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Cotton Mather’s Influence on Ben – Part 2

Benjamin Franklin ‘s Accomplishments – Cotton Mather’s Influence, Part 2

Blog #15-B

Dear Readers,

Today I will tell you some of the ideas that were most resonant to me in the Essays To do Good, that the Reverend Cotton Mather had compiled.  As I said last week, those essays helped form some of my most profoundly held beliefs.

In this book, the Reverend Mather extolled the value of living usefully, of living what some attorneys call the “pro bono publico” life. Making a good living from hard work, frugality, and ethical conduct is much to be admired.  But helping one’s neighbors, one’s city and colony–well, these were important values as well. The second principle was, to me, obvious once I read it, but it had escaped me prior to doing so. It was this: people of like mind, working together in groups, could do more good and effect more positive change on their world than could the same people working individually.  In short, there is  more value in working together than apart.

I believed these two principles–principles which were, after all, interlocked.  And so, from these essays, I determined  to live usefully and to form associations of like-minded individuals, the better to effect positive change in my community.

Rev. Mather had much wisdom to impart, some of which were illustrated in rather unforgettable ways.  For example, because my father was a friend of Rev. Mather’s, I was occasionally in his home.  Once, when departing the good man’s study, I banged my head on a low beam by his stairs.  “You are young, and have the world before you,” he advised, “you must learn to stoop as you go through it, and in so doing, you will miss many hard thumps.”   I had many occasions to remember this counsel when, years later, I was developing ideas about diplomacy and humility.

And so, dear readers, I owe much of my commitment to living usefully to a book I read when just sixteen years old; a book that is generally unknown to people who, like you, seem to still be interested in my life!

Next week, I’ll talk about how this commitment resulted in the “Junto;” the first real “professional association” as you call it. It was a group I formed that was to have much to do, may I say, in benefiting the residents of my adopted city, Philadelphia. And given the number of such associations in your world today, it must really be listed as one of “Ben Franklin’s accomplishments,” as Mr. Lowell is fond of calling them.   My commitment to working together with like-minded individuals is certainly an important reason I’m so often asked to speak to associations in your times.  So I’ll amplify on the influence of the “Junto” next week, and tell of some of the projects that association initiated.

Until then, I remain your humble and obedient servant,

Benj. Franklin

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Ben Franklin, Benjamin Franklin's youth
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