Monday, June 8, 2009

Ben Franklin: Dirty Old Man [But a pious one...]

During his service to the Continental Congress as a member of the delegation to Paris, Ben Franklin became quite smitten with his neighbor's wife, a certain Madame Brillon de Jouy, née Anne-Louise Boivin d'Hardancourt, and they exchanged over 100 letters.

She was quite a babe, early thirties, he nearly seventy. A very religious gal, and Ben's own deep religiosity in reply is still stunning:

"People commonly speak of Ten Commandments. I
have been taught that there are twelve. The first was in-
crease & multiply & replenish the earth. The twelfth is,
A new Commandment I give unto you, that you love one
another. It seems to me that they are a little misplaced, And
that the last should have been the first.

"However I never made any difficulty about that, but was always
willing to obey them both whenever I had an opportunity. Pray
tell me my dear Casuist, whether my keeping religiously these two
commandments tho' not in the Decalogue, may not be accepted
in Compensation for my breaking so often one of the
ten I mean that which forbids Coveting my neighbour's wife,
and which I confess I break constantly God forgive me, as
often as I see or think of my lovely Confessor, and I am
afraid I should never be able to repent of the Sin even if I
had the full Possession of her.

"And forgive me, as often as I see or think of my lovely Confessor: And I am afraid I should never be able to repent of the Sin, even if I had the full Possession of her. And now I am consulting you upon a Case of Conscience, I will mention the Opinion of a certain Father of the Church, which I find myself willing to adopt, tho’ I am not sure it is orthodox. It is this, That the most effectual Way to get rid of a certain Temptation, is, as often as it returns, to comply with and Satisfy it. Pray instruct me how far, I may venture to practice upon this Principle?"

And after Madame Brillon departs Paris, the forlorn Franklin confesses another past Decalogue violation:

"I often pass before your house. It wears a desolate
look to me. Heretofore I have broken the commandments
in coveting it along with my neighbor's wife. Now I do
not covet it. Thus I am less the sinner. But with regard
to the wife, I always find these commandments very
inconvenient, and I am sorry that we are cautioned to practise
them. Should you in your travels find yourself at the home
of St. Peter [The Pope, at the Vatican---Ed.], ask him to recall them, as intended only for the Jews, and as too irksome for good Christians."

Clearly, Franklin considered himself a good Christian. Sort of. Well, not really, but you can see how the Commandments tugged at his conscience.

Next: Franklin's "On Breaking the seventh commandment and wind."

No comments: