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Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
How Benjamin Franklin established the public library in Philadelphia
Benjamin Franklin was the first to start a public library in Philadelphia. Initially, Franklin had suggested that he and his “debate club” friends put their books together in one common library where each could access them. They gathered the books and set them in one area of the little room they had been given. Unfortunately, they were not successful as the books were not sufficient and there was no effective arrangement to care for the books; therefore, after some time the “library” broke down and each one took back his collection and they parted ways. That notwithstanding, Franklin did not relent but came up with the idea of subscription library, which came into fruition with the help of his “Junto” friends. This is evidenced by his statement
“…by the help of my friends in the Junto I Procured fifty subscribers of forty shillings each to begin with, and ten shillings a year for fifty years, the term our company was to continue. We afterwards obtain’d a charter, the company being increased to one hundred: this was the mother of all the North American subscription libraries, now so numerous” (Chapter VIII).
The library encouraged Ben Franklin to read more and improve his education hence meeting his father’s intention. Furthermore, the fame that he got through the library made him stand before and with kings. The Philadelphia community, due to learning promoted by the library, became more “educated” compared to their counterparts in other countries.
Franklin’s quest for moral perfection
Ben Franklin was a person who was in pursuit for moral perfection, which he tried to journey through a disciplined process. The process involved putting down the several virtues that were to guide his everyday life. However, unlike the common trend of having a lot of ideas under few virtue names, he decided to have minimal ideas or explanations under thirteen names of virtues. It can be viewed that the brevity of the ideas or explanations of these virtues was necessary to make them easily understandable and simple follow, for example, for temperance, he simply put it as ‘Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation” (Chapter IX). At the same time, Franklin knew that it was impractical to effectively achieve all these virtues at once and thus he came up with a formula that he deemed feasible. The formula involved perfecting one virtue at a time before proceeding to the next. Furthermore, “previous acquisition of some virtue might facilitate the acquisition of certain others…” (Chapter IX). In the process, he made a ‘rule book” in which he made a plan for every day to ensure that adhered to the virtues and identified any faults in the process.
Although Franklin was generally successful in achieving moral perfection, he was not without flips. He stated that it was hard for him to maintain some virtues. The virtue that was most challenging for him to maintain was order. According to Franklin, it was almost not practical to observe order, especially for a person whose responsibilities involve interacting with the public and meeting with business people who have unpredictable meeting hours. In addition, he found it difficult to practice order concerning placement of things including papers since he was not accustomed to any particular order. In his words he had no experience of “inconvenience” that necessitated a method of doing work. This is evidenced in his statement;
Order, too, with regard to places for things, papers, etc., I found extreamly difficult to acquire. I had not been early accustomed to it, and, having an exceeding good memory, I was not so sensible of the inconvenience attending want of method……. I was almost ready to give up the attempt, and content myself with a faulty character in that respect.” (Chapter IX).
Franklin used speckled ax analogy to explain the inevitability of faults in life. He asserted that “the speckled ax was the best” meaning that it would be pretentious to live a life without faults. In elaboration, if someone tries to portray himself as a person who perfectly moral, it would be shameful when he is found not be following the exact moral path.
Benjamin Franklin, A religious man?
Benjamin Franklin was a man who believed in God but he was not religious. In different parts in the autobiography he acknowledges God and His power. For example, in first chapter he writes
“And now I speak of thanking God, I desire with all humility to acknowledge that I owe the mentioned happiness of my past life to His kind providence, which lead me to the means I used and gave them success. … the complexion of my future fortune being known to Him only in whose power it is to bless to us even our afflictions” (chapter I).
Franklin goes ahead to describe himself as a deist meaning that he believed in reason and nature and not in supernatural revelations (Chapter VII). It is an indication that he saw that God reveals himself to people through reasoning and discovering what He has already created. In the whole of the autobiography Franklin does not mention any religion that he is inclined towards. Instead, he mentions different religious groups such as Quakers, “Seventh Day”, Dunkers, and Baptists, which he mystifies for following certain rituals and rules. Moreover, he notes that most religious groups ask people to be good, without giving examples or explaining to them what is the standard of being virtuous. Therefore, according to Franklin it is not necessary for some to follow some organized religions but the best way of living is being honest, believing in God, doing what is good for oneself and to the public, and being practically virtuous.
Benjamin Franklin was a practical persons and who was always in the quest for moral perfection and common good. His role in establishing a public library in Philadelphia demonstrates his mission to have a public that is enlightened, which is good for the prosperity of a nation. Regarding his quest for moral perfection, it has been demonstrated that through personal discipline and self-set rules he was able to live by the set virtues; however, he also acknowledges it not practical for one to be perfectly virtuous. In addition, he showed that someone does not need to be in an organized religion to live a Godly and morally upright life.
Pine, Frank Woodworth, Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY, New York 1916