Remarks on the Cyder Remarks in Franklin’s Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America

What you have told us, says he, is all very good. It is indeed bad to eat Apples. It is better to make them all into Cyder.

Cider folks love this quote. It’s simple. It’s direct. It’s commonly quoted in cider books, article, and websites. This blog even includes it in the masthead above.

It helps that it’s from Benjamin Franklin, the Founder who has a reputation for having a good time, all the time. The quote is from his c. 1784 essay, “Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America.” Franklin was in Paris, waiting to be recalled home now that the American Revolution was over. With time on his hands and in light of recent events, he was pondering the nature of civilized and savage societies.

Drawing on his experience in American politics and with various Indian nations, he chose to frame his thoughts as a comparison between those two cultures. To make his point sharper (and perhaps more palatable) he chose to make it a satire.

In “Remarks” Franklin compares the savage Americans with the civilized Indians. At one point, he uses a Swedish minister preaching to Indians to make underscore this point:

The Politeness of these Savages in Conversation is indeed carried to excess, since it does not permit them to contradict, or deny the Truth of what is asserted in their Presence. By this means they indeed avoid Disputes, but then it becomes difficult to know their Minds, or what Impression you make upon them. The Missionaries who have attempted to convert them to Christianity, all complain of this as one of the great Difficulties of their Mission. The Indians hear with Patience the Truths of the Gospel explained to them, and give their usual Tokens of Assent and Approbation: you would think they were convinced. No such Matter. It is mere Civility.

A Suedish Minister having assembled the Chiefs of the Sasquehanah Indians, made a Sermon to them, acquainting them with the principal historical Facts on which our Religion is founded, such as the Fall of our first Parents by Eating an Apple, the Coming of Christ to repair the Mischief, his Miracles and Suffering, &c. When he had finished, an Indian Orator stood up to thank him. What you have told us, says he, is all very good. It is indeed bad to eat Apples. It is better to make them all into Cyder. We are much obliged by your Kindness in coming so far to tell us those things which you have heard from your Mothers. In return I will tell you some of those we have heard from ours.

After the Indians finished sharing their stories,

The good Missionary, disgusted with this idle Tale, said, what I delivered to you were sacred Truths; but what you tell me is mere Fable, Fiction & Falsehood. The Indian offended, reply’d, my Brother, it seems your Friends have not done you Justice in your Education; they have not well instructed you in the Rules of common Civility. You saw that we who understand and practise those Rules, believed all your Stories; why do you refuse to believe ours?

The cyder line remains a great quote, but as you can see, it’s part of a satirical comment on American society said by Franklin’s fictional Indian.

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