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POOR RICHARD'S ALMANAC
NOTE.— In the time of Benjamin Franklin, almanacs were a very popular form of literature. Few of the poorer people could afford newspapers, but almost every one could afford an almanac once a year; and the anecdotes and scraps of information which these contained in addition to their regular contents, were read and .re-read everywhere.
In 1732, Franklin began the publication of an almanac. For twenty-five years, under the assumed name of Richard Saunders, he issued it annually. He himself says of it:
“I endeavored to make it both entertaining and useful; and it accordingly came to be in such demand that I reaped considerable profit from it, vending annually nearly ten thousand. And observing that it was generally read, scarce any neighborhood in the province being without it, I considered it as a proper vehicle for conveying instruction among the common people, who bought scarcely any other books; I therefore filled all the little spaces that occurred between the remarkable days in the calendar with proverbial sentences, chiefly such as inculcated industry and frugality as a means of procuring wealth, and thereby securing virtue; it being more difficult for a man in want to act always honestly as, to use here one of the proverbs, it is hard for an empty sack to stand upright.
“These proverbs, which contain the wisdom of many ages and nations, I assembled and formed into a connected discourse, prefixed to the almanac of 1757, as the harangue of a wise old man to the people attending an auction. The bringing all these scattered counsels thus into a focus enabled them to make greater impression. The piece, being universally approved, was copied in all the newspapers of the continent and reprinted in Britain on a broadside, to be stuck up in houses ; two translations were made of
it in French and great numbers bought by the clergy and gentry, to distribute gratis among their poor parishioners and tenants. In Pennsylvania, as it discouraged useless expense in foreign superfluities, some thought it had its share of influence in producing that growing plenty of money which was observable for several years after its publication.”
THE PREFACE FOR THE YEAR 1757
OURTEOUS Reader: I have heard that nothing gives an author so great pleasure as to find his works respectfully quoted by other learned authors. This pleasure I have seldom enjoyed. For though I have been, if I may say
it without vanity, an eminent author of almanacs annually now for a full quarter of a century, my brother authors in the same way, for what reason I know not, have ever been very sparing in their applauses, and no other author has taken the least notice of me; so that did not my writings produce me some solid pudding, the great deficiency of praise would have quite discouraged me.
I concluded at length that the people were the best judges of my merit, for they buy my works; and besides, in my rambles, where I am not personally known I have frequently heard one or other of my adages repeated, with as Poor Richard says at the end of it. This gave me some satisfaction, as it showed not only that my instructions were regarded, but discovered likewise some respect for my authority; and I own that to encourage the practice of remembering and repeating those sentences, I have sometimes quoted myself with great gravity.
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 a venduel of merchants' goods. The hour of 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? Won't 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,”? and ‘many words won't fill a bushel," as Poor Richard says.” They all joined, desiring him to speak his mind, and gathering round him he proceeded as follows:
Friends and neighbors, 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 in his almanac of 1733. 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, if we reckon all that is spent in absolute sloth or doing of nothing, with that which is spent in idle employments or amusements that amount to nothing. 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's the stuff life is made of,” as Poor Richard says.
1. A vendue is an auction.
2. Very few of the proverbs which Franklin made use of in his almanacs were original with him. As he said in his comment, they represented “the wisdom of many ages and nations."
3. This is similar to that other proverbial expression—“Fine words butter no parsnips."
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 of 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,” as Poor Richard says; 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,” as we read in Poor Richard; who adds, “drive thy business! let not that drive thee!” and
“Early to bed and early to rise
So what signifies wishing and hoping for better times? We may make these times better if we bestir ourselves. “Industry need not wish,” as Poor Richard says, and “he that lives on hope 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. And as Poor Richard likewise observes, “he that hath a trade hath an estate, and