Thursday, June 15, 2017

Day 15: A Father's Purpose: A Lesson In Vanity

(at least I think it's interesting)

Recently reading Benjamin Franklin's autobiography, I remembered that I had bound in one volume a copy of his works that include writings from Boston and London (1722-1726), Philadelphia (1726-1757), London (1757-1775), Paris (1776-1785), Philadelphia (1785-1790), Poor Richards Almanac (1733-1758) and of course, The Autobiography.

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As I thumbed through the volume I discovered a great disparity of difference between the Barnes and Noble version I was reading and The Library Of America publication I now held in my hands. With no comment from the editors or publishers, I found large and inexplicable omissions in the B & N text. I was disappointed. Performing some line-by-line and page-by-page comparisons, I noticed the language was lightly softened for the modern reader, but could not shake the disappointment of feeling deceived by the publisher making such changes without commentary.

As I continued by research I made another discovery that may shed light on the mystery. According to, one significant feature of this great American's Autobiography is that it was first published in French (1791). It was not until 1793 that the first English translation appeared, being translated from the French and not the original English manuscript. Another re translation back into French prepublished the book in 1798. One edition of three volumes was published in 1818 by William Temple Franklin, a grandson.

It could be that B & N published their copy from one of the editions (a revision) but the work contains no explanation and many of the omissions are glaring. Guess we'll never know.


One publishes or completes his work a certain way for his own reason. One is not always inclined to offer an explanation or reason for doing what one does. But in this case, the re-publication of a work should be true to the writer's form, purpose and intent unless the author gives permission to revise.

Franklin published his work for two reasons: the first is to provide a measure of instruction for his son, educate him a little on his heritage and legacy. The other reason is to satisfy his own vanity. "Hereby, too, I shall indulge the inclination so natural to old men, to be talking of themselves and their own past actions . . . I give [vanity] fair quarter where I meet with it, being persuaded that is often productive of good to the possessor and other others . . . " In other words, his vanity was not empty but serves the purpose instilling lasting virtue in his children, to learn from his mistakes as well as his successes.

A father is not always strong. A father is not always successful. A father is not a god and a child should never venerate his parents as such. At some point, one's offspring needs to see a human father. A weak man who struggled, got strong, persevered and then found success. A man must model both success and failure. If his vanity only serves the purpose of showcasing successes, then his successes die with him. But if his vanity gives him transparency that instills virtue in his children and in turn make his children successful, then he leaves a legacy. Selfish vanity deserves no respect.

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