Thursday, January 17, 2008

Blogging Ben

While preparing to celebrate Benjamin Franklin's birth date today, a spark went off in my head. In his wildest creative, enterprising, inquisitive, imagination, would Benjamin Franklin ever have dreamed that the likes of me would be "blogging" about him. Of course, my first instinct was to discuss Benjamin Franklin's favorite foods or his many contributions to the culinary world (The first shipment of rhubarb was sent to the United States from London. Benjamin Franklin sent the plant to, John Bartram in Philadelphia) or the fact that "The Apple A Day Man" was quite the promoter of healthy eating. In Poor Richard's Almanac, Franklin encouraged the eating of citrus fruits, including oranges, limes, and grapefruits. He coined the phrase "An apple a day keeps the doctor away" and touted the advantages of fruit in helping to maintain the gums and skin.

Vegetarian & Healthy Foods

When Franklin was about 16, he "digested" a book written by one Tryon, recommending a vegetable diet which he vowed to adhere to. He did, more or less, for the next three years, but he did "fall off the wagon" for brief spells throughout his life. In his autobiography, he often pleads for moderation in eating: "Be temperate in Wine, in eating, Girls, and Sloth, or the Gout will sieze you and plague you both." The following excerpts are from his autobiography:

"When about 16 years of age I happened to meet with a book, written by one Tryon, recommending a vegetable diet. I determined to go into it. My brother, being yet unmarried, did not keep house, but boarded himself and his apprentices in another family. My refusing to eat flesh occasioned an inconveniency, and I was frequently chid for my singularity. I made myself acquainted with Tryon's manner of preparing some of his dishes, such as boiling potatoes or rice, making hasty pudding, and a few others, and then proposed to my brother, that if he would give me, weekly, half the money he paid for my board, I would board myself. He instantly agreed to it, and I presently found that I could save half what he paid me. This was an additional fund for buying books. But I had another advantage in it. My brother and the rest going from the printing-house to their meals, I remained there alone, and, despatching presently my light repast, which often was no more than a bisket or a slice of bread, a handful of raisins or a tart from the pastry-cook's, and a glass of water, had the rest of the time till their return for study, in which I made the greater progress, from that greater clearness of head and quicker apprehension which usually attend temperance in eating and drinking."

Off the Wagon

"I believe I have omitted mentioning that, in my first voyage from Boston, being becalm'd off Block Island, our people set about catching cod, and hauled up a great many. Hitherto I had stuck to my resolution of not eating animal food, and on this occasion consider'd, with my master Tryon, the taking every fish as a kind of unprovoked murder, since none of them had, or ever could do us any injury that might justify the slaughter. All this seemed very reasonable. But I had formerly been a great lover of fish, and, when this came hot out of the frying-pan, it smelt admirably well. I balanc'd some time between principle and inclination, till I recollected that, when the fish were opened, I saw smaller fish taken out of their stomachs; then thought I, "If you eat one another, I don't see why we mayn't eat you." So I din'd upon cod very heartily, and continued to eat with other people, returning only now and then occasionally to a vegetable diet. So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do." (source)

I could hardly control my excitement when I tumbled across a website full of Ben Franklin's Favorite Foods. That's just a tasting of what I would have shared had I not had that darn light bulb go off in my head. I need a drink!

In 18th Century France, potatoes were deeply unpopular. However, French pharmacist Antoine Augustin Parmentier promoted the potato as a potential solution to French farming difficulties. Franklin advised Parmentier to hold a banquet at Les Invalides with potatoes in every single dish, including desert. Franklin attended, as guest of honor, and wrote a very favorable review.

"Receipt for the Bite of a Mad Dog"

"For the Bite of a Mad Dog, for either Man or Beast: Take six Ounces Rue clean picked and bruised, four Ounces of Garlick peeled and bruised, four Ounces of Venice Treacle, and four Ounces of filed Pewter or scraped Tin. Boil these in the Space of an Hour, then strain the Ingredients from the Liquor. Give eight or nine Spoonfuls of it warm to a Man, or a Woman, three Mornings fasting. Eight or nine Spoonfuls is sufficient for the strongest; a lesser Quantity to those younger … Ten of twelve Spoonfuls for a Horse, or a Bullock; three, four, or five to a Sheep, Hog, or Dog." (source)

Once, Franklin became outraged by the negative English opinions concerning American food that he encountered in London. He took a patriotic pride in using “our own Produce at home” rather than being dependent on foreign imports. He published a long treatise as "Homespun" extolling the virtues of American cooking and foodstuffs:

"Pray let me, an American, inform the gentleman, who seems ignorant of the matter, that Indian corn, take it for all in all, is one of the most agreeable and wholesome grains in the world; that its green leaves roasted are a delicacy beyond expression; that samp, hominy, succotash, and nokehock, made of it, are so many pleasing varieties; and that johny or hoecake, hot from the fire, is better than a Yorkshire muffin – But if Indian corn were so disagreeable and indigestible as the Stamp Act, does he imagine that we can get nothing else for breakfast? – Did he never hear that we have oatmeal in plenty, for water gruel or burgoo; as good wheat, rye and barley as the world affords, to make frumenty; or toast and ale; that there is every where plenty of milk, butter, and cheese; that rice is one of our staple commodities; that for tea, we have sage and bawm in our gardens, the young leaves of the sweet hickery or walnut, and above all, the buds of our pine, infinitely preferably to any tea from the Indies … Let the gentleman do us the honor of a visit in America, and I will engage to breakfast him every day in the month with a fresh variety."  n

Blogging Ben

From the age of 12 until about 39, Benjamin Franklin worked in the publishing business. At age 42, he retired from publishing and turned to scientific studies. IMHO, he would have jumped at the chance to join the world wide web of blogging. After all, the first lending library in America was established by Benjamin Franklin. Isn't the internet the library of the world? Aren't our blogs mere diaries of our adventures?

A frequent, chronological publication of personal thoughts and Web links.
a mixture of what is happening in a person's life, what is happening in the world via assorted paths of media, unique to the people. A Platform, an online diaries where the diarist keeps an online journal.
Almanack (Almanac)
entertaining little books of information and entertainment, literary curiosities.
Almanacks were very popular books in colonial America, with people in the colonies using them for the mixture of seasonal weather forecasts, practical household hints, puzzles, and other amusements they offered.

The Beginning

Perhaps, the future will reveal "Blogs were very popular online diaries in the 21st century in American History. Americans used them for a mixture of seasonal forecasts, practical household hints and recipes, puzzles, amusements, entertainment and as a platform to "speak their minds."

In his is eagerness to acquire literary reputation, young Ben Franklin submitted an anonymous essay to his brother's newspaper. His brother had begun to print a newspaper in 1720 or 1721. It was the second that appeared in America, and was called the New England Courant. The only one before it was the Boston News-Letter.

I was excited to try my hand among them; but, being still a boy, and suspecting that my brother would object to printing anything of mine in his paper if he knew it to be mine, I contrived to disguise my hand, and, writing an anonymous paper, I put it in at night under the door of the printing-house. It was found in the morning, and communicated to his writing friends when they call'd in as usual. They read it, commented on it in my hearing, and I had the exquisite pleasure of finding it met with their approbation, and that, in their different guesses at the author, none were named but men of some character among us for learning and ingenuity. I suppose now that I was rather lucky in my judges, and that perhaps they were not really so very good ones as I then esteem'd them. (Chapter 2)

"It is hard for an empty sack to stand up-right"

At the age of 26, Ben Franklin published the first edition of his Poor Richard's Almanac. Franklin started writing the material using the pen name of Richard Saunders. The fictional Poor Richard was supposed to be an unschooled but an experienced philosopher of life.

In 1732 I first publish'd my Almanack, under the name of Richard Saunders; it was continu'd by me about twenty-five years, commonly call'd Poor Richard's Almanac. I endeavor'd to make it both entertaining and useful, and it accordingly came to be in such demand, that I reap'd considerable profit from it, vending annually near ten thousand. And observing that it was generally read, scarce any neighborhood in the province being without it, I consider'd it as a proper vehicle for conveying instruction among the common people, who bought scarcely any other books; I therefore filled all the little spaces that occurr'd between the remarkable days in the calendar with proverbial sentences, chiefly such as inculcated industry and frugality, as the means of procuring wealth, and thereby securing virtue; it being more difficult for a man in want, to act always honestly, as, to use here one of those proverbs, it is hard for an empty sack to stand up-right. source
"If you would not be forgotten, As soon as you are dead and rotten,
Either write things worthy of reading, Or do things worth the writing."

Ben Franklins reflects:

I considered my newspaper, also, as another means of communicating instruction, and in that view frequently reprinted in it extracts from the Spectator, and other moral writers; and sometimes publish'd little pieces of my own, which had been first compos'd for reading in our Junto. Of these are a Socratic dialogue, tending to prove that, whatever might be his parts and abilities, a vicious man could not properly be called a man of sense; and a discourse on self-denial, showing that virtue was not secure till its practice became a habitude, and was free from the opposition of contrary inclinations. These may be found in the papers about the beginning of 1735.
In the conduct of my newspaper, I carefully excluded all libelling and personal abuse, which is of late years become so disgraceful to our country. Whenever I was solicited to insert anything of that kind, and the writers pleaded, as they generally did, the liberty of the press, and that a newspaper was like a stagecoach, in which any one who would pay had a right to a place, my answer was, that I would print the piece separately if desired, and the author might have as many copies as he pleased to distribute himself, but that I would not take upon me to spread his detraction; and that, having contracted with my subscribers to furnish them with what might be either useful or entertaining, I could not fill their papers with private altercation, in which they had no concern, without doing them manifest injustice. Now, many of our printers make no scruple of gratifying the malice of individuals by false accusations of the fairest characters among ourselves, augmenting animosity even to the producing of duels; and are, moreover, so indiscreet as to print scurrilous reflections on the government of neighboring states, and even on the conduct of our best national allies, which may be attended with the most pernicious consequences. These things I mention as a caution to young printers, and that they may be encouraged not to pollute their presses and disgrace their profession by such infamous practices, but refuse steadily, as they may see by my example that such a course of conduct will not, on the whole, be injurious to their interests.
*Unless otherwise noted, most of the information pertaining to Benjamin Franklin was gleaned from his autobiography and interpreted by me for the purpose of this day.
revised October, 2015

1. Ben Franklin's Online Autobiography
2. Ben Franklin’s Favorite Foods
3. The first shipment of rhubarb (link expired)
4. Franklin Stove by Inventor Benjamin Franklin
5. The History of Blogging
6. Homebrew Recipes of our Founding Fathers: Benjamin Franklin


  1. Great post! I completely missed Ben's birthday - shame on me because I am an American history buff. I enjoyed the information about Franklin's diet - it really shows that he embraced the good things in life at every level!

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