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Ben’s Top Ten February 28, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame. It’s a bitterly cold morning here in Pennsylvania–perfect weather for warming up with a steaming mug of coffee and some homespun wit and wisdom. As you may know, my mentor, Benjamin Franklin, wanted to make my almanac a witty and valuable read, since besides the Bible it was pretty much the only book many Colonial-era Americans owned. So he’d make up clever, punchy little sayings and sprinkle them throughout the pages of each year’s edition. You’re sure to have heard some of them yourself: “A penny saved is a penny earned,” “God helps those who help themselves,” and “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”*

So today I thought I’d give you a rundown of Ben Franklin’s best. They’re still worth bearing in mind as we go through our own days. See how many you know! And just to keep things interesting, I’ve thrown in two sayings that weren’t written by Dr. Franklin. Can you guess which ones they are? No cheating, now!

Ben’s Top Ten (Plus Two)

1. A  man wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle.

2. A place for everything, everything in its place.

3. An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.

4. When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

5. Absence sharpens love, presence strengthens it.

6. Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man. 

7. All mankind is divided into three classes: those that are immovable, those that are movable, and those that move.

8. There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.

9. Anger is never without a reason, but seldom with a good one.  

10. By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

11. Certainty? In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.

12. Half a truth is often a great lie.    

Did you guess the two quotes that weren’t by Dr. Franklin? They’re # 4 and #8. “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” is by Joseph P. Kennedy, the father of President John F. Kennedy and Senators Robert and Ted Kennedy, and “There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it” is by the great Irish wit, Oscar Wilde.

* Ever wonder why going “early to bed” would make a man healthy, wealthy and wise? It might seem like burning the midnight oil would be a better path to success, but Ben Franklin had very practical reasons behind his famous saying. In his day, people lit their homes with candles, and boy, were they expensive, especially the better ones that didn’t smoke and reek of sheep fat. (See for yourself: Turn on a lamp with a 100-watt bulb and see how many candles you have to light to make an equivalent amount of light. And that’s just one bulb!) If you went to bed early, you’d save money on candles. But that wasn’t the only good reason for retiring early. The popular evening pastimes in Colonial times were drinking and gambling. After supper, people would head to a tavern or gaming house or over to a friend’s home and bet money on card games like vingt-et-un, silver loo, and faro. You could lose everything in a night, especially if you were drinking the whole time, which pretty much everyone was. Alcohol consumption in Colonial times was astoundingly high because sanitation had become a lost art, and people rightly believed that it was safer to drink alcoholic beverages than the bacteria-laden water near populated areas. So that’s what they drank from morning ’til night: beer, hard cider, wine, and hard liquor. If you went to bed early, not only would you avoid the national pastime of gambling (it wasn’t just us–it was also all the rage in England and the rest of Europe at the time, and had been imported by the colonists), you’d also avoid one hell of a hangover the next morning. Staggering out of bed and lurching through the day in a fog wasn’t a great way to earn an income, as Ben knew.  



1. John Wren - February 29, 2008

I’ve been keeping a blog for a few years, lack of comments makes me wonder if anyone is reading it, so I thought I’d make a cut in the tree to let you know I’d been here.

Found it through Google Alerts for “Ben Franklin”. I form groups based on Ben’s Junto, more about it on my website if you are interested. We had Chris Lowell (www.BenFranklinLive.org) join us here in Denver at North High School to celebrate Ben’s 302nd birthday last January 17.

Welcome, John, and thanks for visiting! I’m wildly impressed that you’re recreating the Junto and will check out your blog ASAP (also BenFranklinLive). To think, I had to celebrate Ben’s birthday practically solo (if you don’t count all the friends I harassed by shrieking “Happy Ben’s Birthday!!!” in their ears).

2. Rob - October 14, 2014

Hi – do you know the source of the the line “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest”? It’s been widely attributed to Ben Franklin but I’ve not been able to find the origins. It’s not in any of his writings http://franklinpapers.org/

No, sorry, Rob! Every source I’ve seen attributes it to Ben Franklin as well. If you find a different origin, please let us know!

Rob - October 15, 2014

Thanks for reply! It was attributed to him in an 1850 Christian Family Almanac but that doesn’t say where it came from – that’s the earliest mention I can find. Kind of interesting… 😉

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