Chapter 2 Enlightenment and Benjamin Franklin





课 型

Theory and practice

课 题

Enlightenment and Benjamin Franklin


Aim of knowledge: 1. To make students get to know the historical background of the literature of 18th century in America.

2. To let students be familiar with Benjamin and his Autobiography.

3. To make students get the general idea about American Literature in this period.

Aim of ability: training of the ability to analyze literary works along with social background.

Aim of quality: cultivate the students’ virtues with the assistance of Franklin’s precepts.


Lecture, discussion and PPT presentation


Key points: Franklin and his Autobiography

Difficulties: The function of literature between enlightenment/reason and revolution


教 学 内 容


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Check the Homework of the Literature of Colonial Period


Step 1: Appreciate "Order and Virtues" in Autobiography

1. The precept of Order requiring that every part of my business should have its allotted time, one page in my little book contain’d the following scheme of employment for the twenty-four hours of a natural day:


The Morning:

5:00、6:00、7:00, Rise, wash, and address Powerful Goodness! Contrive day’s business and take the resolution of the day; prosecute the present study, and breakfast起床,梳洗,向全能的主晨祷!决定白天的工作安排,检查目前的学习。早餐

Question. What good shall I do this day? 问题:今天我做了哪些善事?

8:00、9:00、10:00、11:00, work


12:00、13:00, Read, or overlook my accounts, and dine.看书,或者查看记录。午餐

14:00、15:00、16:00、17:00, work


18:00、19:00、20:00、21:00, Put things in their places. Supper. Music or diversion, or conversation. Examination of the day 无归原处。晚餐,听音乐,或者娱乐活动,谈话;检查这一天的行为

Night: 22:00、23:00、24:00、1:00, 2:00、3:00、4:00, Sleep

——The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin P99-100

2. …I included under thirteen names of virtues all that at that time occurr’d to me as necessary or desirable, and annexed to each a short precept, which fully express’d the extent I gave to its meaning.


These names of virtues, with their precepts, were:

(1) Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.

节制: 食不过饱,饮不过量;

(2) Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.


(3) Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.


(4) Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.


(5) Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.


(6) Industry. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.


(7) Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.


(8) Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.


(9) Moderation. Avoid extreams; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.


(10) Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.


(11) Tranquillity. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.


(12) Chastity. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.


(13) Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.


——The Autobiography P94-95

The Autobiography: America’s Most Versatile Genius Tells his Own Story with his Famous wit & Complete Candor


Step 2: Historical Background

1. Economical and Political Situation

    By the mid-18th century colonial America was no longer a group of scattered settlements. The word “state”, which suggests an independent government, was beginning to replace “colony” in people’s thinking.

    With vigorous people, rich natural resources, expanding industries and new trend in thinking, the North American colonies grew to be in conflict with England.

    Economically, the British government did not allow colonial industries to compete with those in England.

    Politically, the British government wanted the colonies to remain dependent on the mother country. They took measures to insure this.

    The restless, growing American states could not accept this design for their future, they fought a war to win their independence, which was to last for 8 years(1776-1783).

2. Intellectual background

     Spiritually, intellectually, the colonies during this period was greatly influenced by the bourgeois Enlightenment. (Newton, Swift, Locke) and those of French writers of Enlightenment (esp Voltaire, Rousseau).

     The representatives of the Enlightenment tried their best to spread knowledge among the people and advocate revolutionary ideas. They brought to life secular education and literature.


The 18th century American history witnessed two great revolutions:

  (1) Enlightenment/Reason

The course of this revolution of enlightenment

Some historians say we oversimplify the complex eighteenth century in suggesting it was a time when everyone was “reasonable.” Of course everyone was not reasonable. The century was marked by fiery emotion as much as by cool logic. But it was a time when people believed in the possibilities of reason.  It is the hope, the optimism that gives the age its character.

Americans at this time were influenced by the European movement called the Enlightenment. Followers of Enlightenment ideas believed that people could discover truth by the light of reason on the darkness of ignorance, superstition, social injustice, and political tyranny – all in a quest to build the perfect society. Through science and rational government, they thought, order could be established in the world. Above all, followers of Enlightenment ideas stressed the importance of resisting arbitrary limitations on their own free thoughts.

 Enlightened Americans, like Europeans, came to trust in human potential. They began to rely on the power of their own minds to shape their own destinies, and the power of their own language to express what that destiny should be.  They thought, wrote, and spoke with a greater self-confidence than a young nation had ever done before.  Jefferson once commented that one evening spent at Ben Franklin’s house in Philadelphia in the company of musicians, lawyers, and politicians was worth a whole week in Paris.


(2) The Independence War

The Course of the Birth of a New Nation

During the half-century before the Revolution, the thirteen colonies had begun to prosper and to seem less and less like perilous settlements on the edge of a wilderness. They had begun to communicate more with one another and to grow aware of their mutual problems and feelings. They shared their anger over the oppressive political and economic policies of the British government. No one at that time, however, was thinking of revolution-not yet.

      Then came a series of infuriating laws and taxes. The stamp Act in 1765 required that the colonist buy special stamps for newspapers, licenses, pamphlets, and house British soldiers in their own homes. The Townshend Acts in 1767 taxed tea, glass, lead, and paper. When some of the colonial assemblies refused to abide by the new laws, the British government declared those assemblies “dissolved”. Violence was not far away: The Boston Massacre erupted in 1770 when British troops fired on a taunting mob. In 1773 the British Parliament insisted again on its right and power to tax Americans. The tax on tea became a symbol, and the famous Boston Tea Party became a symbol too – a symbol of American resistance – as colonists dressed as Indians dumped a shipment of British tea into Boston Harbor, Americans protested and petitioned King George III for “no taxation without representation.” They wanted only what was reasonable, they said. They wanted to share in their own government. Britain replied with the Intolerable Acts of 1774, designed to punish Massachusetts for the Boston Tea Party. Many more rights that had been granted to the colonists in their charters were revoked. Then, when Paul Revere spotted the redcoats on their way to seize American arms at Concord, Americans responded with force.

      Yet it was not until January 1776 that a widely heard public voice demanded complete separation from England. The voice was that of Thomas Paine, whose pamphlet Common Sense, with its heated language, increased the growing demand for separation. It pointed the way toward the Declaration of Independence in July. If ever writing affected public affairs, Common Sense did. We will not be surprised to find that most American literature in the eighteenth century was political. Through newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, broadsides, and litters, colonial leaders discussed their ideas of human nature and of government. They began forging a new sense of national identity. Battles had to be fought before the thirteen colonies achieved independence. Nevertheless, for years before the first shot was fired, language was the source of growing American power. For those Americans it was language that connected reason and revolution. By the time the Revolutionary War was over in 1783, Americans were well on their way to establishing a literary heritage as extraordinary as their political one.


Step 3: Benjamin Franklin and Autobiography

1. The Function of Literature Between Enlightenment/Reason and Revolution

During the 1779s no one in America could claim to be a professional novelist, poet, or playwright.  Yet a great number of Americans expressed themselves on the subjects of liberty, government, law, reason, and individual and national freedom. Americans produced a great number of political broadsides – sheets of paper covered with anonymous poems, songs, and essays

Gradually, negative protests turned into more positive expressions. Besides petitioning against “taxation without representation,” more and more Americans started calling for more self-government. such as Paine with his pamphlet Common Sense, Jefferson with the Declaration of Independence, and Franklin with The Autobiography

The energy of the age did not express itself in the usual forms with great original poetry, fiction, drama, music, or art. Americans of the 18th century produced a great variety of unusual forms of literature: ballads, skits (a light, short piece of satire or burlesque) broadsides, newspaper poems, editorials, essays, private and public letters, satires, pamphlets.

For those Americans it was language that connected reason and revolution


2. Writers

    Also we can say the two revolutions produced a number of outstanding political and literary figures, such as Benjamin Franklin, Roger Williams, Thomas Paine, Philip Freneau, and Thomas Jefferson. Their literary talent enabled them to be political leaders.

1) Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

  ① General Introduction

    American politician, scientist, inventor, and educator.

    He was a typical example of the so-called American Dream. 

    He helped draft the “Declaration of Independence”.

    He conducted the difficult negotiation with France that brought financial and military support for America in the war. 

    He founded the college that was to become the University of Pennsylvania. 

本杰明.富兰克林 (1706-1790)——资本主义精神最完美的代表,十八世纪美国最伟大的科学家和发明家,著名的政治家、外交家、文学家和航海家以及美国独立战争的伟大领袖。


  ② Main works

    a) Poor Richard’s Almanac《穷理查年鉴》: It contains a large number of practical sayings about life. It was a particularly influential book in the early American literature.

For example: A penny saved is a penny earned. 省一分,挣一分。

Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.


God helps them that help themselves. 自助者天助。

Little strokes fell great oaks.小斧慢砍,巨树可断。

    b) The Autobiography 《自传》: It records the author’s rising from poverty or humble beginnings to success. It is an early example of the American dream. It could be seen as the representative work of Franklin. Besides the Enlighteners’ emphasis on rationalism, order and education could find fine expression in it.


  ③ Writing Styles

    Directness, simplicity, concision,good sense

    Tone: humble, decisive, persuasive


  ④ Appreciate and Group Discussion

    Let's appreciate the content on P2-3 in Selected Readings and discuss the following questions: Why did Franklin write his Autobiography?
a. Reasons:
    1) Franklin says that because his son may wish to know about his life, he is taking his one week vacation in the English countryside to record his past. 2) He also says that he has enjoyed his life and would like to repeat it. 3) “My posterity will perhaps be desirous of leaning the means I used from poverty to success”. 4) to gratify my own vanity.
b. Main ideas:

    1)To explain the reasons. 2) To express his opinions: to thank God, owing everything to Him; to persuade his son to help himself (self- betterment).

c. Features:

    Franklin modeled his style on the directness, simplicity, concision, good sense of the English essayists Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, two leading English satirists at the time.

d. Tone: humble, decisive, persuasive


2) Roger Williams

He was one of the greatest Puritan dissenters in the early days of Puritan theocracy in New England.

The Bloody Tenet of Persecution for the Cause of Conscience《血腥的迫害教义》: The work furiously attacks the “soul-killing” requirement of religious conformity and vigorously upholding the spiritual freedom of the individual.


3) Thomas Paine

He was very active in the cause of American Revolution and gained the title of “The Father of American Revolution(美国独立之父)” which showed his contribution.

The Common Sense《常识》: It is his most famous political pamphlet and is regarded as the greatest of the Revolutionary pamphlets. It had great impact on American Revolution.

The American Crisis《美国危机》: It inspired the residents of colonial lands to resist the British Army.

The Rights of Man 《人的权利》: It supported the French Revolution.

The Age of Reason 《理性的时代》: It argued against Christian Doctrines which had bad influence on fame of its author.

    The greatest pamphlet-writer of the American Revolution, Thomas Paine (1737-1809), was born in England. While he was growing up in England, he tried life as a corset maker, a grocer, a sailor, a teacher, and a tax collector. When he was thirty-seven, he met Benjamin Franklin in London and was persuaded to go to America. Franklin gave Paine the encouragement he desperately needed, as well as a letter of introduction praising him as an “ingenious, worthy young man”. Within two years Tom Paine became a successful journalists, publishing anonymously the pamphlet Common Sense, the first American cry for complete independence. Common Sense sold almost a half million copies. Nothing that had been written in America was so widely read or so influential.  Its clear thinking and exciting language quickly united American feelings against England. He seemed to express what the readers themselves had been secretly thinking: “There is something absurd in supposing a continent to be perpetually governed by an island.” Between 1776 and 1783, he issued a series of 16 pamphlets, called The American Crisis, Number. It appeared the day after the American leader, General Gorge Washington, was defeated in the Battle of Long Island. His forces were retreating, their morale low. The American commander had these stirring words read to his men just before they crossed the Delaware fight at Trenton.

    Paine was also active in the French Revolution and wrote a famous defense of that relation too The Rights of Man (1791-2). 


4) Philip Freneau

He is “a poet of the American Revolution” and “the father of American Poetry”

The Rising Glory of America 《美洲光辉的兴起》

The Wild Honey Suckle《野金银花》

The Indian Burying Ground《印第安人殡葬地》: It phrases the “Noble Savage” and “The Dying Indian: Tomo Cheque”


5) Thomas Jefferson

He is the third President of the United States (1801-1809). He is the principle writer of the Declaration of Independence (1776). He is one of the most influential Founding Fathers for his promotion of the ideals of republicanism in the United States.

Declaration of Independence

It was not only a critical political document but also a well-organized literary work. In this document, Jefferson exemplified the evil-doings of the British King and signaled that the colony people had the right to separate from the King and establish a new government to protect the people.


Step4. Key points and Difficulties

Key points: Franklin and his Autobiography

Difficulties: The function of literature between enlightenment/reason and revolution


Step5. Homework

What are the central ideas of American Enlightenment? What’s the influence of Puritanism on the writers in Enlightenment period? Please write a comment to analyze Franklin's Autobiography to explain these.