Too Dear for the Whistle, by Benjamin Franklin

from The Autobiography

When I was a child of seven years old, my friends, on a holiday, filled my pockets with coppers. I went directly to a shop where they sold toys for children; and being charmed with the sound of a whistle, that I met by the way in the hands of another boy, I voluntarily offered and gave all my money for one. I then came home, and went whistling all over the house, much pleased with my whistle, but disturbing all the family. My brothers, and sisters, and cousins, understanding the bargain I had made, told me I had given four times as much for it as it was worth; put me in mind of what good things I might have bought with the rest of the money; and laughed at me so much for my folly, that I cried with vexation; and the reflection gave me more chagrin than the whistle gave me pleasure.

This, however, was afterwards of use to me, the impression continuing on my mind; so that often, when I was tempted to buy some unnecessary thing, I said to myself, "Don't give too much for the whistle"; and I saved my money. As I grew up, came into the world, and observed the actions of men, I thought I met with many, very many, "who gave too much for the whistle." When I saw one too ambitious of court favor, sacrificing his time in attendance on levees, his repose, his liberty, his virtue, and perhaps his friends, to attain it, I have said to myself—

"This man gives too much for his whistle." When I saw another fond of popularity, constantly employing himself in political bustles, neglecting his own affairs, and ruining them by that neglect, "He pays, indeed," said I, "too dear for his whistle."

If I knew a miser, who gave up every kind of comfortable living, all the pleasure of doing good to others, all the esteem of his fellow-citizens, and the joys of benevolent friendship, for the sake of accumulating wealth—"Poor man," said I, "you pay too dear for your whistle." When I met a man of pleasure, sacrificing every laudable improvement of the mind, or of his fortune, to mere corporeal sensations, and ruining his health in their pursuit—"Mistaken man," said I, "you are providing pain for yourself, instead of pleasure; you are paying too dear for your whistle." If I see one fond of appearance or fine clothes, fine houses, fine furniture, fine equipages, all above his fortune, for which he contracts debts, "Alas," say I, "he has paid dear, very dear for his whistle." In short, I conceive that a great part of the miseries of mankind are brought upon them by the false estimate they have made of the value of things, and by their giving "too much for their whistles."


[Footnote: This extract was taken from a letter which Franklin wrote from Passy in 1779 to Madame Brillon.

The phrase, "paying too dear for his whistle," has become proverbial.
What does it mean? What famous book of maxims was written by Franklin?
Can you quote any of the sayings in it? Do you know anything of
Franklin's life that showed whether he lived up to the moral he sets
forth in this story?]

Louise de la Ramee