Just finished a biography on Benjamin Franklin by Walton Isaccson…
He had the playful, inquisitive nature of a child with his experiments of paddles/flippers, flying a kite in lightning, inventing the glass armonica, bifocals and testing out any curiosities he had (for example at sea he had questions such as “What causes turbulent waters?” or “Why most of the earth’s water was salt water?”).
You either loved or hated Benjamin Franklin and that is why he is memorable not only as a monumental person to establishing America but as a great character in stories. He was a natural born ham as seen when he would purposely cart rolls of paper through the streets to give the appearance of being industrious. Yet he was only this way because he had a talent for observing human nature and what was popular. For example while living in France at the later half of his life he adapted to th culture by dining out every night as appearing busy/industrious was vulgar to the French. He knew what people liked and played the part for a non-selfish purpose. Those who didn’t have his people skills (like John Adams) hated him while at the same time were fascinated by him (both astute men of strong yet different convictions).
Because he was so popular he had to always stop himself from getting a big head. He learned the secret to being more revered than resented was to display a self-deprecating humor, unpretentious demeanor and unaggressive style in conversation. ”Would you win the hearts of others, you must not seem to vie with them, but to admire them. Give them every opportunity of displaying their own qualifications, and when you have indulged their vanity, they will praise you in turn and prefer you above others… Such is the vanity of mankind that minding what others say is a much surer way of pleasing them than talking well ourselves.” He concluded other sins were: talking too much, seeming uninterested, speaking too much about yourself, prying for personal secrets, telling long and pointless stories, contradicting or disputing someone directly, ridiculing or railing against things except in small witty doses (“it’s like salt, a little of which in some cases gives relish, but if thrown on by handfuls spoils all”) and spreading scandal. He used silence wisely, employed as an indirect style of persuasion, and feigned modesty and naivete in disputes. “When another asserted something that I thought an error, I denied myself the pleasure of contradicting him.” This velvet-tongued and sweetly passive style of circumspect argument made him seem sage to some and manipulative to others, but inflammatory to nobody.
He was a contradiction because he loved to indulge in the pleasures of life (ex: at old age eat heartily and not exercise rather play chess) yet he was very frugal (ex: as he was most proud when wearing homemade clothes by his wife). He easily made casual friends, intellectual companions, useful patrons, flirty admirers but could not form deep personal commitments or emotional relationship (especially none with men). He seemed to enjoy starting organizations with strangers over being near his wife and children. His overwhelming ambition probably felt trapped in a small town with a normal family life. Did you know Benjamin did not attend both of his children’s weddings? I believe the reason is because he was one of the most practical men you will ever meet or read about. His practical natures explains a lot of his different decisions. For example I believe very few men would marry a woman based wholly on practical reasons and not passion (his wife was plain and boring but frugal and a good worker). Plus he knew that he could satisfy his love for beauty and intellect by the many women he crossed paths with over his adventurous life. I think is known as a playboy only because his flirtatious, charming and witty nature adored and saw women beautifully which made them love him in-turn (vain but true of women). But both parties, especially when Benjamin was old and with gout, only had affairs of the mind and soul. More often avuncular than physical.
Some say Benjamin was shallow in soul because he seemed to permeate a culture of materialism. Those of his time thought he lived a practical life but not an exalted existence. But the truth is he sincerely believed he was serving God and Country by doing good works for other people. He did not make money for the sake of making money. He was truly ingrained with middle working class values as seen when he would shy away from ever becoming part of the elite circles despite his great accomplishments.
Abigail Adams upon first meeting Benjamin Franklin over dinner: “I found him social but not talkative, and when he spoke something useful dropped from his tongue. He was grave, yet pleasant and affable. You know I make some pretensions to physiognomy, and I thought I could read into his countenance the virtues of his heart; among which patriotism shone in its full luster, and with that is blended every virtue of a Christian: for a true patriot must be a religious man.”