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To a Young Man

On How to Choose a Mistress

By Benjamin Franklin

Last Update: October 31, 2009

June 25, 1745

My dear friend,

I know of no medicine fit to diminish the violent natural inclination you mentioned; and if I did, I should not communicate it to you. Marriage is the proper remedy. It is the most natural state of man and therefore the State in which you are most likely to find solid Happiness....

But if you will not take this counsel and persist in thinking a Commerce with the Sex inevitable, then I repeat my former Advice, that in all your Amours you should prefer old Women to young ones. You call this a Paradox and demand my reasons.

They are these:

(1) Because they have more knowledge of the world, and their minds are better stored with observations, their conversation is more improving and more lastingly agreeable.

(2) Because when Women cease to be handsome they study to be good. To maintain their influence over men they supply the Diminution of Beauty by an Augmentation of Utility. They learn to do a thousand services small and great, and are the most tender and useful of Friends when you are sick. Thus they continue aimiable. And hence there is hardly such a thing to be found as an Old Woman who is not a good woman.

(3) Because there is no hazard of Children, which irregularly produced may be attended with much inconvenience.

(4) Because through more Experience they are more Prudent and Discrete in conducting an Intrigue to prevent suspicion. The Commerce with them is therefore safer with regard to your Reputation. And, with regard to theirs, if the affair should happen to be known, considerable people might be rather inclined to excuse an old woman who would kindly take care of a young man, form his manners by her good counsel and prevent his ruining his health and fortune among mercenary prostitutes.

(5) Because every animal that walks upright, the Deficiency of the Fluids that fill the Muscles appears first in the highest part. The Face first grows lank and wrinkled; then the neck; then the Breast and Arms; the lower parts continuing to the last as plump as ever; so that covering all above with a Basket, and regarding only what is below the Girdle, it is impossible of two Women to know an old one from a young one. And as in the Dark all Cats are grey, the pleasures of corporal enjoyment with an old woman is at least equal and frequently superior; every Knack being by Practise capable of Improvement.

(6) Because the Sin is less. The debauching of a Virgin may be her ruin, and make her for life unhappy.

(7) Because the Compunction is less. The having made a young girl miserable may give you frequent bitter reflictions; none of which can attend the making of an Old Woman happy.

(8) and lastly - they are so grateful.

Thus much of my paradox. But, still I advise you to marry directly, being sincerely

Your affectionate friend,

Benjamin Franklin

About the Author

Did Franklin actually write something so frank? Yes, according to H.W. Brands, author of The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin (New York: Doubleday, 2000), pp. 172-174.

"The subject of this letter was so shocking to the sensibility of the several generations that followed Franklin's that the piece was effectively suppressed for nearly two centuries," Brands writes. Of course, they didn't have the Internet then, and it can be suppressed no longer.

At the time Franklin himself was living with his common-law wife, Deborah Read. They would have married but for the inconvenient fact that she was already married to John Rogers, who may or may not have earlier married someone else in England without divorcing her to marry Deborah. In other words he was possibly a bigamist. But he disappeared to the West Indies when being found out. Then came rumors that Rogers was dead.

The law in Pennsylvania didn't allow Deborah to divorce him for mere desertion. If Deborah and Benjamin had married and Rogers then returned, the couple could have been sentenced for bigamy, which was then punished by life imprisonment at hard labor. Investigating all this was beyond Deborah's and Benjamin's means.

So in September 1730 they took the expedient of simply living together. From the first, they raised Benjamin's illegitimate son, William, who was born in late 1730 or early 1731 to a woman whose name never became known.

Benjamin knew about mistresses.

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