Carl Japikse - Fart Proudly: Writings of Benjamin Franklin You Never Read in School

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Before Beavis and Butthead, there was Ben Franklin

Nov 19, 2002 (Updated Nov 19, 2002)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Funnier than most modern "humor."

Cons:Some archaic words, a dumb essay by the book's editor.

The Bottom Line: A short book packed with good stuff.

This is another in a series of reviews of books that you might want to consider getting people for Christmas. Don’t thank me, I’m only doing my job.

Carl Japikse has put together a short and hilarious collection of Benjamin Franklin’s wit and wisdom. Franklin was quite a Renaissance guy. Despite the fact that he was an editor, he displayed a high degree of intelligence, skill and talent. Perhaps that is because editing newspapers was only one of his many callings. He was also a printer, a scientist, a lobbyist (for Pennsylvania’s colonial government), a diplomat (ambassador in France during the American Revolution), an author of farmers’ almanacs, an anti-slavery agitator, and I forget what else, during various periods of his long and never-boring life.

*Fart Proudly* gives us some of the satirical pieces that Franklin wrote during his lifetime, but we are only scratching the surface here. Nevertheless, it’s a durned good scratch. Everything in *Fart Proudly* is worth reading, except for an essay at the end by Japikse, the editor, who holds an imaginary conversation with Franklin about current events. Apparently Japikse thinks that the reader wants to hear his (Japikse’s) wisdom instead of Franklin’s. So long as you skip Japikse’s concluding essay (“The Dream”), you won’t be disappointed by anything in this book.

Here is a preview of some of the delights to be found in *Fart Proudly:*

The essay which inspired the title, namely “A Letter To A Royal Academy” (1781). By the time he wrote this letter, the year of Yorktown, Franklin had developed quite a reputation in both America and Europe (especially France) as a scientist and wit. Clearly reveling in that reputation, Franklin wrote his “Letter” in response to a solicitation for prize essays issued by the Royal Academy in Brussels. Thinking that the various Academies in Europe were getting overly pretentious and out of touch with reality, Franklin’s letter suggested that research be undertaken into methods of making farts smell better. This would be better than the abstruse inquiries proposed by the scientific academies. I’m sure that Franklin would be very impressed by the advances in fart research conducted in our own day by scientists like Mike Judge and others.

There is also Franklin’s 1747 *Speech of Miss Polly Baker,* a satire about a woman convicted of immoral conduct after having a fifth child out of wedlock. The woman gives a speech about how, by having so many children and raising them on her own, she had contributed to the population and development of the country, and ought to get rewarded instead of punished. This summary makes Franklin sound like some gender-studies professor singing the praises of single-parent families, but in fact Franklin was criticizing bachelors who failed in their duty to have children and add to the American population. The fact that some mouth-breathers thought that Franklin was reporting a real case is the funniest part of all, since the piece all but screams satire.

There is also Franklin’s famous letter of 1745 urging a friend of his to either get married or take an older woman for a mistress. Eight advantages of older mistresses are listed, one of which, curiously for the author of *Polly Baker,* is that “there is no hazard of Children” with older women.

Many of these pieces by Franklin are sharp criticisms of the British government, written in the years leading up to the American Revolution. One piece suggests that, in return for the British practice of sending convicted felons to the colonies, the colonists should send poisonous snakes to England. Another piece, entitled “Rules by Which A Great Empire May Be Reduced to a Small One” (1773), is Franklin’s final warning to the British, given through heavy sarcasm, that their oppressive policies toward the colonies are turning loyal subjects into rebels. Obviously, the British didn’t heed this warning.

There are several poems, one of which compares water (bad) to booze (good). Other poems and prose pieces are commentaries on everyday life. There are also the introductions Franklin wrote to some of his almanacs.

In general, these essays will be nearly as funny to modern readers as to eighteenth-century readers. There are some archaic spellings-e. g., “shewn” for “shown,” and “intirely” for “entirely.” More importantly, there are archaic word usages -e. g., “strangers” for “foreigners,” “manufacturers” for a certain class of laborers, “Mahometans” for “Muslims,” “dear” for “expensive,” and various other examples. The editor rarely explains these obsolescent words, so the reader must either figure out the meaning from the context, or have some knowledge about how people talked back then. Even without knowing all the weird words, the reader should be able to understand about 95% of the book.

Reading Franklin’s criticism of meddling and oppressive government policies, the licentious and scandal-mongering media, the excessive personal spending of colonial citizens, etc., the reader will get a view of an era which was completely unlike our own. This book should be an excellent gift for anyone who has not had his or her sense of humor surgically removed.

Recommend this product? Yes

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