The Almanac of Poor Richard
Poor Richard's Almanac is a series of proverbs that Franklin published in his newspaper for twenty-five years from 1732 to 1758. The proverbs were later published into a book that sold 10,000 copies a year. Every proverb can be paralleled not only with the eighteenth century, but also with the twenty-first.
Poor Richard's Almanac says much about the eighteenth century. One example is the position of women in the 1700s. "Never take a wife unless you have a house (and a fire) to put her in."i Women were responsible for tending the house and taking care of the children. A household, however, was not maintainable without a wife, "A house without woman or firelight, is like a body without soul or sprite."ii An additional example is in a line about the marriage of daughters stating that a man may take his time for sons, but daughters must be married off immediately. In the eighteenth century, the man of the household generally chose his son-in-law. Unlike men, women were not able to have a say in political affairs. They normally were never in charge of their own lives. Once married off, their husband took the place of their father as the woman's master.
Another example is the distrust of doctors. Franklin is constantly speaking against medicines and physicians throughout the whole almanac, like the line: "Many dishes, many diseases. Many medicines, few cures."iii Medicine in the eighteenth century was not very advanced. Doctors were mainly only good as pain relievers. More often, people could die from a simple sickness, not to mention, a deadly disease. There is no real surprise about why most civilians would not trust their local doctors to treat a sick family member.
In many of his proverbs, Franklin explained the virtue of diligence. "Keep thy shop, and thy shop shall keep thee."iv Back in the 1700s, people worked hard to provide for their families. They did not have jobs like in today's time; rather, most of them were farmers or shop owners. Each job required a certain amount of work done. A family could survive the winter if that work was accomplished. The quote in Franklin's almanac that states plainly that "diligence is the mother of good-luck."v
In the eighteenth century, people were much more religious than they are today. Sins such as greed, vanity, and vanity were spoken against harshly. Franklin was aware of these sins and, in Poor Richard's Almanac, taught of how they led to foolhardiness. Fools were sinful, lazy, and not chosen to be role models since "fools make feasts, and wise men eat them."vi One of his quotes on greed reads, "the poor have little, the beggars none, the rich too much, enough not one."vii This means that greed does not die when you try to satisfy it, rather, it grows.
I do believe that Poor Richard's Almanac is historically correct. As stated before, Benjamin Franklin's almanac were short proverbs that he published in his newspaper. The proverbs do not say anything about what has happened in history. On the contrary, they were good advice for people to use in the future. The Almanac, however, does give us a glance of what life was like in the 1700s, not through our eyes, but through someone who lived in the century. What was the gender status? What was considered virtuous? Poor Richard's Almanac shows the normal ideas of the eighteenth century.
The proverbs in Poor Richard's Almanac, every one cleverly written, relate to ideas of the past, as well as the present. Benjamin Franklin was truly a genius of his time. He was and is respected by many people all over the world, and even now, two thousand years later, we are still reading his works. Poor Richard's Almanac is simply a small contribution to his cleverness.
i Poor Richard's Almanac, Franklin, Benjamin, The Century Company, New York, page 65
ii Poor Richard, Franklin, page 64
iii Poor Richard, Franklin, page 68-69
iv Poor Richard, Franklin, page 76
v Poor Richard, Franklin, page 79
vi Poor Richard, Franklin, page 65
vii Poor Richard, Franklin, page 66