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Title: Reason, inclination : Franklin at Philadelphia, 1762-1764
Author: Blake Darlin, William
Awarding Body: University of East Anglia
Current Institution: University of East Anglia
Date of Award: 2016
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Abstract:
Summer, 1762. England and Prussia are at war with France and Spain. There are fronts in Europe and the colonies in Africa, North America, and the Caribbean. On the southern coast of England, Dr Benjamin Franklin is about to return home to Philadelphia. He is 56 years old, a retired printer, a published scientist, but at London he is better recognised as a low-born statesman from Pennsylvania with a reputation for causing trouble with the establishment. His mission was as simple as it was outrageous: oust Penn’s sons from their inherited rule and transfer the colony’s governance to the Crown. He has been wildly unsuccessful. In five years he’s done little more than to strengthen his enemies, multiply his own vulnerabilities, and nearly bankrupt his employers. But despite these professional failures he has discovered the metropolis to be extremely suited to his moral, cultural, and philosophical interests – and to his infinite ambition. It’s almost three decades since his first attempts at Philadelphia to nurture the local citizenry out of ignorance, superstition, low morals. In England he has discovered a country where, to his delight, there are ‘in every neighbourhood more sensible, virtuous and elegant minds than we can collect in ranging a hundred leagues of our vast forests’. When he sets sail, half-reluctantly, it is with the promise to cross over again as soon as he can … and if he can convince his wife to make the dangerous voyage … to settle in London forever. I interpret this moment as a turning point for Franklin, a final attempt against increasing personal and political friction to realise his elusive dream of uniting in one place his family, his career, and the activities that lent meaning to his life. The three chapters bound here comprise the first half of that story. At Philadelphia he would meet with a horrorshow: deadly fever, failed harvests, reports of vicious murders on the western frontier, a terrorist insurgency amassing on the outskirts of Philadelphia, the ruthless partisanship of Pennsylvania politics. The next two years – 1762 to 1764 – contained an almost brutal panorama of colonial American life. The contrast to the stability and intelligent bustle of London was as stark as it was dispiriting, and Franklin’s letters reveal how near the edge of the world he felt himself to be during this time. How would Poor Richard fare, haunted by a sense of futility and the inescapable reality of isolation? Here I have pursued Franklin in the midst of the culture and intrigue of his Georgian London, through the storms and progress of his colonial Philadelphia. It seems as though he understood these cities to be not just landscapes of sights and sounds and smells, some more wonderful and magnificent than others – not just sets, but actors, too. It was the talking, thinking element that could finally evoke for him two ways of being, scenes and stages and indeed whole theatres upon which one’s interests and insecurities might be shaped and his ambition played out. And as such, two places could evoke for Franklin two different dimensions of himself, a distinction so profound that in a moment rich with finality he even named them: Reason (America), and Inclination (London). This Franklin, unable to quite reconcile these twin spirits, is not the man whom I have encountered in prior portraits. He is more agitated, more conflicted, hypochondriac, and sometimes almost paranoid. He is a great reader, but sometimes not a careful one. He is given to escape into endless experiments with an ever-larger scientific apparatus. He is a frugal tinkerer, a playful refiner, a conjurer of agreeable little shocks. He is susceptible to fits of intensity and melancholy, to spells of vindictiveness, and to sustained, probably displaced antagonism towards the authority of the Church. He could never quite accommodate that far-flung American stage. And after five years in London, he was even less able to readjust to what became for him a set of confinements – intellectual, material, spiritual, and social. II So I have come to believe that the pivot of Franklin’s life, the essential tension, is expressed in the continual self-enhancement that led him back into London society. Partly because it was also expressed in the two versions of his memoirs that tension has come to frame, under different guises, Dr Franklin’s afterlife. To erase it, or resolve it, as many biographers have attempted to do, and therefore to claim Franklin for one side of the water or the other, is no way to recover his experience. Biographers must consider carefully the nature of a record so charged with national identity as Franklin’s in its preservation, presentation, and editorial interpretation. The Prologue, in tracing early Franklin life-writing and the publication of his memoirs, exposes and explores some of these problems. I wrote the Prologue – ‘The Life of the Life of Dr Franklin’ – not so much as an introduction to the biographical chapters but rather as a companion or parallel commentary to them. Its creative footing owes a good deal to such modern/historical split narratives as those by Dava Sobel (Longitude) and Josephine Tey (The Daughter of Time), and also to some of the ideas of self and memory explored in the stories of Jorge Luis Borges. The setting is a time in the not very distant future, when the United States, as a nation, is become so removed from the pretended innocence of its original ideals that the mythologies surrounding its foundation and its so-called Founding Fathers are no longer the darlings of biographers but rather curiosities for the amusement of antiquarians. Such are the protagonists, two men neither young nor old corresponding across the Atlantic, each possessed of the right amount of time and eccentricity for making enquiries of a bygone age. Indeed, the two voices, though opposed in some ways (Cladentweed the donnish foil to the footstepper’s stumbling independence), both appear to call out to the past – or even from it. The reader whom the Prologue will benefit most will be familiar with Franklin’s autobiography and the correspondence he inserted into it. Dr Farrand’s introduction to the Parallel Text edition, cited early on in the footnotes, and also Henry Stevens’s history of the lost holograph of the autobiography are especially helpful in tracing its journey into and out of obscurity. Both pieces of scholarship provide a remedial dose for the misconception of the historical record as a set of involuntary footprints, a lucky trail left by the human passage through a natural forest of events. A third source, informative (with reservations) and rewarding in its own way, is the account by John Bigelow – the U. S. minister to France under Lincoln – of locating and editing the lost holograph in the years just following the American civil war. It was when reading Bigelow’s memoirs that I wondered how he had come to the conclusion that the draft he possessed was more authentic than the text published by Temple Franklin in 1817 – in short, that the differences he found between holograph and printed edition were to be put down to Temple himself, and not to a later, lost draft made by Franklin. Two copies of the holograph are known (and were then known) to have been made. And Franklin’s letters confirm that the copies were made under his personal instruction. (These letters were also published well before 1866, in numerous editions.) If the changes attributed to Temple were found to be present in the copies, it would almost certainly indicate that Franklin was aware of them, that Bigelow’s ‘Bohemian’ ‘mutilations’ were nothing more offensive than Franklin’s own corrections: his turns of phrase become less colloquial and his grammar more syntactic in the twenty years between first and second drafts. But neither copy has been found. (Why not? Where are they? One was almost certainly destroyed at the print house. I tracked the other as far as rural Maine, but there the scent is lost.) Lacking one of these copies, it is impossible to know for certain just what Temple Franklin changed or did not change.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID: uk.bl.ethos.716416  DOI: Not available
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