The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin Part 2 Summary
This section begins with copies of letters two of Franklin's friends write to him when he's living in Paris after the American Revolution (the Revolution is what made Franklin take a break after writing Part 1).
The first, short letter is from Abel James. James is really pleased that he had the good luck to read Part 1 of Franklin's autobiography. He wants Franklin to keep writing.
James tells Franklin that his writing could profoundly affect the minds of teenagers and twenty-somethings, and thinks millions of people would miss out if Franklin stopped writing.
Franklin is really impressed by this letter, so he shows it to his other friend Benjamin Vaughan.
This inspires Vaughan to write Franklin a letter of his own, which Franklin also includes in the autobiography.
In his letter, Vaughan says that Franklin should definitely finish writing it, and that the story of his life will read like an advertisement for America itself. He compares Franklin's writing to books by guys like Caesar and Tacitus, which is pretty high praise. Basically, he thinks Franklin's complete autobiography will be the greatest thing since sliced bread…except they might not have even had sliced bread by 1783.
Vaughan's letter says that character is determined in youth, and Franklin's biography will provide a good example to those who need it. It will also remind people of how great it is to read about the lives of the virtuous, the good, and the interesting.
So, convinced to keep going by these letters from his friends, Franklin picks up the story of his life again, saying that he's writing this part in Passy, France, in 1784. For those of you keeping track, that's thirteen years after he wrote the first part.
First, he goes back to something he talked about in the first part: the formation of Philadelphia's first library. He reminds us that it was hard to buy or borrow books in colonial America – you had to order books from England if you wanted to read something new.
Franklin and his friends in the Junto club get together and decide to create a public lending organization, which is Philadelphia's first library. It's organized by subscription: you have to sign a contract to join and promise to pay for the books if you lose them. Even though they only have fifty subscribers at first, in just a few years other towns are imitating Philadelphia and setting up libraries of their own.
When it's created, Franklin's trying to be modest and raise money, so he says that the idea for the library comes from a group of friends, not just him. This encourages people to contribute to it so they can claim its virtue for themselves.
Franklin turns to the library for pleasure and studies there every day, while saving money for his business and his growing family. Franklin says his habits of modesty and thrift serve him well, and he gets to achieve great things with them. He's also really happy with his wife, who shares his frugality and thrift.
Even though he believes in God, Franklin doesn't go to church. Instead, he uses Sundays to read on his own. He still pays dues to the Presbyterian ministry, but doesn't go to sermons because he doesn't think the preacher is any good. The preacher works on Presbyterian ideals, while Franklin wants him to work on plain morality.
Franklin has to work on his morality himself. He makes a list of virtues with precepts to abide by. The virtues are temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, and humility. He adds humility last, after one of his Quaker friends tells him he needs to work on it.
Then, Franklin decides to work on the virtues one at a time until he gets them all down. He makes a little calendar/chart to keep track of his efforts at conquering each one, and also uses the little book to pray. You could say this is the first day-planner.
Franklin uses this system for many years, and the virtue he has the hardest time mastering is "order." This is because other people can upset it, and also because he probably just wasn't that organized.
As he acknowledges later in life, he doesn't master all these virtues, but he becomes a better man because he tried to work on each of them. What's more, they help him get to the ripe old age of 79.
Franklin also says that he purposefully left religion out of his virtue-scheme, so it could apply to lots of people, and he planned to write a book about it called The Art of Virtue, but he never did.
In working to make his speech to appear more humble, Franklin thinks he became more successful in public and that he was able to have more influence over people because he wasn't pushy when he talked.
Franklin ends this part by saying the hardest thing to get past is pride, and that it always catches him – even he could be totally humble, he'd still be proud of that.