Memoirs of Benjamin Franklin; Written by Himself. [Vol. 2 of 2] With his Most Interesting Essays, Letters, and Miscellaneous Writings; Familiar, Moral, Political, Economical, and Philosophical, Selected with Care from All His Published Productions, and Comprising Whatever Is Most Entertaining and Valuable to the General Reader

By Benjamin Franklin

Page 43


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[2] From a letter to Mr. Benjamin Vaughan, dated at Passy, July
26th, 1784.

It is wonderful how preposterously the affairs of this world are
managed. Naturally one would imagine that the interest of a few
individuals should give way to general interest; but individuals manage
their affairs with so much more application, industry, and address than
the public do theirs, that general interest most commonly gives way to
particular. We assemble parliaments and councils to have the benefit of
their collected wisdom; but we necessarily have, at the same time, the
inconvenience of their collected passions, prejudices, and private
interests. By the help of these, artful men overpower their wisdom and
dupe its possessors: and if we may judge by the acts, _arrets_, and
edicts, all the world over, for regulating commerce, an assembly of
great men is the greatest fool upon earth.

I have not yet, indeed, thought of a remedy for luxury. I am not sure
that in a great state it is capable of a remedy, nor that the evil is in
itself always so great as it is represented. Suppose we include in the
definition of luxury all unnecessary expense, and then let us consider
whether laws to prevent such expense are possible to be executed in a
great country, and whether, if they could be executed, our people
generally would be happier, or even richer. Is not the hope of being one
day able to purchase and enjoy luxuries a great spur to labour and
industry! May not luxury, therefore, produce more than it consumes, if
without such a spur people would be, as they are naturally enough
inclined to be, lazy and indolent? To this purpose I remember a
circumstance. The skipper of a shallop, employed between Cape May and
Philadelphia, had done us some small service, for which he refused to be
paid. My wife, understanding that he had a daughter, sent her a
new-fashioned cap. Three years after, this skipper being at my house
with an old farmer of Cape May, his passenger, he mentioned the cap, and
how much his daughter had been pleased with it. "But," said he,

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Text Comparison with Franklin's Way to Wealth; or, "Poor Richard Improved"

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58, Holborn-Hill.
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Proprietors, W.
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Judge, then, how much I must have been gratified by an incident I am going to relate to you.
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--If we are industrious, we shall never starve; for "at the working man's house hunger looks in, but dares not enter.
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The Indies have not made Spain rich, because her out-goes are greater than her incomes.
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These are not the necessaries of life; they can scarcely be called the conveniences: and yet only because they look pretty, how many want to have them?--By these, and other extravagancies, the genteel are reduced to poverty, and forced to borrow of those whom they formerly despised, but who, through industry and frugality, have maintained their standing; in which case it appears plainly, that "A ploughman on his legs is higher than a gentleman on his knees," as Poor Richard says.
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] 'And again, "Pride is as loud a beggar as Want, and a great deal more saucy.
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" At present, perhaps, you may think yourselves 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 lasts a whole day.
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* * * * * Transcriber's Notes: Only the most obvious and clear punctuation errors repaired.