"Pay Too Much For Your Whistle"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: The familiar essay in which this quotation occurs was at one time very popular in the United States, as were so many of Franklin's writings, for its simple, common-sense moral. Franklin tells of an episode that took place when he was seven years old: on a holiday he was given some copper coins which he immediately spent in the purchase of a whistle. When his incessant whistling annoyed his family, he was told that he had paid for his toy four times what it was worth. This lesson remained with him all of his life, and was called to mind whenever he was tempted to sacrifice a greater happiness for a lesser, or saw anyone else doing so. Two characteristic paragraphs from the essay illustrate his point.

This however was afterwards of use to me, the impression continuing in 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.
. . .
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.