The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

I’m sure you know about Benjamin Franklin, you must have seen an illustration of his in your junior school science books, holding a kite while there is lightning outside. That experiment gave him the credit for discovering electricity. If you’re Autobiography buff you need t. Charlie Munger was a big fan of Benjamin Franklin’s and that is partly why I read this book too. Honestly, after reading this book, I can tell you I know what Charlie saw. Benjamin Franklin was one of the most


  • I have ever had pleasure in obtaining any little anecdotes of my ancestors.
  • were it offered to my choice, I should have no objection to a repetition of the same life from its beginning, only asking the advantages authors have in a second edition to correct some faults of the first. So I might, besides correcting the faults, change some sinister accidents and events of it for others more favorable.
  • And now I speak of thanking God, I desire with all humility to acknowledge that I owe the mentioned happiness of my past life to His kind providence, which lead me to the means I used and gave them success.
  • He had formed a short-hand of his own, which he taught me, but, never practicing it, I have now forgot it
  • The six concluding lines I remember, though I have forgotten the two first of the stanza; but the purport of them was, that his censures proceeded from good will, and, therefore, he would be known to be the author. “Because to be a libeller (says he) I hate it with my heart; From Sherburne town, where now I dwell My name I do put here; Without offense your real friend, It is Peter Folgier.”
  • pleaded the usefulness of the work, mine convinced me that nothing was useful which was not honest.
  • I was brought up in such a perfect inattention to those matters as to be quite indifferent what kind of food was
    set before me, and so unobservant of it, that to this day if I am asked I can scarce tell a few hours after dinner
    what I dined upon.
  • This has been a convenience to me in travelling, where my companions have been sometimes very unhappy for
    want of a suitable gratification of their more delicate, because better instructed, tastes and appetites. My mother had likewise an excellent constitution: she suckled all her ten children. I never knew either my father or mother to have any sickness but that of which
  • It has ever since been a pleasure to me to see good workmen handle their tools; and it has been useful to me,
    having learned so much by it as to be able to do little jobs myself in my house when a workman could not
    readily be got, and to construct little machines for my experiments, while the intention of making the experiment was fresh and warm in my mind.
  • From a child I was fond of reading, and all the little money that came into my hands was ever laid out in books.
  • often regretted that, at a time when I had such a thirst for knowledge, more proper books had not fallen in my
    way since it was now resolved I should not be a clergyman.
  • continued this method some few years, but gradually left it, retaining only the habit of expressing myself in
    terms of modest diffidence; never using, when I advanced any thing that may possibly be disputed, the words
    certainly, undoubtedly, or any others that give the air of positiveness to an opinion; but rather say, I conceive or
    apprehend a thing to be so and so; it appears to me, or I should think it so or so, for such and such reasons; or I imagine it to be so; or it is so, if I am not mistaken.
  • “Immodest words admit but this defense, That want of modesty is want of sense.”
  • So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for every
    thing one has a mind to do.
  • by our expenses, I was constantly kept unable to pay my passage
  • stood out two or three weeks, was accordingly considered as an excommunicate, and had so many little pieces of private mischief done me, by mixing my sorts, transposing my pages, breaking my matter, etc., etc., if I were
    ever so little out of the room, and all ascribed to the chapel ghost, which they said ever haunted those not
    regularly admitted, that, notwithstanding the master’s protection,
  • had by no means improved my fortune; but I had picked up some very ingenious acquaintance, whose
    conversation was of great advantage to me; and I had read considerably.
  • plan to be found in it, which I formed at sea, for regulating my future conduct in life
  • found myself recovering, regretting, in some degree, that I must now, some time or other, have all that
    disagreeable work to do over again.
  • so I had two days for reading. My acquaintance with ingenious
  • My mind having been much more improved by reading than Keimer’s, I suppose it was for that reason my
    conversation seemed to be more valued. They
  • grew convinced that truth, sincerity and integrity in dealings between man and man were of the utmost
    importance to the felicity of life; and I formed written resolutions, which still remain in my journal book, to
    practice them ever while I lived.
  • But so determined I was to continue doing a sheet a day of the folio, that one night, when, having imposed my
    forms, I thought my day’s work over, one of them by accident was broken, and two pages reduced to pi, I
    immediately distributed and composed it over again before I went to bed; and this industry, visible to our
    neighbors, began to give us character and credit; particularly, I was told, that mention being made of the new
    printing-office at the merchants’
  • “For the industry of that Franklin,” says he, “is superior to any thing I ever saw of the kind; I see him still at
    work when I go home from club, and he is at work again before his neighbors are out of bed.”
  • George Webb, who had found a female friend that lent him wherewith to purchase his time of Keimer, now
    came to offer himself as a journeyman to us. We could not then employ him; but I foolishly let him know as a
    secret that I soon intended to begin a newspaper, and might then have work for him
  • I requested Webb not to mention it; but he told it to Keimer, who immediately, to be beforehand with me,
    published proposals for printing one himself, on which Webb was to be employed.
  • “The Nature and Necessity of a Paper Currency.”
  • This was another advantage gained by my being able to write.
  • let her know that I expected as much money with their daughter as would pay off my remaining debt for the
    printing-house, which I believe was not then above a hundred pounds. She brought me word they had no such
    sum to spare; I said they might mortgage their house in the loan-office.
  • The present little sacrifice of your vanity will afterwards be amply repaid.
  • “He that would thrive, must ask his wife.”
  • We kept no idle servants, our table was plain and simple, our furniture of the cheapest. For instance, my
    breakfast was a long time bread and milk (no tea), and I ate it out of a twopenny earthen porringer, with a pewter
  • bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wished to live without committing
  • any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into.
  • I concluded, at length, that the mere speculative conviction that it was our interest to be completely virtuous, was
    not sufficient to prevent our slipping; and that the contrary habits must be broken, and good ones acquired and
    established, before we can have any dependence on a steady, uniform rectitude of conduct.
  • agreeably to the advice of Pythagoras in his Golden Verses, daily examination would be necessary, I contrived
    the following method for conducting that examination.
  • And like him who, having a garden to weed, does not attempt to eradicate all the bad herbs at once, which would
    exceed his reach and his strength, but works on one of the beds at a time, and, having accomplished the first,
    proceeds to a second, so I should have, I hoped, the encouraging pleasure of seeing on my pages the progress I
    made in virtue, by clearing successively my lines of their spots, till in the end, by a number of courses, I should
    be happy in viewing a clean book, after a thirteen weeks’ daily examination.
  • My scheme of ORDER gave me the most trouble; and I found that, though it might be practicable where a man’s
    business was such as to leave him the disposition of his time, that of a journeyman printer, for instance, it was
    not possible to be exactly observed by a master, who must mix with the world, and often receive people of
    business at their own hours.
  • “a speckled ax was best”;
  • a benevolent man should allow a few faults in himself, to keep
  • But, on the whole, though I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining,
  • To Temperance he ascribes his long-continued health, and what is still left to him of a good constitution; to
    Industry and Frugality, the early easiness of his circumstances and acquisition of his fortune, with all that
    knowledge that enabled him to be a useful citizen, and obtained for him some degree of reputation among the
    learned; to Sincerity and Justice, the confidence of his country, and the honorable employs it conferred upon
    him; and to the joint influence of the whole mass of the virtues, even in the imperfect state he was able to
    acquire them, all that evenness of temper, and that cheerfulness in conversation, which makes his company still
    sought for, and agreeable even to his younger acquaintance.
  • vicious actions are not hurtful because they are forbidden, but forbidden because they are hurtful,
  • it is hard for an empty sack to stand up-right“He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have
  • “that after getting the first hundred pound, it is more easy to get the second,” money itself being of a prolific
  • I had read or heard of some public man who made it a rule never to ask for an office, and never to refuse one
    when offered to him. “I approve,” says I, “of his rule, and will practice it with a small addition; I shall never ask,
    never refuse, nor ever resign an office. If they will have my office of clerk to dispose of to another, they shall
    take it from me. I will not, by giving it up, lose my right of some time or other making reprisals on my
  • This modesty in a sect is perhaps a singular instance in the history of mankind, every other sect supposing itself
    in possession of all truth, and that those who differ are so far in the wrong;
  • That, as we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve
    others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously.
  • In the introduction to these proposals, I stated their publication, not as an act of mine, but of some public-spirited
    gentlemen, avoiding as much as I could, according to my usual rule, the presenting myself to the public as the
    author of any scheme for their benefit.
  • The honor of this public benefit has also been ascribed to me but it belongs truly to that gentleman.
  • Human felicity is produced not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little
    advantages that occur every day
  • In our way thither, I projected and drew a plan for the union of all the colonies under one government, so far as
    might be necessary for defense, and other important general purposes.
  • “Look round the habitable world, how few Know their own good, or, knowing it, pursue!”
  • Our answers, as well as his messages, were often tart, and sometimes indecently abusive; and, as he knew I
    wrote for the Assembly, one might have imagined that, when we met, we could hardly avoid cutting throats; but
    he was so good-natured a man that no personal difference between him and me was occasioned by the contest,
    and we often dined together.
  • I was conscious of an impropriety in my disputing with a military man in matters of his profession, and said no
  • This gave me occasion to observe, that, when men are employed, they are best contented; for on the days they
    worked they were good-natured and cheerful, and, with the consciousness of having done a good day’s work,
    they spent the evening jollily; but on our idle days they were mutinous and quarrelsome, finding fault with their
    pork, the bread, etc., and in continual ill-humor, which put me in mind of a sea-captain, whose rule it was to
    keep his men constantly at work; and, when his mate once told him that they had done every thing, and there
    was nothing further to employ them about, “Oh,” says he, “Make them scour the anchor.”
  • We had for our chaplain a zealous Presbyterian minister, Mr. Beatty, who complained to me that the men did not
    generally attend his prayers and exhortations. When they enlisted, they were promised, besides pay and
    provisions, a gill of rum a day, which was punctually served out to them, half in the morning, and the other half
    in the evening; and I observed they were as punctual in attending to receive it; upon which I said to Mr. Beatty,
    “It is, perhaps, below the dignity of your profession to act as steward of the rum, but if you were to deal it out
    and only just after prayers, you would have them all about you.” He liked the thought, undertook the office, and,
    with the help of a few hands to measure out the liquor, executed it to satisfaction, and never were prayers more
    generally and more punctually attended; so that I thought this method preferable to the punishment inflicted by
    some military laws for non-attendance on divine service.
  • once purposed answering the abbé, and actually began the answer; but, on consideration that my writings
    contained a description of experiments which any one might repeat and verify, and if not to be verified, could
  • not be defended; or of observations offered as conjectures, and not delivered dogmatically, therefore not laying
    me under any obligation to defend them; and reflecting that a dispute between two persons, writing in different
    languages, might be lengthened greatly by mistranslations, and thence misconceptions of one another’s meaning,
    much of one of the abbé’s letters being founded on an error in the translation, I concluded to let my papers shift
    for themselves, believing it was better to spend what time I could spare from public business in making new
    experiments, than in disputing about those already made. I therefore never answered M. Nollet, and the event
    gave me no cause to repent my silence;
  • “Mr. Franklin, I find a low seat the easiest.”
  • each has his system; and the same vessel, laden by the judgment and orders of one captain, shall sail better or
    worse than when by the orders of another.
  • Besides, it scarce ever happens that a ship is formed, fitted for the sea, and sailed by the same person. One man
    builds the hull, another rigs her, a third lades and sails her. No one of these has the advantage of knowing all the
    ideas and experience of the others, and, therefore, can not draw just conclusions from a combination of the
  • This deliverance impressed me strongly with the utility of light-houses, and made me resolve to encourage the
    building more of them in America, if I should live to return there.

13 virtues of Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin’s 13 Moral Virtues of Self-Improvement

After I read the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, I was very impressed with his life and achievements. Benjamin Franklin played many roles his life, he was a printer, a writer, an inventor, a public servant and one of the Founding Fathers of America.

But what struck me most was his ability to introspect.

Through introspection, Franklin devised an action plan for achieving perfection in his behavior and hoped that it would help him achieve his goals in life more easily. He identified his fallacies and came up with his own strategy of overcoming them.

Of course, he was after all human and couldn’t completely get over these shortcomings, but he left a blueprint for the world of self-improvement, these he called the virtues.

These 13 virtues of conducting oneself through life are enumerated for your benefit and mine.


“Look round the habitable world, how few

Know their own good, or, knowing it, pursue!” 


The 13 Virtues of Benjamin Franklin

1. Temperance

“Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation”

Temperance has two meanings self-control and complete abstinence from alcohol.

Although abstinence is not what Franklin was referring to, he merely meant that a person must have control over himself and not indulge too much in food or alcohol, so as to harm his health. Benjamin Franklin attributed this virtue to his good health and composition.

He did live to be 88 years.

2. Silence

“Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation”

With silence he meant to control his tongue, so as not to waste his time and that of others in idle gossip and unnecessary conversation.

Since gaining knowledge was also a high precept in his life, Franklin observed that it was more important for him to use his ears rather than his tongue for this endeavor. Hence, silence was high on his priority list.

He also wanted to get rid of his habit of prattling, punning and joking.

3. Order                                                                                                                                                                                    

“Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.”

He intended for this virtue to award him more time for his projects and studies.

But this is the virtue he struggled with the most.

As Walter Isaacson has mentioned in his biography of Benjamin Franklin, “He was a sloppy man, and he eventually decided that he was so busy and had such a good memory that he didn’t need to be too orderly.”

4. Resolution

“Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve”

Was meant to help him stick to all the other virtues.

There are several examples of Benjamin making resolutions in his life, at one point he did become a vegetarian, which he gave up after some time.

5. Frugality 

“Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself i.e waste nothing”

He believed that industry and frugality would help him become debt-free and give him the independence he required in life. Franklin mentions in his autobiography that his wife too, was frugal and industrious just like him. He writes,”We kept no idle servants, our table was plain and simple, our furniture of the cheapest. For instance, my breakfast was a long time bread and milk(no tea), and I ate it out of a twopenny earthen porringer, with a pewter spoon.”

6. Industry

“Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions”

As an example, his entire life was dedicated to Industry or constant work. As a printer in his initial years, then a public servant and always a writer and inventor.

Franklin considered industry as a means of obtaining wealth and distinction. His father repeated a proverb of Solomon’s to him in his childhood, “Seest thou a man diligent in his calling, he shall stand before kings, he shall not stand before mean men.”

As mentioned by Franklin, he did meet five Kings in his lifetime and even dined with the King of Denmark.

7. Sincerity 

“Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you, speak, speak accordingly”

Sincerity was very important to him, he believed that it attributed to him the confidence of his country and the honorable employment that he received from the government and the Regency.

8. Justice 

“Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty”

The greatest example of serving Justice can be seen in his proposal for levying taxes. The taxes at that time were standard for everyone irrespective of their assets or income, so Franklin proposed that the taxes should be levied in proportion to the property owned by an individual, this he proposed in the Junto(his own secret society), even though this idea took time to materialize it showed you insight into Franklin’s character.

9. Moderation 

“Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve”

10. Cleanliness 

 “Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths or habitation

As an example, Benjamin Franklin on observing a poor woman sweeping the street outside where he was living when in London, he came up with a plan to keep the streets clean. He wrote to Dr. Fothergill, “For the more effectual cleaning and keeping clean the streets of London and Westminster, it is proposed that the several watchmen be contracted with to have the dust swept up in dry seasons and the mud raked up at other times, each in the several streets and lanes of his round; that they be furnished with brooms and other proper instruments for these purposes, to be kept at their respective stands, ready to furnish the poor people they may employ in the service.”

11. Tranquility 

“Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable”

12. Chastity 

“Rarely use venery but for health or off-spring, never to                                                          dullness,weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation”

13. Humility 

“Imitate Jesus and Socrates”

Originally, there were only 12 virtues enlisted by Franklin but he was informed by a friend that he was guilty of “pride” and so he added Humility as a virtue.

Franklin wrote,”In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for, even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility”


These virtues were a pragmatic endeavor by Franklin to achieve his goals in life.

He approached these virtues in a very simple manner

And like him who, having a garden to weed, does not attempt to eradicate all the bad herbs at once, which would exceed his reach and his strength, but works on one of the beds at a time.

Franklin made a small notebook in which he allotted a page each for each virtue, he created seven columns on each page, one for each day of the week. He also made thirteen rows on the page and wrote the first letter of each virtue in each of those rows. He decided to tackle one virtue each week, while also marking the faults of the day on this chart. With each week he saw an improvement in himself and thus with time had less faults marked on paper.