26 / CHRONICLESnOPINIONSnCharacter in Acting by Forrest McDonaldnFranklin of Philadelphia by EsmondnWright, Cambridge: Belknap Pressnof Harvard University Press; $25.00.nA Little Revenge: Benjamin Franklinnand His Son by Willard SternenRandall, Boston: Little, Brown;n$22.50.nTo 18th-century Britons and Americansnwho devoted any seriousnthought to the subject of humannnature—and a great many did—thenconventional starting point was thentheory of the passions, or drives forn^mmm^.nmm^^nself-gratification. Rousseau to the contrary,nman was not naturally good butnwas ruled by his passions, both primaryn(fear, hunger, lust) and secondaryn(cravings for money, power, certainty,nstatus). Reason could curb thenpassions only rarely and temporarily,nand normally served merely as annagent of their fulfillment. Religion wasnstill considered to be a necessary restraintnupon them, but it was no longernthought to be a sufficient one. Givennsuch a premise, the inevitable questionnarose, can man learn to comportnhimself morally, and therefore be free,nor is he so thoroughly depraved that hen/””Zirnnnis doomed to be oppressed by priestsnand tyrants?nAmong those who contrived tonreach an optimistic answer, perhapsnthe most common means was to positna second premise, namely that thensocial instinct is one of the primarynpassions: The desire to secure the approvalnor at least to avoid the animositynof one’s fellows ranks as strong as thenneed to satisfy physical appetites. Thisnbelief underlay the 18th century’s intensenpreoccupation with what the adolescentnGeorge Washington describednas “rules of civility.” Every kind ofnsocial interaction—from ballroomndancing to warfare, from forms ofnaddress to the complementary closingsnof letters—became mannered, structured,nstylized. Every person learnednthe norms that attended his station,nand anyone who violated them forfeitednthe esteem of his peers and betters.nAll this is fairly well-known to studentsnof the period; what is less wellknownnis the related concept of character.nIn its most general signification,ncharacter meant reputation: So and sonhad a character for fickleness or probitynor rashness. But it also, at leastnamong persons in public life and politensociety, meant a persona that one deliberatelynselected, cultivated, and attemptednto live up to: A man picked anrole, like a part in a play, and wasnexpected to act it unfailingly: one mustnalways be in character. If a fittingnpersona were chosen and worn longnenough and consistentiy enough, itnultimately became a second naturenthat in practice superseded the first. Innthe end, one became what one pretendednto be.nThe results, for good or ill, depend-nForrest McDonald is author mostnrecently of Novus Ordo Seclorum:nThe Intellectual Origins of thenConstitution (University Press ofnKansas).n