Online Texts for Craig White's Literature Courses

Benjamin Franklin

Proverbs, Aphorisms,
Wise Sayings,
Sound Bites? 

Instructor's note: Franklin created or recorded many aphorisms or wise sayings in his Poor Richard's Almanac and other writings, joining a long line of English and American aphorists or wits including Shakespeare, Samuel Johnson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Will Rogers, Dorothy Parker, Groucho Marx, and Woody Allen.

As with these other "wise men and women," their sayings are often attributed to each other. The following proverbs from internet sources may not be all Franklin's, but they sound like him--selected for quality but also for exemplifying Enlightenment wit and irony and possibly Deism

For another famous collection of Poor Richard's aphorisms, see Franklin's The Way to Wealth (1758).


[1] Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.

[2] Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.

[3] What is serving God? Tis doing Good to Man.

[4] He that lieth down with Dogs, shall rise up with Fleas.

[5] God helps them that help themselves. (from Algernon Sidney, 1622-73)

[6] There are three faithful friends—an old wife, an old dog, and ready money.

[7] Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half shut afterwards.

[8] When the well's dry, we know the worth of water.

[9] Work as if you were to live a hundred years,
Pray as if you were to die tomorrow.

[10] Fish and visitors stink after three days.

[11] Who has deceiv'd thee so oft as thyself?

[12] A good lawyer, a bad neighbour.

[13] Be slow in choosing a friend, slower in changing.

[14] He that hath a Trade, hath an Estate.

[15] The Muses love the Morning.

[16] Three good meals a day is bad living.

[17] A good example is the best sermon.

[18] We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately. (at signing of Declaration of Independence)

[19] Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in the world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes. (letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, 13 Nov. 1789)

[20] Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

[21] A penny saved is a penny earned.

[22] Not to oversee workmen is to leave them your purse open.

[23] Experience keeps a dear [costly] school, but fools will learn in no other, and scarce in that.

[24] Hear no ill of a friend, nor speak any of an enemy.

[25] Love your enemies, for they tell you your faults.

[26] Many have quarreled about religion that never practiced it.

[27] When there is marriage without love, there will be love without marriage.

[28] None preaches better than the ant, and she says nothing.

[29] None but the well-bred man knows how to confess a fault or acknowledge himself in an error.

[30] Success has ruined many a man.

[31] Many Foxes grow grey, but few grow good.

[32] How many observe Christ’s birthday: How few his precepts!

[33] The things which hurt, instruct.

[34] Mankind are very odd creatures: One half censure what they practice, The other half practice what they censure, The rest always say and do as they ought.

[35] Reading makes a full Man, Meditation a profound Man, discourse a clear Man.