The Modest Modernist: Ben Franklin

Benjamin Franklin, in his Autobiography, demonstrates a life and way of thinking that greatly contrasts that of his predecessors, the Puritans.  Living against the typical conservative, religiously-devoted norm, he sought out knowledge in his youth and molded himself to be the legacy he left with his name. In one paragraph on page 16, he describes how whilst a teenager he began teaching himself through books instead of partaking in common religious activities.  “My Time for these Exercises & for Reading,” he writes, “was at Night after Work, or before Work began in the Morning; or on Sundays. . .”  He spent much of his free time learning about mathematics, philosophy, grammar, rhetoric, and other topics that influenced his future in a great manner.  Because he did work on Sundays, he went against typical Puritan ideas of Sunday as the Sabbath day, or day of rest.  He admits, “evading as much as I could the common Attendence on publick Worship.”  Instead of devoting his Sundays to praising God, resting, and performing other religious duties, he learned valuable lessons from books on rhetoric and logic that compelled him to choose a path more knowledge and success based, rather than religious. For these reasons, he stands out as holding a more modern, non-conservative lifestyle in comparison to the Puritans.  As he grows older he begins to take a more analytical approach to life, reasoning through certain aspects of life that normally would be given to the subjectivity of religion and faith, like the death of his son. However, in the end of the paragraph he professes that he still thought of religion and public worship as “a Duty,” an idea that was strongly shared by the Puritans.  While Benjamin Franklin stood out as a modernist during his time and in historical American literature, he still had his roots in the Puritan lifestyle when it came to religion during his young age.

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