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Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack: Summary, Sayings & Quiz

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Debbie Notari

Benjamin Franklin is known as an inventor, a humorist, a founding father of the United States, and a gifted writer. In this lesson, we will examine his work Poor Richard's Almanack, a compilation of wise sayings, weather forecasts, and entertainment.

We also recommend watching Benjamin Franklin: Quotes and Autobiography and Richard Wright's Black Boy: Summary and Analysis

Brief Biography

Benjamin Franklin grew up in Boston. When he was only twelve, he became a printing apprentice and through the years, he tried creative writing, Ben wrote and published letters, supposedly from Mrs. Silence Dogood, and people loved them. Among his many accomplishments was the writing of Poor Richard's Almanack.

Poor Richard's Almanack

During the colonial days, people depended on almanacs to provide weather forecasts. Astronomers or astrologers were actually paid quite well to predict upcoming weather patterns. As many people were farmers and there were no other weather forecasters, the almanac was essential so that farmers would know when to plant their crops. Poor Richard's Almanack included these weather forecasts, letting people know whether to expect a dry or wet season so they could plan accordingly. The almanac provided a day by day forecast. To avoid confusion, notice that we spell the word 'almanac' without a 'k' at the end, even though Franklin spelled it differently.

Poor Richard's Almanack also included entertaining sayings, poems, stories, and history, but most of what Franklin compiled in the Almanack was not his original writing. Sometimes he even received credit for sayings he did not actually create.

Here are some fun quotes that can be found in Poor Richard's Almanack.

1. 'Never spare the Parson's wine, nor the Baker's pudding.'

2. 'Visits should be short, like a winters day,

Lest you're too troublesom hasten away.'

3. 'A house without woman & Fire-light, is like a body without soul or sprite.'

4. 'Kings & Bears often worry their keepers.'

5. 'Light purse, heavy heart.'

6. 'He's a Fool that makes his Doctor his Heir.'

7. 'Eat to live, and not live to eat.'

8. 'Beware of the young Doctor, and the old Barber.'

9. 'Nothing more like a Fool, than a drunken Man.'

10. 'Innocence is its own Defence.'

Other Interesting Facts

The almanacs contained a mixture of both religious and pagan advice. People would seek their horoscopes, as it were, in these writings. Based on early pagan beliefs that the world was made up of four elements - air, water, fire, and earth - corresponding body fluids were attached to the elements, and these fluids helped people understand each other and events in life. For instance, blood was equated with air. phlegm, with water, black bile with earth, and yellow bile with fire. If a person had a bad temper, he was thought as to have more blood in his body. The ideal personality would contain a balance of all four fluids. This idea can be seen in Franklin's 'Man of Signs' page with connections to astrology.

Franklin's Recollections

Interestingly, Franklin wrote about the Almanack, and here is what he had to say:

In 1732 I first published my Almanack, under the name of Richard Saunders; it was continu'd by me about 25 Years, commonly call'd Poor Richard's Almanack. I endeavor'd to make it both entertaining and useful, and it accordingly came to be in such Demand that I reap'd considerable Profit from it, vending annually near ten Thousand. . . . I consider'd 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 occur'd 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.

The last line, where it states 'it is hard for an empty Sack to stand upright,' is one example of many wise or pithy sayings, or proverbs, Franklin would include in his almanacs.

Conclusion

Franklin sold more than 10,000 copies of Poor Richard's Almanack a year. It was incredibly popular, but after about 25 years, Franklin moved on to other things, such as inventing. But these almanacs provide valuable insights into the way people lived and thought in early Colonial America. They also give us insight into the wit and humor of Benjamin Franklin, himself.

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