You can see Franklinís descent from the Puritans, the idea that if you live a certain kind of life you will be blessed, if you do not, you will be cursed. For Franklin, it is more of a secular thing, something you can see working out in the world. If you are lazy and shiftless and no good, the punishment will be poverty. If you want to be rich you need to work hard. This autobiography of Ben Franklin is a new form of literature, one we have not seen before. It focuses on business, specifically a new form of American writing called the rags to riches story. Not about my relationship to God, but my relationship to money. How I made my money and how you can make yours. This is one of the foundations for what we call the American dream. Franklin normalizes the American dream. He lays down the laws and says if you follow them the way he did, then you will get rich too. The Enlightenment folks do believe in God, it is just that God is not nearly so personal as he was for the Puritans. For Ben Franklin, he talks on page 227 about Godís "kind providence, which led me to the means I used and gave them success". So God sort of led me to the things that I used to make success. He gave me the means, but I put it to work. Ben was an apprentice to his older brother who did not pay him that well. An apprentice was like cheap, compulsive labor. You had to put in your time working as an apprentice before you can move up the ladder to form your own company. Franklin got tired of this so he ran off. He went to Philadelphia. He wishes on page 233 that he would have read more proper books when he was a child. He read Pilgrimís Progress. "My fatherís little library consisted chiefly of books in polemic divinity." That is why the Congregationalists are right, why the Quakers are right, why the Baptists are right, why the Methodists are right. Each denomination writing why it was right and everyone else was wrong. This was a waste of time for Franklin. Page 234, somebody is correcting his manner of writing. "Observíd that thoí I had the Advantage of my Antagonist in correct Spelling and pointing I fell far short in elegance of Expression, in Method and in Perspicuity." He endeavors to improve his writings. One of the major themes of Ben Franklin is improvement. Not only is he the father of the rags to riches story, but also to the idea of the American self help book. Next door to Jonathan Edwards saying there is nothing you can do to help yourself, you are just in a fix, is Ben Franklin. Franklin is a guy saying you can prove yourself. You go to any bookstore and there is a whole section of these. Most are no better and many of them are worse than what he does here. Franklin give his thirteen weeks of virtue. That was you write down the virtues you want and you work on one virtue a week. The significance of thirteen is that you are on a three month cycle and you do it four times a year. (chart on page 279-280)
Page 241, we get the before description when he is coming into town. He is a single young man who has nothing except a few coins in his pocket. He asks for this much worth of bread and they load him down. He doesnít realize rent is cheap here, he doesnít realize it, so he gives some money away to poor people, but not before his future wife sees him. She says look at that ridiculous young man. Movies show this all the time. There is this poor outcast who by luck and determination wins the beautiful maiden or the charming prince, which ever it may be. Then he goes to work, starts to work his way up. Page 254, he goes to England for a while. "I drank only Water; the other Workmen, near 50 in Number, were great Guzzlers of Beer. On occasion I carried up and down Stairs a large Form of Types in each hand, when others carried but one in both Hand." So Franklin could carry two trays of type, but he others couldnít because they were drunk. Franklin doesnít have anything against drinking, what he does have against is intemperance. Drinking to the point that it interferes with your work. If Iím drinking water all week and you are drinking beer all week, Iím going to have more money at the end of the week. Franklin is saying if you want to get ahead, youíve got to exercise these virtues. "I endeavoríd to convince him that the Bodily Strength afforded by Beer could only be in proportion to the Grain or Flour of the Barley dissolved in the Water of which it was made; that there was more Flour in a Penny-worth of Bread." So what Franklin does an experiment. How much substance can you get from beer? It is the amount of barley that is put into it? How much barley can you buy as opposed to the amount you would get beer? A lot. You can get a lot more bodily strength feeding yourself if you would just buy the bread. "He drank on however, and had 4 or 5 Shillings to pay out of his Wages every Saturday Night for that muddling Liquor; an Expense I was free from. And thus these poor Devils keep themselves always under." They donít get ahead because they are wasteful. Franklin eventually rises to something of a leader to these people because he is the one getting ahead, the one working harder, the one not dropping the type, the one that is fastest. The boss is more likely to see you and to promote you. Again, itís not only that Ben went through these things, but that you can too. If you want to get ahead, cut down on the beer and work harder. In fact, Franklin becomes something of a lender to these people because he has money left over. He makes money off of their losses. When looking at the financial elements. You can get ahead by working harder by being moderate in your expenses and that is how you can collect money. If you take in more money than you spend your getting richer. If you spend more money than you take in you are getting poorer. Franklin says to lower the amount you spend and raise the amount you take in by working harder. This is the way to get ahead.
Page 279, he goes on to talk about his list of virtues.
- "Temperance, Eat not Dullness. Drink not to Elevation".
- "Silence, Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoiding trifling Conversation".
- "Order, Let all your Things have their Places". So pick up after yourself.
- "Resolution, Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve".
- "Frugality, Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself: i.e., Waste nothing". This American virtue has gone out of the window for the last generation of consumerism.
- "Industry, Lose no Time. Be always employíd in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary Action". So be doing things that will benefit you.
- "Chastity, Rarely use Venery but for Health or Offspring; Never to Dullness, Weakness, or the Injury of you own or anotherís Peace or Reputation". There is nothing there about being faithful to your wife.
- "Humility, Imitate Jesus and Socrates". Rather than giving Jesus this special elevated divinity, He is compared to Socrates. So yes, Jesus has His place, but it is a bit diminished.
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Edited by Group 1, English 303-02 Winter Quarter 1998