Today marks the birthday of Benjamin Franklin. Why is this important? Because I’m taking a page out of Sannion’s blog and starting to think about who my heroes (in the classical sense) might be. Of course, dear reader, you probably remember something about him being important in the Revolutionary War and development of the United States; Ben Franklin isn’t considered a Founding Father for nothing or called “The First American” for the hell of it, nor is his face on the US$100 bill for style alone.
Besides the whole American Revolution thing, Ben Franklin was known for many achievements throughout his life:
- Began several studies on population growth, influencing Thomas Malthus with his theory of Malthusian catastrophe
- Philosopher on economics, trade, mercantilism, Enlightenment ideals, and freedom
- Founded the first public library in America
- Created a phonetic alphabet for a spelling reform of English, which although unsuccessful influenced and was used in part by the International Phonetic Alphabet
- One of the first charters of the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean
- Investigated and discovered the properties of electricity, and discoverer of the conservation of charge, as well as being a polymath influencing and deriving tools for optics, light, heating, and other physics
- Laid out the first description of the pros-and-cons list method of making decisions
- Writer of music, and player of stringed instruments as well as a glass harmonica
- First named chess player in America, and a writer on the game whose works are read to this day on etiquette and style
- Spy-master, public relations manager, and social engineer
- First Postmaster General of the United States Post Office, chosen based on his already notable experience as postmaster
- Ambassador, politician, polyglot, and advocate for religious tolerance and abolition of slavery
- Grand Master of several Freemason lodges
- Writer of Poor Richard’s Almanack
- Printer of currency and advocate for paper money, as well as inventing several anti-counterfeiting techniques
- Fugitive after fleeing from his apprenticeship without permission
- Beloved of whores and many illegitimate children
See why I think the dude deserves especial honor as a hero under the guidance of Hermes?
Where I work is amazingly close to the National Postal Museum, part of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC. I like taking trips there, not least because it’s basically a temple to Hermes Diaktoros kai Angelos, the Guide and Messenger, complete with hymns to Hermes and caduci lining the architecture, but because it’s small and well-contained as far as Smithsonian museums go. Add to it, there’s a large statue of Ben Franklin in the museum near the exit (where a post office is also located), to whom I always nod in honor as I walk past him. While taking a trip there recently, I decided to look on the base of the statue to actually read it, and behold!, there was a list of his achievements (which exceeded more than I had thought initially) as well as his birthday and deathday. Since his birthday was right around the corner, and being the quasi-Hellenistic Hermetic magician I am, why not do something to mark the day he was brought into the world?
While Ben Franklin was nominally Christian and raised by his Puritan parents Josiah Franklin and Abiah Franklin née Folger, he claimed Deism for much of his life, though changed directions several times that wouldn’t be unwelcome among Hermeticists. He had a strong emphasis on inculcating virtue and strong character with an emphasis on doing good, as well as living a good life; these were critical in his views on founding a new nation based on the ideal of the republic. While many religions claimed him (including the Quakers, Church of England, and Presbyterians), Benjamin Franklin was a proponent of religion for the sake of good in general, regardless of theology or dogma. Among his other virtues, he held 13 to be highly important both to the development of his own character and that of others, listing them in his autobiography and focusing on one each week of the year:
- Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
- Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
- Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
- Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
- Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
- Industry. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
- Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
- Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
- Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
- Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
- Tranquility. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
- 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.
- Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
He was even a proponent of preserving the dead for later revival, first suggesting that he and his friends be “immersed…in a cask of Madeira”. Dude’s baller, yo.
So, with all this in mind, I’ll be paying my deepest respects to Ben Franklin tonight and every year on this day. According to the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary website, some of his favorite foods were, besides anything natively found and made by the Native Americans, apples, cranberries, pickles, bread and honey, potatoes, Parmesan cheese, and turkey (though Ben Franklin was an advocate for vegetarianism, and introduced tofu to the Americas). While Madeira would be an obvious choice for a liquid offering, I might try a bit of fruit rum punch instead (since Franklin is associated with a rhyming recipe for the same); his recipe for milk punch might also be good.
Come on and join me tonight in celebrating this awesome man, whose work not only benefitted the United States, but even the whole world, especially for modern conveniences like Amazon and e-mail and mixology. Even if you’re not an American, I’m sure there’s something you can thank or admire the dude for. I mean, come on; half his life sounds like a plotline from Game of Thrones. What’s not to drink to?