Because of its subject, this essay by Ben doesn’t often appear in his life story. Written in 1781, it poked fun at the Royal Academy of Brussels. Every year the academy posed a scientific question and gave a prize to the scientist who could figure out the answer. Ben thought the questions stuffy, pompous, and of little practical use, so he proposed his own. Could the academy’s scientist discover a drug that, when mixed with food, would remove the disagreeable odor of “human digestive gases”? The prize for such a discovery, Ben said, would be the gratitude of the entire world—far better than a “golden trophy.”
What comfort can [science] be to a man who has whirlwinds in his bowels?… Imagine the ease and comfort every man living might feel…by discharging freely the wind from his bowels. Especially if it be converted into perfume…. Think of the generous host who now may offer his guests the choice of claret or champagne,…then inquire whether they choose a musk, or lily, or wild rose scented drug to perfume their bodily odors. Surely such liberty of ex-pressing one’s scent-iments…is infinitely more importance than a mathematical prize question. Indeed, such prizes, when compared to the happiness of a man who may fart proudly are hardly worth a fart-hing!
From Ben Franklin’s Almanac—Being a True Account of the Good Gentleman’s Life by Candace Fleming (Page 30) Anne Schwartz Books—Atheneum, 2003.