Benjamin Franklin's Humor

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University Press of Kentucky, Dec 1, 2005 - History - 200 pages
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Although he called himself merely a ŇprinterÓ in his will, Benjamin Franklin could have also called himself a diplomat, a doctor, an electrician, a frontier general, an inventor, a journalist, a legislator, a librarian, a magistrate, a postmaster, a promoter, a publisherŃand a humorist. John Adams wrote of Franklin, ŇHe had wit at will. He had humor that when he pleased was pleasant and delightful . . . [and] talents for irony, allegory, and fable, that he could adapt with great skill, to the promotion of moral and political truth.Ó In Benjamin FranklinŐs Humor, author Paul M. Zall shows how one of AmericaŐs founding fathers used humor to further both personal and national interests. Early in his career, Franklin impersonated the feisty widow Silence Dogood in a series of comically moralistic essays that helped his brother James outpace competitors in BostonŐs incipient newspaper market. In the mid-eighteenth century, he displayed his talent for comic impersonation in numerous editions of Poor RichardŐs Almanac, a series of pocket-sized tomes filled with proverbs and witticisms that were later compiled in FranklinŐs The Way to Wealth (1758), one of AmericaŐs all-time bestselling books. Benjamin Franklin was sure to be remembered for his early work as an author, printer, and inventor, but his accomplishments as a statesman later in life firmly secured his lofty stature in American history. Zall shows how Franklin employed humor to achieve desired ends during even the most difficult diplomatic situations: while helping draft the Declaration of Independence, while securing FranceŐs support for the American Revolution, while brokering the treaty with England to end the War for Independence, and while mediating disputes at the Constitutional Convention. He supervised and facilitated the birth of a nation with customary wit and aplomb. Zall traces the development of an acute sense of humor throughout the life of a great American. Franklin valued humor not as an end in itself but as a means to gain a competitive edge, disseminate information, or promote a program. Early in life, he wrote about timely topics in an effort to reach a mass reading class, leaving an amusing record of early American culture. Later, Franklin directed his talents toward serving his country. Regardless of its origin, the best of Benjamin FranklinŐs humor transcends its initial purpose and continues to evoke undying laughter at shared human experiences.

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Contents

Introduction
1
1 Silence Dogood
11
2 Paragraphis in Philadelphia
27
3 Philadelphias Poor Richard
47
4 Philadelphia Comic Relief
65
5 Making Friends Overseas
85
6 Losing London
103
7 Seducing Paris
119
8 Comic Release
137
9 Revising Past and Future
153
Notes
169
Sources
175
Index
181
Copyright

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About the author (2005)

Paul M. Zall (1922-2010), Emeritus Professor of English at California State University at Los Angeles, was a research scholar at the Huntington Library. He is the author of many books including Lincoln on Lincoln, Jefferson on Jefferson, and Franklin on Franklin.

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