Benjamin Franklin was not only a founding father of the United States, but also a master of humor and satire. In 1781, he wrote a hilarious essay about farting that has been celebrated by fans and scholars for centuries.
The essay, also known as “A Letter to a Royal Academy about farting” or “To the Royal Academy of Farting”, was a response to a call for scientific papers from the Royal Academy of Brussels. Franklin thought that the academy was too pompous and impractical, so he decided to mock them with a proposal that they should conduct research on how to make human flatulence less offensive and more pleasant by means of some drug or food additive.
He wrote: “It is universally well known, that in digesting our common food, there is created or produced in the bowels of human creatures, a great quantity of wind. That the permitting this air to escape and mix with the atmosphere, is usually offensive to the company, from the fetid smell that accompanies it.”
Franklin never actually sent the essay to the academy, but he did send copies to some of his friends, such as Joseph Priestley and Richard Price. The essay was an example of his flatulence humor, which is a form of comedy that uses farting as a source of amusement. It was also an example of his political satire, which he used to criticize the institutions and authorities of his time.
Franklin’s essay has been excluded from many published collections of his writings, but it is available online. It has also been celebrated by some scholars and fans as a testament to his wit and creativity.
Claude-Anne Lopez, former editor-in-chief of The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, said: “Franklin was a master at using humor to deflate the pretensions of those who considered themselves superior to others.”
Walter Isaacson, author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, said: “He was always interested in everything. He was curious about everything. He was experimental about everything.”
J.A. Leo Lemay, late professor of English at the University of Delaware, said: “He had a very earthy sense of humor. He was not squeamish. He was not prudish. He enjoyed life.”
In 2021, the Young Academy of Belgium, a successor to the Royal Academy of Belgium, issued a reply to Franklin’s letter as part of MEL Magazine’s 240th anniversary celebration of the letter.
The reply praised Franklin’s humor and scientific curiosity, but also pointed out some flaws in his argument. It said: “We regret to inform you that your proposal does not meet our current standards for scientific rigor and ethical conduct. We have several concerns about your methodology, your assumptions, and your potential impact on society.”
The reply also suggested some alternative research topics for Franklin, such as “How to prevent lightning strikes on kites” and “How to make glasses that can see through clothes”.
The reply ended with a pun: “We hope you will not take this rejection too hard. After all, it is only a FART-HING in the grand scheme of things.”
– An Oral History of Benjamin Franklin’s Essay ‘Fart Proudly’, MEL Magazine, January 22, 2021
– In 1781, Benjamin Franklin wrote an essay about farting, Vox, January 13, 2015
– Fart Proudly, Wikipedia
– 19 Insanely Weird Things About Benjamin Franklin, Medium