Poor Richard's Almanack
Poor Richard's Almanack (sometimes Almanac) was a yearly almanac published by Benjamin Franklin, who adopted the pseudonym of "Poor Richard" or "Richard Saunders" for this purpose. The publication appeared continually from 1732 to 1758. It sold exceptionally well for a pamphlet published in the American colonies; print runs reached 10,000 per year.
Franklin, the American inventor, statesman, and publisher, achieved success with Poor Richard's Almanack. Almanacks were very popular books in colonial America, offering a mixture of seasonal weather forecasts, practical household hints, puzzles, and other amusements. Poor Richard's Almanack was also popular for its extensive use of wordplay, and some of the witty phrases coined in the work survive in the contemporary American vernacular. Benjamin Franklin first published the Almanac under the name of "Richard Saunders" in 1732 and continued for 25 years.
The Almanack contained the calendar, weather, poems, sayings and astronomical and astrological information that a typical almanac of the period would contain. Franklin also included the occasional mathematical exercise, and the Almanack from 1750 features an early example of demographics. It is chiefly remembered, however, for being a repository of Franklin's aphorisms and proverbs, many of which live on in American English. These maxims typically counsel thrift and courtesy, with a dash of cynicism.
In the spaces that occurred between noted calendar days, Franklin included proverbial sentences about industry and frugality. Several of these sayings were borrowed from an earlier writer, Lord Halifax, many of whose aphorisms sprang from, "... [a] basic skepticism directed against the motives of men, manners, and the age." In 1757, Franklin made a selection of these and prefixed them to the almanac as the address of an old man to the people attending an auction. This was later published as The Way to Wealth, and was popular in both America and England.
Franklin borrowed the name "Richard Saunders" from the seventeenth-century author of Rider's British Merlin, a popular London almanac which continued to be published throughout the eighteenth century. Franklin created the Poor Richard persona based in part on Jonathan Swift's pseudonymous character, "Isaac Bickerstaff". In a series of three letters in 1708 and 1709, known as the Bickerstaff papers, "Bickerstaff" predicted the imminent death of astrologer and almanac maker John Partridge. Franklin's Poor Richard, like Bickerstaff, claimed to be a philomath and astrologer and, like Bickerstaff, predicted the deaths of actual astrologers who wrote traditional almanacs. In the early editions of Poor Richard's Almanack, predicting and falsely reporting the deaths of these astrologers—much to their dismay—was something of a running joke. However, Franklin's endearing character of "Poor" Richard Saunders, along with his wife Bridget, was ultimately used to frame (if comically) what was intended as a serious resource that people would buy year after year. To that end, the satirical edge of Swift's character is largely absent in Poor Richard. Richard was presented as distinct from Franklin himself, occasionally referring to the latter as his printer.
In later editions, the original Richard Saunders character gradually disappeared, replaced by a Poor Richard, who largely stood in for Franklin and his own practical scientific and business perspectives. By 1758, the original character was even more distant from the practical advice and proverbs of the almanac, which Franklin presented as coming from "Father Abraham," who in turn got his sayings from Poor Richard.
Franklin published the first Poor Richard's Almanack on December 28, 1732, and continued to publish new editions for 25 years, bringing him much economic success and popularity. The almanack sold as many as 10,000 copies a year. In 1735, upon the death of Franklin's brother, James, Franklin sent 500 copies of Poor Richard's to his widow for free, so that she could make money selling them.
One of the appeals of the Almanack was that it contained various "news stories" in serial format, so that readers would purchase it year after year to find out what happened to the protagonists. One of the earliest of these was the "prediction" that the author's "good Friend and Fellow-Student, Mr. Titan Leeds" would die on October 17 of that year, followed by the rebuttal of Mr. Leeds himself that he would die, not on the 17th, but on October 26. Appealing to his readers, Franklin urged them to purchase the next year or two or three or four editions to show their support for his prediction. The following year, Franklin expressed his regret that he was too ill to learn whether he or Leeds was correct. Nevertheless, the ruse had its desired effect: people purchased the Almanack to find out who was correct. (Later editions of the Almanack would claim that Leeds had died and that the person claiming to be Leeds was an impostor; Leeds, in fact, died in 1738, which prompted Franklin to applaud the supposed impostor for ending his ruse.)
For some writers the content of the Almanack became inextricably linked with Franklin's character—and not always to favorable effect. Both Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville caricatured the Almanack—and Franklin by extension—in their writings, while James Russell Lowell, reflecting on the public unveiling in Boston of a statue to honor Franklin, wrote:
... we shall find out that Franklin was born in Boston, and invented being struck with lightning and printing and the Franklin medal, and that he had to move to Philadelphia because great men were so plenty in Boston that he had no chance, and that he revenged himself on his native town by saddling it with the Franklin stove, and that he discovered the almanac, and that a penny saved is a penny lost, or something of the kind.
The Almanack was also a reflection of the norms and social mores of his times, rather than a philosophical document setting a path for new-freedoms, as the works of Franklin's contemporaries, Jefferson, Adams, or Paine were. Historian Howard Zinn offers, as an example, the adage "Let thy maidservant be faithful, strong, and homely" as indication of Franklin's belief in the legitimacy of controlling the sexual lives of servants for the economic benefit of their masters.
At least one modern biographer has published the claim that Franklin "stole", not borrowed, the name of Richard Saunders from the deceased astrologer-doctor. Franklin also "borrowed—apparently without asking—and adapted the title of an almanac his brother James Franklin was publishing at Newport: Poor Robin's Almanack (itself appropriated from a seventeenth-century almanac published under the same title in London)".
Napoleon Bonaparte considered the Almanack significant enough to translate it into Italian, along with the Pennsylvania State Constitution (which Franklin helped draft), when he established the Cisalpine Republic in 1797. The Almanack was also twice translated into French, reprinted in Great Britain in broadside for ease of posting, and was distributed by members of the clergy to poor parishioners. It was the first work of English literature to be translated into Slovene. It was translated in 1812 by Janez Nepomuk Primic (1785–1823).
The Almanack also had a strong cultural and economic impact in the years following publication. In Pennsylvania, changes in monetary policy in regard to foreign expenses were evident for years after the issuing of the Almanack. The King of France named a ship given to John Paul Jones after the Almanack's author—Bonhomme Richard, or "Good man Richard" (the first of several US warships so named). Later writers such as Noah Webster were inspired by the almanack, and it went on to influence other publications of this type such as The Old Farmer's Almanac.
Today, the Roosevelt-Bentman Trust for American Voters, Philadelphia, an active charitable trust, owns the property rights to "Poor Richard's Almanack" through The Poor Richard Corporation. The intellectual property rights were secured in 1978 when the Poor Richard's Club, Philadelphia, went defunct.
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Poor Richard's Almanack|
- Charles A. Goodrich (1829). Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence. W. Reed & Company. p. 267. Retrieved 7 June 2013.
- Oracle ThinkQuest (2003)
- The History Place (1998)
- Innovation Philadelphia (2005)
- Pasles (2001), pp. 492–493
- Newcomb (1955), pp. 535–536
- Wilson (2006)
- Ross (1940), pp. 785–791
- Ross (1940), pp. 791–794
- Independence Hall Association (1999–2007)
- Laughter (1999–2003)
- Miles (1957), p. 141.
- Zinn, 1980, 44.
- Brands, H. W. (2000) The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin First Anchor Books Edition, March 2002. ISBN 0-385-49540-4.
- Dauer (1976), p. 50.
- Mazi-Leskovar, Darja (May 2003). "Domestication and Foreignization in Translating American Prose for Slovenian Children". Meta: Translator's Journal. Les Presses de l'Université de Montréal. 48 (1–2): 250–265. doi:10.7202/006972ar. ISSN 1492-1421.
- "Janez Nepomuk Primic in ustanovitev stolice za slovenski jezik na liceju v Gradcu 1811" [Janez Nepomuk Primic and the Establishment of the Chair of Slovene at the Lyzeum in Graz in 1811] (PDF). Slavistična revija [Journal of Slavic Linguistics] (in Slovenian and English). 50 (1). January–March 2002. ISSN 1855-7570.
- Kneeland et al. (1891), pp. 46–47
- Arch, Stephen Carl (July 1995). "Writing a Federalist Self: Alexander Graydon's Memoirs of a Life". William and Mary Quarterly. 3rd Series. Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture. 52 (3): 415–432. doi:10.2307/2947293. JSTOR 2947293.
- Bellis, Mary. "Benjamin Franklin and his Times". About.com. Retrieved 2007-04-17.
- Bucknell University (2004). "100 Years of Carnegie: Franklin: Poor Richard's Almanack". Retrieved 2007-04-16.
- Dauer, Manning J. (August 1976). "The Impact of the American Independence and the American Constitution: 1776–1848; with a Brief Epilogue". The Journal of Politics. Cambridge University Press. 38 (3): 37–55. doi:10.2307/2129573. JSTOR 2129573.
- Goodrich, Rev. Charles A. (1829). Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence.
- Hancock, David (Autumn 1998). "Commerce and Conversation in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic: The Invention of Madeira Wine". Journal of Interdisciplinary History. 29 (2): 197–219. doi:10.1162/002219598551670.
- Independence Hall Association (1999–2007). "Benjamin Franklin Timeline". Retrieved 2007-04-17.
- Innovation Philadelphia (2005). "Printer and Publisher, Franklin Gives a "Word to the Wise"". Archived from the original on 2006-05-16. Retrieved 2013-04-22.
- Kneeland, John; Wheeler, Henry Nathan (1891). Masterpieces of American Literature. United States: Houghton Mifflin & Co.
- Laughter, Frank (1999–2003). "Golden Nuggets from U. S. History: Benjamin Franklin and Poor Richard's Almanac". Retrieved 2007-04-17.
- Lena, Alberto (January 30, 2003). "Poor Richard's Almanack". The Literary Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2007-04-16.
- Miles, Richard D. (Summer 1957). "The American Image of Benjamin Franklin". American Quarterly. The Johns Hopkins University Press. 9 (2): 117–143. doi:10.2307/2710628. JSTOR 2710628.
- Mulder, William (December 1979). "Seeing 'New Englandly': Planes of Perception in Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost". The New England Quarterly. The New England Quarterly, Inc. 52 (4): 550–559. doi:10.2307/365757. JSTOR 365757.
- Newcomb, Robert (November 1957). "Benjamin Franklin and Montaigne". Modern Language Notes. The Johns Hopkins University Press. 72 (7): 489–491. doi:10.2307/3043511. JSTOR 3043511.
- Newcomb, Robert (June 1955). "Poor Richard's Debt to Lord Halifax". PMLA. Modern Language Association. 70 (3): 535–539. doi:10.2307/460054. JSTOR 460054.
- Oracle ThinkQuest (2003). "Poor Richard's Almanac". ThinkQuest: Library. Retrieved 2007-04-17.
- Pasles, Paul C. (June–July 2001). "The Lost Squares of Dr. Franklin: Ben Franklin's Missing Squares and the Secret of the Magic Circle". The American Mathematical Monthly. Mathematical Association of America. 108 (6): 489–511. doi:10.2307/2695704. JSTOR 2695704.
- Ross, John F. (September 1940). "The Character of Poor Richard: Its Source and Alteration". PMLA. Modern Language Association. 55 (3): 785–794. doi:10.2307/458740. JSTOR 458740.
- Smith, Mark M. (February 1996). "Time, Slavery and Plantation Capitalism in the Ante-Bellum American South". Past and Present. 150: 142–168. doi:10.1093/past/150.1.142.
- The History Place (1998). "English Colonial Era: 1700 to 1763". Retrieved 2007-04-17.
- Wilson, Pip (2006). "A Calendar History". Retrieved 2007-04-17.
- Zinn, Howard (1980). A People's History of the United States. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
The prefaces to the Almanack are also reprinted in:
- Franklin, Benjamin; J.A. Leo Lemay (ed). Benjamin Franklin: Autobiography, Poor Richard: Autobiography, Poor Richard, and Later Writings. New York: Library of America, 2005. ISBN 1-883011-53-1.
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Poor Richard's Almanack|
- Scanned images of three online editions of Poor Richard's Almanack (1733, 1753, 1759)
- High-Quality Scanned Images of several pages of Poor Richard's Almanack
- Rare Book Room Complete high-quality images for most of the almanacs. (Click "find by author" and select "Franklin" for a complete list.)