Friday, April 3, 2015

B is for Ben Franklin's Virtues

After the last post's defiant anarchism, let's calm down a bit.  And there's no better guide to moderation and joviality than Poor Richard himself.

I say the above with a bit of tongue in cheek, since Benjamin Franklin had his own troubles and excesses.  But he spent a lot of his life thinking about the best way to live.  At the tender age of 20 he composed a list of 13 "virtues," and he spent many of his remaining days checking off lists to see how well he lived up to them.

FYI, I've loved the above portrait, by Joseph Duplessis, since childhood... I still have a three-ring binder with this on its glossy cover.  (Hey, it was the 70s... bicentennial fever was everywhere!)  Anyway, that subtle smirk is just so him.  The gold frame that houses this painting in the New York Met is etched with just one word of description: "VIR."  Latin for da man, of which Ben was a unique archetype.

His list of 13 virtues aren't quite an official manifesto, but I'm sure they can be as inspiring and life-changing, if put into honest practice.  Here they are:
  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 dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.
  13. Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
You can track them yourselves with some modern technology.  Numbers 4, 6, and 11 are particularly troublesome for me.  By the way, you may not have ever heard the word "venery" before reading number 12; I hadn't.  The primary definition is blushingly obvious, but I think it's kind of interesting that a secondary definition is "the art, act, or practice of hunting; the sports of the chase."  Ol' Ben was definitely known to enjoy that art, act, and practice.  :-)

Franklin also tried to order the hours of his days toward specific ends:

I particularly am fond of his morning question ("What good shall I do this day?") and evening question ("What good have I done to-day?").  I wish you all voluminous answers to these, if and when you ask them of yourselves.


  1. Wow, those are amazing questions. Everyone should start and end the day asking themselves that.

    1. Indeed... I should do it more often, too. This isn't the last we'll be seeing Ben... or the bicentennial 70s... in this challenge! :-)

  2. 4 stood out for me, too. The lifelong struggle of the ambivalent heart!

    1. I guess it's the first half of it (the choosing) that's the biggest deal. I can manage the second half (the follow-thru) okay as long as I have coffee.