Sometimes, when reading books written hundreds of years ago, one wonders how much true relevance these works retain in our modern age. In the case of GOOD books, I believe the answer is “quite a bit.”
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is one of my all-time favorite works of American Literature, full of nuggets of wisdom (as one might expect from something done by the man also responsible for “Poor Richard’s Almanac”) and valuable lessons about life and how to make a success of oneself. Having read it multiple times, it’s become one of those handful of books that I find lives strongly enough in my otherwise pedestrian memory to be often quotable and apropos. I was reminded of this today when reading the internet news story about the kerfluffle over the “revelation” (shocking!) that actor and activist George Takei (that’s “Sulu” in the world of Star Trek, for those unfortunates who don’t know) does not write all of his own material for his Facebook and Twitter accounts. While I don’t “like” or “follow” either, both are shared often by others that I do follow. In short, they are unfailingly a great source of humor, and I’m one among probably millions who enjoy them.
Mr. Takei’s reaction is something along the lines of “who cares who writes it,” but there are some purists who I guess are offended, thinking he should expend the necessary time and energy himself to write all his own material. And this is where Benjamin Franklin comes in…
In “Chapter X – Poor Richard’s Almanac and other Activities,” Franknlin relates how he became fond of a Presbyterian preacher from Ireland named Hemphill and often attended his sermons, finding them pleasing “as they had little of the dogmatically kind, but inculcated strongly the practice of virtue, or what in the religious stile are called good works.” The more Orthodox of the congregation, however, resisted him and made efforts to silence him for his “heterodoxy.” Franklin of course took up his cause and was almost able to win the day, until it was discovered that some of Hemphill’s sermons were retreads of those written by someone else, whose discourses had been quoted in The British Review. This revelation made Franklin’s defense of the man an impossible task, and he and those on his side were forced to “officially” give up the fight.
Franklin left them with the following parting shot, however: (underlines are my own)
“I stuck by him, however, as I rather approv’d his giving us good sermons composed by others, than bad sermons of his own manufacture, tho’ the latter was the practice of our common teachers.”