When Franklin died in 1790, he was world-famous as a scientist and a diplomat, but he named himself in his will as simply “Benjamin Franklin, Printer.” His Autobiography is above all concerned with his early life as a printer, first as an apprentice in Boston, then as a journeyman in Philadelphia and London, and finally as a master printer in Philadelphia. Franklin there recounts how printing was his way to wealth, allowing him to retire in 1748. His work as a printer inspired almost all his early work as a writer, which consisted above all in compiling, editing, and adding filler for his Pennsylvania Gazette and Poor Richard's Almanack. His most famous early publications are the proverbs of Poor Richard, which he drew, often unchanged, from a variety of sources. In 1758 he recycled the proverbs again in The Way to Wealth, itself a spoof on authorship and originality.

The Autobiography is the subject of the last part of the exhibition. It is the book that later transformed Franklin, the writer of short, ephemeral pieces for his own press, into the most famous American author of the eighteenth century. Yet it was first published posthumously in Paris in a French translation, and until well into the nineteenth century it was mainly known to English language readers in a retranslation from French back into English. View Online Exhibition