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On Page 287 of the 1758 version of Poor Richard's Almanac, we find this paragraph:

Methinks I hear some of you say, Must a Man afford himself no Leisure? ---- I will tell thee, my Friend, what Poor Richard says, Employ thy Time well if thou meanest to gain Leisure; and, since thou art not sure of a Minute, throw not away an Hour. Leisure is Time for doing something useful; this Leisure the diligent Man will obtain, but the lazy Man never; so that, as Poor Richard says, a Life of Leisure and a Life of Laziness are two Things. Do you imagine that Sloth will afford you more Comfort than Labor? No, for as Poor Richard says, Trouble springs from Idleness, and grievous Toil from needless Ease. Many without Labor would live by their WITS only, but they break for want of Stock. Whereas Industry gives Comfort, and Plenty, and Respect: Fly Pleasures, and they'll follow you. The diligent Spinner has a large Shift, and now I have a Sheep and a Cow, everybody bids me Good morrow; all which is well said by Poor Richard.

I'm reading Benjamin Franklin's works, which I find to be of profound wisdom, and caught this particular phrase, and this is causing confusion:

"Fly pleasures, and they ’ll follow you."

Since English is my second language, I don't quite well understand the meaning of that sentence.

What does it mean?

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  • I don't know what it means either - please give some more context. – Colin Fine Jul 17 '18 at 14:51
  • I read it in "The Way To Wealth". swarthmore.edu/SocSci/bdorsey1/41docs/52-fra.html – Delmonte Jul 17 '18 at 14:59
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    From the context it seems like “fly pleasures” could mean “fly from pleasures” or “flee pleasures” since the argument is that work creates leisure, so turning from pleasure to work will not ultimately cost you your pleasure. – Neil W Jul 17 '18 at 17:02
  • You could try tweeting him and asking – Azor Ahai -him- Jul 17 '18 at 19:20
  • @NeilW That was what I thought too. It's not standard modern usage and I'm not sure that it was standard in Franklin's time either but the idea of running away from something only to have it follow you makes sense. – BoldBen Jul 15 '20 at 23:01
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Hmmm. It is not clear to this native English speaker. The general sense is, but not the specific meaning of "fly pleasures".

My guess (and it is only a guess) is that this is a reference to hawking - hunting with hawks or other birds. The OED give as definition 3c for fly: "To chase with a hawk", which is not on the surface a particularly good fit. But when a hawker flies a bird, they let it go (to chase prey), confident that they have trained it to return to them. I take it therefore that it means "Let pleasures have some freedom, to soar in the air, and they will come back to stay with you".

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From Wisdom from B Franklin

Industry gives comfort and plenty and respect: fly pleasures, and they’ll follow you. If we work as we should, then we will have all that we need. If you take the proper time for pleasure, then it can be properly enjoyed.

And from the etymology fly = flee: etymonline

fly (v.2)

"run away," Old English fleon, flion "fly from, avoid, escape;" essentially a variant spelling of flee.

and

perhaps from fly (n.) on the notion of the insect being hard to catch

Thus possibly: let go of (flee) pleasure, pursue industry (work and toil), and pleasure will follow!

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  • Neither etymonline nor the OED gives either fly or flee as transitive in that sense, except for hawking meaning I mentioned. – Colin Fine Jul 19 '18 at 22:23
  • On the contrary, @ColinFine; paywalled OED offers fly v1 Def. II.11.e = flee v Def. 7 "To run away from, hasten away from; to quit abruptly, forsake" or Def. 8 "To avoid with dread or dislike; to eschew, shun." A 1635 example of fly used this way is "Though he be ambitious of dignities..yet (to be reputed humble) he seems to flie them." Franklin's point about pleasure is of a piece with what Carmen sings about "L'amour" in her Habanera: those who intentionally seek it cannot attain it, while it pursues those who try to avoid it. – Brian Donovan Jul 14 '20 at 19:51
  • @BrianDonovan: you're right: I missed that meaning, so far down the definitions. – Colin Fine Jul 14 '20 at 20:36
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Franklin is saying that if you forgo (fly) pleasures and live a diligent life that those pleasures will always be there for you to enjoy when you need them (they will follow you). This is because if you live a diligent life, in which you do what is necessary when it is necessary, then you will be able to acquire the things that make leisure possible. These are things like a comfortable house, store of food, solid relationships, etc. What's more, these things will always be calling to you to take it easy and relax and it will be within your control if and when you do so. If you give in to pleasures when it is not time for it, however, then these things required to live a life of leisure will not be in your possession and you will be the one that has to chase pleasure. In this case it will be hard work that chases you. Franklin is encouraging us to chase hard work and let pleasure chase us rather than chase pleasure and have hard work chase us. This is why he says elsewhere in the book that "Sloth makes all things difficult, but industry all easy." A slothful person is someone who chases pleasure, and industrious person chases hard work.

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  • Nice first answer Jesse, please enjoy the tour and when you have considerable free--time read-up in the help center about how we work. Welcome to EL&U. – Bitter dreggs. Jul 14 '20 at 21:28

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