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imitating the engraved copies, though they never reach the wished-for excellence of those copies, their hand is mended by the endeavour, and is tolerable while it continues fair and legible.
It may be well my posterity should be informed, that to this little artifice, with the blessing of God, their ancestor owed the constant felicity of his life, down to his seventy-ninth year, in which this is written. What reverses may attend the remainder is in the hand of Providence; but, if they arrive, the reflection on past happiness enjoyed ought to help his bearing them with more resignation. To Temperance he ascribes his long continued health, and what is still left to him of a good constitution; to Industry and Frugality, the early easiness of his circumstances and acquisition of his fortune, with all that knowledge that enabled him to be a useful citizen, and obtained for him some degree of reputation among the learned ; to Sincerity and Justice, the confidence of his country, and the honorable employs it conferred upon him; and to the joint influence of the whole mass of the virtues, even in the imperfect state he was able to acquire them, all that evenness of temper, and that cheerfulness in conversation, which makes his company still sought for, and agreeable even to his young acquaint
I hope, therefore, that some of my descendants may follow the example and reap the benefit.
It will be remarked, that, though my scheme was not wholly without religion, there was in it no mark of any of the distinguishing tenets of any particular sect. I had purposely avoided them; for, being fully persuaded of the utility and excellency of my method, and that it might be serviceable to people in all religions, and intending some time or other to publish it, I would not have any thing in it that should preju
dice any one, of any sect, against it. I proposed writing a little comment on each virtue, in which I would have shown the advantages of possessing it, and the mischiefs attending its opposite vice; I should have called my book THE ART OF VIRTUE, because it would have shown the means and manner of obtaining virtue, 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 ii. 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 endeavoured 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 endeavour 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, 1 conceive, I apprehend, or I imagine, a thing to be so or 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. 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.
Scheme of a Society for extending the Influence of Virtue. — Belief in
one God, the Immortality of the Soul, and future Rewards and Punishments. — Poor Richard's Almanac. - Rules for conducting a Newspaper. Controversy concerning Hemphill the Preacher. Studies the French, Italian, and Spanish Languages. — Visits Boston.— The Junto. — Chosen Clerk of the Assembly. — Appointed Postmaster of Philadelphia. Suggests Improvements in the City Watch. – Establishes a 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, viz.
“ 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.
“ 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 itent upon his particular interest; which, thwarting others, breaks that party into divisions, and occasions more confusion.
* The preceding chapter was written at Passy. In a memorandum, which he made when he again resumed the narrative four years afterwards, he says, “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. — Editor.