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Balancing on the slippery slope of responsibility.

I'm on a Ben Franklin kick these days. Or maybe I should say he's haunting me. It started when I discovered the "Join or Die" illustration from Poor Richard's Almanac. I knew Franklin was a former Bostonian, as well as a printer, writer, and statesman. Franklin recognized early on the power of print to teach, persuade, and instigate political and social change. The words "to inform, to please, to persuade" are straight from his autobiography. A good example is the best sermon.

This bent for Ben compounded itself when, while on a flight to the national AIGA retreat, I finally got around to reading the Eric Spiekerman and E.M. Ginger book on typography and its uses, Stop Stealing Sheep. Read a design book and be responsible, I figured. Lost time is never found again.

In chapter five, "Type Builds Character," the dummy copy is far fro that. The authors quote and paraphrase may of Franklin's maxims. This makes sense, as Franklin's homespun words are as clear and useful as Spiekerman's design systems. Each present a balance based on certain values and presumptions. The ancients tell us what is best; but we must learn of the moderns what is fittest.

The haunting happens when I put my feet up. I keep hearing Ben's practical Puritan values - hard work, diligence, moderation, parsimony - backed with his take on Cotton Mather's Essays to Do Good ("What good may I do?"). Here is Virtue #6 from Ben's list of thirteen: "Industry: Lose no time, be always employed in something useful; cut off al unnecessary actions." Franklin even had a "temperance" chart that would make Spiekerman proud. Content is the philosopher’s tone that may turn into gold all it touches.

Jefferson called Franklin "the greatest man and ornament of the age and country in which he lived." Yet D.H. Lawrence believed Franklin to be a social busybody, whose folksy tolerence/dogma could only offend and appear self-serving. Thoreau got in a few good pokes at Franklin's chummy egalitarianism, and wrote, "If I knew for certain that a man was coming to my house with a conscious design of doing good, I should run for my life. . . ." One hesitates to think what Thoreau would say of "conscious design." The proud hate pride in others.

As of this writing, the haunting has abated: today I learned , and it is good to know, that Ben Franklin played chess, swan, loved travel, wrote drinking songs and stocked five kinds of champagne.

Franklin's motto: Ca ira - It will all come right in the end.
Drive they business or it will drive thee.
Plough deep while sluggards sleep.
There will be enough sleeping in the grave.

Marc English
President, AIGA/Boston
Winter 1995

[The above was written for the quarterly newsletter for the Boston Chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts.]

Return to rants.
Balancing on the slippery slope of responsibility.

I'm on a Ben Franklin kick these days. Or maybe I should say he's haunting me. It started when I discovered the "Join or Die" illustration from Poor Richard's Almanac. I knew Franklin was a former Bostonian, as well as a printer, writer, and statesman. Franklin recognized early on the power of print to teach, persuade, and instigate political and social change. The words "to inform, to please, to persuade" are straight from his autobiography. A good example is the best sermon.

This bent for Ben compounded itself when, while on a flight to the national AIGA retreat, I finally got around to reading the Eric Spiekerman and E.M. Ginger book on typography and its uses, Stop Stealing Sheep. Read a design book and be responsible, I figured. Lost time is never found again.

In chapter five, "Type Builds Character," the dummy copy is far fro that. The authors quote and paraphrase may of Franklin's maxims. This makes sense, as Franklin's homespun words are as clear and useful as Spiekerman's design systems. Each present a balance based on certain values and presumptions. The ancients tell us what is best; but we must learn of the moderns what is fittest.

The haunting happens when I put my feet up. I keep hearing Ben's practical Puritan values - hard work, diligence, moderation, parsimony - backed with his take on Cotton Mather's Essays to Do Good ("What good may I do?"). Here is Virtue #6 from Ben's list of thirteen: "Industry: Lose no time, be always employed in something useful; cut off al unnecessary actions." Franklin even had a "temperance" chart that would make Spiekerman proud. Content is the philosopher’s tone that may turn into gold all it touches.

Jefferson called Franklin "the greatest man and ornament of the age and country in which he lived." Yet D.H. Lawrence believed Franklin to be a social busybody, whose folksy tolerence/dogma could only offend and appear self-serving. Thoreau got in a few good pokes at Franklin's chummy egalitarianism, and wrote, "If I knew for certain that a man was coming to my house with a conscious design of doing good, I should run for my life. . . ." One hesitates to think what Thoreau would say of "conscious design." The proud hate pride in others.

As of this writing, the haunting has abated: today I learned , and it is good to know, that Ben Franklin played chess, swan, loved travel, wrote drinking songs and stocked five kinds of champagne.

Franklin's motto: Ca ira - It will all come right in the end.
Drive they business or it will drive thee.
Plough deep while sluggards sleep.
There will be enough sleeping in the grave.

Marc English
President, AIGA/Boston
Winter 1995

[The above was written for the quarterly newsletter for the Boston Chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts.]

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