Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

The Distichs of Cato, Translated into English Verse

Benjamin Franklin's edition of the Distichs of Cato, which he probably knew from his elementary school days, "was the first Latin classic translated and printed in the British colonies in North America" (Mark van Doren, Foreward, cited below). It was, as Franklin styled it, "Very proper to be Put in the Hands of Young Persons," for it was the book most often used in the grammar schools of America, and it held that position throughout the century.

The translation Franklin printed was by John Logan, a Quaker merchant, whom Franklin does not identify. In the preface, he writes of the translation:

It was done by a Gentleman amongst us (whose Name or Character I am strictly forbidden to mention, tho' it might give some advantage to my Edition for the Use of his own Children; But in my Opinion is is no unfit or unprofitable Entertainment for those of riper Years. For certainly, such excellent Precepts of Morality, contain'd in such short and easily-remember'd Sentences, may to Youth particularly be very serviceable in the Conduct of Life, since there can scarce happen any Affair of Importance to us, in which we may need advice, but one or more of these Distichs suited to the occasion, will seasonably occur to the Memory, if the Book has been read and studied with a proper Care and Attention.

Ever practical, Franklin adds:

In most Places that I am acquainted with, so great is the present corruption of Manners, that a printer shall find much more Profit in such Things as flatter and encourage Vice, than in such as tend to promote its contrary. It would be thought a Piece of Hypocrisy and pharisaical Ostentation in me, if I should say, that I print these Distichs more with a view to the Good of others than my own private Advantage: And indeed I cannot say it; for I confess, I have so great Confidence in the common Virtue and Good Sense of the People of this and the neighboring Provinces, that I expect to sell a very good impression.

The only modern edition (of which I know) of Franklin's edition is the rare (limited edition of 250 copies) Cato's Moral Distichs ... printed in Philadelphia in 1735 by Benjamin Franklin, with a foreward by Carl van Doren, The Book Club of California.1939 [Widner Lc 25 57] (The quotations above are from this edition).