Ben Franklin

Ben franklin

Him, the man.

As far as American literature is concerned, Franklin has no contemporaries. Before the Autobiography only one literary work of importance had been produced in this country—Cotton Mather's Magnalia, a church history of New England in a ponderous, stiff style. Franklin was the first American author to gain a wide and permanent reputation in Europe. The Autobiography, Poor Richard, Father Abraham's Speech or The Way to Wealth, as well as some of the Bagatelles, are as widely known abroad as any American writings. Franklin must also be classed as the first American humorist.

English literature of the eighteenth century was characterized by the development of prose. Periodical literature reached its perfection early in the century in The Tatlerand The Spectator of Addison and Steele. Pamphleteers flourished throughout the period. The homelier prose of Bunyan and Defoe gradually gave place to the more elegant and artificial language of Samuel Johnson, who set the standard for prose writing from 1745 onward. This century saw the beginnings of the modern novel, in Fielding's Tom Jones, Richardson's Clarissa Harlowe, Sterne's Tristram Shandy, and Goldsmith's Vicar of Wakefield. Gibbon wrote The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Hume his History of England, and Adam Smith the Wealth of Nations.

The Style

In the simplicity and vigor of his style Franklin more nearly resembles the earlier group of writers. In his first essays he was not an inferior imitator of Addison. In his numerous parables, moral allegories, and apologues he showed Bunyan's influence. But Franklin was essentially a journalist. In his swift, terse style, he is most like Defoe, who was the first great English journalist and master of the newspaper narrative. The style of both writers is marked by homely, vigorous expression, satire, burlesque, repartee. Here the comparison must end. Defoe and his contemporaries were authors. Their vocation was writing and their success rests on the imaginative or creative power they displayed. To authorship Franklin laid no claim. He wrote no work of the imagination. He developed only incidentally a style in many respects as remarkable as that of his English contemporaries. He wrote the best autobiography in existence, one of the most widely known collections of maxims, and an unsurpassed series of political and social satires, because he was a man of unusual scope of power and usefulness, who knew how to tell his fellow-men the secrets of that power and that usefulness.

Franklin