Ben Franklin’s First Drafts

It’s tempting to think that Benjamin Franklin’s wise sayings came into the world fully formed. But they were edited like any other writing. Here are some of his first drafts.

franklin_drafts

Illustration for The Bygone Bureau by Hallie Bateman

Wink at small faults; blink at great ones.

Visits should be short, like those delightful small people who never get big.
(NOTE: LOOK UP THE WORD FOR THIS. ALSO, CONSIDER BETTER METAPHOR.)

It is better that one guilty person should escape than that 100 innocent persons should suffer.
(I WONDER IF I COULD GO EVEN FURTHER THAN THIS?)

Remember that time is money, unless you live in a barter-based society, in which case time is geese or whatever.

Keep thy hat and thy hat will keep thee.
(RAN THIS ONE BY DEBORAH, AND SHE SAYS MOST PEOPLE AREN’T AS SERIOUS ABOUT HATS AS I AM. HOW MUCH WISDOM CAN I BE EXPECTED TO IMPART WITHOUT HAT METAPHORS?)

It is ill-manners to silence Steve and cruelty to let him go on.

In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is Freedom, in water there is sometimes an ominous-looking brown thing.
(WORDY. MAYBE “IN WATER THERE IS INTESTINAL PARASITES?” DEBORAH WOULD SAY I’M TAKING MY OWN BOUT OF INTESTINAL PARASITES PERSONALLY, BUT BY GOD, WHY SHOULDN’T I? I’VE BEEN SHITTING FOR DAYS.)

A pirate stands on one leg, the truth on two.
(THIS IS STUPID, AND LIKELY THE INTESTINAL PARASITES TALKING.)

A penny saved is really not enough. You should probably be putting more away. $5,000 is a good starting point.

There is no little enemy. Except for those delightful small people who never get big.
(I REALLY SHOULD LOOK UP THE WORD FOR THIS.)

Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor liberty to purchase power, nor swine to purchase more swine, because that will leave you with inferior swine.

One thing I’ve discovered, in my experience and over the years, is that it is best to go to bed early in the evening, after it has gotten dark, naturally, but not so late that you won’t get a good night’s sleep, and then, after sufficient time has passed that I have received what might be called “a good rest,” but not so much that it might be mistaken for indulgence, it is best to awaken again, early in the morn, after it has started to become light, of course, but ideally before any sound other than birds and cocks should awake you. This is what has worked for me, and I don’t want to sound too preachy or come across as condescending or arrogant, but I believe that this habit has helped keep me in good health, and has helped my business productivity, and perhaps has even helped impart a bit of wisdom. Obviously this is not the only factor. You also have to work hard and eat well and think deeply of the world, and such and such. Imagine the silliness of a simple sleeping pattern alone making someone a virtuous person! No, no, that’s absurd. But certainly it helps. Or anyway, doesn’t hurt. Probably. For me, anyway. Your mileage may vary.
(MAYBE A LITTLE PUNCHIER?)

Common sense is not so common.
(VOLTAIRE, BUT WILL ANYONE NOTICE?)

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety should have one of their toes removed just to chase the fear out of them.

God helps the guys who help themselves.
(THOUGHT THIS WAS PRETTY CLEAR [ACTION IS MORE USEFUL THAN PRAYER], BUT TRIED IT OUT ON THAT HEWSON KID, AND HE SEEMED TO THINK I WAS CONDONING SELFISHNESS. I HAVE TO IMAGINE THAT FOLKS GENERALLY AREN’T STUPID ENOUGH TO MISREAD THIS ONE, AND WON’T MISUSE IT TO JUSTIFY TERRIBLE ACTIONS FOR CENTURIES TO COME. ALSO, NOT SOLD ON “THE GUYS.”)

Never ruin an apology by taking your pants off afterward, turning around, and farting on the recipient.
(THIS IS SOLID ADVICE, BUT PERHAPS TOO SPECIFIC? ALSO, BE SURE TO FORWARD TO ABBY.)

Little strokes fell great, big ol’ trees.

A man without a wife is like a man who has had the top half of his body surgically removed so that he’s just a pair of legs running around.
(THIS NAILS THE IDEA, BUT I’M FINDING MYSELF DISTRACTED BY THE IMAGERY. HOW FREEING IT MUST BE, TO JUST BE LEGS, TO FROLIC IN A FIELD OF LILIES WITH NO BRAIN TO SPOIL THE EFFECT OR TORSO TO INCREASE THE DRAG COEFFICIENT. HOW FREEING. HOW MARVELOUS. TO BE LEGS. TO BE LEGS…)

Instead of cursing the darkness, curse God for making the darkness. You could also light a candle to help alleviate the darkness, but honestly the cursing will make you feel better.

Three may keep a secret, provided the other two were born without faces and thus have no means of communication. But, really, the creepiness factor of those blank, taught-skinned oval heads would probably overwhelm the value of being able to hide a thing or two.
(PERFECT. NOT TOUCHING THIS ONE.)

Roger Taylor lives and writes in Lambertville, NJ. What little is known about him has been compiled on this handy informational page.