I just finished reading an essay by Jerry Weinberger on Benjamin Franklin as a city-dweller. If you have read one of the many biographies of Franklin published in 2006 during the year-long celebration of the 300th anniversary of his birth, you will not find much that is new here. Weinberger argues that Franklin, for all of his attempts to portray himself to the French and others as a rural, coonskin cap-wearing provincial from America, was really an urbanite. He felt most comfortable in the city and spent the better part of his life trying to improve it.
As I read this, I could not help think about Philip Vickers Fithian and his “rural Enlightenment.” Fithian did not have access to all of the cultural resources–books, opportunities for learning, social clubs, etc…–that Franklin had, but, as I argue in The Way of Improvement Leads Home, he could still participate in a cosmopolitan Enlightenment from his rural location. Even the folks that Weinberger calls “small town country boys” could participate in this 18th century movement of self-improvement and live a “good life” of human flourishing.