CI-H133: Creating America
3 February 2016
Silence Dogood Letter #12
During his apprenticeship at James Franklin’s printing shop, Benjamin Franklin took up a pseudonym by the name of Silence Dogood. This identity was used as a means to get published in his brother’s paper, The New England Courant, as sixteen-year-old Franklin knew that his older brother would never publish his works.
Silence Dogood was a fictional widow of a “Reverend master” with three children. Franklin’s pseudonym penned fourteen letters to the New England Courant between April and October of 1722. The essays focused on various topics, including drunkenness, women’s education and many other talking points of that time, eliciting positive receptions from the Courant’s audience.
In Silence Dogood’s twelfth letter, Franklin discusses drunkenness as a vice and shares Silence’s observations of it in a rather ironic tone. He claims that those who drink in moderation do so for the “Talent of a ready Utterance” where they’re able to discover their thoughts in a comprehensible manner. Franklin states that the consumption of alcohol “ does not improve our Faculties, but it enables us to use them,” and notes that alcohol can be used to help people become successful orators.
However, Franklin has a different view for those who drink for the sake of drunkenness. He claims that those who consume excess do not receive enjoyment, but rather descend “to Impertinence and Nonsense” while drunk. He asserts that drunkards maintain “only the Shape of a Man, and [act] the Part of a Beast.” Franklin continues to observe the ways in which being intoxicated can affect a person’s demeanor. For example, he states, “’tis strange to see Men of a regular Conversation become rakish and profane when intoxicated with Drink” and continues with observations of how liquor affects religious views and the imagination. He identifies that “the Effects of Liquor are various, so are the Characters given to its Devourers.”
Franklin explains that words such as “boozey, cogey, tipsey, fox’d, merry, mellow, fuddl’d, groatable” have been invented – and are invented daily – by drunkards as substitutes for the actual word “drunk.” These words are listed so drunk men, normally of “Sobriety and Temperance” are able to escape any accusations of being drunk by labeling themselves with a phrase that Franklin lists in this letter.