On the Origins of Folk Wisdom with Poor Richard

Benjamin Franklin Henley House. Photo by Valis55 [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia.

Wit and Wisdom from Poor Richard's AlmanackWit and Wisdom from Poor Richard's Almanack by Benjamin Franklin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book includes hundreds of quotes from Poor Richard's Almanack, published annually by Benjamin Franklin and lasting some 25 years. Franklin admitted that he had "borrowed" some of the maxims, but the Almanack seems to have created many a household saying. It is always interesting to find one of the sources of "folk wisdom" and familiar sayings for which we take the origin for granted. I have been using La Rochefoucauld's Maxims for some time as a prompt for my daily journalling, and as I near the end of his maxims, I anticipate substituting Franklin's maxims once I am done with La Rochefoucauld. What is surprising about Franklin's maxims is the sheer breadth of topics - and of course, this volume is but a few of the best from the many issues of the Almanack. Some have a Christian bent, for example:
When you taste Honey, remember Gall.
Some recall Arabic sayings:
Fish and visitors stink after three days.
Others consider the "no contest" between science and religion:
The way to see by Faith is to shut the Eye of Reason; The Morning Daylight appears plainer when you put out your Candle
And even some leadership lessons:
He that cannot obey, cannot command.
This work is part of the Dover Thrift Series and I have others including Oscar Wilde and Abraham Lincoln to read. While technically not a "book", I find such lists of maxims easiest to digest if one reads through the list first, and then takes each in turn as a trigger for reflection. One of the most interesting quotes makes me wonder whether Franklin's self-teaching (minus the social capital of those who win the birth lottery) had similar limitations to my own:
Write with the learned, pronounce with the vulgar.
I found the after-effects of these maxims long lasting. There is so much in such a short book. That Franklin thought long and hard about his personal philosophy is obvious. If I were to sum up this philosophy in one maxim, it would be this:
A long Life may not be good enough, but a good life is long enough.
The strangest thing for me was that I read this while taking a break from reading St Teresa's Interior Castle. That much folk wisdom emanates from St Teresa's masterpiece is obvious, albeit more readily digestible when written by Poor Richard.