… on the occasion of his Tercentenary.
Franklin’s collection [of 4,276 volumes] was one of the largest private libraries in America at the time and took up the entire second floor of an addition he built on his Philadelphia home… . When Franklin died in 1790, the books were scattered among a number of institutions and relatives. Most were bequeathed to [Ben’s grandson William] Temple Franklin.
The grandson, though, had no interest in the library and “looked on it as an asset to exploit” … By 1794, Temple Franklin had sold his volumes to a man who ended up going bankrupt four years later.
The books then ended up in the hands of bookseller Nicholas Dufief, who sold them off between 1801 and 1803 to buyers including then-President Thomas Jefferson. A deal fell through for the Library of Congress to acquire the remainder of the collection. Though Dufief had published catalogs of the titles, those lists were lost as well.
How some determined folks tracked down the missing titles makes a better and more interesting story than, say, that DaVinci Code business. And, in the coming months, the Library Company of Philadelphia* (“the Mother of all American Subscription Libraries”) and the American Philosophical Society** (the nation’s oldest learned society), both established by Franklin, plan to publish a catalogue of titles comprising almost half of his lost collection.
According to the research, Franklin’s original library included manuals on the mechanics of printing and the making of apple cider, as well as Don Quixote, The Odyssey, Two Treatises of Government by John Locke, Opticks: Or, a Treatise of the Reflections, Refractions, Inflections and Colours of Light by Isaac Newton; and a 1556 edition in Latin of the Magna Carta.
And, thanks to The Stingy Scholar, I now know that Learn Out Loud has released their most recent audiobook of the month, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, tucked away at the bottom of the Schola portable schoolhouse (just for fun); as L. wrote just about a year ago of the Autobiography, “the description of his education is a virtual blueprint for autodidacts and homeschool teachers.”
The audiobook version would be just the ticket to listen to while strolling about the Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World exhibition, which has moved on from its very successful stay at Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center, where it was the centerpiece of the city’s tercentenary celebrations. It now heads to St. Louis (at the Missouri Historical Society from June 8, 2006 to September 4, 2006); Houston (The Houston Museum of Natural Science, October 11, 2006 to January 21, 2007); Denver; Atlanta; and, finally, Paris, at both the Musée des Arts et Métiers and the gem that is the Musée Carnavalet from December 4, 2007 to March 30, 2008.
If you can’t get away, the official tercentenary website offers an online version of the exhibition, in English as well as en francais and en espanol. And don’t miss the website’s educational resource page, which offers Ben Across the Curriculum (“a set of interdisciplinary lesson plans…that explore Franklinian themes across elementary, middle and secondary level curricula), and a downloadable Teacher’s Guide to the exhibit, with suggested activities before, during, and after your visit.
A Benjamin Franklin bibliography, or, a random selection we’ve enjoyed of Frankliniana, for children and adults:
Benjamin Franklin: Autobiography, Poor Richard, and Later Writings, the Library of America edition, edited by J. A. Leo Lemay
Benjamin Franklin: Silence Dogood, The Busy-Body, and Early Writings, the Library of America edition, edited by J. A. Leo Lemay
The Way to Wealth by Benjamin Franklin
A Benjamin Franklin Reader by Walter Isaacson
Benjamin Franklin, the picture book biography by Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire
The Many Lives of Benjamin Franklin, written and illustrated by Aliki
Ben Franklin of Old Philadelphia, the Landmark classic by Margaret Cousins
The Story of Benjamin Franklin, Amazing American by Margaret Davidson
Poor Richard in France by F.N. Monjo; a beginning chapter book through the eyes of Ben’s seven-year-old grandson on the occasion of their trip to France seeking support for the American revolutionaries.
Poor Richard, written and illustrated by James Daugherty
What’s the Big Idea, Ben Franklin? by Jean Fritz with illustrations by Margot Tomes
How Ben Franklin Stole the Lightning written and illustrated by Rosalyn Schanzer
Benjamin Franklin’s Adventures with Electricity by Beverley Birch with illustrations by Robin Bell Corfield (part of Barron’s well-done “Science Stories” series)
The Ben Franklin Book of Easy & Incredible Experiments: Activities, Projects, and Science Fun, a Franklin Institute Science Museum Book
Ben Franklin and the Magic Squares by Frank Murphy with illustrations by Richard Walz; a Random House “Step into Reading (+ Math)” (Step 4) book. How Ben battled boredom with a precursor to Sudoku; especially fun for kids who enjoy the modern math puzzles.
And two new ones for kids I haven’t seen yet:
Now & Ben: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin by Gene Barretta
John, Paul, George & Ben by Lane Smith
Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, Walter Isaacson’s entertaining, bestselling biography
The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin by H.W. Brands
Benjamin Franklin by Yale professor emeritus Edmund S. Morgan, a thoughtful biographical consideration, focusing on Franklin the diplomat and politician
A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America by Pulitzer Prize winner Stacy Schiff; a not always lively but important telling of the diplomatic efforts that helped to win the war.
* New on the Library Company’s website: “The eminent Franklin scholar J.A. Leo Lemay [see above], the H.F. du Pont Winterthur Professor of English at the University of Delaware, has recently published the first two volumes of his projected seven-volume biography, The Life of Benjamin Franklin. The second volume, titled Printer and Publisher, 1730-1747, includes a chapter on the Library Company that is the most comprehensive treatment of its founding by Franklin in 1731 and its subsequent history over the next several decades. Through the courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania Press we have been able to place this chapter on our website” (for downloading).
** The Museum of the American Philosophical Society, in Philosophical Hall, is currently hosting the exhibition, The Princess & the Patriot: Ekaterina Dashkova, Benjamin Franklin, and the Age of Enlightenment; for those in and about the City of Brotherly Love, the Museum offers invites you to join them for Second Sundays, “family-friendly hands-on art and science activities inspired by the objects in the The Princess and the Patriot exhibition”.