Dost thou procrastinate? That’s a fancy, albeit archaic way to ask a harsh question around the end of the year, when everyone is making resolutions. My birthday comes in December, so the fact that another year has passed is that much more in my face. A more eloquent, equally archaic, and even harsher version of the procrastination question might be: “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time for that’s the stuff life is made of.”

So wrote Poor Richard, towards the end of December, two hundred and seventy-five years ago in the fifteenth edition of his almanack. We’ve since dropped the ‘k’ from ‘almanac’, so that’s not a typo. Richard Saunders proffered many prudent and witty aphorisms in his writings, like:

  • “Blessed is he who expects nothing for he shall never be disappointed.”
  • “A learned blockhead is a greater blockhead than an ignorant one.”
  • “If thou hast wit & learning, add to it wisdom and modesty.”
  • “By diligence and patience, the mouse bit in two the cable.”

Richard Saunders was an unschooled country dweller, and didn’t consider himself eloquent, as shown by the preface to the first edition of his almanack:

Poor Richard's Almanack

1739 Edition of Poor Richard’s Almanack

“Courteous Reader,
“I might in this place attempt to gain thy Favor, by declaring that I write almanacks with no other view than that of the public Good; but in this I should not be sincere; and men are now a-days too wise to be deceived by pretenses how specious so ever. The plain truth of the matter is, I am excessive poor, and my wife, good woman, is, I tell her, excessive proud; she cannot bear, she says, to sit spinning in her shift of tow, while I do nothing but gaze at the stars; and has threatened more than once to burn all my books and rattling-traps (as she calls my instruments) if I do not make some profitable use of them for the good of my Family. The Printer has offered me some considerable share of the profits, and I have thus begun to comply with my dame’s desire.”

If you haven’t bought your 2022 almanac yet, you may be missing out on advice and predictions on weather, trends in fashion, food, home, technology, and living for the coming year. Relying on the internet for such things? To be fair, the 2020 Old Farmer’s Almanac didn’t predict COVID-19, so the internet has its advantages. There is, however, some misinformation out there.

Getting back to Poor Richard and his first addition almanack for 1733. The next paragraph of his preface contains, not misinformation per say, but a farce involving the impending death of his “good friend and fellow-student, Mr. Titan Leeds, whose Interest I was extremely unwilling to hurt.” He predicts the publisher of An American Almanack, the bestseller of the day, and his most formidable competitor, will die on Oct. 17, 1733, 3:29 P.M, thus leaving a void in the almanack market. His printer, a well-known newspaperman, had to issue three more print runs, as this medley of farce and prognostication was wildly entertaining to the masses, and foreshadowed more outlandish fictions to come.

My New Year’s Resolution:

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” (about) – Poor Richard

That’s a great resolution for any, and every year. Richard did quite a bit of the former, as he produced twenty-seven editions of his almanack with print runs hitting ten thousand per year in the Thirteen Colonies. At its height, only the Bible outsold it, with one almanack sold for every 100 colonists. The purely informative, interspersed with Poor Richard’s humor and farce, brought it circulation round the world, evidenced by Napoleon Bonaparte, who had it translated to Italian. Then French.
Where did the editor of The Pennsylvania Gazette, Poor Richard’s printer, find him? The inventor of the lightning rod, bifocal eyeglasses, and the Franklin Stove, invented Poor Richard, although he never admitted to it, as he did many of the aliases he wrote under for his newspaper. Benjamin Franklin is, of course, most well-known for editing the Declaration of Independence, signing it as a representative of what is now my birth state of Pennsylvania, and thus co-founding the United States of America.


His influence on industry and entrepreneurialism in the United States endures today, as unprecedented. Inspiration for my focus on Franklin came from a New Year’s resolutions article I came across at Market Watch.

“But, on the whole, tho’ I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavour, a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it.”

Benjamin Franklin (center) at work on a printing press. Reproduction of a Charles Mills painting by the Detroit Publishing Company.

Benjamin Franklin (center) at work on a printing press. Reproduction of a Charles Mills painting by the Detroit Publishing Company.

In Boston, as a teenager, Franklin apprenticed in his older brother, James’ printing shop. Even at this young age, if met an obstacle he couldn’t overcome, he skirted around it rather than abandon his ambition. He’d gotten none of his work published in his brother’s paper, The New-England Courant, so at age sixteen, he slipped a letter by Silence Dogood, a middle-aged widow, and his first of many pen names. Fourteen letters were left and published over a six-month period. Immensely popular, Ms. Dogood touched on such topics as hoop petticoats, much to the amusement of colonists.


Hoop Skirt/Pannier

“These monstrous topsy-turvy Mortar-Pieces, are neither fit for the Church, the Hall, or the Kitchen; and if a Number of them were well mounted on Noddles-Island, they would look more like Engines of War for bombarding the Town, than Ornaments of the Fair Sex. An honest Neighbour of mine, happening to be in Town some time since on a publick Day, inform’d me, that he saw four Gentlewomen with their Hoops half mounted in a Balcony, as they withdrew to the Wall, to the great Terror of the Militia, who (he thinks) might attribute their irregular Volleys to the formidable Appearance of the Ladies Petticoats.”

James received several marriage proposals addressed to Silence Dogood, so he was angry to eventually learn his brother was the author. Soon after, Benjamin abandoned his apprenticeship without permission and escaped as a fugitive to Philadelphia. Printing was his trade until he retired at the age of forty-two a wealthy man. he accomplished much beyond that point, as a scientist and statesman but  signed his name, ‘B. Franklin, Printer, more often than naught.

Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve.

Resolution was the fourth of Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues he compiled in his early twenties. In his daily life, Benjamin Franklin was indeed resolute, meeting adversary with fortitude. It was a habit he formed at a young age, but anyone can do it at any point in life. If thou love life, do it now, not on any specific date, now. I’ll do the same.

“By diligence and patience, the mouse bit in two the cable.” – Poor Richard

Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky c. 1816 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, by Benjamin West
Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky c. 1816, by Benjamin West

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