Front Page Titles (by Subject) XL: ON SCANDAL - The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. II Letters and Misc. Writings 1735-1753
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XL: ON SCANDAL - 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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I was highly pleased with your last week’s paper upon Scandal, as the uncommon doctrine therein preached is agreeable both to my principles and practice, and as it was published very seasonably to reprove the impertinence of a writer in the foregoing Thursday’s Mercury, who, at the conclusion of one of his silly paragraphs, laments forsooth, that the fair sex are so peculiarly guilty of this enormous crime. Every blockhead, ancient and modern, that could handle a pen, has, I think, taken upon him to cant in the same senseless strain. If to scandalize be really a crime, what do these puppies mean? They describe it, they dress it up in the most odious, frightful, and detestable colors, they represent it as the worst of crimes, and then roundly and charitably charge the whole race of womankind with it. Are not they then guilty of what they condemn, at the same time that they condemn it? If they accuse us of any other crime, they must necessarily scandalize while they do it; but to scandalize us with being guilty of scandal, is in itself an egregious absurdity, and can proceed from nothing but the most consummate impudence in conjunction with the most profound stupidity.
This supposing, as they do, that to scandalize is a crime, you have convinced all reasonable people is an opinion absolutely erroneous. Let us leave, then, these select mock-moralists, while I entertain you with some account of my life and manners.
I am a young girl of about thirty-five, and live at present with my mother. I have no care upon my head of getting a living, and therefore find it my duty, as well as inclination, to exercise my talent at censure, for the good of my country-folks. There was, I am told, a certain generous emperor, who, if a day had passed over his head in which he had conferred no benefit on any man, used to say to his friends, in Latin, diem perdidi, that is, it seems, I have lost a day. I believe I should make use of the same expression, if it were possible for a day to pass in which I had not, or missed, an opportunity to scandalize somebody; but, thanks be praised, no such misfortune has befell me these dozen years.
Yet, whatever good I may do, I cannot pretend that I at first entered into the practice of this virtue from a principle of public spirit; for I remember that, when a child, I had a violent inclination to be ever talking in my own praise; and being continually told that it was ill manners, and once severely whipped for it, the confined stream formed for itself a new channel, and I began to speak for the future in the dispraise of others. This I found more agreeable to company, and almost as much so to myself; for what great difference can there be between putting yourself up, or putting your neighbour down? Scandal, like other virtues, is in part its own reward, as it gives us the satisfaction of making ourselves appear better than others, or others no better than ourselves.
My mother, good woman, and I, have heretofore differed upon this account. She argued, that scandal spoilt all good conversation; and I insisted that without it there would be no such thing. Our disputes once rose so high that we parted tea-tables, and I concluded to entertain my acquaintance in the kitchen. The first day of this separation we both drank tea at the same time, but she with her visitors in the parlour. She would not hear of the least objection to any one’s character, but began a new sort of discourse in some such queer philosophical manner as this: “I am mightily pleased sometimes,” says she, “when I observe and consider that the world is not so bad as people out of humor imagine it to be. There is something amiable, some good quality or other, in every body. If we were only to speak of people that are least respected, there is such a one is very dutiful to her father, and methinks has a fine set of teeth; such a one is very respectful to her husband; such a one is very kind to her poor neighbours, and, besides, has a very handsome shape; such a one is always ready to serve a friend, and, in my opinion, there is not a woman in town that has a more agreeable air or gait.” This fine kind of talk, which lasted near half an hour, she concluded by saying, “I do not doubt but every one of you has made the like observations, and I should be glad to have the conversation continued upon this subject.” Just at this juncture I peeped in at the door, and never in my life before saw such a set of simple, vacant countenances. They looked somehow neither glad nor sorry, nor angry nor pleased, nor indifferent nor attentive; but (excuse the simile) like so many images of rye-dough. I, in the kitchen, had already begun a ridiculous story of Mr. ——’s intrigue with his maid, and his wife’s behaviour on the discovery; at some of the passages we laughed heartily; and one of the gravest of mamma’s company, without making any answer to her discourse, got up to go and see what the girls were so merry about. She was followed by a second, and shortly by a third, till at last the old gentlewoman found herself quite alone, and being convinced that her project was impracticable, came herself and finished her tea with us; ever since which Saul also has been among the prophets, and our disputes lie dormant.
By industry and application I have made myself the centre of all the scandal in the province. There is little stirring, but I hear of it. I began the world with this maxim, that no trade can subsist without returns, and, accordingly, whenever I received a good story, I endeavoured to give two or a better in the room of it. My punctuality in this way of dealing gave such encouragement, that it has procured me an incredible deal of business, which, without diligence and good method, it would be impossible for me to go through. For, besides the stock of defamation thus naturally flowing in upon me, I practise an art by which I can pump scandal out of people that are the least inclined that way. Shall I discover my secret? Yes; to let it die with me would be inhuman. If I have never heard ill of some person, I always impute it to defective intelligence; for there are none without their faults; no, not one. If she be a woman, I take the first opportunity to let all her acquaintance know I have heard that one of the handsomest or best men in town has said something in praise either of her beauty, her wit, her virtue, or her good management. If you know any thing of human nature, you perceive that this naturally introduces a conversation turning upon all her failings, past, present, and to come. To the same purpose, and with the same success, I cause every man of reputation to be praised before his competitors in love, business, or esteem, on account of any particular qualification. Near the times of election, if I find it necessary, I commend every candidate before some of the opposite party, listening attentively to what is said of him in answer. But commendations in this latter case are not always necessary, and should be used judiciously. Of late years I needed only observe what they said of one another freely; and having, for the help of memory, taken account of all informations and accusations received, whoever peruses my writings after my death may happen to think that during a certain time the people of Pennsylvania chose into all their offices of honor and trust the veriest knaves, fools, and rascals in the whole province. The time of election used to be a busy time with me; but this year, with concern I speak it, people are grown so good-natured, so intent upon mutual feasting and friendly entertainment, that I see no prospect of much employment from that quarter.
I mentioned above, that without good method I could not go through my business. In my father’s lifetime I had some instruction in accounts, which I now apply with advantage to my own affairs. I keep a regular set of books, and can tell, at an hour’s warning, how it stands between me and the world. In my Daybook I enter every article of defamation as it is transacted; for scandals received in I give credit, and when I pay them out again I make the persons to whom they respectively relate debtor. In my Journal I add to each story, by way of improvement, such probable circumstances as I think it will bear; and in my Ledger the whole is regularly posted.
I suppose the reader already condemns me in his heart for this particular of adding circumstances; but I justify this part of my practice thus. It is a principle with me, that none ought to have a greater share of reputation than they really deserve; if they have, it is an imposition upon the public. I know it is every one’s interest, and therefore believe they endeavour to conceal all their vices and follies; and I hold that those people are extraordinary foolish or careless, who suffer one fourth of their failings to come to public knowledge. Taking then the common prudence and imprudence of mankind in a lump, I suppose none suffer above one fifth to be discovered; therefore, when I hear of any person’s misdoing, I think I keep within bounds if in relating it I only make it three times worse than it is; and I reserve to myself the privilege of charging them with one fault in four, which for aught I know they may be entirely innocent of. You see, there are but few so careful of doing justice as myself. What reason then have mankind to complain of scandal? In a general way the worst that is said of us is only half what might be said, if all our faults were seen.
But, alas! two great evils have lately befallen me at the same time: an extreme cold, that I can scarce speak; and a most terrible tooth-ache, that I dare hardly open my mouth. For some days past I have received ten stories for one I have paid; and I am not able to balance my accounts without your assistance. I have long thought that if you would make your paper a vehicle of scandal, you would double the number of your subscribers. I send you herewith accounts of four knavish tricks, two * * *, five * * * * *, three drubbed wives, and four henpecked husbands, all within this fortnight; which you may, as articles of news, deliver to the public, and, if my tooth-ache continues, I shall send you more, being in the mean time your constant reader,
I thank my correspondent, Mrs. Addertongue, for her good will, but desire to be excused inserting the articles of news she has sent me, such things being in reality no news at all.