29 March 2016
Origin of ‘Poor’ Richard Saunders
In class we discussed Franklin’s pen name for his almanacs, Richard Saunders, or “Poor Richard”. Franklin often used pseudonyms, and would usually create them from individuals he admired. For example, the pseudonym Silence Dogood was taken from the names of two essays published by notable preacher Cotton Mather Essays to do Good and Silentiarius: A Brief Essay on the Holy Silence and Godly Patience, that Sad Things are to be Entertained withal, so we see the Silence and the Dogood were taken from here.
Now Richard Saunders was supposed to be a working class man readers of the almanac could take advice from, this is why he became “Poor Richard” after a few publications. Franklin wanted to write an almanac, and took his pseudonym from the secret writer of another influential almanac of the time the Rider’s British Merlin that was published in England from 1656 to around 1830. The author of the almanac was Cardanus Rider, widely accepted as a pen name for the real author. The name is actually an anagram that forms the name Ric_ard Saunder_, Richard Saunders being an English physician and astrologer of the time. And so Franklin took a name for his almanacs to be written under.
Franklin not only used someone else’s name for his almanacs he also borrowed heavily from the satirist Jonathan Swift’s pen name character “Isaac Bickerstaff”. Swift wrote three letters under this pseudonym, an astrologer and philomath, predicting, incorrectly of course, the deaths of notable astrologers of the time. The fake predictions and false reporting of several astrologers’ deaths became a running joke in the early publications of Poor Richard’s Almanac. Now we see Franklin took the name of his almanac writer from one astrologist almanac writer, and the personality for this character mostly from Swift’s satirical astrologist, while poking fun at other astrologists along the way.
Ross, John F. (September 1940). “The Character of Poor Richard: Its Source and Alteration”. PMLA (Modern Language Association) 55 (3): 785–794.