Monday, April 02, 2007

Currently reading: Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography

This is one of those books you wish somebody somewhere did you a great kindness of recommending during a much earlier point in your life.

Like many great books, Benjamin Franklin's autobiography was written at an ebb in the writer's life, in this case when Franklin lost all hope of ever securing an imperial office from the British king. He set out to write his autobiography for the guidance of his own son and for other people to know the conducing means with which he secured his life's share of felicity.

For those seeking self-amelioration, Franklin recommends thirteen virtues: temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity and humility. He relates how he maintained a book and tallied all the virtues he trespassed for each day.

Reading his autobiography, one is also struck by Franklin's immense civic spirit. He created a fire insurance service, establish a subscription library, organized a fellowship of public spirited men who regularly discuss public issues and write commentaries, and, because the Assembly dominated by pacifist Quakers would not do it, he even raised a private army to defend Philadelphia. How did he raise the money to buy the cannons? He set up a lottery.

Franklin was for a time also a vegetarian, but upon seeing a codfish's stomach full of smaller fishes, he thought, 'if you eat one another, I don't see why we mayn't eat you.' He commented: "So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do."

If you have time this holy week, I strongly recommend this book. It will be good for you.

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