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which would have distinguished it from the mere exhortation to be good, that does not instruct and indicate the means, but is like the apostle's man of verbal charity, who, without showing to the naked and hungry how or where they might get clothes or victuals, only exhorted them to be fed and clothed. James 2: 15, 16. But it so happened that my intention of writing and publishing this comment was never fulfilled. I had, indeed, from time to time, put down short hints of the sentiments and reasonings to be made use of in it; some of which I have still by me; but the necessary close attention to private business in the earlier part of life, and public business since, have occasioned my postponing it. For, it being connected in my mind with a great and extensive project, that required the whole man to execute, and which an unforeseen succession of employs prevented my attending to, it has hitherto remained unfinished. In this piece it was my design to explain and enforce this doctrine, that vicious actions are not hurtful because they are forbidden, but forbidden because they are hurtful, the nature of man alone considered; that it was, therefore, every one's interest to be virtuous, who wished to be happy even in this world; and I should from this circumstance (there being always in the world a number of rich merchants, nobility, states and princes, who have need of honest instruments for the management of their affairs, and such being so rare) have endeavored to convince young persons that no qualities are so likely to make a poor man's fortune as those of probity and integrity. My list of virtues contained at first but twelve; but a Quaker friend having kindly informed me that I was generally thought proud, that my pride showed itself frequently in conversation,-that I was not content with being in the right when discussing any point, but was overbearing, and rather insolent, of which he convinced me by mentioning several instances, – I determined to endeavor to cure myself, if I could, of this vice or folly, among the rest; and I added Humility to my list, giving an extensive meaning to the word. I cannot boast of much success in acquiring the reality of this virtue, but I had a good deal with regard to the appearance of it. I made it a rule to forbear all direct contradiction to the sentiments of others, and all positive assertion of my own. I even forbid myself, agreeably to the old laws of our Junto, the use of every word or expression in the language that imported a fixed opinion; such as certainly, undoubtedly, &c., and I adopted instead of them, I conceive, I apprehend, or I imagine, a thing to be so and so; or it so appears to me at present. When another asserted something that I thought an error, I denied myself the pleasure of contradicting him abruptly, and of showing immediately some absurdity in his proposition; and in answering I began by observing that, in certain cases or circumstances, his opinion would be right, but in the present case there appeared or seemed to me some difference, &c.
success. The materials have been growing ever since. The form only is now to be given; in which I propose employing my first leisure after my return to my other country.” He never found the leisure he anticipated.
I soon found the advantage of this change in my manners; the conversations I engaged in went on more pleasantly. The modest way in which I proposed my opinions procured them a readier reception and less contradiction; I had less mortification when I was found to be in the wrong; and I more easily prevailed with others to give up their mistakes and join with me, when I happened to be in the right.
And this mode, which I at first put on with some violence to natural inclination, became at length easy, and so habitual to me, that perhaps for the last fifty years no one has ever heard a dogmatical expression escape me. And to this habit (after my character of integrity) I think it principally owing that I had early so much weight with my fellow-citizens when I proposed new institutions or alterations in the old; and so much influence in public councils, when I became a member; for I was but a bad speaker, never eloquent, subject to much hesitation in my choice of words, hardly correct in language, and yet I generally carried my point.
In reality, there is perhaps no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history. For, even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.*
*Here concludes what was written at Passy. In resuming his Autobiography, Franklin prefaced the ensuing chapter with this “Memorandum ”: “I am now about to write at home (Philadelphia), August 1788, but cannot have the help expected from my papers, many of them being lost in the war. I have, however, found the following.” He then proceeds as in the text.
Plan of a United Party for Virtue – Poor Richard’s Almanac—Summary of Maxims — Mode of Conducting his Newspaper — Caution to Young Printers — Hint to Young Women — Rev. Mr. Hemphill — On the Study of Languages — Visit to Boston — To his Brother James at Newport— The Junto – Clerk of the Assembly — Postmaster — Public Reforms —The Watch — Forms the first Fire-company.
HAVING mentioned a great and extensive project, which I had conceived, it seems proper that some account should be here given of that project and its object. Its first rise in my mind appears in the following little paper, accidentally preserved, namely: “Observations on my reading history, in the Library, May 9th, 1731. “That the great affairs of the world, the wars, and revolutions, are carried on and effected by parties. o “That the view of these parties is their present general interest, or what they take to be such. “That the different views of these different parties occasion all confusion. “That while a party is carrying on a general design, each man has his particular private interest in view. “That as soon as a party has gained its general point, each member becomes intent upon his particular interest; which, thwarting others, breaks that party into divisions, and occasions more confusion. “That few in public affairs act from a mere view of the good of their country, whatever they may pretend ; and, though their actings bring real good to their country, yet men primarily considered that their own and their country's interests were united, and so did not act from a principle of benevolence. “That fewer still, in public affairs, act with a view to une good of mankind. “There seems to me at present to be great occasion for raising a United Party for Virtue, by forming the virtuous and good men of all nations into a regular body, to be governed by suitable good and wise rules, which good and wise men may probably be more unanimous in their obedience to than common people are to common laws. “I at present think that whoever attempts this aright, and is well qualified, cannot fail of pleasing God, and of meeting with success.” Revolving this project in my mind, as to be undertaken hereafter, when my circumstances should afford me the necessary leisure, I put down from time to time, on pieces of paper, such thoughts as occurred to me respecting it. Most of these are lost; but I find one purporting to be the substance of an intended creed, containing, as I thought, the essentials of every known religion, and being free of everything that might shock the professors of any religion. It is expressed in these words, namely: “That there is one God, who made all things. “That he governs the world by his providence. “That he ought to be worshipped by adoration, prayer, and thanksgiving. “But that the most acceptable service to God is doing good to man. “That the soul is immortal. “And that God will certainly reward virtue and punish vice, either here or hereafter.” My ideas at that time were, that the sect should be begun and spread at first among young and single men only; that each person to be initiated should not only declare his assent to such creed, but should have exercised himself with the thirteen weeks' examination and practice of the virtues, as in the before-mentioned model; that the existence of such a society should be kept a secret, till it was become considerable, to prevent solicitations for the admission of improper persons; but that the members should, each of them, search among his acquaintance for ingenious, well-disposed youths, to whom, with prudent caution, the scheme should be gradually communicated. That the members should engage to afford their advice, assistance and support, to each other in promoting one another's interest, business, and advancement in life. That, for distinction, we should be called THE SOCIETY OF THE FREE AND EASY. Free, as being, by the general practice and habits of the virtues, free from the dominion of vice; and particularly, by the practice of industry and frugality, free from debt, which exposes a man to constraint, and a species of slavery to his creditors. This is as much as I can now recollect of the project, except that I communicated it in part to two young men, who adopted it with some enthusiasm; but my then narrow circumstances, and the necessity I was under of sticking close to my business, occasioned my postponing the further prosecution of it at that time; and my multifarious occupations, public and private, induced me to continue postponing, so that it has been omitted, till I have no longer strength or activity left sufficient for such an enterprise. Though I am still of opinion it was a practicable scheme, and might have been very useful, by forming a great number of good citizens; and I was not discouraged by the seeming magnitude of the undertaking, as I have always thought that one man of tolerable abilities may work great changes, and accomplish great affairs among mankind, if he first forms a good plan; and, cutting off all amusements or other employments, that would divert his attention, makes the execution of that same plan his sole study and business. In 1732, I first published my Almanac, under the name of Richard Saunders ; it was continued by me about twenty-five years, and commonly called Poor Richard's Almanac.* 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 near 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 the 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 those proverbs, it is hard for an empty sack to stand upright. These proverbs, which contained 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 impressions. The piece, being universally approved, was copied in all the newspapers of the American continent; reprinted in Britain on a large sheet of paper, to be stuck up in houses; two anslations were made of it in France, and great numbers bought toy the clergy and gentry, to distribute gratis among their poor
* Three editions of the first number were printed before the end of Jan*ry, 1733. The title-page bears the imprint : “By Richard Saunders, Philomat. Printed and sold by B. Franklin.” The humor of these “annuals” is at times rather too broad for modern ears polite. Such was the sale of the work, that new editions had frequently to be put to press. Within the last five years, meat editions, giving the literary portion of several numbers, have been published in New York.