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S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.

Benjamin Franklin

  • [Born in Boston, Jan. 17, 1706; at seventeen obtained employment as a printer in Philadelphia; after a year in London established himself in the former city; founded the Philadelphia Library, 1731; deputy-postmaster for the American Colonies, 1753; made discoveries in electricity, 1752; member of the Royal Society; agent of the Colonies in England, 1764; on his return, 1775, delegate to the Continental Congress, and one of the committee to draught the Declaration of Independence; minister to France, 1776, where he signed the treaty with that country and afterwards that of peace with England; president of Pennsylvania three years; delegate to the Constitutional Convention; died April 17, 1790.]
  • I think, father, if you were to say grace over the whole barrel, once for all, it would be a vast saving of time.

  • A suggestion that Franklin made at the age of twelve, when the winter’s provisions had been laid in, and he thought his father’s daily grace rather long.
  • He was on one occasion, during his youth, leaving the house of the Rev. Cotton Mather, and was told to stoop in a low passage-way. “You are young,” said the divine, “and have the world before you: stoop as you go through it, and you will miss many hard thumps.”
  • Those who would give up essential liberty for the sake of a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

  • During the French war, in 1755.
  • The following sayings relate to the period antecedent to the Revolution. Franklin wrote to Lord Kames in 1761: “I have long been of the opinion that the foundations of the future grandeur and stability of the British empire lie in America.” Of the proposal to send British troops to enforce the Stamp Act, he said in February, 1766, “They cannot find a rebellion: they may, indeed, make one.” Franklin was far from looking forward, at that time, to a dissolution of the connection between England and her colonies. Charles Pratt (Lord Camden), the author of the maxim, “The discretion of a judge is the law of tyrants,” afterwards lord chancellor and a supporter of the policy of Chatham, said to Franklin in 1760, “For all that you Americans say of your loyalty, and notwithstanding your boasted affection, you will one day set up for independence.” Franklin denied it, “unless you grossly abuse them.”
  • In a letter on the Stamp Act, written from London, July 11, 1765, Franklin said, “Idleness and pride tax with a heavier hand than kings and parliaments: if we can get rid of the former, we may easily bear the latter.” He also wrote on the same subject: “The sun of liberty is set: you must light up the candle of industry and economy.”
  • In describing a debate on American affairs, in the House of Lords, 1775, Franklin exclaimed, “Hereditary legislators! there would be more propriety, because less hazard of mischief, in hereditary professors of mathematics, as in some university in Germany.”
  • Franklin closed a letter from Philadelphia to Mr. Strahan, M.P., July 5, 1775, after hostilities had commenced: “You and I were long friends: you are now my enemy, and I am, yours, B. FRANKLIN.”
  • We must all hang together, else we shall all hang separately.

  • In reply to a remark of John Hancock, while the Declaration of Independence was being signed, July 4, 1776, that they must all hang together.
  • In a debate on taxation, in the Continental Congress, July, 1776, Mr. Lynch asked why slaves should be taxed more than sheep. “Sheep will never make insurrections,” was Franklin’s answer. Some one asked why the new boulevards of Paris were made so long and straight. “Bullets cannot turn corners,” was the reply of Baron Haussmann, the Prefect of the Seine under Napoleon III.
  • Lord Howe spoke, in 1776, of England’s need of American commerce and men. “Ay, my lord,” assented Franklin: “we have in America a pretty considerable manufactory of men.” When told that Lord Howe had taken Philadelphia, in 1777, “I beg your pardon, sir,” retorted Franklin: “Philadelphia has taken Howe.”
  • Nothing is certain but death and taxes.

  • Franklin addressed a letter to M. Leroy, of the French Academy of Sciences, in 1789: “Our constitution is in actual operation; every thing appears to promise that it will last: but in this world nothing is certain but death and taxes” (mais dans ce monde, il n’y a rien d’assuré que la mort et les impôts).
  • The revolutionary carillon of France, ça ira, was composed by an itinerant musician, who took the refrain from a mot of Franklin on the Revolution: ça ira, ça tiendra.—CASSAGNAC: History of the Girondists, I. 373.
  • Franklin said to the French ministry in March, 1778, “He who shall introduce into public affairs the principles of primitive Christianity will change the face of the world.” He made a prediction to Condorcet and others, which to some of them became fatally true: “You perceive Liberty establish herself and flourish almost under your very eyes: I dare to predict that by and by you will be anxious to taste her blessings.”
  • A Frenchman sent him a large cake inscribed “le digne Franklin.” He said it was a mistake for Lee, Deane, Franklin,—the three American commissioners.
  • When a friend remarked that the war for independence was successfully closed, “Say, rather, the war of the Revolution: the war for independence is yet to be fought.”
  • If a sparrow cannot fall without god’s knowledge, how can an empire rise without his aid?

  • Proposing that the sessions of the Constitutional Convention, in May, 1787, be opened with prayer.
  • A dying man can do nothing easy.

  • To his daughter, who advised him to change his position in bed, that he might breathe with more ease. These are the last words recorded of the American patriot and philosopher.
  • When Franklin’s death was announced in the French National Assembly, Mirabeau moved that the Assembly should go into mourning, saying that “nations should wear mourning only for their benefactors.” He declared that “antiquity would have raised altars to this mighty genius, who, to the advantage of mankind, compassing in his mind the heavens and the earth, was able to restrain alike thunderbolts and tyrants.” Turgot had already composed the line which was inscribed on Houdon’s bust of Franklin—
  • “Eripuit cœlo fulmen sceptrumque tyrannis.”
  • (He snatched the lightning from heaven, and the sceptre from tyrants.)
  • This is an alteration of a line of the “Anti-Lucretius” of Cardinal de Polignac, I, v. 96,—
  • “Eripuit fulmenque Jovi Phœboque sagittas;”
  • or it may even be referred to the “Astronomicon” of Manilius, a Latin poet of the time of Augustus:—
  • “Eripuit Jovi fulmen viresque tonandi.”
  • Turgot first wrote, according to his biographer Condorcet: “Eripuit cœlo flumen, MOX sceptra tyrannis.” This was in 1778, when the most that could be assumed was a prophecy of the result of the French and American alliance.
  • Frederick von der Trenck, the Prussian whose adventures have given his memoirs a special interest, asserted on his trial before the Revolutionary Tribunal of Paris, July 9, 1794, that he made Franklin’s acquaintance in England in 1774, and was the author of the line which has been attributed to Turgot.—GARTENLAUBE, 1863; Last Hours of Baron Trenck.
  • Félix Nogaret, an almanac-poet, having translated Turgot’s hexameter into French (Il ôte au ciel la foudre et le sceptre aux tyrans), sent it to Franklin with three pages of complimentary commentary. Franklin’s reply may be thus translated: “Sir, I have received the letter in which, having overwhelmed me with a torrent of compliments I regret not feeling worthy of, you ask my opinion of the translation of a Latin verse. I am too little of a connoisseur of the elegance and subtleties of your admirable language, to dare sit in judgment upon the poetry which is to be found in this verse. [In writing “de la poésie qui DOIT se trouver dans ce vers,” Franklin showed himself a subtle connoisseur of French.] I only wish you to notice two inexact expressions in the original. In spite of my experiments in electricity, the lightning still strikes our nose or our beard; and, so far as the tyrant is concerned, more than a million of us united to snatch his sceptre from him.”