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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Way to Wealth
By Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790)
 
From Poor Richard’s Almanack

COURTEOUS reader, I have heard that nothing gives an author so great pleasure as to find his works respectfully quoted by others. Judge, then, how much I must have been gratified by an incident I am going to relate to you. I stopped my horse lately where a great number of people were collected at an auction of merchants’ goods. The hour of the sale not being come, they were conversing on the badness of the times; and one of the company called to a plain, clean old man with white locks: “Pray, Father Abraham, what think you of the times? Will not these heavy taxes quite ruin the country? How shall we ever be able to pay them? What would you advise us to?” Father Abraham stood up and replied, “If you would have my advice, I will give it you in short; for ‘A word to the wise is enough,’ as Poor Richard says.” They joined in desiring him to speak his mind, and gathering round him, he proceeded as follows:—  1
  “Friends,” said he, “the taxes are indeed very heavy, and if those laid on by the government were the only ones we had to pay, we might more easily discharge them; but we have many others, and much more grievous to some of us. We are taxed twice as much by our idleness, three times as much by our pride, and four times as much by our folly; and from these taxes the commissioners cannot ease or deliver us by allowing an abatement. However, let us hearken to good advice, and something may be done for us: ‘God helps them that help themselves,’ as Poor Richard says….  2
  “Beware of little expenses: ‘A small leak will sink a great ship,’ as Poor Richard says; and again, ‘Who dainties love, shall beggars prove’; and moreover, ‘Fools make feasts, and wise men eat them.’  3
  “Here you are all got together at this sale of fineries and knick-knacks. You call them goods; but if you do not take care, they will prove evils to some of you. You expect they will be sold cheap, and perhaps they may, for less than they cost; but if you have no occasion for them, they must be dear to you. Remember what Poor Richard says: ‘Buy what thou hast no need of, and ere long thou shalt sell thy necessaries.’ And again, ‘At a great pennyworth pause a while.’ He means that perhaps the cheapness is apparent only and not real; or the bargain, by straitening thee in thy business, may do thee more harm than good. For in another place he says, ‘Many have been ruined by buying good pennyworths.’ Again, ‘It is foolish to lay out money in a purchase of repentance’; and yet this folly is practiced every day at auctions, for want of minding the Almanack. Many a one, for the sake of finery on the back, have gone with a hungry belly and half starved their families. ‘Silks and satins, scarlet and velvets, put out the kitchen fire,’ as Poor Richard says.  4
  “These are not the necessaries of life; they can scarcely be called the conveniences: and yet, only because they look pretty, how many want to have them! By these and other extravagances the genteel are reduced to poverty, and forced to borrow of those whom they formerly despised, but who through industry and frugality have maintained their standing; in which case it appears plainly that ‘A plowman on his legs is higher than a gentleman on his knees,’ as poor Richard says. Perhaps they have had a small estate left them, which they knew not the getting of; they think, ‘It is day, and will never be night’; that a little to be spent out of so much is not worth minding; but ‘Always taking out of the meal-tub and never putting in, soon comes to the bottom,’ as Poor Richard says; and then, ‘When the well is dry, they know the worth of water.’ But this they might have known before, if they had taken his advice. ‘If you would know the value of money, go and try to borrow some: for he that goes a-borrowing goes a-sorrowing,’ as Poor Richard says; and indeed, so does he that lends to such people, when he goes to get it in again. Poor Dick further advises and says:—
  ‘Fond pride of dress is sure a very curse;
Ere fancy you consult, consult your purse.’
And again, ‘Pride is as loud a beggar as Want, and a great deal more saucy.’ When you have bought one fine thing, you must buy ten more, that your appearance may be all of a piece; but Poor Dick says, ‘It is easier to suppress the first desire, than to satisfy all that follow it.’ And it is as truly folly for the poor to ape the rich, as for the frog to swell in order to equal the ox.
  ‘Vessels large may venture more,
But little boats should keep near shore.’
It is however a folly soon punished; for, as Poor Richard says, ‘Pride that dines on vanity, sups on contempt. Pride breakfasted with Plenty, dined with Poverty, and supped with Infamy.’ And after all, of what use is this pride of appearance, for which so much is risked, so much is suffered? It cannot promote health nor ease pain; it makes no increase of merit in the person; it creates envy; it hastens misfortune.
  5
  “But what madness must it be to run in debt for these superfluities! We are offered by the terms of this sale six months’ credit; and that perhaps has induced some of us to attend it, because we cannot spare the ready money, and hope now to be fine without it. But ah! think what you do when you run in debt: you give to another power over your liberty. If you cannot pay at the time, you will be ashamed to see your creditor; you will be in fear when you speak to him; you will make poor, pitiful, sneaking excuses, and by degrees come to lose your veracity and sink into base downright lying; for ‘The second vice is lying, the first is running in debt,’ as Poor Richard says: and again to the same purpose, ‘Lying rides upon Debt’s back’; whereas a free-born Englishman ought not to be ashamed nor afraid to see or speak to any man living. But poverty often deprives a man of all spirit and virtue. ‘It is hard for an empty bag to stand upright.’  6
  “What would you think of that prince or of that government who should issue an edict forbidding you to dress like a gentleman or a gentlewoman, on pain of imprisonment or servitude? Would you not say that you were free, have a right to dress as you please; and that such an edict would be a breach of your privileges, and such a government tyrannical? And yet you are about to put yourself under such tyranny, when you run in debt for such dress! Your creditor has authority, at his pleasure, to deprive you of your liberty by confining you in jail till you shall be able to pay him. When you have got your bargain, you may perhaps think little of payment; but as Poor Richard says, ‘Creditors have better memories than debtors; creditors are a superstitious sect, great observers of set days and times.’ The day comes round before you are aware, and the demand is made before you are prepared to satisfy it; or if you bear your debt in mind, the term which at first seemed so long will, as it lessens, appear extremely short. Time will seem to have added wings to his heels as well as his shoulders. ‘Those have a short Lent who owe money to be paid at Easter.’ At present, perhaps, you may think yourselves in thriving circumstances, and that you can bear a little extravagance without injury, but—
  ‘For age and want save while you may;
No morning sun lasts a whole day.’
Gain may be temporary and uncertain, but ever while you live, expense is constant and certain; and ‘It is easier to build two chimneys than to keep one in fuel,’ as Poor Richard says; so, ‘Rather go to bed supperless than rise in debt.’
  ‘Get what you can, and what you get hold;
’Tis the stone that will turn all your lead into gold.’
And when you have got the Philosopher’s Stone, sure you will no longer complain of bad times or the difficulty of paying taxes.
  7
  “This doctrine, my friends, is reason and wisdom: but after all, do not depend too much upon your own industry and frugality and prudence, though excellent things; for they may all be blasted, without the blessing of Heaven; and therefore ask that blessing humbly, and be not uncharitable to those that at present seem to want it; but comfort and help them. Remember, Job suffered and was afterwards prosperous.  8
  “And now, to conclude, ‘Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other,’ as Poor Richard says, and scarce in that; for it is true, ‘We may give advice, but we cannot give conduct.’ However, remember this: ‘They that will not be counseled, cannot be helped’; and further, that ‘If you will not hear Reason, she will surely rap your knuckles,’ as Poor Richard says.”  9
  Thus the old gentleman ended his harangue. The people heard it and approved the doctrine; and immediately practiced the contrary, just as if it had been a common sermon; for the auction opened and they began to buy extravagantly. I found the good man had thoroughly studied my Almanacks, and digested all I had dropped on these topics during the course of twenty-five 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 had ascribed to me, but rather the gleanings that I had made of the sense of all ages and nations. However, I resolved to be the better for the echo of it; and though I had at first determined to buy stuff for a new coat, I went away resolved to wear my old one a little longer. Reader, if thou wilt do the same, thy profit will be as great as mine. I am, as ever, thine to serve thee,
RICHARD SAUNDERS.    
  10
 
 
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