Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Ben Franklin's Resolutions

If you ever studied American literature in any way, you have probably come across Ben Franklin's List of Virtues which he says he attempted to cultivate. He had a dozen and added Humility when a Quaker friend suggested that as something he needed to add to his behavior and attitude. We all need friends like that, right? Uh, right?

If you're like me, and I don't see any reason you should be, you think also of the passage from Franklin's Autobiography (which by some accounts should be on the fiction shelf since the good citizens of the time were not above embellishing a tale or two especially if it would help sell books and make money) in which he lands in Philadelphia at age 17 after having been in Boston where he was on the outs with his printer brother for writing a series of very popular letters to the paper under a pseudonym (imagine!). Being hungry from his voyage, he buys some rolls, sticks a couple in his pocket and walks down the street eating a roll. His future wife saw him wandering down the street and was much amused by his appearance. The rest, as they say, is history.

Anyhow, here is his List of Virtues:

·  Temperance: Eat not to Dullness, drink not to elevation
 · Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself.    
   Avoid trifling Conversation
 · Order: Let all your Things have their Places. Let each Part of
    your Business have its Time
·  Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform 
   without fail what you resolve.
·  Frugality: Make no Expense but to do good to others or 
   yourself: i.e. Waste Nothing
·  Industry: Lose no Time. Be always employ’d in something 
   useful. Cut off all unnecessary Actions
·  Sincerity: Use no hurtful Deceit. Think innocently and justly; 
   and, if you speak; speak accordingly.
·  Justice: Wrong none, by doing Injuries or omitting the Benefits
   that are your Duty.
·  Moderation: Avoid Extremes. Forbear resenting Injuries so 
   much as you think they deserve.
·  Cleanliness: Tolerate no Uncleanness in Body, Clothes, or 
·  Tranquility: Be not disturbed at Trifles, or at Accidents 
    common or unavoidable.
·  Chastity: Rarely use Venery but for Health or Offspring; Never
    to Dullness, Weakness, or the Injury of your own or another’s 
    Peace or Reputation.
·  Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

Not a bad list, that. He had a grid out from the virtues and gave himself a check for every day he practiced a particular viritue to try to improve himself.

Franklin is a part of a fascinating book by Tony Franklin entitled The Pox and the Covenant. It's about the outbreak of smallpox in Boston in 1721. The leading lights lined up on both sides of the issue: the clergy, somewhat surprisingly was for inoculation; the doctors opposed it. Franklin, as I remember, wrote against it in the paper. But check out the Amazon. com website on the book at http://www.amazon.com/Pox-Covenant-Franklin-Epidemic-Americas/dp/1402260938/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1326211056&sr=1-1 Better yet, buy the book and read all about it for yourself. Tony Williams is a smart, articulate young fellow who deserves a read.

1 comment:

  1. Well, there's either typo or a new spelling of "virtue" in the next-to-the-last paragraph. Sorry, fans of proofreading. I will try to do better.