Benjamin Franklin? Thomas Fuller? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: If you wish to be remembered by posterity in a literate culture you have two options:
1) Write something that people wish to read.
2) Do something grand that inspires people to write.
The famous statesman Benjamin Franklin has a secure place in history for both of these reasons. Apparently, he crafted a remark that was similar to the one above although he was more eloquent. Would you please locate this adage?
Quote Investigator: Franklin published a series of almanacs in the 1700s that were very popular, and many of the statements that are credited to him today were printed in these almanacs. The pertinent adage appeared in the 1738 edition of “Poor Richard’s Almanac” whose more complete title was “Poor Richard, An Almanack For the Year of Christ 1738, Being the Second after LEAP YEAR.”
The phrases of the expression were interleaved with astronomical facts concerning the month of May 1738. QI has underlined the adage in red in the image below which shows part of Franklin’s book:
If you wou’d not be forgotten
As soon as you are dead and rotten,
Either write things worth reading,
or do things worth the writing.
Many of the sayings in the almanacs were not coined by Franklin. He read several contemporary compilations and sometimes selected statements he found interesting. He also rewrote existing adages and even combined sayings.
The core of the adage under investigation appeared earlier in a collection titled “Introductio ad Prudentiam: Or, Directions, Counsels, and Cautions, Tending to Prudent Management of Affairs in Common Life” by Thomas Fuller which was published in 1727. Adage number 686 was the following:
If thou wouldest win Immortality of Name, either do things worth the writing, or write things worth the reading.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.