Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A Man of His Time

I am about one quarter of the way through Walter Isaacson's voluminous biography of Benjamin Franklin. Granted, with an upcoming HBO mini-series of John Adams I probably should have finished David McCullough's book to get his take on Adams but no matter, this one already has me plotting a return to Philadelphia for a round of colonial tour nostalgia.

As it is I am trying to wrap my brain around the fact that with only a third way through his life --even before Franklin was elected to the continental congress --the man already had invented the lightening rod, the Franklin stove, started the first American library, fire department, organized an American militia and helped established what would become the University of Pennsylvania...and the man was just getting started. But hey Ben, would you have accomplished that much if you had television and the internet to distract you? Somehow that makes me feel better.

It is quite fascinating though, living then as he did at the beginning of the age of reason and before the later transcendentalist movement. He was one of those born at the right time and place. He was a believer in the separation of morality and virtue from religion. He was a perfect product of his time, a rationalist able to move easily between the heavy doctrine and rigidity of the puritan doctrine to become a man of civic mindedness and practicality. What little we learn from school textbooks, that later becomes forgotten is how their reality overwhelmingly shaped ours. His profound influence on the American society, modern thinking and world invention belies his amazingly humble beginnings. A figure who truly lived his saying of "God, helps those who help themselves".

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