I was reading the latest issue of The Week, one of my favorite publications, when I came across “A sampling of timeless observations.” Here are several I thought particularly timeless.
“I love America more than any other country in the world, and exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually,” James Baldwin, author.
“If things were simple, word would have gotten around,” Jacques Demida, philosopher.
“If you want peace, don’t talk to your friends, talk to your enemies,” Desmond Tutu, religious leader.
“There are no right answers to wrong questions,” Ursula Le Guin, author.
“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear,” George Orwell, author.
This reminded me of the timeless observations in Poor Richard’s Almanac, which Richard Saunders began publishing in 1733, with both original and borrowed content. Richard Saunders? Never fear. Benjamin Franklin really was the author. Richard Saunders was one of several pseudonyms Franklin used throughout his publishing career.
Ben was more than the creator of Poor Richard’s Almanac. He was a printer, politician, postmaster, diplomat, scientist, inventor, vegetarian, musician, Freemason, slave owner, abolitionist, newspaper owner and editor, Declaration of Independence signatory, securer of vital foreign supplies for Washington’s army, and noted international bon vivant.
However, for all Franklin’s accomplishments, his place in our American heroes pantheon is secure for two: his kite flying and his almanac.
Here are some examples of the latter, some well-known, others not — in the English language of his day.
Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise. Approve not of him who commends all you say. Look before, or you’ll find yourself behind. Weighty Questions ask for deliberate Answers. Be slow in chusing a Friend, slower in changing. Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor Liberty to purchase power. Reading makes a full Man, Meditation a profound Man, discourse a clear Man. Drive thy business; let not that drive thee. Wink at small faults; remember thou hast great ones. Tis easy to see, hard to foresee.
To err is human, to repent divine, to persist devilish. A Penny sav’d is Twopence clear. Well done is better than well said.
How few there are who have courage enough to own their Faults, or resolution enough to mend them! The same man cannot be both Friend and Flatterer. Those who are fear’d, are hated. A true Friend is the best Possession. Make haste slowly.
A Man in a Passion rides a mad Horse. There are three things extreamly hard, Steel, a Diamond and to know one’s self. Glass, China, and Reputation, are easily crack’d, and never well mended.
Paintings and Fightings are best seen at a distance. Haste makes Waste. Serving God is Doing Good to Man, but Praying is thought an easier Service, and therefore more generally chosen. You may give a Man an Office, but you cannot give him Discretion. You may sometimes be much in the wrong, in owning your being in the right. Think of three Things, whence you came, where you are going, and to whom you must account. The Doors of Wisdom are never shut. Love your Enemies, for they tell you your Faults. It is hard for an empty bag to stand upright. You may delay, but Time will not. He that’s content, hath enough; He that complains, has too much. Half the Truth is often a great Lie.
Historians relate, not so much what is done, as what they would have believed.
As a history student, I do not agree with this, but doubtless others do.