Benjamin Franklin Essay “To the Royal Academy of Brussels”

This essay, written by one of the founding fathers of our country and one of the most prominent minds of the era, Benjamin Franklin, is about farts. The seriousness that Benjamin Franklin had about this topic is open to interpretation, with some saying he actually meant for this discussion to make a scientific impact, and others saying he is facetious . Regardless, when Franklin wrote this essay he discussed three main topics. The first, to discuss why “releasing wind” in public is viewed as a negative thing.  According to Franklin believed that the only reason it was viewed as negative was because of the smell it produced. The second and more important reason Benjamin wrote this essay was to discuss the possibility of creating a drug which could make your farts smell better. A third was for fun, since this essay was actually meant to be a joke between him and his friends.  However, I do believe that when writing this essay, Franklin truly believed that this topic deserved scientific study. Franklin did know that your farts could change smell depending on your diet, but he was convinced that a drug which could make your farts smell like perfume, no mater what you are eating, could be possible. Not only that, Franklin said this would be one the biggest breakthroughs in scientific history. Now, as for whether or not he was serious on this matter is not clear, it is known he was an inventor, but this is just ridiculous.

Overall, the context of the essay dealt with the discussion of farts and how they can be revolutionized if they could control how they smell. Even with the satirical nature of this essay,  which involved Benjamin Franklin referring to farting as Fart-hing,  it was referenced in a recent journal article from The Huffington Post. In this article, the focus is about a  new pill, that makes farts smell like chocolate. This invention was created by Christian Poincheva, and just the fact that he decided to create this pill is quite interesting on. Still, whether or not it can be considered a direct result of Benjamin’s essay is another discussion entirely. Poinchevall does not make mention of being influenced by Franklin’s essay while creating his work.

Still, even though Franklin’s essay may not have attributed directly towards Poinchevall’s work, it still did raise an intriguing question of why somebody should invent a pill that would make farts smell as sweet as breath pills make bad breath smell sweet. “My Prize Question therefore should be, To discover some Drug wholesome & not disagreable, to be mix’d with our common Food, or Sauces, that shall render the natural Discharges of Wind from our Bodies, not only inoffensive, but agreeable as Perfumes”. It seems that Franklin meant for this essay to be a jibe to other scientific breakthroughs in recent years, using this essay as way of expressing his distastes in a humorous way.

The Speech of Miss Polly Baker 1747

Angela Cutone, Brianna Duffy, Brendan Murphy, and Caroline Murphy


      Benjamin Franklin wrote the speech of Polly Baker as a work of fiction which worked to represent a court case of a woman named Polly Baker. Although still unsure, it is believed that the speech was written in 1746, but it was first published in London’s The General Advertiser on April 15, 1747. It was also published in multiple other newspapers, including some in the states. The author was unknown for a long time and the whole time it was believed the the story of Polly Baker was true. In 1788 Benjamin Franklin revealed it was he who wrote the speech. The speech moved many Europeans and was used to help with reformation.


      In this work, we are introduced to the main character Miss Polly Baker and her plight. She is arguing her case in front of a court of law, without a lawyer, because she is unable to afford one. Polly Baker has been charged five times with having children outside of wedlock, and has been punished by both fines and public humiliation. She questions the fairness of the law in general. She states that in her eyes, the law is unreasonable and that she has done nothing wrong. Polly says that her life has been inoffensive, and that she has never committed a crime. She says that she has brought children into the world, risking her life and doing everything she can to allow them to live and grow up.

      Polly begins her main argument by saying that she is not against being married and is still willing to enter into marriage, even after being married once, trusting some man completely and being betrayed. This man left her with a child. He was never punished, and instead became a Magistrate of the courts. She questions why she is punished and he is allowed to advance to a place of power within the government; why is she the one being punished for something that is not even her fault to begin with?

      She believes that instead God is happy with her deeds and she has simply taken part in the natural process of increasing and multiplying the population.

      Finally, she mentions the increasing number of single men, who are scared of how expensive raising a family is and simply do not reproduce. Polly compares this to being no better than a murder and being a greater offence to the public good than what she has been charged with. Polly argues that women are powerless to do anything, as they are punished for it if it is outside wedlock. In the ending statement, she thinks that instead of public punishment, a statue should be erected in her honor and memory because she has not committed a crime, but instead furthered the public good with her actions, and endured the wrongful punishments that accompanied them.


      The format of this essay is definitely something to be noted. Given that it is in the form of a testimony before a court, the syntax is formal, but simple to understand. Polly Baker is, understandably, frustrated with the circumstances surrounding this trial and her having been brought to trial for the fifth time, and thus has an irate, righteous, and vaguely outraged tone. However, read from the perspective of satire, Benjamin Franklin’s overall purpose gives this entire piece another side, another edge and another tone. His tone is caustic and pointed, directly attacking the patriarchy for their hypocrisy on this matter. Through the use of more simple diction, Franklin makes this story easy for anyone to understand, as the issue of a lack of women’s rights affects everyone. The format of a trial puts this issue on trial–should women be given more rights? He leaves the resolution open ended for the reader to decide, but it leaves everyone thinking about the points Polly Baker made.

Why is it important?:

The speech of Miss Polly Baker is very important because it touches upon the gender inequality that is prevalent in society. Miss Polly Baker is a single mother of five who was once married but her husband left her with a child to become a court magistrate. After her first marriage Miss Polly Baker then had four more children leaving her with five in total, all of which she will get fined for. It is unfair to fine Polly Baker because she has provided well for her children with no help from anyone else. This can be considered a feminist piece of writing because Polly Baker is proving that even though she is a woman she is self sufficient and can provide for all of her children on her own without the help of a man, even with the fines and public humiliation Polly Baker is a strong woman.


To the Public Advertiser

Kaitlin Flores, Vince Mastantuno, and James Williams

Franklin’s letter, “To the Public Advertiser,” submitted on May 22nd 1765, is an artful critique of the most recent print sent out to the public. Franklin denotes sarcastically that the author of the last print, who calls himself “the Spectator,” is an ingenious writer. His sarcasm is made apparent in the following sentences to claim that this writer is attempting to mock the other new writers and their pieces. Franklin conjectures that if the Spectator was able to succeed in such ridicule it would be a great injury to the readers because they will believe almost anything printed.

Franklin goes on to say that at least these bogus stories can be useful for making small talk or for a good laugh by those who are aware of their nonsensical contents. He then explains that these Englishmen, or readers of the paper, tend to be quiet if they have nothing to say, when they are silent they get sad, and when they are sad they hang themselves. This extreme exaggeration in itself helps to support Franklin’s claim that people will believe anything they read and perhaps will even believe what he as just said. Franklin follows by giving a few examples of topics printed about and how they are not often factual or helpful to public education. Franklin asserts that on his own credibility as a traveler, some of these prints are true, but not usually. He then rattles off several items of trade and how even they are extorted to appear more valuable and believed to be worth more because people will believe anything.

Franklin nears the end of his article with a tall tail about how Cod will fly out of the water to escape enemies (predators) and whales will follow them; he claims the great leap of the whale up the Niagara Falls is “one of the finest spectacles in nature!” This example helps support his thesis about the dangers of false print being accessible to the public because anyone who would believe such a story or even consider it had some truth to it, would not think about questioning the credibility of the publishers.

In closing, Franklin calls upon his own credibility as a member of an honest writers group, and asks that these publishers print fact not fiction. He points out how little writers make off of their works in these newspapers and that it is imperative for truth to be printed in order to maintain balance amongst society and not fracture the readers trust or education. He ends the article by naming other honest writers and again reminds us of the need for factual news to be printed.

“An Edict by the King of Prussia” – 1773

David Viviano, Matt Borges, Ian Ryan


Benjamin Franklin wrote “An Edict by the King of Prussia” for Philadelphia’s Public Advertiser in September of 1773.  This satirical article mocks the dominating relationship that Great Britain held over the Colonies by paralleling the illogical relationship between Prussia and Great Britain.  Franklin, from a Prussian point of view, highlights the restrictions and laws that Prussia intends to impose on Britain.  These laws are implemented as compensation for funding the Seven Years War, and for populating England with Prussian citizens.  Through this article, Franklin illustrates the overreach and power of Great Britain to the public.

Writing as the King of Prussia, Franklin suggests new laws be implemented against Britain.  One specific law was to tax merchandise being imported or exported from Britain.  Franklin wrote, “We do hereby ordain, that all Ships or Vessels bound from Great Britain to any other Part of the World, or from any other Part of the World to Great Britain, shall in their respective Voyages touch at our Port of KONINGSBERG, there to be unladen, searched, and charged with the said Duties.”  This law, being proposed by Franklin as the King of Prussia, correlates to similar laws being imposed on the American colonies.  Colony ships were forced to navigate to Great Britain in order for inspections to be performed and taxes to be issued.  The King of Prussia also proposes that all natural resources, procedures of production, and specific products of Britain belong to Prussia.  The King’s declaration states:

     And WHEREAS there have been from Time to Time discovered in the said              Island of Great Britain by our Colonists there, many Mines or Beds of Iron              Stone…But We are nevertheless graciously pleased to permit the Inhabitants of      the said Island to transport their Iron into Prussia, there to be manufactured,        and to them returned, they paying our Prussian Subjects for the                                Workmanship, with all the Costs of Commission, Freight and Risque coming          and returning, any Thing herein contained to the contrary                                          notwithstanding.

This law, pertaining to laws imposed on the American colonies, takes away valuable resources, removes production jobs, and costs the colonists more money in fees and taxes.  This edict proposed by Prussia, if legitimate, would have been protested vehemently by the citizens and government of Great Britain.  Similarly, the people of the American colonies, whom actually faced these mandates, should express their opposition to the overreach of the British government.

As a devout patriot, Benjamin Franklin took notice of the oppressive nature of British rule.  He, as well as other colonists, were upset with unjust laws sanctioned by Britain.  Such laws include the Stamp Act, Tea Act, Quartering Act, and Navigation Acts – laws that restricted the colonies ability to operate freely and provide for their well-being.  This tyrannical approach led colonists to produce satirical works and propaganda to encourage the people to stand up for their rights, ultimately leading to the start of the Revolutionary War.

The Royal Academy of XX

Rachel Fancy, Kally Morse, Tom Charpentier, Zach Castagnola


In a response to The Royal Academy of Brussel’s inquiry for more scientific writing, Benjamin Franklin penned a satirical piece in 1781 titled “To The Royal Academy of XX (Farting),” as a mocking commentary on the increase in pointless scientific discovery that didn’t relate to the everyday common man. At the time, Franklin was in Paris as an American ambassador to France, and grew tired of the impracticality of modern science. This piece pokes fun by proposing to find a drug to rid the common men of a problem they have faced for ages. Franklin’s proposal was to be able to relieve oneself of gas and still have your respect from others kept intact.


In “To The Royal Academy of XX (Farting),” Franklin quotes a demand of scientific discovery. Franklin employs satire to foster the idea that developing a drug to help remove the smell so gentlemen can relieve themselves of their “great Quantity of Wind” without the smell. Thus people could fart without it being noticed and their dignity would still be intact. Another benefit of this drug would prevent the offense of guests in the presences of someone who farted, “That we already have some Knowledge of Means capable of varying that Smell” people are familiar with the smell and see this as distasteful so the drug would save the consumer from humiliation. Franklin then goes on to compare cutting the cheese with the same as blowing your nose or spitting in public if farting wasn’t accompanied by a distasteful smell. At one point in the letter, Franklin poses the question: “Are there twenty Men in Europe at this Day, the happier, or even the easier, for any Knowledge they have pick’d out of Aristotle?”  Franklin is making a point that we need more scientific discoveries that will help people, as opposed to pointless abstract theories that were popular at the time.


Although Franklin ultimately only sent the letter to some friends his use of political satire in his previous works have helped point out various political problems. In the case of the letter “To The Royal Academy of XX,” he is calling out the pointless scientific endeavours that are using up time and money. Rather than fund what he thinks are wasteful ideas, he suggests that they try to find a way to make farts smell better. Obviously, Franklin is not seriously requesting they do this but it brings to light the ridiculousness of the current scientific community.


This essay we lighthearted and easy to read and understand. As a group we felt that this piece by Franklin was quite funny as opposed to some of his other pieces where the humor escaped us. The sheer mockery and his word play really take this piece over the top. We especially liked his word play of “FART-HING” which was a nice pun to end with and his word exchange of farting with “great wind”. Although this piece was quite comical Franklin doesn’t end up sending the essay to the Royal Academy of Brussels more so to some of his friends so they too can have a nice laugh at the expense of the Royal Academy.


A Witch Trial at Mount Holly

Although it is not certain, it is thought that Benjamin Franklin write the essay, “The Witch Trial at Mount Holly”, which appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette on October 22nd, 1730. The story begins with approximately 300 people gathered together to see the trial of two witches, a man and a women, whom have been accused of, “making their Neighbours Sheep dance in an uncommon Manner, and with causing Hogs to speak, and sing Psalms.” Denying the claims, the two accused witches agreed to undergo two tests to prove their innocence, only  if two of their accusers would take the tests with them. The first test required the accused witches to stand on a scale where they would be weighed against the bible. The accusers believed “that if the Accused were weighed in Scales against a Bible, the Bible would prove too heavy for them”. Therefore, being lighter than the bible would prove that they were guilty. However then Franklin states, “Flesh and Bones came down plump, and outweighed that great good Book by abundance”. Since they were all found innocent, they had to forego the second test, in which the four “were bound Hand and Foot, and severally placed in the Water, lengthways, from the Side of a Barge or Flat, having for Security only a Rope about the Middle of each, which was held by some in the Flat”. If they sunk, they were innocent, and if they drowned, they were guilty.  However, only the male accuser began to sink, while the two accused witches and the female accuser continued to float. The floating accuser claimed that “the Accused had bewitched her to make her so light, and that she would be duck’d again a Hundred Times, but she would duck the Devil out of her”. The accused male on the other hand stated, “If I am a Witch, it is more than I know”. However, after much consideration, the people decided that anyone would try to stay afloat and that perhaps it was the women’s clothing that made them stay above the water. Therefore, the trial was put off until the weather was warmer and they could try them all naked.

Having lived in Massachusetts in his early life, perhaps Franklin was intrigued by the witch trials that were performed in Salem. Witch trials had not occurred in decades in North America, however they were very interesting to hear about. Franklin wrote this piece to simply entertain his readers in Philadelphia, however the story was later published in a newspaper in London, England. It could also be inferred that Franklin was making fun of the Puritan belief that people could be witches. He makes this apparent in the last paragraph where he states, “The more thinking Part of the Spectators were of Opinion, that any Person so bound and plac’d in the Water (unless they were mere Skin and Bones) would swim till their Breath was gone, and their Lungs fill’d with Water.” He makes it sound as if the people were finally coming to their senses, knowing that these trials were pointless and couldn’t prove anything. Many people in the 1730’s still believed in the concept of witchcraft, and here Franklin is showing that he thinks that this concept is simply preposterous. This satirical essay, may not have only made people giggle, but may have also played a role in shifting old beliefs.

Though it is understandable that the writing and language of this essay is dated, due to the fact that it was written in the 1730’s, it was still quite difficult to understand exactly what was going on without using another source to explain what was happening. This may be because of the lack of paragraphs in the essay; as it is presented in one large paragraph with no separation. This made it difficult to pick on subject changes throughout the course of the essay. Another reason was due to the obvious differences in the English language that exists in older writing. The quotation: “A Sailor in the Flat jump’d out upon the Back of the Man accused, thinking to drive him down to the Bottom, but the Person bound, without any Help, came up some time before the other”, is a clear demonstration of how Franklin’s writing can sometimes be difficult to understand.

Finally, another aspect of this essay that does not work to its advantage is that Franklin’s old type of humor is no longer relevant. Though this may be a matter of opinion to its readers, it is hard to relate to what Franklin is writing about in order for it to be humorous. If it were not for the translation source, it is difficult to even figure out that the story is fictional. However, it is believed that the Trial at Mount Holly never truly occurred.


Rachel Neves, Jason Davison, and Alex Marcus

A Witch Trial at Mount Holly

In Benjamin Franklin’s A Witch Trial at Mount Holly, one is met with a plethora of unknowns. For instance: there is, apparently, some doubt as to whether or not he wrote the piece; the legitimacy of the account is doubtful; and the status of the piece as fiction or non-fiction could be argued in multiple fashions. However, there is little doubt as to the intent of the piece: it appears to be a work of satire, which is, in and of itself, indicative of it being Franklin’s work.

The short essay details exactly what its title suggests: a witch trial held in Mount Holly (however, according to America in Class, a historical organization, the piece was initially untitled; its name was later bestowed by an eighteenth-century editor who gave it the appropriate heading). At the witch trial, two people had been accused, a man and a woman, and their two accusers were also a man and a woman. The accused requested that their accusers undergo the same trials they will endure (willingly, to prove their innocence), and the accusers quickly agreed to this, as they are pious and sure they would pass all the tests easily.

First, the four were given the test of the “scales”, in which they would be weighed compared to the Bible; if they weighed less, they were clearly possessed or guilty of witchcraft, but if they weighed more than the Bible, they were innocent (for that moment at least). All four weighed more (the text details “their Lumps of Mortality severally were too heavy for Moses and all the Prophets and Apostles) and so everyone moved to the next test: “Trial by Water”. All four, accused and accusers, stripped down naked (except for the women, who kept on their “shifts”, decently). The rules of the trial dictated that if they floated they were guilty, but if they sank they were innocent. Following the four people being thrown in the water, a rather absurd and comical scene played out. The female accuser desperately attempted to sink but continually floated, and summarily declared that the accused cursed her “to make her so light, and that she would be duck’d again a Hundred Times, but she would duck the Devil out of her.” The accused man also floated, and consequently “was not so confident of his Innocence as before”; other such ridiculous scenarios played out with the other man and woman as well. In the end, it was declared that “the Womens Shifts, and the Garters with which they were bound help’d to support them; it is said they are to be tried again the next warm Weather, naked.”

Many secondary sources which I have consulted agree that this witch trial at Mount Holly never actually occurred—it was not reported by any other newspaper or source of the time, and by 1730 a publicized witch trial had not occurred in America for a considerably amount of time; as reported by the New York Times, “The most famous case, the Salem trials, occurred nearly 50 years earlier. Twenty people were executed in Salem, and this gory excess helped to turn public opinion away from belief in witches. In England, the last legal execution of a witch took place in 1685.”. Also, no author was credited in the original account—but it was published in the Pennsylvania Gazette, which was owned and published by Franklin at the time. Given all of this information, and knowing Franklin’s penchant to publish writing anonymously, it is almost certain that the work was his, and was intended to be satirical. The depiction of the entire ordeal—the manner in which the trial is depicted, the actions of the accused and the accusers, the assumptions clearly held by the community at Mount Holly, the verbalizations of all involved—bespeaks a sort of belittlement on Franklin’s part, directed towards the behavior of those involved (fictional account or not).

This is not dissimilar from many of Franklin’s earlier essays as Silence Dogood. One may see this belittlement of others’ stupidity in numerous writings (such as Essay #7), and it was almost always presented with a sly tone and sardonic humor. By depicting this tale of superstition in such an absurd manner, one could argue that Franklin was not only denouncing the practices wherein but calling for more progressive, enlightened thinking based on common sense, rather than traditional superstition and fear-induced irrationality. Ultimately, The Witch Trial at Mount Holly was a parody, and remains so to this day; while the account could, theoretically, be true, the New York Times sums up well why it almost certainly was not: “The Mount Holly story has about it the sense of humor and scorn of superstition that characterized Franklin throughout his long life. Though the story is probably a fraud, it is not without significance. It shows that, by 1730, an educated man like Franklin could attack belief in witches as laughingly old- fashioned.”

Link to New York Times article


Old Mistresses Apologue

In Old Mistresses Apologue, Mr. Franklin begins by defending the institution of marriage, claiming that it is the most natural way for a man and woman to coexist in the world. He believes that in marriage the man is able to experience the “softness and sensibility” of a woman; while the woman is able to experience the “force of body and strength of reason” of a man. He claims that a man without a woman, or a woman without a man, is comparable to “the odd half of a pair of scissars.” Essentially, the man and woman are meant for each other.

After expressing how he feels about marriage, Franklin goes on to bash any sort of relationship that is avoiding marriage, such as an affair. He reinforces his belief in marriage yet again, before continuing to explain how an affair should work if one was to enter into an affair.

Franklin spells out eight reasons why anyone who may think of beginning an affair with a woman should seek an elderly woman, and not a young one. He comments on the ability of older women to carry better conversation, give better advice, and would appreciate the company of a man in any capacity. He then explains that for the younger women, while they may be more physically attractive they do not have the same experience and wisdom of the older woman. And with time, the beauty of the younger woman will cease to exist, while the older woman will still be the same as time passes.

Franklin also explains that when involving in an affair with an older woman, the “the Sin is less. The debauching a Virgin may be her Ruin, and make her for Life unhappy.” He believes that an affair with an older woman to be superior for the overall happiness of the woman and avoiding the heartbreak for a younger woman. Lastly, Franklin exclaims that the older woman is much more grateful than the younger woman, truly appreciating the man.



Letter to Madame Helvetius “Elysian Fields”

After Franklins wife of 50 years died in Philadelphia in 1774 (he was not there for her death) he sought relationships with many different women. Specifically, French women adored franklin because they viewed him as an American symbol. He found particular interest in his neighbor Madame Helvetius. She was the widow of a celebrated philosopher and was described as one of the most beautiful women in Paris. She was 60 years old when she met Franklin and he was 72. They spent their time together being entertained by various poets, writers and philosopher in France. They formed a relationship that was not only intimate but very intellectual and franklin viewed her as his equal. He found something in her in which he lacked in his previous wife. He adored her so much so that he proposed to her multiple times. She rejected his proposal each time, prompting him to write the essay Elysian Fields. At first glance many thought the letter was a light hearted joke, but further critique shows that Franklin was actually trying to convince Madame Helvetius to marry him. “Elysian Fields” is an allusion to a Grecian mythical land that was a final resting place for virtuous souls. The letter begins with Franklin falling asleep and traveling to these fields. Upon arrival, he is asked if he wants to see anyone in particular who rests here. He is asked to pick between Socrates or Helvetius. He chooses to see Helvetius because he is a known philosopher from France. He speaks to him about contemporary issues in France and asks for his views. He finally brings up his relationship with Madame Helvetius and asks why she will not marry him. Helvetius replies by saying she is still in love with him, even though he has passed and she does not want to remarry. Helvetius has gone on to say that he himself has remarried and his new wife turns out to be Franklin’s late wife, Deborah. After finding out that Debra has remarried to Helvetius, Franklin goes and sees her, demanding her to remain loyal to him. She replies coldly and says she remained loyal enough for him for 50 years and now has found a love with Helvetius that will last for an eternity. Franklin was so upset after hearing this that he decides to wake up and reenter the real world. The letter was meant to persuade Madame Helvetius to marry him but the letter was perceived as a humorous story. The essay was in an anomalous classical literacy genre called “dialogues of the dead”. The letter is still to this day read for entertainment by many.

Gabriella Roostaie, Melody Torres, & Edwin Romero

“Historicus” to Federal Gazette

Briana D’Amelio, Megan Scully, Marissa Gadaukas and Ashlee Backhus

On March 23, 1790, Benjamin Franklin, under the pseudonym of Historicus, responds to a speech given by Georgia Representative James Jackson. This speech mirrored one spoken 100 years prior by the Islamic leader of Algiers Sidi Mehmet Ibrahim. Quoting Ibrahim’s speech showed that Jackson’s views on slavery were immensely similar to that of the Islamic leader. The speech shines light on what are considered to be “positive” aspects of slavery thus including what a slave is supposed to do after they are set free and what they believe the point of slavery is- to convert those in captivity to their preferred religion.

The goal of Franklin in responding to this speech was to mock Ibrahim and Jackson in the ideal that slavery could be considered a “good” thing. Being the President of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, Franklin was obligied to go against slavery and make others aware that the abolition of it could be possible. His reasoning for not blatantly coming out and saying “slavery is wrong” was to  not dictate anyones ways of thinking  and allow all those who followed to form their own opinions.

It is important to note that this was the last piece of work written by Benjamin Franklin due to his death just three weeks later.