Golden Nuggets from U. S. History

The Blue Quill Series
Concord Learning Systems

Benjamin Franklin and Poor Richard's Almanac

Seniors remember well the "Farmer's Almanac" (c. WWII) but youngsters can hardly define "almanac." What was so special about "Poor Richard's Almanack"?

Franklin left special legacies: inventions, experiments, founding father, diplomat, statesman, and philosopher. Another activity contributing to his fame and fortune was the publication of Poor Richard's Almanack, begun in 1732. By that time Franklin was a well known Philadelphia printer and the Almanack was intended for Philadelphians. He chose to publish under the pen name, R. SAUNDERS. The introductory essay from the 1733 issue continued the tone of the first:

[Spelling, punctuation, and capitalization retained from original text.]

"Courteous Reader_,
I might in this place 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; and Men are now a-days too wise to be deceiv'd by Pretences how specious soever. The plain Truth of the Matter is, 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 threatned 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 begun to comply with my Dame's desire."

Of course, Franklin himself was the "printer" and the "Rattling-Traps" were, no doubt, a reference to his scientific paraphernalia but in contrast to his claim of "excessive poor" he was, by this time, beginning to earn a decent living from his print shop. It's not clear how many copies of the first and second editions were actually purchased but the Rev. Charles A. Goodrich, in his 1829 book, Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence, reports that 10,000 copies per year were published for 25 years. From those, Franklin became a wealthy man.

In that same 1733 issue "Richard" revealed a forecast he had made years before, but not of the weather... He claimed to have predicted that:

"my good Friend and Fellow-Student, Mr. Titan Leeds" would die on "on Oct. 17. 1733. 3 ho. 29 m. P.M. at the very instant..."

The forecast, according to Richard was made at Leeds request but then Leeds had made his own calculation and decided that Richard had erred on the date. Leeds predicted the date to be the 26th of October.

Richard then requested the public's support for his prediction instead of Leeds' and suggested that the public was doing a great service by purchasing the 'Almanack' to demonstrate that support. No doubt, when the 1734 issue became available, the public was anxious to see which prediction was correct.

The 1734 issue began with the following:

"Courteous Readers,
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; nor have we ever since been without something of our own to put in 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 now not asham'd 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. Accept my hearty Thanks therefor, and my sincere Wishes for your Health and Prosperity."

Richard then goes into an apology for not being able to tell which death prediction was correct because his own health had not allowed him to check on the status of Mr. Leeds and, furthermore, he could not vouch that Leeds was dead, but he assured his readers that he would look into the matter. Richard then bemoans that a different almanac had already been published for 1734 and in it he, Richard, was "called a false Predicter, an Ignorant, a conceited Scribler, a Fool, and a Lyar." Richard says the publication was citing Titan Leeds but goes on to say:

"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 Year's Almanacks still, by the sole Force and Virtue of Mr. Leeds's Name; but certainly, to put Words into the Mouth of a Gentleman and a Man of Letters, against his Friend, which the meanest and most scandalous of the People might be asham'd to utter even in a drunken Quarrel, is an unpardonable Injury to his Memory, and an Imposition upon the Publick." _____R. SAUNDERS

It was these contrivances, much like a serial publication, that kept the Almanack in high demand year after year but that was not all. Franklin's witticisms, poems, and versus were soon quoted in publications around the world. Here are excerpts:

  • "Visits should be short, like a winters day, Lest you're too troublesom hasten away."
  • "Light purse, heavy heart."
  • "Ne'er take a wife till thou hast a house (& a fire) to put her in."
  • "Relation without friendship, friendship without power, power without will, will witho. effect, effect without profit, & profit without vertue, are not worth a farto."
  • "Eat to live, and not live to eat." -- "To lengthen thy Life, lessen thy Meals."
  • "Fools make feasts and wise men eat 'em."
  • "Beware of the young Doctor & the old Barber."
  • "There is no little enemy."
  • "God works wonders now & then; Behold! a Lawyer, an honest Man!"
  • "No man e'er was glorious, who was not laborious."
  • "If you ride a Horse, sit close and tight, If you ride a Man, sit easy and light."
  • "Lawyers, Preachers, and Tomtits Eggs, there are more of them hatch'd than come to perfection."
  • "He that cannot obey, cannot command."
  • "A learned blockhead is a greater blockhead than an ignorant one."
  • "Be slow in chusing a Friend, slower in changing."
  • "Three may keep a Secret, if two of them are dead."
  • "Of learned Fools I have seen ten times ten,
    Of unlearned wise men I have seen a hundred."
  • "Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy wealthy and wise."
  • "Here comes the Orator! with his Flood of Words, and his Drop of Reason."
  • "Fish & Visitors stink in 3 days."
  • "None preaches better than the ant, and she says nothing."
  • "The rotten Apple spoils his Companion."
  • "Don't throw stones at your neighbours, if your own windows are glass."
  • "He that speaks much, is much mistaken."
  • "Creditors have better memories than debtors."
  • "He that scatters Thorns, let him not go barefoot."
  • "God heals, and the Doctor takes the Fees."
  • "A countryman between 2 Lawyers, is like a fish between two cats."
  • "Well done is better than well said."
  • "There are three faithful friends, an old wife, an old dog, and ready money."
  • "If thou hast wit & learning, add to it Wisdom and Modesty."
  • "Wink at small faults; remember thou hast great ones."
  • "Make haste slowly."
  • "He's a Fool that cannot conceal his Wisdom."

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