January 1 - Franklin's Autobiography

Okay, here we go – the Harvard dudes have helpfully given us an excerpt about self-improvement itself, Franklin’s plan of resolution from his Autobiography (Vol. 1 pp. 79-85) -- or, as they say, “the rules for success framed by America’s first ‘self-made’ man”.

This is the passage where he decides to list his 13 virtues (Temperance, Silence, Order, Resolution, Frugality, Industry, Sincereity, Justice, Moderation, Cleanliness, Tranqulity, Chastity, Humility), and keeps a chart. We also get Franklin’s schedule where we learn he took two hours a day for lunch. And if Franklin took two hours a day for lunch... (He got up at five, though. )

And, finally, reassuringly, we find that he was disorderly, and could not fix it:

I was almost ready to give up the attempt, and content myself with a faulty character in that respect, like the man who, in buying an ax of a smith, my neighbour, desired to have the whole of its surface as bright as the edge. The smith consented to grind it bright for him if he would turn the wheel; he turn’d, while the smith press’d the broad face of the ax hard and heavily on the stone, which made the turning of it very fatiguing. The man came every now and then from the wheel to see how the work went on, and at length would take his ax as it was, without farther grinding. “No,” said the smith, “turn on, turn on; we shall have it bright by-and-by; as yet, it is only speckled.” “Yes,” said the man, “but I think I like a speckled ax best.” And I believe this may have been the case with many, who, having, for want of some such means as I employ’d, found the difficulty of obtaining good and breaking bad habits in other points of vice and virtue, have given up the struggle, and concluded that “a speckled ax was best”; for something, that pretended to be reason, was every now and then suggesting to me that such extream nicety as I exacted of myself might be a kind of foppery in morals, which, if it were known, would make me ridiculous; that a perfect character might be attended with the inconvenience of being envied and hated; and that a benevolent man should allow a few faults in himself, to keep his friends in countenance.
Emphasis added. One of things that has always made Franklin enjoyable is that he has few illusions.

On the whole, though, he is “a better and happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it” -- a good thing to hear with a year-long project stretching out in front of you.

The excerpt doesn’t tell us, but how old was Franklin when he started this program? Looking back it seems to be about 1730, so Franklin was 24. Too late for me? It's hard to say.

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