The Way to Wealth (1758)

              Benjamin Franklin [n.b. how many proverbial phrases]


            Courteous Reader, I have heard, that nothing gives an author so great

pleasure as to find his works respectfully quoted by others. Judge, then,

how much I must have been gratified by an incident I am going to re-

late to you. I stopped my horse lately, where a great number of people

were collected at an auction of merchants' goods. The hour of the 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 locks,

"Pray, Father Abraham, what think you of the times? Will not 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, as Poor Richard says." They joined in desir-

ing him to speak his mind, and gathering round him, he proceeded as


            "Friends," said he, "the taxes are indeed very heavy, and, if those laid

on by the government were the only ones we had to pay, we might more

easily discharge them; but we have many others, and much more griev-

ous 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 allow-

ing an abatement. However, let us hearken to good advice, and some-

thing may be done for us; God helps them that help themselves, as Poor

Richard says.


            "I. It would be thought a hard government, that should tax its peo-

ple one-tenth part of their time, to be employed in its service; but idle-

ness taxes many of us much more; 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 is 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.

            "If time be of all things the most precious, wasting 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 lit-

tle 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 easy, 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. Drive thy business, let not that drive thee,

and Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise,

as Poor Richard says.

            "So what signifies wishing and hoping for better times? We may

make these times better, if we bestir ourselves. Industry need not wish,

and he that lives upon hopes 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. He that hath a trade hath an estate; and he that hath a calling, hath

an office of profit and honor, as Poor Richard says; but then the trade

must be worked at, and the calling followed, or neither the estate nor

the office will enable, us to pay our taxes. If we are industrious, we shall

never starve; for, At the working man's house hunger looks in, but dares 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, and God gives all things to industry. Then plough deep while sluggards

sleep, and you shall have corn to sell and to keep. Work while it is called to-

day, for you know not how much you may be hindered to-morrow. One

to-day is worth two to-morrows, as Poor Richard says; and further, Never

leave that till to-morrow, which you can do 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, when

there is so much to be done for yourself, your family, your country, and

your king. Handle your tools without mittens; remember, that The cat

in gloves catches no mice, as Poor Richard says. It is 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.

            "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;

for A life of leisure and a life of laziness are two things. Many, without

labor, would live by their wits only, but they break for want of stock;

whereas industry gives comfort, and plenty, and respect. Fly pleasures,

and they will follow you. The diligent spinner has a large shift; and now I

have a sheep and a cow, everybody bids me good morrow.

            "II. 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,

            I never saw an oft-removed tree,

            Nor yet an oft-removed family,

            That throve so well as those that settled be.


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,

            He that by the plough would thrive,

            Himself must either hold or drive.


And again, The eye of a 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 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, If you would have a faithful servant, and one

that you like, serve yourself. A little neglect may breed great mischief; 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 horse-shoe nail.

            "III. 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 in-

dustry 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; and

            Many estates are spent in the getting,

            Since women for tea forsook spinning and knitting,

            And men for punch forsook hewing and splitting.


If you would be wealthy, think of saving as well as of getting. The Indies

have not made Spain rich, because her outgoes are greater than her in-


            "Away then with your expensive follies, and you will not then have so

much cause to complain of hard times, heavy taxes, and chargeable fam-

ilies;” for

            Women and wine, game and deceit,

            Make the wealth small and the want great.


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, diet

a little more costly, clothes a little finer, and a little entertainment now

and then, can be no great matter; but remember, Many a little makes a

mickle. Beware of little expenses: A small leak will sink a great ship, as

Poor Richard says; and again, Who dainties love, shall beggars prove; and

moreover, Fools make feasts, and wise men eat them.

            "Here you are all got together at this sale 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 ere long thou shall sell thy necessaries. And again,

At a great pennyworth pause a while. He means, that perhaps the cheap-

ness is apparent only, and not real; or the bargain, by straitening thee in

thy business, may do thee more harm than good. For in ano0aer place

he says, Many have been ruined by buying good pennyworths. Again, It is

foolish to lay out money in a purchase of repentance; and yet this folly is

practised every day at auctions, for want of minding the Almanac.

Many a one, for the sake of finery on the back, have gone with a hun-

gry belly and half-starved their families. Silks and satins, scarlet and vel-

vets, put out the kitchen fire, as Poor Richard says.

            "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! By these, and other extravagances, the genteel are reduced to

poverty, and forced to borrow of those whom they formerly despised,

but who, through industry and frugality, have maintained their stand-

ing; in which case it appears plainly, that A ploughman 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, It is day, and will never be night; that a little to be spent out

of so much is not worth minding; but Always taking out of the meal-tub,

and never putting in, soon comes to the bottom, as Poor Richard says; and

then, When the well is 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 bor-

rowing goes a sorrowing, as Poor Richard:says; 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

your appearance may be all of a piece; but Poor Dick says, It is easier to

suppress the first desire, than to satisfy all that follow it. And it is as truly

folly for the poor to ape the rich, as for the frog to swell in order to equal

the ox.


            Vessels large may venture more,

            But little boats should keep near shore.


It is, however, a folly soon punished; for, as Poor Richard says, Pride

that dines on vanity, sups on contempt. 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 suf-

fered? It cannot promote health, nor ease pain; it makes no increase of

merit in the person; it creates envy; it hastens misfortune.

            "But what madness must it be to run in debt for these superfluities?

We are offered by the terms of this sale, 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 The second vice is lying, the first

is running in debt, as Poor Richard says; and again, to the same purpose,

Lying rides upon Debt's back; whereas a free-born Englishman ought not

to be ashamed nor afraid to see or speak to any man living. But poverty

often deprives a man of all spirit and virtue. It is hard for an empty bag

to stand upright.

            "What would you think of that prince, or of that government, who

should issue an edict forbidding you to dress like a gentleman or gen-

tlewoman, on pain of imprisonment or servitude? Would you not say

that you were free, have a right to dress as you please, and that such an

edict would be a breach of your privileges, and 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 gaol till you

shall be able to pay him. When you have got your bargain, you may,

perhaps, think little of payment; but, as Poor Richard says, Creditors

have better memories than debtors; creditors are a superstitious sect, 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, who

owe money to be paid at Easter. At present, perhaps, you may think your-

selves in thriving circumstances, and that you can bear a little extrava-

gance without injury; but


            For age and want save while you may;

            No morning sun lasts a whole day.


Gain may be temporary and uncertain, but ever, while you live, expense

is constant and certain; and It is 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.


And, when you have got the Philosopher's stone, sure you will no longer

complain of bad times, or the difficulty of paying taxes.

            "IV. This doctrine, my friends, is reason and wisdom; but, after all, do

not depend too much upon your own industry, and frugality, and pru-

dence, 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, as Poor Richard says, and scarce in that; for, it is true,

We may give advice, but we cannot give conduct. However, remember

this, They that will not be counselled, cannot be helped; and further, that,

If you will not hear Reason, she will surely rap your knuckles, as Poor

Richard says."

            Thus the old gentleman 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 auction opened, and they

began to buy extravagantly. I found the good man had thoroughly stud-

ied my Almanacs, and digested all I had dropped on these topics during

the course of twenty-five 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

longer. Reader, if thou wilt do the same, thy profit will be as great as

mine. I am, as ever, thine to serve thee,

                                                                        RICHARD SAUNDERS.

                                    (cited from The Works of Benjamin Franklin, ed.

                                    by Jared Sparks. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Childs &

                                    Peterson, 1840, vol. 2, pp. 94—103; italics in original)