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The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin

Part Two

Summary Part Two


Part Two opens with the letters to Franklin The first is from a Mr. Abel James, and it comments on Part One of the Autobiography and the outline of the rest of the work, both of which Franklin had shown him asking for his opinion. Written in 1782, the letter encourages Franklin to complete the work. The second letter is from Benjamin Vaughn, and it is dated January, 1783. Having seen the outline and parts of the book itself, Vaughn encourages Franklin to continue with the book because, when published, the book may be of great use to others who are looking for a model by which they can better their lives. Perhaps more importantly, Vaughn argues that the publication of the Autobiography will prove to the English that the Americans are a great people of virtue and industry, and America is a country which has great economic mobility.

Franklin, who is writing from France immediately after the Revolution ended, returns to some of his old accomplishments. He mentioned that the library he started in 1730 was a big success. He had bought books from England because there were no good bookstores in Philadelphia. His library, he writes, helped "reading become fashionable...[and] people become better acquainted with books." Nevertheless, fearing resentment from others because of his increasing success and fame, Franklin writes that he did not take too much credit for the library when it first started.

As the library is started, Franklin himself is just starting a new family with Miss Read, his new wife. He uses the library for his own mental development, and meanwhile he manages to support his family based on "industry and frugality." He saves money wherever possible. He remains a firm Deist, but he mentions that he respects all religions and dislikes religious strife. He does not ever attend "public worship," and he finds fault in some Christian theological interpretations of morality.

Continually obsessed with self-betterment, Franklin consents "to the bold and arduous project of arriving at Moral Perfection." He creates a list of 13 virtues that are, in order: Temperance, Silence, Order, Resolution, Frugality, Industry, Sincerity, Justice, Moderation, Cleanliness, Tranquility, Chastity, and Humility. He sets about creating a weekly plan by which he will develop one virtue per week, eventually perfecting them all. He focuses on one virtue per week, keeping track of his successes and failures in a small book he keeps with him at all times. He also develops a daily planner to help him acquire Order. Franklin finds many faults at first, but over time he manages to correct most of them. He finds that Order is the most difficult for him to acquire, partly because Franklin's good memory makes Order not as necessary. However, Franklin ends up being pleased with his inability to perfect all his virtues, deciding, "a speckled axe is best....A benevolent man should allow a few faults in himself, to keep his friends in countenance." Franklin writes that although he never became perfect, he did become happier. He writes about his hope that all his descendants who read his Autobiography will derive the same enjoyment and benefits from acquiring these virtues.

Franklin adds that the list of virtues are likely to appeal to people of all religions. They are not geared specifically at any one particular faith because Franklin stresses their utilitarian benefits rather than their moral benefits. He mentions that Humility was added last when his friends started to complain that he was too arrogant. To make himself seem more humble, he used such phrases as "I conceive" or "I apprehend" rather than "certainly, undoubtedly," etc. Franklin writes that he afterwards started enjoying conversations more. However, he found his pride impossible to vanquish. In fact, he sardonically mentions that he became so humble so as to be proud of his own humility.

Note: In 1784, Franklin once again stops writing his autobiography. He resumes back in America, four years later, in August 1788.

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