Reforming a Rogue Before Self Help Books
Updated: Jul 11, 2022
Have you guys ever read Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography? I’ve not read much of it, but what I have read certainly popped into my mind when I began to research for Teach a Rogue New Tricks.
Cassius, the ne’er-do-well from Sinning in Secret has decided to reform, and I wanted to know what books he might have had access to other, than religious tracts, about self improvement. I vaguely remembered a book I found while researching my dissertation called Self Help by Samuel Smiles (appropriate?), so I looked that up. But it is a firmly Victorian book published mid century, not during the Regency. I played with the idea of Cass being a sort of proto-Smiles, a drawing of a man who might, later in his life, write a book like that, but that didn’t sit quite right.
That’s when vague memories of Franklin’s Autobiography popped into my head. Hadn’t he come up with some sort of plan for moral improvement? I quickly googled it.
And yes, he did! Sadly, he did not complete it himself, but he thought it a likely successful plan for young men like Cassius. So I downloaded the book and headed straight to the (very short) chapter. He identifies 13-14 virtues that young men should focus on for moral improvement, and he recommends they keep a notebook to write down their daily, weekly, and monthly progress in each of those areas.
THAT’S what sold it, really. The notebook. If you remember Sinning in Secret, Cass’s brother keeps a notebook with him at all times to write down questions he wants answers to, and Cass often mocks him for it. So having Cass procure and use his own notebook for self improvement seemed nicely poetic. It irks him, but he’s so dedicated to reforming, that he does it anyway.
Some readers may not like that my Regency era British aristocrat hero looks to an American author, especially one so popular in France, for advice, but moral beggars cannot be choosers, and Cass has a lot to make up for!
As for the book itself, it was widely in circulation during the year my book is set. Franklin died in 1790 and his autobiography was first published posthumously in French in Paris (after some chapters appeared in Philadelphia magazines). It was then published in English in London. If you're interested in its complicated publication history here's a good source to explore: https://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/franklin/autobiography.html
If you want to read it, here it is for free on Project Gutenberg: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/20203/20203-h/20203-h.htm
Want to read Teach a Rogue New Tricks? It's on preorder now and will be available in ebook, paperback, and through KU beginning April 22!