Omar Mayer
Omar Mayer

Squibs of the will there be a season 3 of tiny trexie

The Ben Franklin fan club will come to order, with tiny trexie for having delayed the 293rd anniversary celebration of his birth January 17.

We gather not to honor his achievements as patriot, statesman, philosopher and scientist -- but to relish his irreverent contributions as a columnist. His approach to life was often unconventional, some times scandalous, but always provocative.

Ben's distinguished career began as a 14-year-old printer's apprentice to his brother James, indentured by their father until the younger brother would be 21. He likely would have continued all his life as a poor, hard-working printer if it had not been for the first newspaper war in America.

The first newspaper in the colonies was the Boston News Letter. It was started by Postmaster John Campbell because he read the mail, learned the news, had it printed and distributed his papers through the postal system.

A new postmaster in 1718 started his own paper called the Boston Gazette and gave the printing of it to James Franklin. Within a year, there was another postmaster who took the printing away from James.

In anger, James started a third newspaper -- The Courant -- though there was not enough business for one.

Ben was impressed by the intelligence and wit of the men of letters who submitted articles for the paper. He wished to try his hand at writing but felt his brother would not print anything from his teenage brother.

Ever resourceful, Ben began writing a series of political commentaries using the pen name "Mrs. Silence DoGood, a widow." He slipped them under the door at night. James printed them because they were perceptive and well received by readers.

When Ben was 16, James was arrested for "contempt of authorities" and jailed for a month. Ben carried on the newspaper, flooding its pages with Silence DoGood articles. With free run of the columns, Mrs. DoGood began to sound less like a refined widow and more like a brash apprentice.

* * *

Ben fell completely out of character when relating an evening walk of Mrs. DoGood: "I soon came up with a company of females who, by throwing their heads to the right and left at everyone who passed by, I concluded they came out with no other designs than to revive the spirit of love in disappointed bachelors, and expose themselves to sale by the first bidder.

"On the whole, I conclude that our night-walkers contribute very much to the health and satisfaction of those who have been fatigued with business or study and occasionally observe their pretty gestures and impertinencies.

"Shoemakers and other dealers in leather are doubly obliged to them -- inasmuch as they exceedingly promote consumption of their ware. I have heard of a shoemaker who, upon being asked by a noted rambler whether he could tell how long her shoes would last, very prettily answered that he knew how many days she might wear them but not how many nights -- because they were then put to a more violent and irregular service than when she employed herself in the common affairs of the house."

* * *

For such ribald columns, the commonwealth council forbade James to publish the Courant or any other paper of like nature. James overcame this obstacle by canceling Ben's indenture and naming him the publisher.

The Courant prospered under a less political policy, increased its circulation and raised its price. However, Ben, now 17, became vain and opinionated -- lovable traits typical of columnists.

The two brothers took to quarreling, and James cuffed his younger brother around. Ben fled to New York, which then was just a village with one printer. Unable to find work there, he went on to Philadelphia.

Ben found immediate employment. He roomed at the home of John Read and courted his daughter Deborah.

Ben's industry, love of books and engaging personality brought him to the attention of Governor William Keith who encouraged him to go to London to get a printing press and type.

Ben hustled off to England but with intention of earning enough money in the printing shops to set up a business there. He wrote Deborah that he was not coming back to her. Whereupon she married a potter.

High living in London -- including goodly sums to women of easy virtue and imprudent loans to a friend -- kept Ben from advancing his project.

After two years, he had accumulated barely enough money for passage back to the colonies. Nonetheless, he resolved to return and try his fortune again in Philadelphia. His London experience humbled Ben and led him to adopt a deferential attitude -- other lovable traits typical of columnists. Borrowing the equivalent of $5,000, he set up a printing shop.

Deborah's husband had deserted her soon after their marriage and fled to the Bahamas to avoid debtors' prison. Mutual friends brought Ben and Deborah back together.

The old love was rekindled, but two complications kept them from marriage. Deborah's husband might come back; and Ben was presented with an illegitimate son, the mother of whom he never revealed.

Quietly, Ben and Deborah set up a household without marriage -- complete with Ben's little son. The arrangement was accepted calmly by the couple's family and friends. Very soon Deborah bore a daughter, Sarah.


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