[By Ben Franklin in 1758, originally published as a preface to Poor Richard’s Almanac]
Friends, the taxes are, indeed, very heavy; and, if those laid on by the government were the only ones we had to pay, we might 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 us or deliver us, by allowing an abatement. However, let us hearken to some good advice and something may be done for us; ‘God helps them that helps themselves,’ as Poor Richard says in his advice below.
It would be thought a hard government that should tax its people one tenth part of their time, to be employed in its service: But idleness taxes many of us much more; sloth, by bringing on diseases, absolutely shortens life. ‘Sloth, like rust, consumes faster than labour wears, while the used key is always bright,’ as Poor Richard says. ‘But dost thou love life, then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of,’ he adds.
How much more than is necessary
If time be of all things the most precious, wasting time must be ‘the greatest prodigality’; since lost time is never found again; and what we call time enough always proves little enough. Let us then up and be doing, and doing to the purpose. So by diligence shall we do more with less perplexity.
Sloth makes all things difficult, but industry all easy; and he that riseth late, must trot all day, and shall scarce overtake his business at night; while laziness travels so slowly, that poverty soon overtakes him. Drive thy business, let not that drive thee; and early to bed, and early to rise, makes man healthy, wealthy, and wise.
We may make these times better, if we bestir ourselves. Industry need not wish, and he who lives upon hope will die fasting. There are no gains without pains.
He that hath a trade, hath an estate; and he that hath a calling, hath an office of profit and honour. But then the trade must be worked at, and the calling well followed, or neither the estate nor the office will enable us to pay our taxes.
If we are industrious we shall never starve; for, ‘at the working man’s house hunger looks in, but dares not enter’. Nor will the bailiff or the constable enter, for ‘Industry pays debts, while despair increaseth them.’
Diligence is the mother of good luck, and God gives all things to industry. Then plough deep, while sluggards sleep, and you shall have corn to sell and keep.
Work while it is called today, for you know not how much you may be hindered tomorrow.
‘One today is worth two tomorrows,’ as Poor Richard says; and farther, ‘Never leave that till tomorrow, which you can do today.’
If you were a servant, would you not be ashamed that a good master should catch you idle? Are you then your own master? Be ashamed to catch yourself idle when there is so much to be done for yourself, your family, and your country.
Handle your tools without mittens: Remember, that ‘The cat in gloves catches no mice.’
It is true, there is much to be done, and perhaps you are weak handed; but stick to it steadily, and you will see great effects; for ‘Constant dropping wears away stones; and by diligence and patience the mouse ate in two the cable; and little strokes fell great oaks.’
Methinks I hear some of you say, ‘Must a man afford himself no leisure?’
I will tell thee, my friend, what poor Richard says; ‘Employ thy time well, if thou meanest to gain leisure; and, since thou are not sure of a minute, throw not away an hour.’
Leisure is the time for doing something useful; this leisure the diligent man will obtain, but the lazy man never; for, ‘A life of leisure and a life of laziness are two things. Many, without labour, would live by their wits only, but they break for want of stock;’ whereas industry gives comfort, and plenty, and respect.
[Ed Note: Born in Boston in 1706, Benjamin Franklin organized the United States’ first lending library and volunteer fire department. His scientific pursuits included investigations into electricity, mathematics and mapmaking. He helped draft the Declaration of Independence and the U.S Constitution, and negotiated the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which marked the end of the Revolutionary War. Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and in many ways considered “the First American”]