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“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 interest were united, and so did not act from a principle of benevolence. “That fewer still, in public affairs, act with a view to the 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 every thing that might shock the professors of any religion. It is expressed in these words; viz. “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 beforementioned 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 endeavoured 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 neighbourhood 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.
* Considering the remarkable success of this Almanac, and the great celebrity it has attained, particularly the summary of maxims selected from it, and published separately under the title of The Way to Wealth, (see Vol. II. p. 92) the reader may be curious to see the advertisement of the first number, including the table of contents. It was printed in the Pennsylvania Gazette on the 19th of December, 1732, as follows.
“Just published, for 1733, An Almanac, containing the Lunations, Eclipses, Planets' Motions and Aspects, Weather, Sun and Moon's Rising and Setting, High Water, &c.; besides many pleasant and witty Verses, Jests, and Sayings; Author's Motive of Writing; Prediction of the Death of his Friend, Mr. Titan Leeds; Moon no Cuckold; Bachelor's Folly; Parson's Wine, and Baker's Pudding ; Short Visits; Kings and Bears; New Fashions; Game for Kisses; Katherine's Love; Different Sentiments; Signs of a Tempest; Death of a Fisherman; Conjugal Debate; Men and Melons; The Prodigal; Breakfast in Bed; Oyster Lawsuit, &c. By Richard Saunders, Philomat. Printed and Sold by B. Franklin.”
Such was the eagerness with which this Almanac was sought, that three editions were printed before the end of January, and, although he
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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 impression. 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 translations were made of it in France, and great numbers bought by the clergy and gentry, to distribute gratis among their poor parishioners and tenants. In Pennsylvania, as it discouraged useless expense in foreign superfluities, some thought it had its share of influence in producing that growing plenty of money, which was observable for several years after its publication.* I considered my newspaper, also, as another means of communicating instruction, and in that view frequently reprinted in it extracts from the Spectator, and other moral writers; and sometimes published little pieces of my own, which had been first composed for reading in our Junto. Of these are a Socratic dialogue, tending to prove, that, whatever might be his parts and abilities, a vicious man could not properly be called a man of sense; and a discourse on self-denial, showing that virtue was not secure, till its practice became a habitude, and was free from the opposition of contrary inclinations. These may be found in the papers about the beginning of 1735.f In the conduct of my newspaper, I carefully excluded all libelling and personal abuse, which is of late years become so disgraceful to our country. Whenever I was solicited to insert any thing of that kind, and the writers pleaded, as they generally did, the liberty of the press; and that a newspaper was like a stagecoach, in which any one who would pay had a right to a place; my answer was, that I would print the piece separately if desired, and the author might have as many copies as he pleased to distribute himself; but that I would not take upon me to spread his detraction; and that, having contracted with my subscribers to furnish them with what might be either useful or entertaining, I could not fill their papers
enlarged his first editions for the subsequent years, yet two editions were frequently required to supply the demand. In the Almanac for 1739, he makes the following apology for its miscellaneous character. “Besides the usual things expected in an Almanac, I hope the professed teachers of mankind will excuse my scattering here and there some instructive hints in matters of morality and religion. And be not thou disturbed, O grave and sober reader, if, among the many serious sentences in my book, thou findest me trifling now and then, and talking idly. In all the dishes I have hitherto cooked for thee, there is solid meat enough for thy money. There are scraps from the table of wisdom, that will, if well digested, yield strong nourishment for the mind. But squeamish stomachs cannot eat without pickles; which, it is true, are good for nothing else, but they provoke an appetite. The vain youth, that reads my Almanac for the sake of an idle joke, will perhaps meet with a serious reflection, that he may ever after be the better for.” It is believed that a complete series of Poor Richard's Almanac is not now in existence. After much research I have not been able to find more than one third of the numbers that were published. —Editor.