The “pretentious maxims” of Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin did a great many notable things for his country, and made her young name to be honored in many lands at the mother of such a son. It is not the idea of this memoir to ignore that or cover it up. No; the simple idea of it is to snub those pretentious maxims of his, which he worked up with great show of originality out of truisms that had become wearisome platitudes as early as the dispersion from Babel; and also to snub his stove, and his military inspirations, his unseemly endeavor to make himself conspicuous when he entered Philadelphia, and his flying his kite and fooling away his time in all sorts of such ways, when he ought to have been foraging for soap-fat, or constructing candles.  I merely desire to do away with somewhat of the prevalent calamitous idea among heads of families that Franklin acquired his great genius by working for nothing, studying by moonlight, and getting up in the night instead of waiting till morning like a Christian, and that this programme, rigidly inflicted, will make a Franklin of every father’s fool.

Mark Twain, from Mark Twain’s Helpful Hints for Good Living: A Handbook for the Damned Human Race; ed. Lin Salamo, Victor Fischer, Michael B. Frank


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