Way to Wealth
I have heard that nothing gives an author
so much pleasure as finding his works respectfully quoted
by other learned authors. This is a pleasure I have seldom
enjoyed. For though I have been, if I may say it without
vanity, a very successful author of almanacs for a quarter
of a century, my brother authors have been very sparing
in their applause. In fact, no other author has taken the
least notice of me, so that if my writings did not earn
me a decent living, this great deficiency of praise would
have quite discouraged me.
I concluded at length that the people were the best
judge of my merit since they buy my books. And in my travels
where I am not personally known, I have frequently heard
one or other of my sayings repeated, with “as Poor Richard
says” at the end of it. This gives me great satisfaction
as it shows not only that my instructions are regarded,
but that I am also well respected as an authority. I do
admit that to encourage the practice of remembering and
repeating these wise sentences, I have sometimes quoted
myself with great gravity.
Judge then how much I must have been gratified by
an incident that I am going to relate to you. I stopped
my horse where a great number of people were gathered for
an auction of merchant goods. The hour of sale had not yet
arrived and they were conversing on the general badness
of the times. One of the group called to an old man with
white hair, “Father Abraham, what do you think of the times?
Won’t these heavy taxes quite ruin the country? How will
we ever be able to pay them? What would you advise us to
Father Abraham stood up, and replied, “If you’ll
take my advice, I’ll give it to you in a few words, for
a word to the wise is enough, and many words won’t fill
a bushel, as Poor Richard says.” They all joined in encouraging
him to speak his mind and gathering round him, he proceeded
“Friends and neighbors, the taxes are indeed very
heavy, and if those imposed on us by the government were
the only ones we had to pay, we might more easily pay them.
But we have many other taxes that are much more costly to
many of us. We are taxed twice as much by our idleness,
three times as much by our pride, and four times as much
by our foolishness, and from these taxes the legislators
cannot give us any reduction. However, let us listen to
good advice and something may be done for us, since God
helps them that help themselves, as Poor Richard says in
his Almanac of 1733.
“It would be thought an evil government that should
tax its people one tenth part of their time to be employed
in its service. But idleness taxes many of us much more,
if we reckon all that is spent in absolute laziness or doing
nothing, and that which is spent in idle employments or
amusements that amount to nothing. This laziness, by bringing
on disease, actually shortens life. Sloth, like rust, consumes
faster than labor wears, while the used key is always bright,
as Poor Richard says. Do you love life? Then do not squander
time, for that’s the stuff life is made of, he advises us
“How much more time than is necessary do we spend
sleeping, forgetting that the sleeping fox catches no poultry
and that there will be sleeping enough in the grave, as
Poor Richard says. If time is of all things the most precious,
wasting time must be, as Poor Richard says, the greatest
waste of all, since, as he tells us elsewhere, lost time
is never found again, and what we call time enough always
proves little enough. Let us then be up and working, for
by diligence we will do more with less perplexity. Sloth
makes all things difficult, but industry makes everything
easy, as Poor Richard says. He that rises late must run
all day, and shall barely catch up to his business at night.
While laziness travels so slowly that poverty soon overtakes
it, as we read in Poor Richard, who adds, drive your business,
and let not your business drive you. Early to bed and early
to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.
“So what’s the use of wishing and hoping for better
times? We may make these times better if we just get ourselves
going. Industry need not wish, as Poor Richard says, and
he that lives upon hope will die fasting. There are no gains
without pains. And, as Poor Richard observes, he that has
a trade has an estate, and he that has a calling has an
office of profit and honor. But the trade must be worked
at and the profession well followed, or neither will enable
us to pay our taxes. If we are industrious we shall never
starve, for, as Poor Richard says, hunger looks in at the
workingman’s house but dares not enter. Nor will the bailiff
enter, for industry pays debts while despair increases them,
says poor Richard.
“What if you have found no treasure or no rich relation
has left you a legacy? Diligence is the mother of good luck,
as Poor Richard says, and God gives all things to industry.
Then plough deep while sluggards sleep, and you shall have
corn to sell and to keep, says Poor Dick. Work hard today
for you do not know how much you may be hindered tomorrow,
which makes Poor Richard say that one today is worth two
tomorrows. If you were a servant, would you not be ashamed
that a good master should catch you idle? Are you not your
own master? Then be ashamed to catch yourself idle, as Poor
Dick says. When there is so much to be done for yourself,
your family and your country, you should be up at the crack
of dawn. Let not the sun look down and catch you lying about
with nothing to do.
“Handle your tools without mittens. Remember that
the cat in gloves catches no mice, as Poor Richard says.
It’s true there is much to be done, and perhaps you are
overworked, but stick to it steadily and you will see great
results, for constant dropping wears away stones, and by
diligence and patience the mouse ate the cable in two. And
likewise little strokes fell great oaks, as Poor Richard
I hear some of you say, must a man allow himself no leisure?
I will tell you, my friends, what poor Richard says. Employ
your time well if you mean to gain leisure. And since you
are not sure of even a minute, do not throw away an hour.
Leisure is time for doing something useful. This kind of
leisure the industrious man will obtain but the lazy man
never will, so that, as Poor Richard says, a life of leisure
and a life of laziness are two different things indeed.
Do you imagine that laziness will bring you more comfort
than hard work? No, for as Poor Richard says, trouble springs
from idleness and great worries from needless ease. Many
without labor would live by their wits, but they starve
for lack of resources. Whereas industry gives comfort and
plenty as well as respect.
“But with our industry, we must likewise be steady,
settled and careful, and oversee our own affairs with our
own eyes, and not trust too much to others. Three relocations
are as bad as a fire, as Poor Richard says. Keep your shop,
and your shop will keep you.
“The eye of a master will do more work than his hands.
Want of care does us more damage than want of knowledge.
Not to oversee your workmen is to leave your purse open
to them. Trusting too much to others’ care is the ruin of
many, for as the Almanac says, in the affairs of this world,
men are saved not by faith but by a lack of it. And later
on, if you would have a faithful servant and one that you
like, serve yourself. He also advises us to look after even
the smallest details. A little neglect may breed great mischief.
For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe
the horse was lost, and for want of a horse the rider was
lost, being overtaken and slain by the enemy, all for want
of care about a horseshoe nail.
“So much for industry, my friends, and attention
to one’s own business. But to these we must add frugality,
if we would make our industry more certainly successful.
A man may, if he knows not how to save as he earns, keep
his nose to the grindstone all his life, and die penniless.
A fat kitchen makes a lean will, as Poor Richard says.
“What maintains one vice would bring up two children.
You may think perhaps that a little tea, or a little punch
now and then, a diet a little more costly, clothes a little
finer, and a little entertainment can be no great matter,
but remember what Poor Richard says. Beware of little expenses,
for a small leak can sink a great ship. Fools make feasts
and wise men eat them.
“All of you are gathered here today for this auction
of fineries and knick-knacks. You call them “goods” but
if you’re not careful they will prove evils to some of you.
You expect they will be sold cheap and perhaps they may
be bought for less than they cost. But if you really don’t
need them, they’re expensive luxuries at best. Remember
what Poor Richard says. Buy what you have no need of and
you’ll soon not be able to buy what you need. Think before
even the best of bargains. Perhaps the bargain is not what
it appears, or the bargain, by taking cash from your business,
may do you more harm than good. For in another place he
says many have been ruined by getting good bargains. Again
Poor Richard says, it’s foolish to spend good money to buy
anything that will cause you regret. And yet this foolishness
is practiced every day at auctions like this, because people
don’t remember the Almanac.
“Wise men, as Poor Dick says, learn by others’ hardships,
but fools scarcely learn even by their own. Happy the man
whom others’ misfortunes make wary! For the sake of fashion
on their backs, many have gone with a hungry belly and half-starved
their families. Silks and satins, scarlet and velvets, as
Poor Richard says, put out the kitchen fire. These are not
the necessities of life. They can’t even be called conveniences.
And merely because they look pretty, so many of you will
even go into debt to have them!
“The artificial wants of mankind have this way become
more numerous than the natural wants. By these and other
extravagances, the well-to-do are reduced to poverty and
forced to borrow from those they once despised, but who
through hard work and frugal living have maintained and
improved their standing. It’s clear that a ploughman on
his feet is higher than any gentleman on his knees, as Poor
Richard says. Perhaps they have inherited an estate and
think the sun will always shine, and night never come. With
so much just given to them, they don’t bother taking care
of it. A child and a fool, as Poor Richard says, imagine
twenty dollars and twenty years can never be spent. Always
taking out of the pantry and never putting in, one soon
comes up empty. Then, as Poor Dick says, when the well’s
dry they know the worth of water. But this they might have
known before, if they had taken his advice. If you want
to know the value of money, go and try to borrow some. He
that goes a-borrowing goes a-sorrowing, and indeed, so does
he that lends to such people when it’s time to be repaid.
“And again, pride is as loud a beggar as poverty,
and a great deal more arrogant. When you have bought one
fine thing, you must buy ten more so that everything in
your appearance matches. But Poor Dick says it’s easier
to suppress the first desire than to satisfy all that follow
it. It’s just as foolish for the poor to ape the rich, as
for the frog to swell in order to equal the ox.
“It’s also foolishness that is soon punished, for
pride that dines on vanity soon must swallow ridicule, as
Poor Richard says. And in another place, pride had breakfast
with plenty, dinner with poverty and supper with shame.
And after all, of what use is this pride of appearance,
for which so much is risked, so much is suffered? It cannot
promote health or ease pain. It makes no increase of merit
in the person. It only creates envy and hastens misfortune.
“What madness it must be to run into debt for these
useless luxuries! We are offered, by the terms of this auction,
six months’ credit. And that perhaps has induced some of
us to attend it, because we cannot spare the cash and hope
to be elegant without it. But think what you do when you
run into debt! You give to another power over your liberty.
If you cannot pay at the agreed time, you will be ashamed
to see your creditor. You will be in fear when you speak
to him and make poor pitiful, sneaking excuses, and by degrees
come to lose your integrity and sink into low, downright
lying. For as Poor Richard says, the second vice is lying.
The first is running into debt. And again, to the same purpose:
lying rides upon debt’s back. A free citizen ought never
be ashamed or afraid to see or speak to any man. But poverty
often deprives a man of all spirit and virtue. It’s hard
for an empty bag to stand upright, as Poor Richard says.
“What would you think of a king or government that
should issue a law forbidding you to dress like a gentleman
or a gentlewoman on pain of imprisonment? Would you not
say that you are free, have a right to dress as you please,
and that such a law would be a breach of your privileges,
and such a government tyrannical? And yet you are about
to put yourself under that tyranny when you run into debt
for such dress! Your creditor has authority at his pleasure
to deprive you of your liberty, should you not be able to
“When you get your bargain, you may perhaps think
little of payment. But creditors, as Poor Richard tells
us, have better memories than debtors. Creditors are a superstitious
lot, great observers of set days and times. The day comes
around before you are aware and the demand is made before
you are prepared to satisfy it. Or if you bear your debt
in mind, the term, which at first seems so long, will, as
it lessens, appear extremely short. Lent is short, says
Poor Richard, to those who owe money due at Easter.
“Then since, as he says, the borrower is a slave
to the lender and the debtor to the creditor, preserve your
freedom and maintain your independence. Be industrious and
free. Be frugal and free. You may think yourself at present
in thriving circumstances, and that you can bear a little
extravagance without injury. But for age and want, save
while you may, no morning sun will last the day, as Poor
“Your gains may be temporary and uncertain, but as
long as you live, expenses are constant and certain. It’s
easier to build two chimneys than to keep one in fuel, as
Poor Richard says. Better to go to bed supperless, than
wake up in debt.
“Get what you can, and what you get hold, is the
stone that will turn all your lead into gold, as Poor Richard
says. And when you have understood this philosopher’s stone,
you’ll no longer complain of bad times or the difficulty
of paying taxes.
“This principle, my friends, is reason and wisdom.
But above all do not depend completely on your own industry,
frugality and prudence. Though excellent things, they may
all be wasted without the blessing of God. So ask this blessing
humbly, and be not uncharitable to those that at present
seem to lack it. Comfort and help them. Remember Job suffered,
and was afterwards prosperous.
“And now to conclude. Experience keeps a dear school,
but fools will learn in no other. Those who won’t be counseled
can’t be helped, as Poor Richard says. And furthermore,
if you will not hear reason, she’ll surely rap your knuckles.”
And so the old gentleman ended his sermon. The people
heard it, approved of it and immediately did the opposite,
just as if it had been a regular Sunday sermon. For as soon
as the auction opened, they began to buy extravagantly,
notwithstanding all his cautions and their own fears of
I found the good man had thoroughly studied my Almanacs
and digested all I had written on those topics during the
course of some twenty-five years. The frequent mention he
made of me would have tired anyone else, but my vanity was
delighted with it all, even though I was conscious that
not one tenth of the wisdom was my own, but rather some
of the harvest I had made of the wisdom that came before
me. I even decided to actually take his sound advice myself,
for I had come to the auction at first to buy a new coat,
but left determined to wear my old one a little longer.
If you will do the same, dear reader, your profit will be
as great as mine.
I am, as ever,
Your humble servant,