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Benjamin Franklin on Farts, Mistresses, Rattlesnakes and Other Things

Updated on August 14, 2013
A Portrait of Benjamin Franklin by Joseph Sifferin Duplessis (circa 1785)
A Portrait of Benjamin Franklin by Joseph Sifferin Duplessis (circa 1785) | Source

Benjamin Franklin was truly a Renaissance man. A Founding Father of the United States, he was a member of the Second Continental Congress and signer of the Declaration of Independence. A patriot, statesman and politician, he served as the first Postmaster General of the US as well as the first ambassador to both France and Sweden. In addition, Franklin was a noted scientist, inventor and philosopher.

He was also a very gifted writer. Franklin became a rich man writing and publishing Poor Richards Almanack and the Pennsylvania Gazette. He was a talented satirist who at times could be could be earthy, bawdy, irreverent, funny and eloquent. He sometimes made up or exaggerated things he reported just to stir things up.

In Fart Proudly-Writings of Benjamin Franklin You Never Read in School, Carl Japiske has put together a volume of 38 of the author's most scurrilous, satirical and funny works from throughout his career. The pieces range from humorous commentaries about human mores and behavior, to biting satirical editorials about the treatment of the colonies by England. Listed below are comments about a few of the articles:

A Letter to A Royal Academy-1781

Franklin received a letter from the French Royal Academy of Science offering a prize to the first person who could complete a complicated, yet useless mathematical problem. In his response, he argued that the contest had no “utility” and proposed the following:

"To discover some Drug, wholesome and not disagreeable, to be mixed with our common foods and sauces, that shall render the Natural Discharges, of Wind from our Bodies, not only inoffensive, but agreeable as Perfumes."

In other words Franklin, proposes someone invent a drug that would make farts smell like perfume!

In this enjoyable, tongue in cheek letter, Franklin goes on to suggest that the inventor will be world famous for his contribution to mankind. A useful discovery like this would truly benefit mankind more than any other discovery before. As he says “What Comfort can the Vortices of Descarte give to a Man who has Whirlwinds in his Bowels.....can [the great discoveries of science] be compared to the Ease and Comfort every Man living might feel Seven times a Day by discharging freely the wind from his bowels, Especially if it smells like perfume”

Reproduction of a Charles Mills painting by the Detroit Publishing Company. Depicts W:Benjamin Franklin at work on a printing press.
Reproduction of a Charles Mills painting by the Detroit Publishing Company. Depicts W:Benjamin Franklin at work on a printing press. | Source

The Speech of Miss Polly Baker-1747

Benjamin Franklin liked to stir things up. On several occasions he wrote hoaxes that did not have a germ of truth in them. He wanted to see if his readers would figure that it was not true. This was one of them. In this piece, he tells the story of a woman in Connecticut. She is on trial after the birth of her 5th bastard child. She complains about the dishonorable men who left her “with child” (including the judge at her trial) and speaks with pride about how she has raised her children and how well they turned out. She concludes by saying that she does not deserve a whipping, but “to have a statue erected in my Memory” In this article, Franklin slams men who don't live up to their responsibilities while showing respect and admiration for the women who are left to raise children alone.

On Choosing a Mistress-1745

If the previous piece showed respect and admiration for women, this one is downright sexist and may be offensive to some. In this letter he counsels a friend who doesn't want to get married, but wants to enjoy women. He recommends that his friend pick an older mistress and gives 8 reasons. They boil down to this:

  1. They are smarter and have more wisdom
  2. When they get older and lose their looks, they become better at other tasks.

  3. They can't get pregnant.

  4. They keep better secrets, are much more discreet, and are better for young men than prositutes

  5. In the dark you can hardly tell the difference between a young woman and an older woman

  6. It's less of a sin with an older woman

  7. You will make an older woman happy

8. They are so grateful.

Rules for Making Oneself a Disagreeable Companion-1750

If your business is to shine and succeed, you must prevent the shining of others. To that end, Franklin suggests, dominating conversations, criticizing your rivals, and acting smug and arrogant. Remember, the goal is to please yourself, not others.

Transporting rattle-snakes-1751

It was in the early 1750's that Franklin's attention turned from domestic matters to concern about how England was treating the colonies. It was around this time that Parliament refused to prohibit the transporting of convicts to the colonies. The colonies had sent a petition stating that such laws are “against the publick utility, as they tend to prevent the IMPROVEMENT and WELL PEOPLING of the Colonies” England had been sending their convicted criminals to the colonies, because a number of people in England's judiciary felt that execution was too cruel for their murderers, rapists and robbers.

In this biting (pun intended) piece of satire, Franklin takes umbrage to this situation and mentions that in many of the colonies' rural areas, rattlesnakes abound. While it was common for a farmer to kill them before the snake can harm his family or livestock, Franklin feels this may be too cruel and proposes they be transported to England. Once there they can be out in England's more popular locations like Saint James Park, The Gardens of the Prime Ministers,Parliament and other places.

The Mother Country-1765

Franklin penned this satirical drinking song to the tune of “For He's a Jolly Good Fellow” In this song, he likens England to a overbearing, strict and unfair mother. The song has six verses. Here is the first.:

We have an old mother that peevish is grown

She snubs us like children that scarce walk alone;

She forgets we've grown up and have sense of our own.

Which nobody can deny, which nobody can deny

Rules by Which a Great Empire May Be Reduced-1773

In this satirical essay written on the eve of the American Revolution, Franklin assumes the role of giving advice to the minister responsible for the colonies on how to reduce their large empire. He lists actual grievances of the colonies like heavy taxation without representation, laws against fair trade, the quartering of troops with civilians, refusing to listen to petitions for justice and giving us unfair and corrupt governors. By sticking to these rules (there are 20 in all), Franklin assures that England will be sure to lose the colonies.


Poor Richards Almanack

Benjamin Franklin wrote and published Poor Richards Almanack annually from 1732 to 1758 under the pseudonym of Richard Saunders. Almanacs were popular publications in the colonies and Poor Richards..... was the most popular and made Franklin a wealthy man. This publication featured a calender, poems, articles, astrological, and astronomical information. But this almanac was a treasure trove of Franklin's sayings. The sayings were typically about savings, thrift and courtesy. They have endured as classic American sayings. Below are a few:

A penny saved is a penny earned

He that lies down with Dogs, shall rise up with fleas.

Marry’d in Haste, we oft repent at Leisure;

A lie stands on 1 leg, the Truth on 2.

Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.

Fish & Visitors stink in 3 days.

God helps them that help themselves.

Well done is better than well said.

To err is human, to repent divine, to persist devilish.

The sleeping Fox catches no poultry. Up! Up!

Lost Time is never found again.

For want of a Nail the Shoe is lost; for want of a Shoe, the Horse is lost; for want of a Horse the Rider is lost.

Haste makes Waste.

Never leave that till to-morrow which you can do to-day.

Half the Truth is often a great Lie.

He that is conscious of a Stink in his Breeches, is jealous of every Wrinkle in another's nose.

A popular, modern portrait of Ben Franklin
A popular, modern portrait of Ben Franklin | Source

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