Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Benjamin Franklin's "Autobiography"--I had gotten the idea that it was immensely long and boring.

Wrong and wrong. The edition I am reading is 180 pages. It's interesting mostly, sometimes very.

He'll tell about something he did, and call it an erratum, or a major erratum. Latin for error, used by printers, like he was. That's a brief, almost straightforward way of saying "In this, I messed up."

People rarely do that so briefly, or so often, in autobiographies. They usually want to make the case for themselves.

He likes to keep things moving, in life and writing, so when it's less than interesting, which is rare, it gets over that part fast because he treats everything fairly quickly.

He was interested in how people worked together to get things done. He was seventy in 1776 when American independence was declared. It's like he spent his whole adult life studying how to be part of a group that stayed together as a group even if they partly disagreed.

When he formed a discussion group about public affairs, the Junto, when he was a twenty something in Philadelphia, one of the agreed upon rules was that people not express their opinions absolutely. No one at the beginning of the discussion could say, "This is what I think."
No one could absolutely deny someone else's opinion.

Access to books was not automatic, even for those interested in books. Very few bookstores. No libraries where you could check out books. The members of the Junto decided to pool their books so they could all read each other's books.

That worked for about a year, and then it didn't, so people took there own books back.

Franklin's response to the end of the Junto library was to start the first circulating library in the American colonies. You paid a fee and could take out books.

Franklin said this, after a fairly short time, made visitors from abroad notice that workers were more knowledgable than their overseas equivalents.

Franklin thought there should be an academy to train young people. He started the process and was important in it happening, though he always referred to it as the product of a group. He thought that was the way to get stuff done, not the "I" approach.

What he and others founded became the big deal University of Pennsylvania soon after founding.
It became a big deal fairly soon after it was started because it was so needed.

Benjamin Franklin's father first thought to send him to college (which would have had to be in a different colony, not Pennsylvania.) He started him at a grammar school--a middle school-high school aimed at university prep.

Benjamin was there two years, and his father decided he'd rather have him be an income producer. He put him to work in his business, making candles (at a time when candles were the light of night.) Benjamin hated it.

******Benjamin kept wanting to go to sea. His father had already had one son do that, and he really didn't like it. So he both argued with Benjamin about what he might do, and worked to help him find something that Benjamin would do and stay on land.
His father showed him a number of trades which he might be apprenticed to. His father would get money for offering him for apprenticeship. Benjamin didn't like any of them, but said that being exposed to them helped him do things for himself throughout his life. He said he had an excellent memory.

Benjamin ended up being apprenticed to his brother James, a printer. He didn't love it right off, but found advantages.

Access to books-the books the printer had, and the books of fellow printers.

Time to read. Benjamin Franklin implies though he doesn't say outright (he really valued tact) that printers had a strong tradition of drinking. While his fellow printers went forth for long lunches and long breaks, he stayed in the shop and read, and later, wrote.

And later, had the easy ability to print what he wrote.

Being a printer's apprentice gave Benjamin access to books. Another thing that gave him access to books is that older people were often impressed with his abilities and his tendency to work all the time, and they let him use their libraries.

So, he had access to books.

He did not look at others who might have wanted access to books and who didn't have his trade or his ability to have his abilities easily seen.

He thought democratically. Access to books is great. How can more people have it? Hence, a circulating library.

Benjamin Franklin didn't have anything faintly like a university education. He read, and that worked. But he didn't demand that that work for all, but helped start what became a university.

Franklin was a projector--a person who made projects happen. People had there food and shelter needs met, but there were a lot of institutions that could exist that didn't. He helped fill those voids and moved on to fill other voids when one void was filled.

He thought the first step always was to get people to talk about the need for the new thing.

The man he referred to as a projector--he didn't actually use the word about himself--was the man who thought Philadelphia needed a hospital. The project worked, but first the man made two mistakes.

He didn't start people in general talking about the need for a hospital. He went to important people and asked for their support. They asked him what Benjamin Franklin thought of the idea. His second mistake is he hadn't asked Benjamin Franklin, but he took the cue.

He went to Franklin, got him involved. People got to talking, with encouragement, and the hospital started existing.

In his autobiography Franklin is riveted with finding out how to communicate in a group in such a way that communication continues--people don't fall out with each other, and how to communicate in a way that leads to things happening.

He doesn't say so, but I think one reason he was focused on communication is that he had already worn out one city--Boston, where he was born, grew up, and apprenticed as a printer for his brother.

He'd argued with his father. He'd been part of ticking off the religious authories. His brother printed words that made them angry enough that they said the brother could no longer print the newspaper. So for a while, Benjamin was the newspaper publisher of record and still secretly apprenticed to his brother.

He learned about publishing from the business angle as well as the setting type angle, and soon he left town for Philly, where he thought about how people could communicate in a way that they didn't get super-angry at each other.