The library at Franklin, Massachusetts has an intimate connection with Dr. Franklin, and is re-housing their collection of books he donated. They were displayed in a standalone, closed bookcase from 1904 till now (2018), when they are going to a more accessible presentation, according to this news report on the renovation. Congratulations!
In 1778, the westerly part of the town of Wrentham, Massachusetts was the first city in America to rename itself after Dr. Franklin. Franklin was in Philadelphia when the town administrators conveyed the honor, and asked him for a donation of a bell. Franklin responded with a donation of books instead, as “Sense is better than Sound.”
Dr. Franklin asked Dr. Richard Price, a Unitarian minister in London, to select books. In wondering about the many religious volumes, I at first supposed Dr. Price’s occupation as well as Dr. Price realizing the town was built around a Congregational church. On further reading, this idea of books on religion seems to have come from Franklin himself: he asked for books as are most proper to inculcate Principles of sound Religion and just Government.
Franklin wrote to Richard Price in March 1785
Passy, Mar. 18. 1785.My dear Friend,
My Nephew, Mr. Williams, will have the honour of delivering you this Line. It is to request from you a List of a few good Books to the Value of about Twenty-five Pounds, such as are most proper to inculcate Principles of sound Religion and just Government. A new Town in the State of Massachusetts, having done me the honour of naming itself after me, and proposing to build a Steeple to their Meeting House if I would give them a Bell, I have advis’d the sparing themselves the Expence of a Steeple at present, and that they would accept of Books instead of a Bell, Sense being preferable to Sound. These are therefore intended as the Commencement of a little Parochial Library, for the Use of a Society of intelligent respectable Farmers, such as our Country People generally consist of. Besides your own Works I would only mention, on the Recommendation of my Sister, Stennet’s Discourses on personal Religion, which may be one Book of the Number, if you know it and approve of it. With the highest Esteem and Respect, I am ever, my dear Friend, Yours most affectionately
Mr. Williams has given me much pleasure by calling upon me and bringing me a letter from you. I have, according to your desire, furnish’d him with a list of Such books on religion and government as I think Some of the best, and added a present to the parish that is to bear your name of Such of my own publications as I think may not be unsuitable. Should this be the commencement of parochial libraries in the States it will do great good.
In their letter thanking Franklin for the books, there is a sly comment that more scientific books would have been equally welcomed:
We only regret, that Modesty should deny us the celebrated Productions of the greatest Phylosopher and Politician in America. Since Providence hitherto hath delighted to smile on all your great and noble Efforts, we cannot but hope, your generous exertion to diffuse useful and divine Knowledge among us, will be productive of the happiest effects, and completely answer your warmest wishes. May all the seeds of Science, which You have sown in this, and various other parts of the world, grow up into a living Laurel, to adorn your illustrious Head in the Temple of Fame.
These books were the nucleus of the town library. Growing up in Franklin, Massachusetts, Horace Mann loved his local library, commenting also that the original books were “suited, perhaps, to the ‘conscript fathers’ of the town”, that is, heavily religious. For more, see the Franklin Library History
Vicky Buchanio, librarian of the Franklin Public Library, has graciously shared information about the books. There is a nice view of this beautiful facility on this TV news report.
- Edwin Wolf and Kevin J. Hayes, The Library of Benjamin Franklin (APS, 2006) on Google Books. Edwin Wolf’s lifetime study of Franklin’s books culminated in this APS publication.