Little Bits of History

Poor Ben

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 28, 2011

Benjamin Franklin

December 28, 1732: The Pennsylvania Gazette, owned and operated by printer Benjamin Franklin, runs an ad for a pamphlet put out by Richard Saunders. Poor Richard’s Almanack was a pet project for Franklin from 1732 to 1758. The pamphlet “printed and folded by B. Franklin,” as it stated on the cover, was a best seller in the colonies. Franklin printed and folded up to 10,000 copies per year.

The Almanack was based on similar versions from the previous 200 years as published in England. Franklin’s calendar, for instance, contained saints’ days from the Church of England and important dates such as birthdays and ascension to the throne for English monarchs. He included weather information, poems, astronomical information, and the occasional mathematical exercise. In 1750 he included what we would call demographic statistics.

The books are best known for the aphorisms and proverbs included as a humorous way to instruct the general population. While Franklin used “quotes” from many sources, he updated them. Rather than strictly citing Thomas Fuller, Lord Halifax, James Howell, Samuel Richardson, etc., he rewrote the tidbits with tighter wording improving the syntax and making them more pleasant when rolling off the tongue.

Poor Richard was a fictional person that Franklin created and was based on the Jonathan Swift character, Isaac Bickerstaff. Like Bickerstaff, Saunders called himself a “philomath” or lover of learning and an astrologer. Franklin used the forum to poke fun at other astrologers, going so far as to predicting their deaths. “Poor” Richard claimed in his introductions to need money to satisfy his wife’s pride. He claimed to need the work in order to keep Bridget from burning his books and “Rattling-traps” or scientific equipment. He even let the readership know what his wife was able to purchase from proceeds from earlier years.

“A learned blockhead is a greater blockhead than an ignorant one.”

“Here comes the Orator! with his Flood of Words, and his Drop of Reason.”

“He that scatters Thorns, let him not go barefoot.”

“He’s a Fool that cannot conceal his Wisdom.” – all from Poor Richard’s Almanack

Also on this day:

Child’s Play – In 1973, Akron, Ohio stops their association with Box Car Derby after cheating becomes rampant.
Neptune – In 1612, Galileo observed the planet Neptune.