1. Franklin’s Advice for the New Year

FRANKLIN’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY Vol. i, pp. 79-85

These names of virtues, with their precepts, were:
1. TEMPERANCE.
Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
2. SILENCE.
Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling
conversation.
3. ORDER.
Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business
have its time.
4. RESOLUTION.
Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what
you resolve.
5. FRUGALITY.
Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste
nothing.
6. INDUSTRY.
Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all
unnecessary actions.
7. SINCERITY.
Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you
speak, speak accordingly.
8. JUSTICE.
Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are
your duty.
9. MODERATION.
Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think
they deserve.
10. CLEANLINESS.
Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
11. TRANQUILLITY.
Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
12. CHASTITY.
Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dulness,
weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
13. HUMILITY.
Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

My intention being to acquire the habitude of all these virtues, I
judg’d it would be well not to distract my attention by attempting
the whole at once, but to fix it on one of them at a time; and, when I
should be master of that, then to proceed to another, and so on, till
I should have gone thro’ the thirteen; and, as the previous acquisition
of some might facilitate the acquisition of certain others, I arrang’d
them with that view, as they stand above. Temperance first,
as it tends to procure that coolness and clearness of head, which is
so necessary where constant vigilance was to be kept up, and guard
maintained against the unremitting attraction of ancient habits, and
the force of perpetual temptations. This being acquir’d and established,
Silence would be more easy; and my desire being to gain
knowledge at the same time that I improv’d in virtue, and considering
that in conversation it was obtain’d rather by the use of
the ears than of the tongue, and therefore wishing to break a habit
I was getting into of prattling, punning, and joking, which only
made me acceptable to trifling company, I gave Silence the second
place. This and the next, Order, I expected would allow me more
time for attending to my project and my studies. Resolution, once
become habitual, would keep me firm in my endeavors to obtain all
the subsequent virtues; Frugality and Industry freeing me from
my remaining debt, and producing affluence and independence,
would make more easy the practice of Sincerity and Justice, etc., etc.
Conceiving then, that, agreeably to the advice of Pythagoras in his
Golden Verses, daily examination would be necessary, I contrived
the following method for conducting that examination.
I made a little book, in which I allotted a page for each of the
virtues. I rul’d each page with red ink, so as to have seven columns,
one for each day of the week, marking each column with a letter
for the day. I cross’d these columns with thirteen red lines, marking
the beginning of each line with the first letter of one of the virtues,
on which line, and in its proper column, I might mark, by a
little black spot, every fault I found upon examination to have been
committed respecting that virtue upon that day.

I determined to give a week’s strict attention to each of the virtues
successively. Thus, in the first week, my great guard was to avoid
every the least offence against Temperance, leaving the other virtues
to their ordinary chance, only marking every evening the faults
of the day. Thus, if in the first week I could keep my first line,
marked T, clear of spots, I suppos’d the habit of that virtue so much
strengthen’d, and its opposite weaken’d, that I might venture extending
my attendon to include the next, and for the following week
keep both lines clear of spots. Proceeding thus to the last, I could go
thro’ a course compleat in thirteen weeks, and four courses in a year.
And like him who, having a garden to weed, does not attempt to
eradicate all the bad herbs at once, which would exceed his reach
and his strength, but works on one of the beds at a time, and, having
accomplish’d the first, proceeds to a second, so I should have, I
hoped, the encouraging pleasure of seeing on my pages the progress
I made in virtue, by clearing successively my lines of their spots, till
in the end, by a number of courses, I should be happy in viewing a
clean book, after a thirteen weeks’ daily examination.
This my little book had for its motto these lines from Addison’s
Cato:

“Here will I hold. If there’s a power above us
(And that there is, all nature cries aloud
Thro’ all her works), He must delight in virtue;
And that which he delights in must be happy.”

Another from Cicero,

“O vitae Philosophia dux! O virtutum indagatrix expultrixque vitiorum!
Unus dies, bene et ex przceptis tuis actus, pcccanti immortalitati
est anteponendus.”

Another from the Proverbs of Solomon, speaking of wisdom or
virtue:

“Length of days is in her right hand, and in her left hand riches and
honour. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.”
iii. 16, 17.

And conceiving God to be the fountain of wisdom, I thought it
right and necessary to solicit his assistance for obtaining it; to this
end I formed the following little prayer, which was prefix’d to my
tables of examination, for daily use.

“O powerful Goodness! bountiful Father! merciful Guide! Increase in
me that wisdom which discovers my truest interest. Strengthen my
resolutions to perform what that wisdom dictates. Accept my kind offices to
thy other children as the only return in my power for thy continual
favors to me!’

I used also sometimes a little prayer which I took from Thomson’s
Poems, viz.:

“Father of light and life, thou Good Supreme!
O teach me what is good; teach me Thyself!
Save me from folly, vanity, and vice,
From every low pursuit; and fill my soul
With knowledge, conscious peace, and virtue pure;
Sacred, substantial, never-fading bliss!”

The precept of Order requiring that every part of my business
should have its allotted time, one page in my little book contain’d
the following scheme of employment for the twenty-four hours of
a natural day:

THE MORNING. Question. What good shall I do this day? Rise, wash, and address Powerful Goodness! Contrive day’s business, and take the resolution of the day; prosecute the present study, and breakfast. 5,6,7am.

Work. 8,9,10,11am.

NOON. Read, or overlook my accounts, and dine. 12,1pm,…

Work. 2,3,4,5pm.

EVENING. Question. What good have I done to-day? Put things in their places. Supper. Music or diversion, or conversation. Examination of the day. 6,7,8,9pm.

NIGHT. Sleep. 10pm-4am

I enter’d upon the execution of this plan for self-examination, and
continu’d it with occasional intermissions for some time. I was surpris’d
to find myself so much fuller of faults than I had imagined;
but I had the satisfaction of seeing them diminish. To avoid the
trouble of renewing now and then my little book, which, by scraping
out the marks on the paper of old faults to make room for new
ones in a new course, became full of holes, I transferr’d my tables
and precepts to the ivory leaves of a memorandum book, on which
the lines were drawn with red ink, that made a durable stain, and on
those lines I mark’d my faults with a black-lead pencil, which marks
I could easily wipe out with a wet sponge. After a while I went
thro’ one course only in a year, and afterward only one in several
years, till at length I omitted them entirely, being employ’d in voyages
and business abroad, with a multiplicity of affairs that interfered;
but I always carried my little book with me.
My scheme of ORDER gave me the most trouble; and I found that,
tho’ it might be practicable where a man’s business was such as to
leave him the disposition of his time, that of a journeyman printer,
for instance, it was not possible to be exactly observed by a master,
who must mix with the world, and often receive people of business
at their own hours. Order, too, with regard to places for things,
papers, etc., I found extreamly difficult to acquire. I had not been
early accustomed to it, and, having an exceeding good memory, I
was not so sensible of the inconvenience attending want of method.
This article, therefore, cost me so much painful attention, and my
faults in it vexed me so much, and I made so little progress in
amendment, and had such frequent relapses, that I was almost ready
to give up the attempt, and content myself with a faulty character in
that respect, like the man who, in buying an ax of a smith, my
neighbour, desired to have the whole of its surface as bright as the
edge. The smith consented to grind it bright for him if he would
turn the wheel; he turn’d, while the smith press’d the broad face of
the ax hard and heavily on the stone, which made the turning of it
very fatiguing. The man came every now and then from the wheel
to see how the work went on, and at length would take his ax as
it was, without farther grinding. “No,” said the smith, “turn on,
turn on; we shall have it bright by-and-by; as yet, it is only
speckled.” “Yes,” said the man, “but I think I like a speckled ax
best.” And I believe this may have been the case with many, who,
having, for want of some such means as I employ’d, found the diffi
culty of obtaining good and breaking bad habits in other points of
vice and virtue, have given up the struggle, and concluded that “a
speckled ax was best”; for something, that pretended to be reason,
was every now and then suggesting to me that such extream nicety
as I exacted of myself might be a kind of foppery in morals, which,
if it were known, would make me ridiculous; that a perfect character
might be attended with the inconvenience of being envied and
hated; and that a benevolent man should allow a few faults in himself,
to keep his friends in countenance.
In truth, I found myself incorrigible with respect to Order; and
now I am grown old, and my memory bad, I feel very sensibly the
want of it. 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; as those who aim at perfect
writing by imitating the engraved copies, tho’ they never reach
the wish’d-for excellence of those copies, their hand is mended by
the endeavor, and is tolerable while it continues fair and legible.
It may be well my posterity should be informed that to this little
artifice, with the blessing of God, their ancestor ow’d the constant
felicity of his life, down to his 79th year, in which this is written.
What reverses may attend the remainder is in the hand of Providence;
but, if they arrive, the reflection on past happiness enjoy’d
ought to help his bearing them with more resignation. To Temperance
he ascribes his long-continued health, and what is still left to
him of a good constitution; to Industry and Frugality, the early
easiness of his circumstances and acquisition of his fortune, with
all that knowledge that enabled him to be a useful citizen, and obtained
for him some degree of reputation among the learned; to
Sincerity and Justice, the confidence of his country, and the honorable
employs it conferred upon him; and to the joint influence of
the whole mass of the virtues, even in the imperfect state he was able
to acquire them, all that evenness of temper, and that cheerfulness
in conversation, which makes his company still sought for, and
agreeable even to his younger acquaintance. I hope, therefore,
that some of my descendants may follow the example and reap the
benefit.

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