by Paul Elmer More
[* In celebration of Franklin's Bicentenary, January 17, 1906, the Independent printed a number of papers on the various aspects of his activity. The subject allotted to me was Franklin in Literature.]But something is still wanting. Franklin the man is so much larger than Franklin the writer that, like his other contemporary, Dr. Johnson, he needs a Boswell to give him his true place in literature. Some indication of what such a work might be we have in Parton's solid and self-respecting volumes.* Here the practical achievements of the man, the supreme versatility of his mind, his dominance over the world, and his own powers of expression are so brought together as to create a figure almost comparable to the great personalities that arise from the memoirs of Boswell and Lockhart and Froude. But Parton laboured under certain disabilities. He had, in the first place, to proceed from a very imperfect edition of Franklin's writings, which did not even include a good text of the Autobiography; and he lacked something of the finished literary skill and psychological insight required for his task. His Life is, I venture to say, despite certain misapprehensions of Franklin's character, the most interesting work of its kind yet produced in this country, vastly superior to the mutilated lives of Franklin that have since been turned out for flighty readers, but it still leaves room for a book which might be a possession forever, an honour to American letters. And I have in mind at least one of our younger historians who could thus, if his other self-imposed tasks did not prevent, enroll his name among the memorable biographers.**
[* Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin. By James Parton. 2 vols. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1897. (First published 1864.)]For Franklin would meet such a biographer more than half way. Whether from some histrionic instinct in his own nature, or from some secret sympathy between his individual will and the forces that play upon mankind, the supreme moments of his career follow one another like the artificial tableaux of a drama. As a man of science his prime achievement was to discover the identity of lightning and the electric fluid. Eripuit caelo fulmen sceptrumque tyrannis, wrote Turgot of that famous event, having in mind the tyrant superstitions of both heaven and earth; and it is peculiarly appropriate that this step in what may be called the secularisation of celestial phenomena should have come from the champion of political liberty. Who was better fitted than this prophet of common sense to give an answer to Virgil's question:
An te, genitor, cum fulmina torques,Not from himself but from others comes the story of his dramatic experiment. The time is a day in June of 1752, when a thunderstorm is threatening. The scene is in the purlieus of Philadelphia. Thither Franklin and his son, fearing the ridicule of their neighbours, steal out unobserved. There they send up a silk kite constructed for the purpose and then seek the shelter of an open abandoned cowshed. The cord of the kite, except the end of non-conducting silk which they hold in their hands, is hempen, and will become, when wet, an excellent conductor. At the juncture of the hemp and the silk is a metal key, which is connected with a Leyden jar. The storm breaks and a thunder- cloud passes directly over the kite, but still there is no sign of electricity. The philosopher is in despair and begins to fear that the fine theories he has spread abroad will end in mockery., when, suddenly, the fibres of the hempen cord stand on end. He applies his knuckle to the key, feels the customary shock, and knows that he can justify himself in the eyes of Europe.
Even more striking, if less picturesque, is the scene which may stand as the climax of his long struggle to preserve the union of England and the colonies. It happened in 1774, when he was in London as Commissioner for Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, and when the feeling of irritation on both sides was at the fever point. A friendly member of Parliament had put into Franklin's hands certain letters in which Governor Hutchinson, of Massachusetts, though a native-born American, had urged the most exasperating measures of oppression against the colonies. These letters Franklin, by permission, had transmitted to Boston, where they naturally raised a tempest of indignation. Complications ensued in London, a fatal duel was fought, and Franklin, though his part in the affair was perfectly honourable, had given an occasion to his enemies for abusive defamation. And they did not miss the opportunity. A petition had been laid before the Privy Council to remove Governor Hutchinson, and Franklin was summoned to meet that exalted body in the so-called Cockpit. "All the courtiers," Franklin wrote home afterward, "were invited, as to an entertainment, and there never was such an appearance of Privy Councillors on any occasion, not less than thirty-five, besides an immense crowd of other auditors.... The Solicitor-General [Mr. Wedderburn] then went into what he called a history of the province for the last ten years, and bestowed plenty of abuse upon it, mingled with encomium on the governors. But the favourite part of his discourse was levelled at your agent, who stood there the butt of his invective ribaldry for near an hour, not a single Lord adverting to the impropriety and indecency of treating a public messenger in so ignominious a manner.... If he had done a wrong, in obtaining and transmitting the letters, that was not the tribunal where he was to be accused and tried. The cause was already before the Chancellor. Not one of their Lordships checked and recalled the orator to the business before them, but, on the contrary, a very few excepted, they seemed to enjoy highly the entertainment, and frequently burst out in loud applause. This part of his speech was thought so good, that they have since printed it, in order to defame me everywhere, and particularly to destroy my reputation on your side of the water; but the grossest parts of the abuse are omitted, appearing, I suppose, in their own eyes, too foul to be seen on paper." It would be interesting to know what the Council thought worthy of expunge. As printed, the speech of Wedderburn was sufficiently vituperative, one would think:
I hope, my Lords, he exclaimed, with thundering voice and vehement beating of his fist on the cushion before him - I hope, my Lords, you will mark and brand the man, for the honour of this country, of Europe, and of mankind.... He has forfeited all the respect of societies and of men. Into what companies will he hereafter go with an unembarrassed face, or the honest intrepidity of virtue? Men will watch him with a jealous eye; they will hide their papers from him, and lock up their escritoirs. He will henceforth esteem it a libel to be called a man of letters; homo trium literarum (i.e., fur, thief!).... He not only took away the letters of one brother; but kept himself concealed till he nearly occasioned the murder of the other. It is impossible to read his account, expressive of the coolest and most deliberate malice, without horror.... Amidst these tragical events, of one person nearly murdered, of another answerable for the issue, of a worthy governor hurt in his dearest interests, the fate of America in suspense; here is a man who, with the utmost insensibility of remorse, stands up and vows himself the author of all. I can compare it only to Zanga, in Dr. Young's Revenge:The scene is dramatic in the extreme - the vociferous, malignant accuser, the lords gloating over their victim, nodding approval to the bully and breaking out into laughter when the slander was most virulent; and Franklin, all the while standing at one end of the room in the recess by the chimney, erect, motionless, with countenance, so an eyewitness described it, as unchangeable as if carved out of wood. He would seem almost to have had in view the vicissitudes of his own life, when years before, as a young man, he had written his character of "Cato" for the Weekly Mercury: "His aspect is sweetened with humanity and benevolence, and at the same time emboldened with resolution, equally free from a diffident bashfulness and an unbecoming assurance. The consciousness of his own innate worth and unshaken integrity renders him calm and undaunted in the presence of the most great and powerful, and upon the most extraordinary occasions." But Franklin had his malicious side. In the Cockpit he wore, we are told, a full dress-suit of spotted Manchester velvet. On a memorable day, just four years later, when the treaty with France was to be signed, he took pains to appear in the same conspicuous garb-he was ever a humourist, this wily American! For the rest, the epigram of Horace Walpole is sufficiently well known:"Know then 't was -- I.I ask, my Lords, whether the revengeful temper attributed, by poetic fiction only, to the bloody African is not surpassed by the coolness and apathy of the wily American?
Sarcastic Sawney, swol'n with spite and prate,Franklin, I believe, never met Dr. Johnson; and this is a pity, for the clash between the dictator's burly insolence and Franklin's irresistible wit would have furnished an unforgettable pendant to the ignominy of the Cockpit. He was, however, brought face to face with the only other personality entirely of that age which was comparable to his own. In 1778 Voltaire, an old man tottering to the grave, revisited Paris to accept the homage of the city, and to die. The American envoys were received in his chamber, and there the patriarch of the terrible new faith that was permeating society pronounced a solemn blessing upon the representative of the rising generation. "When I gave my benediction," he wrote a few days later, "to the grandson of the sage and illustrious Franklin, the most honourable man of America, I spoke only these words, God and Liberty! All who were present shed tears." But the petted spokesmen of the century were to meet on a more eminent stage and in a more noteworthy scene. At a public session of the Academy of Sciences the two "philosophers" sat together on the platform, the lodestone of all eyes. What happened can best be related in the words of John Adams, a curious and jealous observer:
Voltaire and Franklin were both present, and there presently arose a general cry that M. Voltaire and M. Franklin should be introduced to each other. This was done, and they bowed and spoke to each other. This was no satisfaction; there must be something more. Neither of our philosophers seemed to divine what was wished or expected. They, however, took each other by the hand; but this was not enough. The clamour continued until the exclamation came out, "Il faut s'embrasser a la Francaise!" The two aged actors upon this great theatre of philosophy and frivolity then embraced each other by hugging one another in their arms and kissing each other's cheeks, and then the tumult subsided. And the cry immediately spread throughout the kingdom, and I suppose over all Europe, "Qu'il etait charmant de voit embrasser Solon et Sophocle!"This great theatre of philosophy and frivolity! Dear sir, it is the world of the eighteenth century you are naming so petulantly, the stage on which you are yourself playing a lesser but no mean part. Nor would it be easy to find a tableau more strikingly significant of the powers that had already given freedom to America and were soon to set France and all Europe ablaze. It might seem as if the Daemon of history had chosen Franklin to be the protagonist in the successive acts of that drama of mingled tragedy and comedy wherein the people of the nations were shuffled about as supernumeraries.
Other scenes might be quoted as minor episodes in that stupendous drama - the presentation of Franklin to his Majesty Louis XVI., when Franklin's wig played so comical a part; the receipt of the news of Burgoyne's surrender; and, long before these, the interrogation of Franklin before the British Parliament. For the last and most beautiful scene we must pass on to another parliament which was sitting in a far less sumptuous hall. It was in September of 1787, and the Convention of the States at Philadelphia had, after long uncertainties, drafted the Constitution which was to justify and make perpetual the labours of which Franklin had borne so heavy a share. The story is related by Madison that, while "the last members were signing, Dr. Franklin, looking toward the president's chair, at the back of which a rising sun happened to be painted, observed to a few members near him that painters had found it difficult to distinguish in their art a rising from a setting sun. 'I have,' he said, 'often and often, in the course of the session, and the vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the president, without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting; but now, at length, I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun.'" So it was the venerable man pronounced upon the work of his generation and saluted those who were about to take up the burden.
Franklin was not precisely a man of letters, yet his life is almost literature, and out of it might be made one of the great books. Not only do the salient events of his career take on this dramatic form which is already a kind of literary expression, but he goes further than that and leaves the task of the biographer half done, by using language as one of his chief instruments of activity. Even the sallies of his wit were a power, often consciously used, in the practical world. So in Paris, during the dark days of the war, a well-placed jest here and there was surprisingly effective in keeping up the confidence of our French friends. When some one told him that Howe had taken Philadelphia, he was ready with the retort: "I beg your pardon, sir, Philadelphia has taken Howe." And again when the story of another defeat was disseminated by the British Ambassador, and Franklin was asked if it were true, he replied: "No, monsieur, it is not a truth; it is only a Stormont." And throughout Paris a "stormont" passed for a lie. At another time some one accused the Americans of cowardice for firing from behind the stone walls of Lexington: "Sir," said Franklin, "I beg to inquire if those same walls had not two sides to them?" Best known of all is his pun, bravest of all puns, in the Continental Congress when there was hesitation over signing the Declaration of Independence. "We must be unanimous," said Hancock; "there must be no pulling different ways; we must all hang together." "Yes," added Franklin, "we must, indeed, all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately."
But his pen was as ready a servant as his tongue, and how diligently he trained himself to this end every reader of the Autobiography knows. From childhood he was an eager and critical student, and few pages of his memoirs are written with more warmth of recollection than those which tell of the books he contrived to buy, Bunyan's works first of all. He seems to think that the Spectator had the predominating influence on his style, and apparently he was still under sixteen when an odd volume of that work set him to studying systematically. His method was to read one of the essays and then after a number of days to rewrite it from a few written hints, striving to make his own language as correct and elegant as the original; or, again, he turned an essay into verse and back again into prose from memory. "I also," he adds, "sometimes jumbled my collections of hints into confusion, and after some weeks endeavoured to reduce them into the best order, before I began to form the full sentences and complete the paper. This was to teach me method in the arrangement of thoughts. By comparing my work afterwards, with the original, I discovered many faults and amended them; but I sometimes had the pleasure of fancying that, in certain particulars of small import, I had been lucky enough to improve the method or the language, and this encouraged me to think I might possibly in time come to be a tolerable English writer, of which I was extremely ambitious." His method - on the whole one of the best of disciplines, better, I think, than the system of themes now employed in our colleges - could scarcely have been anything for Franklin save a precocious discovery, although it had, of course, been used long before his day. Cicero tells how the orator Crassus had begun to form himself on a plan not essentially different, but turned from this to the more approved exercise of converting the Greek writers into equivalent Latin. Vertere Graeca in Latinum veteres nostri oratores optimum judicabant, said Quintilian; and Franklin's language would have gained in richness if he, too, had proceeded a step further and undergone the discipline of comparing his English with the classics.* As it is, he made himself one of the masters of that special style of the eighteenth century which concealed a good deal of art under apparent, even obtrusive, negligences. He professed to model himself on Addison, but his language is really closer to the untrimmed and vigorous sentences of Defoe. And in spirit his actual affinity is more with Swift than with the Spectator; or, rather, he lies between the two, with something harsher than the suave impertinence of Addison yet without the terrible savagery of the Dean. In particular he affected Swift's two weapons of irony and the hoax, and, if he did not quite make literature with them, he at least made history, which his predecessor could not do. Sometimes he was content to borrow an invention bodily - "'convey,' the wise it call"- as when he badgered a rival almanac maker by foretelling the date of his death and then calmly proving the truth of the prophecy out of the poor fellow's angry protestations. And entirely in the vein of Swift, if not so palpably stolen, are a number of his political pamphlets, notably, in the way of irony, the Rules for Reducing a Great Empire to a Small One. As for his hoaxes they were innumerable and astonishingly successful. They all point back to the incorrigible Dean of St. Patrick's, although one of the most famous of them was probably suggested by Walpole's fictitious letter of Frederick the Great, which drove Rousseau one stage further into lunacy. To expose the hollowness of Great Britain's claim to absolute ownership of America because that country had been colonised by Englishmen, Franklin took advantage of the ancient German settlement of England and published a so-called Edict of the King of Prussia. The result he tells in a letter to his son (October 6, 1773):
What made it the more noticed here was, that people in reading it were, as the phrase is, taken in, till they had got half through it, and imagined it a real edict, to which mistake I suppose the King of Prussia's character must. have contributed. I was down at Lord Le Despencer's, when the post brought that day's papers. Mr. Whitehead was there, too [Paul Whitehead, the author of Manners], who runs early through all the papers, and tells the company what he finds remarkable. He had them in another room, and we were chatting in the breakfast parlour, when he came running in to us, out of breath, with the paper in his hand. Here! says he, here's news for ye! Here's the King of Prussia, claiming a right to this kingdom! All stared, and I as much as anybody; and he went on to read it. When he had read two or three paragraphs, a gentleman present said, Damn his impudence, I dare say we shall hear by next post that he is upon his march with one hundred thousand men to back this. Whitehead, who is very shrewd, soon after began to smoke it, and looking in my face, said, I'll be hanged if this is not some of your American jokes upon us. The reading went on, and ended with abundance of laughing, and a general verdict that it was a fair hit: and the piece was cut out of the paper and preserved in my Lord's collection.[*That venerable schoolmaster, Roger Ascham, had his way of elaborating this method: "First, let him teach the childe, cherefullie and plainlie, the cause, and matter of the letter [of Cicero's]: then, let him construe it into Englishe, so oft, as the childe may easilie carie awaie the vnderstanding of it: Lastlie, parse it ouer perfitlie. This done thus, let the childe, by and by, both construe and parse it ouer againe: so, that it may appeare, that the childe douteth in nothing, that his master taught him before. After this, the childe must take a paper booke, and sitting in some place, where no man shall prompe him, by him self, let him translate into Englishe his former lesson. Then shewing it to his master, let the master take from him his latin booke, and pausing an houre, at the least, than let the childe translate his owne Englishe into latin againe, in an other paper booke. When the childe bringeth it, turned into latin, the master must compare it with Tullies booke, and laie them both togither.]
Other hoaxes were not so readily detected, and have even crept into sober history and criticism. There is the notorious Speech of Polly Baker, which the Abbe Raynal quoted to illustrate a point of law in his Histoire des Deux Indes, and which he refused to expunge when informed of its source. "Very well, Doctor," said he with perfect nonchalance; "I had rather relate your stories than other men's truths." And there is the no less notorious proposal for a New Version of the Bible, in which Franklin, under the plea of modernising the text, altered the first six verses of Job into a satire on monarchical government. The solemn comment of Matthew Arnold on the passage is a delightful piece of unconscious humour:
I remember the relief with which, after long feeling the sway of Franklin's imperturbable common sense, I came upon a project of his for a new version of the Book of Job, to replace the old version, the style of which, says Franklin, has become obsolete and thence less agreeable. "I give," he continues, "a few verses, which may serve as a sample of the kind of version I would recommend." We all recollect the famous verse in our translation: "Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, Doth Job fear God for naught?" Franklin makes this: "Does your Majesty imagine that Job's good conduct is the effect of mere personal attachment and affection?" I well remember how, when I first read that, I drew a deep breath of relief, and said to myself, "After all, there is a stretch of humanity beyond Franklin's victorious good sense."Alas for the proud wit of man! These stumblings of a great critic may be a lesson in humility, for us, the children of a later day. And after all, to use his own phrase, it was only a slight misplacement of sarcasm; he did not mean Franklin's merry skit, but was speaking, prophetically, of that pretentious humbug, the Revised Version. Later in life, especially during his stay in Paris, Franklin's satire became even mellower, and he took up again a form of writing in which he had early excelled. This was the Bagatelle, as he called it, the little apologue written in the lightest vein, yet containing often the very heart of his genial philosophy. Such were the Epitaph on Miss Shipley's Squirrel, The Ephemera, The Whistle, The Handsome and Deformed Leg, and the Dialogue between Franklin and the Gout, to name no others. How neatly turned they all are, how wise and gracious and tender; how they show what was lost to pure literature by the exigencies of his busy life. I cannot pass on without quoting the least of these, the letter to a young friend On the Loss of Her American Squirrel. It belongs with that long list of poems and epitaphs, half playful and half pathetic, on the pets of dear women, beginning with Lesbia's sparrow:
I lament with you most sincerely the unfortunate end of poor Mungo. Few squirrels were better accomplished, for he had a good education, travelled far, and seen much of the world. As he had the honour of being, for his virtues, your favourite, he should not go, like common Skuggs, without an elegy or an epitaph. Let us give him one in the monumental style and measure, which, being neither prose, nor verse, is perhaps the properest for grief; since to use common language would look as if we were not affected, and to make rhymes would seem trifling in sorrow.So it is that speech and action blend together inextricably to form this fascinating literary figure. He moves through the whole length of the eighteenth century, serene and self-possessed, a philosopher and statesman yet a fellow of infinite jest, a shrewd economist yet capable of the tenderest generosities. There was a large admixture of earth in the image, no doubt. His wit was often coarse, if not obscene, and, as his latest editor observes, leaves a long "smudgy trail" behind it. Not a little that he wrote and that still exists in manuscript is too rank to be printed. One might wish all this away, and yet I do not know; somehow the thought of that big animal body completes our impression of the overflowing bountifulness of his nature. If wishing were having, I would choose rather that he had not made of his Autobiography so singular a document in petty prudence and economy. Nothing in that record is more typical than the remark on his habit of bringing home the paper he purchased through the streets on a wheelbarrow - "to show," he adds, "that I was not above my business." And for economy, one remembers his visit to the old lady in London who lived as a religious recluse, and his comment: "She looked pale, but was never sick; and I give it as another instance on how small an income life and health may be supported." Possibly the character of his memoirs would have changed if he had continued them into his later years; but I am inclined rather to think that the discrepancy between the breadth of his activities and the narrowness of his professed ideals would have become still more evident by such an extension. The truth is they only exaggerate a real deficiency in his character; there was, after all, a stretch of humanity beyond Franklin's victorious good sense.
We feel this chiefly in his religious convictions; it is pressed upon us by contrast with the only other American who was intellectually his peer, Jonathan Edwards. The world in which Franklin moved lay beneath a clear, white light, without shadow of concealment, with nothing to cloud the sincerity and keenness of his vision; but far beyond, in the dim penumbra, loomed that other world of his contemporary - a region into whose treacherous obscurities those must venture who seek the comforts and sweet ecstasies of faith, and who find these at times, and at times, also, drink in only strange exhalations of deceit and vapours of spiritual pride. As often as Franklin's path approached that misty shore he drew back as from a bottomless pit. Like other men of his century, he had built up for himself his own private religion, from which the vague inherited emotions of the past were to be utterly excluded. The little book that contains his formulated creed and liturgy may still be read, an extraordinary document in the history of deism. The remarkable point in it is the frankly pagan way in which he relegates the Infinite God to realms beyond our concern, and selects for worship "that particular wise and good God who is the author and owner of our system." Even more remarkable is the "great and extensive project," divulged in the Autobiography, of creating throughout the world a kind of religious Freemasonry, to be initiated into his own doctrines and to be called The Society of the Free and Easy - "free, as being, by the general practice and habit 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 confinement, and a species of slavery to his creditors." Who can read this without recalling Lamb's panegyric of the great race of borrowers and fearing that he has "fallen into the society of lenders and little men"?
The same practical views of religion may be traced through many of Franklin's familiar letters. Sometimes they combine with his humour to form a kind of benevolent worldly wisdom, as in this letter to his sister Jane, with its mock exegesis of some religious verses written long ago by an uncle:
In a little book he sent her, called "None but Christ," he wrote an acrostic on her name, which for namesake's sake, as well as the good advice it contains, I transcribe and send you, viz.In the end one feels that both in Franklin's strength and his limitations, in the versatility and efficiency of his intellect as in the lack of the deeper qualities of the imagination, he was the typical American. If his victorious common sense excluded that thin vein of mysticism which is one of the paradoxes of our national character, he represents the powers that have prevailed and are still shaping us to what end we do not see. In particular one cannot read far in his letters without noting the predominance of that essentially American trait - contemporaneity. One gets the impression that here was almost, if not quite, the most alert and most capacious intellect that ever concerned itself entirely with the present. He was, of course, an exemplar of prudence, and thus in a way had his eye on the immediate future; but it was the demands of the present that really interested him, and the possession of the past, the long backward of time, was to him a mere oblivion."Illuminated from on high,. . . You are to understand, then, that faith, hope, and charity have been called the three steps of Jacob's ladder, reaching from earth to heaven; our author calls them stories, likening religion to a building, and these are the three stories of the Christian edifice. Thus improvement in religion is called building up and edification. Faith is then the ground floor, hope is up one pair of stairs. My dear beloved Jenny, don't delight so much to dwell in those lower rooms, but get as fast as you can into the garret, for in truth the best room in the house is charity. For my part, I wish the house was turned upside down; 't is so difficult (when one is fat) to go up stairs; and not only so, but I imagine hope and faith may be more firmly built upon charity, than charity upon faith and hope. However that may be, I think it the better reading to say-
Parton regarded Franklin as the model Christian, others find no religion in him at all. Their views depend on how they are affected by his absorption in the present, by his relegation of Faith and Hope to the attic and his choice of earth-born Charity. There is, in fact, no more extraordinary chapter in the religious history of the eighteenth century than the episode of the Autobiography which tells how Franklin deliberately set aside all the traditions and experience of the past and set himself to create a brand-new worship of his own, adapted to the needs of the hour. Was this prophetic of our cheerful readiness, long ago observed by Renan, to start a new religion among us every time a man is convicted of sin? Are Christian Science and all the lesser brood merely in the line of Franklin's projected brotherhood of "The Free and Easy"? Some of the more modern sects seem at least to have taken to themselves that society's virtue of "industry.," and have made themselves "free of debt."
And it was this overmastering sense of the present that coloured Franklin's schemes of education. Everything should be practical, and look to immediate results. Naturally the Classics, as the very embodiment of the past, received scant sympathy from him. He merely tolerated them in the project which led to the Philadelphia Academy and the University of Pennsylvania, and one of his last pamphlets, written, indeed, from his death-bed, was a diatribe against Greek and Latin.
As a writer he has all the clearness, force, and flexibility that come from attention to what is near at hand; he lacks also that depth of background which we call imagination, and which is largely the indwelling of the past in the present. A clear, steady light rests upon his works; no obscuring shadow stretches out over them from remote days, and also no shade inviting to repose. It is not by accident that his two most literary productions, in the stricter sense of that word, are the Autobiography, which might be called a long lesson in the method of settling problems of immediate necessity, and the Introductions to the Almanacs - those documents in contemporaneity that have so strangely weathered the years. Particularly the Introduction of 1757, known as the Harangue of Father Abraham, has been translated into all the languages of the world, and has almost made of Poor Richard a figure of popular mythology:
I found the good man had thoroughly studied my almanacs and digested all I had dropped on these topics during the course of five and twenty years. The frequent mention he made of me must have tired any one else; but my vanity was wonderfully delighted with it, though I was conscious that not a tenth part of the wisdom was my own, which he ascribed to me, but rather the gleanings that I had made of the sense of ail ages and nations.And the sense of all ages is pretty well summed up by Poor Richard in "One to-day is worth two to-morrows."
Return to Writings of Paul Elmer More.