Dover Publications is an American publisher founded in 1941. They tend to publish books that are no longer published by their original publishers, often works found in public domain. These republished books are made available at a greatly reduced cost. One of these publications is The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Benjamin Franklin is known as one of the greatest contributors to American history and as a great inventor. Born January 17, 1706, he was known as a congressman, philosopher, scientist and revolutionary.
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is authored by Franklin himself and is purposed to give an account of his life. Being compared to the original manuscript and the first published autography of Benjamin Franklin we can to determine if all the information is accurate to the original and if the Dover Thrift edition can be considered a primary source. Franklin was born in 1706 in Boston to a family of 14 children. As a child he went to school to become a minister however this soon was substituted when Franklin quickly took to literature, mainly reading and writing. After moving to Philadelphia and becoming acquainted with important political figures, Franklin moved to England where he spent almost two years working as a printer with his friend, James Ralph. Returning back to America in 1726, Franklin later married his wife Deborah Read, had 2 children, the first of which was his son William Franklin, to whom the opening lines of his autobiography are dedicated to.
During the 1730s, Franklin acquired governmental positions and began writing Poor Richard's Almanac. Later is known to have invented the Franklin Stove, founding a fire brigade, police force, and the University of Pennsylvania. Retiring from the printing business in 1748, Franklin began working on scientific experiments, the most well-known being the kite and the key and later be was awarded by Harvard and Yale. This “hopping” from occupations in different fields is an ideal not widely accepted in today’s society.
Today one is expected to cement themselves in a single career path until retirement. Later Franklin created outlines for proposals for the French and Indian War, many succeed however the autobiography end in 1757 leaving more than 30 years of Franklin’s life unaccounted by him even though later in life he went back to fill in details. Franklin later died in 1790 due to empyema. The Dover Thrift edition gives a very accurate account of Franklin’s life and accomplishments. The Dover Thrift edition of the book starts off with, “DEAR SON: I have ever had pleasure in obtaining any little anecdotes of my ancestors. ” Meanwhile the 1817 version begins with, “To William Franklin, Governor of New Jersey. &; Dear Son”.
Due to the age of 1817 many might believe the Dover thrift edition may be wrong however the original manuscript starts the same as the Dover Thrift Edition. But this is not significant enough to gage if the Dover Edition is a primary source or not. As stated before, the autobiography for the most part was written chronologically, however, Franklin did go back to fill in details. Franklin goes back to write about when he saw his grandfather’s grave in 1758. The Dover Thrift Edition states, “My grandfather Thomas… lived at Ecton till he grew too old to follow business longer, …he went to live with his son John, a dyer at Banbury, in Oxfordshire, with whom my father served an apprenticeship. There my grandfather died and lies buried.” This quote is not significantly different than the 1817 Edition authorized by Franklin’s son, William Temple Franklin but heavily edited by John Marshall. This edition reads, “my grandfather Thomas, who was born 1598, lived at Ecton…till he was too old to continue his business, he retired to Banbury in Oxfordshire to the house of his son John…my father served an apprenticeship. There my uncle died and lies buried.” Due to this, the Dover Thrift edition again might not be considered a primary source, but rather a secondary source, if not for a major piece of evidence.
The 1817 version of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is confirmed to have added many modifications other than what was in the original manuscript. During the 1730s, began writing Poor Richard's Almanac; Richard Saunders Was a pseudonym of Franklin. He states, “first publish’d my Almanack, under the name of Richard Saunders…commonly called Poor Richard’s Almanac… came to be in such demand, that I reap’d considerable profit from it.” This quote speaks of an accomplishment of Franklin and through the autobiography, we learn of many more such as the creation of the first fire brigade,“ I first formed, called the Union Fire Company, still subsists and flourishes…The small fines that have been paid by members for absence at the monthly meetings have been applied to the purchase of fire engines, ladders, fire-hooks, and other useful implements … provided with the means of putting a stop to beginning conflagrations…”.
The University of Philadelphia is another achievement he is especially proud of as he states, “…thus was established the present University of Philadelphia. I have been continued one of its trustees from the beginning, now near forty years, and have had the very great pleasure of seeing a number of the youth who have receiv’d their education in it...” . These are just a few examples that give credence to the idea that this autobiography was made to highlight Franklin’s achievements.
Benjamin Franklin’s civil achievements were not the only contributions documents. He was an avid scientist and many of his scholarly endeavors were well documented, however they started from humble beginnings, “asham’d of my ignorance in figures, which I had twice failed in learning when at school, I took Cocker’s book of Arithmetick and went through the whole by myself with great ease. I also read Seller’s and Shermy’s books of Navigation and became acquainted with the little geometry they contain; but never proceeded far in that science.” . The idea that with hard work one can master anything is an idea that has almost been completely eradicated as now we tend to give-up on task that we may find that we are not good at and then move on to something else. This quote is also very important because it gives a foundational understanding of where Franklin came from academically and how he furthered his own knowledge base.
Franklin was not worried about using the knowledge of others to further his own experiments, as shown on page 233, “I purchased all Dr. Spence’s apparatus, who had come from England to lecture here, and I proceeded in my electrical experiments with great alacrity;” This again shows a huge difference from society today. In this age people are searching for ways to mke something new and innovative on their own to boast their achievements unlike Franklin. Franklin in some way had a deeper understanding of his contribution in society as he states, “This is an age of experiments, and I think a set accurately made and combin’d would be of great use. I am persuaded, therefore, that ere long some ingenious philosopher will undertake it, to whom I wish success.” Unlike other “autobiographies” the Autobiography of Benjamin franklin appears to be written mainly by himself.
The Life of George Washington, which was actually written and heavily doctored by John Marshall, to the point that the enslaved is never mentioned and that Marshall in named as an author. The Autobiography of Thomas Jefferson foreward starts with a sort of disclaimer that basically states that the information disconfirmed to be written be Thomas Jefferson, but the information may be misleading due to his own vanity. This disclaimer is not introduced in the Dover Thrift edition of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin but rather by Franklin himself as he states, “So I might, besides correcting the faults, change some sinister accidents and events of it for others more favorable… to make that recollection as durable as possible by putting it down in writing… I shall indulge it without being tiresome to others, who, through respect to age, might conceive themselves obliged to give me a hearing…” . This quote is incredibly important because it shows that even though Dover did not put a disclaimer in the book, Franklin, knew that his words might be influenced by his own opinion and he acknowledge that.
The reduced cost of Dover Thrift books may be a red flag that their products may not be as accurate or refined. However, this is far from the truth. The reissue classic text that are, for the most part out of print. This being in a niche market of scholars and libraries. They have mastered the art of low-cost production by using cheaper paper and smaller font size to get “the most bang for their buck”. These factors allow Dover to provide authentic content with low-cost production and a lower cost for customers to buy. By comparing Dover’s Edition to the 1817 Edition as well as the original manuscript, and other autobiographies from Benjamin Franklin’s time period, the Dover thrift editions appears to be a primary source of information.