Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Stoop, Stoop!

As a young 11 year-old boy, Benjamin Franklin read Cotton Mather's Bonifacius: Essays to Do Good. In 1721, while Mather was promoting the new-fangled idea of smallpox innoculation, he was opposed publicly by Ben's older brother, James, who was a printer and the publisher of the New-England Courant. In 1722, Franklin's first pen name, Mistress Silence Dogood, appended as the first of fourteen letters to the same newspaper, was used in reference to Matther's Essays and his sermon, "Silentarius: The Silent Sufferer," delivered (and published soon after) in September 1721. Many years later, in a letter dated May 12, 1784 to Cotton Mather's son Samuel, Ben Franklin wrote anecdotally of an incident that he would remember the rest of his life:

When I was a boy, I met with a book, entitled, "Essays to do good," which, I think, was written by your father. It had been so little regarded by a former possessor, that several leaves of it were torn out: but the remainder gave me such a turn, for thinking, as to have an influence on my conduct through life; for I have always set a greater value on the character of a doer of good, than any other kind of reputation; and if I have been, as you seem to think, a useful citizen, the public owes the advantage of it to that book.

The last time I saw your father was in the beginning of 1724, when I visited him after my first trip to Pennsylvania. He received me in his library; and, on my taking leave, showed me a shorter way out of the house, through a narrow passage, which was crossed by a beam over head. We were still talking as I withdrew; he accompanying me behind, and I turning partly towards him, when he said hastily, "Stoop! stoop!" I did not understand him, till I felt my head hit against the beam. He was a man who never missed any occasion of giving instruction; and upon this, he said to me, "You are young, and have the world before you. STOOP as you go through it; and you will miss many hard thumps." This advice, thus beat into my head, has frequently been of use to me; and I often think of it, when I see pride mortified; and misfortune brought upon people, by carrying their heads too high.


  1. Wonderful story! Your blog is a constant source of encouragement, instruction and (on occasion) entertainment, Andrew!

  2. Thank you, Seth! I appreciate your kind words (and *your* blog) very much!

  3. It is a great story. Thanks for posting it!