Front Page Titles (by Subject) XXII: THE WAY TO WEALTH - The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. II Letters and Misc. Writings 1735-1753
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XXII: THE WAY TO WEALTH - 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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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.
CAUSES OF EARTHQUAKES1
The late earthquake felt here, and probably in all the neighbouring provinces, having made many people desirous to know what may be the natural cause of such violent concussions, we shall endeavour to gratify their curiosity by giving them the various opinions of the learned on that head.
Here naturalists are divided. Some ascribe them to water, others to fire, and others to air; and all of them with some appearance of reason. To conceive which, it is to be observed that the earth everywhere abounds in huge subterraneous caverns, veins, and canals, particularly about the roots of mountains; that of these cavities, veins, &c., some are full of water, whence are composed gulfs, abysses, springs, rivulets; and others full of exhalations; and that some parts of the earth are replete with nitre, sulphur, bitumen, vitriol, &c. This premised:
1. The earth itself may sometimes be the cause of its own shaking; when the roots, or basis of some large mass being dissolved or worn away by a fluid underneath, it sinks into the same and with its weight occasions a tremor of the adjacent parts, produces a noise, and frequently an inundation of water.
2. The subterraneous waters may occasion earthquakes by their overflowing, cutting out new courses, &c. Add that the water, being heated and rarefied by the subterraneous fires, may emit fumes, blasts, &c., which, by their action either on the water or immediately on the earth itself, may occasion great succussions.
3. The air may be the cause of earthquakes; for, the air being a collection of fumes and vapors raised from the earth and water, if it be pent up in too narrow viscera of the earth, the subterraneous or its own native heat rarefying and expanding it, the force wherewith it endeavours to escape may shake the earth; hence there arise divers species of earthquakes, according to the different position, quantity, &c., of the imprisoned aura.
Lastly, fire is a principal cause of earthquakes: both as it produces the aforesaid subterraneous aura or vapors; and as this aura or spirit, from the different matter and composition whereof arise sulphur, bitumen, and other inflammable matters, takes fire either from other fire it meets withal, or from its collision against hard bodies, or its intermixture with other fluids; by which means bursting out into a greater compass the place becomes too narrow for it, so that pressing against it on all sides the adjoining parts are shaken, till, having made itself a passage, it spends itself in a volcano or burning mountain.
But to come nearer to the point. Dr. Lister is of opinion that the material cause of thunder, lightning, and earthquakes is one and the same—viz., the inflammable breath of the pyrites, which is a substantial sulphur and takes fire of itself.
The difference between these three terrible phenomena he takes only to consist in this: that this sulphur, in the former, is fired in the air, and in the latter under ground. Which is a notion that Pliny had long before him; “Quid enim,” says he, “aliud est in terrâ tremor, quam in nube tonitru?”
This he thinks abundantly indicated by the same sulphurous smell being found in any thing burnt with lightning, and in the waters, &c., cast up in earthquakes, and even in the air before and after them.
Add that they agree in the manner of the noise, which is carried on as in a train fired; the one, rolling and rattling through the air, takes fire as the vapors chance to drive; as the other fired under ground, in like manner, moves with a desultory noise.
Thunder, which is the effect of the trembling of the air, caused by the same vapors dispersed through it, has force enough to shake our houses; and why there may not be thunder and lightning under ground, in some vast repositories there, I see no reason; especially if we reflect that the matter which composes the noisy vapor above us is in much larger quantities under ground.
That the earth abounds in cavities, everybody allows; and that these subterraneous cavities are, at certain times and in certain seasons, full of inflammable vapors, the damps in mines sufficiently witness, which fired do every thing as in an earthquake, save in a lesser degree.
Add that the pyrites alone, of all the known minerals, yields this inflammable vapor, is highly probable; for that no mineral or ore whatsoever is sulphurous, but as it is wholly, or in part, a pyrites; and that there is but one species of brimstone which the pyrites naturally and only yields. The sulphur vive, or natural brimstone, which is found in and about the burning mountains, is certainly the effects of sublimation; and those great quantities of it, said to be found about the skirts of volcanoes, is only an argument of the long duration and vehemence of those fires. Possibly the pyrites of the volcanoes or burning mountains may be more sulphurous than ours; and indeed it is plain that some of ours in England are very lean and hold but little sulphur; others again very much; which may be one reason why England is so little troubled with earthquakes, and Italy, and almost all round the Mediterranean Sea, so very much; though another reason is the paucity of pyrites in England.
Comparing our earthquakes, thunder, and lightning with theirs, it is observed that there it lightens almost daily, especially in summer-time; here seldom: there thunder and lightning is of long duration, here it is soon over: there the earthquakes are frequent, long, and terrible, with many paroxysms in a day, and that for many days; here very short, a few minutes, and scarce perceptible. To this purpose the subterraneous caverns in England are small and few compared to the vast vaults in those parts of the world; which is evident from the sudden disappearance of whole mountains and islands.
Dr. Woodward gives us another theory of earthquakes. He endeavours to show that the subterraneous heat or fire (which is continually elevating water out of the abyss to furnish the earth with rain, dew, springs, and rivers), being stopped in any part of the earth, and so diverted from its ordinary course by some accidental glut or obstruction in the pores or passages through which it used to ascend to the surface, becomes, by such means, preternaturally assembled in a greater quantity than usual into one place, and therefore causeth a great rarefaction and intumescence of the water of the abyss, putting it into great commotions and disorders, and at the same time making the like effort on the earth, which, being expanded upon the face of the abyss, occasions that agitation and concussion we call an earthquake.
This effort in some earthquakes, he observes, is so vehement that it splits and tears the earth, making cracks and chasms in it some miles in length, which open at the instant of the shock, and close again in the intervals betwixt them; nay, it is sometimes so violent that it forces the superincumbent strata, breaks them all throughout, and thereby perfectly undermines and ruins the foundation of them; so that, these falling, the whole tract, as soon as the shock is over, sinks down into the abyss and is swallowed up by it; the water thereof immediately rising up and forming a lake in the place where the said tract before was. That this effort being made in all directions indifferently, the fire, dilating and expanding on all hands, and endeavouring to get room and make its way through all obstacles, falls as foul on the waters of the abyss beneath as on the earth above, forcing it forth which way soever it can find vent or passage, as well through its ordinary exits, wells, springs, and the outlets of rivers, as through the chasms then newly opened, through the camini or spiracles of Ætna or other neighbouring volcanoes, and those hiatuses at the bottom of the sea, whereby the abyss below opens into it and communicates with it. That, as the water resident in the abyss is, in all parts of it, stored with a considerable quantity of heat, and more especially in those where those extraordinary aggregations of this fire happen, so likewise is the water which is thus forced out of it; insomuch that when thrown forth and mixed with the waters of wells or springs of rivers and the sea, it renders them very sensibly hot.
He adds that though the abyss be liable to those commotions, in all parts, yet the effects are nowhere very remarkable except in those countries which are mountainous, and consequently stony or cavernous underneath, and especially where the disposition of the strata is such that those caverns open into the abyss, and so freely admit and entertain the fire, which, assembling therein, is the cause of the shock; it naturally steering its course that way where it finds the readiest reception, which is towards those caverns. Besides, that those parts of the earth which abound with strata of stone or marble, making the strongest opposition to this effort, are the most furiously shattered and suffer much more by it than those which consist of gravel, sand, and the like laxer matter, which more easily give way and make not so great resistance. But, above all, those countries which yield great store of sulphur and nitre are by far the most injured by earthquakes; those minerals constituting in the earth a kind of natural gun-powder, which, taking fire upon this assemblage and approach of it, occasions that murmuring noise, that subterraneous thunder, which is heard rumbling in the bowels of the earth during earthquakes, and by the assistance of its explosive power renders the shock much greater, so as sometimes to make miserable havoc and destruction.
And it is for this reason that Italy, Sicily, Anatolia, and some parts of Greece have been so long and often alarmed and harassed by earthquakes; these countries being all mountainous and cavernous, abounding with stone and marble and affording sulphur and nitre in great plenty.
Further, that Ætna, Vesuvius, Hecla, and the other volcanoes are only so many spiracles, serving for the discharge of this subterraneous fire when it is thus preternaturally assembled. That where there happens to be such a structure and conformation of the interior parts of the earth, as that the fire may pass freely and without impediment from the caverns wherein it assembles unto those spiracles, it then readily gets out from time to time without shaking or disturbing the earth; but where such communication is wanting, or passage not sufficiently large and open, so that it cannot come at the spiracles, it heaves up and shocks the earth with greater or lesser impetuosity according to the quantity of fire thus assembled, till it has made its way to the mouth of the volcano. That therefore there are scarce any countries much annoyed by earthquakes but have one of these fiery vents, which are constantly in flames when any earthquake happens, as disgorging that fire which, whilst underneath, was the cause of the disaster. Lastly, that were it not for these diverticula, it would rage in the bowels of the earth much more furiously and make greater havoc than it doth.
We have seen what fire and water may do; and that either of them are sufficient for all the phenomena of earthquakes; if they should both fail, we have a third agent, scarce inferior to either of them; the reader must not be surprised when we tell him it is air.
Monsieur Amontons, in his Mémoires de l’Académie des Sciences, An 1703, has an express discourse to prove that on the foot of the new experiments of the weight and spring of the air, a moderate degree of heat may bring the air into a condition capable of causing earthquakes. It is shown that at the depth of 43,528 fathoms below the surface of the earth, air is only one fourth less heavy than mercury. Now this depth of 43,528 fathoms is only a seventy-fourth part of the semidiameter of the earth. And the vast sphere beyond this depth, in diameter 6,451,538 fathoms, may probably be only filled with air; which will be here greatly condensed and much heavier than the heaviest bodies we know in nature. But it is found by experiment that the more air is compressed, the more does the same degree of heat increase its spring, and the more capable does it render it of a violent effect; and that, for instance, the degree of heat of boiling water increases the spring of the air above what it has in its natural state, in our climate, by a quantity equal to a third of the weight wherewith it is pressed. Whence we may conclude that a degree of heat, which on the surface of the earth will only have a moderate effect, may be capable of a very violent one below. And, as we are assured, that there are in nature degrees of heat much more considerable than that of boiling water, it is very possible there may be some whose violence, further assisted by the exceeding weight of the air, may be more than sufficient to break and overturn this solid orb of 43,528 fathoms; whose weight, compared to that of the included air, would be but a trifle.
Chemistry furnishes us a method of making artificial earthquakes, which shall have all the great effects of natural ones; which, as it may illustrate the process of nature in the production of these terrible phenomena under ground, we shall here add.
To twenty pounds of iron filings, add as many of sulphur; mix, work, and temper the whole together with a little water, so as to form a mass half moist and half dry. This being buried three or four feet under ground, in six or seven hours time will have a prodigious effect; the earth will begin to tremble, crack, and smoke, and fire and flame burst through.
Such is the effect even of the two cold bodies, in cold ground; there only wants a sufficient quantity of this mixture to produce a true Ætna. If it were supposed to burst out under the sea, it would produce a spout; and if it were in the clouds, the effect would be thunder and lightning.
An earthquake is defined to be a vehement shake or agitation of some considerable place or part of the earth from natural causes, attended with a huge noise like thunder, and frequently with an eruption of water, or fire, or smoke, or winds, &c.
They are the greatest and most formidable phenomena of nature. Aristotle and Pliny distinguish two kinds, with respect to the manner of the shake—viz., a tremor and a pulsation: the first being horizontal, in alternate vibrations, compared to the shaking of a person in ague; the second, perpendicular, up and down, their motion resembling that of boiling.
Agricola increases the number, and makes four kinds; which Albertus Magnus again reduces to three—viz., inclination, when the earth vibrates alternately from right to left, by which mountains have been sometimes brought to meet and clash against each other; pulsation, when it beats up and down like an artery; and trembling, when it shakes and totters every way like a flame.
The Philosophical Transactions furnish us with abundance of histories of earthquakes; particularly one at Oxford, in 1665, by Dr. Wallis and Mr. Boyle. Another at the same place in 1683, by Mr. Pigot. Another in Sicily, in 1692-3, by Mr. Hartop, Father Alessandro Burgos, and Vin. Bonajutus, which last is one of the most terrible ones in all history.
It shook the whole island; and not only that, but Naples and Malta shared in the shock. It was of the second kind mentioned by Aristotle and Pliny—viz., a perpendicular pulsation or succussion. It was impossible, says the noble Bonajutus, for anybody in this country to keep on their legs on the dancing earth; nay, those that lay on the ground were tossed from side to side as on a rolling billow; high walls leaped from their foundations several paces.
The mischief it did is amazing; almost all the buildings in the countries were thrown down. Fifty-four cities and towns, besides an incredible number of villages, were either destroyed or greatly damaged. We shall only instance the fate of Catania, one of the most famous, ancient, and flourishing cities in the kingdom, the residence of several monarchs and a university. “This once famous, now unhappy Catania,” to use words of Father Burgos, “had the greatest share in the tragedy. Father Antonio Serovita, being on his way thither, and at the distance of a few miles, observed a black cloud like night hovering over the city; and there arose from the mouth of Mongibello great spires of flame, which spread all round. The sea all of a sudden began to roar and rise in billows; and there was a blow as if all the artillery in the world had been at once discharged. The birds flew about astonished, the cattle in the fields ran crying, &c. His and his companion’s horse stopped short, trembling; so that they were forced to alight. They were no sooner off, but they were lifted from the ground above two palms. When casting his eyes towards Catania, he with amazement saw nothing but a thick cloud of dust in the air. This was the scene of their calamity; for of the magnificent Catania there is not the least footstep to be seen.” Bonajutus assures us that of 18,914 inhabitants 18,000 perished therein. The same author, from a computation of the inhabitants before and after the earthquake, in the several cities and towns, finds that near 60,000 perished out of 254,900.
Jamaica is remarkable for earthquakes. The inhabitants, Dr. Sloane informs us, expect one every year. That author gives us the history of one in 1687; another horrible one, in 1692, is described by several anonymous authors. In two minutes time it shook down and drowned nine tenths of the town of Port Royal. The houses sunk outright thirty or forty fathoms deep. The earth opening swallowed up people, and they rose in other streets; some in the middle of the harbour, and yet were saved; though there were two thousand people lost and one thousand acres of land sunk. All the houses were thrown down throughout the island. One Hopkins had his plantation removed half a mile from its place. Of all wells, from one fathom to six or seven, the water flew out at the top with a vehement motion. While the houses on the one side of the street were swallowed up, on the other they were thrown on heaps; and the sand in the street rose like waves in the sea, lifting up everybody that stood on it, and immediately dropping down into pits; and at the same instant a flood of waters breaking in rolled them over and over; some catching hold of beams and rafters, &c. Ships and sloops in the harbour were overset and lost; the Swan frigate particularly, by the motion of the sea, and sinking of the wharf, was driven over the tops of many houses.
It was attended with a hollow rumbling noise like that of thunder. In less than a minute three quarters of the houses, and the ground they stood on, with the inhabitants, were all sunk quite under water; and the little pile left behind was no better than a heap of rubbish. The shake was so violent that it threw people down on their knees or their faces, as they were running about for shelter. The ground heaved and swelled like a rolling sea, and several houses still standing were shuffled and moved some yards out of their places. A whole street is said to be twice as broad now as before; and in many places the earth would crack, and open, and shut, quick and fast. Of which openings, two or three hundred might be seen at a time; in some whereof the people were swallowed up; others the closing earth caught by the middle and pressed to death; in others the heads only appeared. The larger openings swallowed up houses; and out of some would issue whole rivers of water spouted up a great height into the air, and threatening a deluge to that part the earthquake spared. The whole was attended with stenches and offensive smells, the noise of falling mountains at a distance, &c., and the sky in a minute’s time was turned dull and reddish, like a glowing oven. Yet as great a sufferer as Port Royal was, more houses were left standing therein than on the whole island beside. Scarce a planting-house or sugar-work was left standing in all Jamaica. A great part of them were swallowed up, houses, people, trees, and all at one gape; in lieu of which afterwards appeared great pools of water, which when dried up left nothing but sand, without any mark that ever tree or plant had been thereon.
About twelve miles from the sea, the earth gaped and spouted out with a prodigious force vast quantities of water into the air; yet the greatest violences were among the mountains and rocks; and it is a general opinion that the nearer the mountains the greater the shake; and that the cause thereof lay there. Most of the rivers were stopped up for twenty-four hours by the falling of the mountains, till, swelling up, they found themselves new tracts and channels, tearing up in their passage trees, &c. After the great shake, those people who escaped got on board ships in the harbour, where many continued above two months; the shakes all that time being so violent, and coming so thick, sometimes two or three in an hour, accompanied with frightful noises, like a ruffling wind, or a hollow, rumbling thunder, with brimstone blasts, that they durst not come ashore. The consequence of the earthquake was a general sickness, from the noisome vapors belched forth, which swept away above three thousand persons.
After the detail of these horrible convulsions, the reader will have but little curiosity left for the less considerable phenomena of the earthquake at Lima, in 1687, described by Father Alvarez de Toledo, wherein above five thousand persons were destroyed; this being of the vibratory kind, so that the bells in the church rung of themselves; or that at Batavia in 1699, by Witsen; that in the north of England in 1703, by Mr. Thoresby; or, lastly, those in New England in 1663 and 1670, by Dr. Mather.
TO JOSIAH FRANKLIN
Philadelphia, 13 April, 1738.
I have your favors of the 21st of March, in which you both seem concerned lest I have imbibed some erroneous opinions. Doubtless I have my share; and when the natural weakness and imperfection of human understanding is considered, the unavoidable influence of education, custom, books, and company upon our ways of thinking, I imagine a man must have a good deal of vanity who believes, and a good deal of boldness who affirms, that all the doctrines he holds are true, and all he rejects are false. And perhaps the same may be justly said of every sect, church, and society of men, when they assume to themselves that infallibility which they deny to the Pope and councils.
I think opinions should be judged of by their influences and effects; and if a man holds none that tend to make him less virtuous or more vicious, it may be concluded he holds none that are dangerous; which I hope is the case with me.
I am sorry you should have any uneasiness on my account; and if it were a thing possible for one to alter his opinions in order to please another, I know none whom I ought more willingly to oblige in that respect than yourselves. But since it is no more in a man’s power to think than to look like another, methinks all that should be expected from me is to keep my mind open to conviction, to hear patiently and examine attentively whatever is offered me for that end; and if after all I continue in the same errors, I believe your usual charity will induce you to rather pity and excuse, than blame me. In the mean time your care and concern for me is what I am very thankful for.
My mother grieves that one of her sons is an Arian, another an Arminian. What an Arminian or an Arian is, I cannot say that I very well know. The truth is I make such distinctions very little my study. I think vital religion has always suffered when orthodoxy is more regarded than virtue; and the Scriptures assure me that at the last day we shall not be examined what we thought, but what we did; and our recommendation will not be that we said, Lord! Lord! but that we did good to our fellow-creatures. See Matt. xxv.
As to the freemasons, I know no way of giving my mother a better account of them than she seems to have at present, since it is not allowed that women should be admitted into that secret society. She has, I must confess, on that account some reason to be displeased with it; but for any thing else I must entreat her to suspend her judgment till she is better informed, unless she will believe me when I assure her that they are in general a very harmless sort of people, and have no principles or practices that are inconsistent with religion and good manners.
We have had great rains here lately, which, with the thawing of snow on the mountains back of our country, have made vast floods in our rivers, and, by carrying away bridges, boats, &c., made travelling almost impracticable for a week past; so that our post has entirely missed making one trip.
I hear nothing of Dr. Crook, nor can I learn any such person has ever been here.
I hope my sister Jenny’s child is by this time recovered, I am your dutiful son.
TO MRS. JANE MECOM
Philadelphia, 28 July, 1743.
Dearest Sister Jenny:
I took your admonition very kindly, and was far from being offended at you for it. If I say any thing about it to you, it is only to rectify some wrong opinions you seem to have entertained of me; and this I do only because they give you some uneasiness, which I am unwilling to be the occasion of. You express yourself as if you thought I was against the worshipping of God, and doubt that good works would merit heaven; which are both fancies of your own, I think, without foundation. I am so far from thinking that God is not to be worshipped, that I have composed and wrote a whole book of devotions for my own use; and I imagine there are few if any in the world so weak as to imagine that the little good we can do here can merit so vast a reward hereafter.
There are some things in your New England doctrine and worship, which I do not agree with; but I do not therefore condemn them, or desire to shake your belief or practice of them. We may dislike things that are nevertheless right in themselves. I would only have you make me the same allowance, and have a better opinion both of morality and your brother. Read the pages of Mr. Edwards’s late book, entitled Some Thoughts concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England, from 367 to 375, and when you judge of others, if you can perceive the fruit to be good, don’t terrify yourself that the tree may be evil; but be assured it is not so, for you know who has said, “Men do not gather grapes of thorns and figs of thistles.”
I have no time to add but that I shall always be your affectionate brother,
P. S.—It was not kind in you, when your sister commended your good works, to suppose she intended it a reproach to you. It was very far from her thoughts.
[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:
[1 ]This paper is contained in Duane’s edition of the author’s writings, but in no previous collection. It is taken from the newspaper published by Franklin (Pennsylvania Gazette, Dec. 15, 1737), but it is dated several years earlier than any of his other pieces on philosophical subjects, and appears to be rather a compilation from various authors than an original composition. It is not without interest, however, as presenting a curious account of earthquakes, and of the theories respecting their causes.—Sparks.