23 Dec 2015, Posted by Founding Franklin in The Franklin You Thought You Knew


Over the past several months, I have focused on various aspects of Benjamin Franklin’s life and work. Most of these observations were based on serious accomplishments in Franklin’s life. There is, however, a very significant item on Dr. Franklin’s resume which cannot be overlooked. Ben Franklin wrote some of the most memorable satire of the eighteenth century. Like Jonathan Swift, the Anglo-Irish clergyman and satirist of the seventeenth century, who greatly influenced Franklin, and Mark Twain, who carried on that rich tradition in a later century, Franklin loved to skewer the comfortable by making sport of their foibles.

Franklin began his public writing at the age of sixteen, with his Silence Dogood letters, in which he claimed to be a widow in her forties. In those letters he frequently took jabs at Boston’s male establishment. He would go on to write under many more pseudonyms, including Richard Saunders, ( in Poor Richard’s Almanac), Caelia Shortface, Martha Careful, Busy Body, Anthony Afterwit ( humorous male marital advice in Franklin’s Gazette ), Alice Addertongue ( Gazette gossip columnist ) and Benevolous, who answered London newspaper criticisms of the American colonists.

Franklin was not above racy, down-to-earth essays. “In Defense of Polly Baker, a Poor Girl of Easy Virtue” is a wonderful, juicy tale in which a woman who is repeatedly punished for giving birth to out-of-wedlock children states her case. She is punished, but the respectable fathers are consistently untarnished. In a great finale, she marries the last judge before whom she appears. It is a wonderful jab at hypocrisy. mailto:

tumblr_l3erewsYtl1qbuhn7In an even more explicit, and frightfully politically incorrect essay by modern standards ( but really funny ), Ben Franklin gives advice to a young man in matters of the heart and hormones. The young man is overflowing with sexual desire, and the writer strongly advises that he marry, going on to state the case for such a union. The young man states objections and impediments to marriage, and the writer replies, reluctantly, that if he must take a mistress, it is better to take an older one than a younger one. He includes physiological descriptions as well as emotional reasons for this approach. He concludes by saying that “ a younger woman will be disappointed, but an older one will be grateful.”

In his business and political career, as well as his personal relationships, Benjamin Franklin had occasion to engage in conversation with a variety of people. Apparently he found some of those people to be a bit arrogant and overbearing, because he wrote a wonderfully satirical list of “Rules for Making Oneself a Disagreeable Companion. Here is the link.

Anthony Afterwitt was Franklin’s penname for his tongue-in-cheek marital advice column for men in the Pennsylvania Gazette. Anthony is a happy bachelor, who marries a woman who aspires to Gentlewoman status, creating chaos in Anthony’s previously ordered life.

Finally, Franklin takes on his most persistent enemy, the gout. This ailment troubled him for the last several years of his life, often rendering him house-bound and in pain. In true Franklin fashion, his weapon of choice in this fight with the gout is the pen. In the Dialogues with the Gout, the disease is personified as Madame Gout. Franklin calls her his enemy, but she turns the tables, saying that he is his own enemy. She cites his excess of meat and drink, and lack of exercise. He defends his lifestyle, blaming his duties, etc. It is a delightful series of dialogues, and it shows that Franklin is not afraid to skewer himself along with others.

I hope you enjoy these writings, and that you will seek out others.



Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someoneShare on LinkedInPrint this pageShare on StumbleUpon

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.