Compleat Idler, Education, Free Society

Who is Silence Dogood?

(c) 2012  Earl L Haehl – Permission is granted to redistribute this in whole as long as credit is given.  Book rights are reserved.

James Franklin opened the lock and pushed the door open to the New England Courant. There was no sign of his apprentice Ben. Looking down he saw a folded paper and picked it muttering about that “Dogood woman.” As he walked to his desk he began reading. When he got to “As for Idleness, if I should Quaere, Where are the greatest Number of its Votaries to be found, with us or the Men? it might I believe be easily and truly answer’d, With the latter,” he noticed Ben slipping into the room and moving behind the press.

“About time, Ben,” he groused. “We have another missive from the widow. You might as well set it in type. And be sure the punctuation is right.”

“Do you not wish to read it first.”

“I will read it and be infuriated with the rest of Boston. Why did I let Father talk me in to allowing you as apprentice?”

“I can set type.  And I can read.”

“Be at it then and after sweep around the press. You are the idlest apprentice in Massachusetts Bay.”

James Franklin did not know the identity of Silence Dogood. Goodwife (pronounced “Goody”) Dogood slipped interesting letters under the door of his print shop in Boston. They poked at the customs and what was happening in the colony from a decidedly puritan point of view although in a strangely familiar style.

James Franklin was a busy man. He had no time to go around looking for a middle-aged woman who would probably lecture him on his habits. And it would do no good to send his 16-year-old apprentice Ben who would most certainly use the time in sport and idleness with his contemporaries.

Ben had spent eight months in school as his father wished him to prepare for the Anglican clergy. And being bored he dropped out. Ben could read the Bible and the Prayer Book (even though it was disapproved by his dissenting family). And he began running with a crown of idlers who read the latest journals that had been discarded. The Spectator from London included the best essayists in England and occasionally Dean Swift from Dublin. They even tried writing articles in the styles of the writers. And they got good, but the best was was Ben Franklin, the chandler’s son.

Someday James would teach Ben to write, but not now. Ben offered and was scolded for idleness. But Ben spent spare time writing commentaries. He heard James and his friends discussing the affairs of the day them and heard gossip in taverns or coffee houses on his way home and occasionally managed to snag an unused periodical or book. And every so often he would slip a commentary under the door.

James Franklin was a busy man. He had no clue as to the identity of Silence Dogood.  He was furious when told.


New England Courant The first regular newsletter in the colonies. Published by James Franklin except when incarcerated. It was transferred by letter to his former apprentice, Benjamin Franklin, to prevent its seizure by forces of the Crown. James, upon release from custody, found a letter from Ben transferring back as Ben was striking out in the world—eventually landing in the great port of Philadelphia where he would also have trouble with the authorities. James, himself, departed Boston and published in Providence as the dissenter Roger Williams had done in 1634.

Quaere Ask or inquire. The term is still used by law professors and their former students but spelled query.

Votaries Devotees.

Silence Dogood One of many noms de plume of Benjamin Franklin. It mocks the naming of women in Puritan society and “Do good” is a command.

Dissenting Josiah Franklin was a Congregationalist as opposed to the Church of England which was epiacopalian in governance. Churches other than the CofE were called dissenting bodies.

Dean Swift Jonathan Swift, the Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, was a brilliant essayist and a disgruntled clergyman. Remember this when reading Gulliver’s Travels or any of his politically incorrect essay.

Chandler Candle maker. Although a dissenter, Josiah Franklin plied his trade for the Anglican churches which could better afford his wares than the Meeting Houses where he worshipped. His desire that Ben be an Anglican clergyman was a desire for upward mobility.


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