September 15, 2023

#08-345: Benjamin Franklin's "Autobiography"

"She, standing at the door, saw me, and thought I made, as I
certainly did, a most awkward, ridiculous appearance" (Wikimedia)

Note: "Founding father" Benjamin Franklin was in may ways "larger than life." His legend is enhanced by his constant writing and publication--often in promotion of his own virtues.

Get Ready: Do you know any good stories about the "first meeting" between a future husband and wife?

Some people are surprised to learn that Benjamin Franklin was never president of the United States. He was, however, a "Founding Father," as well as an ambassador (to France), the Postmaster General, and a shameless self-promoter. He was a writer and publisher, giving us many maxims such as "Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise"; "God helps them that help themselves"; and "No gains without pains."

Among his best-known works is his Autobiography. He writes that, after a falling-out with his brother (and boss), the printer James Franklin, in their native Boston, he sneaked away to New York and then Philadelphia, his main city of residence for the rest of his long life.

One scene about his arrival in Philadelphia is among the most famous (and amusing!) in the Autobiography. He had sent his best clothes around by ship as he rowed upriver with a few others in a smaller boat, a distance of about 15 miles (25 kilometers). He had stuffed spare shirts and "stockings" in his pockets, and when he landed was wearing old clothes which were quite dirty from his journey.

He was very hungry and had very little money. Walking up the street, he saw a boy with some bread. He asked where the baker's shop was, found it, and requested "three-penny worth of any sort" of bread. To his surprise, he received "three great puffy rolls." He writes, "I was surpris'd at the quantity, but took it, and, having no room in my pockets, walk'd off with a roll under each arm, and eating the other."

He must have made quite a sight! As it happened, he passed the house of a Mr. Read, where he was later to board. Mr. Read's daughter--the future Mrs. Franklin, as it happened--saw him and "thought I made... a most awkward, ridiculous appearance." Quite a first meeting for one's future wife! (He gave the two extra rolls to a woman and her child that had been on the small boat with him, and were waiting for another boat to take them further.)

Though he lived to be 84, the Autobiography only covers Franklin's life up to age 52, in 1758, long before Franklin became a "Founding Father" and the group of colonies became a nation.


Practice: Match the term to its definition:

Term Definition
  1. ambassador
  2. autobiography
  3. awkward
  4. falling-out
  5. maxims
  6. postmaster general
  7. shameless
  8. spare
  9. stockings
  10. three-penny
  1. bold; unembarrassed
  2. extra
  3. a representative from one country to another
  4. three cents
  5. a disagreement; an argument
  6. lacking social skills
  7. long socks once worn by men
  8. the CEO of a country's postal service
  9. an account of one's life
  10. proverbs; wise sayings

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for September 15, 2023

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. c; 2. i; 3. f; 4. e; 5. j; 6. h; 7. a; 8. b; 9. g; 10. d