The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Publication history

The Autobiography remained unpublished during Franklin's lifetime. In 1791, the first edition appeared, in French rather than English, as Mémoires de la vie privée de Benjamin Franklin, published in Paris. This translation of Part One only was based on a flawed transcript made of Franklin's manuscript before he had revised it. This French translation was then retranslated into English in two London publications of 1793, and one of the London editions served as a basis for a retranslation into French in 1798 in an edition which also included a fragment of Part Two.

The first three parts of the Autobiography were first published together (in English) by Franklin's grandson, William Temple Franklin, in London in 1818, in Volume 1 of Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Benjamin Franklin. W.T. Franklin did not include Part Four because he had previously traded away the original holograph of the Autobiography for a copy that contained only the first three parts. Furthermore, he felt free to make unauthoritative stylistic revisions to his grandfather's autobiography, and on occasion followed the translated and retranslated versions mentioned above rather than Ben Franklin's original text.

W.T. Franklin's text was the standard version of the Autobiography for half a century, until John Bigelow purchased the original manuscript in France and in 1868 published the most reliable text that had yet appeared, including the first English publication of Part Four. In the 20th century, important editions by Max Ferrand and the staff of the Huntington Library in San Marino, California (Benjamin Franklin's Memoirs: Parallel Text Edition, 1949) and by Leonard W. Labaree (1964, as part of the Yale University Press edition of The Papers of Benjamin Franklin) improved on Bigelow's accuracy. In 1981, J. A. Leo Lemay and P.M. Zall produced The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin: A Genetic Text, attempting to show all revisions and cancellations in the holograph manuscript. This, the most accurate edition of all so far published, served as a basis for Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography: A Norton Critical Edition and for the text of this autobiography printed in the Library of America's edition of Franklin's Writings.

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin also became the first full-length recorded book in history.[2] The initial recorded release of Autobiography was voiced by actor Michael Rye and released in 1969.[2][3]

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