Benjamin Franklin was the eighteenth century American scientist, politician, writer and statesman, also considered one of the founding fathers of the United States. Born on the 6th of January, 1706 in Boston, Massachusetts Bay, Benjamin Franklin initially received education in a Latin school with inclination to clergy up to the age of ten. He then worked for his father till the age of twelve and later with his brother in his media company The New England Courant. The brothers parted ways and Benjamin took various jobs, mostly in the editorial and publishing fields. He endeavored to further his academic knowledge and support others, making significant inventions in Physics and founding the American Philosophical Society. Franklin later rose to serve in various capacities in the Pennsylvania Assembly, and became a remarkable statesman. This essay will look into Benjamin’s autobiography with special interest in his efforts towards self improvement and whether his actions portray him as benevolent rather than self – promoter.
Benjamin Franklin’s devotion towards self improvement began while he was yet an apprentice to his brother. For instance, he relates how he declined to eat flesh and resented the hasty way that food was prepared and sort to find his own boarding, while staying with his unmarried brother (Pg 16). He saved half the money his brother gave him for boarding and used it to buy books (Pg 16), indicating that he was successful in this attempt. He was also very interested in reading books, and this is evidenced by the fact that he rose to become a good scientist and an inventor though his formal schooling ended at the age of ten. In page 26, Franklin writes that he enjoyed spending his evenings with book lovers in Philadelphia, showing his passion for reading and positive social concerns for the societies around him. In 1743, he proposed the idea that led to the establishment of the University of Pennsylvania (Pg 104). Initially suggesting the idea to Reverend Peters, who was to head the institution, Peters declined the proposal to pursue more profitable businesses.
As regards personal social development, it is notable that Franklin was also an avid chess player, rising to the level of Grand master in 1734. During this same period, he undertook private studies in Italian, Spanish and French languages, gaining enough knowledge in reading all of them. He criticizes the generally held belief that to study modern languages, it might help to begin with study of Latin, from which the others are derived. In his opinion, so many drop studies after starting with Latin, and it should be allowed that they start with any language of choice, as this would lead to a gain in any capacity than to a loss in all languages. This indicates that his attempts of personal development in the area of languages and recreational games were successful.
In 1744, Franklin founded the American Philosophical Association, whose purpose was to help scientists discuss their ideas and improve their knowledge. He was prompted to do so by Franklin’s statements in page 111 regarding his inventions, coupled with the fact that he refused to patent his inventions, shows that he was not just a self- promoter, and meant no selfish end in allowing others to benefit from his work. He stated that people should generously and freely be glad for the opportunity to serve others through our inventions. Through his printing service, he advanced human knowledge and access to information, sometimes leading to conflict with authorities (Pg 19).
In the Pennsylvania assembly, Benjamin demonstrated a strong principle of personal stability by refusing to be influenced by others regarding a possible removal from office, whereby advisors preferred that he resign rather than face the embarrassment of eviction from office (Pg 106). Benjamin responded by making reference to a certain man’s rule of never asking for, nor refusing any office given him by the people, with a personal addition by himself to this rule of never resigning from the office. He was prompted to retain the office even in times of disputed loyalty due to personal convictions that there was no reason why he should give up his rights. He regained the office in the next elections as a show of his personal success.
A rare moment, when he admits personal pleasure gained from his achievements, is his account in page 147 regarding the success of the lighting experiments. He shows dissatisfaction with the way the famous scientist Dr. Watson gains publicity by merely summarizing in way of writing, ideas that were Benjamin’s. He prides himself in the fact that he was later recognized by the international scientific society without his application for the honor.
From the discussion above regarding Benjamin Franklin’s own statements regarding his efforts towards self improvement and also the benefit of the people, it can be seen that Franklin was both a personal developer as he was a benevolent statesman. Much of his personal development happened during the earlier days, a remarkable example was his rebellion to his father and brother in pursuit of personal goals. A successful private scholar, Benjamin started devoting his talent to the society after gaining considerable fame and financial stability, spending his entire remaining lifetime alternating between social accomplishments, political and financial advancement. It can be modestly stated, that Benjamin Franklin’s service to the public always began with personal development, and that he donated his time and skills selflessly to serve fellow humans.