Thursday, August 19, 2010

Benjamin Franklin

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Visited July 2004

To live in Philadelphia is to be surrounded by Ben Franklin. Streets, banks, stadiums, bridges, malls, museums all carry his name. And the man wasn’t even born here. Ben Franklin was actually born in Boston, January 1706, however there is no hint he ever rooted for the Red Sox.

The basics of Franklin’s life are rattling around the brain of anyone who ever took American History. The fifteenth of seventeen children, he ran away from home to Philadelphia at age 17, where he fell into the printing trade and gradually built a business as a publisher. His colorful life included a common law marriage that lasted 44 years, an illegitimate son who would grow up to be a British governor of New Jersey during the Revolutionary War (and thus Ben’s enemy), a legacy of scientific discoveries, and a key role in drafting the Declaration of Independence.  As a diplomat he represented the Colonies in the courts of both England and France. Franklin’s significance as a founding father is evident in the simple fact that he was a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Probably my favorite Franklin story is told by David McCullough in his book John Adams, where Franklin and Adams were sent by the Continental Congress to meet with the British commander Lord Howe. Stopping overnight at an inn, the two rotund statesmen found themselves sharing a bed in a room with only one small window. They spent the evening arguing over whether keeping the window open or shut would provide greater risk for sickness; debating two equally wrong personal theories of germ spread. (McCullough, 154-55)

Grant and I on the Penn campus in serious debate with the good doctor on whether McNabb should have been traded by the Eagles.  Ben was against the deal.   
Benjamin Franklin was known for his wit, maybe even more than for his wisdom. Here are five of Franklin’s comments that I find pretty funny.

He who falls in love with himself will have no rivals.

She laughs at everything you say. Why? Because she has fine teeth.

We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.

Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.

I wake up every morning at nine and grab for the morning paper. Then I look at the obituary page. If my name is not on it, I get up.
Religious belief had a curious place in Benjamin Franklin's life. His theology may be best summed up in the phrase he coined – "God helps those who help themselves." Franklin seemed to spend his entire life in an internal religious debate. He was raised by Puritan parents, but while he kept many of the moral principles of their religious life, he largely abandoned any biblically recognizable Christianity. In his middle years he became close friends with the evangelist George Whitefield, even publishing his sermons to promote the revival known as The Great Awakening. Franklin had a large hall built for Whitefield to preach in when he was in Philadelphia. Together they converted the hall into what would become the University of Pennsylvania. Yet he never seriously considered the implications of the Gospel Whitefield preached as relevant for his own soul.

Franklin lived to a ripe old age of 84, dying April 17, 1790, from a number of ailments at his home in Philadelphia. His last known words were reported to be, "A dying man can do nothing easy," which seemed to be a reference to his discomfort in his final moments. His funeral in Philadelphia drew a crowd of twenty thousand people. Franklin is buried in the cemetery of Christ Church, which is in the historic section of Philadelphia, a couple of blocks from Independence Hall.

 Franklin’s tombstone is a simple slab that contains his name along with the name of his wife Deborah. But early in life he seemed to have a bit more vision for what would take place as he left this mortal coil.

The body of B. Franklin, Printer
(Like the Cover of an Old Book
Its Contents torn Out
And Stript of its Lettering and Gilding)
Lies Here, Food for Worms.
But the Work shall not be Lost;
For it will (as he Believ'd) Appear once More
In a New and More Elegant Edition
Revised and Corrected
By the Author.

Ben Franklin's grave - people throw pennies on it for good luck - something to do with 'a penny saved...' That's my nephew Ben (coincidentally named) looking to acquire some pocket change - about 6 years ago.

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