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Wit and Humor of America, The Vol 08

PAPER: A POEM

BY BENJAMIN FRANKLIN

Some wit of old,—such wits of old there were,—
Whose hints showed meaning, whose allusions care,
By one brave stroke to mark all human kind,
Called clear blank paper every infant mind!
Then still, as opening sense her dictates wrote,
Fair virtue put a seal, or vice a blot.

The thought was happy, pertinent, and true;
Methinks a genius might the plan pursue.
I (can you pardon my presumption), I—
No wit, no genius—yet for once will try.

Various the papers various wants produce,
The wants of fashion, elegance and use.
Men are as various; and, if right I scan,
Each sort of paper represents some man.

Pray not the fop,—half powder and half lace,—
Nice as a bandbox were his dwelling-place;
He's the gilt paper, which apart you store,
And lock from vulgar hands in the escritoire.

Mechanics, servants, farmers, and so forth,
Are copy-paper, of inferior worth,—
Less prized, more useful, for your desk decreed.
Free to all pens, and prompt at every need.

The wretch whom avarice bids to pinch and spare,
Starve, cheat, and pilfer, to enrich an heir,
Is coarse brown paper, such as peddlers choose
To wrap up wares which better men will use.

Take next the miser's contrast, who destroys
Health, fame and fortune in a round of joys.
Will any paper match him? Yes, throughout.
He's a true sinking paper, past all doubt.

The retail politician's anxious thought
Deems this side always right, and that stark naught;
He foams with censure, with applause he raves,—
A dupe to rumors, and a tool of knaves:
He'll want no type his weakness to proclaim
While such a thing as foolscap has a name.

The hasty gentleman, whose blood runs high,
Who picks a quarrel if you step awry,
Who can't a jest, or hint, or look endure,—
What's he? What? Touch-paper, to be sure.

What are our poets, take them as they fall,
Good, bad, rich, poor, much read, not read at all?
Them and their works in the same class you'll find:
They are the mere waste paper of mankind.

Observe the maiden, innocently sweet;
She's fair white paper, an unsullied sheet,
On which the happy man, whom fate ordains,
May write his name, and take her for his pains.

One instance more, and only one, I'll bring;
'Tis the great man who scorns a little thing,
Whose thoughts, whose deeds, whose maxims, are his own,
Formed on the feelings of his heart alone;
True genuine royal paper is his breast,—
Of all the kinds most precious, purest, best.



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