A Miscellany of Franklin’s Opinions

LOVE OF PRAISE. What you mention concerning the love of praise is indeed very true; it reigns more or less in every heart; though we are generally hypocrites in that respect, and pretend to disregard praise, and our nice, modest ears are offended, forsooth, with what one of the ancients calls the sweetest kind of music. This hypocrisy is only a sacrifice to the pride of others, or to their envy; both which, I think, ought rather to be mortified. The same sacrifice we make when we forbear to praise ourselves, which naturally we are all inclined to; and I suppose it was formerly the fashion, or Virgil, that courtly writer, would not have put a speech into the mouth of his hero, which now-a-days we should esteem so great an indecency: “Sum pius Æneas,…famâ super aethera notus.” One of the Romans, I forget who, justified speaking in his own praise by saying: Every freeman had a right to speak what he thought of himself, as well as of others. That this is a natural inclination appears in that all children show it, and say freely: I am a good boy; Am I not a good girl? and the like, till they have been frequently chid, and told their trumpeter is dead, and that it is unbecoming to sound their own praise, &c. But naturam expellas furcâ, tamen usque recurret. Being forbid to praise themselves, they learn instead of it to censure others, which is only a roundabout way of praising themselves; for condemning the conduct of another, in any particular, amounts to as much as saying: I am so honest, or wise, or good, or prudent, that I could not do or approve of such an action. This fondness for ourselves, rather than malevolence to others, I take to be the general source of censure and backbiting; and I wish men had not been taught to dam up natural currents, to the overflowing and damage of their neighbours’ grounds.

Another advantage, methinks, would arise from freely speaking our good thoughts of ourselves, viz.: if we were wrong in them, somebody or other would readily set us right; but now, while we conceal so carefully our vain, erroneous self-opinions, we may carry them to our grave, for who would offer physic to a man that seems to be in health? And the privilege of recounting freely our own good actions might be an inducement to the doing of them, that we might be enabled to speak of them without being subject to be justly contradicted or charged with falsehood; whereas now, as we are not allowed to mention them, and it is an uncertainty whether others will take due notice of them or not, we are perhaps the more indifferent about them; so that, upon the whole, I wish the out-of-fashion practice of praising ourselves would, like other old fashions, come round into fashion again. But this I fear will not be in our time, so we must even be contented with what little praise we can get from one another. (To Jared Eliot, September 12, 1751)

GOOD WORKS AND THEIR REWARD. For my own Part, when I am employed in serving others, I do not look upon myself as conferring Favours, but as paying Debts. In my Travels, and since my Settlement, I have received much Kindness from Men, to whom I shall never have any Opportunity of making the least direct Return. And numberless Mercies from God, who is infinitely above being benefited by our Services. Those Kindnesses from Men, I can therefore only Return on their Fellow Men; and I can only show my Gratitude for these mercies from God, by a readiness to help his other Children and my Brethren. For I do not think that Thanks and Compliments, tho’ repeated weekly, can discharge our real Obligations to each other, and much less those to our Creator. You will see in this my Notion of good Works, that I am far from expecting (as you suppose) that I shall ever merit Heaven by them. By Heaven we understand a State of Happiness, infinite in Degree, and eternal in Duration: I can do nothing to deserve such rewards: He that for giving a Draught of Water to a thirsty Person, should expect to be paid with a good Plantation, would be modest in his Demands, compar’d with those who think they deserve Heaven for the little good they do on Earth. Even the mix’d imperfect Pleasures we enjoy in this World, are rather from God’s Goodness than our Merit; how much more such Happiness of Heaven. For my own part I have not the Vanity to think I deserve it, the Folly to expect it, nor the Ambition to desire it.… (To Joseph Huey, June 6, 1753)

INVENTORS AND INVENTIONS. There are everywhere a number of people, who, being totally destitute of any inventive faculty themselves, do not readily conceive that others may possess it; they think of inventions as of miracles; there might be such formerly, but they are ceased. With these, every one who offers a new invention is deemed a pretender; he had it from some other country, or from some book; a man of their own acquaintance, one who has no more sense than themselves, could not possibly, in their opinion, have been the inventor of any thing. They are confirmed, too, in these sentiments, by frequent

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