Founding Filcher: Benjamin Franklin, Plagiarist? (History Now)

American Heritage, April-May 2002 | Go to article overview

Founding Filcher: Benjamin Franklin, Plagiarist? (History Now)


THE PRESS HAS RECENTLY SHOWN AN UNUSUAL INTEReSt in historiography. During a long, stern inquiry, it has followed accusations of plagiarism against prominent contemporary historians and often compared fragments of their works with those of their predecessors.

Like most things, the practice is nothing new. A predecessor of ours, Historical Magazine, reported similar goings-on in its January 1860 issue. Here the malefactor was Benjamin Franklin, whose famous aphorisms in Poor Richard's Almanac helped make the young journalist famous. But as "S.A.G"--probably the Boston physician and historian Samuel Abbott Green--reported, "It is generally supposed that most of the proverbs ... originated with Franklin, although he nowhere lays claim to their originality. I have in my possession a copy of `A Collection of English Proverbs,' by E Ray [Father John Ray], second edition, Cambridge, 1678, in which many of these maxims are to be found. Below are some from each in parallel columns."

From Ray's Proverbs

   Early to go to bed, and early to rise, makes a man
   healthy, wealthy, and wise.

   Marry your sons when you will, your daughters when
   you can.

   Full of courtesie, full of craft.

   Marry in haste and repent at leisure. … 

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