Franklin today, and I'll begin with a period-appropriate digression: I gave up on HBO's "John Adams." I had them all on my Tivo and watched two of them. Their gelid pacing, the reverence. You have Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney and instead of taking advantage of these actors' splendid ability to go fast, you have them look into the middle distance meaningfully, as if to see the Stop & Shop that's going to be there in the future, or perhaps they're wondering whatever happened to Tom Hanks, who used to be so funny.
Anyway, it's an extremely interesting excerpt because it begins near the place where he stopped writing it before the war (I had forgotten that -- there's a huge gap in the composition of this book). Right off the bat we get Randy Ben:
In the mean time, that hard-to-be-governed passion of youth hurried me frequently into intrigues with low women that fell in my way, which were attended with some expense and great inconvenience, besides a continual risque to my health by a distemper which of all things I dreaded, though by great good luck I escaped it.He had good luck with the ladies, which is even more impressive when you consider that he had to be "early to bed". (Can you imagine how the course of history would have changed if Franklin had caught a low-women-related "distemper"? Perhaps he never would have invented the Franklin Stove or the 360 dunk!)
Anyway, he starts setting up a library, and then the manuscript ends. But the transition to the later-written stuff is not seamless, instead we get pages and pages of two letters telling Franklin how great he is and how he must continue autobiographing for the good of Humanity:
Life is uncertain, as the preacher tells us; and what will the world say if kind, humane, and benevolent Ben. Franklin should leave his friends and the world deprived of so pleasing and profitable a work; a work which would be useful and entertaining not only to a few, but to millions?It reminds me of Twain's famous essay about Franklin: "He was always proud of telling how he entered Philadelphia, for the first time, with nothing in the world but two shillings in his pocket and four rolls of bread under his arm. But really, when you come to examine it critically, it was nothing. Anybody could have done it."
One of the things I find charming in Franklin is his huge ego, as seen in publishing the genuflecting letters noted above. Because he knows how to be charming about his vanity:
...I therefore put myself as much as I could out of sight, and stated it as a scheme of a number of friends, who had requested me to go about and propose it to such as they thought lovers of reading. In this way my affair went on more smoothly, and I ever after practis’d it on such occasions; and, from my frequent successes, can heartily recommend it. The present little sacrifice of your vanity will afterwards be amply repaid.In other words, "I don't present myself as so great, and that's one of the things that's so great about me."