Ben Franklin, our bifocaled Founding Father with a business-in-the-front-party-in-the-back hairstyle, had a penchant for fine food, drink, and women. “Certainly Franklin liked women. He knew how to flirt. He wrote lovely letters,” states author Claude-Anne Lopez. Franklin had an irreverent side, evident in his many essays and letters about everything from flatulence to choosing a mistress. “He had wit at will. He had humor that when he pleased was pleasant and delightful . . . [and] talents for irony, allegory, and fable, that he could adapt with great skill, to the promotion of moral and political truth,” second President of the United States John Adams wrote of Franklin. On the anniversary of his passing, here are a few of First American’s bawdiest moments that revealed his humor and challenged the social mores of his time.
“He that lives upon hope, dies farting.”
“Where there’s marriage without love there will be love without marriage.”
“Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.”
“It is not fair to say I take no exercise, when I do very often, going out to dine and returning in my carriage.” —from a satirical conversation Franklin had with his (personified) gout
” If when you are out of Breath, one of the Company should seize the Opportunity of saying something; watch his Words, and, if possible, find somewhat either in his Sentiment or Expression, immediately to contradict and raise a Dispute upon. Rather than fail, criticise even his Grammar.” —Rule number two of Franklin’s “Rules on Making Oneself Disagreeable”
“It is universally well known, That in digesting our common Food, there is created or produced in the Bowels of human Creatures, a great Quantity of Wind. That the permitting this Air to escape and mix with the Atmosphere, is usually offensive to the Company, from the fetid Smell that accompanies it.” —From a letter Franklin wrote about flatulence
From a 1745 letter to a young friend about how to choose a mistress:
But if you will not take this Counsel, and persist in thinking a Commerce with the Sex inevitable, then I repeat my former Advice, that in all your Amours you should prefer old Women to young ones. You call this a Paradox, and demand my Reasons. They are these:
1. Because as they have more Knowledge of the World and their Minds are better stor’d with Observations, their Conversation is more improving and more lastingly agreable.
2. Because when Women cease to be handsome, they study to be good. To maintain their Influence over Men, they supply the Diminution of Beauty by an Augmentation of Utility. They learn to do a 1000 Services small and great, and are the most tender and useful of all Friends when you are sick. Thus they continue amiable. And hence there is hardly such a thing to be found as an old Woman who is not a good Woman.
3. Because there is no hazard of Children, which irregularly produc’d may be attended with much Inconvenience.
“I rise almost every morning, and sit in my chamber without any clothes whatever, half an hour or an hour, according to the season, either reading or writing. This practice is not in the least painful, but, on the contrary, agreeable.” —from a 1768 letter Franklin wrote to a friend in France about his “air baths.” (We just wanted to leave you with this image in your head.)