Posts Tagged ‘Benjamin Franklin’

Book Review: Book of Ages : the Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore

AuthorJill Lepore
TitleBook of Ages : the Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin
Publication Info: Vintage (October 1, 2013)
ISBN: 9780307958341
Books read by the same author:


Jill Lepore, one of my favorite historians, addresses the question put forth by Virginia Woolf regarding about Shakespeare’s sister being equally brilliant but lacking the opportunity due to her sex through the history of Benjamin Franklin’s sister Jane Franklin Mecom.  Jane was the youngest of the Franklin children, six years younger than Benjamin, and they were very close.  Benjamin recognized Jane’s intelligence and teaches her reading and writing until he leaves Boston at the age of 17.  From that point on the siblings would see one another very infrequently but remain close through correspondence. Jane marries young, has many children, struggles through poverty, and sees many of her children die, but she perserves.   There’s a heart-touching moment in their history when Benjamin brings Jane to Philadelphia to offer her a safe place to live during the Revolutionary Way.  Later, he would pay for a house in the North End of Boston where she would live her final year.

There’s only a small amount of Jane’s writing that survives, her correspondence with Benjamin and some other relatives as well as her Book of Ages where she recorded the births and deaths of family members.  Building on these, Lepore uses the writings of friends and relatives as well as women in similar positions at the time to build the story of Jane Franklin.  As the title states, Lepore also relates Jane’s opinions.  She was more devoutly religious than her brother, and chided him for that, but also relates some interesting perspective on the political debates of the time.  Her descriptions of the battles raging around Boston in April 1775 and fears that the fighting will come into the town are particularly chilling.

This is a brilliant book, which offers a well-sourced history and biography of an everyday woman of 18th-century American woman as well as the contrast of a gifted woman’s lack of opportunity compared to her famed brother.  I highly recommend reading this book.
Favorite Passages:

“Benjamin Franklin fought for his learning, letter by letter, book by book, candle by candle. He valued nothing more. He loved his little sister. He taught her how to write. It was cruel, in its kindness. Because when he left, the lessons ended.”

“The Book of Ages is a book of remembrance. Write this for a memoriall in a booke. She had no portraits of her children, and no gravestones. Nothing remained of them except her memories, and four sheets of foolscap, stitched together. The remains of her remains. The Book of Ages was her archive. Kiss this paper. Behold the historian.”

“Jane’s Book of Devotions was her Book of Ages. Her devotions were prayers that her children might live. And her Book of Virtues was the Bible, indelible. She explained her creed to her brother: ‘I profess to Govern my Life & action by the Rules laid down in the scripture.’  The virtue she valued most was faith. It had no place on Franklin’s list. She placed her trust in Providence. He placed his faith in man.”

“Gage had ‘sent out a party to creep out in the night & Slauter our Dear Brethern for Endevering to defend our own Property,’ Jane reported to her brother. ‘The distress it has ocationed is Past my discription,’ she wrote. ‘The Horror the was in when the Batle Aprochd within Hearing Expecting they would Proceed quite in to town, the comotion the Town was in after the batle ceasd by the Parties coming in bringing in there wounded men causd such an Agetation of minde I beleve none had much sleep, since which we could have no quiet.’ She expected that the colonial militia would march into town and continue the battle in Boston: ‘We under stood our Bretheren without were determined to Disposes the Town of the Regelors.’Instead, the militia surrounded the city.”

“‘Perhaps few Strangers in France have had the good Fortune to be so universally popular,’ he wrote her. ‘This Popularity has occasioned so many Paintings, Busto’s, Medals & Prints to be made of me, and distributed throughout the Kingdom, that my Face is now almost as well known as that of the Moon.’ She wrote back that the likenesses she had seen of him were so many and so different that his face must be ‘as changeable as the moon.'”

“I hope with the Asistance of Such a Nmber of wise men as you are connected with in the Convention you will Gloriously Accomplish, and put a Stop to the nesesity of Dragooning, & Haltering, they are odious means; I had Rather hear of the Swords being beat into Plow-shares, & the Halters used for Cart Roops, if by that means we may be brought to live Peaceably with won a nother.”

“Brown went further, arguing that history’s grossest distortion of reality stems not from its false claims to truth but, instead, from its exclusive interest in the great. In the eighteenth century, history and fiction split. Benjamin Franklin’s life entered the annals of history; lives like his sister’s became the subject of fiction. Histories of great men, novels of little women.”

“Also in 1939: Jane’s house was demolished. In 1856, the 150th anniversary of Benjamin Franklin’s birth, the house had even been decorated for the celebration. But so little was known about Jane that the claim that Franklin’s sister had ever lived there was eventually deemed dubious. In 1939, Jane’s brick house was torn down to make room for a memorial to Paul Revere. The house wasn’t in the way of the Revere memorial; it simply blocked a line of sight.  Jane’s house, that is, was demolished to improve the public view of a statue to Paul Revere, inspired by a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Jared Sparks’s roommate.”

Recommended booksA Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson and The Shoemaker and the Tea Party: Memory and the American Revolution by Alfred F. Young.
Rating: ****1/2

Benjamin Franklin’s 305th Birthday

This coming Monday is the holiday where we observe the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.  I encourage one and all to celebrate the life of Dr. King and put in some volunteer service time.

But, Monday is also the birthday of another great American leader, Benjamin Franklin, who was born in Boston on January 17, 1706 [O.S. January 6, 1705].  Come learn more about this Son of Boston on a Boston By Foot tour lead by knowledgeable Boston By Foot guides (including yours truly).  The tour visits sites associated with Ben Franklin’s life in Boston from his birth in a house on Milk Street until the age of 17 when he ran away from his home town after a falling-out with his older brother.  This tour is unique in that since Franklin spent much of his long life elsewhere – Philadelphia, London, and Paris for starters – the sites often offer a launch point for talking about Franklin’s varied careers in printing, science, invention, postal services, public service and as a founding father.

The tour meets in the public park at the corner of Washington and School Streets by the Irish Famine Memorial and Borders Book Store.  The cost is $15 per person ($5 for Boston By Foot members) and the 90-minute walking tour departs at 2 pm on Monday, January 17th, 2011.  More information is available on the Boston By Foot Meetup Group web page.

Click photo to see more images of sites visited on this tour.

Official tour description:

Celebrate and learn the life of Benjamin Franklin by walking among the sites of his homes and haunts in Colonial Boston. In his day, Benjamin Franklin was America’s greatest scientist, inventor, diplomat, humorist, statesman, and entrepreneur. Ben was born in Boston, came of age in Philadelphia, and was the darling of Paris. From his many inventions, creation of civic, philanthropic, and educational institutions, to his his roles in the founding of America, his legacy is immeasurable.

Book Review: Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson

Author: Walter Isaacson
Title: Benjamin Franklin: An American Life
Publication Info:  RecordedBooks (2003), Audio CD
ISBN: 1402592957

Summary/Review:  I’ve been learning more about this early American leader for my BBF walking tour and I find him increasingly fascinating the more I learn about him.  Isaacson writes a lively narrative with a good balance between historical accuracy and popular history as well as warts & all without sensationalism.

I won’t go into a detailed summary of the book but here are a few elements that stand out for me:

  • Isaacson goes beyond simple biographical details and makes a good attempt at an intellectual history of Franklin, especially in the earlier parts of the book.
  • Franklin, for all his virtues, was not above getting dirty in politics.  It’s interesting to compare to the recent book I read about Aaron Burr and how differently their posthumous reputations have been adjudged when they were both very much men of their times.  Then there’s the  idolatrous manner in which the Founding Fathers are revered in comparison to today’s “corrupt politicians” which just isn’t realistic.
  • Franklin had an interesting habit of forming a surrogate family around him when he was away from home for extended periods, acting in an avuncular role for bright young women and his own grandsons.  Yet he was often distant from his own children and spent many, many years separated from his wife.
  • Another interesting contrast:  Franklin has been called “the first American” and famously wore frontier-style clothing when visiting the French court, yet he seemed to jump at any opportunity to go to Europe and lived abroad in London and Paris for extended portions of his life.

All in all this is a great introduction to a fascinating and hard to understand man.

Recommended books: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin
Rating: ****

Links of the Day for 17 January 2008

This morning I fell back to sleep and had one of those dreams where I got up and got ready for work.  I should have figured out it was a dream when I gathered up all my clothing and headed out to catch the T.  Once I boarded I took a shower on board the trolley in a public shower which replaced the booth for the conductor/door guard.  That was a definite clue that I was not really awake and going to work, because I never take the trolley!  Sounds like a good idea though to have showers on public transit.  Imagine the efficiency for those of us who are always running late to work!

Anyhow, it was one of those days, so here are some links:

  • For kids: Watch it – this art is on the move! by Sue Wunder (Christian Science Monitor, 1/8/08) – I experienced the Clouds exhibition at Dublin’s Irish Museum of Modern Art.  There were a bunch of school kids playing with the clouds and it would have made a great photo, but photography was prohibited and I’m a flagrant rule follower.  It just occurred to me that visit to the art museum will be 10 years ago on January 22nd.  Man am I old!
  • The Secret History of the Revolving Door by J Morrison (nonist, 1/10/08) – an amusing if perhaps factually challenged history to be sure.
  • Actual Urban Nature Post by Jef Taylor (The Urban Pantheist, 1/16/08) – talks about the coyote in the North End and has a great quote about where “the wild” is for wild animals.
  • Diagramming the Preamble (1/17/08) in which Mallard Fillmore’s Bathtub teaches a civics lesson by way of English class.  He also reminds us that today is Benjamin  Franklin’s 302nd birthday.

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