Writing Wednesday: Benjamin Franklin and Achieving Virtue Through Journalling

Franklin portrait

Over the years, we at the Endpaper Blog have suggested a wide variety of types of journals you can keep – but even we never thought of what Benjamin Franklin did.

Franklin, an American Founding Father and the original “Poor Richard,” quite famously lived a very full life, from his political victories to his romantic exploits. He was also, rather contradictorily, a staunch and pious Puritan. As with the other Republican leaders of the time, Franklin believed that America would only succeed if its people were truly virtuous, and he sought to elevate his own morality by practicing (to various degrees of success) a set of thirteen virtues.

Benjamin Franklin’s 13 Virtues

  1. Temperance
  2. Silence
  3. Order
  4. Resolution
  5. Frugality
  6. Industry
  7. Sincerity
  8. Justice
  9. Moderation
  10. Cleanliness
  11. Tranquility
  12. Chastity
  13. Humility

Perhaps understanding the unrealistic expectations he was setting for himself, he did not attempt to conquer all the virtues at once. Instead, in 1726 the 20-year-old Franklin came up with a notebook-based system for leading a virtuous life. He set up a weekly grid headlined by one focal trait for the week, followed by the other twelve. Take, for example, this “Temperance” page Franklin wrote about in the eighth chapter of his autobiography (available via Project Gutenberg):

I made a little book, in which I allotted a page for each of the virtues. I rul’d each page with red ink, so as to have seven columns, one for each day of the week, marking each column with a letter for the day. I cross’d these columns with thirteen red lines, marking the beginning of each line with the first letter of one of the virtues, on which line, and in its proper column, I might mark, by a little black spot, every fault I found upon examination to have been committed respecting that virtue upon that day.

Franklin Virtues
Image Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education

Making Your Own Virtue Journal

This list may not exactly relate to your modern life, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an interesting idea in here! What morals do you wish you lived up to more authentically? What habits would you like to correct?

Adding a little grid like this in your daily journal is an easy (and helpful!) way to help you continue to grow as a person. And if you don’t already have a journal on the go, why not start with Via Romana Concordia or Fortuna? After all, these designs are named for the original contents of the book binding reproduced on their covers – Parvus Mundus, an illustrated collection of Roman morality tales!

PB_ViaRomana_ConcordiaFortuna

Find Out More About Via Romana

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