Christiansen English 267A
(These will not be on the quiz - they are for discussion only.)
Study questions on Benjamin Franklin, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY
1. In his opening paragraph, Franklin suggests that his memoirs might have some value as a lesson in how to live--they might provide a model "fit to be imitated." How so? What kind of lessons does Franklin seem most interested in teaching? Generalize, but with specific episodes in mind.
2. Franklin points out that he was born in "poverty and obscurity;" by the end of this first section, he is a prospering Philadelphia tradesman. What does Franklin seem to believe was the key to his success? Do you agree with his explanation, or do you see some other principle behind his "rising in the world"?
3. Franklin was an almost exact contemporary of Edwards', born of good Boston Congregationalists; Franklin's father even intended, for a while, to make a minister of Benjamin. But Franklin's attitude toward religion takes a turn rather different from Edwards'. In your own words, describe Franklin's feelings and opinions about religion as they are conveyed in this selection. Support your description with details from the text.
4. It is in this section that Franklin tells about his conceiving "the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection." What evidence is there in the text to show that Franklin, in looking back on his younger self, recognizes that this was a sort of funny and naive intention? Has he concluded that it was foolish of him to try?
5. Franklin confesses that his original list of essential virtues had only twelve items on it, and that "a Quaker friend...kindly informed me that I was generally thought proud," so that he added "humility" on the end. In what sense is "humility" out of place here--a basically "un-Franklinian" virtue? How is it different in kind from the twelve virtues Franklin compiled for himself?
6. In Franklin's view, why should a person try to be good? The answer to this may have more than one part to it. Be as thorough as you can.
7. The first and longest section was written in 1771 while Franklin was in England, a successful printer, businessman and scientist, but not yet a statesman of the American revolution. The second was written in France in 1784, at the height of Franklin's diplomatic and social success as an American ambassador, much lionized by French intellectuals. The rest was written in Philadelphia, after Franklin returned home, a hero. Give some thought to how the dominant images Franklin presents of himself in each of these sections reflect the various situations in which he writes.
8. Franklin is sometimes accused of preaching a "cultivated mediocrity"--a policy of being ordinary in order to curry favor with ordinary people. Does your reading of the AUTOBIOGRAPHY bear out this accusation, or refute it?
9. Editors frequently point out that Edwards emphasizes man's helplessness and Franklin emphasizes man's power to shape his own destiny. In whatever way you find the most illuminating, explain the sense in which a mighty and all-pervasive God moves through and among all His creatures, into a different kind of universe. In other words; how do Franklin's fundamental premises differ from Edwards'?