I stopped my horse lately where a great number of people were collected at a vendue [or sale] of merchant goods. The hour of sale not being come, they were conversing on the badness of the times, and one of the company called to a plain clean old man, with white locks, “Pray, Father Abraham, what think you of the times? Won’t these heavy taxes quite ruin the country? How shall we be ever able to pay them? What would you advise us to?” Father Abraham stood up, and replied, “If you’d have my advice, I’ll give it to you in short, for A word to the wise is enough, and Many words won’t fill a bushel, as Poor Richard says.” They joined in desiring him to speak his mind, and gathering round him, he proceeded as follows:
“Friends,” says he, “and neighbors, the taxes are indeed very heavy, and if those laid on by the government were the only ones we had to pay, we might more easily discharge them; but we have many others, and much more grievous to some of us. We are taxed twice as much by our idleness, three times as much by our pride, and four times as much by our folly; and from these taxes the commissioners cannot ease or deliver us by allowing an abatement. However, let us hearken to good advice, and something may be done for us. God helps them that help themselves, as Poor Richard says in his Almanac of 1733. […] “Here you are all got together at this vendue of fineries and knickknacks. You call them goods; but if you do not take care, they will prove evils to some of you. You expect they will be sold cheap, and perhaps they may for less than they cost; but if you have no occasion for them, they must be dear to you. Remember what Poor Richard says: Buy what thou hast no need of, and ere long thou shalt sell thy necessaries. And again, At a great pennyworth pause a while. He means that perhaps the cheapness is apparent only, and not real; or the bargain, by straitening thee in thy business, may do thee more harm than good.
“And again, Pride is as loud a beggar as Want, and a great deal more saucy. When you have bought one fine thing, you must buy ten more, that your appearance may be all of a piece; but Poor Dick says, ’Tis easier to suppress the first desire than to satisfy all that follow it. And ’tis as truly folly for the poor to ape the rich, as for the frog to swell, in order to equal the ox.
“Be industrious and free; be frugal and free. At present, perhaps, you may think yourself 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, as Poor Richard says.
Gain may be temporary and uncertain, but ever, while you live, expense is constant and certain; and ’Tis easier to build two chimneys than to keep one in fuel, as Poor Richard says. […]
“This doctrine, my friends, is reason and wisdom; but after all, do not depend too much upon your own industry and frugality and prudence for they may all be blasted without the blessing of heaven; and therefore, ask that blessing humbly, and be not uncharitable to those that at present seem to want it, but comfort and help them.”[…]
Thus the old gentleman ended his harangue. The people heard it and approved the doctrine, and immediately practiced the contrary, just as if it had been a common sermon; for the vendue opened, and they began to buy extravagantly, notwithstanding his cautions and their own fear of taxes. I found the good man had thoroughly studied my Almanacs […] The frequent mention he made of me must have tired anyone else, but my vanity was wonderfully delighted with it, though I was conscious that not a tenth part of the wisdom was my own but rather the gleanings I had made of the sense of all ages and nations. However, I resolved to be the better for the echo of it; and though I had at first determined to buy stuff for a new coat, I went away resolved to wear my old one a little longer. Reader, if thou wilt do the same, thy profit will be as great as mine.
Richard Saunders (Ben Franklin)