Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Learn to Swim with Ben Franklin

I blogged a few months ago about Benjamin Franklin's prank on his brother, the letters he contributed to his brother's New-England Courant, while acting as his apprentice, under the name Silence Dogood. I mentioned at the time that it was all I could do NOT to write a play about the incident.

Well, I have been asked to contribute a play for a 4th of July show and so now I feel I must write the play. I'm 2/3 done with the first draft.

I've been doing more research on Franklin, including reading his autobiography, focusing on his early days. I have to say, there are some fascinating bits, like this passage from his early 20s - he had been sent to England by the governor of Pennsylvania in order to get supplies to set up a printing business. But the governor turned out to be insolvent and allowed Franklin to set off for England without the  money or letters of recommendation he had promised.

However, Franklin managed to get by and even thrive as a printer in England for awhile. And then...
I now took leave of printing, as I thought, forever, and was daily employed in my new business, going about with Mr. Denham among the tradesmen to purchase various articles, and seeing them pack’d up, doing errands, calling upon workmen to dispatch, etc.; and, when all was on board, I had a few days' leisure. On one of these days, I was, to my surprise, sent for by a great man I knew only by name, a Sir William Wyndham, and I waited upon him. He had heard by some means or other of my swimming from Chelsea to Blackfriars, and of my teaching Wygate and another young man to swim in a few hours. He had two sons, about to set out on their travels; he wish’d to have them first taught swimming, and proposed to gratify me handsomely if I would teach them. They were not yet come to town, and my stay was uncertain, so I could not undertake it; but, from this incident, I thought it likely that, if I were to remain in England and open a swimming-school, I might get a good deal of money; and it struck me so strongly, that, had the overture been sooner made me, probably I should not so soon have returned to America.
That's right, Benjamin Franklin briefly considered a career providing swimming instructions to the English nobility. Bet you didn't see that coming.