Benjamin Franklin

Franklin (1706-1790) was a universal genius who did not realize that his Autobiography would eventually become a classic of its kind. It shows the beginnings of his personal, civic, and political success, yet the account is uncolored by vanity. Franklin shows us that he is a human being as well as a successful man.

Though his style of writing was clear and even plain in his time, we now find it a bit hard to read. It has many long words, often from the Latin language, and long sentences. But we must remember that he was writing two centuries ago.

It is true that Franklin's style is formal. The organization of much of what he says--if not how he says it--is informal, however. In his famous Autobiography, in particular, he talks first about one thing and then another with little attempt at connecting them. We can see a man of versatile energy and new ideas.

Of course, not all of his ideas were new. In some cases he simply became the most prominent advocate of old ones, especially the beliefs that we should work hard and that we should save our money. These principles had been current since Puritan times but Franklin spread them widely by putting them into a popular almanac, or calendar, called Poor Richard's Almanac, which he himself printed. It contained many popular sayings such as "God helps them that help themselves," "Laziness travels so slowly that poverty soon overtakes him," and "Beware of little expenses; a small leak will sink a great ship."