ed upon the character and upon hownwell one played it. Miss Fanny Burney,nin her extremely successful novelnCecilia (1782), depicts a rich variety ofncharacters in fashionable London society,nmost of them rather shallow.nThere is a voluble, who sees everythingnin hyperbole and always talks fasternthan she thinks; there is a jargonist,nwho aspires to nothing but complimentsnin the “Lilliputian vocabulary”npicked up in public places; there is ansupercilious, who spends half her lifendesiring the annihilation of the othernhalf. But the reigning arbiter of fashionablenfavor is the insensibilist, whonaffects boredom with everything, andnthereby proclaims himself superior tonall possibility of enjoyment. WhennCecilia hears her mentor’s descriptionnof these empty people, she remarksnthat they would sicken of their follynand change their ways if they couldnonly hear themselves exposed. No, henreplies, “they would but triumph thatnit had obtained them so much notice.”nOn the other hand, playactingncould have an ennobling effect. ConsidernCeorge Washington, who firstnsought the character of a gentleman,nand then of a hero, and then progressivelyngrander roles—self-consciouslynplaying a part at every stage—until henhad become Father of His Countrynand a veritable demigod. More commonnwas the course followed bynThomas Jefferson, who struggled withna number of characters, even undergoingnseveral changes of handwriting,nuntil he found one he could playncomfortably.nThis brings us to Benjamin Franklin,nthe subject under review. Twonnew studies, both inspired at least innpart by Yale’s monumental edition-inprogressnof Franklin’s papers, have recentiynappeared. One is the work of anseasoned English student of 18thcenturynAmerica, Esmond Wright,nwho has undertaken the first comprehensivenbiography of Franklin sincenCarl Van Doren’s appeared in 1938.nThe other is the work of a giftednamateur, Williard Randall, who hasnfocused upon Franklin’s strange relationshipnwith his bastard son, William.nWright’s study is judicious andninformed, although he has overlookednsome of the best Franklin scholarshipnof the past several decades. Randall’s isnslanted and riddled with errors—yet itnis a gripping tale in which WilliamnFranklin, as the last royal governor ofnNew Jersey, emerges as a sympatheticnand tragic-heroic figure.nWright virtually ignores William,nwhich is easy enough to do; except forna brief but impressive fling at soldiering,nWilliam’s only permitted characternuntil he was in his early 30’s wasnthat of the dutiful son. In that capacity,nas Randall demonstrates, he wasnextremely helpful to a father who rarelyngave him due recognition for whatnhe did. (It was the son, for instance,nnot the father, who discovered thatnlightning moves from the earth to thenheavens instead of the other waynaround, but Benjamin took credit fornthe discovery.) Then in 1762 Williamnobtained, through his own connections,nthe appointment as governor ofnNew Jersey. His character was nownthat of faithful servant to the King, andnhe played the role with great couragenwhen the movement for independencencame—suffering privation and imprisonmentnas a consequence, as well asnnever being forgiven by his father.nBoth authors attempt to cope withnthe central and unavoidable problemnin studying Benjamin Franklin: On thenbasis of the record as well as thenjudgments of contemporaries, Franklinnappears to have been not one characternbut a multiplicity of them. Hisnfirst important role is that of PoornRichard, the apostie of such bourgeoisnvirtues as thrift, frugality, industry,nhonesty, independence, and the pursuitnof wealth. Then comes the rationalist,ninventor, and man of science,nwho demonstrates that lightning isnelectricity, invents the stove that bearsnhis name, and advances sophisticatednobservations and theories about thenmovement of storms and the coursenand effects of the Culf Stream. Nextnhe has considerable success as a politician,ngaining power as a demagogicnchampion of the people against thenprivileged few, while simultaneouslynbecoming wealthy as a sycophanticnplaceman. (William indicated how farnhis character had departed from hisnfather’s when he remarked a few yearsnlater that “it is a most infallible symptomnof the dangerous state of libertynwhen the chief men of a free countrynshow a greater regard to popularitynthan to their own judgment.”)nMeanwhile, Franklin is demonstrat­nnning his assorted skills as a city planner,nmilitary commander, and Indian negotiator,nand became almost obsessednwith gaining immense riches throughngrandiose land speculations. Years ofnservice in London as agent for severalncolonies follow, years in which henlives voluptuously, joining hell-firenclubs and otherwise violating everynPoor Richard adage. Then comes hisnministry to France during the AmericannRevolution, when he poses as thenNatural Man, affecting a homespunnrepublican simplicity and serving thenAmerican cause by obtaining indispensiblenaid from the French court.n(Neither Wright nor Randall, by thenway, deals with Cecil Currey’s plausiblenargument that Franklin played andouble agent in Paris, serving bothnBritain and the United States.) Penultimately,nthere is Franklin the wilyndiplomat, negotiating the Peace Treatynthat recognizes American independence;nand finally, there is the venerablensage at the age of 81, infusing thenConstitutional Convention with wisdom,npiety, and moderation.nWill the real Benjamin Franklinnplease stand up? Randall attempts tonreconcile the several characters by rippingnoff the various masks and revealingnFranklin’s “true” character, in then20th-century sense of the term. Whatnemerges is a man of wit, charm, andntalent who exploited and abused hisnson, deceived almost everyone, servednhis country, and was at bottom annopportunist and a scoundrel—what innWashington today would be called ansurvivor. Wright is more cautious. Henquotes William Cobbett’s descriptionnof Franklin as “a crafty and lecherousnold hypocrite,” and much of his narrativensupports that depiction. But henalso quotes Lord Kames’s view thatnFranklin was “a great figure in thenlearned world . . . who would make angreater figure for berievolence andncandor, were virtue as much regardednin this declining age as knowledge.”nWright sees beyond such judgments,nhowever, and recognizes thatnFranklin was a self-made man in thenliteral sense, a manufacturer of myriadnpersonae, a “manipulator of the stringsnto his own puppet marionettes.” It isnpointiess to ask whether there was an”real” Franklin beneath all the personae,nWright suggests, for “Franklinnbecame the parts he played, even ifnJUNE 1987/27n