Benjamin Franklin

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Author: D. H. Lawrence
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 2,574 words

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[Lawrence was an English novelist, poet, and essayist noted for his introduction of modern psychology to English fiction. In his lifetime he was considered controversial both for the explicit sexuality of his works and for his unconventional personal life. Human sexuality was for Lawrence a symbol of the Life Force, which he frequently pitted against the dehumanizing institutions of modern industrial society. In the following essay, first published in English Review in December 1918, Lawrence attacks Franklin's utilitarian notion of social harmony as misguided and identifies his tendency to control nature as harmful to the utilitarian ideals it purports to represent.]

The idea of the perfectibility of man, which was such an inspiration in Europe, to Rousseau and Godwin and Shelley, all those idealists of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, was actually fulfilled in America before the ideal was promulgated in Europe. If we sift the descriptions of the “Perfect Man”, and accept the chief features of this ideal being, keeping only to what is possible, we shall find we have the abstract of a character such as Benjamin Franklin's.

A man whose passions are the obedient servants of his mind, a man whose sole ambition is to live for the bettering and advancement of his fellows, a man of such complete natural benevolence that the interests of self never obtrude in his works or his desires—such was to be the Perfect Man of the future, in the Millennium of the world. And such a man was Benjamin Franklin, in the actual America.

Therefore it is necessary to look very closely at the character of this Franklin. The magicians knew, at least imaginatively, what it was to create a being out of the intense will of the soul. And Mary Shelley, in the midst of the idealists, gives the dark side to the ideal being, showing us Frankenstein's monster....

This has been the fallacy of our age—the assumption that we, of our own will, and by our own precept and prescription, can create the perfect being and the perfect age. The truth is, that we have the faculty to form and distort even our own natures, and the natures of our fellow men. But we can create nothing. And the thing we can make of our own natures, by our own will, is at the most a pure mechanism, an automaton. So that if on the one hand Benjamin Franklin is the perfect human being of Godwin, on the other hand he is a monster, not exactly as the monster in Frankenstein, but for the same reason, viz., that he is the production or fabrication of the human will, which projects itself upon a living being, and automatises that being according to a given precept....

Fairly early in life Franklin drew up a creed, which, he intended, “should satisfy the professors of every religion, but which should shock none.” It has six articles.

“That there is One God, who made all things.” “That He governs the world by His...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420002968