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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 undertake it."

"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."

"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 fasting."

"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."
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.

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 were:
"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 objectionable.

"'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 party.'

"'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 temper."

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:
"FRANCIS F., 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 scheme."

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.

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