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Benjamin Franklin FRS FRSE (January 17, 1706 [O.S. January 6, 1705] – April 17, 1790) was an American polymath and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, freemason, postmaster, scientist, inventor, humorist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat. As a scientist, he was a major figure in the American Enlightenment and the history of physics for his discoveries and theories regarding electricity. As an inventor, he is known for the lightning rod, bifocals, and the Franklin stove, among other inventions. He founded many civic organizations, including Philadelphia's fire department and the University of Pennsylvania.
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I. FRANKLIN'S MILIEU: THE AGE OF ENLIGHTENMENT
Benjamin Franklin's reputation, according to John Adams, "was more universal than that of Leibnitz or Newton, Frederick or Voltaire, and his character more beloved and esteemed than any or all of them."[i-1] The historical critic recognizes increasingly that Adams was not thinking idly when he doubted whether Franklin's panegyrical and international reputation could ever be explained without doing "a complete history of the philosophy and politics of the eighteenth century." Adams conceived that an explication of Franklin's mind and activities integrated with the thought patterns of the epoch which fathered him "would be one of the most important that ever was written; much more interesting to this and future ages than the 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.'" And such a historical and critical colossus is still among the works hoped for but yet unborn. Too often, even in the scholarly mind, Franklin has become a symbol, and it may be confessed, not a winged one, of the self-made man, of New-World practicality, of the successful tradesman, of the Sage of Poor Richard with his penny-saving economy and frugality. In short, the Franklin legend fails to transcend an allegory of the success of the doer in an America allegedly materialistic, uncreative, and unimaginative.
It is the purpose of this essay to show that Franklin, the American Voltaire,—always reasonable if not intuitive, encyclopedic if not sublimely profound, humane if not saintly,—is best explained with reference to the Age of Enlightenment, of which he was the completest colonial representative. Due attention[xiv] will, however, be paid to other factors. And therefore it is necessary to begin with a brief survey of the pattern of ideas of the age to which he was responsive. Not without reason does one critic name him as "the most complete representative of his century that any nation can point to."[i-2]
When Voltaire, "the patriarch of the philosophes," in 1726 took refuge in England, he at once discovered minds and an attitude toward human experience which were to prove the seminal factors of the Age of Enlightenment. He found that Englishmen had acclaimed Bacon "the father of experimental philosophy," and that Newton, "the destroyer of the Cartesian system," was "as the Hercules of fabulous story, to whom the ignorant ascribed all the feats of ancient heroes." Voltaire then paused to praise Locke, who "destroyed innate ideas," Locke, than whom "no man ever had a more judicious or more methodical genius, or was a more acute logician." Bacon, Newton, and Locke brooded over the currents of eighteenth-century thought and were formative factors of much that is most characteristic of the Enlightenment.
To Bacon was given the honor of having distinguished between the fantasies of old wives' tales and the certainty of empiricism. Moved by the ghost of Bacon, the Royal Society had for its purpose, according to Hooke, "To improve the knowledge of naturall things, and all useful Arts, Manufactures, Mechanick practises, Engynes and Inventions by Experiments."[i-3] The zeal for experiment was equaled only by its miscellaneousness. Cheese making, the eclipses of comets, and the intestines[xv] of gnats were alike the objects of telescopic or microscopic scrutiny. The full implication of Baconian empiricism came to fruition in Newton, who in 1672 was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. Bacon was not the least of those giants upon whose shoulders Newton stood. To the experimental tradition of Kepler, Brahe, Harvey, Copernicus, Galileo, and Bacon, Newton joined the mathematical genius of Descartes; and as a result became "as thoroughgoing an empiricist as he was a consummate mathematician," for whom there was "no a priori certainty."[i-4] At this time it is enough to note of Newtonianism, that for the incomparable physicist "science was composed of laws stating the mathematical behaviour of nature solely—laws clearly deducible from phenomena and exactly verifiable in phenomena—everything further is to be swept out of science, which thus becomes a body of absolutely certain truth about the doings of the physical world."[i-5] The pattern of ideas known as Newtonianism may be summarized as embracing a belief in (1) a universe governed by immutable natural laws, (2) which laws constitute a sublimely harmonious system, (3) reflecting a benevolent and all-wise Geometrician; (4) thus man desires to effect a correspondingly harmonious inner heaven; (5) and feels assured of the plausibility of an immortal life. Newton was a believer in scriptural revelation. It is ironical that through his cosmological system, mathematically demonstrable, he lent reinforcement[xvi] to deism, the most destructive intellectual solvent of the authority of the altar.
Deists, as defined by their contemporary, Ephraim Chambers (in his Cyclopædia ..., London, 1728), are those "whose distinguishing character it is, not to profess any particular form, or system of religion; but only to acknowledge the existence of a God, without rendering him any external worship, or service. The Deists hold, that, considering the multiplicity of religions, the numerous pretences to revelation, and the precarious arguments generally advanced in proof thereof; the best and surest way is, to return to the simplicity of nature, and the belief of one God, which is the only truth agreed to by all nations." They "reject all revelations as an imposition, and believe no more than what natural light discovers to them...."[i-6] The "simplicity of nature" signifies "the established order, and course of natural things; the series of second causes; or the laws which God has imposed on the motions impressed by him."[i-7] And attraction, a kind of conatus accedendi, is the crown, according to the eighteenth century, of the series of secondary causes. Hence, Newtonian physics became the surest ally of the deist in his quest for a religion, immutable and universal. The Newtonian progeny were legion: among them were Boyle, Keill, Desaguliers, Shaftesbury, Locke, Samuel Clarke, 'sGravesande, Boerhaave, Diderot, Trenchard and Gordon, Voltaire, Gregory, Maclaurin, Pemberton, and others. The eighteenth century echoed Fontenelle's eulogy that Newtonianism was "sublime geometry." If, as Boyle wrote, mathematical and mechanical principles were "the alphabet, in which God wrote the world," Newtonian science and empiricism were the lexicons which the deists used to read the cosmic volume in which the universal laws were inscribed. And the deists and the liberal political theorists "found the fulcrum for subverting existing institutions[xvii] and standards only in the laws of nature, discovered, as they supposed, by mathematicians and astronomers."[i-8]
Complementary to Newtonian science was the sensationalism of John Locke. Conceiving the mind as tabula rasa, discrediting innate ideas, Lockian psychology undermined such a theological dogma as total depravity—man's innate and inveterate malevolence—and hence was itself a kind of tabula rasa on which later were written the optimistic opinions of those who credited man's capacity for altruism. If it remained for the French philosophes to deify Reason, Locke honored it as the crowning experience of his sensational psychology.[i-9] Then, too, as Miss Lois Whitney has ably demonstrated, Lockian psychology "cleared the ground for either primitivism or a theory of progress."[i-10] In addition, his social compact theory, augmenting seventeenth-century liberalism, furnished the political theorists of the Enlightenment with "the principle of Consent"[i-11] in their[xviii] antipathy for monarchial obscurantism. Locke has been described as the "originator of a psychology which provided democratic government with a scientific basis."[i-12] The full impact of Locke will be felt when philosophers deduce that if sensations and reflections are the product of outward stimuli—those of nature, society, and institutions—then to reform man one needs only to reform society and institutions, or remove to some tropical isle. We remember that the French Encyclopedists, for example, were motivated by their faith in the "indefinite malleability of human nature by education and institutions."[i-13]
"With the possible exception of John Locke," C. A. Moore observes, "Shaftesbury was more generally known in the mid-century than any other English philosopher."[i-14] Shaftesbury's a priori "virtuoso theory of benevolence" may be viewed as complementary to Locke's psychology to the extent that both have within them the implication that through education and reform man may become perfectible. Both tend to undermine social, political, and religious authoritarianism. Shaftesbury's insistence upon man's innate altruism and compassion, coupled with the deistic and rationalistic divorce between theology and morality, resulted in the dogma that the most acceptable service to God is expressed in kindness to God's other children and helped to motivate the rise of humanitarianism.
The idea of progress[i-15] was popularized (if not born) in the eighteenth century. It has been recently shown that not only[xix] the results of scientific investigations but also Anglican defenses of revealed religion served to accelerate a belief in progress. In answer to the atheists and deists who indicted revealed religion because revelation was given so late in the growth of the human family and hence was not eternal, universal, and immutable, the Anglican apologists were forced into the position of asserting that man enjoyed a progressive ascent, that the religious education of mankind is like that of the individual. If, as the deists charged, Christ appeared rather belatedly, the apologists countered that he was sent only when the race was prepared to profit by his coming. God's revelations thus were adjusted to progressive needs and capacities.[i-16]
Carl Becker has suggestively dissected the Enlightenment in a series of antitheses between its credulity and its skepticism. If the eighteenth-century philosopher renounced Eden, he discovered Arcadia in distant isles and America. Rejecting the authority of the Bible and church, he accepted the authority of "nature," natural law, and reason. Although scorning metaphysics, he desired to be considered philosophical. If he denied miracles, he yet had a fond faith in the perfectibility of the species.[i-17]
Even as Voltaire had his liberal tendencies stoutly reinforced by contact with English rationalism and deism,[i-18] so were the other French philosophes, united in their common hatred of the Roman Catholic church, also united in their indebtedness to exponents of English liberalism, dominated by Locke and Newton. If, as Madame de Lambert wrote in 1715, Bayle more than others of his age shook "the Yoke of authority and opinion," English free thought powerfully reinforced the native French revolt against authoritarianism. After 1730 English was the[xx] model for French thought.[i-19] Nearly all of Locke's works had been translated in France before 1700. Voltaire's affinity for the English mind has already been touched on. D'Alembert comments, "When we measure the interval between a Scotus and a Newton, or rather between the works of Scotus and those of Newton, we must cry out with Terence, Homo homini quid præstat."[i-20]
Any doctrine was intensely welcome which would allow the Frenchman to regain his natural rights curtailed by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, by the inequalities of a state vitiated by privileges, by an economic structure tottering because of bankruptcy attending unsuccessful wars and the upkeep of a Versailles with its dazzling ornaments, and by a religious program dominated by a Jesuit rather than a Gallican church.[i-21] Economic, political, and religious abuses were inextricably united; the spirit of revolt did not feel obliged to discriminate between the authority of the crown and nobles and the authority of the altar. Graphic is Diderot's vulgar vituperation: he would draw out the entrails of a priest to strangle a king!
Let us now turn to the American backgrounds. The bibliolatry of colonial New England is expressed in William Bradford's resolve to study languages so that he could "see with his own eyes the ancient oracles of God in all their native beauty."[i-22] In addition to furnishing the new Canaan with[xxi] ecclesiastical and political precedent, Scripture provided "not a partiall, but a perfect rule of Faith, and manners." Any dogma contravening the "ancient oracle" was a weed sown by Satan and fit only to be uprooted and thrown in the fire. The colonial seventeenth century was one which, like John Cotton, regularly sweetened its mouth "with a piece of Calvin." One need not be reminded that Calvinism was inveterately and completely antithetical to the dogma of the Enlightenment.[i-23] Calvinistic bibliolatry contended with "the sacred book of nature." Its wrathful though just Deity was unlike the compassionate, virtually depersonalized Deity heralded in the eighteenth century, in which the Trinity was dissolved. The redemptive Christ became the amiable philosopher. Adam's universally contagious guilt was transferred to social institutions, especially the tyrannical forms of kings and priests. Calvin's forlorn and depraved man became a creature naturally compassionate. If once man worshipped the Deity through seeking to parallel the divine laws scripturally revealed, in the eighteenth century he honored his benevolent God, who was above demanding worship, through kindnesses shown God's other children. The individual was lost in society, self-perfection gave way to humanitarianism, God to Man, theology to morality, and faith to reason. The colonial seventeenth century was politically oligarchical:[xxii] when Thomas Hooker heckled Winthrop on the lack of suffrage, Winthrop with no compromise asserted that "the best part is always the least, and of that best part the wiser part is always the lesser."[i-24] If the seventeenth-century college was a cloister for clerical education, the Enlightenment sought to train the layman for citizenship.
With the turn of the seventeenth century several forces came into prominence, undermining New England's Puritan heritage. Among those relevant for our study are: the ubiquitous frontier, and the rise of Quakerism, deism, Methodism, and science. The impact of the frontier was neglected until Professor Turner called attention to its existence; he writes that "the most important effect of the frontier has been in the promotion of democracy here and in Europe.... It produces antipathy to control, and particularly to any direct control.... The frontier conditions prevalent in the colonies are important factors in the explanation of the American Revolution...."[i-25] In the period included in our survey the frontier receded from the coast to the fall line to the Alleghenies: at each stage it "did indeed furnish a new field of opportunity, a gate of escape from the bondage of the past; and freshness, and confidence, and scorn of older society, impatience of its restraints and its ideas, and indifference to its lessons, have accompanied the frontier."[i-26] One recalls the spirited satire on frontier conditions, as the above aspects give birth to violence and disregard for law, in Hugh Brackenridge's Modern Chivalry. Under the satire one feels the justness of the attack, intensified by our knowledge that Brackenridge grew up "in a democratic Scotch-Irish back-country settlement." If the frontiersmen during the eighteenth century did not place their dirty boots on their governors' desks, they were partially responsible for an inveterate spirit of revolt,[xxiii] shown so brutally in the "massacres" provoked by the "Paxton boys" of Pennsylvania. One is not unprepared to discover resentment against the forms of authority in a territory in which a strong back is more immediately important than a knowledge of debates on predestination. Granting the importance of the frontier in opposing the theocratic Old Way, it must be considered in terms of other and more complex factors.
Reinforcing Edwards's Great Awakening, George Whitefield, especially in the Middle Colonies, challenged the growing complacence of colonial religious thought with his insistence that man "is by nature half-brute and half-devil." It has been suggested that Methodism in effect allied itself with the attitudes of Hobbes and Mandeville in attacking man's nature, and hence by reaction tended to provoke "a primitivism based on the doctrine of natural benevolence."[i-27]
The "New English Israel" was harried by the Quakers,[i-28] who preached the priesthood of all believers and the right of private judgment. They denied the total depravity of the natural man and the doctrine of election; they gloried in a loving Father, and scourged the ecclesiastical pomp and ceremony of other religions. They were possessed by a blunt enthusiasm which held the immediate private revelation anterior to scriptural revelation. Faithful to the inner light, the Quakers seemed to neglect Scripture. Although the less extreme Quakers, such as John Woolman, did not blind themselves to the need for personal introspection and self-conquest, Quakerism as a movement tended to place the greater emphasis on morality articulate in terms of fellow-service, and lent momentum to the rise of humanitarianism expressed in prison reform and anti-slavery agitation. Also one may wonder to what extent colonial Quakerism tended to lend sanction to the rising democratic spirit.
In the person of Cotton Mather, until recently considered a[xxiv] bigoted incarnation of the "Puritan spirit ... become ossified," are discovered forces which, when divorced from Puritan theology, were to become the sharpest wedges splintering the deep-rooted oak of the Old Way. These forces were the authority of reason and science. In The Christian Philosopher,[i-29] basing his attitude on the works of Ray, Derham, Cheyne, and Grew,[i-30] Mather attempted to shatter the Calvinists' antithesis between science and theology, asserting "that [Natural] Philosophy is no Enemy, but a mighty and wondrous Incentive to Religion."[i-31] He warned that since even Mahomet with the aid of reason found the Workman in his Work, Christian theologians should fear "lest a Mahometan be called in for thy Condemnation!"[i-32] Studying nature's sublime order, one must be blind if his thoughts are not carried heavenward to "admire that Wisdom itself!" Although Mather mistrusted Reason, he accepted it as "the voice of God"—an experience which enabled him to discover the workmanship of the Deity in nature. Magnetism, the vegetable kingdom, the stars infer a harmonious order, so wondrous that only a God could have created it. If Reason is no complete substitute for Scripture it offers enough evidence to hiss atheism out of the world: "A Being that must be superior to Matter, even the Creator and Governor of all Matter, is everywhere so conspicuous, that there can be nothing more monstrous than to deny the God that is above."[i-33] Sir Isaac Newton with his mathematical and experimental proof of the sublime universal order strung on invariable secondary causes, Mather confessed, is "our perpetual Dictator."[i-34] Conceiving of science as a rebuke to the atheist, and a natural ally to scriptural[xxv] theology, Mather, like a Newton himself, juxtaposed rationalism and faith in one pyramidal confirmation of the existence, omnipotence, and benevolence of God. Here were variations from Calvinism's common path which, when augmented by English and French liberalism, by the influence of Quakerism and the frontier, were to give rise to democracy, rationalism, and scientific deism. The Church of England through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had "pursued a liberal latitudinarian policy which, as a mode of thought, tended to promote deism by emphasizing rational religion and minimizing revelation."[i-35] It was to be expected that in colonies created by Puritans (or even Quakers), deism would have a less spectacular and extensive success than it appears to have had in the mother country. If militant deism remained an aristocratic cult until the Revolution,[i-36] scientific rationalism (Newtonianism) long before this, from the time of Mather, became a common ally of orthodoxy. If a "religion of nature" may be defined with Tillotson as "obedience to Natural Law, and the performance of such duties as Natural Light, without any express and supernatural revelation, doth dictate to man," then it was in the colonies, prior to the Revolution, more commonly a buttress to revealed religion than an equivalent to it.
Lockian sensism and Newtonian science were the chief sources of that brand of colonial rationalism which at first complemented orthodoxy, and finally buried it among lost causes. The Marquis de Chastellux was astounded when he found on a center table in a Massachusetts inn an "Abridgment of Newton's Philosophy"; whereupon he "put some questions" to his host "on physics and geometry," with which he "found him well acquainted."[i-37] Now, even a superficial reading of the eighteenth century discloses countless allusions to Newton, his[xxvi] popularizers, and the implications of his physics and cosmology. As Mr. Brasch suggests, "From the standpoint of the history of science," the extent of the vogue of Newtonianism "is yet very largely unknown history."[i-38]
In Samuel Johnson's retrospective view, the Yale of 1710 at Saybrook was anything but progressive with its "scholastic cobwebs of a few little English and Dutch systems."[i-39] The year of Johnson's graduation (1714), however, Mr. Dummer, Yale's agent in London, collected seven hundred volumes, including works of Norris, Barrow, Tillotson, Boyle, Halley, and the second edition (1713) of the Principia and a copy of the Optics, presented by Newton himself. After the schism of 1715/6 the collection was moved to New Haven, at the time of Johnson's election to a tutorship. It was then, writes Johnson, that the trustees "introduced the study of Mr. Locke and Sir Isaac Newton as fast as they could and in order to this the study of mathematics. The Ptolemaic system was hitherto as much believed as the Scriptures, but they soon cleared up and established the Copernican by the help of Whiston's Lectures, Derham, etc."[i-40] Johnson studied Euclid, algebra, and conic sections "so as to read Sir Isaac with understanding." He gloomily reviews the "infidelity and apostasy" resulting from the study of the ideas of Locke, Tindal, Bolingbroke, Mandeville, Shaftesbury, and Collins. That Newtonianism and even deism made progress at Yale is the tenor of Johnson's backward glance. About 1716 Samuel Clarke's edition of Rohault was introduced at Yale: Clarke's Rohault[i-41] was an attack upon this[xxvii] standard summary of Cartesianism. Ezra Stiles was not certain that Clarke was honest in heaping up notes "not so much to illustrate Rohault as to make him the Vehicle of conveying the peculiarities of the sublimer Newtonian Philosophy."[i-42] This work was used until 1743 when 'sGravesande's Natural Philosophy was wisely substituted. Rector Thomas Clap used Wollaston's Religion of Nature Delineated as a favorite text. That there was no dearth of advanced natural science and philosophy, even suggestive of deism, is fairly evident.
Measured by the growth of interest in science in the English universities, Harvard's awareness of new discoveries was not especially backward in the seventeenth century. Since Copernicanism at the close of the sixteenth century had few adherents,[i-43] it is almost startling to learn that probably by 1659 the Copernican system was openly avowed at Harvard.[i-44] In 1786 Nathaniel Mather wrote from Dublin: "I perceive the Cartesian philosophy begins to obteyn in New England, and if I conjecture aright the Copernican system too."[i-45] John Barnard, who was graduated from Harvard in 1710, has written that no algebra was then taught, and wistfully suggests that he had been born too soon, since "now" students "have the great Sir Isaac Newton and Dr. Halley and some other mathematicians for their guides."[i-46] Although Thomas Robie and Nathan Prince are thought to have known Newton's physics through secondary sources,[i-47] and, as Harvard tutors, indoctrinated their charges with Newtonianism, it was left to Isaac Greenwood[i-48] to transplant[xxviii] from London the popular expositions of Newtonian philosophy. A Harvard graduate in 1721, Greenwood continued his theological studies in London where he attended Desaguliers's lectures on experimental philosophy, based essentially on Newtonianism. From Desaguliers Greenwood learned how
By Newton's help, 'tis evidently seen
Attraction governs all the World's machine.[i-49]
He learned that Scripture is "to teach us Morality, and our Articles of Faith" but not to serve as an instructor in natural philosophy.[i-50] In fine, Greenwood became devoted to science, and science as it might serve to augment avenues to the religious experience. In London he had come to know Hollis, who in 1727 suggested to Harvard authorities that Greenwood be elected Hollis Professor of Mathematics and Natural and Experimental Philosophy.[i-51] Greenwood accepted, and until 1737 was at Harvard a propagandist of the new science. In 1727 he advertised in the Boston News-Letter[i-52] that he would give scientific lectures, revolving primarily around "the Discoveries of the incomparable Sir Isaac Newton." From 1727 through 1734 he was a prominent popularizer of Newtonianism in Boston.[i-53]
It remained for Greenwood's pupil John Winthrop to be the first to teach Newton at Harvard with adequate mechanical and textual materials. Elected in 1738 to the Hollis professorship formerly held by Greenwood, Winthrop adopted 'sGravesande's Natural Philosophy, at which time, Cajori observes, "the teachings[xxix] of Newton had at last secured a firm footing there."[i-54] The year after his election he secured a copy of the Principia (the third edition, 1726, edited by Dr. Henry Pemberton, friend of Franklin in 1725-1726). According to the astute Ezra Stiles, Winthrop became a "perfect master of Newton's Principia—which cannot be said of many Professors of Philosophy in Europe."[i-55] That he did not allow Newtonianism to draw him to deism may be seen in Stiles's gratification that Winthrop "was a Firm friend to Revelation in opposition to Deism." Stiles "wish[es] the evangelical Doctors of Grace had made a greater figure in his Ideal System of divinity," thus inferring that Winthrop was a rationalist in theology, however orthodox.[i-56]
A cursory view of the eighteenth-century pulpit discloses that if the clergy did not become deistic they were not blind to a natural religion, and often employed its arguments to augment scriptural authority. Aware of the writings of Samuel Clarke, Wollaston, Whiston, Cudworth, Butler, Hutcheson,[i-57] Voltaire, and Locke, Mayhew revolts against total depravity[i-58] and the doctrines of election and the Trinity, arraigns himself against authoritarianism and obscurantism, and though he draws upon reason for revelation of God's will, he does not seem to have been latitudinarian in respect to the holy oracles. Although he often wrote ambiguously concerning the nature of Christ, he asserted: "That I ever denied, or treated in a bold or ludicrous manner, the divinity of the Son of God, as revealed in scripture,[xxx] I absolutely deny."[i-59] He is antagonistic toward the mystical in Calvinism, convinced that "The love of God is a calm and rational thing, the result of thought and consideration."[i-60] His biographer thinks that Mayhew was "the first clergyman in New England who expressly and openly opposed the scholastic doctrine of the trinity."[i-61] Coupling "natural and revealed religion," he does not threaten but he urges that one "ought not to leave the clear light of revelation.... It becomes us to adhere to the holy Scriptures as our only rule of faith and practice, discipline and worship."[i-62] In Mayhew one finds an impotent compromise between Calvinism and the demands of reason, fostered by the Enlightenment. Like Mayhew's, in the main, are the views of Dr. Charles Chauncy, who reconciled the demands of reason and revelation, concluding that "the voice of reason is the voice of God."[i-63] Jason Haven and Jonas Clarke are typical of the orthodox rationalists who were alive to the implications of science, and to such rationalists as Tillotson and Locke. Haven affirms that "by the light of reason and nature, we are led to believe in, and adore God, not only as the maker, but also as the governor of all things."[i-64] "Revelation comes in to the assistance of reason, and shews them to us in a clearer light than we could see them without its aid." Clarke observes that "the light of nature teaches, which revelation confirms."[i-65] Rev. Henry Cumings, illustrating his indebtedness to scientific rationalism, honors "the gracious Parent of the universe, whose[xxxi] tender mercies are over all his works ...,"[i-66] a Deity "whose providence governs the world; whose voice all nature obeys; to whose controul all second causes and subordinate agents are subject; and whose sole prerogative it is to dispense blessings or calamities, as to his wisdom seems best."[i-67] Simeon Howard discovers the "perfections of the Deity, as displayed in the Creation" as well as in the "government and redemption of the world."[i-68] Both Phillips Payson[i-69] and Andrew Eliot[i-70] affirm the identity of "the voice of reason, and the voice of God."
No clergyman of the eighteenth century was more terribly conscious of the polarity of colonial thought than was Ezra Stiles. Abiel Holmes has told the graphic story of Stiles's struggles with deism after reading Pope, Whiston, Boyle, Trenchard and Gordon, Butler, Tindal, Collins, Bolingbroke, and Shaftesbury.[i-71] If he finally, as a result of his trembling and fearful doubt, reaffirmed zealously his faith in the bibliolatry and relentless dogma of Calvinism,[i-72] Newtonian rationalism was a means to his recovery, and throughout his life a complement to his Calvinism.[i-73] Turning from his well-worn Bible, the chief source of his faith, he also kindled his "devotion at the stars." It should be remembered, however, that this tendency among Puritan clergy to call science to the support of theology had been inaugurated by Cotton Mather as early as 1693,[i-74] and that it was the Puritan Mather whom Franklin acknowledged as having started him on his career and influenced him, by his Essays to do Good, throughout life.
Only against this complex and as yet inadequately integrated background of physical conditions and ideas (the dogmas of Puritanism, Quakerism, Methodism, rationalism, scientific deism, economic and political liberalism[i-75]—against a cosmic, social, and individual attitude, the result of Old-World thought impinging on colonial thought and environment) can one attempt to appraise adequately the mind and achievements of Franklin, whose life was coterminous with the decay of Puritan theocracy and the rise of rationalism, democracy, and science.
II. FRANKLIN'S THEORIES OF EDUCATION
Franklin's penchant for projects manifests itself nowhere more fully than in his schemes of education, both self and formal. One may deduce a pattern of educational principles not undeservedly called Franklin's theories of education, theories which he successfully institutionalized, from an examination of his Junto ("the best school of philosophy, morality, and politics that then existed in the province"[i-76]), his Philadelphia Library Company (his "first project of a public nature"[i-77]), his[xxxiii] Proposal for Promoting Useful Knowledge among the British Plantations in America, calling for a scientific society of ingenious men or virtuosi, his Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pensilvania and Idea of the English School, which eventually fathered the University of Pennsylvania, and from his fragmentary notes in his correspondence.
Variously apotheosized, patronized, or damned for his practicality, expediency, and opportunism, dramatized for his allegiance to materiality, Franklin has commonly been viewed (and not only through the popular imagination) as one fostering in the American mind an unimaginative, utilitarian prudence, motivated by the pedestrian virtues of industry, frugality, and thrift. Whatever the educational effect of Franklin's life and writings on American readers, we shall find that his works contain schemes and theories which transcend the more mundane habits and utilitarian biases ascribed to him.
Franklin progressively felt "the loss of the learned education" his father had planned for him, as he realized in his hunger for knowledge that he must repair the loss through assiduous reading, accomplished during hours stolen from recreation and sleep.[i-78] Proudly he confessed that reading was his "only amusement."[i-79] In 1727 he formed the Junto, or Leather Apron Club, his first educational project. Franklin was never more eclectic than when founding the Junto. To prevent Boston homes from becoming "the porches of hell,"[i-80] Cotton Mather had created mutual improvement societies through which neighbors would help one another "with a rapturous assiduity."[i-81] Mather in his Essays to do Good proposed:[xxxiv]
That a proper number of persons in a neighborhood, whose hearts God hath touched with a zeal to do good, should form themselves into a society, to meet when and where they shall agree, and to consider—"what are the disorders that we may observe rising among us; and what may be done, either by ourselves immediately, or by others through our advice, to suppress those disorders?"[i-82]
Since Franklin's father was a member of one of Mather's "Associated Families" and since Franklin as a boy read Mather's Essays with rapt attention,[i-83] and since his Rules for a Club Established for Mutual Improvement are amazingly congruent with Mather's rules proposed for his neighborly societies, it is not improbable that Franklin in part copied the plans of this older club. One also wonders whether Franklin remembered Defoe's suggestions in Essays upon Several Projects (1697) for the formation of "Friendly Societies" in which members covenanted to aid one another.[i-84] In addition, M. Faÿ has observed that the "ideal which this society [the Junto] adopted was the same that Franklin had discovered in the Masonic lodges of England."[i-85] Then, too, in London during the period of Desaguliers, Sir Hans Sloane, and Sir Isaac Newton, he would have heard much of the ideals and utility of the Royal Society. Many of the questions discussed by the Junto are suggestive of the calendar of the Royal Society:
Is sound an entity or body?
How may the phenomena of vapors be explained?
What is the reason that the tides rise higher in the Bay of Fundy, than the Bay of Delaware?
How may smoky chimneys be best cured?
Why does the flame of a candle tend upwards in a spire?[i-86]
The Junto members, like Renaissance gentlemen, were determined to convince themselves that nothing valuable to the several powers of life should be alien to them. They were urged to communicate to one another anything significant "in history, morality, poetry, physic, travels, mechanic arts, or other parts of knowledge."[i-87] Surely a humanistic catholicity of interest! Schemes for getting on materially, suggestions for improving the laws and protecting the "just liberties of the people,"[i-88] efforts to aid the strangers in Philadelphia (an embryonic association of commerce), curiosity in the latest remedies used for the sick and wounded: all were to engage the minds of this assiduously curious club. Above all, the members must be "serviceable to mankind, to their country, to their friends, or to themselves."[i-89] The intensity of the Junto's utilitarian purpose was matched only by its humanitarian bias. Members must swear that they "love mankind in general, of what profession or religion soever,"[i-90] and that they believe no man should be persecuted "for mere speculative opinions, or his external way of worship." Also they must profess to "love truth for truth's sake," to search diligently for it and to communicate it to others. Tolerance, the empirical method, scientific disinterestedness, and humanitarianism had hardly gained a foothold in the colonies in 1728. On the other hand, the Junto members were urged, when throwing a kiss to the world, not to neglect their individual ethical development.[i-91] Franklin's humanitarian[xxxvi] neighborliness is associated with a rigorous ethicism. The members were invited to report "unhappy effects of intemperance," of "imprudence, of passion, or of any other vice or folly," and also "happy effects of temperance, of prudence, of moderation." Franklin reflects sturdily here, and boundlessly elsewhere, the Greek and English emphasis on the Middle Way. If this is prudential, it is an elevated prudence.
The Philadelphia Library Company was born of the Junto and became "the mother of all the North American subscription libraries, now so numerous."[i-92] The colonists, "having no publick amusements to divert their attention from study, became better acquainted with books, and in a few years were observ'd by strangers to be better instructed and more intelligent than people of the same rank generally are in other countries."[i-93] It is curious that although many articles have been written describing the Library Company no one seems to include a study of the climate of ideas represented in its volumes.[i-94] One must be careful not to credit Franklin with solely presiding over the ordering of books. At a meeting in 1732 of the company, Thomas Godfrey, probable inventor of the quadrant and he who learned Latin to read the Principia, notified the body that "Mr. Logan had let him know he would willingly give his advice of the choice of the books ... the Committee esteeming[xxxvii] Mr. Logan to be a Gentleman of universal learning, and the best judge of books in these parts, ordered that Mr. Godfrey should wait on him and request him to favour them with a catalogue of suitable books."[i-95] The first order included: Puffendorf's Introduction and Laws of Nature, Hayes upon Fluxions, Keill's Astronomical Lectures, Sidney on Government, Gordon and Trenchard's Cato's Letters, the Spectator, Guardian, Tatler, L'Hospital's Conic Sections, Addison's works, Xenophon's Memorabilia, Palladio, Evelyn, Abridgement of Philosophical Transactions, 'sGravesande's Natural Philosophy, Homer's Odyssey and Iliad, Bayle's Critical Dictionary, and Dryden's Virgil. As a gift Peter Collinson included Newton's Principia in the order. The ancient phalanxes were thoroughly routed! Then there is the MS "List of Books of the Original Philadelphia Library in Franklin's Handwriting"[i-96] which lends recruits to the modern battalions. Included in this list are: Fontenelle on Oracles, Woodward's Natural History of Fossils and Natural History of the Earth, Keill's Examination of Burnet's Theory of the Earth, Memoirs of the Royal Academy of Surgery at Paris, William Petty's Essays, Voltaire's Elements of Sir Isaac Newton's Philosophy, Halley's Astronomical Tables, Hill's Review of the Works of the Royal Society, Montesquieu's Spirit of Laws, Burlamaqui's Principles of Natural Law and Principles of Politic Law, Bolingbroke's Letters on the Study and Use of History, and Conyer Middleton's Miscellaneous Works. From the volumes owned by the Library Company in 1757 it would have been possible for an alert mind to discover all of the implications, philosophic and religious, of the rationale of science. No less could be found here the political speculations which were later to aid the colonists in unyoking themselves from England. The Library was an arsenal capable of supplying[xxxviii] weapons to rationalistic minds intent on besieging the fortress of Calvinism. Defenders of natural rights could find ammunition to wound monarchism; here authors could discover the neoclassic ideals of curiosa felicitas, perspicuity, order, and lucidity reinforced by the emphasis on clarity and correctness sponsored by the Royal Society and inherent in Newtonianism as well as Cartesianism. In short, the volumes contained the ripest fruition of scientific and rationalistic modernity. One can only conjecture the extent to which this library would perplex, astonish, and finally convert men to rationalism and scientific deism, and release them from bondage to throne and altar.
In 1743 Franklin wrote and distributed among his correspondents A Proposal for Promoting Useful Knowledge among the British Plantations in America. From a letter (Feb. 17, 1735/6) of William Douglass, one-time friend of Franklin's brother James, to Cadwallader Colden, we learn that some years before 1736, Colden "proposed the forming a sort of Virtuoso Society or rather Correspondence."[i-97] I. W. Riley suggests that Franklin owes Colden thanks for having stimulated him to form the American Philosophical Society.[i-98] There remains no convincing evidence, however, to disprove A. H. Smyth's observation that Franklin's Proposal "appears to contain the first suggestions, in any public form [editors' italics] for an American Philosophical Society." P. S. Du Ponceau has noted with compelling evidence that the philosophical society formed in 1744 was the direct descendant of Franklin's Junto.[i-99] That in part the Philadelphia Library Company was one of the factors in[xxxix] the formation of the scientific society may be inferred from Franklin's request that it be founded in Philadelphia, which, "having the advantages of a good growing library," can "be the centre of the Society."[i-100] The most important factor, however, was obviously the desire to imitate the forms and ideals of the Royal Society of London. Both societies had as their purpose the improvement of "the common stock of knowledge"; neither was to be provincial or national in interests, but was to have in mind the "benefit of mankind in general." A study of Franklin's Proposal will suggest the purpose of the Royal Society as interpreted by Thomas Sprat:
Their purpose is, in short, to make faithful Records, of all the Works of Nature, or Art, which can come within their reach: that so the present Age, and posterity, may be able to put a mark on the Errors, which have been strengthened by long prescription: to restore the Truths, that have lain neglected: to push on those, which are already known, to more various uses: and to make the way more passable, to what remains unreveal'd.[i-101]
The Royal Society, no less than Franklin's Proposal, stressed the usefulness of its experimentation. Even as it sought "to overcome the mysteries of all the Works of Nature"[i-102] through experimentation and induction, the Baconian empirical method, so Franklin urged the cultivation of "all philosophical experiments that let light into the nature of things, tend to increase the power of man over matter, and multiply the conveniences or pleasures of life."[i-103] Though Franklin may have stopped short of theoretical science,[i-104] he was not only interested in making[xl] devices but also in discovering immutable natural laws on which he could base his mechanics for making the world more habitable, less unknown and terrifying. Interpreting natural phenomena in terms of gravity and the laws of electrical attraction and repulsion is to detract from the terror in a universe presided over by a providential Deity, exerting his wrath through portentous comets, "fire-balls flung by an angry God."
Franklin's program is no more miscellaneous, or seemingly pedestrian, than the practices of the Royal Society. As a discoverer of nature's laws and their application to man's use, Franklin, the Newton of electricity, appealed to fact and experiment rather than authority and suggested that education in science may serve, in addition to making the world more comfortable, to make it more habitable and less terrifying. The ideals of scientific research and disinterestedness were dramatized picturesquely by the Tradesman Franklin, who aided the colonist in becoming unafraid.
Although his Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pensilvania (1749) furnished the initial suggestion which created the Philadelphia Academy, later the college, and ultimately the University of Pennsylvania, it is easy to overestimate the real significance of Franklin's influence in these schemes unless we remember that political quarrels separated him from those who were nurturing the school in the 1750's. In 1759 Franklin wrote from London to his friend, Professor Kinnersley, concerning the cabal in the Academy against him: "The Trustees have reap'd the full Advantage of my Head, Hands, Heart and Purse, in getting through the first Difficulties of the Design, and when they thought they could do without[xli] me, they laid me aside."[i-105] After Franklin failed to secure Samuel Johnson,[i-106] Rev. William Smith was made Provost and Professor of Natural Philosophy of the Academy in 1754. He quoted Franklin as saying that the Academy had become "a narrow, bigoted institution, put into the hands of the Proprietary party as an engine of government."[i-107]
With Milton, Locke, Fordyce, Walker, Rollin, Turnbull, and "some others" as his sources, Franklin adapted the works of these pioneers in education to provincial uses. (One finds it difficult to discover any original ideas in the Proposals.) Like Locke and Milton, he urged that education "supply the succeeding Age with Men qualified to serve the Publick with Honour to themselves, and to their Country."[i-108] Here he was unlike President Clap, who in 1754 explained that "the Original End and design of Colleges was to instruct and train up persons for the Work of the ministry.... The great design of founding this school [Yale] was to educate ministers in our own way."[i-109] As early as 1722, in Dogood Paper No. IV, Franklin caricatured sardonically the narrow theological curriculum of Harvard College.[i-110] Existing for the citizenry rather than the clergy, offering instruction in English as well as Latin and Greek, in mechanics, physical culture, natural history, gardening, mathematics, and arithmetic rather than in sectarian theology, Franklin's Academy was to be more secular and utilitarian than any other school in the provinces. Indeed, Rev. George Whitefield lamented the want of "aliquid Christi" in the curriculum, "to make it as useful as I would desire it might be."
Franklin stressed the need for the acquisition of a clear and concise literary style. He observed: "Reading should also be[xliii] taught, and pronouncing, properly, distinctly, emphatically; not with an even Tone, which under-does, nor a theatrical, which over-does Nature." Hence he reflected the virtues of neoclassic perspicuity and correctness. (These plans he more fully expressed in his Idea of the English School, published in 1751.) As he grew older he apparently became less tolerant of the teaching of the ancient languages in colonial schools: in Observations Relative to the Intentions of the Original Founders of the Academy of Philadelphia (1789), he charged that the Latin school had swallowed the English and that he was hence "surrounded by the Ghosts of my dear departed Friends, beckoning and urging me to use the only Tongue now left us, in demanding that Justice to our Grandchildren, that our Children has [sic] been denied."[i-111] The Latin and Greek languages he considered "in no other light than as the Chapeau bras of modern Literature."[i-112] Like Emerson's, his opposition was to linguistic study rather than to the classical ideas.
Although he emphasized the study of science and mechanics, it is important to observe that he kept his balance. He warned Miss Mary Stevenson in 1760: "There is ... a prudent Moderation to be used in Studies of this kind. The Knowledge of Nature may be ornamental, and it may be useful; but if, to attain an Eminence in that, we neglect the Knowledge and Practice of essential Duties, we deserve Reprehension."[i-113] Not without reserve did he champion the Moderns; remembering several provocative scientific observations in Pliny, he wrote to William Brownrigg (Nov. 7, 1773): "It has been of late too much the mode to slight the learning of the ancients."[i-114] He would not agree with the enthusiastic and trenchant disciple of the[xliv] moderns, M. Fontenelle, that "We are under an obligation to the ancients for having exhausted almost all the false theories that could be found."[i-115] Although he would agree that the empirical method of acquiring knowledge is more reasonable than authoritarianism reared on syllogistic foundations, and with Cowley that
Bacon has broke that scar-crow Deity ["Authority"],[i-116]
he was not blithely confident that science and the knowledge gained from experimentation would create a more rigorously moral race. He wrote to Priestley in 1782: "I should rejoice much, if I could once more recover the Leisure to search with you into the Works of Nature; I mean the inanimate, not the animate or moral part of them, the more I discover'd of the former, the more I admir'd them; the more I know of the latter, the more I am disgusted with them."[i-117] He often suggested, "As Men grow more enlightened," but seldom did this clause carry more than an intellectual connotation. Progress in knowledge[i-118] did not on the whole suggest to Franklin progress in morals or the general progress of mankind.
Essentially classical in morality, extolling a temperance like that of Xenophon, Epictetus, Cicero, Socrates, and Aristotle, Franklin could not cheerily champion the moderns without serious reservations. Considering only progress in knowledge, man may be considered as pedetentim progredientes, but, Franklin thought, man seemed to have found it easier to conquer lightning than himself. If science and other contemporaneous knowledge detracted from cosmic terror, it did not solve the problem of the mystery of evil and sin: like Shakespeare, Franklin was perplexed by the inexplicability and ruthlessness of Man's potential and actual malevolence.[i-119] Thus in stressing[xlv] utility and vocational adaptiveness, Franklin did not forget to stress the need for development of character, man's internal self, and here he did not find the ancients dispensable.[i-120] If unlike Socrates in his studies of physical nature, he was like the Athenian gadfly in his quest for moral perfection in the teeth of "perpetual temptation," in his strenuous and sober effort to know himself. Too little attention has been paid Franklin's Hellenic sobriety—even as it has had too meagre an influence. Let Molière challenge, "The ancients are the ancients, we are the people of today"; Franklin, although confident that he could learn more of physical nature from Newton than from Aristotle, was not convinced that the wisdom of Epictetus or the Golden Verses of Pythagoras were less salutary than the wit of his own age. A modern in his confidence in the progress of knowledge, Franklin, approaching the problem of morality, wisely saw the ancients and moderns as complementary. Aware of the continuity of the mind and race, he was not willing to dismiss the ancients as fit to be imitated. Yet he failed to discover in the welter of egoistic men any continuous moral progress, although, unlike the determinists, he thought that the individual could improve himself through self-knowledge and self-control. Unlike contemporary exponents of the "original genius" cult who scorned industrious rational study and conformity, Franklin as an educational theorist was the exponent of reason and of conscious intellectual industry and thrift; he would mediate between the study of nature and of man, and, like Aristotle, he would rely not so much upon individualistic self-expression as upon a purposeful imitation of those men in the past who had led useful and happy lives.
III. FRANKLIN'S LITERARY THEORY AND PRACTICE [i-121]
Uniting the "wit of Voltaire with the simplicity of Rousseau," Franklin achieved a style "only surpassed by the unimprovable Hobbes of Malmesbury, the paragon of perspicuity." Characterized by simplicity, order, and a trenchant pointedness, his prose style was "a principal means" of his "advancement."[i-122]
He was "extreamly ambitious ... to be a tolerable English writer." In the Autobiography he recalls that he read books in "polemic divinity," Plutarch's Lives (probably Dryden's translation), Pilgrims Progress, Defoe's Essays upon Several Projects, Mather's Essays to do Good, Xenophon's Memorabilia,[i-123] the Spectator papers, and the writings of Shaftesbury and Collins.
Born in Boston, he knew the Bible,[i-124] characterized by[xlvii] the apostle of Augustan correctness, Jonathan Swift, as possessing "that simplicity, which is one of the greatest perfections in any language." If Franklin did not achieve its "sublime eloquence," he approximated at intervals its directness and simplicity. In reading Defoe's Essays he learned that Queen Anne's England urged that writers be "as concise as possible" and avoid all "superfluous crowding in of insignificant words, more than are needful to express the thing intended." (It is possible that Defoe's efforts "to polish and refine the English tongue," to avoid "all irregular additions that ignorance and affectation have introduced," influenced Franklin in favor of "correctness" and against provincialisms.) Defoe's "explicit, easy, free, and very plain" rhetoric is Franklin's.
After Franklin's father warned him that his arguments were not well-ordered and trenchantly expressed, he desperately sought to acquire a convincing prose style. In 1717 James, Franklin's elder brother, returned from serving a printer's apprenticeship in London. James had known and been attracted to Augustan England, the England of the Tatler, Spectator, and Guardian. Familiar is Franklin's narrative of how he patterned his fledgling style on the pages of the Spectator papers, and learned to satisfy his father—and himself. Like the neoclassicists, Franklin learned to write by imitation, by respectfully subordinating himself to those he recognized as masters, and not, like the romanticists, by expressing his own ego in revolt against convention and conformity to traditional standards. The group who supplied copy for James's New England Courant, we are told, were trying to write like the Spectator. "The very look of an ordinary first page of the Courant is like that of the Spectator page."[i-125] In the Dogood Papers (1722) and the Busy-Body[xlviii] series (1728) Franklin's writings show a literal indebtedness to the style and even substance of the Spectator.[i-126] If, after the Busy-Body essays, Franklin's writings bear little resemblance to the elegance and glow of the Spectator, he did learn from it a long-remembered lesson in orderliness. From the Spectator he may have learned to temper wit with morality and morality with wit; he may have learned the neoclassic objection to the "unhappy Force of an Imagination, unguided by the Check of Reason and Judgment";[i-127] he may have acquired his distrust of foreign phrases when English ones were as good, or better, insisting on the use of native English undefiled. It is interesting but perhaps futile to conjecture to what degree Franklin at this time, on reading Spectator No. 160, "On Geniuses" (warning against a servile imitation of ancient authors, a warning which anticipates the cult of original geniuses of later decades), would have been predisposed against ancient literature and languages. If the Spectator was partially responsible for his pleasantries at the expense of Greek in Dogood Paper No. IV, his attitude toward the ancients is more ostensibly the result of his later preoccupation with the sciences,[i-128] and of contact with representatives of the deistic time-spirit whose faith in progress led them to underrate the past.
When Franklin went to live in London in 1724-1726, and became familiar with such men of science as Dr. Henry Pemberton and others, he must have become aware of ideals of prose style not a little unlike those practised by the preachers of his Boston. In Boston he had heard (and in the polemical works in his father's library, read) sermons couched in a style satirized in Hudibras as a "Babylonish dialect ... of patched and piebald languages" (ll. 93 ff.). Sensing the disparity between the seventeenth-century[xlix] prose styles and the empirical, logical, and orderly method of science, the Royal Society not long after its inception inaugurated a campaign for a clarity akin to the pattern urged by Hobbes: "The Light of humane minds is Perspicuous Words, Reason is the Pace, Encrease of Science the way; and the benefit of man-kind the end. And on the contrary, Metaphors, and senseless and ambiguous words, are like ignes fatui; and reasoning upon them, is wandering among innumerable absurdities."[i-129] Summarizing the intent of the stylistic reformations instituted by the Royal Society, Thomas Sprat urged writers "to reject all the amplifications, digressions, and swellings of style: to return back to the primitive purity, and shortness, when men deliver'd so many things, almost in an equal number of words ... a close, naked, natural way of speaking; positive expressions; clear senses; a native easiness: bringing all things as near the Mathematical plainness, as they can: and preferring the language of Artizans, Countrymen, and Merchants, before that, of Wits, or Scholars."[i-130] It is asserted that the program of the Royal Society "called for stylistic reform as loudly as for reformation in philosophy. Moreover, this attitude was in the public mind indissolubly associated with the Society."[i-131] It is only reasonable to infer that Franklin (as a member of the Royal Society and as founder of the American Philosophical Society) was alive to the movement toward "undefiled[l] plainness" which had for half a century been gathering momentum.[i-132]
Even as Cartesianism[i-133] in France is said to have fostered logic and lucidity of detail, and that which is universally valid and recognized by all men, and that art which is aloof to the non-human world, so in England may Newtonianism (which overthrew Cartesianism) have conditioned writers to develop a uniform style, purged of tenuous rhetorical devices. An age characterized by a worship of reason, which was supposed to be identical in all men, an age deferring to the general mind of man, would be hostile to the rhetorical caprices of those expressing their private, idiosyncratic enthusiasms. If the neoclassic apotheosis of simplicity and freedom from intricacy was the result of a "rationalistic anti-intellectualism,"[i-134] expressed in terms of hostility to belabored proof of ideas known to the general will, then it would seem that one of the factors sturdily conditioning this hostility was Newtonian science. Admitting that reason leads to uniformitarianism, one may recall that the processes of science are discoverable by reason, and that such a cosmologist as Newton illustrated mathematically and empirically a system, grand in its lucidity, and capable of being apprehended by all through reason. If the deistic fear of "enthusiasm" in religion—the individual will prevailing against the consensus gentium—parallels, according to Professor Lovejoy, the neoclassic fear of feeling and the unrestrained play of imagination in art, then Newtonian science, as it reinforced deism, was no negligible factor in discrediting enthusiasm, and hence indirectly militating against originality, emotion, and the unchecked imagination. Is it not conceivable that the Newtonian[i-135] cosmology, popularized[li] by a vast discipleship, challenged the scientists and men of letters alike to achieve a corresponding order, clarity, and simplicity in poetry and prose?
After Franklin's return from London, he reinforced his Addison-like style with the rhetorical implications of science and Newtonianism: in his Preface (1729) to the Pennsylvania Gazette he observed that an editor ought to possess a "great Easiness and Command of Writing and Relating Things clearly and intelligibly, and in few Words."[i-136] Good writing, in Franklin's opinion, "should proceed regularly from things known to things unknown [surely the method of all inductive reasoning and science] distinctly and clearly without confusion. The words used should be the most expressive that the language affords, provided that they are the most generally understood. Nothing should be expressed in two words that can be as well expressed in one; that is, no synonyms should be used, or very rarely, but the whole should be as short as possible, consistent with clearness; the words should be so placed as to be agreeable to the ear in reading; summarily it should be smooth, clear, and short, for the contrary qualities are displeasing."[i-137] Like the members of the Royal Society, Franklin would bring the words of written discourse "as near as possible to the spoken."[i-138] In 1753 he observed: "If my Hypothesis [concerning waterspouts] is not the Truth itself it is [at] least as naked: For I have not with some of our learned Moderns, disguis'd my Nonsense in Greek, cloth'd it in Algebra or adorn'd it with Fluxions. You have it in puris naturalibus."[i-139] He briefly summarized his rhetorical ideal, in a letter to Hume: "In writings intended for persuasion[lii] and for general information, one cannot be too clear; and every expression in the least obscure is a fault."[i-140]
Unlike Jefferson, "no friend to what is called purism, but a zealous one" to neology, Franklin had an inveterate antipathy toward the use of colloquialisms, provincialisms, and extravagant innovations.[i-141] In another letter to Hume, he hoped that "we shall always in America make the best English of this Island [Britain] our standard."[i-142] If he did not hold the typical eighteenth-century view that "English must be subjected to a process of classical regularizing,"[i-143] neither did he, with his friend Joseph Priestley, espouse the idea of correctness, dependent only on usage. In general, he seems to have had a tendency toward purism; it is not unlikely that as a youth he was influenced by Swift's Proposal for Correcting, Improving, and Ascertaining the English Tongue.[i-144] Striving for correctness, and[liii] the avoidance of "affected Words or high-flown Phrases"[i-145] he approximated the curiosa felicitas of the neoclassicists.[i-146]
A solid neoclassicist[i-147] in style. Franklin accepted the canon of imitation as it was imperfectly understood in the eighteenth century. To the extent, however, that the models were conceived of as approximating the consensus gentium, fragments illustrating universal reason, there may be little disparity between neoclassic imitation and Aristotle's use of the term in the sense of imitating a higher ethical reality. His own life, Franklin thought, (with the exception of a few "errata") was "fit to be imitated."[i-148] A. H. Smyth notes, perhaps extravagantly, "Nothing but the 'Autobiography' of Benvenuto Cellini, or the 'Confessions' of Rousseau, can enter into competition with it."[i-149] This may suggest a clue to the durable nature of Franklin's life-tale. Cellini, it is true, was tremendously alive to Benvenuto, even as Michel de Montaigne was interested in his own whims, but neither Cellini, nor Montaigne, nor Franklin, could have penned the Confessions, the thesis of which is that if Rousseau is not better than other men at least he is different. Cellini, Montaigne, and Franklin, on the other hand, while allowing us to see their fancies and singular biases, tended to emphasize[liv] those qualities which they held in common with their age, nation, and even the continuity of mankind. Montaigne, it will be remembered, sought to express la connaissance de l'homme en général. With no aspirations to become an original genius, Franklin, both in his prose style and his yearning for perfection, sought the guidance of models, which he conceived as embodying universal reason. Had he been a writer of epics[i-150] he would with Pope have acquired "from ancient rules a just esteem"—when the rules were, in his mind, "according to nature."
Likewise Franklin is representative of the Enlightenment in his description of the province of the imagination. It is an axiom that "the belief that the imagination ought to be kept in check by reason, pervades the critical literature of the first half of the eighteenth century."[i-151] Franklin observes that poetasters above all need instruction on how to govern "Fancy [Imagination] with Judgement."[i-152] He implies that imagination is a power lending an air of unreality to a creation, often like "the Effect of some melancholy Humour."[i-153] He feared that the unchecked fancy would vitiate his ideals of simplicity and correctness, and a sober and practical argument.
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