Although he called himself merely a "printer" in his will, Benjamin Franklin could have also called himself a diplomat, a doctor, an electrician, a frontier general, an inventor, a journalist, a legislator, a librarian, a magistrate, a postmaster, a promoter, a publisher—and a humorist. John Adams wrote of Franklin, "He had wit at will. He had humor that when he pleased was pleasant and delightful... [and] talents for irony, allegory, and fable, that he could adapt with great skill, to the promotion of moral and political truth." In Benjamin Franklin's Humor, author Paul M. Zall shows how one of America's founding fathers used humor to further both personal and national interests. Early in his career, Franklin impersonated the feisty widow Silence Dogood in a series of comically moralistic essays that helped his brother James outpace competitors in Boston's incipient newspaper market. In the mid-eighteenth century, he displayed his talent for comic impersonation in numerous editions of Poor Richard's Almanac, a series of pocket-sized tomes filled with proverbs and witticisms that were later compiled in Franklin's The Way to Wealth (1758), one of America's all-time bestselling books. Benjamin Franklin was sure to be remembered for his early work as an author, printer, and inventor, but his accomplishments as a statesman later in life firmly secured his lofty stature in American history. Zall shows how Franklin employed humor to achieve desired ends during even the most difficult diplomatic situations: while helping draft the Declaration of Independence, while securing France's support for the American Revolution, while brokering the treaty with England to end the War for Independence, and while mediating disputes at the Constitutional Convention. He supervised and facilitated the birth of a nation with customary wit and aplomb. Zall traces the development of an acute sense of humor throughout the life of a great American. Franklin valued humor not as an end in itself but as a means to gain a competitive edge, disseminate information, or promote a program. Early in life, he wrote about timely topics in an effort to reach a mass reading class, leaving an amusing record of early American culture. Later, Franklin directed his talents toward serving his country. Regardless of its origin, the best of Benjamin Franklin's humor transcends its initial purpose and continues to evoke undying laughter at shared human experiences.
Paul M. Zall (1922-2010), Emeritus Professor of English at California State University at Los Angeles, was a research scholar at the Huntington Library. He is the author of many books including Lincoln on Lincoln, Jefferson on Jefferson, and Franklin on Franklin.
Paul Zall, in Benjamin Franklin's Humor supplies a diverting survey of the many means by which colonial America's wittiest author turned the laugh to his advantage. Satire, parody, burlesque, jest, irony, comic personae
~David S. Shields, McClintock Professor, University of South Carolina
Paul M. Zall is an authority on humor, on Franklin, and on Franklin'shumor. His tour through Franklin's humorous writings is fun to read, andthe subjects range through all possibilities, from sex to vanity toreligion.
~J. A. Leo Lemay, H. F. duPont Winterthur Professor of English, University of Del
Explores Franklin's use of humor from his days as a child apprentice until almost his last public statement, registering his concern about American slavery... The other founders almost never make us laugh. Franklin did and, with some assistance from Zall, goes on doing so.
~Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography
The growth in Franklin's control of his comic sense is gradually revealed as Zall traces his wit from his youth to his old age.
~Robert Middlekauff, author of The Glorious Cause: The Amerian Revolution 1763-1
[ Benjamin Franklin's Humor ] emphasizes the political, social, and cultural contexts in which Franklin operated... [and] distinguishes essential features in Franklin's use of the comic.
~Studies in American Humor
What a wonderful way to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Franklin's birth! Paul Zall, the man who 'discovered' the real Franklin Autobiography at the Huntington Library after it had remained in manuscript for nearly two hundred years, the man who has done more to make early American humor accessable to the general public than anyone else in our time, guides us through Franklin's life using his humor as the main source. Zall's commentary is as readable and useful as Franklin's own contributions. Here, the most down-to-earth of the Founders continually impresses us with his genius for elevating the lowly and deflating the pretensions of the high and mighty. Frequently taking on other personae, such as women, African-Americans, and even animals, Franklin shows us time and again the injustice and absurdity of human affairs, constantly reminding us we should seek to be amused rather than disgusted if we wish to keep our sanity.
~William Pencak, Penn State University