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1736: XVIII: ON GOVERNMENT.—NO. I and 2 - Benjamin Franklin, The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. II Letters and Misc. Writings 1735-1753 
The Works of Benjamin Franklin, including the Private as well as the Official and Scientific Correspondence, together with the Unmutilated and Correct Version of the Autobiography, compiled and edited by John Bigelow (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). The Federal Edition in 12 volumes. Vol. II (Letters and Misc. Writings 1735-1753).
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ON GOVERNMENT.—NO. I1
Government is aptly compared to architecture; if the superstructure is too heavy for the foundation the building totters, though assisted by outward props of art. But leaving it to everybody to mould the similitude according to his particular fancy, I shall only observe that the people have made the most considerable part of the legislature in every free state; which has been more or less so in proportion to the share they have had in the administration of affairs. The English constitution is fixed on the strongest basis; we choose whomsoever we please for our representatives, and thus we have all the advantages of a democracy without any of its inconveniences.
Popular governments have not been framed without the wisest reasons. It seemed highly fitting that the conduct of magistrates, created by and for the good of the whole, should be made liable to the inspection and animadversion of the whole. Besides, there could not be a more potent counterpoise to the designs of ambitious men than a multitude that hated and feared ambition. Moreover, the power they possessed, though great collectively, yet, being distributed among a vast number, the share of each individual was too inconsiderable to lay him under any temptations of turning it to a wrong use. Again, a body of people thus circumstanced cannot be supposed to judge amiss on any essential points; for if they decide in favor of themselves, which is extremely natural, their decision is just, inasmuch as whatever contributes to their benefit is a general benefit and advances the real public good. Hence we have an easy solution of the sophism, so often proposed by the abettors of tyranny, who tell us that when differences arise between a prince and his subjects the latter are incapable of being judges of the controversy, for that would be setting up judge and party in the same person.
Some foreigners have had a truer idea of our constitution. We read in the Memoirs of the late Archbishop of Cambray, Fenelon, the celebrated author of Telemachus, a conversation which he had with the Pretender (son of James the Second, of England): “If ever you come to the crown of England,” says the bishop, “you will be a happy prince; with an unlimited power to do good and only restrained from doing evil.” A blunt Briton, perhaps, would have said in plain English: “You ’ll be at liberty to do as much good as you please, but, by G—, you shall do us no hurt.” The bishop sweetened the pill; for such it would appear in its simple form to a mind fraught with notions of arbitrary power and educated among a people who, with the utmost simplicity, boast of their slavery.
What can be more ridiculous than to hear them frequently object to the English gentlemen that travel in their country, “What is your king? Commend me to our grand monarch, who can do whatever he pleases.”1 But begging pardon of these facetious gentlemen, whom it is not my intention to disturb in their many notions of government, I shall go on to examine what were the sentiments of the ancient Romans on this head.
We find that their dictator, a magistrate never created but in cases of great extremity, vested with power as absolute during his office (which never exceeded six months) as the greatest kings were never possessed of,—this great ruler was liable to be called to an account by any of the tribunes of the people,2 whose persons were at the same time rendered sacred by the most solemn laws.
This is evident proof that the Romans were of opinion that the people could not in any sense divest themselves of the supreme authority by conferring the most extensive power they possibly could imagine, on one or more persons acting as magistrates.
This appears still more evident in remarking that the people sat as umpire of the differences which had arisen between the dictator and senate in the case of young Fabius.1
The great deference which Cicero paid to the judgment of the Roman people appears by those inimitable orations of which they were the sole judges and auditors. That great orator had a just opinion of their understanding. Nothing gave him a more sensible pleasure than their approbation. But the Roman populace were more learned than ours, more virtuous perhaps, but their sense of discernment was not better than ours. However, the judgment of a whole people, especially of a free people, is looked upon to be infallible, so that it has become a common proverb that the voice of God is the voice of the people, Vox Dei est populi vox. And this is universally true while they remain in their proper sphere, unbiased by faction, undeluded by the tricks of designing men.
Thank God! we are in the full enjoyment of all these privileges. But can we be taught to prize them too much? or how can we prize them equal to their value if we do not know their intrinsic worth, and that they are not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature?
Since they are our right, let us be vigilant to preserve them uninfringed and free from encroachments. If animosities arise and we should be obliged to resort to party, let each of us range himself on the side which unfurls the ensigns of public good. Faction will then vanish, which, if not timely suppressed, may overturn the balance, the palladium of liberty, and crush us under its ruins.
The design of this paper is to assert the common rights of mankind by endeavouring to illustrate eternal truths that cannot be shaken even with the foundations of the world.
I may take another opportunity to show how a government founded on these principles rises into the most beautiful structure, with all the graces of symmetry and proportion, as much different from that raised on arbitrary power as Roman architecture from a Gothic building.
ON GOVERNMENT.—NO. II1
An ancient sage of the law2 says: “The King can do no wrong, for, if he doeth wrong, he is not the King.”3 And in another place: “When the King doth justice, he is God’s vicar; but when he doth unjustly, he is the agent of the Devil.”1 The politeness of the later times has given a softer turn to the expression. It is now said: The King can do no wrong, but his ministers may. In allusion to this the Parliament of 1641 declared they made war against the King for the King’s service. But his Majesty affirmed that such a distinction was absurd; though, by the way, his own creed contained a greater absurdity, for he believed he had an authority from God to oppress the subjects whom by the same authority he was obliged to cherish and defend. Aristotle calls all princes tyrants, from the moment they set up an interest different from that of their subjects; and this is the only definition he gives us of tyranny. Our own countryman before cited and the sagacious Greek both agree on this point, that a governor who acts contrary to the ends of government loses the title bestowed on him at his institution. It would be highly improper to give the same name to things of different qualities or that produce different effects. Matter, while it communicates heat, is generally called fire, but when the flames are extinguished the appellation is changed. Sometimes indeed the same sound serves to express things of a contrary nature, but that only denotes a defect or poverty in the language.
A wicked prince imagines that the crown receives a new lustre from absolute power, whereas every step he takes to obtain it is a forfeiture of the crown.
His conduct is as foolish as it is detestable; he aims at glory and power, and treads the path that leads to dishonor and contempt; he is a plague to his country, and deceives himself.
During the inglorious reigns of the Stuarts (except a part of Queen Anne’s), it was a perpetual struggle between them and the people: those endeavouring to subvert, and these bravely opposing the subverters of liberty. What were the consequences? One lost his life on the scaffold, another was banished. The memory of all of them stinks in the nostrils of every true lover of his country; and their history stains with indelible blots the English annals.
The reign of Queen Elizabeth furnishes a beautiful contrast. All her views centred in one object, which was the public good. She made it her study to gain the love of her subjects, not by flattery or little soothing arts, but by rendering them substantial favors. It was far from her policy to encroach on their privileges; she augmented and secured them.
And it is remarked to her eternal honor, that the acts presented to her for her royal approbation (forty or fifty of a session of Parliament) were signed without examining any farther than the titles. This wise and good Queen only reigned for her people, and knew that it was absurd to imagine they would promote any thing contrary to their own interests, which she so studiously endeavoured to advance. On the other hand, when this Queen asked money of the Parliament they frequently gave her more than she demanded, and never inquired how it was disposed of, except for form’s sake, being fully convinced she would not employ it but for the general welfare. Happy princes, happy people! What harmony, what mutual confidence! Seconded by the hearts and purses of her subjects, she crushed the exorbitant power of Spain, which threatened destruction to England and chains to all Europe. That monarchy has ever since pined under the stroke, so that now, when we send a man-of-war or two to the West Indies, it puts her into such a panic fright that if the galleons can steal home she sings Te Deum as for a victory.
This is a true picture of government; its reverse is tyranny.
The world but a few ages since was in a very poor condition as to trade and navigation; nor indeed were they much better in other matters of useful knowledge. It was a green-headed time; every useful improvement was hid from them; they had neither looked into heaven nor earth, into the sea nor land, as has been done since. They had philosophy without experiments, mathematics without instruments, geometry without scale, astronomy without demonstration.
They made war without powder, shot, cannon, or mortars; nay, the mob made their bonfires without squibs or crackers. They went to sea without compass, and sailed without the needle. They viewed the stars without telescopes, and measured latitudes without observation. Learning had no printing-press, writing no paper, and paper no ink. The lover was forced to send his mistress a deal board for a love-letter, and a billet-doux might be about the size of an ordinary trencher. They were clothed without manufacture, and their richest robes were the skins of the most formidable monsters. They carried on trade without books, and correspondence without posts; their merchants kept no accounts, their shopkeepers no cash-books; they had surgery without anatomy, and physicians without the materia medica; they gave emetics without ipecacuanha, drew blisters without cantharides, and cured agues without the bark.
As for geographical discoveries, they had neither seen the North Cape, nor the Cape of Good Hope south. All the discovered inhabited world which they knew and conversed with was circumscribed within very narrow limits, viz., France, Britain, Spain, Italy, Germany, and Greece; the lesser Asia, the west part of Persia, Arabia, the north parts of Africa, and the islands of the Mediterranean sea, and this was the whole world to them; not that even these countries were fully known either, and several parts of them not inquired into at all. Germany was known little further than the banks of the Elbe; Poland as little beyond the Vistula, or Hungary as little beyond the Danube; Muscovy or Russia perfectly unknown, as much as China beyond it; and India only by a little commerce upon the coast about Surat and Malabar. Africa had been more unknown, but by the ruin of the Carthaginians; all the western coast of it was sunk out of knowledge again and forgotten; the northern coast of Africa, in the Mediterranean, remained known, and that was all; for the Saracens overrunning the nations which were planted there ruined commerce as well as religion. The Baltic sea was not discovered, nor even the navigation of it known; for the Teutonic knights came not thither till the thirteenth century.
America was not heard of, nor so much as a suggestion in the minds of men that any part of the world lay that way. The coasts of Greenland, or Spitsbergen, and the whale-fishing not known; the best navigators in the world, at that time, would have fled from a whale with much more fright and horror than from the Devil in the most terrible shapes they had been told he appeared in.
The coasts of Angola, Congo, the Gold and the Grain coasts, on the west side of Africa, whence, since that time, such immense wealth has been drawn, not discovered, nor the least inquiry made after them. All the East India and China trade, not only undiscovered, but out of the reach of expectation! Coffee and tea (those modern blessings of mankind) had never been heard of. All the unbounded ocean we now call the South Sea was hid and unknown. All the Atlantic ocean beyond the mouth of the Straits was frightful and terrible in the distant prospect, nor durst any one peep into it, otherwise than as they might creep along the coast of Africa, towards Sallee or Santa Cruz. The North Sea was hid in a veil of impenetrable darkness. The White Sea, or Archangel, was a very modern discovery; not found out till Sir Hugh Willoughby doubled the North Cape, and paid dear for the adventure, being frozen to death with all his crew, on the coast of Lapland; while his companions’ ship, with the famous Mr. Chancellor, went on to the gulf of Russia, called the White Sea, where no Christian strangers had ever been before him.
In these narrow circumstances stood the world’s knowledge at the beginning of the fifteenth century, when men of genius began to look abroad and about them. Now, as it was wonderful to see a world so full of people, and people so capable of improving, yet so stupid and so blind, so ignorant and so perfectly unimproved; it was wonderful to see with what a general alacrity they took the alarm, almost all together, preparing themselves as it were on a sudden, by a general inspiration, to spread knowledge through the earth and to search into every thing that it was possible to uncover.
How surprising is it to look back so little a way behind us and see that even in less than two hundred years all this (now so self-wise) part of the world did not so much as know whether there was any such place as a Russia, a China, a Guinea, a Greenland, or a North Cape! That as to America, it was never supposed there was any such place; neither had the world, though they stood upon the shoulders of four thousand years’ experience, the least thought so much as that there was any land that way!1
As they were ignorant of places, so of things also; so vast are the improvements of science that all our knowledge of mathematics, of nature, of the brightest part of human wisdom, had their admission among us within these two last centuries.
What was the world, then, before? And to what were the heads and hands of mankind applied? The rich had no commerce, the poor no employment; war and the sword was the great field of honor, the stage of preferment; and you have scarce a man eminent in the world for any thing before that time but for a furious, outrageous falling upon his fellow-creatures, like Nimrod and his successors of modern memory.
The world is now daily increasing in experimental knowledge; and let no man flatter the age with pretending we have arrived at a perfection of discoveries.
THE WASTE OF LIFE1
Anergus was a gentleman of a good estate; he was bred to no business and could not contrive how to waste his hours agreeably; he had no relish for any of the proper works of life, nor any taste at all for the improvements of the mind; he spent generally ten hours of the four-and-twenty in his bed; he dozed away two or three more on his couch, and as many were dissolved in good liquor every evening if he met with company of his own humor. Five or six of the rest he sauntered away with much indolence; the chief business of them was to contrive his meals, and to feed his fancy beforehand with the promise of a dinner and supper; not that he was so absolute a glutton, or so entirely devoted to appetite, but chiefly because he knew not how to employ his thoughts better he let them rove about the sustenance of his body. Thus he had made a shift to wear off ten years since the paternal estate fell into his hands; and yet, according to the abuse of words in our day, he was called a man of virtue, because he was scarce ever known to be quite drunk, nor was his nature much inclined to lewdness.
One evening as he was musing alone, his thoughts happened to take a most unusual turn, for they cast a glance backward and began to reflect on his manner of life. He bethought himself what a number of living beings had been made a sacrifice to support his carcass, and how much corn and wine had been mingled with those offerings. He had not quite lost all the arithmetic that he had learned when he was a boy, and he set himself to compute what he had devoured since he came to the age of man.
“About a dozen of feathered creatures, small and great, have, one week with another,” said he, “given up their lives to prolong mine, which in ten years amounts to at least six thousand.
Fifty sheep have been sacrificed in a year, with half a hecatomb of black cattle, that I might have the choicest part offered weekly upon my table. Thus a thousand beasts out of the flock and the herd have been slain in ten years’ time to feed me, besides what the forest has supplied me with. Many hundreds of fishes have, in all their varieties, been robbed of life for my repast, and of the smaller fry as many thousands.
A measure of corn would hardly afford me fine flour enough for a month’s provision, and this arises to above six score bushels; and many hogsheads of ale and wine and other liquors have passed through this body of mine, this wretched strainer of meat and drink.
And what have I done all this time for God or man? What a vast profusion of good things upon a useless life and a worthless liver! There is not the meanest creature among all these which I have devoured but hath answered the end of its creation better than I. It was made to support human nature, and it hath done so. Every crab and oyster I have eat, and every grain of corn I have devoured, hath filled up its place in the rank of beings with more propriety and honor than I have done. O shameful waste of life and time!”
In short, he carried on his moral reflections with so just and severe a force of reason as constrained him to change his whole course of life, to break off his follies at once and to apply himself to gain some useful knowledge when he was more than thirty years of age. He lived many following years with the character of a worthy man and an excellent Christian; he performed the kind offices of a good neighbour at home, and made a shining figure as a patriot in the senate-house; he died with a peaceful conscience, and the tears of his country were dropped upon his tomb.
The world that knew the whole series of his life stood amazed at the mighty change. They beheld him as a wonder of reformation, while he himself confessed and adored the Divine power and mercy which had transformed him from a brute to a man.
But this was a single instance; and we may almost venture to write miracle upon it. Are there not numbers of both sexes among our young gentry in this degenerate age, whose lives thus run to utter waste, without the least tendency to usefulness?
When I meet with persons of such a worthless character as this it brings to my mind some scraps of Horace:
There are other fragments of that heathen poet which occur on such occasions; one in the first of his Satires, the other in the last of his Epistles, which seem to represent life only as a season of luxury:
Which may be thus put into English:
NECESSARY HINTS TO THOSE THAT WOULD BE RICH
The use of money is all the advantage there is in having money.
For six pounds a year you may have the use of one hundred pounds, provided you are a man of known prudence and honesty.
He that spends a groat a day idly spends idly above six pounds a year, which is the price for the use of one hundred pounds.
He that wastes idly a groat’s worth of his time per day, one day with another, wastes the privilege of using one hundred pounds each day.
He that idly loses five shillings’ worth of time loses five shillings, and might as prudently throw five shillings into the sea.
He that loses five shillings, not only loses that sum, but all the advantage that might be made by turning it in dealing, which, by the time that a young man becomes old, will amount to a considerable sum of money.
Again, he that sells upon credit asks a price for what he sells equivalent to the principal and interest of his money for the time he is to be kept out of it; therefore he that buys upon credit pays interest for what he buys, and he that pays ready money might let that money out to use; so that he that possesses any thing he has bought, pays interest for the use of it.
Yet, in buying goods, it is best to pay ready money, because he that sells upon credit expects to lose five per cent by bad debts; therefore he charges, on all he sells upon credit, an advance that shall make up that deficiency.
Those who pay for what they buy upon credit pay their share of this advance.
He that pays ready money escapes, or may escape, that charge.
THE WAY TO WEALTH
as clearly shown in the preface of an old almanac entitled “poor richard improved”1
I have heard that nothing gives an author so great pleasure as to find his works respectfully quoted by others. Judge, then, how much I must have been gratified by an incident I am going to relate to you. I stopped my horse lately where a great number of people were collected at an auction of merchants’ goods. The hour of the sale not being come, they were conversing on the badness of the times; and one of the company called to a plain, clean, old man, with white locks: “Pray, Father Abraham, what think you of the times? Will not these heavy taxes quite ruin the country? How shall we ever be able to pay them? What would you advise us to do?” Father Abraham stood up and replied: “If you would have my advice, I will give it you in short; for A word to the wise is enough, as Poor Richard says.” They joined in desiring him to speak his mind, and gathering round him he proceeded as follows:
“Friends,” said he, “the taxes are indeed very heavy, and if those laid on by the government were the only ones we had to pay, we might more easily discharge them, but we have many others and much more grievous to some of us. We are taxed twice as much by our idleness, three times as much by our pride, and four times as much by our folly, and from these taxes the commissioners cannot ease or deliver us by allowing an abatement. However, let us hearken to good advice and something may be done for us; God helps them that help themselves, as Poor Richard says.
I. It would be thought a hard government that should tax its people one-tenth part of their time, to be employed in its service, but idleness taxes many of us much more; sloth by bringing on diseases, absolutely shortens life. Sloth, like rust, consumes faster than labor wears, while the used key is always bright, as Poor Richard says. But dost thou love life,then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of, as Poor Richard says. How much more than is necessary do we spend in sleep, forgetting that The sleeping fox catches no poultry, and that There will be sleeping enough in the grave, as Poor Richard says.
“If time be of all things the most precious, wasting time must be, as Poor Richard says, the greatest prodigality, since, as he elsewhere tells us, Lost time is never found again, and what we call time enough always proves little enough. Let us then up and be doing, and doing to the purpose; so by diligence shall we do more with less perplexity. Sloth makes all things difficult, but industry all things easy; and He that riseth late must trot all day, and shall scarce overtake his business at night; while Laziness travels so slowly that Poverty soon overtakes him. Drive thy business, let not that drive thee; and Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise, as Poor Richard says.
“So what signifies wishing and hoping for better times? We may make these times better if we bestir ourselves. Industry need not wish, and he that lives upon hopes will die fasting. There are no gains without pains; then help, hands, for I have no lands; or if I have they are smartly taxed. He that hath a trade hath an estate, and he that hath a calling hath an office of profit and honor, as Poor Richard says; but then the trade must be worked at and the calling followed, or neither the estate nor the office will enable us to pay our taxes. If we are industrious we shall never starve, for At the working man’s househunger looks in but dares not enter. Nor will the bailiff nor the constable enter, for Industry pays debts, while despair increaseth them. What though you have found no treasure, nor has any rich relation left you a legacy, Diligence is the mother of good luck, and God gives all things to industry. Then plough deep while sluggards sleep, and you shall have corn to sell and to keep. Work while it is called to-day, for you know not how much you may be hindered to-morrow. One to-day is worth two to-morrows, as Poor Richard says; and further, Never leave that till to-morrow which you can do to-day. If you were a servant would not you be ashamed that a good master should catch you idle? Are you then your own master? Be ashamed to catch yourself idle when there is so much to be done for yourself, your family, your country, and your king. Handle your tools without mittens; remember that The cat in gloves catches no mice, as Poor Richard says. It is true there is much to be done, and perhaps you are weak-handed, but stick to it steadily and you will see great effects; for Constant dropping wears away stones; and By diligence and patience the mouse ate in two the cable; and Little strokes fell great oaks.
“Methinks I hear some of you say, ‘Must a man afford himself no leisure?’ I will tell thee, my friend, what Poor Richard says: Employ thy time well, if thou meanest to gain leisure; and, since thou art not sure of a minute, throw not away an hour. Leisure is time for doing something useful; this leisure the diligent man will obtain, but the lazy man never; for A life of leisure and a life of lazinessare two things. Many, without labor, would live by their wits only, but they break for want of stock; whereas industry gives comfort and plenty and respect. Fly pleasures, and they will follow you. The diligent spinner has a large shift; and now I have a sheep and a cow, everybody bids me good morrow.
“II. But with our industry we must likewise be steady, settled, and careful, and oversee our own affairs with our own eyes, and not trust too much to others; for, as Poor Richard says:
And again, Three removes are as bad as a fire; and again, Keep thy shop, and thy shop will keep thee; and again: If you would have your business done, go; if not, send. And again:
And again, The eye of a master will do more work than both his hands; and again, Want of care does us more damage than want of knowledge; and again, Not to oversee workmen is to leave them your purse open. Trusting too much to others’ care is the ruin of many; for, In the affairs of this world men are saved, not by faith, but by the want of it; but a man’s own care is profitable; for, If you would have a faithful servant, and one that you like, serve yourself. A little neglect may breed great mischief; for want of a nail the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe the horse was lost;and for want of a horse the rider was lost, being overtaken and slain by the enemy; all for want of a little care about a horse-shoe nail.
“III. So much for industry, my friends, and attention to one’s own business; but to these we must add frugality, if we would make our industry more certainly successful. A man may, if he knows not how to save as he gets, keep his nose all his life to the grindstone and die not worth a groat at last. A fat kitchen makes a lean will; and
If you would be wealthy, think of saving as well as of getting. The Indies have not made Spain rich, because her outgoes are greater than her incomes.
“Away then with your expensive follies, and you will not then have so much cause to complain of hard times, heavy taxes, and chargeable families; for
And further, What maintains one vice would bring up two children. You may think, perhaps, that a little tea, or a little punch now and then, diet a little more costly, clothes a little finer, and a little entertainment now and then, can be no great matter; but remember, Many a little makes a mickle. Beware of little expenses: A small leak will sink a great ship, as Poor Richard says; and again, Who dainties love,shall beggars prove; and moreover, Fools make feasts, and wise men eat them.
“Here you are all got together at this sale of fineries and knick-knacks. You call them goods; but if you do not take care they will prove evils to some of you. You expect they will be sold cheap, and perhaps they may for less than they cost; but if you have no occasion for them they must be dear to you. Remember what Poor Richard says: Buy what thou hast no need of, and ere long thou shalt sell thy necessaries. And again, At a great pennyworth pause a while. He means, that perhaps the cheapness is apparent only, and not real; or the bargain, by straitening thee in thy business, may do thee more harm than good. For in another place he says, Many have been ruined by buying good pennyworths. Again, It is foolish to lay out money in a purchase of repentance; and yet this folly is practised every day at auctions for want of minding the Almanac. Many a one, for the sake of finery on the back, have gone with a hungry belly and half-starved their families. Silks and satins, scarlet and velvets, put out the kitchen fire, as Poor Richard says.
“These are not the necessaries of life; they can scarcely be called the conveniences; and yet, only because they look pretty, how many want to have them! By these and other extravagances the genteel are reduced to poverty and forced to borrow of those whom they formerly despised, but who, through industry and frugality, have maintained their standing; in which case it appears plainly that A ploughman on his legs is higher than a gentleman onhis knees, as Poor Richard says. Perhaps they have had a small estate left them, which they knew not the getting of: they think, It is day, and will never be night; that a little to be spent out of so much is not worth minding; but Always taking out of the meal-tub, and never putting in, soon comes to the bottom, as Poor Richard says; and then, When the well is dry, they know the worth of water. But this they might have known before, if they had taken his advice. If you would know the value of money, go and try to borrow some; for he that goes a borrowing goes a sorrowing, as Poor Richard says; and indeed so does he that lends to such people, when he goes to get it again. Poor Dick further advises and says,
And again, Pride is as loud a beggar as Want, and a great deal more saucy. When you have bought one fine thing you must buy ten more, that your appearance may be all of a piece; but Poor Dick says, It is easier to suppress the first desire than to satisfy all that follow it. And it is as truly folly for the poor to ape the rich, as for the frog to swell in order to equal the ox.
It is, however, a folly soon punished; for, as Poor Richard says, Pride that dines on vanity sups on contempt. Pride breakfasted with Plenty, dined with Poverty, and supped with Infamy. And after all, of what use is this pride of appearance, for which so much is risked, so much is suffered? It cannot promote health, nor ease pain; it makes no increase of merit in the person; it creates envy; it hastens misfortune.
“But what madness must it be to run in debt for these superfluities! We are offered by the terms of this sale six months’ credit; and that, perhaps, has induced some of us to attend it, because we cannot spare the ready money, and hope now to be fine without it. But ah! think what you do when you run in debt; you give to another power over your liberty. If you cannot pay at the time, you will be ashamed to see your creditor; you will be in fear when you speak to him; you will make poor, pitiful, sneaking excuses, and by degrees come to lose your veracity, and sink into base, downright lying; for, The second vice is lying, the first is running in debt, as Poor Richard says; and again, to the same purpose, Lying rides upon Debt’s back; whereas a free-born Englishman ought not to be ashamed nor afraid to see or speak to any man living. But poverty often deprives a man of all spirit and virtue. It is hard for an empty bag to stand upright.
“What would you think of that prince or of that government who should issue an edict forbidding you to dress like a gentleman or gentlewoman, on pain of imprisonment or servitude? Would you not say that you were free, have a right to dress as you please, and that such an edict would be a breach of your privileges, and such a government tyrannical? And yet you are about to put yourself under such tyranny when you run in debt for such dress! Your creditor has authority, at his pleasure, to deprive you of your liberty by confining you in gaol till you shall be able to pay him. When you have got your bargain you may perhaps think little of payment, but, as Poor Richard says, Creditors have better memories than debtors; creditors are a superstitious sect, great observers of set days and times. The day comes round before you are aware, and the demand is made before you are prepared to satisfy it; or, if you bear your debt in mind, the term, which at first seemed so long, will, as it lessens, appear extremely short. Time will seem to have added wings to his heels as well as his shoulders. Those have a short Lent who owe money to be paid at Easter. At present, perhaps, you may think yourselves in thriving circumstances, and that you can bear a little extravagance without injury, but—
Gain may be temporary and uncertain, but ever, while you live, expense is constant and certain; and It is easier to build two chimneys than to keep one in fuel, as Poor Richard says; so, Rather go to bed supperless than rise in debt.
And, when you have got the Philosopher’s stone, sure you will no longer complain of bad times or the difficulty of paying taxes.
“IV. This doctrine, my friends, is reason and wisdom; but, after all, do not depend too much upon your own industry and frugality and prudence, though excellent things, for they may all be blasted, without the blessing of Heaven; and therefore ask that blessing humbly, and be not uncharitable to those that at present seem to want it, but comfort and help them. Remember Job suffered and was afterwards prosperous.
“And now, to conclude, Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other, as Poor Richard says, and scarce in that, for it is true We may give advice, but we cannot give conduct. However, remember this, They that will not be counselled cannot be helped; and further, that If you will not hear Reason, she will surely rap your knuckles, as Poor Richard says.”
Thus the old gentleman ended his harangue. The people heard it and approved the doctrine, and immediately practised the contrary, just as if it had been a common sermon; for the auction opened, and they began to buy extravagantly. I found the good man had thoroughly studied my Almanacs, and digested all I had dropped on these topics during the course of twenty-five years. The frequent mention he made of me must have tired any one else, but my vanity was wonderfully delighted with it, though I was conscious that not a tenth part of the wisdom was my own which he ascribed to me, but rather the gleanings that I had made of the sense of all ages and nations. However, I resolved to be the better for the echo of it, and though I had at first determined to buy stuff for a new coat, I went away resolved to wear my old one a little longer. Reader, if thou wilt do the same thy profit will be as great as mine. I am, as ever, thine to serve thee,
Speaking of the prefaces to Poor Richard’s Almanacs Mr. Parton says1 :
“Year after year they play upon Titan Leeds, in whose name a rival almanac, once published by Keimer, annually appeared. Mr. Richard Saunders (Poor Richard) begins his first preface by avowing that his motive in publishing an almanac is not at all a disinterested one. ‘The plain truth of the matter is,’ said Richard, ‘I am excessive poor, and my wife, good woman, is, I tell her, excessive proud; she cannot bear, she says, to sit spinning in her shift of tow, while I do nothing but gaze at the stars; and has threatened more than once to burn all my books and rattling-traps (as she calls my instruments) if I do not make some profitable use of them for the good of my family. The printer has offer’d me some considerable share of the profits, and I have thus began to comply with my dame’s desire.’ Long ago, he continues, he would have given the world an almanac, but for the fear of injuring his friend and fellow-student, Titan Leeds. ‘But this obstacle (I am far from speaking it with pleasure) is soon to be removed, since inexorable death, who was never known to respect merit, has already prepared the mortal dart, the fatal sister has already extended her destroying shears, and that ingenious man must soon be taken from us. He dies, by my calculation, made at his request, on October 17, 1733, 3 ho., 29 m., P.M., at the very instant of the ♂ of ☉ and ☿. By his own calculation he will survive till the 26th of the same month. This small difference between us we have disputed whenever we have met these nine years past; but at length he is inclined to agree with my judgment. Which of us is most exact a little time will now determine. As, therefore, these Provinces may not longer expect to see any of his performances after this year, I think myself free to take up the task.’
The next year he joyfully acknowledged the success of his almanac, through which his wife had been able to buy a pot of her own instead of being obliged to borrow one; and they had got something to put into it. ‘She has also got a pair of shoes, two new shifts, and a new warm petticoat; and for my part I have bought a second-hand coat, so good that I am not now ashamed to go to town or be seen there. These things have render’d her temper so much more pacifick than it us’d to be, that I may say I have slept more, and more quietly, within this last year than in the three foregoing years put together.’ Returning to Titan Leeds, he says he cannot positively say whether he is dead or alive, since he was unable to be present at the closing scene. ‘The stars,’ he observes, ‘only show to the skilful what will happen in the natural and universal chain of causes and effects; but ’t is well known that the events which would otherwise certainly happen at certain times in the course of nature, are sometimes set aside or postpon’d, for wise and good reasons, by the immediate particular dispositions of Providence; which particular dispositions the stars can by no means discover or foreshow. There is, however (and I cannot speak it without sorrow), there is the strongest probability that my dear friend is no more; for there appears in his name, as I am assured, an Almanack for the year 1734, in which I am treated in a very gross and unhandsome manner; in which I am called a false predicter, an ignorant, a conceited scribbler, a fool, and a lyar. Mr. Leeds was too well bred to use any man so indecently and so scurrilously, and, moreover, his esteem and affection for me was extraordinary; so that it is to be feared that pamphlet may be only a contrivance of somebody or other who hopes, perhaps, to sell two or three years’ Almanacks still by the sole force and virtue of Mr. Leeds’s name.’
In next year’s preface the fooling is still more exquisite: ‘Having received much abuse from Titan Leeds deceased (Titan Leeds, when living, would not have used me so); I say, having received much abuse from the ghost of Titan Leeds, who pretends to be still living, and to write almanacks in spight of me and my predictions, I cannot help saying that tho’ I take it patiently, I take it very unkindly. And whatever he may pretend, ’t is undoubtedly true that he is really defunct and dead. First, because the stars are seldom disappointed; never but in the case of wise men, sapiens dominabitur astris, and they foreshowed his death at the time I predicted it. Secondly, ’t was requisite and necessary he should die punctually at that time for the honor of astrology, the art professed both by him and his father before him. Thirdly, ’t is plain to every one that reads his two last almanacks (for 1734 and ’35) that they are not written with that life his performances used to be written with: the wit is low and flat; the little hints dull and spiritless; nothing smart in them but Hudibras’s verses against astrology at the heads of the months in the last, which no astrologer but a dead one would have inserted, and no man living would or could write such stuff as the rest.’
Titan Leeds retorted by saying that there was not and never had been such a person as Richard Saunders; to which, next year, Franklin humourously replied. One preface purported to be written by Bridget Saunders, the wife of Poor Richard, and another contained a long letter from the departed spirit of Titan Leeds, assuring his old friend that he did die at the time predicted by him.
From the numbers of Poor Richard that are accessible, I select, as specimens of its proverbial philosophy, the following:
‘Love well, whip well.’
‘The proof of gold is fire; the proof of a woman, gold; the proof of a man, a woman.’
‘There is no little enemy.’
‘A new truth is a truth; an old error is an error.’
‘Drink water; put the money in your pocket, and leave the dry belly-ache in the punch-bowl.’
‘Necessity never made a good bargain.’
‘Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.’
‘Deny self for self’s sake.’
‘Keep thy shop and thy shop will keep thee.’
‘Opportunity is the great bawd.’
‘Here comes the orator with his flood of words and his drop of reason.’
‘Sal laughs at every thing you say; why? because she has fine teeth.’
‘An old young man will be a young old man.’
‘He is no clown that drives the plough, but he that does clownish things.’
‘Fish and visitors smell in three days.’
‘Diligence is the mother of good luck.’
‘Wealth is not his that has it, but his that enjoys it.’
‘Let thy maid-servant be faithful, strong, and homely.’
‘He that can have patience can have what he will.’
‘Don’t throw stones at your neighbors, if your own windows are glass.’
‘Good wives and good plantations are made by good husbands.’
‘God heals, the doctor takes the fee.’
‘The noblest question in the world is, what good may I do in it?’
‘There are three faithful friends, an old wife, an old dog, and ready money.’
‘Who has deceived thee so oft as thyself?’
‘Fly pleasures, and they ’ll follow you.’
‘Hast thou virtue? acquire also the graces and beauties of virtue.’
‘He that would have a short Lent, let him borrow money to be repaid at Easter.’
‘Keep your eyes wide open before marriage; half shut afterwards.’
‘As we must account for every idle word, so we must for every idle silence.’
‘Search others for their virtues, thyself for thy vices.’
‘Grace thou thy house, and let not that grace thee.’
‘Let thy child’s first lesson be obedience, and the second will be what thou wilt.’
‘Let thy discontents be thy secrets.’
‘Industry need not wish.’
‘Happy that nation, fortunate that age whose history is not diverting.’
‘To bear other people’s afflictions, every one has courage enough and to spare.’
‘There are lazy minds as well as lazy bodies.’
‘Tricks and treachery are the practice of fools that have not wit enough to be honest.’
‘Let no pleasure tempt thee, no profit allure thee, no ambition corrupt thee, no example sway thee, no persuasion move thee to do any thing which thou knowest to be evil; so shalt thou always live jollily, for a good conscience is a continual Christmas.’
A large part of the contents of Poor Richard is rhyme, and rhyme too generally of an indifferent quality. The following specimens are much above the average:
POETRY FOR DECEMBER, 1733
POETRY FOR DECEMBER, 1734
The astronomical notices of Poor Richard have in them a strong spice of the comic, and he has many paragraphs in ridicule of the predictions which the almanac-makers of that day were accustomed to insert.
‘During the first visible eclipse Saturn is retrograde: For which reason the crabs will go sidelong, and the ropemakers backward. Mercury will have his share in these affairs, and so confound the speech of the people, that when a Pennsylvanian would say panther he shall say painter. When a New Yorker thinks to say this he shall say diss, and the people of New England and Cape May will not be able to say cow for their lives, but will be forced to say keow by a certain involuntary twist in the root of their tongues. No Connecticut man nor Marylander will be able to open his mouth this year but sir shall be the first or last syllable he pronounces, and sometimes both.—Brutes shall speak in many places, and there will be about seven and twenty irregular verbs made this year, if Grammar don’t interpose.—Who can help these misfortunes? This year the stone-blind shall see but very little; the deaf shall hear but poorly; and the dumb sha’n’t speak very plain. And it ’s much, if my Dame Bridget talks at all this year. Whole flocks, herds, and droves of sheep, swine and oxen, cocks and hens, ducks and drakes, geese and ganders shall go to pot; but the mortality will not be altogether so great among cats, dogs, and horses. As to old age, ’t will be incurable this year, because of the years past. And towards the fall some people will be seized with an unaccountable inclination to roast and eat their own ears: Should this be called madness, Doctors? I think not. But the worst disease of all will be a certain most horrid, dreadful, malignant, catching, perverse, and odious malady, almost epidemical, insomuch that many shall run mad upon it; I quake for very fear when I think on ’t: for I assure you very few will escape this disease, which is called by the learned Albromazar Lacko’mony.’ ”
RIVALSHIP IN ALMANAC-MAKING
This is the ninth year of my endeavours to serve thee in the capacity of a calendar-writer. The encouragement I have met with must be ascribed, in a great measure, to your charity, excited by the open, honest declaration I made of my poverty at my first appearance. This my brother Philomaths could, without being conjurers, discover; and Poor Richard’s success has produced ye a Poor Will, and a Poor Robin; and no doubt Poor John, &c., will follow, and we shall all be, in name, what some folks say we are already in fact, a parcel of poor almanac-makers. During the course of these nine years, what buffetings have I not sustained! The fraternity have been all in arms. Honest Titan, deceased, was raised and made to abuse his old friend. Both authors and printers were angry. Hard names, and many, were bestowed on me. They denied me to be the author of my own works; declared there never was any such person; asserted that I was dead sixty years ago; prognosticated my death to happen within a twelvemonth; with many other malicious inconsistencies, the effects of blind passion, envy at my success, and a vain hope of depriving me, dear reader, of thy wonted countenance and favor. Who knows him? they cry; where does he live? But what is that to them? If I delight in a private life, have they any right to drag me out of my retirement? I have good reasons for concealing the place of my abode. It is time for an old man, as I am, to think of preparing for his great remove. The perpetual teasing of both neighbours and strangers to calculate nativities, give judgments on schemes, and erect figures, discover thieves, detect horse-stealers, describe the route of runaways and strayed cattle; the crowd of visitors with a thousand trifling questions, Will my ship return safe? Will my mare win the race? Will her next colt be a pacer? When will my wife die? Who shall be my husband? and how long first? When is the best time to cut hair, trim cocks, or sow sallad? these and the like impertinences I have now neither taste nor leisure for. I have had enough of them. All that these angry folks can say will never provoke me to tell them where I live; I would eat my nails first.
My last adversary is J. J——n, Philomat., who declares and protests (in his preface, 1741), that the false prophecy put in my Almanac, concerning him, the year before, is altogether false and untrue, and that I am one of Baal’s false prophets. This false, false prophecy he speaks of, related to his reconciliation with the church of Rome; which, notwithstanding his declaring and protesting, is, I fear, too true. Two things in his elegiac verses confirm me in this suspicion. He calls the first of November All-Hallows Day. Reader, does not this smell of Popery? Does it in the least savour of the pure language of Friends? But the plainest thing is his adoration of saints, which he confesses to be his practice, in these words, page 4,
Did he think the whole world were so stupid as not to take notice of this? So ignorant as not to know that all Catholics pay the highest regard to the Virgin Mary? Ah, friend John, we must allow you to be a poet, but you are certainly no Protestant. I could heartily wish your religion were as good as your verses.
[1 ]From the Pennsylvania Gazette, April 1, 1736.
[1 ]Qu’est ce que votre roi? Parlez-moi de notre grand monarque, morbleu! qui peut faire tout ce qu’il veut.
[2 ]Si antiquus animus plebi Romanæ esset (says one of the tribunes), audaciter se laturum fuisse de abrogando Q Fabii [dictatoris] imperio.—T. Liv., lib. xxii. cap. 25.
[1 ]Tribunos plebis appello (says an illustrious senator to the dictator), et provoco ad populum, eumque tibi, fugienti senatûs judicium, judicem fero.—T. Liv., lib. viii. cap. 33.
[1 ]From the Pennsylvania Gazette, April 8, 1736.
[2 ]Bracton: De Legibus et Consuetudinibus Angliæ; an author of great weight, contemporary with Henry the Third.
[3 ]Rex non facit injuriam, quia, si facit injuriam, non est rex.
[1 ]Dum facit justitiam, vicarius est Regis æterni, minister autem Diaboli, dum declinet ad injuriam.
[1 ]From the Pennsylvania Gazette, October 14, 1736.
[1 ]Scandinavian literature was less known when this was written than at present. The learned suppose that the Icelandic Sagas have thrown new light upon the history of early discoveries, and that there is good evidence for believing that the American continent was known to the Norwegians more than four hundred years before the birth of Columbus.—See Wheaton’s History of the Northmen, chap. ii. The best opportunity was afforded to Mr. Wheaton, during his residence in a public capacity at Copenhagen, of ascertaining the genuineness and authenticity of these ancient records, and he appears to place full confidence in them. His opinion is, however, that “the illustrious Genoese” could not have had the slightest knowledge of the discoveries of those Northern adventurers, and that the colony begun by them was probably cut off at an early period in the same manner as the first establishments in Greenland.—Ed.
[1 ]From the Pennsylvania Gazette, November 18, 1736.
[1 ]In December of the year 1732 Franklin commenced the publication of what he styled Poor Richard’s Almanac, price 5 pence. It attained an astonishing popularity at once. Three editions were sold within the month of its appearance. The average sale for twenty-five years was ten thousand a year. He was sometimes obliged to put it to press in October to get a supply of copies to the remote colonies by the beginning of the year. It has been translated into nearly if not quite every written language, and several different translations of it have been made into the French and German. It contains some of the best fun as well as the wisest counsel that ever emanated from his pen.
[1 ]Parton’s Life of Franklin, vol. i., 228.
[1 ]Some parts of this humorous Piece will be explained by the following address, contained in Poor Richard’s Almanac for the year 1736 “Loving Readers: