Poor Richard's Almanack

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Overview

Poor Richard's Almanack is one of Benjamin Franklin's most charming creations. He delighted in cloaking his writing behind a variety of literary personas, and Richard Saunders remains one of his most beloved, although some critics have complained that Poor Richard reveals the shallow materialism at the heart of Franklin's homespun philosophy and, by extension, at the heart of America itself. The Almanack holds a central place in understanding Franklin and his evolution from humble tradesman to founding father as ...
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Poor Richard's Almanack (Barnes & Noble Digital Library)

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Overview

Poor Richard's Almanack is one of Benjamin Franklin's most charming creations. He delighted in cloaking his writing behind a variety of literary personas, and Richard Saunders remains one of his most beloved, although some critics have complained that Poor Richard reveals the shallow materialism at the heart of Franklin's homespun philosophy and, by extension, at the heart of America itself. The Almanack holds a central place in understanding Franklin and his evolution from humble tradesman to founding father as well as providing a fascinating window into colonial America. Franklin's sharp wit still retains its ability to surprise and delight readers today.
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Editorial Reviews

Dave Barry
“What could Benjamin Franklin say that would be relevant to today's world? Plenty, it turns out.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781494435127
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
  • Publication date: 12/12/2013
  • Pages: 66
  • Sales rank: 324,753
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.14 (d)

Meet the Author

Benjamin Franklin was a writer, inventor, political theorist, diplomat, and Founding Father of the United States. He wrote under the pen name of Poor Richard from 1732 to 1757.

Paul A. Volcker was the Chairman of the
Federal Reserve during the Carter and Reagan administrations, and is best known for ending America's stagflation crisis in the 1970s.

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Introduction

Poor Richard's Almanack is one of Benjamin Franklin's most beguiling creations. He delighted in cloaking his writing behind a variety of literary personas, and Richard Saunders remains one of his most beloved, although some critics have complained that Poor Richard reveals the shallow materialism at the heart of Franklin's homespun philosophy and, by extension, at the heart of America itself. The Almanack holds a central place in understanding Franklin and his evolution from humble tradesman to founding father as well as providing a fascinating window into colonial America. And Franklin's sharp wit as it found expression through his literary alter ego still retains its ability to surprise and delight readers today.

Franklin (1706-1790) was a man of many roles-printer, author, philosopher, scientist, inventor, diplomat, and politician to name only a few. He lived a wide and varied life and found himself at the center of virtually every major event involving America during the second half of the eighteenth century. He was so successful as a businessman that he was able to retire at the age of forty-two. He proved equally adept at science, and his experiments in electricity made him the most famous American in the colonies. Politics and diplomacy took up much of the latter half of his life, and he showed himself a master of these as well, perhaps most importantly by securing the support of France during the American Revolution. And his Autobiography made him the role model for countless future generations who hoped to emulate his rags-to-riches story. To understand Franklin is, to a large extent, to understand early America.

Born in Boston as theeighth child of ten to a pious Puritan family, Franklin knew from an early age that success would come only from his own efforts. After some initial indecision about his career, he was apprenticed to his brother James, who was a printer. The choice was a fortunate one. The profession would give Franklin an influence far beyond that of almost any other trade. Franklin chafed under what he considered his brother's overbearing manner, and he eventually broke his indentures and ran away to Philadelphia in 1723 where he soon found a job with another printer. He opened his own printing shop a few years later. In 1729, he acquired a newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette. He also did most of the public printing in the colony and served as the postmaster for Philadelphia.

In 1732, Franklin began publishing Poor Richard's Almanack, which played an important role in establishing his wealth. Franklin had originally published others' almanacs, but in the waning months of 1732 he found himself without one to publish. Rather than lose the lucrative business, he decided to write his own, lifting the name Richard Saunders from the deceased astrologer-doctor and appropriating the title of his brother James' almanac, Poor Robin's Almanac.

After the Bible, the book most likely to be found on the shelves of colonial Americans was an almanac. Among the earliest known publications in many parts of the world, almanacs usually include a calendar, as well as a variety of data, including the rising and setting of the sun and moon, the phases of the moon, the positions of heavenly bodies, eclipses, high and low tides, holy days, holidays, and other miscellaneous information. This was essential knowledge for people in the eighteenth century. Sailors and fisherman relied on the information about the tides. Farmers used the book to determine when to plant crops and when to harvest them. And knowing the phases of the moon was useful for travelers in an era when there was little artificial light at night.

One almanac was a great deal like another, however, so style was essential to differentiate one's self from the crowd. And style was something that Franklin was almost effortlessly able to command. Although his format followed that of other almanacs, Franklin created a distinctive voice through the character of Poor Richard and showed a knack for marketing his new creation. In the first edition of 1733, Franklin, speaking as Poor Richard, frankly avowed his pecuniary motives for publishing an almanac (perhaps an echo of Franklin's own belief that honesty was the best policy) and also flattered his audience, something at which Franklin was always a master. "Courteous Reader, I might in this place attempt to gain thy favour by declaring that I write almanacks with no other view than the public good; but in this I should not be sincere, and men are nowadays too wise to be deceived by pretenses how specious soever." Instead, Saunders readily admitted his lack of money: "The plain truth of the matter is, I am excessively poor, and my wife, good woman, is, I tell her, excessive proud." With that introduction, Poor Richard had established himself as a man much like his almanac readers, an adept common touch that was always a hallmark of Franklin's writing.

Franklin also relied on an elaborate hoax to promote his almanac. Borrowing a stratagem from Jonathan Swift, Saunders solemnly predicted the exact hour of the death of one of the leading almanac writers in America. When the other writer took the bait and complained in his own almanac about Saunders' falsehood, Franklin continued to elaborate on the hoax in ways that furthered the notoriety and popularity of Poor Richard. Although Poor Richard's Almanack never became the best-selling almanac in America, it developed a loyal following and sold an average of approximately ten thousand copies a year.

Franklin's almanac was different from others in one further way. Every almanac offered wit and wisdom culled from a variety of sources. And Franklin freely admitted that most of his own sayings were borrowed from others. What distinguished Franklin from his peers was his ability to distill these sayings to a sharp edge, so much so that many of them remain in circulation today, permanently anchored in our collective national memory. A great many of today's common proverbs (such as "A word to the wise is enough," "God helps them that helps themselves," or "Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise") owe their distinctive phrasing to Franklin's economical wit.

Franklin published the almanac annually from 1733 to 1758. During that period, Poor Richard changed character in a number of ways. He was originally a dim-witted and somewhat foolish astronomer. Over time, he became the more famous Poor Richard, a pious country dweller who was a never-ending source of proverbs on the value of frugality and hard work. During roughly the first decade of publication, the emphasis was on entertainment. In later years, it developed a moral and didactic tone and attempted to improve and educate its readers. The format also shifted. For the first fifteen years, the Almanack contained six pages of introductory matter and general information, a page for each month, and six additional pages of general information at the back. In the final decade, when it was renamed Poor Richard Improved, the almanac was expanded to thirty-six pages, and Franklin devoted the additional pages to historical events and literary and scientific essays, producing a kind of general magazine designed not simply to entertain but to educate his readers. The shift in format and tone mirrored Franklin's own growth into a well-known citizen of Philadelphia. His writing became less comical, combative, and bawdy and developed a more mature and measured tone, reflecting Franklin's growing public reputation and responsibilities.

During his years as a printer, Franklin played an increasingly important and influential role in the civic life of Philadelphia. He became actively involved in numerous voluntary ventures to improve life in Philadelphia, a kind of practical application of many of the precepts he enumerated in his almanac. In 1731, with a group of friends, he established the first circulating library in America, which came to be emulated throughout the colonies. He founded a fire company (1736), the American Philosophical Society (1743), a college that later became the University of Pennsylvania (1749), an insurance company (1751), and a city hospital (1751). He also organized a number of other improvements in city life, such as streetlights and street cleaning. In his Autobiography, Franklin wrote, "Human Felicity is produc'd not so much by great Pieces of good Fortune that seldom happen, as by little Advantages that occur every Day" - an apt summation of Franklin's pragmatic and common-sense approach to life.

After his retirement, Franklin busied himself with science and performed a variety of experiments with electricity. He eventually came up with a theory to explain electricity in its various forms, a breakthrough that led to his election to England's Royal society (1756) and to the French Academy of Sciences (1772). His discoveries made him the most famous American in the thirteen colonies. As always, Franklin looked for practical applications and invented the lightning rod to protect buildings against lightning strikes. Lightning rods soon began to appear on buildings throughout the world.

Increasingly, though, Franklin's retirement was spent in public service. He was elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1751 and spent virtually the rest of his life in one governmental post or another. In 1757 he was sent to London as the representative of the Pennsylvania Assembly to argue on behalf of the colony that the power of the colony's proprietors should be curbed. He returned to America from 1762 to 1764 and then returned to London to try to convince officials to change Pennsylvania from a proprietary colony to a royal colony, although the growing conflict with England quickly changed Franklin's agenda. Although he diligently worked to bring the two sides together, he argued forcefully for the rights and liberties of Americans and bluntly told British officials that the colonials would never accept an abridgement of those liberties. During this time, Franklin came to embrace an identity as an American, rather than as a British subject. A number of other colonies eventually appointed him as their representative in London as well, and he became the leading spokesman for America in Britain during the crucial pre-revolutionary years. After a severe upbraiding before the English Privy Council, Franklin left England in 1775. He was elected to the second Continental Congress, and in 1776 he found himself re-crossing the Atlantic to try to persuade the French government to support the American Revolution. The literary and scientific community quickly embraced him as an embodiment of the virtues extolled by the philosophes. Franklin consciously fostered this impression by adopting the manner of his own creation, Poor Richard Saunders. He did not wear a wig and dressed in plain brown clothes, becoming "le bonhomme Richard" in person. When the war ended, he helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris with Great Britain and returned to Philadelphia in 1785. He attended the Constitutional Convention, although he did not play a significant role in the debates, and he worked for the cause of abolition in the final years of his life.

He also continued to write his Autobiography, which became his best-known work, a primer for countless Americans interested in how to succeed. It remains a classic text that continues to offer a fascinating window into the early formation of "American character" of which Franklin remains an exemplar. Franklin's belief in thrift and industry and his civic mindedness were amply illustrated in his Autobiography, and the work made him a role model for countless Americans in the nineteenth century. He provided the definitive early template for success in a rapidly expanding country. America as a land of opportunity, as a place where anyone can rise to wealth and prominence through hard work rather than birth, found its fullest early expression in Franklin's writings to provide the foundations for what came to be called the American Dream.

Critics began to emerge in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, though, and more than one writer accused Franklin of offering up a shallow vision of life as a mindless pursuit of riches. D. H. Lawrence complained:
Now if Mr. Andrew Carnegie, or any other millionaire, had wished to invent a God to suit his ends, he could not have done better. Benjamin did it for him in the eighteenth century. God is the supreme servant of men who want to get on, to produce…. But man has a soul, though you can't locate it either in his purse or his pocket-book or his heart or his stomach or his head. The wholeness of a man is in his soul. Not merely that nice comfortable bit which Benjamin marks out.
Others have contended that those critics are confusing the literary persona with the man, and Franklin's own life belies any easy reduction of him to a materialist.

Poor Richard's Almanack remains an important milestone in Franklin's development. In it, we can trace Franklin's evolving sense of himself and his country. And despite the somewhat limited nature of the genre, Franklin's skill managed to turn it into literature in its own right. Poor Richard's influence continues to be felt today, serving as a literary precursor to a variety of narrators in the American tradition. In the end, Franklin remains a somewhat elusive character, a master of literary persona to such a degree that we can never be sure that we have captured him in his entirety. As such, he will continue to be an intriguing figure for anyone interested in understanding America.

Andrew S. Trees holds a Ph.D. in American History from the University of Virginia. He has taught at Rutgers University, Rhodes College, and the University of Virginia, and he is the author of The Founding Fathers and the Politics of Character (Princeton University Press).
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 27 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2000

    GGGRREEAAT

    This is a very witty, funny, and a great book to live by.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2014

    I love it !

    It is a godly book

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2013

    Fun and not in gibberish

    Thankfully

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2013

    OMG

    I takes too long to load!! This almanack stinks! :( :( :(

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2013

    Yes

    Ever scince my fouerh grade teacher menioned it i have wanted to read it turns out it is practically a must read for any history lovers

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2012

    Full of advice which is as sound today as the day he wrote it.

    Full of advice which is as sound today as the day he wrote it.

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    Posted March 13, 2012

    ¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿

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