Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography: The Role of Keimer

Jason Marcus

In Benjamin Franklin?s Autobiography, Samuel Keimer is a character who represents the antithesis of Franklin. The development of Keimer not only improves the reader?s understanding of the minor character, but also of Franklin, the major character. Franklin makes a point of showing the reader each of Keimer?s faults and contrasting them with his own merits.

When Keimer is first introduced to the reader, he is in very much the same circumstances as Franklin; they are two young men trying to make a fresh start in a new town, the only difference being Keimer?s economic, and thereby social, advantage. In comparison to Franklin, however, Keimer is a flawed and immoral man; this difference is what makes him the ideal model for Franklin to scrutinize. As Benjamin Franklin consistently moves up the social and economic ladders, more than surpassing Keimer?s achievements, Keimer quickly falls into poverty and loses everything. ?With the rest I (Benjamin Franklin) began to live very agreeably; for they all respected me, the more as they found Keimer incapable of instructing them, and that from me they learned something daily.?1 Franklin goes into great detail to teach the reader how one should live one?s life in order to avoid the same fate as Keimer. In Franklin?s opinion, many factors attribute to his rise to glory and Keimer?s fall to disgrace; these elements help to provide the foundation for some of Benjamin Franklin?s thirteen virtues. The virtues are designed to show how a person can lead a morally flawless life, which is why the morally corrupt Keimer is the perfect counter-example for Franklin.

The first of these virtues is Temperance. The amount of Keimer?s temperance can be summed up in the following quote: ?He was usually a great Glutton? (BFA 29); he is unable to last through the ordeal of abstaining from meat and eventually orders and eats an entire roast pig before his guests can arrive. This scenario also shows an example of Keimer?s lacking of the fourth virtue, Resolution, and of the ninth virtue, Moderation. The lack of Resolution can be named as one of the main causes of Keimer?s downfall in society; Franklin points out that it is virtually impossible to attain economic success without drive and perseverance. Franklin, however, eats and drinks little and often goes on vegetarian diets; he has been quoted as saying, ?Eat to live, and not live to eat.?2 Also, when Franklin resolves to do something, he always follows up and does it, including his resolutions to start his own printing house, to become a morally perfect person, and to correct his errata.

The second virtue is Silence; Franklin has many opportunities to speak libelously against others, especially against Keimer, but often chooses not to, except against certain political issues published anonymously. Keimer chooses to use the scene outside of the courthouse as a medium to emphasize his superior position in their relationship; it is Keimer?s complete disregard for this value that leads to Franklin?s resignation. Keimer also has trouble with the third of Franklin?s virtues, Order, as Hugh Meredith reminds Franklin ?that Keimer was in debt for all he possess?d, that his Creditors began to be uneasy, that he kept his Shop miserably, sold often without Profit for ready Money, and often trusted without keeping Account. That he must therefore fail? (BFA 44).

The sixth virtue, Industry, is of tremendous importance to Franklin?s success; he states repeatedly that time should never be wasted: ?I never went out a-fishing or shooting? (BFA 54). Franklin is credited with many quotes concerning lost time including ?Lost time is never found again? (BFQ 310) and ?Time is money? (BFQ 310). Keimer, even though he is in tremendous debt at one point, takes both Saturday and Sunday off from work at a time when the six-day workweek is standard practice. Also, as he is disconnected from the inner-workings of the printing house, Keimer is unable to keep his underpaid, unmotivated staff working diligently. Franklin remarks that part of his job is to ?put his Printing-House in Order, which had been in great Confusion, and brought his Hands by degrees to mind their Business and to do it better? (BFA 42). An example of Franklin?s opinion of one of Keimer?s workers is that he is ?idle, thoughtless and imprudent to the last Degree" (BFA 43). Only the short time that