Many of us have heard of Benjamin Franklin, most know him one of the founding fathers of the United States of America, and one of the original signatories of the Declaration of Independence.
Benjamin Franklin is much more than a political figure, the only one who happens to have signed all four of the most important documents which lead to the birth of the U.S.A..
These events happened in Franklin’s later years, and the life that lead him to become that unique figure, is what is probably most inspiring.
Born in 1706, the youngest son of the youngest son for five generations, Benjamin Franklin was a man who never forgot the lessons that life taught him.
He was also a man who understood, from a very young age, that self- improvement was key to changing his station in life. That may sound strange to us living in the 21st century, but in the 1700’s, the world was a very different place. Franklin was raised to believe that some were chosen, from birth, to go to heaven and some to go to hell. That your lot in life was pre-determined and could not be changed
The infamous Salem Witch Trials, of Massachusetts, had taken place in 1692, and the belief that “demonic influences” were the cause of many everyday catastrophes was wide-spread.
My interest in Ben Franklin was piqued while reading a somewhat fictional version of the man’s life in James Morrow’s wonderful book, The Last Witchfinder. The story about, fictional character, Jennet Stearne’s efforts to prove the dreaded Malleus Maleficarum false, bring down the Parliamentary Witchcraft Act and end the witch-trials once and for all.
The Last Witchfinder compelled me to further understand what the real Benjamin Franklin was like, and more to the point, how he became the man still so well known throughout the world more than three centuries later.
Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography is not like others, it’s not a glorified tale of his successes, there are no revealing confessions. It is a reminder of humble beginnings and a do-it-yourself manual on how to get on in life, with good advice and fatherly wisdom.
Franklin has a unique writing style and began writing his biography in 1770, just before the American Revolution, at a time when tensions are running high between the British and the American colonies. Franklin happens to be in England at that time acting as an emissary to the Colonies, trying to calm the tensions before they completely boil over.
It begins as a letter to his son, William, although Benjamin already seems to sense that it will not remain a private correspondence.
The outlines of his youth, his meetings and his life are at the same time fascinating and entertaining.
Though most of us, if we wrote an autobiography, would probably sing our own praises, with never a serious regret or admittance of the mistakes that each of us make along our paths, Franklin points to these “erratum” or lessons as some of the regrets he has in life. Pointing to these lessons he used these opportunities to develop from the boy he was in his youth and push himself to become the businessman, natural philosopher, and founding father we remember him as.
But Benjamin Franklin was much more than any of these things. He was, perhaps one of the most intelligent net-workers of his time, setting up his Junto, a group that gathered on a weekly basis to discuss personal and professional improvement.
He was also, a master multi-tasker, tackling a variety of questions and finding solutions which could help his fellow man (or woman) in many walks of life. Franklin was an intrepid inventor, tinkering with objects and bringing the best results possible. From the Franklin Stove, which produced more heat and consumed less fuel, to the bi-focal glasses, worn by millions throughout the world even today, to his world famous kite- experiment which led to the Lightning Rod, which is still used to this very day to protect buildings from the threat of lightning- which up until this point had been viewed as a punishment from god.
For the famous kite experiment, he was awarded the Copley Medal (the equivalent of today’s Nobel Prize for Science) in 1753 and cemented his reputation, on a world-wide scale, as a Natural Philosopher.
But Franklin, was not interested in profiting from his inventions, which could benefit all of mankind, and he decided that he would not patent his Lightning rod and many other inventions, instead making his them available for all to benefit from.
I’ve gotten side-tracked though, because Franklin himself, does not include this self-promotion in his autobiography.
In this wonderful little gem of a book, Franklin does not take the time to gloat about his personal achievements, he merely talks of his life as though he were a mere mortal- like the rest of us.
He introduces us to many of his colleagues and cohorts throughout his life and talks of his experiences in trying to find himself as a man through his life.
He speaks barely of his accomplishments, he shares more the trials and tribulations which forged him into the figure he was to be ultimately remembered as.
The life of Benjamin Franklin is anything but dull and though some of his many accomplishments are listed included above, some of the more interesting facts are mainly unknown.
Did you know, that Benjamin Franklin was the first man to chart the Gulf Stream, during his 8 trips across the Atlantic?
Franklin also invented his own musical instrument- the Glass Armonica, which was widely used at the time. Beethoven and Mozart both composed music specifically to be played on the Armonica.
Benjamin Franklin was a fellow of the Royal Society of London, and received an honorary Doctorate from both Oxford and St. Andrew’s University (Scotland), thus making him Dr. Franklin, all with only 2 years of formal education.
To sit and sing the praises of Benjamin Franklin is something I could easily do all day, but in all honesty, this little book is a read everyone of us should discover during our life-times.
Instead, I will end here and ask you to go to your local library, bookstore, or get yourself online and pick up this little book for yourself.
It is a great reminder that each of us, no matter how humble our beginnings, can become anything we set our minds upon.