When Benjamin Franklin left Boston for Philadelphia in 1723, at the age of 17 , he had little going for him. The son of a candlemaker with a total of 17 children, Franklin had no family wealth to lean on and only a Dutch dollar in his pocket. Yet within a quarter century, he was financially secure, retiring from business, and devoting the rest of his life - 42 years, to be precise - to public service. And it was Franklin who played a critical role in the American philanthropic tradition with his bequests to loan funds for rising individuals as well as to the cities of Boston and Philadelphia.
Of Franklin's many activities (as inventor, scientist, and diplomat, to name but three), Poor Richard's Almanack was, without doubt, the most impressive to his contemporaries, many thousands of whom welcomed each new year with its purchase. First issued in December 1732, it was replete with common-sense philosophy that served as new year resolutions for an increasingly democratic population.
In spite of the passage of more than 150 years, Poor Richard's adages continue to be timely, and with a minimum of words, as the following 13 - my personal favorites - illustrate:
''A long life may not be good enough, but a good life is long enough.''
''Serving God is doing good to man, but praying is thought an easier service, and therefore more generally chosen.''
''Let our fathers and grandfathers be valued for their goodness, ourselves for our own.''
''If your riches are yours, why don't you take them with you to the t'other world?''
''Tim was so learned that he could name a horse in nine languages. So ignorant, that he bought a cow to ride upon.''
''Glass, china, and reputation are easily cracked, and never well mended.''
''Avarice and happiness never saw each other. How then should they become acquainted?''
''Let thy child's first lesson be obedience, and the second will be what thou wilt.''
''Mankind are very odd creatures: One half censure what they practise, the other half practise what they censure; the rest always say and do as they ought.''
''To err is human, to repent divine; to persist devilish.''
''Lawyers, preachers, and tomtit's eggs, there are more of them hatched than come to perfection.''
''Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.''
''Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every New Year find you a better man.''