith, meanwhile, leaves the newspaper and moves to the southern colonies. In 1729, Franklin hires two men named Coleman and Grace to replace Meredith and to expand the operation.

Several months later, a debate arises in the government over paper money, and Franklin prints his pamphlet entitled The Nature and Necessity of a Paper Currency. When the House votes in favor of paper currency, they hire Franklin to print it, which brings him good income. He was later hired to print even more government documents. Meanwhile, he starts to think about marriage. He has trouble finding a wife because the job of a printer is not yet seen as very respectable. He finally weds his old sweetheart, Miss Read, on September 1, 1730. It is her second marriage; her first husband abandoned her. She helps Franklin in his "first project of a public nature": a subscription library, which Franklin founds as the first library in America.

Note: At this point, Franklin stops writing his autobiography so that he can devote himself fully to the events of the Revolution, which are just beginning. He resumes writing after the Revolution, in the early 1780s.

Commentary

We see that Franklin is beginning to become more prolific as a writer. In this section, he publishes a pamphlet in England and talks about the reasons for its necessity. Franklin clearly sees that writing is a tool through which he can express his ideas and argue points, and he believes that it is this mentality that helps him become such a success later on in life. One of the purposes of the Autobiography is to trace Franklin's intellectual growth as he slowly becomes that great mind as which future generations always remember him. This facet of the Autobiography may in part provide the theoretical groundwork for Henry Adams' autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams. This facet also partly places the work in its 18th-century Age of Reason context, when the perfectibility of the human mind through education was idealized by the intellectual community.

In this section, Franklin proves that he does have a generous side. He follows the religious principle of allowing others to borrow from you when they are in need, and as a result he loans much money to Ralph, none of which is ever repaid. Franklin shows here that although he thinks it necessary to live virtuously, he does not mind giving money to people who do not live virtuously, such as Collins and Ralph. Franklin shows that even though he aspires to be a part of the aristocracy, he is not interested in accruing as much money as possible, and he is willing to be generous and non- judgmental in the loaning of his money.

Franklin states in this section that he becomes a believer in Deism. Loosely explained, Deism emerged during the Age of Reason as a religious philosophy based on a belief in God but not in any particular denominations. To Deists, God was like a watchmaker who creates a watch and then lets its run of its own accord without interfering in its mechanisms. Most Deists believed in a non- interventionist God who created the world and humans but watches them from a distance without affecting the outcome of every action. Deists do not subscribe to any particular Christian denomination. Franklin's subscription to Deism places him intellectually among many prominent thinkers of the later 17th century. Franklin's faith in God but belief in Deism also worked its way into some of his writings, leading him to create the aphorism, "God helps those who help themselves." Along with Deism comes a utilitarian attitude by which Franklin idealizes things that are somehow useful or promote pleasure, utilitarianism itself being another ideal to grow out of the Age of Reason.

Also in this section, Franklin refers sometime to his various virtues and why they are important. This foreshadows the lengthy discussion of virtues that follows in Part Two of the Autobiography. However, Franklin's outline of some virtues here may be the result of poor planning on his part that results in repetition. Franklin wrote the Autobiography in several pieces separated by many years. Part Two was written over a decade after Part One, and it was written at a time when Franklin did not even have Part One with him; he probably had little recollection of what he had even written in Part One. He did, however, with the aide of some letters, remember that he had meant to discuss virtue more completely, thus prompting his decision to outline his list of 13 virtues as we will see in the next section.

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