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Thursday, March 26, 2009
After a time, Franklin was not content merely to typeset the paper — he wanted to write for it too. Many of his brother James's friends already penned pieces for the Courant but Benjamin felt that any attempt he made would meet with objection on the part of his older, at times jealous, brother. Enter Silence Dogood.
Silence Dogood was the widow of a country minister. She was "an Enemy to Vice, and a Friend to Vertue." She loved the clergy and good men but was the "mortal Enemy to arbitrary government and Unlimited Power." She was also a bit of a yenta who would "observe and reprove the Faults of others."
Silence Dogood was fictitious. She was made up by the 16-year-old Franklin who, between April and October of 1722, penned 14 letters bearing Silence's name. At night he would leave these letters, in disguised handwriting, under the printshop's door. It was the custom of the time to assume pen names.
James Franklin and his friends never caught on. They could not figure out who was writing the Dogood letters. After each arrived:
They read it, commented on it in my Hearing, and I had the exquisite Pleasure, of finding it met with their Approbation, and that in their different Guesses at the Author none were named but Men of some Character among us for Learning and Ingenuity.
Ultimately, Benjamin revealed that he was the author of the Silence Dogood letters. This led to fractious confrontations between the Franklin brothers, as James felt that the compliments paid to Benjamin made him "too vain."
As brothers are wont to do, they went to their father to settle disputes and papa Josiah generally sided with Ben.
But Benjamin grew tired with his apprenticeship and did not take kindly to regular beatings meted out by his big brother. Franklin felt that the "harsh and tyrannical Treatment" at the hands of James led to a lifelong "Aversion to arbitrary Power."