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From Boyhood to Manhood|
XXXIII. Poor Richard's Almanac.
by Thayer, William M.
|"I shall have to publish an almanac to be in fashion," remarked
Franklin to his old friend Coleman. "Every printer in this country
issues one, so far as I know."
From this point, we shall drop the Christian name, Benjamin, and use
the surname, Franklin.
"A good theme to discuss in the Junto," replied Coleman. "You would
publish a better one than the country ever had, if you should
"I shall make one that differs from all issued hitherto, in some
respects. I have devoted considerable thought to the subject, and have
formed a plan, although it has not taken an exact shape yet in my own
mind. I think I will bring it up in the Junto."
"By all means do it," added Coleman; "two or more heads may be better
than one alone, even if the one contains more than all the rest."
"Much obliged," answered Franklin. "It will aid me essentially to
mature my plans, to exchange views with the members of the Junto. I
will introduce it at the very next meeting."
The subject was introduced into the Junto, as proposed, and every
member hailed the project with delight. Franklin's paper had become
the most popular one in the country, in consequence of the ability
with which it discussed public questions, and the sharp, crisp wisdom
and wit that made every issue entertaining; and the members believed
that he could make an almanac that would take the lead. The discussion
in the Junto settled the question of issuing the almanac. Its
appearance in 1732 proved a remarkable event in Franklin's life, much
more so than his most sanguine friends anticipated.
The Almanac appeared, with the title-page bearing the imprint: "By
Richard Saunders, Philomat. Printed and sold by B. Franklin."
From the opening to the close of it proverbial sayings, charged with
wisdom and wit, were inserted wherever there was space enough to
insert one. The following is a sample:
"Sloth, like rust, consumes faster than labor wears, while the used
key is always bright."
These jets of wisdom made the Almanac sparkle. The mechanical
execution of the work excelled that of any of its predecessors; but
this literary feature marked the Almanac as marvellous. It became
popular at once. Every body who saw it, admired and bought it. The
Philadelphians were proud that such a document originated in their
town. Copies were sent to friends in other parts of the country, until
"Poor Richard's Almanac" was known throughout the land. Three editions
were exhausted in about a month. For twenty-five years Franklin
continued to publish a similar Almanac, the average annual circulation
of which was ten thousand copies.
"Lost time is never found again; and what we call time enough always
proves little enough."
"Drive thy business, let not that drive thee."
"Industry need not hope, and he that lives upon hope will die
"He that hath a trade hath an estate; and he that hath a calling hath
an office of profit and honor."
"At the working-man's house hunger looks in, but dares not enter."
"Never leave that till to-morrow, which you can do to-day."
"A life of leisure and a life of laziness are two things."
"If you would have your business done, go--if not, send."
"What maintains one vice would bring up two children."
"When the well is dry they know the worth of water."
"Pride is as loud a beggar as want, and a great deal more saucy."
"Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other."
"The good paymaster is lord of another man's purse."
The large stock of wisdom and wit which the Almanac contained added
wonderfully to Franklin's fame. From the first issue his mental powers
were widely praised. He was only twenty-six years of age, but now his
intellectual ability was considered superior to that of any other
living man under fifty years of age. The members of the Junto were
greatly elated over his success.
"You have beaten yourself," remarked Coleman to him, "exceeded by far
what I expected, high as my expectations were. Nothing has been
published yet, that has created so profound interest as the Almanac."
"That is all true," said Grace. "Franklin is the theme of remark now
everywhere. People seem to be surprised that he could produce a
document of so much value. Both his business and newspaper will be
advanced by this stroke of wisdom."
"And the Junto, too," suggested Parsons; "the father of the Junto can
not receive so much applause without benefiting his child. Every body
will want to join now, to meet him here."
Each member present was too much elated to remain silent. No words
were too extravagant to express their admiration of Franklin's
ability. To their decided friendship and respect was now added an
honorable pride in being able to point to such a friend and associate.
The success of his newspaper and Almanac provided Franklin with a
supply of money, which he wisely invested. His own words about it
"My business was now constantly augmenting, and my circumstances
growing daily easier; my newspaper having become very profitable, as
being, for a time, almost the only one in this and the neighboring
provinces. I experienced, too, the truth of the observation, 'that
after getting the first hundred pounds, it is more easy to get the
second'; money itself being of a prolific nature."
Franklin was aided very much, in the conduct of his paper, by the
Junto, where different features of journalism were often discussed.
"In Boston I made a mistake," he said. "I was but a boy then, without
experience or discretion, and found great delight in personalities. I
mean to steer clear of libelling and personal abuse."
"You have so far," replied Coleman; "and thereby you have added to the
dignity and influence of your paper. There is a kind of sharpness and
critical remark that ought to characterize a good paper; and the
Gazette is not deficient in that."
"That is what makes it sparkle, in my judgment," remarked Scull. "It
is not best to be too cautious; some things ought to be hit hard; and
that is true of some men, not to say women."
"That is one thing a newspaper is for," interjected Parsons, "to
expose and remove social and public evils, and, in doing that, some
men will get hit."
"You do not quite understand me," answered Franklin; "I accept all
that Scull and Parsons say, which is not what I mean by libelling and
personal abuse. Here is a case. A few days ago a gentleman called with
an article for the Gazette, I looked it over, and found it very
"'I can not publish that,' I said to him.
"'Why not?' he asked.
"'Because it deals in personal abuse, if not in downright libelling.'
"'I will pay for its insertion,' he said.
"'So much the worse for me, to insert a libelous article for money,' I
said. 'On the face of it it appears a personal pique against the
"'But we have a free press in this country,' he insisted.
"'Free to do right, and be just and honorable toward all men, and not
free to injure or abuse them,' I retorted.
"'I supposed that a newspaper was like a stage coach, in which any
one, who pays for a place, has it,' he continued.
"'That is true of some newspapers, but not of mine,' I answered. 'But
I will do this: I will print your article separately, and furnish you
with as many copies as you want, and you can distribute them where you
please, but I will not lumber my columns with detraction, and insult
patrons to whom I am pledged to furnish a good paper for their
families.' The party did not accept my proposition, but left in high
Every member acquiesced in Franklin's views, and encouraged him to
continue the conduct of his paper on that line. It was an age of
vituperation and libelling. Probably there never has been a time since
when so many editors, in proportion to the number of papers, believed
that the newspaper was for that purpose. The gentleman of whom
Franklin spoke wanted to abuse another; but would have complained
bitterly, no doubt, to have been the object of abuse himself.
Franklin's stationer's shop proved a success; and very soon he added a
small collection of books. From 1733 he imported books from London,
and aimed to keep the market supplied with all that were popular
there. His trade in books grew to considerable proportions.
With all his business, and the improvement of odd moments in reading
and study, he found time to attend to music, and became quite an
accomplished player on the harp, guitar, and violin. His family and
company were often entertained by his musical performances.
In 1733 Franklin resolved to visit Boston. He had not visited there
for ten years.
"I must go now," he said to his foreman, "because my brother at
Newport is so feeble that he is not expected to live long. I shall
stop at Newport on my way back."
"And when will you return?"
"As soon as possible. It is only a flying visit I propose to make. I
have some business in Boston, and wish to spend a little time with my
parents, who are getting old and infirm."
He put every thing into a good condition for his foreman to handle in
his absence, and then left for Boston, where his parents embraced him
with tears of joy. There was no trace of the boy left on him now,--he
was a man in the noblest sense of the word.
Necessity compelled Franklin to cut short his visit and return,
stopping at Newport to see his brother. This was his brother James,
the printer to whom he was apprenticed in Boston. He had a prosperous
printing business in that town.
"I am very glad to see you," said James, giving his brother a cordial
and tender welcome. "You find me very feeble; and I was afraid that I
should never see you again."
"I hear of your sickness, and felt that I must come to see you at
once," Franklin replied. "I hope that your prospects are more
favorable than you appear to think they are."
"It is only a question of time; and short time, too. My disease is
incurable, and I am waiting for the end. We will let by-gones be
by-gones; I have only love for you now, my dear brother."
"You can hardly conceive how glad I am to hear you say that; for I
cherish only the sincerest affection for you. I am truly sorry for any
wrong I did you in Boston."
"That is all blotted out now," continued James, "I have one request to
make, and, if you can grant it, I shall be very happy."
"What is it?"
"My son is now ten years old, and the loss of his father will, indeed,
be a great loss to him. I had intended to instruct him in my trade;
and, after my death, I want you should take him to your home in
Philadelphia, where he can learn the printer's trade, and, when he
understands the business well, return him to his mother and sisters,
who will continue the printing house here."
"With all my heart I will do it; and I am glad to grant this favor,
not only for your sake, but for my own," responded Benjamin. "He shall
be one of my family, and I will be to him as a father, and he shall be
to me as a son."
Thus, at the grave's side, the two brothers were thoroughly reconciled
to each other, and it was not long before Franklin had James' son in
his own family.
In 1736 Franklin buried a son, four years old, a child so bright and
beautiful that strangers would stop on the street to behold him. It
was a terrible blow to the parents. He was laid in Christ Church
burying ground, where the defaced and much-broken headstone still
bears this inscription:
SON OF BENJAMIN AND DEBORAH FRANKLIN,
DECEASED NOV. 21, 1736,
AGED 4 YEARS, 1 MONTH, AND 1 DAY.
THE DELIGHT OF ALL THAT KNEW HIM."
Franklin proved a staunch friend of the celebrated George Whitefield
when he visited Philadelphia in 1739. There was great opposition to
his work. At first, one or two pastors admitted him to their pulpits;
but the opposition grew so intense, that all the churches were closed
against him, and he was obliged to preach in the fields. Franklin
denounced this treatment in his paper and by his voice, in the Junto
and on the street.
"You talk about being called to the work of the ministry," he said to
one of the Philadelphia clergy; "if ability and great power in the
pulpit are evidence of being called of God, then Whitefield must have
had a louder call than any of you."
"But he is very peculiar in his methods, and harsh in his treatment of
sinners," suggested the minister.
"But if we sinners do not object, why should you saints? We have heard
him say nothing but the truth yet."
"All that may be true," continued the preacher, "but so much
excitement is not healthy for the spiritual growth of the people."
"When did you, or any one else, ever see so great moral and spiritual
improvement of the people," said Franklin, "as we have seen since
Whitefield has been preaching here? The whole population appears to be
thinking about religion."
"Excitement! excitement!" exclaimed the minister; "and when Whitefield
is gone, there will be a reaction, and the last state of the people
will be worse than the first."
So Franklin supported Whitefield, was a constant attendant upon his
ministrations, and a lasting friendship grew up between them.
"Let us put up a building for him to preach in, now that he is
excluded from the churches," proposed Franklin to a number of
Whitefield's friends, who were discussing the situation. "A preacher
of so much power and self-denial should be sustained."
"A capital suggestion!" answered one of the number, "and you are the
man to carry the measure into effect."
"A rough building is all that is necessary for our purpose; the finish
will be in the preaching," added Franklin. "A preacher of any
denomination whatever, who comes here to instruct the people, without
money and without price, should be provided with a place for worship."
"Yes, even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary
here, I would provide a place for him to hold forth and not turn him
into the street," responded Coleman.
"I will announce in the Gazette at once what our purpose is, and
call a meeting," continued Franklin. "The announcement will test the
feelings of the people on the subject."
"Let it be done in a hurry, too," said Coleman. "Public sentiment is
ripe for something now, and I think the citizens will endorse the
The project was announced, a meeting called, and subscriptions
obtained with little effort, to erect a building one hundred feet long
and seventy wide. In an almost incredibly short time the house of
worship was completed, and Whitefield occupied it.