Kathy Petersen’s Blog

Paid too much for that whistle

Posted in frugal by Kathy on March 27, 2010

One of my f/b friends posted this story told by Ben Franklin, and I liked it and wanted to pass it on:

Here is the story as told by Benjamin Franklin:

“When I was a child of seven years old, my friends, on a holiday, filled my pocket 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 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 much 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 much for your whistle.”

When I met with 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 give too much 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, and ends his career in a prison, “Alas!” say I, “he has paid dear, very dear, for his whistle.”

When I see a beautiful sweet-tempered girl married to an ill-natured brute of a husband, “What a pity,” say I, “that she should pay so much for a whistle!”

In short, I conceive that great part of the miseries of mankind are brought upon them by the false estimates they have made of the value of things, and by their giving too much for their whistles.

Yet I ought to have charity for these unhappy people, when I consider that, with all this wisdom of which I am boasting, there are certain things in the world so tempting, for example, the apples of King John, which happily are not to be bought; for if they were put to sale by auction, I might very easily be led to ruin myself in the purchase, and find that I had once more given too much for the whistle. “


3 Responses

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  1. Claire at Saving Money Plan said, on May 20, 2010 at 11:28 pm

    Thanks again for all your great comments on my post! Claire at saving money plan;)

  2. Garnavault said, on December 23, 2011 at 9:25 am

    Good morning, Kathy

    Is this the real letter of Benjamin Franklin ?

    Why I ask that ? I am learning English at home (alone) and in a lesson I read this letter. But, not exactly the same of yours.
    I suspect my lesson not use correct form. (yours is more right I think and I understand better with it)

    Here is a copy from my book:

    lesson 106
    I was but a child of seven years, when my relations, one holiday, filled my pockets with copper money.
    I immediately went to a shop where playthings were sold.
    The tone of a whistle, which I saw in another boy’s hand,
    when passing by,
    delighted me so much
    that I offered him voluntarily all my money for this one article.
    He consented.
    Well pleased with my bargain, I hastened home
    where I whistled through every corner of the house,
    for my whistle gave me as much pleasure as it caused annoyance
    to the reste of the family.
    When my brothers and sisters heard
    what an exchange I had made,
    they assured me I had given for the whistle
    four times as much as it was worth.
    It only then occurred to me what nice things I might have bought
    with the remainder of the money,
    and they laughed at me so much for my simplicity
    that I began to cry with vexation.
    Regret for what I had done
    now caused me more anger than the whistle had given me pleasure.
    This occurrence, however, made such an indelible impression upon me
    that it proved most useful in afterlife.
    Often, when I was tempted to buy something unnecessary,
    I said to myself :
    “Don’t give too much for the whistle”
    and saved my money.

    Benjamin Franklin (Autobiography)

    I cannot understand why there are so much different letters on Internet (see with Google) !

    Thanks for your blog, it help me very much (and sorry for my bad English)


    • Kathy said, on December 27, 2011 at 1:57 pm


      It is possible that Benjamin Franklin wrote or told this story many times, and that there are several versions that he wrote at different times. Your version is a little more old-fashioned and difficult to understand; my version is a little plainer and simpler.

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