"Though I never arrived at perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, yet I was, by the endeavor, a better and happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it."
-- Ben Franklin
As a native Pennsylvanian, I have always admired Ben Franklin but more from a distance than close up and personal. But when my friends, Dave and Linda Maracle, recently gave me James C. Humes' The Wit and Wisdom of Ben Franklin (1995), I knew it was time to learn more about our "most quoted American."
Although Franklin was born January 17, 1706 in Boston, at age 17 he moved to Philadelphia. And though he lived temporarily in other places including overseas, he will always be considered as one of our greatest Pennsylvanians.
Humes' book highlights "the incredible range of Franklin's creativity and genius." There one can learn of his "down-home Americanism" in sections titled "Franklin Firsts" and "Inventions, Ideas and Discoveries" and "Renaissance Roles." Many of Franklin's "Sage Sayings" and "Anecdotes and Adventures" keep circulating through each generation.
I would certainly commend Humes' book to you, but for today I would like to share a few highlights of this amazing American which stood out to me. Here are a few of his great quotes:
- These are scraps from the table of wisdom that if well digested, yield strong nourishment to the mind.
- A word to the wise is enough; and many words won't fill a bushel.
- I would advise you to read with a pen in your hand and enter in a little book short hints of what you feel that is common or that may be useful; for this will be the best method of imprinting such portcullis in your memory.
- He who shall introduce into public affairs the principles of primitive Christianity shall revolutionize the world.
- By my rambling digressions, I perceive myself to be getting old.
When Franklin arrived in Philadelphia in 1723, the newly emerging city was a welcomed place for a new kind of thinker. With the birth of the Age of Enlightenment, he brought into that fertile soil "the natural optimism of youth, he also brought a curious nature and inventive mind."
In Humes' words, "Mr. Franklin was a 'Mr. Fix-It.' He was the right man, in the right place, at the right time." Here are a few "Franklin Firsts."
- Abolition of Slavery. In 1787 Franklin organized the first abolition society in America, becoming its president. He rejected the idea that blacks were innately inferior, saying that they were victims of their environment and of a deprived education.
- Editorial. Franklin introduced the editorial to the pages of his Pennsylvania Gazette. It consisted of the editor's opinion on current political issues. It was decades before other American newspapers followed suit.
- Fire Department. When Franklin organized the Philadelphia Fire Department, it was the first of its kind in Philadelphia.
- Foundation. In his will Franklin created two trusts of a thousand British pounds -- each for the two cities that shaped his life, Boston and Philadelphia.
- Hospital. Franklin professed to disdain doctors. Nevertheless, he helped establish the first American hospital.
- Insurance Society. The first insurance company in American was a mutual, for fire and casualty. Franklin conceived the idea when a neighbor's house burned down. He then proposed a pooling together of funds for insurance purposes.
- Lending Library. As a young printer in Philadelphia, Franklin proposed to his bibliophile friends that each donate several books to a library. The pooled collection became a mutual library. Fines for overdrawn books were used to buy new books. Soon Franklin opened it up to the public and he named it the Free Library.
The list of "Franklin Firsts" could go on and on. From franchising to indoor plumping and from political cartoons to windsurfing, the influence of this remarkable Pennsylvanian continues to this day. What an amazing man indeed!
Think about it.
This column previously appeared in The Phoenix.