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American Wit and Humor
Courteous Reader: I have heard that nothing gives an author so great pleasure as to find his works respectfully quoted by other learned authors. This pleasure I have seldom enjoyed. For though I have been, if I may say it without vanity, an eminent author of Almanacks annually, now for a full quarter of a century, my brother authors in the same way, for what reason I know not, have ever been very sparing in their applauses; and no other author has taken the least notice of me; so that did not my writings produce me some solid pudding, the great deficiency of praise would have quite discouraged me.
I concluded at length, that the people were the best judges of my merit; for they buy my works; and besides, in my rambles, where I am not personally known, I have frequently heard one or other of my adages repeated, with as poor Richard says at the end of it. This gave me some satisfaction, as it showed, not only that my instructions were regarded, but discovered likewise some respect for my authority; and I own, that to encourage the practise of remembering and repeating those sentences, I have sometimes quoted myself with great gravity.
Judge, then, how much I must have been gratified by an incident I am going to relate to you. I stopped my horse lately where a great number of people were collected at a vendue of merchant’s goods. The hour of sale not being come, they were conversing on the badness of the times; and one of the company called to a plain, clean old man with white 4 locks, “Pray, Father Abraham, what think you of the times? Won’t these heavy taxes quite ruin the country? How shall we ever be able to pay them? What would you advise us to?” Father Abraham stood up and replied: “If you would have my advice, I will give it you in short; for A word to the wise is enough, and Many words won’t fill a bushel, as Poor Richard says.” They all joined, desiring him to speak his mind, and gathering round him, he proceeded as follows:
Friends, says he, and neighbors, the taxes are indeed very heavy, and if those laid on by the government were the only ones we had to pay, we might the more easily discharge them; but we have many others, and much more grievous to some of us. We are taxed twice as much by our idleness, three times as much by our pride, and four times as much by our folly; and from these taxes the commissioners cannot ease or deliver us, by allowing an abatement. However, let us hearken to good advice, and something may be done for us; God helps them that help themselves, as Poor Richard says in his Almanack of 1733.
It would be thought a hard government that should tax its people one-tenth part of their time, to be employed in its service, but idleness taxes many of us much more, if we reckon all that is spent in absolute sloth, or doing of nothing; with that which is spent in idle employments or amusements that amount to nothing. Sloth, by bringing on diseases, absolutely shortens life. Sloth, like rust, consumes faster than labor wears; while the used key is always bright, as Poor Richard says. But dost thou love life? then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of, as Poor Richard says.
How much more than is necessary do we spend in sleep? forgetting, that the sleeping fox catches no poultry, and that there will be sleeping enough in the grave, as poor Richard says. 5 If time be of all things the most precious, wasting of time must be, as Poor Richard says, the greatest prodigality; since, as he elsewhere tells us, lost time is never found again; and what we call time enough! always proves little enough. Let us then up and be doing, and doing to the purpose; so, by diligence, shall we do more with less perplexity. Sloth makes all things difficult, but industry all things easy, as Poor Richard says; and He that riseth late must trot all day, and shall scarce overtake his business at night; while laziness travels so slowly that Poverty soon overtakes him, as we read in Poor Richard; who adds, Drive thy business! let not that drive thee! and —
So what signifies wishing and hoping for better times? We may make these times better, if we bestir ourselves. Industry need not wish, as Poor Richard says, and He that lives on hope will die fasting. There are no gains without pains; then help, hands! for I have no lands; or, if I have, they are smartly taxed. And, as Poor Richard likewise observes, He that hath a trade hath an estate, and he that hath a calling hath an office of profit and honor; but then the trade must be worked at, and the calling well followed, or neither the estate nor the office will enable us to pay our taxes. If we are industrious we shall never starve; for, as Poor Richard says, At the working man’s house hunger looks in, but does not enter. Nor will the bailiff or the constable enter, for Industry pays debts, while despair increaseth them.
What though you have found no treasure, nor has any rich relation left you a legacy, Diligence is the mother of good luck, as Poor Richard says, and God gives all things to industry.6
Then plow deep while sluggards sleep,
And you shall have corn to sell and to keep,
says Poor Dick. Work while it is called to-day, for you know not how much you may be hindered to-morrow; which makes Poor Richard say, One to-day is worth two to-morrows; and farther, Have you somewhat to do to-morrow? Do it to-day!
If you were a servant, would you not be ashamed that a good master should catch you idle? Are you then your own master? Be ashamed to catch yourself idle, as Poor Dick says. When there is so much to be done for yourself, your family, your country, and your gracious king, be up by peep of day! Let not the sun look down and say, “Inglorious here he lies!” Handle your tools without mittens! remember that The cat in gloves catches no mice! as Poor Richard says.
’Tis true there is much to be done, and perhaps you are weak-handed; but stick to it steadily, and you will see great effects; for Constant dropping wears away stones; and By diligence and patience the mouse ate in two the cable; and Little strokes fell great oaks; as Poor Richard says in his Almanack, the year I cannot just now remember.
Methinks I hear some of you say, “Must a man afford himself no leisure?” I will tell thee, my friend, what Poor Richard says, Employ thy time well, if thou meanest to gain leisure; and Since thou art not sure of a minute, throw not away an hour! Leisure is time for doing something useful; this leisure the diligent man will obtain, but the lazy man never; so that, as Poor Richard says, A life of leisure and a life of laziness are two things. Do you imagine that sloth will afford you more comfort than labor? No! for, as Poor Richard says, Trouble springs from idleness, and grievous toil from needless ease. Many, without labor, would live by their wits only, but they’ll 7 break for want of stock [i.e., capital]; whereas industry gives comfort, and plenty, and respect. Fly pleasures, and they’ll follow you. The diligent spinner has a large shift; and —
Now I have a sheep and a cow,
Everybody bids me good morrow.
All which is well said by poor Richard. But with our industry we must likewise be steady, settled, and careful, and oversee our own affairs with our own eyes, and not trust too much to others; for, as Poor Richard says —
And again, Three removes are as bad as a fire; and again, Keep thy shop, and thy shop will keep thee; and again, If you would have your business done, go; if not, send. And again —
And again, The eye of the master will do more work than both his hands; and again, Want of care does us more damage than want of knowledge; and again, Not to oversee workmen is to leave them your purse open.
Trusting too much to others’ care is the ruin of many; for, as the Almanack says, In the affairs of this world men are saved, not by faith, but by the want of it; but a man’s own care is profitable; for saith Poor Dick, Learning is to the studious, and Riches to the careful; as well as, Power to the bold, and Heaven to the virtuous. And further, If you would have a faithful servant, and one that you like, serve yourself.8
And again, he adviseth to circumspection and care, even in the smallest matters; because sometimes, A little neglect may breed great mischief; adding, 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; being overtaken and slain by the enemy; all for want of a little care about a horseshoe nail!
So much for industry, my friends, and attention to one’s own business; but to these we must add frugality, if we would make our industry more certainly successful. A man may, if he knows not how to save as he gets, keep his nose all his life to the grindstone, and die not worth a groat at last. A fat kitchen makes a lean will, as Poor Richard says; and —
Many estates are spent in the getting,
Since women for tea1 forsook spinning and knitting,
And men for punch forsook hewing and splitting.
If you would be wealthy, says he in another Almanack, Think of saving as well as of getting. The Indies have not made Spain rich; because her outgoes are greater than her incomes.
Away, then, with your expensive follies, and you will not have so much cause to complain of hard times, heavy taxes, and chargeable families; for as Poor Dick says —
And further, What maintains one vice would bring up two children. You may think, perhaps, that a little tea, or a little punch now and then; a diet a little more costly; clothes a little finer; and a little more entertainment now and then, can be no great matter; but remember what Poor Richard says, Many a 9 little makes a mickle; and further, Beware of little expenses; A small leak will sink a great ship; and again —
and moreover, Fools make feasts, and wise men eat them.
Here are you all got together at this vendue of fineries and knick-knacks. You call them goods; but, if you do not take care, they will prove evils to some of you. You expect they will be sold cheap, and perhaps they may for less than they cost; but, if you have no occasion for them, they must be dear to you. Remember what Poor Richard says: Buy what thou hast no need of, and erelong thou shalt sell thy necessaries. And again, At a great pennyworth pause a while. He means, that perhaps the cheapness is apparent only, and not real; or the bargain by straitening thee in thy business, may do thee more harm than good. For in another place he says, Many have been ruined by buying good pennyworths.
Again, Poor Richard says, ’Tis foolish to lay out money in a purchase of repentance; and yet this folly is practised every day at vendues for want of minding the Almanack.
Wise men, as Poor Richard says, learn by others’ harms; Fools, scarcely by their own; but Felix quem faciunt aliena pericula cautum. Many a one, for the sake of finery on the back, has gone with a hungry belly, and half-starved their families. Silks and satins, scarlets and velvets, as Poor Richard says, put out the kitchen fire. These are not the necessaries of life; they can scarcely be called the conveniences; and yet, only because they look pretty, how many want to have them! The artificial wants of mankind thus become more numerous than the natural; and, as Poor Dick says, For one poor person there a hundred indigent.
By these, and other extravagances, the genteel are reduced 10 to poverty, and forced to borrow of those whom they formerly despised, but who, through industry and frugality, have maintained their standing; in which case it appears plainly, that A plowman on his legs is higher than a gentleman on his knees, as Poor Richard says. Perhaps they have had a small estate left them, which they knew not the getting of; they think, ’Tis day, and will never be night; that a little to be spent out of so much is not worth minding (A child and a fool, as Poor Richard says, imagine twenty shillings and twenty years can never be spent); but Always taking out of the meal-tub, and never putting in, soon comes to the bottom. Then, as Poor Dick says, When the well’s dry, they know the worth of water. But this they might have known before, if they had taken his advice. If you would know the value of money, go and try to borrow some; for He that goes a-borrowing, goes a-sorrowing, and indeed so does he that lends to such people; when he goes to get it in again.
Poor Dick further advises, and says —
Fond pride of dress is, sure, a very curse;
Ere fancy you consult, consult your purse
And again, Pride is as loud a beggar as Want, and a great deal more saucy. When you have bought one fine thing, you must buy ten more, that you appearance may be all of a piece; but Poor Dick says, ’Tis easier to suppress the first desire, than to satisfy all that follow it. And ’tis as truly folly for the poor to ape the rich, as for the frog to swell in order to equal the ox.
’Tis, however, a folly soon punished; for, Pride that dines on vanity sups on contempt, as Poor Richard says. And in 11 another place, Pride breakfasted with Plenty, dined with Poverty, and supped with Infamy.
And after all, of what use is this pride of appearance, for which so much is risked, so much is suffered? It cannot promote health or ease pain; it makes no increase of merit in the person; it creates envy; it hastens misfortune.
What is a butterfly? At best
He’s but a caterpillar drest,
The gaudy fop’s his picture just,
as Poor Richard says.
But what madness must it be to run into debt for these superfluities! We are offered, by the terms of this vendue, six months’ credit; and that, perhaps, has induced some of us to attend it, because we cannot spare the ready money, and hope now to be fine without it. But, ah! think what you do when you run in debt: You give to another power over your liberty. If you cannot pay at the time, you will be ashamed to see your creditor; you will be in fear when you speak to him; you will make poor, pitiful, sneaking excuses, and by degrees come to lose your veracity, and sink into base, downright lying; for, as Poor Richard says, The second vice is lying, the first is running into debt; and again, to the same purpose, lying rides upon debt’s back; whereas a free-born Englishman ought not to be ashamed or afraid to see or speak to any man living. But poverty often deprives a man of all spirit and virtue. ’Tis hard for an empty bag to stand upright! as Poor Richard truly says. What would you think of that prince, or the government, who should issue an edict forbidding you to dress like a gentleman or gentlewoman, on pain of imprisonment or servitude? Would you not say that you are free, have a right to dress as you please, and that such an edict would be a breach of your privileges, and 12 such a government tyrannical? And yet you are about to put yourself under such tyranny, when you run in debt for such dress! Your creditor has authority, at his pleasure, to deprive you of your liberty, by confining you in jail for life, or to sell you for a servant, if you should not be able to pay him. When you have got your bargain, you may, perhaps, think little of payment; but Creditors (Poor Richard tells us) have better memories than debtors; and in another place says, Creditors are a superstitious set, great observers of set days and times. The day comes round before you are aware, and the demand is made before you are prepared to satisfy it; or, if you bear your debt in mind, the term which at first seemed so long, will, as it lessens, appear extremely short. Time will seem to have added wings to his heels as well as his shoulders. Those have a short Lent, saith Poor Richard, who owe money to be paid at Easter. Then since, as he says, The borrower is a slave to the lender, and the debtor to the creditor, disdain the chain, preserve your freedom, and maintain your independency. Be industrious and free; be frugal and free. At present, perhaps, you may think yourself in thriving circumstances, and that you can bear a little extravagance without injury; but —
As Poor Richard says, gain may be temporary and uncertain; but ever, while you live, expense is constant and certain; and ’Tis easier to build two chimneys than to keep one in fuel, as Poor Richard says; so, Rather go to bed supperless than rise in debt.
Get what you can, and what you get hold;
’Tis the stone that will turn all your lead into gold,
as Poor Richard says; and, when you have got the Philosopher’s stone, sure, you will no longer complain of bad times, or the difficulty of paying taxes.
This doctrine, my friends, is reason and wisdom; but, after all, do not depend too much upon your own industry and frugality and prudence, though excellent things; for they may all be blasted without the blessing of Heaven; and therefore, ask that blessing humbly, and be not uncharitable to those that at present seem to want it, but comfort and help them. Remember Job suffered, and was afterwards prosperous.
And now, to conclude, Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other, and scarce in that; for it is true, We may give advice, but we cannot give conduct, as Poor Richard says. However, remember this, They that won’t be counseled, can’t be helped, as Poor Richard says; and further that, If you will not hear reason, she’ll surely rap your knuckles.
Thus the old gentlemen ended his harangue. The people heard it, and approved the doctrine; and immediately practised the contrary, just as if it had been a common sermon. For the vendue opened, and they began to buy extravagantly, notwithstanding all his cautions, and their own fear of taxes. I found the good man had thoroughly studied my Almanacks, and digested all I had dropped on those topics during the course of five-and-twenty years. The frequent mention he made of me must have tired any one else; but my vanity was wonderfully delighted with it, though I was conscious that not a tenth part of the wisdom was my own which he ascribed to me, but rather the gleanings that I had made of the sense of all ages and nations. However, I resolved to be the better for the echo of it; and, though I had at first determined to buy stuff for a new coat, I went away resolved to wear my old one a little 14 longer. Reader, if thou wilt do the same, thy profit will be as great as mine. I am, as ever, thine to serve thee,
July 7, 1757.
1 Tea at this time was a costly drink, and was regarded as a luxury.
I received my dear friend’s two letters, one for Wednesday, one for Saturday. This is again Wednesday. I do not deserve one for to-day, because I have not answered the former. But, indolent as I am, and averse to writing, the fear of having no more of your pleasing epistles if I do not contribute to the correspondence, obliges me to take up my pen; and as Mr. B. has kindly sent me word that he sets out to-morrow to see you, instead of spending this Wednesday evening, as I have done its namesakes, in your delightful company, I sit down to spend it in thinking of you, in writing to you, and in thinking over and over again your letters.
I am charmed with your description of Paradise, and with your plan of living there; and I approve much of your conclusion, that in the meantime we should draw all the good we can from this world. In my opinion, we might all draw more good from it than we do, and suffer less evils, if we would take care not to give too much for whistles. For to me is seems that most of the unhappy people we meet with are become so by neglect of that caution.
You ask what I mean? You love stories, and will excuse my telling one of myself.15
When I was a child of seven years old, my friends on a holiday filled my pocket with coppers. I went directly to a shop where they sold toys for children; and, being charmed with the sound of a whistle that I met by the way in the hands of another boy, I voluntarily offered and a gave all my money for one. I then came home, and went whistling all over the house, much pleased with my whistle, but disturbing all the family. My brothers and sisters and cousins, understanding the bargain I had made, told me I had given four times as much for it as it was worth; put me in mind what good things I might have bought with the rest of the money, and laughed at me so much for my folly, that I cried with vexation; and the reflection gave me more chagrin than the whistle gave me pleasure.
This, however, was afterward of use to me, the impression continuing on my mind, so that often, when I was tempted to buy some unnecessary thing, I said to myself, Don’t give too much for the whistle: and I saved my money.
As I grew up, came into the world, and observed the actions of men, I thought I met with many, very many, who gave too much for the whistle.
When I saw one too ambitious to court favour, sacrificing his time in attendance on levees, his repose, his liberty, his virtue, and perhaps his friends to attain it, I have said to myself, This man gives too much for his whistle.
When I saw another fond of popularity, constantly employing himself in political bustles, neglecting his own affairs and ruining them by that neglect, He pays, indeed, said I, too much for his whistle.
If I knew a miser, who gave up any kind of a comfortable living, all the pleasure of doing good to others, all the esteem of his fellow-citizens, and the joys of benevolent friendship, 16 for the sake of accumulating wealth, Poor man, said I, you pay too much for your whistle.
When I met with a man of pleasure, sacrificing every laudable improvement of the mind, or of his fortune, to mere corporal sensations, and ruining his health in their pursuit, Mistaken man, said I, you are providing pain for yourself instead of pleasure; you give too much for your whistle.
If I see one fond of appearance, or fine clothes, fine houses, fine furniture, fine equipages, all above his fortune, for which he contracts debts, and ends his career in a prison, Alas! say I, he has paid dear, very dear, for his whistle.
When I see a beautiful, sweet-tempered girl married to an ill-natured brute of a husband, What a pity, say I, that she should pay so much for a whistle!
In short, I conceive that great part of the miseries of mankind are brought upon them by the false estimates they have made of the value of things, and by their giving too much for their whistles.
Yet I ought to have charity for these unhappy people, when I consider, that with all this wisdom of which I am boasting, there are certain things in the world so tempting, for example, the apples of King John, which happily are not to be bought; for if they were put up to sale by auction, I might very easily be led to ruin myself in the purchase, and find that I had once more given too much for the whistle
Adieu, my dear friend, and believe me ever yours, very sincerely and with unalterable affection.
1 This little skit was sent by Franklin to one of his friends, Madame Brillon of Passey.
Franklin. Eh! oh! eh! What have I done to merit these cruel sufferings?
Gout. Many things: you have eaten and drank too freely, and too much indulged those legs of yours in their indolence.
Franklin. Who is it that accuses me?
Gout. It is I, even I, the Gout.
Franklin. What! my enemy in person?
Gout. No, not your enemy.
Franklin. I repeat it: my enemy; for you would not only torment my body to death, but ruin my good name; you reproach me as a glutton and a tippler; now all the world, that knows me, will allow that I am neither the one nor the other.
Gout. The world may think as it pleases; it is always very complaisant to itself, and sometimes to its friends; but I very well know that the quantity of meat and drink proper for a man who takes a reasonable degree of exercise, would be too much for another who never takes any.
Franklin. I take — eh! oh! — as much exercise — eh! — as I can, Madam Gout. You know my sedentary state, and on that account, it would seem, Madam Gout, as if you might spare me a little, it is not altogether my own fault.
Gout. Not a jot; your rhetoric and your politeness are thrown away; your apology avails nothing. If your situation in life is a sedentary one, your amusements, your recreations, at least, should be active. You ought to walk or ride, 18 or if the weather prevents that, play at billiards. But let us examine your course of life. While the mornings are long, and you have leisure to go abroad, what do you do? Why, instead of gaining an appetite for breakfast by salutary exercise, you amuse yourself with books, pamphlets, or newspapers, which commonly are not worth the reading. Yet you eat an inordinate breakfast — four dishes of tea, with cream, and one or two buttered toasts, with slices of hung beef, which, I fancy, are not things the most easily digested. Immediately afterward you sit down to write at your desk, or converse with persons who apply to you on business. Thus the time passes till one, without any kind of bodily exercise. But all this I could pardon, in regard, as you say, to your sedentary condition. But what is your practise after dinner? Walking in the beautiful gardens of those friends with whom you have dined, would be the choice of a man of sense; yours is to be fixed down to chess, where you are found engaged for two or three hours! This is your perpetual recreation, which is the least eligible of any for a sedentary man, because, instead of accelerating the motion of the fluids, the rigid attention it requires helps to retard the circulation and obstruct internal secretions. Wrapt in the speculations of this wretched game, you destroy your constitution. What can be expected from such a course of living, but a body replete with stagnant humors, ready to fall a prey to all kinds of dangerous maladies, if I, the Gout, did not occasionally bring you relief by agitating those humors, and so purifying or dissipating them? If it was in some nook or alley in Pairs, deprived of walks, that you played awhile at chess after dinner, this might be excusable; but the same taste prevails with you in Passy, Auteuil, Montmartre, or Savoy — places where there are the finest gardens and walks, a pure air, beautiful women, and 19 most agreeable and instructive conversation; all of which you might enjoy by frequenting the walks. But these are rejected for this abominable game of chess. Fie, then, Mr. Franklin! But, amidst my instructions, I had almost forgot to administer my wholesome corrections; so take that twinge — and that!
Franklin. Oh! eh! oh! ohhh! As much instruction as you please, Madam Gout, and as many reproaches; but pray, madam, a truce with your corrections!
Gout. No, sir, no: I will not abate a particle of what is so much for your good — therefore ——
Franklin. Oh! ehhh! It is not fair to say I take no exercise, when I do very often, going out to dine, and returning in my carriage.
Gout. That, of all imaginable exercises, is the most slight and insignificant, if you allude to the motion of a carriage suspended by springs. By observing the degree of heat obtained by different kinds of motion, we may form an estimate of the quantity of exercise given by each. Thus, for example, if you turn out to walk in winter with cold feet, in an hour’s time you will glow all over; ride on horseback, the same effect will scarcely be perceived by four hours’ round trotting; but if you loll in a carriage, such as you have mentioned, you may travel all day, and gladly enter the last inn to warm your feet by the fire. Flatter yourself then no longer, that half an hour’s airing in your carriage deserves the name of exercise. Providence has appointed few to roll in carriages, while he has given to all a pair of legs, which are machines infinitely more commodious and serviceable. Be grateful, then, and make a proper use of yours. Would you know how they forward the circulation of your fluids, in the very action of transporting you from place to place: observe, when you 20 walk, that all your weight is alternately thrown from one leg to the other; this occasions a great pressure on the vessels of the foot, and repels their contents; when relieved, by the weight of being thrown on the other foot, the vessels of the first are allowed to replenish, and, by a return of this weight, this repulsion again succeeds; thus accelerating the circulation of the blood. The heat produced in any given time depends on the degree of this acceleration; the fluids are shaken, the humors alternated, the secretions facilitated, and all goes well; the cheeks are ruddy, and health is established. Behold your fair friend at Auteuil;1 a lady who received from bounteous nature more really useful science than half a dozen such pretenders to philosophy as you have been able to extract from all your books. When she honors you with a visit, it is on foot. She walks all hours of the day, and leaves indolence and its concomitant maladies to be endured by her horses. In this see at once the preservative of her health and personal charms. But when you go to Auteuil, you must have your carriage, though it is no further from Passy to Auteuil than from Auteuil to Passy.
Franklin. Your reasonings grow very tiresome.
Gout. I stand corrected. I will be silent and continue my office; take that, and that.
Franklin. Oh! ohhh! Talk on, I pray you!
Gout. No, no; I have a good number of twinges for you to-night, and you may be sure of some more to-morrow.
Franklin. What, with such a fever! I shall go distracted. Oh! eh! Can no one bear it for me?
Gout. Ask that of your horses; they have served you faithfully.
Franklin. How can you so cruelly sport with my torments?21
Gout. Sport! I am very serious. I have here a list of offenses against your own health distinctly written, and can justify every stroke inflicted on you.
Franklin. Read it, then.
Gout. It is too long a detail; but I will briefly mention some particulars.
Franklin. Proceed. I am all attention.
Gout. Do you remember how often you have promised yourself, the following morning, a walk in the grove of Bologne, in the Garden de la Muette, or in your own garden, and have violated your promise, alleging at one time it was too cold, at another too warm, too windy, too moist, or what else you pleased; when in truth it was too nothing but your inseparable love of ease?
Franklin. That, I confess, may have happened occasionally; probably ten times a year.
Gout. Your confession is very far short of the truth; the gross amount is one hundred and ninety-nine times.
Franklin. Is it possible?
Gout. So possible that it is fact; you may rely on the accuracy of my statement. You know M. Brillon’s gardens, and what fine walks they contain; you know the handsome flight of an hundred steps, which lead from the terrace above to the lawn below. You have been in the practise of visiting this amiable family twice a week after dinner, and it is a maxim of your own, that “a man may take as much exercise in walking a mile, up and down stairs, as in ten on level ground.” What an opportunity was here for you to have had exercise in both these ways! Did you embrace it, and how often?
Franklin. I cannot immediately answer that question.
Gout. I will do it for you. Not once.
Franklin. Not once?22
Gout. Even so. During the summer you went there at six o’clock. You found that charming lady with her lovely children and friends, eager to walk with you and entertain you with their agreeable conversation; and what has been your choice? Why, to sit on the terrace, satisfy yourself with the fine prospect, and passing your eye over the beauties of the garden below, without taking one step to descend and walk about in them. On the contrary, you call for tea and the chess-board; and lo! you are occupied in your seat till nine o’clock, and that besides two hours’ play after dinner; and then, instead of walking home, which would have bestirred you a little, you step into your carriage. How absurd to suppose that all this carelessness can be reconcilable with health, without my interposition!
Franklin. I am convinced now of the justness of Poor Richard’s remark, that “Our debts and our sins are always greater than we think for.”
Gout. So it is. You philosophers are sages in your maxims, and fools in your conduct.
Franklin. But do you charge among my crimes that I return in a carriage from M. Brillon’s?
Gout. Certainly; for, having been seated all the while, you cannot object the fatigue of the day, and cannot want, therefore, the relief of a carriage.
Franklin. What, then, would you have me do with my carriage?
Gout. Burn it if you choose: you would at least get heat out of it once in this way; or, if you dislike that proposal, here’s another for you: observe the poor peasants, who work in the vineyards and grounds about the villages of Passy, Auteuil, Chaillot, etc., you may find every day among these deserving creatures, four or five old men and women, bent and 23 perhaps crippled by weight of years and too long and too great labor. After a most fatiguing day, these people have to trudge a mile or two to their smoky huts. Order your coachman to set them down. This is an act that will be good for your soul; and at the same time after your visit to the Brillons, if you return on foot, that will be good for your body.
Franklin. Ah! how tiresome you are!
Gout. Well, then, to my office; it should not be forgotten that I am your physician. There!
Franklin. Oh-h-h! What a devil of a physician!
Gout. How ungrateful you are to say so! Is it not I who, in the character of your physician, have saved you from the palsy, dropsy, and apoplexy? one or other of which would have done for you long ago, but for me.
Franklin. I submit, and thank you for the past, but entreat the discontinuance of your visits for the future; for, in my mind, one had better die than be cured so dolefully. Permit me just to hint, that I have also not been unfriendly to you. I never feed physician or quack of any kind, to enter the list against you; if then you do not leave me to my repose, it may be said you are ungrateful too.
Gout. I can scarcely acknowledge that as an objection. As to quacks, I despise them; they may kill you indeed, but cannot injure me. And, as to regular physicians, they are at last convinced that the gout, in such a subject as you are, is no disease, but a remedy; and wherefore cure a remedy? But to our business; there!
Franklin. Oh! Oh! for Heaven’s sake leave me, and I promise faithfully never more to play at chess, but to take exercise daily and live temperately.
Gout. I know you too well. You promise fair; but after a few months of good health you will return to your old habits; 24 your fine promises will be forgotten like the forms of the last year’s clouds. Let us then finish the account, and I will go. But I leave you with an assurance of visiting you again at a proper time and place; for my object is your good, and you are sensible now that I am your real friend.
1 Madame Helvetius.
At New York, I found my friend Collins, who had arrived there some time before me. We had been intimate from children, and had read the same books together; but he had the advantage of more time for reading and studying, and a wonderful genius for mathematical learning, in which he far out-stripped me. While I lived in Boston, most of my hours of leisure for conversation were spent with him, and he continued a sober as well as an industrious lad; was much respected for his learning by several of the clergy and other gentlemen, and seemed to promise making a good figure in life. But, during my absence, he had acquired a habit of sotting with brandy; and I found by his own account, and what I heard from others, that he had been drunk every day since his arrival at New York, and behaved very oddly. He had gamed, too, and lost his money, so that I was obliged to discharge his lodgings, and defray his expenses to and at Philadelphia, which proved extremely inconvenient to me.
The then governor of New York, Burnet (son of Bishop Burnet), hearing from the captain that a young man, one of his passengers, had a great many books, desired he would bring me to see him. I waited upon him accordingly, and should have taken Collins with me but that he was not sober. The governor treated me with great civility, showed me his 25 library, which was a very large one, and we had a good deal of conversation about books and authors. This was the second governor who had done me the honor to take notice of me; which, to a poor boy like me, was very pleasing.
We proceeded to Philadelphia. I received on the way Vernon’s money, without which we could hardly have finished our journey. Collins wished to be employed in some counting-house; but, whether they discovered his dramming by his breath, or by his behaviour, though he had some recommendations, he met with no success in any application, and continued lodging and boarding at the same house with me, and at my expense. Knowing I had that money of Vernon’s he was continually borrowing of me, still promising repayment as soon as he should be in business. At length he had got so much of it that I was distressed to think what I should do in case of being called on to remit it.
His drinking continued, about which we sometimes quarreled; for, when a little intoxicated, he was very fractious. Once, in a boat on the Delaware with some other young men, he refused to row in his turn. “I will be rowed home,” says he. “We will not row you,” says I. “You must, or stay all night on the water,” says he, “just as you please.” The others said, “Let us row; what signifies it?” But, my mind being soured with his other conduct, I continued to refuse. So he swore he would make me row, or throw me overboard; and coming along, stepping on the thwarts, toward me, when he came up and struck at me, I clapped my hand under his crotch, and, rising, pitched him head-foremost into the river. I knew he was a good swimmer, and so was under little concern about him; but before he could get round to lay hold of the boat, we had with a few strokes pulled her out of his reach; and ever when he drew near the boat, we asked if he would row, 26 striking a few strokes to slide her away from him. He was ready to die with vexation, and obstinately would not promise to row. However, seeing him at last beginning to tire, we lifted him in and brought him home dripping wet in the evening. We hardly exchanged a civil word afterward, and a West India captain, who had a commission to procure a tutor for the sons of a gentleman at Barbadoes, happening to meet with him, agreed to carry him thither. He left me then, promising to remit me the first money he should receive in order to discharge the debt; but I never heard of him after.
The breaking into this money of Vernon’s was one of the first great errata of my life; and this affair showed that my father was not much out in his judgment when he supposed me too young to manage business of importance. But Sir William, on reading his letter, said he was too prudent. There was great difference in persons; and discretion did not always accompany years, nor was youth always without it. “And since he will not set you up,” says he, “I will do it myself. Give me an inventory of the things necessary to be had from England, and I will send for them. You shall repay me when you are able; I am resolved to have a good printer here, and I am sure you must succeed.” This was spoken with such an appearance of cordiality that I had not the least doubt of his meaning what he said. I had hitherto kept the proposition of my setting up a secret in Philadelphia, and I still kept it. Had it been known that I depended on the governor, probably some friend, that knew him better, would have advised me not to rely on him, as I afterward heard it as his known character to be liberal of promises which he never meant to keep. Yet, unsolicited as he was by me, how could I think his generous offers insincere? I believed him one of the best men in the world.
I presented him an inventory of a little printing-house, 27 amounting by my computation to about one hundred pounds sterling. He liked it, but asked me if my being on the spot in England to choose the types, and see that everything was good of the kind, might not be of some advantage. “Then,” says he, “when there, you may make acquaintances, and establish correspondences in the book-selling and stationery way.” I agreed that this might be advantageous. “Then,” says he, “get yourself ready to go with Annis,” which was the annual ship, and the only one at that time usually passing between London and Philadelphia. But it would be some months before Annis sailed, so I continued working with Keimer, fretting about the money Collins had got from me, and in daily apprehensions of being called upon by Vernon, which, however, did not happen for some years after.
I believe I have omitted mentioning that, in my first voyage from Boston, being becalmed off Block Island, our people set about catching cod, and hauled up a great many. Hitherto I had stuck to my resolution of not eating animal food, and on this occasion I considered, with my master Tryon, the taking every fish as a kind of unprovoked murder, since none of them had, or ever could do us any injury that might justify the slaughter. All this seemed very reasonable. But I had formerly been a great lover of fish, and, when this came hot out of the frying-pan, it smelt admirably well. I balanced some time between principle and inclination, till I recollected that, when the fish were opened, I saw smaller fish taken out of their stomachs; then thought I, “If you eat one another, I don’t see why we mayn’t eat you.” So I dined upon cod very heartily, and continued to eat with other people, returning only now and then occasionally to a vegetable diet. So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.28
Keimer and I lived on a pretty good familiar footing, and agreed tolerably well, for he suspected nothing of my setting up. He retained a great deal of his old enthusiasm and loved argumentation. We therefore had many disputations. I used to work him so with my Socratic method, and trepanned him so often by questions apparently so distant from any point we had in hand, and yet by degrees led to the point, and brought him into difficulties and contradictions, that at last he grew ridiculously cautious, and would hardly answer me the most common question, without asking first, “What do you intend to infer from that?” However, it gave him so high an opinion of my abilities in the confuting way, that he seriously proposed my being his colleague in a project he had of setting up a new sect. He was to preach the doctrines, and I was to confound all opponents. When he came to explain with me upon the doctrines, I found several conundrums which I objected to, unless I might have my way a little too, and introduce some of mine.
Keimer wore his beard at full length, because somewhere in the Mosaic law it is said, “Thou shalt not mar the corners of thy beard.”” He likewise kept the Seventh day, Sabbath; and these two points were essential with him. I disliked both; but agreed to admit them upon condition of his adopting the doctrine of using no animal food. “I doubt,” said he, “my constitution will not bear that.” I assured him it would, and that he would be the better for it. He was usually a great glutton, and I promised myself some diversion in half starving him. He agreed to try the practise, if I would keep him company. I did so, and we held it for three months. We had our victuals dressed, and brought to us regularly by a woman in the neighborhood, who had from me a list of forty dishes, to be prepared for us at different times, in all of which 29 there was neither fish, flesh, nor fowl, and the whim suited me the better at this time from the cheapness of it, not costing us above eighteen pence sterling each per week. I have since kept several Lents most strictly, leaving the common diet for that and that for the common, abruptly without the least inconvenience, so that I think that there is little in the advice of making those changes by easy gradations. I went on pleasantly, but poor Keimer suffered grievously, tired of the project, longed for the flesh-pots of Egypt, and ordered a roast pig. He invited me and two women friends to dine with him; but, it being too soon upon the table, he could not resist the temptation, and ate the whole before we came. . . .
My chief acquaintances at this time were Charles Osborne, Joseph Watson, and James Ralph, all lovers of reading. The two first were clerks to an eminent scrivener or conveyancer in the town, Charles Brogden; the other was clerk to a merchant. Watson was a pious, sensible young man, of great integrity; the others rather more lax in their principles of religion, particularly Ralph, who as well as Collins, had been unsettled by me, for which they both made me suffer. Osborne was sensible, candid, frank; sincere and affectionate to his friends; but in literary matters, too fond of criticising. Ralph was ingenious, genteel in his manners, and extremely eloquent; I think I never knew a prettier talker. Both of them great admirers of poetry, and began to try their hands in little pieces. Many pleasant walks we four had together on Sundays into the woods, near Schuylkill, where we read to one another, and conferred on what we read.
Ralph was inclined to pursue the study of poetry, not doubtful but he might become eminent in it and make his fortune by it, alleging that the best poets must, when they first began to write, make as many faults as he did. Osborne dissuaded 30 him, assured him he had no genius for poetry, and advised him to think of nothing beyond the business he was bred to; that in the mercantile way, though he had no stock, he might by diligence and punctuality recommend himself to employment as a factor, and in time acquire wherewith to trade on his own account. I approved the amusing one’s self with poetry now and the, so far as to improve one’s language, but no further.
On this it was proposed that we should each of us, at our next meeting, produce a piece of our own composing, in order to improve by our mutual observations, criticisms, and corrections. As language and expression were what he had in view, we excluded all considerations of invention by agreeing that the task should be a version of the eighteenth Psalm, which describes the descent of a Deity. When the time of our meeting drew nigh, Ralph called on me first, and let me know his piece was ready. I told him I had been busy, and having little inclination, had done nothing. He then showed me his piece for my opinion, and I much approved it, as it appeared to me to have great merit. “Now,” says he, “Osborne never will allow the least merit in anything of mine, but makes a thousand critcisms out of mere envy. He is not so jealous of you; I wish, therefore, you would take this piece, and produce it as yours; I will pretend not to have had time, and so produce nothing. We shall then see what he will say to it.” It was agreed, and I immediately transcribed it, that it might appear in my own hand.
We met; Watson’s performance was read; there were some beauties in it, but many defects. Osborne’s was read; it was much better; Ralph did it justice; remarked some faults, but applauded the beauties. He himself had nothing to produce. I was backward; seemed desirous of being excused; had not had sufficient time to correct, etc.; but no excuse could be admitted; 31 produce I must. It was read and repeated; Watson and Osborne gave up the contest, and joined in applauding it. Ralph only made some criticisms, and proposed some amendments; but I defended my text. Osborne was against Ralph, and told him he was no better a critic than poet, so he dropped the argument. As they two went home together, Osborne expressed himself still more strongly in favor of what he thought my production; having restrained himself before, as he said, lest I should think it flattery. “But who would have imagined,” said he, “that Franklin had been capable of such a performance; such painting, such force, such fire! He has even improved the original. In his common conversation he seems to have no choice of words; he hesitates and blunders; and yet, good God! how he writes!” When we next met, Ralph discovered the trick we had played him, and Osborne was a little laughed at.
This transaction fixed Ralph in his resolution of becoming a poet. I did all I could to dissuade him from it, but he continued scribbling verses till Pope1 cured him. He became, however, a pretty good prose writer. More of him hereafter. But, as I may not have occasion again to mention the other two, I shall just remark here, that Watson died in my arms a few years after, much lamented, being the best of our set. Osborne went to the West Indies, where he became an eminent lawyer and made money, but died young. He and I had made a serious agreement, that the one who happened first to die should, if possible, make a friendly visit to the other, and acquaint him how he found things in that separate state. But he never fulfilled his promise.
1 “Silence, ye wolves! while Ralph to Cynthia howls,
And makes night hideous — answer him, ye owls.”
At my first admission into this printing-house I took to working at press, imagining I felt a want of the bodily exercise I had been used to in America, where presswork is mixed with composing. I drank only water; the other workmen, near fifty in number, were great guzzlers of beer. On occasion, I carried up and down stairs a large form of types in each hand, when others carried but one in both hands. They wondered to see, from this and several instances, that the Water-American, as they called me, was stronger than themselves, who drank strong beer! We had an ale-house boy who attended always in the house to supply the workmen. My companion at the press drank every day a pint before breakfast, a pint at breakfast with his bread and cheese, a pint between breakfast and dinner, a pint at dinner, a pint in the afternoon about six o’clock, and another when he had done his day’s work. I thought it a detestable custom; but it was necessary, he supposed, to drink strong beer, that he might be strong to labor. I endeavored to convince him that the bodily strength afforded by beer could only be in proportion to the grain or flour of the barley dissolved in the water of which it was made; that there was more flour in a pennyworth of bread; and therefore, if he would eat that with a pint of water, it would give him more strength than a quart of beer. He drank on, however, and had four of five shillings to pay out of his wages every Saturday night for that muddling liquor; an expense I was free from. And thus these poor devils keep themselves always under.33
Watts, after some weeks, desiring to have me in the composing-room, I left the pressmen; a new bien venu or sum for drink, being five shillings, was demanded of me by the compositors. I thought it an imposition, as I had paid below; the master thought so too, and forbade my paying it. I stood out two or three weeks, was accordingly considered as an excommunicate, and had so many little pieces of private mischief done me, by mixing my sorts, transposing my pages, breaking my matter, etc., etc., if I were ever so little out of the room, and all ascribed to the chapel ghost, which they said ever haunted those not regularly admitted, that notwithstanding the master’s protection, I found myself obliged to comply and pay the money, convinced of the folly of being on ill terms with those one is to live with continually.
I was now on a fair footing with them, and soon acquired considerable influence. I proposed some reasonable alterations in their chapel laws, and carried them against all opposition. From my example, a great part of them left their muddling breakfast of beer, and bread, and cheese, finding they could, with me, be supplied from a neighboring house with a large porringer of hot water-gruel, sprinkled with pepper, crumbed with bread, and a bit of butter in it, for the price of a pint of beer, viz., three half-pence. This was a more comfortable as well as cheaper breakfast, and kept their heads clearer. Those who continued sotting with beer all day were often, by not paying, out of credit at the ale-house, and used to make interest with me to get beer; their light, as they phrased it, being out. I watched the pay-table on Saturday night, and collected what I stood engaged for them, having to pay sometimes near thirty shillings a week on their accounts. This, and my being esteemed a pretty good riggite, that is, a jocular, verbal satirist, supported my consequence in the society. My
constant attendance (I never making a St. Monday1) recommended me to the master; and my uncommon quickness at composing occasioned my being put upon all work of despatch, which was generally better paid. So I went on now very agreeably.
1 That is, never turning Monday into a holiday, as other workmen did, who when paid Saturday night, squandered their earnings in drink and were good for nothing before Tuesday.
Never spare the parson’s wine, nor the baker’s pudding.
A house without woman or firelight is like a body without soul or sprite.
Kings and bears often worry their keepers.
Light purse, heavy heart.
He’s a fool that makes his doctor his heir.
Ne’er take a wife till thou hast a house (and a fire) to put her in.
To lengthen thy life, lessen thy meals.
He that drinks fast pays slow.
He is ill-clothed who is bare of virtue.
Beware of meat twice boil’d, and an old foe reconcil’d.
The heart of a fool is in his mouth, but the mouth of a wise man is in his heart.
He that is rich need not live sparingly, and he that can live sparingly need not be rich.
He that waits upon fortune is never sure of a dinner.
You may remember, my dear friend, that when we lately spent that happy day in the delightful garden and sweet society of the Moulin Joly, I stopped a little in one of our walks, and stayed some time behind the company. We had been shown numberless skeletons of a kind of little fly, called an ephemera, whose successive generations, we were told, were bred and expired within the day. I happened to see a living company of them on a leaf, who appeared to be engaged in conversation. You know I understand all the inferior animal tongues. My too great application to the study of them is the best excuse I can give for the little progress I have made in your charming language. I listened through curiosity to the discourse of these little creatures; but as they, in their national vivacity, spoke three or four together, I could make but little of their conversation. I found, however, by some broken expressions that I heard now and then, they were disputing warmly on the merit of two foreign musicians, one a cousin, the other a moscheto; in which dispute they spent their time, seemingly as regardless of the shortness of life as if they had been sure of living a month. Happy people! thought I; you are certainly under a wise, just, and mild government, since you have no pubic grievances to complain of, nor any subject of contention but the perfections and imperfections of foreign music. I turned my head from them to an old gray-headed one, who 36 was single on another leaf, and talking to himself. Being amused with his soliloquy, I put it down in writing, in hopes it will likewise amuse her to whom I am so much indebted for the most pleasing of all amusements, her delicious company and heavenly harmony.
“It was,” said he, “the opinion of learned philosophers of our race, who lived and flourished long before my time, that this vast world, the Moulin Joy, could not itself subsist more than eighteen hours; and I think there was some foundation for that opinion, since, by the apparent motion of the great luminary that gives life to all nature, and which in my time has evidently declined considerably toward the ocean at the end of our earth, it must then finish its course, be extinguished in the waters that surround us, and leave the world in cold and darkness, necessarily producing universal death and destruction. I have lived seven of those hours, a great age, being no less than four hundred and twenty minutes of time. How very few of us continue so long! I have seen generations born, flourish, and expire. My present friends are the children and grand-children of the friends of my youth, who are now, alas, no more! And I must soon follow them; for, by the course of nature, though still in health, I cannot expect to live above seven or eight minutes longer. What now avails all my toil and labor in amassing honey-dew on this leaf, which I cannot live to enjoy? What the political struggles I have been engaged in, for the good of my compatriot inhabitants of this bush, or my philosophical studies for the benefit of our race in general? for, in politics, what can laws do without morals? Our present race of ephemeræ will in a course of minutes become corrupt, like those of other and older bushes, and consequently as wretched. And in philosophy how small our progress! Alas! art is long, and life is short. My friends would comfort me with the idea 37 of a name, they say, I shall leave behind me; and they tell me I have lived long enough to nature and to glory. But what will fame be to an ephemera who no longer exists? And what will become of all history in the eighteenth hour, when the world itself, even the whole Moulin Joly, shall come to its end, and be buried in the universal ruin?”
To me, after all my eager pursuits, no solid pleasures now remain but the reflection of a long life spent in meaning well, the sensible conversation of a few good lady ephemeræ, and now and then a kind smile and a tune from the ever amiable Brillante.
1 Written in 1778 to Madame Brillon.
Sir: The bearer of this, who is going to America, presses me to give him a letter of recommendation, though I know nothing of him, not even his name. This may seem extraordinary, but I assure you it is not uncommon here. Sometimes, indeed, one unknown person brings another, equally unknown, to recommend him; and sometimes they recommend one another! As to this gentleman, I must refer you to himself for his character and merits, with which he is certainly better acquainted than I can possibly be. I recommend him, however, to those civilities which every stranger, of whom one knows no harm, has a right to; and I request you will do him all the favor that, on further acquaintance, you shall find him to deserve. I have the honor to be, etc.
Dear Miss: I lament with you most sincerely the unfortunate end of poor Mungo. Few squirrels were better accomplished; for he had a good education, had traveled far, and seen much of the world. As he had the honor of being, for his virtues, your favorite, he should not go, like common skuggs, without an elegy or an epitaph. Let us give him one in the monumental style and measure, which, being neither prose nor verse, is perhaps the properest for grief; since to use common language would look as if we were not affected, and to make rhymes would seem trifling in sorrow.
Alas! poor Mungo!
Happy wert thou, hadst thou known
Thy own felicity.
Remote from the fierce bald eagle,
Tyrant of thy native woods,
Thou hadst nought to fear from his piercing talons,
Nor from the murdering gun
Of the thoughtless sportsman.
Safe in thy wired castle,
Grimalkin never could annoy thee.
Daily wert thou fed with the choicest viands,
By the fair hand of an indulgent mistress;
39 But, discontented,
Thou wouldst have more freedom.
Too soon, alas! didst thou obtain it;
Thou art fallen by the fangs of wanton, cruel Ranger!
Ye who blindly seek more liberty,
Whether subjects, sons, squirrels, or daughters,
That apparent restraint may be real protection,
Yielding peace and plenty
You see, my dear Miss, how much more decent and proper this broken style is, than if we were to say, by way of epitaph, —
As a bug,
In a rug.
And yet, perhaps, there are people in the world of so little feeling as to think that this would be a good enough epitaph for poor Mungo.
If you wish it, I shall procure another to succeed him; but perhaps you will now choose some other amusement.
Remember me affectionately to all the good family, and believe me ever your affectionate friend,
Dear Polly: I am always pleased with a letter from you, and I flatter myself you may be sometimes pleased in receiving one from me, though it should be of little importance, such as this, which is to consist of a few occasional remarks made here, and in my journey hither.
Soon after I left you in that agreeable society at Bromley, I took the resolution of making a trip with Sir John Pringle into France. We set out on the 28th past. All the way to Dover we were furnished with post-chaises, hung so as to lean forward, the top coming down over one’s eyes, like a hood, as if to prevent one’s seeing the country; which being one of my great pleasures, I was engaged in perpetual disputes with the innkeepers, hostlers, and postilions about getting the straps taken up a hole or two before and let down as much behind, they insisting that the chaise leaning forward was an ease to the horses, and that the contrary would kill them. I suppose the chaise leaning forward looks to them like a willingness to go forward, and that its hanging back shows reluctance. They added other reasons that were no reasons at all, and made me, as upon a hundred other occasions, almost wish that mankind had never been endowed with a reasoning faculty, since they know so little how to make use of it, and so often mislead themselves 41 by it, and that they had been furnished with a good sensible instinct instead of it.
At Dover, the next morning, we embarked for Calais with a number of passengers, who had never before been at sea. They would previously make a hearty breakfast, because if the wind should fall, we might not get over till supper time. Doubtless they thought, that when they had paid for their breakfast they had a right to it, and that when they had swallowed it they sure of it. But they had scarce been out half an hour, before the sea laid claim to it, and they were obliged to deliver it up. So that it seems there are uncertainties, even beyond those between the cup and the lip. If ever you go to sea, take my advice, and live sparingly a day or two beforehand. The sickness, if any, will be lighter and sooner over. We got to Calais that evening.
Various impositions we suffered from boatmen, porters, and the like, on both sides the water. I know not which are the most rapacious, the English or French; but the latter have, with their knavery, the most politeness.
The roads we found equally good with ours in England; in some places paved with smooth stones, like our new streets, for many miles together, and rows of trees on each side, and yet there are no turnpikes. But then poor peasants complained to us grievously that they were obliged to work upon the roads fully two months in the year, without being paid for their labor. Whether this is truth, or whether, like Englishmen, they grumble, cause or no cause, I have not yet been able to fully inform myself.
The women we saw at Calais, on the road, at Boulogne, and in the inns and villages, were generally of dark complexions; but arriving at Abbeville, we found a sudden change, a multitude of both women and men in that place appearing 42 remarkably fair. Whether this is owing to a small colony of spinners, wool-combers, and weavers, brought hither from Holland with the woolen manufactory about sixty years ago, or to their being less exposed to the sun than in other places, their business keeping them much within doors, I know not. Perhaps, as in some other cases, different causes may club in producing the effect, but the effect itself is certain. Never was I in a place of greater industry, wheels and looms going in every house.
As soon as we left Abbeville, the swarthiness returned. I speak generally; for here are some fair women at Paris, who, I think, are not whitened by art. As to rouge, they don’t pretend to imitate nature in laying it on. There is no gradual diminution of the color, from the full bloom in the middle of the cheek to the faint tint near the sides, nor does it show itself differently in different faces. I have not had the honor of being at any lady’s toilette to see how it is laid on, but I fancy I can tell you how it is or may be done. Cut a hole of three inches in diameter in a piece of paper, place it on the side of your face in such a manner as that the top of the hole may be just under the eye, then with a brush dipped in the color, paint face and paper together; so when the paper is taken off, there will remain a round patch of red exactly the form of the hole. This is the mode, from the actresses on the stage upwards, through all ranks of ladies to the princesses of the blood; but it stops there, the queen not using it, having in the serenity, complacence, and benignity, that shine so eminently in or rather through her countenance, sufficient beauty though now an old woman, to do extremely well without it.
You see I speak of the queen2 as if I had seen her; and so I have, for you must know I have been at court. We went to Versailles 43 last Sunday, and had the honor of being presented to the king; he spoke to both of us very graciously and very cheerfully, is a handsome man, has a very lively look, and appears younger than he is. In the evening we were at the Grand Concert, where the family sup in public. The table was half a hollow square, the service gold. When either made a sign for drink, the word was given by one of the waiters. A boir pour le Roi, or A boir pour la Reine. Then two persons came from within, the one with wine and the other with water in carafes; each drank a little glass of what he brought, and then put both the carafes with a glass on a salver, and then presented it. Their distance from each other was such that other chairs might have been placed between any two of them. An officer of the court brought us up through the crowd of spectators, and placed Sir John so as to stand between the queen and Madame Victoire. The king talked a good deal to Sir John, asking many questions about our royal family, and did me too the honor of taking some notice of me; that is saying enough, for I would not have you think me so much pleased with this king and queen as to have a whit less regard than I used to have for ours. No Frenchman shall go beyond me in thinking my own king and queen the very best in the world, and the most amiable.
Versailles has had infinite sums laid out in building it and supplying it with water. Some say the expenses exceeded eighty millions sterling. The range of buildings is immense; the garden front most magnificent, all of hewn stone; the number of statues, figures, urns, etc., in marble and bronze of exquisite workmanship, is beyond conception. But the waterworks are out of repair, and so is great part of the front next the town, looking with its shabby, half-brick walls, and broken windows, not much better than the houses in Durham Yard. 44 There is, in short, both at Versailles and Paris, a prodigious mixture of magnificence and negligence, with every kind of elegance except that of cleanliness, and what we call tidiness, though I must do Paris the justice to say that in two points of cleanliness they exceed us. The water they drink, though from the river, they render as pure as that of the best spring, by filtering it through cisterns filled with sand; and the streets with constant sweeping are fit to walk in, though there is no paved footpath. Accordingly, many well-dressed people are constantly seen walking in them. The crowds of coaches and chairs for this reason is not so great. Men as well as women carry umbrellas in their hands, which they extend in case of rain or too much sun; and a man with an umbrella not taking up more than three foot square or nine square feet of the street, when, if in a coach, he would take up two hundred and forty square feet, you can easily conceive that though the streets here are narrow, they may be less encumbered. They are extremely well paved, and the stones, being generally cubes, when worn on one side, may be turned and become new.
The civilities we everywhere receive give us the strongest impressions of French politeness. It seems to be a point settled here universally that strangers are to be treated with respect; and one has just the same deference shown one here by being a stranger as in England by being a lady. The custom-house officers at Port St. Denis, as we entered Paris, were about to seize two dozen of excellent Bordeaux wine given us at Boulogne, and which we brought with us; but as soon as they found we were strangers, it was immediately remitted on that account. At the church of Notre Dame, where we went to see a magnificent illumination, with figures, etc., for the deceased dauphiness, we found an immense crowd, who were kept out by guards; but the officer being told that we were strangers from England, 45 he immediately admitted us, accompanied and showed us everything. Why don’t we practise this urbanity to Frenchmen? Why should they be allowed to outdo us in anything?
Here is an exhibition of painting, like ours in London, to which multitudes flock daily. I am not connoisseur enough to judge which has most merit. Every night, Sundays not excepted, here are plays or operas; and though the weather has been hot, and the houses full, one is not incommoded by the heat so much as with us in winter. They must have some way of changing the air, that we are not acquainted with. I shall inquire into it.
Travelling is one way of lengthening life; at least in appearance. It is but about a fortnight since we left London, but the variety of scenes we have gone through makes it seem equal to six months living in one place. Perhaps I have suffered a greater change too, in my own person, than I have done in six years at home. I had not been here six days before my tailor and perruquier had transformed me into a Frenchman. Only think what a figure I make in a little bag-wig and with naked ears! they told me I was become twenty years younger, and looked very gallant.
This letter shall cost you a shilling, and you may consider it cheap when you reflect that it has cost me at least fifty guineas to get into the situation that enables me to write it.
Besides, I might, if I had stayed at home, have won perhaps two shillings of you at cribbage. By the way, now I mention cards, let me tell you that quadrille is now out of fashion here, and English whist all the mode at Paris and the court.
And pray look upon it as no small matter, that, surrounded as I am by the glories of the world and amusements of all sorts, I remember you and Dolly, and all the dear, good folks at 46 Bromley. ’Tis true I can’t help it, but must and ever shall remember you with all pleasure.
Need I add that I am particularly, my dear, good friend,
Yours most affectionately,
1 A young friend of Franklin, the daughter of his landlady in London.
2 Wife of Louis XV.
(LIKE THE COVER OF AN OLD BOOK,
ITS CONTENTS TORN OUT,
AND STRIPT OF ITS LETTERING AND GILDING),
LIES HERE FOOD FOR WORMS;
YET THE WORK ITSELF SHALL NOT BE LOST,
FOR IT WILL (AS HE BELIEVED) APPEAR ONCE MORE
IN A NEW
AND MORE BEAUTIFUL EDITION
CORRECTED AND AMENDED
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