Carl Japikse, editor,
Fart Proudly:
Writings of Benjamin Franklin
You Never Read in School

(Enthea Press, 1990; 2003)

Crude though the title may be, it turns out to be unfortunate that Ben Franklin does not stick with this theme throughout the series of vignettes in the entire book.

Normally, commentary on bodily functions is not something I look for in a book, but suffering the dry text of this one, I find myself wishing Franklin would drop the pomposity and joke a little more about just breaking wind. Even factoring in the formality of language of the times in which he was writing, this is high-brow humor of the most tedious sort.

In this collection of writings, culled from his Poor Richard's Almanack and The Pennsylvania Gazette, as well as other publications and personal letters, we are definitely introduced to the Ben we never knew. Apparently editor Carl Japikse thought this was a good thing. I am not so sure.

For example, "Rules for Making Oneself Disagreeable" highlights this motto for success: "Your Business is to shine, therefore you must prevent the shining of others, for their Brightness may make yours the less distinguished." (Excessive capitalization is Franklin's own.) Similar gems of good friend-making behavior follow in this facetious advice column.

And what does this paragon of manhood think of the ladies? Check out "Anthony Afterwit" for some enlightening instructions on the proper expectations of the housewife. After being lured into marriage by a falsified dowry, Mr. Afterwit exacts revenge on his new bride by selling off her possessions, firing her staff of house help and resetting her expectations to a way of life much more consistent with their circumstances (as dictated by him, of course). So Afterwit believes, "If she can conform to this new Scheme of Living, we shall be the happiest Couple perhaps in the Province, and, by the Blessing of God, may soon be in thriving Circumstances."

I bet.

For several years it has been my policy to avoid biographical accounts of famous people whom I admire. This would be a perfect example of why that policy is in place. I liked the Ben Franklin who said "God helps them that help themselves." Or the image of the stuffy scientist type, key in one hand, kite in the other, awaiting the discovery of electricity so we can all enjoy home decorating shows from the comfort of our well-lit living rooms.

I don't like this guy. He's misogynistic, classist and long-winded. He clearly finds himself very amusing and tends to explain at great length to the rest of us just why that is so.

As for the editing of the collection, I suppose it must be said that some praise is in order for Japikse for digging up these old classics and putting them together. Although most pieces are preceded by an editor's note, I would have liked to have seen them attributed to the publication in which they originally appeared, which is not generally included in these tidbits of information. Japikse is the author of more than 50 books, as well as a journalist, consultant and teacher of active meditation. In 1990 he founded Enthea Press.

In his introduction, he states: "Today, freedom of the press is only a nostalgic idea." In this way, he seems to have a bond with Franklin, who in his own writing frequently railed against censorship and also founded his own publications.

Japikse adds, "It is doubtful that Franklin thought of himself as either scandalous or roguish. He would have insisted that he just had a strong love for life and delighted in mixing things up whenever possible." Before reading this collection of Franklin's ponderings and opinions, I would have thought that of him, too. After, I can merely say that claim seems like only so much wind.

- Rambles
written by Katie Knapp
published 6 August 2004

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