In the first Poor Richard’s Almanack (1733), addressed to “Courteous Reader,” Ben Franklin wrote,
I might … attempt to gain thy Favour, by declaring that I write Almanacks with no other View than that of the publick Good; but in this I should not be sincere…. The plain Truth of the Matter is, I am excessive poor, and my Wife, good Woman, is … excessive proud … and has threatened … to burn all my Books and Rattling-Traps … if I do not make some profitable Use of them…. The Printer has offer’d me [a] share of the Profits, and I have thus begun to comply with my Dame’s desire … /s/ Richard Saunders
In 1734, “Richard” followed up:
Your kind and charitable Assistance last Year, in purchasing so large an Impression of my Almanacks, has made my Circumstances much more easy in the World, and requires my grateful Acknowledgment. My Wife has been enabled to get a Pot of her own, and is no longer oblig’d to borrow one from a Neighbour;.… 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 now not asham’d to go to Town or be seen there.
Here’s a smattering of maxims from the 1734 edition:
Blame-all and Praise-all are two blockheads.
No man e’er was glorious, who was not laborious.
In success be moderate …
Beauty & folly are old companions.
Hope of gain/ Lessens pain.
Lawyers, Preachers, and Tomtits Eggs, there are more of them hatch’d than come to perfection.
Don’t value a man for the Quality he is of, but for the Qualities he possesses.
Teach your child to hold his tongue, he’ll learn fast enough to speak.
In the 1739 Almanack, Richard wrote, introductorily:
… I once more present thee with an Almanack, which is the 7th of my Publication.... I hope the profess’d Teachers of Mankind will excuse my scattering here and there some instructive Hints in Matters of Morality and Religion. And be not thou disturbed … if among the many serious Sentences in my Book, thou findest me trifling now and then, and talking idly. In all the Dishes I have hitherto cook’d for thee, there is solid Meat enough for thy Money. There are Scraps from the Table of Wisdom, that will if well digested, yield strong Nourishment to thy Mind.
And, in the book proper, we find:
Kings and Bears often worry their Keepers.
Historians relate, not so much what is done, as what they would have believed.
He that falls in love with himself, will have no Rivals.
Sin is not hurtful because it is forbidden but it is forbidden because it’s hurtful. Nor is a Duty beneficial because it is commanded, but it is commanded, because it’s beneficial.
The Philadelphians loved it. And the appealing Poor Richard never cited any authority for any of his sayings. For all one could tell, they were his original material. Stay tuned. In a couple of weeks, we’ll wrap this topic up.
Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at email@example.com.