BEN THERE, DONE THAT

FRANKLIN, BENJAMIN (Jan. 17, 1706 – Apr. 17, 1790), was a jack-of-all-trades and master of many. No other American, except possibly Thomas Jefferson, has done so many things so well. –WORLD BOOK ENCYCLOPEDIA

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Ben Franklin indeed did so many things so well that it would take an encyclopedia to chronicle them fully. To touch on but a few, as a statesman he was the only man to sign all four of these foundational American documents: the Declaration of Independence, the Treaties of Alliance with France and of Peace with Great Britain, and the Constitution. His service as minister to France helped win the Revolutionary War. As a civic leader, he established the world’s first subscription library, raised money to help build the Pennsylvania Hospital for the sick and insane (the first in America), and helped found the academy which became the University of Pennsylvania.

As an inventor, he cooked up an efficient heating stove, was one of the first to experiment with electricity (famously, and dangerously, flying a homemade kite with a key tied to the end during a thunderstorm), and invented the lightning rod. In this connection, I beg your indulgence with a poem:

FRANKLIN COURTS KITE-TASTROPHE

For of all sad words
Of tongue or pen,
The almost saddest are these:
“It might have, Ben.”

No doubt you’re familiar with Franklin’s POOR RICHARD’S ALMANAC, but did you know why it was so called? He wrote it under the pen name Richard Saunders, an imaginary astronomer, beginning 1n 1733 and published annually for 25 years. It is the source of some of Franklin’s most famous and enduring sayings, such as “A penny saved is a penny earned,” “God helps them that helps themselves” and “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”

But in my research for this post, I found my favorite Franklin quotes to be those with more wit and humor (such as the one that opened my previous post) than I had associated with his writings. Just goes to show that you can’t judge an almanac by its cover. I close with these examples:

Fish and visitors smell in three days.

We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.

Many people die at 25 and aren’t buried until they are 75.

When you are finished changing, you’re finished.

If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth writing.

Were I a Roman Catholic, perhaps I should on this occasion [narrowly avoiding a shipwreck] vow to build a chapel to some saint, but as I am not, it should be to build a lighthouse.

The only thing that is more expensive than education is ignorance.

Trouble knocked at the door, but, hearing laughter, hurried away.

The problem with doing nothing is not knowing when you’re finished.

I’m finished.