Orality and Literacy in Matter and Form: Ben Franklin's Way to Wealth
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The reader finishes Benjamin Franklin's Way to Wealth, first published as the preface to the silver-anniversary Poor Richard's Almanach of 1758, with the sense that an infinity of proverbs have followed one another in an endless sequence. With very few exceptions, Franklin took these proverbs, the "active ingredients" of the piece, from printed sources. They came immediately from his own twenty-four previous almanacs, but originally he had taken them from a handful of books which scholars assure us were his direct source of proverbial wisdom (Gallacher 1949:238-39; Newcomb 1957:3, 252; Amacher 1962:56-57). Franklin was, after all, city-born and city-bred, while by contrast proverbs are native to the world of agriculture, orality, and traditionalism. Proverbs embody the concrete and earthy morality of peasant shrewdness; as Walter J. Ong states it, they are situational and operational rather than abstract and speculative, and they are formulated as concrete and earthy expressions in order to be memorable and readily available in the concrete and earthy situations of everyday peasant life (Ong 1982:33-36).
Oral Tradition, 2/1 (1987): 273-85.
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