Benjamin Franklin's 1781 Essay About Farting Explained

Benjamin Franklin was living in Paris at the time he wrote his fart essay, and as Vox explains, was a bit annoyed by the uselessness of much of the scientific inquiry of his day. And so, he sat down and wrote a very short, 1000-word essay exhorting the powers that be at the Royal Academy of Brussels to get down to this whole business of ridding humanity of the stank of farts.

Franklin starts off his essay with a gushing, ingratiating opener where you can practically hear him suppressing a characteristic smirk while bowing. Then he pivots to the flatulent business at hand, writing, “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.” He talks about farty air mixing with the atmosphere, producing a “fetid Smell,” and how “well-bred People” “forcibly restrain the Efforts of Nature to discharge that Wind.” We’ll just say right now that referring to farting as a “discharge” of wind is excellent.

Franklin goes on to mention the competing vices of runny noses and spitting, and suggests that researchers “discover some Drug wholesome & not disagreeable, to be mix’d with our common Food, or Sauces” to nullify bad fart smells. Then, he calls upon the names of philosophical titans like Aristotle and Descartes, rattles off some metaphysical gobbledygook, and ends by concluding that the “Science of the Philosophers” is “scarcely worth a” — he skips a line — “FART-HING.”

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