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Ben Franklin

The Quotable Franklin

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According to Benjamin Franklin himself, many of the proverbs and aphorisms found in "Poor Richard's Almanack" were gleaned from the "wisdom of the ages and nations." In the dictums and maxims that follow, one hears echoes of the Bible, the ancients, and collections of proverbs readily available in Franklin's own time. Yet, in recrafting many older sayings, Franklin, who was among other things an inventor and musician, brought new design and melody to timeworn truisms.

Franklin once created a list of 13 virtues to live by. This baker's dozen included:

  • temperance
  • silence
  • order
  • resolution
  • frugality
  • industry
  • sincerity
  • justice
  • moderation
  • cleanliness
  • tranquility
  • chastity
  • and humility

The reader will see these virtues emphasized again and again in these quotes, many culled from Franklin's "Poor Richard's Almanack."

Did Franklin himself listen to Poor Richard's advice? Sometimes. Sometimes not.

"Be temperate in wine, in eating, girls, and cloth, or the Gout will seize you and plague you both," Franklin wrote. Franklin relished his food, basked in the company of women, and at times used items of apparel to influence the way people perceived him. And, indeed, gout plagued Franklin for much of his life.

One thing that makes these aphorisms so compelling is that Franklin, while divine in apprehension, was in action very much a mortal. Take these morsels in moderation — Franklin would have it no other way.

Quick Index:
They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
Franklin's Contributions to the Conference on February 17 (III) Fri, Feb 17, 1775
Eat to live, and not live to eat.
Three Days
After three days men grow weary, of a wench, a guest, and weather rainy.
Necessity never made a good bargain.
Keep a Secret
Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.
Opportunity is the great bawd.
Early to bed
Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.
See and Foresee
Tis easy to see, hard to foresee.
Good to Man
What is serving God?
Tis doing Good to Man.
Dogs and fleas
He that lieth down with Dogs, shall rise up with Fleas.
God helps them
God helps them that help themselves.
from Algernon Sidney (16221683)
Worse wheel
The worst wheel of a cart makes the most noise.
Poor have little
The poor have little,
Beggars none;
The rich too much
Enough not one.
Crosses and losses
After crosses and losses, men grow humbler and wiser.
Speaks ill
He that speaks ill of the Mare, will buy her.
Some are weatherwise, some are otherwise.
Three friends
There are three faithful friends -- an old wife, an old dog, and ready money.
Not be forgotten
If you would not be forgotten
As soon as you are dead and rotten,
Either write things worthy reading,
Or do things worth the writing.
Eyes wide open
Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half shut afterwards.
Riseth late
He that riseth late, must trot all day, and shall scarce overtake his business at night.
Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other.
Well's dry
When the well's dry, we know the worth of water.
Love life
Does thou love life? Then do not squander time; for that's the stuff life is made of.
Great oaks
Little strokes,
Fell great oaks.
Cat in gloves
The cat in gloves catches no mice.
Work and pray
Work as if you were to live a hundred years,
Pray as if you were to die tomorrow.
With the old Almanack and the old Year,
Leave thy old Vices, tho ever so dear.
One good husband
One good Husband is worth two good Wives; for the scarcer things are, the more they're valued.
Fish and visitors
Fish and visitors stink after three days.
Who has deceiv'd thee so oft as thy self?
Good lawyer
A good lawyer, a bad neighbour.
Country man
A country man between two lawyers, is like a fish between two cats.
Err is human
To err is human, to repent divine; to persist devilish.
Well done
Well done is better than well said.
Keep thy shop
Keep thy shop, and thy shop will keep thee.
King's cheese
The king's cheese is half wasted in parings;
but no matter, 'tis made of the people's milk.
Be slow
Be slow in chusing a friend, slower in changing.
Drinks alone
He that drinks his Cyder alone, let him catch his Horse alone.
Who is rich?
Who is rich? He that rejoices in his Portion.
Quarrels interpose
Those who in quarrels interpose, must often wipe a bloody nose.
Hath a trade
He that hath a Trade, hath an Estate.
What you seem
What you seem to be, be really.
Old drunkards
There are more old drunkards than old doctors.
The Muses love the Morning.
Fear not death
Fear not death; for the sooner we die, the longer shall we be immortal.
Hunger is the best pickle.
Tim was so learned
Tim was so learned, that he could name a horse in nine Languages.
So ignorant, that he bought a cow to ride on.
No law
When there's no Law, there's no Bread.
Drinks fast
He that drinks fast, pays slow.
Love thy neighbour
Love your Neighbour; yet don't pull down your Hedge.
Wrapped up
People who are wrapped up in themselves make small packages.
Discontented man
The discontented Man finds no easy Chair.
Read much
Read much, but not too many books.
Speak much
He that speaks much, is much mistaken.
Glass, china, reputation
Glass, China, and Reputation, are easily crack'd, and never well mended.
Three good meals
Three good meals a day is bad living.
Sleeping fox
The sleeping Fox catches no poultry. Up! up!
Silence is not always a Sign of Wisdom, but Babbling is ever a folly.
A good example
A good example is the best sermon.
End of passion
The end of Passion is the beginning of Repentance.
Proud of virtue
To be proud of virtue, is to poison yourself with the Antidote.
He that would fish
He that would Fish, must venture his bait.
Drink does not drown Care
Drink does not drown Care, but waters it, and makes it grow faster.
Ounce of prevention
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Live upon hope
He that lives upon hope will die fasting.
A little neglect
A little neglect may breed great mischief...for want of a nail the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe the horse was lost; and for want of a horse the rider was lost.
Courteous Reader
Remember that time is money.

Advice to a Young Tradesman
Hang together
We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.

At the signing of the Declaration of Independence
Good war
There was never a good war or a bad peace.

Letter to Josiah Quincy [September 11, 1783]
New Constitution
Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in the world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.

Letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy [Nov. 13, 1789]
Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

Falsely attributed. He was actually speaking about the rain, which creates the wine: "Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine, a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy."
Knaves and Priests
When knaves fall out, honest men get their goods. When Priests dispute, we come at the Truth.
Church and State
The church, the state, and the poor, are 3 daughters which we should maintain, but not portion off.
Those who are feared are hated.
Pretended reasons
It's common for Men to give pretended Reasons instead of one real one.
There are no fools so troublesome as those that have wit.
A mob's a monster; heads enough but no brains.
Doing an injury puts you below your enemy; revenging one make you but even with him; forgiving it sets you above him.
Genius & Education
Genius without education is like silver in the mine.
Virtue and Liberty
Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor liberty to purchase power.
Old boys have their playthings as well as young ones; the difference is only in the price.
Power and liberty
Sudden power is apt to be insolent, sudden liberty saucy; that behaves best which has grown gradually.
Faith and reason
The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason.
A Penny Saved
A penny saved is a penny earned.
Franklin Quotes (combined)

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