Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A book lover's delight..

In the annals of American History, none holds a more affectionate and respectable position in public mind than the scholarly figure of Benjamin Franklin. In fact, one would run of words and epithets to describe his multi-dimensional personality. A statesman, scientist, philosopher, philanthropist, Ambassador and more importantly the founding father of thirteen colonies that originally constituted the United States of America. In fact, it seems unbelievable, at this distance to contemplate that a single individual could have affected the destiny of a nation so profoundly in its formative years and give it the necessary moral and intellectual momentum to propel the country towards its growth, stability and prosperity – traits that have sustained this country for last two hundred odd years.
This essay is however not about his political or scientific accomplishments, but a rather a facet of his life that is not widely known. He was the editor, publisher of a gazette, (a precursor to the modern form of magazine) that he established in the year 1729. The original name of the chronicle was "The Universal Instructor in all Arts and Sciences: and Pennsylvania Gazette", which Benjamin shortened to "Pennsylvania Gazette" .In the editorial of the first issue, he lays down the charter for newspapers and journals, which resonates so very truthfully even after centuries.. I cannot refrain myself from quoting it in full: He writes: (To my readers, pls take time read the next paragraph in full…)
"The author of a Gazette (modern "magazine") ought to be qualified with an extensive acquaintance with languages, a great easiness and command of writing and relating things cleanly and intelligibly, and in few words; he should be able to speak of War both land and sea; be well acquainted with geography, with the history of the time, with the several interests of the Prices and states, the secret of courts, and the manners and customs of all nations. Men thus accomplished are very rare; and it would be well if the writer of these papers would make up among his friends what is wanting in himself..."
This charter should be emblazoned in golden letters across all journalistic media houses in bold letters. There cannot be a more sensible or truer statement of work in the world of media. Benjamin incorporated all kinds of events in his gazette – literature, poetry, gossip, science. In fact, it carried an hour to hour account of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln to eventual demise. The first known political cartoon also featured in one of its editions (incidentally drawn by Benjamin Franklin himself). The journal, however, had its last hurrah in 1800, ten years after Franklin's death. After a brief hiatus of twenty odd years, the journal was revived under a new name called “The Saturday evening post” in 1821. And since then, it has been in circulation till the present date. The Saturday post was a popular journal with its vivid front pages, essays shorts stories, war time reporting and cartoons till the 1950, when television took away a lot of readership. Circulation dwindled, and the post turned from a Weekly, to biweekly and then to a Bimonthly publication. Even today, if you look closely in News magazine stores, you will find a copy of the Saturday evening in a corner - a grim and nostalgic reminder of three centuries of tradition and intellectual outpouring.
The reason I spent the last few paragraphs tracing the course of this magazine is because, in a second hand book store today, I happened to pick up a hard bound collection printed in 1954, by Saturday Evening Post publishers to commemorate literary and visual brilliance the Post has carried in its pages since Franklin’s days. It was lying in a corner, dust ridden and soiled, but its Jacket intact. In it are extracts from Stories penned by Jack London to O Henry to Edith Wharton to Gk Chesterton among man other giants of literature; Poems that aroused national pride during the civil war; scientific and war time reporting, social commentaries by C S Forester and Jack Alexander; Color reproductions of all popular Front covers of the Magazine since 1728; political and social caricatures – Well, in all, it is a bibliophile’s dream come true.. The book was sold to me at a $1.75. The price of the book when it was published in 1954 was $7.50. Inflation hasn't really touched this rare commodity…
Nothing gives me more pleasure than dipping into the intellectual heritage of mankind. After all, as a species that is the only unique attribute that nature has accorded us - the transmission of knowledge beyond the realm of bodily instinct. The written word in my opinion, is perhaps the most notable, singular and unprecedented achievement of Mankind; allowing him to transform himself from an organism that merely lives by biological dictates to a point where he questions his role in the Cosmos; and the ability to transmit that curiosity, thirst and collective knowledge to his progeny.
Such treasures, like the book that I got today are ones that I cherish the most. It cannot weighed in monetary terms for it surpasses such frivolous evaluations anyway.
God bless…

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