The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

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The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin Study Guide

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Brief Biography of Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin was born the youngest son to Josiah Franklin, a candle and soap maker, in Boston, Massachusetts. He was apprenticed to his brother, James, a printer at the age of 12, but broke his terms of service early in order to run away to Philadelphia. He began work as a printer there and, through his industriousness, became a man much esteemed for his scientific and civic works. He served in the Pennsylvania Assembly, was the U.S.’s first Postmaster General, the Minister to Sweden, the Minister to France, and the 6th President of Pennsylvania.
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Historical Context of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
The Enlightenment in Europe began in the late 17th and carried on into the 18th century. It was an age of scientific experimentation that saw the foundation of the scientific method as well as the invention of calculus in mathematics. It culminated in the great French Encyclopedie published by Denis Diderot from 1751-72. Franklin’s electrical experiments contributed to the advances made during the Enlightenment. The American Revolution (1775-1783) interrupted Franklin’s writing of the Autobiography and represented as well as actualized significant changes in the political, social, and economic organization of nations. The events of the Enlightenment and the success of the American Revolution later occasioned the French Revolution (1789-1799), which eventually came to signify the end of the 18th century ways of life.
Other Books Related to The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentlemen by Laurence Sterne can be seen as a related work as, though fiction, it parodies both the narrative of self-improvement and the writing style of the gentlemen memoirists (like Franklin) of the day. The Confessions of Jean Jacques Rousseau are also particularly linked with Franklin’s Autobiography in that they provide the life history of a low-born man who achieved civic and scientific greatness through personal struggle and industry. Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year is another nonfiction work with autobiographical dimensions that documents significant and strange historical events.
Key Facts about The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
  • Full Title: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
  • When Written: The Autobiography was written in four segments at four different times: Part One, 1771; Part Two, 1784; Part Three, 1788; Part Four 1789 or 90
  • Where Written: Part One – Twyford, England; Part Two – Passy, France; Parts Three and Four – Philadelphia, PA
  • When Published: 1791 in French, 1793 in English for Part One with some of Part Two
  • Literary Period: 18th Century Memoir
  • Genre: History; Autobiography
  • Setting: Boston, MA; New York, NY; Philadelphia, PA; London, England
  • Climax: Benjamin Franklin’s proposal for uniting the colonies in case of a need for defense is rejected by the colonial assemblies.
  • Antagonist: None, though Franklin has many rivals in politics and business, including Andrew Bradford and Mr. Keimer
  • Point of View: First person
Extra Credit for The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

The Autobiography’s Strange Publication History. The first publication of Franklin’s Autobiography was in French in 1791, the year after Franklin’s death. The first English edition in 1793 in England was actually a retranslation of the French edition, not an edition based on the original English manuscript. One English retranslation triggered yet another retranslation back into French in 1798. The first three parts of the Autobiography didn’t appear together until Franklin’s grandson, William Temple Franklin, released an edition in 1818.

Franklin’s Second Significance. It is appropriate that Benjamin Franklin is depicted on the U.S.’s $100 bill; he was the first man in the colonies to create a mold for the printing of paper money.