Sunday, July 10, 2011

235. William Temple Franklin and Confucius

Having read the previous post, “Confucius, Benjamin Franklin and his Friends,” you will know that Franklin’s friends knew very well of his life-long project of using Confucian moral philosophy to purify his virtue. What about his family members? Did they know anything about Confucius?

After careful examination of Franklin’s papers, I can state with certitude that at least one of the family members, William Temple Franklin (1760-1823), Franklin’s grandson, was familiar with Confucius. How do I know? From the letter that Louis-Felix Guinement, chevalier de Kéralio (1731-1790), sent to Temple on September 17, 1783, we can find the prove that Confucius was well-known by Temple and the French writer. He encouraged Temple to pursue knowledge by using Confucian teachings: “Confucius said that it is necessary always to learn, as if one knows nothing.”
The original letter was written in French, therefore, I give out the original version, "Confucius a dit qu’il falloit toujours apprendre, comme si on ne savoit rien."

Monday, July 4, 2011

234. Confucius, Benjamin Franklin and His Friends

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) had many skills. The fact that he could retire at the age of 42 demonstrates that he was very good at making money and knew how to make good use of his talents. However, Franklin's real attention was given to the purification of his virtue. He worked hard to arrive at "moral perfection". On June 11, 1760, he told Mary Stevenson (1739-1795): "The Knowledge of Nature may be ornamental, and it may be useful, but if to attain an Eminence in that, we neglect the Knowledge and Practice of essential Duties, we deserve Reprehension."
Dr. Dave Wang has done some research on Franklin’s efforts to improve her virtue through following Confucius’s moral teachings. One question came to my mind is: did Franklin’s friends know about his efforts to live such a moral life?

I don’t have to give you numerous examples on how Franklin followed Confucius moral teachings to pursue a more virtuous life. That knowledge you can glean from Dr. Wang’s essay, Benjamin Franklin and Confucius Moral philosophy, or even his paper, Benjamin Franklin and China. Judging by the correspondences between Franklin and his friends, it is fair to say that Franklin’s use of Confucian ideals to enhance his morality was well-known among his friends.

For example, on February 26, 1766 Ezra Stiles (1727-1795)told Franklin:

“I have somtimes wished, after you had digested such of your Letters and other Writings as you would desire to accompany your Name through all American Ages, that I might be charged with the publication of them, prefixing them with the history of your Life. But this is an honor, to which among your numerous friends I can have no pretension. Confucius and his Posterity have been honored in China for Twenty Ages—the Electrical Philosopher, the American Inventor of the pointed Rods will live for Ages to come to live with him would please no one more than, my Dear Maecenas Your affectionate Friend and obedient Servant.”

Sunday, July 3, 2011

233. Alexander Hamilton Loved Franklin's Fire Place

On the basis of assimilating Chinese heating technology, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)who was always "interested in the problem of heating and ventilation," invented a fire place, which was called the Pennsylvania Fire Place. Soon, the fire place was spread from Pennsylvania to Northeast colonies, including New York and Massachusetts. Alexander Hamilton (1755/57-1804)was very happy to find Franklin's invention.

Hamilton testified that Franklin's new stove chimneys were much improved in New York. He also reserved one for Cadwallader Colden (1688-1776). In 1744, The American Magazine and Historical Chronicle introduced the new invented Pennsylvania Fire Place. In Boston, where Franklin was born, Benjamin Mecom (1748-1765) also obtained one for his printing office. For more information, please read Michael Kraus, Intercolonial Aspects of American Culture on the Eve of the Revolution, with Special Reference to the Northern Towns , New York, Octogaon Books, Inc, 1964.

232. Benjamin Franklin's Art of Virtue

The late Professor Alfred Owen Aldridgeidentified that Benjamin Franklin's Art of Virtue was copied from Confucius. Thanks to the Google, his book The Dragon and the Eagle: The Presence of China in the American Enlightenment is available online. Because of the publication of Dr. Dave Wang's essay, Benjamin Franklin and China, it has become known that Franklin received positive influences from Chinese civilization.

However, I personally think that the word “copy” is a little bit too strong. Franklin indeed published word by word in his widely circulated Pennsylvania Gazette --The New York Times of the 18th Century--some chapters of Confucius Moral philosophy adopted from the book, Morals of Confucius, published in 1691 in London and republished in 1708 and 1714 respectively. However, Franklin didn't take all of the teachings as a whole from Confucius, but instead took what he considered would benefit the colonists in North America. In this sense, I agree with Dr. Wang's opinion that Franklin drew nourishments from the positive elements of Chinese civilization.