This morning, in replying to a reader’s comment to my last post BEN THERE, DONE THAT, I closed my reply with the words “go fly a kite.” Well, as often happens, one thing leads to another, and those four words called to mind this song (from the Disney films MARY POPPINS and SAVING MR. BANKS) as a fitting curtain call to the soaring achievements of Mr. Franklin:
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.
In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria.
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Fellow American History lovers, I hadn’t intended to post again until Ben Franklin’s birthday tomorrow, but in doing research for same, I came across the above quote which so smoothly bridges the space between Ben and the subject of my last post, I would be stupid to let it pass.
What’s that you say — letting it pass wouldn’t make any difference? Fine. Just for that, I have a good mind….not to invite you back tomorrow for more Ben. But I forgive you. Meanwhile, while drinking water, remember to filter it through your teeth to strain out the bacteria. I wish I could say that also works for straining out stupidity, but no matter — in your case, it’s too late anyway. Hahahahaha.
I’ll bet you don’t know what the above title is an example of….I mean, besides an example of a title. And far be it from me to intend it as an example of an insult, or an insult of an example. It’s called chiasmus, which is defined as a rhetorical inversion of two parallel phrases. Friends, is this blog an education, or is this education a blog, or what?
Truth be told, I likewise had never heard of the word until I bought a book with the fascinating title NEVER LET A FOOL KISS YOU OR A KISS FOOL YOU, by Dr. Mardi Gras (my “made-in” name for Dr. Mardy Grothe — sorry about that). Of course, I’d read chiasmus for years not knowing what they’re called. As Dr. Grothe points out, profound thinkers and great wits have long been masters of the form: Shakespeare, Winston Churchill, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Ben Franklin, Mark Twain, Dorothy Parker and Anonymous, to name more than a few.
No doubt you too are familiar with some of the following chiasmus, but with the likes of these, if familiarity breeds contempt, you may have contempt for the familiar….or, more likely, I’m guilty of stretching a chiasmus / making much ado about nothing. Or something.
I wasted time, and now doth time waste me. -Shakespeare (King Richard II)
The desire of the man is for the woman, but the desire of the woman is for the desire of the man. –Germaine de Stael
I find Peale appalling and Paul appealing. –Democratic Governor/Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson (comparing conservative Minister/author Norman Vincent Peale and the Apostle Paul)
In the bluegrass region / A paradox was born: / The corn was full of kernels / And the colonels were full of corn. -John Marshall
I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy. -Randy Hanzlick
When you have nothing to say, say nothing. -Charles Caleb Colton
Don’t worry that other people don’t know you; worry that you don’t know other people. -Confucius
A fool often fails because he thinks what is difficult is easy, and a wise man because he thinks what is easy is difficult. -John Churton Collins
Friendship is love minus sex plus reason. Love is friendship plus sex minus reason. -Mason Cooley
No woman has ever so comforted the distressed — or so distressed the comfortable. -Clare Booth Luce, on Eleanor Roosevelt
Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good. -Dr. Samuel Johnson, to an aspiring writer
Boy meets girl; girl gets boy into pickle; boy gets pickle into girl. -Jack Woodford, on typical plot of Hollywood movies
That’s all for the present. I thank all present, and recommend the book as a present to all.
April 30 is National Honesty Day, and in all honesty, few are better qualified to wax veracious on this subject than I, or my name isn’t mistermuse. I have even composed a little poem (which I dedicate to my fellow man) to celebrate the occasion:
Always be honest with yourself
To make the most of life —
It will save you untold trouble
Unless you tell your wife.
Of course, no homage to honesty would be complete without a contribution from the most honest man (recusing myself from consideration) who ever lived, “Honest Abe,” whose real name was Abraham Lincoln. Fortunately, “Honest Abe” acquired that reputation well before becoming a politician, so we can be reasonably confident that he was indeed honest, and so accustomed to truth-telling that not even politics could break him of the habit. He therefore gets the honor of leading off this compilation of quotations on honesty:
If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one? –Abraham Lincoln
Honesty is the best policy. —Benjamin Franklin
I have not observed men’s honesty to increase with their riches. –Thomas Jefferson
Honesty is the best policy – for poor people. —Evan Esar
It is better to be quotable than to be honest. –Tom Stoppard (who managed to be both for the price of one?)
Honesty is the best policy – when there is money in it. —Mark Twain
Pretty much all the honest truth-telling in the world is done by children. –Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.
Today I bent the truth to be kind, and I have no regret, for I am far surer of what is kind than I am of what is true. –Robert Brault
Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself. –Ludwig Wittgenstein
We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find is an honest friend. –Robert Louis Stevenson
I tend to be drawn more to the wisdom of those who question everything than to “accepted” wisdom, since no one knows everything — no one I know and trust, that is. But what of God, who (I was taught) does know everything. As an American, how could I not trust God? The proclamation IN GOD WE TRUST is all-inclusively bannered on our country’s legal tender –which, if you stop to think, seems an odd bearer for it, given the admonishment that money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10).
Be that as it may, the thing about God is like the thing about truth — exactly whose God, whose truth are we talking about? To paraphrase the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, you’re entitled to your own God, your own truth — but not your own facts. If you take the discrepant God of divergent religions for a fact, how can a fact divided against itself stand? Aren’t we left with the logic that no deity conceived by humans has a basis in fact? But you knew that …. right?
I don’t believe in any religion’s God (which isn’t the same as not believing in a Creator), but if I did, why would I want to take the life of, or coerce, a man of a different faith — both of our faiths are, after all, only fallible beliefs. Better to take the measure of human folly, as observed and recorded by those who have questioned everything:
The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunk man is happier than a sober one. –George Bernard Shaw
If absolute power corrupts absolutely, where does that leave God? –George Deacon
I don’t pray because I don’t want to bore God. –Orson Welles
When I was a kid, I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realized that the Lord doesn’t work that way, so I stole one and asked Him to forgive me. —Emo Phillips
Religion, n. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable. –Ambrose Bierce (THE DEVIL’S DICTIONARY)
Many a long dispute among divines may be thus abridged: It is so. It is not so. It is so. It is not so. –Ben Franklin
Well, you could become a Southern Baptist. I mean, instead of having to obey the Pope, you could just obey your husband. –Arianna Huffington
The only thing that stops God from sending a second flood is that the first one was useless. –Nicolas Chamfort
When I told the people of Northern Ireland that I was an atheist, a woman in the audience stood up and said, “Yes, but is it the God of the Catholics or the God of the Protestants in whom you don’t believe?” –Quentin Crisp
I too much respect the idea of God to make it responsible for such an absurd world. –Georges Duhamel