You should know about "Poor Richard's Almanac," children, for the same reason you should know about "George Washington's Hatchet."
A hundred years ago, this was perhaps the foremost book in American literature. It was the work of our lightning hero, Benjamin Franklin. It was an almanac, not unlike the "Old Farmer's Almanac" of to-day. In among the matter that is always to be found in almanacs, Franklin scattered all sorts of "wise sayings" or proverbs. To these, he gave the name "Poor Richard's Sayings," many of them you have heard over and over until very likely you are tired of them. Some of them, I know from the experience of long ago, are very aggravating to children. For example, isn't it enough to mnke any boy wish Franklin had stuck by his printing press, and his kite, and let literature alone, to have mamma say, just as he is in the midst of the most exciting chapter, "Come, Johnnie, it's time to go to bed.
Early to bed and early to rise Makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise?' "
Franklin at his Printing Press
"Poor Richard's Almanac" for 1734 says, in speaking of the eclipse for the year: "There will be but two; the first, April 22, the second, October 15 — both of the sun, and both, like old neighbor Scrape-all's generosity, invisible."
Franklin often put into his calendar "weather predictions;" but they were quite as likely to come out wrongly as do "Old Prob's" predictions now.
When he was criticised for the inaccuracy of his predictions, he said good-naturedly:
"However, no one but will allow that we always hit the day of the month. As for weather, I consider it will be of no service to anybody to know what weather is to be one thousand miles off; therefore, I always set down exactly the weather my reader will have wheresoever he may be at the time. We only ask an allowance of a few days and if there still be a mistake, set it down to the printer."
The almanac of 1738 has a scolding preface, which appears to be the work of Mistress Saunders. She says her husband had set out to visit an old star-gazer of his acquaintance on the Potomac, and left her the almanac, sealed, to send to the printer. She suspects some jests directed against her, bursts the seal, and plays havoc generally with the almanac. She says:
"Looking over the months, I find he has put in abundance of foul weather this year; and therefore I have scattered here and there where I could find room, 'fair,' 'pleasant,' etc., for the poor women to dry their clothes in."
Franklin grew to be a highly educated man, and a very gentlemanly man, too, for all he was so awkward and ungainly on his first morning in Philadelphia. Years later, when he went to England and to France in behalf of his country, his wit and his knowledge and his fine manners were the delight of the Court. And this was a very fortunate thing for America you may be sure and for this reason, these old European countries with all their elegance, and wealth, and "blue blood," and Court society, had formed an idea that Americans were all awkward clod-hoppers; "horny-handed tillers of the soil," they were used to calling them, and they had the idea, I suppose, that the country had not a single cultured, educated person upon its face. And so it was, that when Franklin appeared before them, he carried everybody by surprise; and many an Englishman and many a Frenchman, who had supposed we knew nothing in America except to dig in the earth, turned about and began to think that perhaps we were "somebodies" over here after all.
Franklin was never dizzied by the flattering attention he received in these countries. He never forgot that he was there to plead for America; and plead he did, wisely and well, many a time rendering her a service that she could never repay.
In every position of honor, in every trying time when wisdom and caution were needed, Franklin was sure to be called upon by his countrymen. And never did he fail them.
When at last he died, at the age of eighty-two, not only did twenty thousand of his own countrymen meet to do him honor in America, but in the English and French courts as well, was every possible tribute paid to the memory of this great man.
Benjamin Franklin's Tomb