Poor Richard's Almanacks with the Titan Leeds Hoax
Benjamin Franklin's First Almanac
Titan Leeds responded in his American Almanack of 1734 to Poor Richard's prediction of his demise:
Kind Reader, Perhaps it may be expected that I should say something concerning an Almanack printed for the Year 1733. Said to be writ by Poor Richard or Richard Saunders, who for want of other matter was pleased to tell his Readers, that he had calculated my Nativity, and from thence predicts my Death to be the 17th of October, 1733. At 22 min. past 3 o'clock in the Afternoon, and that these Provinces may not expect to see any more of his (Titan Leeds) Performances, and this precise Predicter, who predicts to a Minute, proposes to succeed me in Writing of Almanacks; but notwithstanding his false Prediction, I have by the Mercy of God lived to write a Diary for the Year 1734, and to publish the Folly and Ignorance of this presumptuous Author. Nay, he adds another gross Falsehood in his said Almanack, viz That by my own Calculation, I shall survive until the 26th of the said Month, (October) which is as untrue as the former, for I do not pretend to that knowledge, although he has usurpt the knowledge of the Almighty herein and manifested himself a Fool and a Lyar. And by the Mercy of God I have lived to survive this conceited Scriblers Day and Minute whereon he has predicted my Death; and as I have supplied my Country with Almanacks for three seven Years by past, to general Satisfaction, so perhaps I live to write when his Performances are Dead. Thus much from your annual Friend, Titan Leeds. October 18. 1733. 3 ho. 33 min. P.M.
Your kind and charitable Assistance last Year, in purchasing so large an Impression of my Almanacks, has made my Circumstances much more easy in the World, and requires my grateful Acknowledgment. My Wife has been enabled to get a Pot of her own, and is no longer obliged to borrow one from a Neighbor; nor have we ever since been without something of our own to put in it. She has also got a pair of Shoes, two new Shifts, and a new warm Petticoat; and for my part, I have bought a second-hand Coat, so good, that I am now not ashamed to go to Town or be seen there. These Things have rendered her Temper so much more pacifick than it used to be, that I may say, I have slept more, and more quietly within this last Year, than in the three foregoing Years put together. Accept my hearty Thanks therefore, and my sincere Wishes for your Health and Prosperity.
In the Preface to my last Almanack, I foretold the Death of my dear old Friend and Fellow-Student, the learned and ingenious Mr. Titan Leeds, which was to be on 17th of October, 1733, 3h. 29m. P.M., at the very instant of the conjunction of the Sun and Mercury. By his own Calculation he was to survive till the 26th of the same Month, and expire in the Time of the Eclipse, near 11 a clock, A.M. At which of these Times he died, or whether he be really yet dead, I cannot at this present Writing positively assure my Readers; forasmuch as a Disorder in my own Family demanded my Presence, and would not permit me as I had intended, to be with him in his last Moments, to receive his last Embrace, to close his Eyes, and do the Duty of a Friend in performing the last Offices to the Departed. Therefore it is that I cannot positively affirm whether he be dead or not; for the Stars only show to the Skillful, what will happen in the natural and universal Chain of Causes and Effects; but 'tis well known, that the Events which would otherwise certainly happen at certain Times in the Course of Nature, are sometimes set aside or postponed for wise and good Reasons, by the immediate particular Dispositions of Providence; which particular Dispositions the Stars can by no Means discover or foreshow. There is however, (and I cannot speak it without Sorrow) there is the strongest Probability that my dear Friend is no more; for there appears in his Name, as I am assured, an Almanack for the Year 1734, in which I am treated in a very gross and unhandsome Manner; in which I am called a false Predicter, an Ignorant, a conceited Scribler, a Fool, and a Lyar. Mr. Leeds was too well bred to use any Man so indecently and so scurrilously, and moreover his Esteem and Affection for me was extraordinary: So that it is to be feared that Pamphlet may be only a Contrivance of somebody or other, who hopes perhaps to sell two or three Year's Almanacks still, by the sole Force and Virtue of Mr. Leeds's Name; but certainly, to put Words into the Mouth of a Gentleman and a Man of Letters, against his Friend, which the meanest and most scandalous of the People might be ashamed to utter even in a drunken Quarrel, is an unpardonable Injury to his Memory, and an Imposition upon the Publick.
Mr. Leeds was not only profoundly skillful in the useful Science he professed, but he was a Man of exemplary Sobriety, a most sincere Friend, and an exact Performer of his Word. These valuable Qualifications, with many others so much endeared him to me, that although it should be so, that, contrary to all Probability, contrary to my Prediction and his own, he might possibly be yet alive, yet my Loss of Honour as a Prognosticator, cannot afford me so much Mortification, as his Life, Health and Safety would give me Joy and Satisfaction. I am,
Courteous and kind Reader,
Your poor Friend and Servant
Octob. 30. 1733. R. SAUNDERS.
This is the third Time of my appearing in print, hitherto very much to my own Satisfaction, and, I have reason to hope, to the Satisfaction of the Publick also; for the Publick is generous, and has been very charitable and good to me. I should be ungrateful then, if I did not take every Opportunity of expressing my Gratitude; for ingratum si dixeris, omnia dixeris: I therefore return the Publick my most humble and hearty Thanks.
Whatever may be the Musick of the Spheres, how great soever the Harmony of the Stars, 'tis certain there is no Harmony among the Stargazers; but they are perpetually growling and snarling at one another like strange Curs, or like some Men at their Wives: I had resolved to keep the Peace on my own part, and affront none of them; and I shall persist in that Resolution: But having received much Abuse from Titan Leeds deceased, (Titan Leeds when living would not have used me so!) I say, having received much Abuse from the Ghost of Titan Leeds, who pretends to be still living, and to write Almanacks in spite of me and my Predictions, I cannot help saying, that tho' I take it patiently, I take it very unkindly. And whatever he may pretend, 'tis undoubtedly true that he is really defunct and dead. First because the Stars are seldom disappointed, never but in the Case of wise Men, Sapiens dominabitur astris, and they foreshowed his Death at the Time I predicted it. Secondly, 'Twas requisite and necessary he should die punctually at that Time, for the Honour of Astrology, the Art professed both by him and his Father before him. Thirdly, 'Tis plain to every one that reads his two last Almanacks (for 1734 and 35) that they are not written with that Life his Performances use to be written with; the Wit is low and flat, the little Hints dull and spiritless, nothing smart in them but Hudibras's Verses against Astrology at the Heads of the Months in the last, which no Astrologer but a dead one would have inserted, and no Man living would or could write such Stuff as the rest. But lastly, I shall convince him from his own Words, that he is dead, (ex ore suo condemnatus est) for in his Preface to his Almanack for 1734, he says, "Saunders adds another GROSS FALSEHOOD in his Almanack, viz. that by my own Calculation I shall survive until the 26th of the said Month October 1733, which is as untrue as the former." Now if it be, as Leeds says, untrue and a gross Falsehood that he survived till the 26th of October 1733, then it is certainly true that he died before that Time: And if he died before that Time, he is dead now, to all Intents and Purposes, any thing he may say to the contrary notwithstanding. And at what Time before the 26th is it so likely he should die, as at the Time by me predicted, viz. the 17th of October aforesaid? But if some People will walk and be troublesome after Death, it may perhaps be born with a little, because it cannot well be avoided unless one would be at the Pains and Expense of laying them in the Red Sea; however, they should not presume too much upon the Liberty allowed them; I know Confinement must needs be mighty irksome to the free Spirit of an Astronomer, and I am too compassionate to proceed suddenly to Extremities with it; nevertheless, tho' I resolve with Reluctance, I shall not long defer, if it does not speedily learn to treat its living Friends with better Manners. I am,
Your obliged Friend and Servant
Octob. 30. 1734. R. SAUNDERS.
You may remember that in my first Almanack, published for the Year 1733, I predicted the Death of my dear Friend Titan Leeds, Philomat, to happen that Year on the 17th Day of October, 3 h. 29 m. P.M. The good Man, it seems, died accordingly: But W.B. and A.B. have continued to publish Almanacks in his Name ever since; asserting for some Years that he was still living; At length when the Truth could no longer be concealed from the World, they confess his Death in their Almanack for 1739, but pretend that he died not till last Year, and that before his Departure he had furnished them with Calculations for 7 Years to come. Ah, My Friends, these are poor Shifts and thin Disguises; of which indeed I should have taken little or no Notice, if you had not at the same time accused me as a false Predictor; an Aspersion that the more affects me, as my whole Livelyhood depends on a contrary Character.
But to put this Matter beyond Dispute, I shall acquaint the World with a Fact, as strange and surprizing as it is true; being as follows.
On the 4th Instant, towards midnight, as I sat in my little Study writing this Preface, I fell fast asleep; and continued in that Condition for some time, without dreaming any thing, to my Knowledge. On awaking, I found lying before me the following Letter.
Dear Friend SAUNDERS,
You will wonder perhaps, how this Paper comes written on your Table. You must know that no separate Spirits are under any Confinement till after the final Settlement of all Accounts. In the mean time we wander where we please, visit our old Friends, observe their Actions, enter sometimes into their Imaginations, and give them Hints waking or sleeping that may be of Advantage to them. Finding you asleep, I entered your left Nostril, ascended into your Brain, found out where the Ends of those Nerves were fastened that move your right Hand and Fingers, by the Help of which I am now writing unknown to you; but when you open your Eyes, you will see that the Hand written is mine, though wrote with yours.
The People of this Infidel Age, perhaps, will hardly believe this Story. But you may give them these three Signs by which they shall be convinced of the Truth of it. About the middle of June next, J. J----n, Philomat, shall be openly reconciled to the Church of Rome, and give all his Goods and Chattles to the Chappel, being perverted by a certain Country Schoolmaster. On the 7th of September following my old Friend W. B----t shall be sober 9 Hours, to the Astonishment of all his Neighbours: And about the same time W.B. and A.B. will publish another Almanack in my Name, in spight of Truth and Common-Sense.
As I can see much clearer into Futurity, since I got free from the dark Prison of Flesh, in which I was continually molested and almost blinded with Fogs arising from Tiff, and the Smoke of burnt Drams; I shall in kindness to you, frequently give you Informations of things to come, for the Improvement of your Almanack: Being Dear Your affectionate Friend
Your affectionate Friend
For my own part I am convinced that the above Letter is genuine. If the Reader doubts of it, let him carefully observe the three Signs; and if they do not actually come to pass, believe as he pleases.
I am his humble Friend,
Octobober 7. 1739. R. SAUNDERS.
Illustration by R. Crumb, Earth Island, Number One
Journal of the Gathering Tribes, 1970 (front inside cover)