[from] Poor Richard’s Almanack

by Benjamin Franklin

In the opening lines from the “Preface to 1733” edition of Poor Richard’s Almanack, Franklin peeks through his veil of Poor Richard’s identity to remind the common man that work builds wealth.

“I might in this place attempt to gain thy favor by declaring that I write almanacks with no other view than that of the public good; but in this I should not be sincere, plain truth of the matter is, I am excessive poor, and my wife, good woman, is, I tell her, excessive proud; she cannot bear, she says, to sit spinning in her shift of tow, while I do nothing but gaze at the stars; and has threatned more than once to burn all my books and rattling-traps, (as she calls my instruments,) if I do not make some profitable use of them for the good of my family. The printer has offer’d me some considerable share of the profits, and I have thus began to comply with my dame’s desire. …”

Six years later, he laments that his “printer” was pocketing his profits, but added, with irony:

“I do not grudge it him; he is a man I have great regard for.”

On a different subject, later in 1733, Poor Richard offered his readers this poem about lawyers:

The Benefit of going to Law.

  Dedicated to the Counties of K—t and H-n–––rd-n.

Two Beggars travelling along,
One blind, the other lame,
Pick’d up an Oyster on the Way
To which they both laid claim:
The Matter rose so high, that they
Resolv’d to go to Law,
As often richer Fools have done,
Who quarrel for a Straw.
A Lawyer took it strait in hand,
Who knew his Business was,
To mind nor one nor t’other side,
But make the best o’ th’ Cause;
As always in the Law’s the Case:
So he his Judgment gave,
And Lawyer-like he thus resolv’d
What each of them should have:
Blind Plaintiff, lame Defendant, share
The Friendly Laws impartial Care,
A Shell for him, a Shell for thee,
The Middle is the Lawyer’s Fee.

Printing Press

Leonardo da Vinci; circa 1480

Although Gutenberg is generally credited with the invention of the printing press nearly a half century earlier, Leonardo seems to have been the first to attempt a basic improvement by making the press operable by one man instead of several. A turn of the screw draws both type bed and paper under the platen and supplies the pressure to print, while a reverse turn releases the bed. The first practical applications of such improvements had to await the early 17th Century.

Poor Richard would have been nowhere without it.

Grandmaster Flash – The King

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“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” – MLK Jr.

January, 1795

By Mary Robinson

Pavement slipp’ry, people sneezing,
Lords in ermine, beggars freezing;
Titled gluttons dainties carving,
Genius in a garret starving.

Lofty mansions, warm and spacious;
Courtiers cringing and voracious;
Misers scarce the wretched heeding;
Gallant soldiers fighting, bleeding.

Wives who laugh at passive spouses;
Theatres, and meeting-houses;
Balls, where simp’ring misses languish;
Hospitals, and groans of anguish.

Arts and sciences bewailing;
Commerce drooping, credit failing;
Placemen mocking subjects loyal;
Separations, weddings royal.

Authors who can’t earn a dinner;
Many a subtle rogue a winner;
Fugitives for shelter seeking;
Misers hoarding, tradesmen breaking.

Taste and talents quite deserted;
All the laws of truth perverted;
Arrogance o’er merit soaring;
Merit silently deploring.

Ladies gambling night and morning;
Fools the works of genius scorning;
Ancient dames for girls mistaken,
Youthful damsels quite forsaken.

Some in luxury delighting;
More in talking than in fighting;
Lovers old, and beaux decrepid;
Lordlings empty and insipid.

Poets, painters, and musicians;
Lawyers, doctors, politicians:
Pamphlets, newspapers, and odes,
Seeking fame by diff’rent roads.

Gallant souls with empty purses;
Gen’rals only fit for nurses;
School-boys, smit with martial spirit,
Taking place of vet’ran merit.

Honest men who can’t get places,
Knaves who shew unblushing faces;
Ruin hasten’d, peace retarded;
Candor spurn’d, and art rewarded.

Breugel the Elder, The Dutch Proverbs. 1559

A Copywriter’s Christmas

by Margaret Fishback

The Twenty-fifth is imminent
And every known expedient
Designed for making Christmas pay
Is getting swiftly under way.
Observe the people swarming to
And fro, somnambulating through
The stores in search of ties and shirts
And gloves to give until it hurts.

They’re eyeing gifts in Saks’ and Hearn’s
And Macy’s, not to mention Stern’s,
While earnest copywriters are
Hitching their copy to the star
Of Bethlehem quite shamelessly,
For they are duty bound to see
That Peace On Earth Good Will To Men
Gets adequate results again. 

Margaret Fishback worked for Macy’s throughout the Depression, and in 1932 was described by New York magazine as “the highest-paid advertising woman in the world.”

African American Folk Art – The Three Kings

[from] Demon Copperhead

By Barbara Kingsolver

[Demon is a 10-year-old boy who has been taken from his addict mother by child services and placed with a foster dad, who runs a tobacco farm and uses his four fosters as farmhands.]

 Cutting tobacco starts around a month after topping. Cutting is the bastard of all bastards. If you’ve not done it, here’s how it goes. First, the lamest worker on your crew, Tommy, walks ahead, throwing down the tobacco laths between the rows. Laths are wooden sticks three feet long, like a kid would use for a sword fight, which every kid up home has done because a million of them are piled in barns, waiting to get used in the fall. You come along after him and pick up the first stick, stab it in the ground so it’s standing up. Jam a sharp metal cap called a spear on the end of it. If you fall, that thing will run you through, so don’t. Next, with a hatchet, you chop a tobacco plant off at the base. It’s like cutting down a six-foot tall tobacco tree. Pick it up and slam its trunk down on the stick so it gets speared. Chop another plant, slam it on. You’ll get six plants pierced on that stick so it looks like a pole holding up a leaf tin. Then pull off the little metal spear point and move on. Jam the next stick in the ground, do it all again.

After the speared plants have stood in the sun and got three days’ dews on them to heal the sunburn, you load them on the flatbed and haul them to the barn. Then carry them up into the rafters and hang them on rails to cure. Every stick gets laid up sideways with its six plants hanging down like pants on a clothesline. They’ll stay up there till all the plants are dry and brown. Only then will they get taken down. Leaves stripped from the stalks, bailed and sold. Climbing forty feet up into the barn rails to hang tobaccos is a job for a monkey, basically, or the superhero that looks out for farms instead of cities, which, in case you didn’t notice, there isn’t a single one.

So the difficult thing of the job is it can kill you. This gets to be a contest among guys. How fast and reckless can you be with tobacco-hanging?

Native American peace pipe

A Youth Mowing

The first man out of the four that’s mowing
Is mine. I claim him once and for all;
Though it’s sorry I am, on his young feet, knowing
None of the trouble he’s led to stall.

As he sees me bringing the dinner, he lifts
His head as proud as a deer that looks
Shoulder-deep out of the corn; and wipes
His scythe-blade bright, unhooks

The scythe-stone and over the stubble to me.
Lad, thou has gotten a child in me,
Laddie, a man thou’lt ha’e to be,
Yea, though I’m sorry for thee.

Robert Dyer – Deer in Scottish Mist, Oil on canvas