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timeline: 1722
wit and wisdom
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cover of Franklin's 1742 Poor Richard's Almanack
The cover of Benjamin Franklin's 1742 Poor Richard's Almanack
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During the eighteenth century, it was common for writers and journalists to use pseudonyms, or false names, when they created newspaper articles and letters to the editor. Franklin used this convention extensively throughout his life, sometimes to express an idea that might have been considered slanderous or even illegal by the authorities; other times to present two sides of an issue, much like the point-counterpoint style of journalism used today.

When Franklin used a pseudonym, he often created an entire persona for the "writer." Sometimes he wrote as a woman, other times as a man, but always with a specific point of view. While all of his writings were focused and logical, many were also humorous, filled with wit and irony. Silence Dogood, Harry Meanwell, Alice Addertongue, Richard Saunders, and Timothy Turnstone were a few of the many pseudonyms Franklin used throughout his career.

Silence Dogood — Mrs. Dogood was Franklin's first pseudonym, created when he was sixteen years old and serving as a printer's apprentice to his brother James. Silence Dogood was a middle-aged widow who looked at the world with a humorous and satiric eye. Her letters dealt with a range of topics from love and courtship to the state of education in Massachusetts. In all, fifteen Silence Dogood letters were published in James Franklin's New England Courant.

Caelia Shortface and Martha Careful — Franklin wrote mocking letters from these two "ladies" to get even with his former employer Samuel Keimer for stealing some of Franklin's publishing ideas. The letters were printed in the American Weekly Mercury, a newspaper published by Keimer's competitor Andrew Bradford.

Busy Body — Franklin's Busy Body letters were also published in the American Weekly Mercury. Miss Body's letters were filled with humorous looks at the battle of the sexes and barbs at local businessmen. Gossip was Busy Body's stock in trade.

Anthony Afterwit — Franklin created this "gentleman" to provide a humorous look at matrimony and married life from a male point of view. Mr. Afterwit appeared in Franklin's Pennsylvania Gazette.

Alice Addertongue — Miss Addertongue was a thirty-five year old gossip who provided Franklin's Pennsylvania Gazette with stories of scandal about prominent members of society.

Richard Saunders — Of all of Franklin's noms de plume, Mr. Saunders became the best known. Richard Saunders was the "Richard" of Poor Richard's Almanack. First published late in 1732, Poor Richard's Almanack is probably Franklin's best-known publication. Richard Saunders' humorous sayings and advice filled the pages of the almanac's twenty-six editions.

Polly Baker — Franklin used Polly Baker to examine the negative way women were treated in the eyes of the law. Ms. Baker had several illegitimate children and was punished for her "crime," while the fathers, many of whom were prominent citizens, suffered no such hardship.

Benevolus — While in England, Franklin penned a number of letters under the name of Benevolus. These letters tried to answer some of the negative assertions made by the British press about the American colonists. These letters were published in London newspapers and journals.


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