Part 6 out of 8
"No; not by any means," replied the governor, earnestly. "If your
father will not set you up in business, I'll see what I can do for
you. I want a first-class printing house in this town; and a young man
like you, capable of running it, should be encouraged."
"That is more than I expected, and I shall feel myself under great
obligations to you for aid of that kind, if you deem it best."
Benjamin spoke in a tone of grateful feeling, but without the least
show of importunity.
"I do deem it best; and I will give you a start in business. You can
keep the matter a secret; continue at work for Keimer, and use your
first leisure moments to make out an inventory of what a first-class
printing establishment requires. That will be the first thing."
"How soon will you want the inventory of articles?"
"As soon as you can make it out. I shall be obliged to send to England
for them, and that will take considerable time."
It was a lengthy interview that Benjamin had with the governor, and he
was very much elated by this turn of affairs. It looked now as if he
would start the printing business in Philadelphia under the patronage
of the governor himself! That seemed to promise more than to go into
business by the aid of only a tallow-chandler.
He reported next to Keimer, who was glad to welcome him back,
especially so because he had considerable work on hand, and no person
could turn it off like Benjamin.
"Glad to see you, Ben. I suppose the governor will be round to see you
when he hears of your arrival." Keimer spoke in a vein of pleasantry
rather than as a fling.
"Possibly, unless he should send for me to call on him. The governor
of New York sent for me--Governor Burnet--what do you think of that?"
"You are joking now, Ben; it can't be that all the governors are after
"Well, the governor of New York was, and I went to see him." And
Benjamin went on to describe his interview with Governor Burnet in
detail, and how it came about, to which Keimer listened with the
greatest interest and wonder.
"Governor Burnet has the largest library in this country," continued
Benjamin, "and judging from the number of books I had on the sloop, he
concluded that I loved books, and so wanted to show me his."
"Well," answered Keimer, after being in a sort of reverie some
minutes, "if this thing goes on, you will not be willing to associate
long with us fellows in the printing business."
"I will give you due notice when I get to that. I will not cut your
acquaintance suddenly." Benjamin could treat the matter jocosely as
well as Keimer.
To return to John Collins. He sought a position as clerk or bookkeeper
in several stores; but was unsuccessful. Then he tried other kinds of
work; but no one appeared to want him. Benjamin went with him to
several places, to introduce him and intercede for him; but there was
no opening for him. Days passed away, and still he was without a
position; and he kept on drinking, too, not so beast-like as he did in
New York, but enough to be more or less disguised.
"It is your disgusting habit of intemperance; they smell your breath
or study your face, and then don't want you around. I told you in
Boston, that no one wants a drinking employee about." Benjamin's
patience was nearly exhausted, and he spoke as he felt.
"That is your surmise; you are a fanatic on drink, and are not capable
of exercising sound judgement when you come to that," John replied
with considerable temper.
"And you would not be capable of keeping your soul and body together
if it were not for my money. You have no regard at all for your word;
a promise amounts to nothing with you, and never will until you stop
"I shall not stop drinking until I get ready," retorted John, becoming
very angry. "You are an insulting dog, when you get to attacking
Brandy was John's favorite beverage in Philadelphia, as it was in
Boston. He frequently borrowed money of Benjamin; the latter not
having the heart to deny him, with which he continued to gratify his
appetite. Benjamin often remonstrated with him, and threatened to
complain of him; but the old friendship of former days always came in
to favor John. Frequently they had serious difficulties, for John was
very irritable, and daily grew more so. Yet, Benjamin continued to pay
his board, and loan him a little money from time to time, though
Collins continued unsuccessful in his search for a position.
Several young men were enjoying a pastime on the Delaware one day,
boating, among them Benjamin and John. The latter was under the
influence of drink sufficiently to be very irritable; and he refused
to take his turn rowing.
"I will be rowed home," he said in anger.
"No, you won't, unless you do your part," replied Benjamin, who
thought it was quite time to teach the boozy fellow a lesson.
"Then we will stay here all night on the water," snapped out John.
"Just as you please; I can stay as long as you can," said Benjamin,
who had endured about as much of John's impudence as he could.
"Come, Ben, let us row him; he don't know what he is about," said one
of the other boys; "what signifies it?"
"Not one stroke," replied Benjamin emphatically; "it is his turn to
row, and he _shall_ row, if he is full of brandy."
"I'll make you row, you insulting dog," exclaimed John, as he rose and
made for Benjamin. "I'll throw you overboard if you don't row."
Approaching Benjamin with the vehemence of a mad bull, determined to
throw him into the river, Benjamin clapped his head under his thighs,
when he came up and struck at him, and, rising, pitched him head
foremost into the river.
"He'll drown," shouted one.
"No, he won't," answered Benjamin, "he is a good swimmer, and he is
not too drunk to swim."
"Will you row, John?" shouted another.
"No, you ----," he shouted back, with an oath.
"We'll take you in when you will promise to row," said Benjamin.
"I shall not promise to row; I'll drown first." He turned about to
reach the boat, but just as he was ready to grasp it with his hand,
the rowers pushed it forward out of his reach.
"Will you row now?" shouted Benjamin.
"No; but I will give you a thrashing when I can get at you." And he
continued to swim after the boat, the rowers pushing it forward out of
his reach, whenever he got near enough to seize it. Then Benjamin
would cry out:
"Will you row now, John?" and back the defiant answer would come:
"Never; but I'll throw you into the river if I can get at you."
Then forward the rowers would push the boat beyond his reach. For
twenty minutes this game was played with the miserable fellow in the
water, when one of the number said:
"He is giving out, we must take him in, or he'll drown."
"Well, we don't want to drown him," replied Benjamin; "I guess we
better take him in." Then, turning to John, he continued:
"Say, John, we'll take you in now; you are soaked outside as much as
you were inside," and, stopping the boat, they hauled the poor fellow
in, too much exhausted to throw Benjamin or any one else overboard.
"John!" shouted Benjamin, as they laid him down, dripping wet, on the
bottom of the boat, "it don't pay to drink too much brandy. You are
the only one in the crowd who can't take care of himself."
Benjamin was rather severe, but then he had endured insult and
ingratitude so long from his old friend, that his patience was
exhausted. The outcome of this scrape on the Delaware Benjamin shall
tell in his own words:
"We hardly exchanged a civil word after this adventure. At length a
West India captain, who had a commission to procure a preceptor for
the sons of a gentleman at Barbadoes, met with him and proposed to
carry him thither to fill the situation. He accepted, and promised to
remit what he owed me out of the first money he should receive; but I
never heard of him after."
Probably he died, a miserable sot, in Barbadoes, without a friend to
mark his grave or write the story of his shame. Benjamin lost, of
course, all the money he had loaned him. In later life he referred to
the end of John Collins, and said that he (Benjamin) received
retribution for his influence over Collins, when he made him as much
of a skeptic as himself in Boston. It was there that he unsettled his
mind as to the reality of religion. At that time he was industrious,
temperate, and honest. But, losing his respect for religion, he was
left without restraint and went rapidly to ruin. Benjamin was the
greatest sufferer by his fall, and thus was terribly rebuked for
influencing him to treat religion with contempt.
Governor Keith frequently sent for Benjamin to dine with him, that he
might converse with him about the proposed printing house. At length
Benjamin was able to take with him an inventory of all the articles
necessary for establishing a printing house.
"It is not on a large scale," said Benjamin. "I think I better begin
moderately. I can enlarge as business increases."
"That is wise," answered the governor; "but you want a suitable outfit
for a first-class printing office."
"Yes; and my inventory contemplates that. The cost will be about one
hundred pounds sterling, I judge."
"Not so expensive as I supposed," remarked Governor Keith. "I have
been thinking whether you better not go to England to purchase these
articles. You understand what is wanted."
"I had not thought of that," replied Benjamin, both surprised and
pleased by the proposition to visit London. "I should defer to your
judgment in that as in other things."
"If you go it will be necessary for you to sail with Captain Annis,
who makes a trip once a year from here to London. It will be some
months before he will sail, so that you have plenty of time to think
"I think favorably of the proposition now," continued Benjamin. "I
could select the types and see that every thing ordered was good of
the kind, and this would be of advantage."
"That is what I thought. And more than that; while there you can
establish correspondences in the book-selling and stationery line."
"I think I could; and such acquaintance might prove of advantage to me
in other respects."
"It certainly would; and I decide that you get yourself ready to sail
with Captain Annis. You can continue to work for Keimer, still keeping
the secret, but completing your plans."
This was the final agreement, and Benjamin never dreamed that Governor
Keith was not honest. If he had divulged to Mr. Read, or Bradford, or
even to Mr. Keimer, what the governor proposed, they would have
exposed his deceitful, unreliable character, and the enterprise would
have been abandoned.
WORKING, READING, AND COURTING.
Benjamin continued to work for Keimer, who did not suspect that his
employee was planning to set up business for himself. Keimer was a
very singular, erratic man, believing little in the Christian
religion, and yet given to a kind of fanaticism on certain lines.
"_Thou shalt not mar the corners of thy beard_," he quoted from the
Mosaic law, as a reason for wearing a long beard, when Benjamin
inquired of him:
"Then you think that passage means 'Thou shalt not shave,' if I
understand you?" asked Benjamin.
"Yes, that is about it; and I feel religiously bound to observe it."
"Well, I prefer a religion that is seated in the heart instead of the
beard." And there was a twinkle in Benjamin's eye when he said it.
He enjoyed arguing with Keimer, and frequently had a contest with him
in argument. Keimer had come to respect his abilities. Indeed, he
considered Benjamin the most remarkable young man he ever met.
"It is the religion of the heart that settles the length of the beard,
my youthful Socrates." By this reference to Socrates, Keimer meant to
slap Benjamin's Socratic method of argument, about which he talked
much. "Can't you see it?"
"And it ought to settle the appetite, also; and the quantity and kind
of food that goes into the stomach," rejoined Benjamin, quickly.
Keimer was a large eater--never more satisfied than when devouring a
good dinner that was exactly to his taste. On the other hand, while
Benjamin had abandoned his "vegetable diet," he cared very little
about a good dinner, and seemed to eat one thing with about as good
relish as another. He often discussed the subject with Keimer, and
always maintained that most people ate too much meat. His last remark
hit, and Keimer knew where.
"I shall not dispute you on that point," Keimer answered; "if we had
religion enough in our hearts, I suppose it would regulate all our
"It ought to; but there is not much prospect of its regulating you and
me at present. Neither of us has much to boast of in that respect."
"Perhaps not. I don't propose to carry my religion so far as many
people do, and be fanatical," replied Keimer.
"Not much danger of it, I think," retorted Benjamin. "You and I will
never be charged with that."
Benjamin was as much of a skeptic as Keimer, only his skepticism took
a different turn. Keimer believed two things thoroughly: first, to
wear the beard long, and, second, to keep the seventh day of the week
as the Sabbath. Benjamin, on the other hand, regarded these and
kindred dogmas as of little consequence, compared with morality and
industry. He believed in work, self-improvement, and uprightness; and
that was more than Keimer believed or practised. So their disputes
were frequent and animated. Of the two, Benjamin's skepticism was the
"I am seriously thinking of establishing a new sect," continued
Keimer; "if you will join me, I will. I can preach my doctrines, and
you can confound all opponents by your Socratic method."
"I shall want some latitude if I join you. It is narrowing down a
little too much when a creed contains but two articles, like yours,
and both of those grave errors."
"In starting a sect I should not insist upon those two articles alone;
minor doctrines will naturally gather about them. But I am really in
earnest about a new sect, Ben; and I am only waiting to win you over."
"Well, perhaps I will join you after you adopt my creed, to use no
animal food. Your head will be clearer for running your sect, and such
respect for your stomach will show more religion than a long beard
"My constitution would not withstand that sort of a diet; it would
undermine my health."
"Temperance in eating and drinking never undermined any body's
constitution," retorted Benjamin. "You will live twenty years longer
to practise it, and possess a much larger per cent, of self-respect."
"Perhaps I will try it, if you will; and also, if you will adopt my
creed, and go for a new sect."
"I am ready to join you any time in discarding animal food; and, if
you succeed well, then I will talk with you about the rest of it."
"Agreed," responded Keimer, thinking that Benjamin was really inclined
to embrace his scheme, whereas he was only laying his plans for sport.
He knew that a man, who liked a good meal as well as Keimer did, would
have a hard time on the diet he proposed. Referring to it in his
"Autobiography" he said:
"He was usually a great eater, and I wished to give myself some
diversion in half-starving him. He consented to try the practice, if I
would keep him company. I did so, and we held it for three months. Our
provisions were purchased, cooked, and brought to us regularly by a
woman in the neighborhood, who had from me a list of forty dishes,
which she prepared for us at different times, in which there entered
neither fish, flesh, nor fowl. This whim suited me the better at this
time from the cheapness of it,--not costing us above eighteen pence
sterling each per week. I have since kept several lents most strictly,
leaving the common diet for that, and that for the common, abruptly,
without the least inconvenience. So that, I think, there is little in
the advice of making those changes by easy gradations. I went on
pleasantly, but poor Keimer suffered grievously, grew tired of the
project, longed for the flesh pots of Egypt, and ordered a roast pig.
He invited me and two women friends to dine with him; but, it being
brought too soon upon the table, he could not resist the temptation,
and ate the whole before we came."
The trial resulted about as Benjamin anticipated, and he got out of it
as much fun as he expected. Keimer proved himself a greater pig than
the one he swallowed. At the same time, the result left Keimer without
a claim on Benjamin to advocate the new sect. So the scheme was
Keimer was no match for Benjamin in disputation. With the use of the
Socratic way of reasoning, Benjamin discomfited him every time; so
that he grew shy and suspicious. In his ripe years, Benjamin wrote of
those days, and said:
"Keimer and I lived on a pretty good familiar footing, and agreed
tolerably well; for he suspected nothing of my setting up. He retained
a great deal of his old enthusiasm, and loved argumentation. We
therefore had many disputations. I used to work him so with my
Socratic method, and had trepanned him so often by questions
apparently so distant from any point we had in hand, yet by degrees
leading to the point and bringing him into difficulties and
contradictions, that at last he grew ridiculously cautious, and would
hardly answer me the most common question, without asking first, 'What
do you intend to infer from that?' However, it gave him so high an
opinion of my abilities in the confuting way, that he seriously
proposed my being his colleague in a project he had of setting up a
new sect. He was to preach the doctrines, and I was to confound all
Benjamin found pleasant literary associates in Philadelphia. A gifted
young man usually attracts to himself bright young men near his age.
Such was the case with Benjamin. Three young men especially became his
boon companions, all of them great readers. Their literary tendencies
attracted Benjamin, though their characters were not deficient in high
aims and integrity. Their names were Charles Osborne, Joseph Matson,
and James Ralph. The first two were clerks of Charles Brockden, an
eminent conveyancer of the town, and the other was a merchant's clerk.
Matson was a pious young man of sterling integrity, while the others
were more lax in their religious opinions and principles. All were
sensible young men, much above the average of this class in
intellectual endowments. Osborne and Ralph were imaginative and
poetical, and frequently tried their talents at verse-making.
They formed a literary club, and spent their leisure time together,
reading to each other, discussing questions, and, in other ways,
seeking self-improvement. Sundays they devoted chiefly to intellectual
pastime, strolling along the banks of the Schuylkill, except Matson,
who was too much of a Christian to desecrate the Sabbath. He always
went to the house of God on Sundays; nor was he esteemed any less
highly by his skeptical associates for so doing.
"You estimate your talent for poetry too highly," said Osborne to
Ralph, at one of their literary interviews. "Poets are born, not made;
and I hardly think you was born one."
"Much obliged for your compliment," replied Ralph, not at all
disconcerted by Osborne's rather personal remark; "but I may become
poet enough for my own use. All poets are not first-best when they
begin. It is practice that makes perfect, you know."
"Practice can't make a poet out of a man who is not born one; and you
are not such," continued Osborne. "That piece that you just read is
not particularly poetical. It is good rhyme, but it lacks the real
spirit of poesy."
"I agree with you; I do not call it good poetry; but every poet must
begin; and his first piece can not be his best. Poets improve as well
"Real poets!" responded Osborne, with a peculiar smile at the corners
of his mouth. And he continued:
"You seem to think that a fortune awaits a poet, too; but you are
laboring under a great mistake. There is no money in poetry in our
day, and there never was."
"Perhaps not; nevertheless I am confident that a poet may readily win
popularity and a livelihood. At any rate, I am determined to try it,
in spite of your decidedly poor opinion of my abilities."
"Well, my advice is that you stick to the business for which you were
bred, if you would keep out of the poor-house." Osborne said it more
to hector Ralph than any thing. "A good clerk is better than a poor
poet; you will agree to that."
Benjamin listened with a good deal of interest to the foregoing
discussion, and he saw that, from jealousy or some other cause,
Osborne was not according to Ralph the credit to which he was
entitled; and so he interrupted, by saying:
"You set yourself up for a critic, Osborne; but I think more of Ralph
as a poet than I do of you as a critic. You are unwilling to grant
that his productions have any merit at all; but I think have.
Moreover, it is a good practice for him, and for all of us, to write
poetry, even if it does not come quite up to Milton. It will improve
us in the use of language."
"Fiddlesticks! It is simply wasting time that might be spent in
profitable reading; and good reading will improve the mind more than
rhyming." Osborne spoke with much earnestness.
"Not half so much as your empty criticisms are wasting your breath,"
replied Benjamin, with a smile. "But, look here, I have just thought
of a good exercise that we better adopt. At our next meeting each one
of us shall bring in a piece of poetry of our own composition, and
we'll compare notes and criticise each other."
"I should like that," responded Ralph; "it is a capital proposition.
Perhaps Osborne may think it will be a waste of time and breath."
"Not at all," answered Osborne; "I agree to the plan, provided the
subject shall be selected now, so that all shall have fair play."
"We will do that, of course," said Benjamin. "Have you a subject to
"None whatever, unless it is a paraphrase of the Eighteenth Psalm,
which describes the descent of the Deity."
"That is a grand subject," responded Benjamin. "What do you say to
taking that, Ralph?"
"I think it is an excellent subject, and I am in favor of adopting
Thus it was understood that each one should write a poetical
paraphrase of the Eighteenth Psalm for their next meeting, and, with
this understanding, they separated.
Just before the time of their next meeting Ralph called upon Benjamin
with his paraphrase, and asked him to examine it.
"I have been so busy," remarked Benjamin, "that I have not been able
to write any thing, and I shall be obliged to say 'unprepared' when my
turn comes to read. But I should like to read yours."
Benjamin read Ralph's article over, and then reread it.
"It is excellent; better than any poetry you have ever written,"
remarked Benjamin, when he had finished reading. "Osborne will have to
"But he won't; you see if he does. Osborne never allows the least
merit in any thing I write. His envy, or jealousy, or something else,
hatches severe criticism, whether there is reason for it or not. He
will do that with this article; see if he don't."
"If he does, it will be proof that he is prejudiced against you, or is
no judge of poetry," replied Benjamin.
"Suppose we try a little game," continued Ralph. "I think we can put
his judgment to a test. He is not so jealous of you as he is of me.
Now you take this article, and produce it as your own, and I will make
some excuse for not being prepared. We shall then get at his real
opinion of the composition."
"A very ingenious test, Ralph," exclaimed Benjamin. "I will enter into
the plan with all my heart. But I must transcribe the article, so that
he will see that it is in my own handwriting."
"Certainly; and be careful that you do not let the secret out."
So they waited, almost impatiently, for the time of meeting, both
feeling almost sure that Osborne would fall into their net. The
appointed time came. Matson was the first to read his production.
Osborne came next; and his piece was much better than Matson's. Ralph
noticed two or three blemishes, but pointed out many beauties in it.
Next it was Ralph's turn to read. "I am sorry to confess that I have
nothing to read; but I promise to atone for this failure by doing my
part faithfully in future."
"Poets ought to be ready at any time," remarked Osborne humorously,
looking at Ralph.
"It is in order for them to fail sometimes, I think," replied Ralph;
"especially if they are not _born_ poets."
"Well, Ben, we must have yours, then. You will not disappoint us."
"I think you must excuse me this time," Benjamin answered, feigning an
unwillingness to read.
"No, Ben, no excuse for you," said Osborne. "You have it written; I
saw it in your hand."
"That is true; but after listening to such fine productions as we have
heard, I am not ambitious to read mine. I think I must correct it, and
dress it up a little before I submit it for criticism."
"That was not in the arrangement, Ben, when you suggested the
exercise," remarked Ralph.
"You are prepared, and, of course, we shall not excuse you."
After much bantering and urging, Benjamin proceeded to read his,
apparently with much diffidence; and all listened with profound
"You must read that again," said Osborne, when he finished reading it.
"Two readings of such a poem as that are none too much. Come, read it
Benjamin read the article again, apparently with more confidence than
"You surprise me, Ben," exclaimed Osborne, when the second reading was
finished. "You are a genuine poet. I had no idea that you could write
"Nor I," added Matson. "It is better than half the poetry that is
printed. If the subject had not been given out, I don't know but I
should have charged you with stealing it."
"What do you say, Ralph?" inquired Osborne. "You are a poet, and poets
ought to be good judges of such matters." Another fling at Ralph's
claim to poetical ability.
"I don't think it is entirely faultless," remarked Ralph, after some
hesitation. "I think you have commended it full as highly as it
deserves. Not being a _born_ poet, however, I may not be a good
judge," glancing his eye at Osborne.
"Well done, Ralph!" exclaimed Osborne. "Your opinion of that
production is proof positive that you are destitute of real poetical
taste, as I have told you before."
Osborne was fairly caught. Ralph and Benjamin exchanged glances, as
if to inquire if their time of avowed triumph had not come; but both
appeared to conclude to keep the secret a little longer. They
controlled their risibles successfully, and allowed Osborne to go on
and express himself still more strongly in favor of the composition.
Ralph walked home with Osborne, in order to play the game a little
more, and their conversation was very naturally about Benjamin's
"I had no idea," remarked Osborne, "that Ben could write poetry like
that. I was ashamed of my own when I heard his. I knew him to be a
talented fellow; but I had no idea that he was a poet. His production
was certainly very fine. In common conversation he seems to have no
choice of words; he hesitates and blunders; and yet, how he writes!"
"Possibly he might not have written it," suggested Ralph; a very
natural suggestion in the circumstances, though Osborne thought it was
an outrageous reflection.
"That is the unkindest cut of all," retorted Osborne; "to charge him
with plagiarism. Ben would never descend to so mean a thing as that."
They separated for that night; but Ralph embraced the first
opportunity to call on Benjamin, to exult over the success of their
little scheme. They laughed to their hearts' content, and discussed
the point of revealing the secret. They concluded finally, that the
real author of the article should be known at their next meeting.
Accordingly, the affair was managed so as to bring the facts of the
case before their companions at their next gathering. Osborne was
utterly confounded when the revelation was made, and knew not what to
say for himself. Matson shook his whole frame with convulsive laughter
at poor Osborne's expense, and Benjamin joined him with a keen relish.
Never was a fellow in a more mortifying predicament than this would-be
critic, since it was now perfectly manifest that he was influenced by
blind prejudice in his criticisms of Ralph's poetry. For now, disarmed
of prejudice, he had given it his most emphatic endorsement.
A few years later, Matson died in Benjamin's arms, much lamented by
all of his companions, who regarded him as "the best of their set."
Osborne removed to the West Indies, where he became an eminent lawyer,
but died just past middle life. Of the others we shall have occasion
to speak hereafter.
Benjamin always spoke well of that literary club. It was an excellent
way of using leisure time. It contributed much to his self-advancement,
as it did to that of his companions. Such an arrangement converts spare
moments into great blessings.
The time was drawing near for Benjamin to leave for England; and there
was one thing above all others, that he wished to do, viz.: to be
betrothed to Deborah Read. They had fallen in love with each other,
but were not engaged. He had not opened the subject to her parents;
but he must, if he would win her hand before going to England. So he
"Both of you are too young," replied Deborah's mother. "You are only
eighteen! You can not tell what changes may occur before you are old
enough to be married."
"But that need not interfere with an engagement," suggested Benjamin.
"We only pledge each to the other against the time we are ready to be
married. Sometimes parties are engaged for years before they are
"It is not a good plan, however. And why, Benjamin, do you deem an
engagement necessary in the circumstances?"
"Simply because a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush," answered
Benjamin, laughing. Mrs. Read laughed, too.
"I have not quite satisfied myself that it is best to give up my
daughter to a printer," she added.
"How so?" inquired Benjamin with some anxiety.
"Because there are already several printing houses in the country, and
I doubt whether another can be supported."
"If I can not support her by the printing business, then I will do it
by some other," responded Benjamin, emphatically.
"I do not call in question your good intentions, by any means; but you
may not realize the fulfillment of your hopes. I think you had better
leave the matter as it is until you return from England, and see how
you are prospered."
"Of course, I shall yield to your judgment in the matter," said
Benjamin, very politely, "though I shall be somewhat disappointed."
"You and Deborah can have such understanding with each other as you
wish; but I object to a formal engagement. Leave that until you
return." Mrs. Read was decided in her opinions. Her husband died five
or six weeks before this interview.
So Benjamin had to leave his bird in the bush, instead of having it in
hand. And the bird promised to stay there, and sing for him on his
A BOGUS SCHEME.
"I'm thinking of going to England with you," said Ralph to Benjamin, one
day in October, 1724.
"You don't mean it."
"I do mean it. I am thinking seriously of going."
"I shall be delighted to have your company, but the news is almost too
good to be true," continued Benjamin.
"I have been looking the matter over ever since you told me that you
expected to go; and now it is settled in my own mind that I shall go."
"Going out for your employer?"
"No, going out to establish a correspondence, if possible, and arrange
to obtain goods to sell on commission."
"That is a capital scheme, it seems to me, Ralph. I think you can
establish a good business with your tact and experience. You'll have
to hurry up; for I expect that Captain Annis will sail in three
weeks." Benjamin's words showed his gladness that one of his intimate
companions would accompany him.
"It won't take me long to get ready; I have been arranging matters for
some time with reference to going, though I have spoken to no one
about it." Ralph was careful not to divulge the real reason of his
going, lest Benjamin should disapprove.
At length it was announced that the _London Hope_, Captain Annis,
master, would sail about the 10th of November. And now, Benjamin was
full of business. He made known his intentions to Keimer and other
friends, without disclosing the real object of his trip, or that he
was going under the patronage of Governor Keith. Considerable surprise
and regret were expressed by several friends that he was going, and
yet they were free to say that it would prove an excellent school for
such a young man as Benjamin. Governor Keith was lavish in his
attentions and interest.
"You will want letters of introduction from me; and I shall have some
instructions, which I will write out carefully," he said.
"The letters will be indispensable; and the instructions I shall most
surely need to relieve my lack of experience," Benjamin replied.
"I will have them all ready two or three days before Captain Annis
sails," added the governor, "and you can call for them. I may want to
see you again before I get them ready, and I will send for you."
Benjamin thanked Governor Keith for his great kindness, assuring him
that he should always feel himself under a heavy debt of gratitude,
never dreaming that the scheming politician was luring him into a
snare. He put his whole heart and soul into preparation to leave. To
him it was the great event of his life; and it would have been, if Sir
William Keith had been an honest man instead of a rogue. For an
American youth, eighteen years of age, to represent the governor of
Pennsylvania in the city of London, to consummate a business
enterprise of the greatest importance to a thriving American town, was
an unusual occurrence. Any youth of considerable ability and ambition
must have realized the value and dignity of the enterprise; but to
such a youth as Benjamin was,--talented, aspiring, coveting success,
striving for the best,--the opportunity of this business enterprise,
proposed and patronized by the highest officer in the colony, must
have appealed strongly to his manly and noble nature. We shall see,
however, as it turned out, that all the honesty and high-minded
purpose that invested it was in Benjamin's soul. Treachery,
dishonesty, and perfidy blackened the soul of his patron, loading him
down with infamy almost without a parallel.
Three days before Captain Annis set sail, Benjamin called for his
"My time has been so thoroughly occupied by public business that I
have not been able to prepare them, but I will attend to it."
"I can call again without any trouble," answered Benjamin, exceedingly
grateful for the governor's patronage.
"I am sorry that I have not been able to prepare them; but I will not
disappoint you again. Call day after to-morrow." The more the governor
said and promised, the more thankful Benjamin felt that he had fallen
into such generous hands.
"I will call in the afternoon, day after to-morrow," replied Benjamin;
and thanking him again for his great kindness, took his leave.
He called as he promised for the letters and other papers. Instead of
being ushered into the governor's presence, as usual, his secretary,
Colonel French, came out to announce:
"The governor regrets exceedingly that he has not the documents ready
yet, and desires that you shall call again to-morrow, just before the
"Very well, I will call," replied Benjamin, without the least
suspicion that any trouble was brewing for him.
On the next day, with all his baggage on board, and the "good-bye"
said to all his friends, he hastened to the governor's head-quarters
for his papers. Again Colonel French met him with the announcement:
"The governor desires me to say that he is really ashamed to
disappoint you again; but a constant pressure of business has
prevented. But the vessel will stop at Newcastle, and he will meet you
and deliver yours with other letters he has to send; and he hopes that
you will have a pleasant voyage and meet with great success."
"Please convey my thanks to him for his many kindnesses and present
good wishes," answered Benjamin, "and say to him that I will execute
his commands to the very best of my ability, and report at the
earliest possible time."
So saying, Benjamin returned and boarded the vessel, which soon
dropped down the Delaware, thinking all the while of his good fortune
in having so great and good a man as Governor Keith for his friend.
At Newcastle, Benjamin landed and hastened to see the governor, whom
he expected to be there, as Colonel French said; but he met only the
secretary, who announced again:
"The governor is now writing the last dispatch, and will send your
documents, with others, on board before the ship weighs anchor. He
would be glad to see you again before you leave, but requires me to
say that every moment of his time will be occupied to the very last
minute, so he must content himself with sending to you, by me, his
last words of confidence and his best wishes."
"Convey mine, also, to him," Benjamin replied, as he turned away to go
to the vessel.
Just as the ship was about to sail, a bag of letters and other
documents came on board from the governor. Benjamin supposed that it
contained his indispensable letters, and, at a suitable time, he went
to the captain and said:
"Governor Keith was to furnish me with letters of introduction to
friends in London, and I suppose they are in the bag which he sent
aboard. Can I look them over for my letters?"
"Just now I am too busy to give the matter any attention," Captain
Annis said; "but I assure you that, long before we reach London, you
shall have the opportunity to examine and take what belongs to you."
"That will do; I thank you," replied Benjamin, perfectly satisfied
that all was right; and he settled down to enjoy the voyage.
When the vessel entered the English Channel, Captain Annis brought out
the bag of documents from the governor for Benjamin to inspect. He was
surprised beyond measure not to find any letters addressed to himself.
He found several addressed to other parties with his name written upon
them, as under his care, but not one addressed to himself. It was very
singular, he thought, but he concluded that one of the number was
devoted to his mission, as it was addressed to Baskett, the king's
printer. He found seven or eight letters addressed to different
parties, "Care of Benjamin Franklin," and he took them all from the
bag. He still supposed that every thing about his mission was correct.
They arrived in London on the 24th of December, when Benjamin lacked
about a month of being nineteen years old. With Ralph, he proceeded to
find lodgings at once; and just as soon as that arrangement was made,
he hastened to deliver the letters submitted to his care. The first
party upon whom he called was a stationer.
"I have the honor of bringing a letter to you, sir, from Governor
Keith of Pennsylvania, America," he said, with considerable assurance.
"I have not the honor of his acquaintance," answered the stationer.
"Pray, tell me who Governor Keith may be."
"The letter will inform you, no doubt," replied Benjamin, giving him
The stationer opened it; but read scarcely three lines before he
exclaimed, to Benjamin's consternation:
"Oh, this is from Riddlesden! I have lately found him to be a complete
rascal, and I will have nothing to do with him, nor receive any
letters from him," and he handed the letter back to Benjamin without
reading all of it, turned upon his heel and went back to his work.
Benjamin's feelings can be imagined better than described. He was
well-nigh dumbfounded to learn that the letter was not from Governor
Keith. And then it was that the first flash of suspicion that he had
been deceived entered his mind. He was still more surprised to learn,
on examination, that not one of the letters he had taken from the bag
was written by Governor Keith. There he was without one letter of
introduction to any person in London, the scheme of establishing a
printing house in Philadelphia discovered to be a myth, a mere boy,
friendless and without work, in a great city, three thousand miles
from home. If another American youth was ever lured into a baser trap,
by a baser official, his name has never been recorded. Benjamin was at
his wits' end--he knew not what to do. His feelings bordered upon
despair. Had he not been a wonderful youth to rise superior to
difficulties, he must have yielded to overwhelming discouragement.
To add to his troubles, when he disclosed his situation to Ralph, he
learned that his old companion had abandoned his wife and child, never
intending to return to America.
"You are a hard-hearted wretch; I never would have thought such a
thing of you, Ralph," he exclaimed. "Such meanness ought to be left to
baser men than you are."
"I suppose that you would never look with any favor upon such a plan
as mine, and so I did not tell you," replied Ralph.
"It is lucky for you that you did not; for I never would have
consented to be the companion of a young man running away from his
wife and child."
"Well, I have never been treated well by one member of my wife's
family from the day I was married, and before, too. I have borne it
without complaining to any one, until I could bear it no longer. Now
let them reflect."
"But that is no excuse for a man to abandon his family, no excuse
whatever. Why, Ralph, I am almost as much deceived in you as I have
been in Governor Keith. I did not think that you were capable of such
meanness." Benjamin meant every word he uttered; and he was not
disposed to spare his old friend at all. Another bit of information
just here magnified his sorrows.
"I am out of funds entirely, Ben, so that I have begun to be cursed
already, you see, without yours." Ralph spoke as if the remarks of Ben
cut him to the quick.
"Out of money!" exclaimed Ben. "Come here dead broke? You must be
crazy, Ralph. Abandon your family, and shove yourself upon me to
support in London! I am shocked."
"I am afraid that both of us will be more shocked than that before we
get through," answered Ralph with the utmost coolness. "You have been
too good a friend to desert me now, Ben."
The last remark touched a tender spot in Benjamin's heart. He and
Ralph had been true friends, and passed many happy hours together. He
abhorred his inhumanity to his wife and child, and his deceitfulness
in claiming to go to London to secure goods to sell on commission and
establish correspondence; but he had no heart to abandon him in a
"Get work, Ralph, as soon as possible, or we shall be in a bad plight;
for I have only fifteen pistoles in all, which will not keep up a
connection between soul and body long." This remark of Benjamin's
implied that he should divide what he had with Ralph as long as it
"I shall do that, Ben, you may rest assured; for I will not take
advantage of your generosity any longer than I can help. I mean to
continue a good friend of yours whether you continue to be a good
friend of mine or not." This was a shrewd way of putting it. Ralph
knew the young man he was talking with thoroughly.
Benjamin resolved to seek the advice of Mr. Denham. He was a Quaker
merchant who sailed from Philadelphia with him. He was a stranger to
him; but, when Colonel French came on board with letters from the
governor at Newcastle, he introduced Benjamin to Denham. For this
reason Denham became deeply interested in Benjamin, and showed him
many favors. Now his advice would be specially useful to Benjamin; so
he sought and found him.
"I find, Mr. Denham, that Governor Keith has been deceiving me. I came
here under his auspices, and he promised me letters of introduction to
parties, and the means to purchase an outfit for a first-class
printing house in Philadelphia; and he has not fulfilled either
promise. There are no letters for me among the dispatches he sent on
board at Newcastle. He has proved himself a fraud and a cheat."
"He always did that," Mr. Denham replied. "If I had known that you
were depending on Keith for any thing, I could have opened your eyes
to his rascality at once. Keith is an official scamp."
"Here is a letter from Riddlesden to a stationer here," and passing
the letter to Denham, he rehearsed his interview with the stationer.
"Riddlesden!" exclaimed Denham; "so base an attorney-at-law never
cursed Pennsylvania. He is matched in perfidy only by Keith. Two worse
rogues never occupied important positions in any country."
Then, reading the letter through, he went on:
"And this very letter proves that he is an arrant knave. For here is
proof of a conspiracy against Mr. Hamilton, who was booked to sail
with Captain Annis, and Keith is in it." Denham read the letter to
Benjamin, explaining its meaning as he went along, for he was well
posted about Keith and the villainous attorney.
"You should keep this letter, Franklin, and show it to Mr. Hamilton
when he comes," added Denham. "Hamilton will come just as soon as he
can. He came aboard our ship with his son, intending to come; but a
party appeared, offering him a very large fee to wait and conduct a
case in court, and he consented. He is the greatest lawyer in
Pennsylvania. Keep the letter and give it to him."
We may say here, once for all, that Benjamin did keep the letter until
the arrival of Mr. Hamilton, several months later, when he presented
it to him, for which favor Hamilton was very grateful, and became
Benjamin's life-long friend.
"But what can I do, Mr. Denham?" asked Benjamin. "I am here a stranger
in a strange city, with very little money. What would you advise me to
"I do not see but one thing that you can do just now. You are a
printer, and you can get work without doubt in some printing office
until you see fit to return."
"I thought of that; but it occurred to me that an American printer
would be at a discount here, where the printing business is so much
better understood," suggested Benjamin.
"You can get over that difficulty quickly by showing them what you can
do," answered Mr. Denham. "You have more intelligence and culture than
most of the English printers; and that will help you."
"I will lose no time in making an application for a place," said
Benjamin. "I am under obligations to you for your interest in me."
"It may prove of great advantage to you to have this opportunity to
become familiar with printing in London," continued Mr. Denham. "You
can perfect yourself in the art against the time you return, and set
up business in Philadelphia. So you may get some good out of your
trials, after all. 'It is an ill wind that blows no one any good.'"
"It looks so, certainly," Benjamin answered. "I will accept your
advice, and see what I can do."
Benjamin had _paid too dear for the whistle_ again; but he made the
best of it. First of all, he found a permanent boarding-place for
himself and Ralph, where the charges were in proportion to his
pecuniary ability. It was in Little Britain Street; and the weekly
charge was only three shillings and sixpence. Then both started out in
search of work. Benjamin went direct to Palmer's famous printing house
in Bartholomew Close, where fifty hands were then employed, and
applied for a situation.
"What experience have you had?" inquired the overseer.
"Several years. I learned the business of my brother, James Franklin,
in Boston, America; and he came to your country and learned it, before
setting up the business in his own country."
"You ought to understand it, then. But why do you seek work in this
"I did not come to London for work, but for an outfit with which to
establish the business in Philadelphia." And Benjamin rehearsed his
arrangement with Governor Keith, and the treachery which had been
practised upon him, which interested the manager very much, and, at
the same time, won his sympathy.
"Though Governor Keith proved so treacherous to you, the facts show
his confidence in your ability as a printer," he remarked; "and,
surely, in these misfortunes, a friend in need is a friend indeed. I
think I can find something for you to do."
"You can try me, and I shall be very thankful for the chance,"
Benjamin answered. "I have no desire to work for any man unless I can
"That is an honorable view of the matter; and I have no doubt of your
ability to satisfy me. You can come at once, and I will give you a
They agreed upon wages that were satisfactory to Benjamin, and the
next day he went to work. The truth was, that the boss of Palmer's
printing house was very much pleased with Benjamin's appearance. He
saw at once that he was a young man of uncommon ability. He was
surprised to learn that he was not quite nineteen years of age, since
his appearance was that of a young man of twenty-two. Therefore, he
was not only desirous of aiding him in his embarrassing situation, but
he was glad to employ a young man of so much promise.
Ralph was not so successful. Here and there he applied for work, but
no one appeared to want him. Benjamin rendered him all the assistance
possible evenings; but his efforts met with no success. In advanced
life, Benjamin spoke of Ralph's efforts as follows:
"He first endeavored to get into the playhouse, believing himself
qualified for an actor; but Wilkes, to whom he applied, advised him
candidly not to think of that employment, as it was impossible he
should succeed in it. Then he proposed to Roberts, a publisher in
Pater Noster Row, to write for him a weekly paper like the
_Spectator_, on certain conditions; which Roberts did not approve.
Then he endeavored to get employment as a hackney writer, to copy for
the stationers and lawyers about the Temple; but could not find a
Ralph possessed considerable ability as an amateur player of tragedy
or comedy; and he was quite a racy writer, also; hence his application
for a situation as above. Benjamin was familiar with his
qualifications on the lines mentioned, and seconded his efforts as
best he could; but all to no purpose.
As Ralph had no money or work, Benjamin was obliged to support him. He
paid his board, and loaned him small sums from time to time, so that
he could maintain the appearance of a respectable citizen. But he was
another elephant on Benjamin's hands. The weeks multiplied, and still
Ralph had no employment. He was a constant bill of expense. Willing to
work, abhorring a life of idleness, his condition and prospects were a
torment to himself. He was more troubled even than Benjamin over his
misfortune. At length, however, he announced:
"I am going to put an end to this sort of a life, Ben. I have stood it
as long as I can. I am going out into the country to find a school to
teach. I am told that I can easily find one."
"Not a bad idea, in the circumstances," replied Benjamin. "Teaching is
an honorable and useful business; and it will make you friends."
"I should much prefer to remain in this city and find a more congenial
situation; but beggars can't be choosers, and so I have concluded to
make the best of it. I am completely discouraged in trying for work in
London." Ralph spoke as he felt, for he had become disheartened.
"It seems strange, almost," continued Benjamin "that you can find no
situation of any sort in this great city, where----"
"I was not born under a lucky star, as you were, Ben," interrupted
"My experience with Governor Keith doesn't show much of a star any
way," rejoined Benjamin. "Certainly, it is not a lucky one, nor a
morning star; if it is a star at all, it must be an _evening_ star,
seen only when it is getting dark."
"I wish I could accept disappointment and defeat as philosophically as
you can, Ben; but I can't. It is quite impossible for me to make the
best out of the worst; but you can."
"It is the way I am made, no doubt," said Benjamin in reply. "I never
could make any thing by fretting."
"Nor any body else," quickly answered Ralph, "and still I fret and
worry as if thereby I could mend the matter. But I am going to strike
out for a school, and leave London to suffer the consequences of not
"That is philosophical, sure," added Benjamin.
The school was secured within a short time, and Ralph became a
schoolmaster a few miles out of London. Benjamin continued to serve in
the Palmer printing house, where he gave satisfaction, and made his
mark, as we shall see.
A letter from Ralph to Benjamin informed the latter that the former
was settled in a small village called Berkshire, where he was teaching
about a dozen boys in reading and writing at a sixpence each per week,
--not a very flattering position, but, in the circumstances, better
What surprised Benjamin, however, was that Ralph had changed his name,
and was known in that village as Franklin. He had assumed Franklin's
name, thinking that such a position was not honorable for James Ralph
to occupy. At first, Benjamin was somewhat displeased to find himself
scattered about in such a way, printer and schoolmaster, and he knew
not what next. But, on the whole, he concluded to let the matter rest;
and, if his old friend could get success out of his name, allow him to
do it. So he corresponded with him from time to time, directing his
letters to "Mr. Franklin, schoolmaster," as Ralph desired.
It was not long before Benjamin began to receive instalments of an
epic poem which Ralph was composing, with the request to examine and
return remarks and corrections. Benjamin did examine and return it,
with the advice to cease writing epic poems and attend to his
legitimate business or get into some other. But it was of no use, the
poem continued to come by instalments.
At this juncture, too, another trial was added to his singular
experience. Ralph's English wife called upon him for help. The
following is Franklin's account of the manner in which Ralph came into
these new relations:
"In our house lodged a young woman, a milliner, who, I think, had a
shop in the Cloisters. She had been genteelly bred, was sensible,
lively, and of a most pleasing conversation. Ralph read plays to her
in the evenings, they grew intimate, she took another lodging, and he
followed her. They lived together some time, but he being still out of
business, and her income not sufficient to maintain them with her
child, he took a resolution of going from London to try for a country
"I need help, and know not where to go except to you," said Mrs.
Ralph; "indeed, James told me to apply to you."
"I recall," replied Benjamin, "that he asked me in one of his letters
to see that you were not in want. I am not in circumstances to do much
for you, but I will cheerfully do what I can."
"I shall be very much obliged for the smallest favor. My wants are
few, and I can make a little assistance go a good way."
Benjamin relieved her wants, and from that time continued to call upon
her, to see that she was made comfortable and to enjoy her company.
These demands upon his purse kept it drained to the last cent all the
time, so that he could lay nothing by for himself. He could see no way
out of his trouble. He must continue penniless, or let Ralph and his
family suffer. But just then an indiscreet act on his part offended
Ralph, who, coming to London for a day or two, said to Benjamin:
"I consider myself under no obligations to you whatever from this
time. I shall ask no more favors of you for myself or family, and will
have nothing more to do with you."
"Very well," replied Benjamin, "I will so understand it."
In this way Benjamin was relieved of a great burden unexpectedly.
Incumbrances thus removed, he devoted himself with remarkable energy
and industry to his business and self-improvement.
About this time Benjamin was offered larger pay at Watts' printing
house, near Lincoln's Inn Fields, and he removed thither. He changed
his boarding-place, also, to Duke Street, opposite the Romish chapel.
Next door to Benjamin's lodgings was a bookstore kept by one Wilcox.
He had an immense collection of second-hand books, in which, of
course, Benjamin became much interested, spending his leisure time
"I have not the money to make purchases," he said to Wilcox. "I wish I
had. There are so many valuable books here, and they are so cheap,
that I wish I was able to make many of them my own."
"Well, you are at liberty to spend all the time you can reading them
here," answered Wilcox, who had already formed a high opinion of his
abilities. "Perhaps some day you will be able to own some of them."
"You are very kind indeed, Mr. Wilcox, and I shall avail myself of
your generosity to make the acquaintance of some of these authors."
Benjamin had already rehearsed the story of the fraud through which he
became a London printer, so that Wilcox understood the reason that he
"Glad to see you here any time; feel perfectly at home, and get all
the good you can out of these books," Wilcox added with great
It was not long before an original idea about the use of those books
took possession of Benjamin's mind, and he made it known to the
"A new idea has struck me, Mr. Wilcox. I do not want to take so much
advantage of your generosity, and it has occurred to me that I can pay
you a sum we can agree upon to take out and read such books as I may
select. I mean, pay you a given amount on each book I read."
"I had not thought of that; it is an excellent plan, I think. We will
have no difficulty about the price," answered Wilcox.
"It will take me longer, of course, to read some books than it will
others," continued Benjamin; "but I am a rapid reader, and shall be as
expeditious as possible with each volume. And, also, I pledge myself
that each volume shall be returned in as good a condition as when I
take it out."
"That is fair; I accept the proposition."
The price per volume was agreed upon, and Benjamin reveled in books
every night. He never advanced more rapidly in intellectual
attainments than he did after this arrangement with Wilcox.
This is the first instance of loaning books for a price on record--a
practice that has become well-nigh universal since that day.
He had not been at Palmer's long before he was employed in composing
for the second edition of Wollaston's "Religion of Nature," which was
just the kind of a treatise to arouse his intellect, and to set him to
thinking and also to speculating.
"Poor reasoning!" he said to Mr. Watts; "very fallacious and
"Ah!" replied Mr. Watts, considerably surprised that his new employee,
just over from a new and uncultivated country, should handle a
treatise like that so gingerly; "how is that? Rather a popular work,
that of Wollaston's."
"Popular enough it may be, but error is often popular. The work is
illogical, and not altogether in harmony with facts." Benjamin's
criticisms impressed Mr. Watts somewhat, though he thought he was
laboring under a mistake.
"Perhaps the trouble is in your own mind, and not in Wollaston's," he
"That may be; but I am going to review it for my own satisfaction and
benefit," answered Benjamin.
"Then I will suspend judgment until I can read your review," said Mr.
Watts, at the same time being still more surprised that a youth of his
age should be so familiar with such topics.
Within a short time Benjamin had his review of "Religion of Nature"
prepared and printed, bearing the somewhat dignified title, "A
Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain," and it was
inscribed to his friend, James Ralph. A copy was submitted to Mr.
Watts for examination, and his opinion awaited with some anxiety.
"I confess that it is a remarkable production for a youth like you to
father--remarkable in its plan, thought, and reasoning--but it is no
credit to your principles," Mr. Watts said.
"It is really deistical in its position. You remember that I suggested
the trouble might be in yourself, instead of Wollaston; and it is, in
"Wherein is my reasoning illogical or incorrect?" Benjamin's use of
the Socratic method of reasoning still adhered to him.
"Any reasoning is illogical and fallacious that takes it for granted
that there is no God," answered Mr. Watts. "Without a God, we are
nowhere; and that is where your pamphlet is. There is ingenuity in it,
I grant; but it is false."
"From your standpoint, you mean, Mr. Watts?"
"Yes, if you please; but my standpoint is the Bible. Any reasoning
that ignores the Bible is fallacious. To pretend to understand the
things of this world without a God is abominable. 'The _fool_ hath
said in his heart, There is no God.'"
"Well, you are getting rather personal," Benjamin answered, roguishly.
"I suspect that you are rather puritanical in your notions; but I am
"No, that is quite evident; nothing puritanical about your
Dissertation, but a plenty that is fanatical," retorted Mr. Watts.
"Much obliged for your opinion, so frankly expressed," added Benjamin,
as Mr. Watts turned to answer a call.
A short time after the publication of the foregoing Dissertation, a
London surgeon, by the name of Lyons, called at Watts' office.
"Is there a man at work in your printing house by the name of
Franklin--Benjamin Franklin?" he inquired of Mr. Watts.
"Can I see him?"
"Yes, I will call him."
Benjamin was called and introduced to the gentleman, who said, holding
a pamphlet in his hand:
"Are you the author of this 'Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity,
Pleasure and Pain'?"
"I am, sir." Benjamin had received such a trimming from his employer,
that he was almost sure the stranger had come to stigmatize him for
writing that pamphlet. But he was soon relieved by the remark of
"I have read it with great interest, and have been very much profited
by it. I did not dream, however, that it was written by so young a
person as you are."
Benjamin thanked him for his complimentary words, and the surgeon went
"I am the author of the book entitled, 'The Infallibility of Human
Judgment,' and I think our views harmonize in the main. I should be
pleased to loan you a copy if you care to read it."
"It will afford me real pleasure to read it, Doctor Lyons, and I shall
appreciate your favor."
"And when you have read it, I shall be glad to meet you, and compare
notes, and discuss the topics."
"Nothing will suit me better than that," added Benjamin.
Doctor Lyons frequently called on Benjamin to converse upon the
subject-matter of his pamphlet, and, at one time, he says, "He carried
me to the Horns, a pale-ale house in ------ Lane, Cheapside, and
introduced me to Doctor Mandeville, author of the 'Fable of the Bees,'
who had a club there, of which he was the soul, being a most
facetious, entertaining companion."
The religion in Benjamin's pamphlet, and that in Lyons' book, was well
suited to a "pale-ale house." It was so _pale_ as scarcely to be
discernible in either book or pamphlet--almost entirely faded out.
That was why Benjamin's pamphlet pleased Lyons so much--the religion
in it was not too much for a "pale-ale house."
Doctor Lyons introduced him, also, to one Doctor Pemberton, "at
Batson's Coffee-house," a kindred spirit, whose coffee was stronger
than his religion--a quick-witted, lively sort of a man. He was very
familiar with Benjamin.
"Glad to know that your mind is interested in subjects of so grave
importance," he said. "In a youth of your age it is evidence of a
strong mind and expanding intellect."
"Most of my friends do not regard my views with the favor you express;
they see evidence, rather, of mental weakness and distortion," said
Benjamin in reply.
"It is because they do not investigate for themselves. They are
content to receive opinions secondhand, labelled and fixed. How would
you like to number Sir Isaac Newton among your friends?" Doctor
Pemberton spoke as a man of authority.
"I should feel myself highly honored," answered Benjamin. "Do you know
"I have the honor of his acquaintance; and I will give you an
introduction at some future time."
"I shall accept your favor with thanks"; and Benjamin waited and
waited for the opportunity, but it never came, probably because Newton
could never be found in "an ale-house."
This was the outcome of Benjamin's literary venture; and the
pleasantest part of the whole was that he lived to see the folly of
his effort, especially its non-religious character. He became
satisfied that Mr. Watts was right when he declared the principles of
his Dissertation "abominable."
At another time, while Benjamin worked at Watts', Sir Hans Sloane
called upon him,--another notable London character of that day.
Benjamin was taken aback when he met him,--he could scarcely divine
what this titled Englishman could want of him.
"I have heard of you, Mr. Franklin, as recently from America, and I
have called to make your acquaintance," he said.
"Glad to meet you, Sir Hans," replied Benjamin, fully equal to the
occasion. "I am at your service."
"You are the author of a pamphlet called," and he gave the title, "are
"I have not read it; but I have heard it discussed, and I concluded
that a youth of your age must possess a strong mind to undertake such
a treatise. And I understand that you brought many curiosities with
you to this country." Now, Sir Hans was getting to the subject that
was near to his heart; for he was a curiosity-hunter.
"A few only--very few," replied Benjamin.
"You have a purse, I understand, made of the _asbestos_, which
purifies by fire?"
"Yes, sir, I have."
"I should be delighted to have you call upon me in Bloomsbury Square,
and bring the purse; and I will show you _my_ great collection of
curiosities. I think you can spend a pleasant and profitable evening
in that way."
"I will do it with the greatest pleasure, and be obliged for the
opportunity," Benjamin answered.
And he did. The first opportunity he improved to take the asbestos
purse to Bloomsbury Square, where he had a splendid time examining the
best collection of curiosities he had ever dreamed of, and where he
discussed various topics of interest with the entertaining Sir Hans.
"Now," said the host, as Benjamin was about to leave, "I should be
glad to add the asbestos purse to my collection, and I will pay you
well for it," naming the amount.
"I will accommodate you and leave it." Benjamin was happy to add to
Sir Hans' collection, in the circumstances.
Benjamin felt the need of more physical exercise, so that when he
entered the printing house, he "took to working at press." He drank
water only; all other employees, about fifty of them, drank strong
beer. He was really a curiosity to them.
"Beer-guzzling is a detestable habit," he said to a fellow-workman,
"and it is a very expensive one, too, for a poor fellow like you."
"I could not do a decent day's work without beer. I drink it for
"So much the worse for you; beer strength is the worst sort of
weakness," continued Benjamin. "Just stop a moment and think what a
beer-barrel you make of yourself; a pint before breakfast, a pint at
breakfast, a pint between breakfast and dinner, a pint at dinner, a
pint in the afternoon, a pint at six o'clock, and a pint when you have
done work--almost a gallon each day! Why, I could not hold half as
much as that; I should run over."
"Then you don't believe a man can do more work for drinking strong
"Of course I don't. I can do more work than any man in the
establishment, and I can lift more than any other man here; and I
drink nothing but water. If beer imparts the strength you imagine, any
one of you ought to do more work and lift more than I can; isn't that
The workmen had good reason to believe this; for Benjamin had kept his
eyes and ears open from the time he entered the printing house, and he
had learned just what the men thought about beer, why they drank it,
how much work they did, and how much they could lift. Without saying a
word about it, he took special pains to turn off a large amount of
work, and to lift more than his fellow-workmen. For example, he would
carry two forms of type, one in each hand, up and down stairs, while
the other workmen carried but one with both hands. Therefore, Watts
(the name of the workman) knew that every thing Benjamin claimed about
strength was true.
"Are all Americans like you?" inquired the workman.
"No; too many of them are like you, I am sorry to say; they drink beer
and other intoxicants, that disqualify them for business. If more of
them would drink water, as I do, they would be far better off
physically and pecuniarily."
"Some of our best doctors claim that there is much nutriment in beer,"
"And every one of them knows that there is more nutriment in a
pennyworth of bread than there is in a whole gallon of beer.
Therefore, if you eat the bread and drink the water, you get more
The printer acknowledged that there was something in that.
"You see," continued Benjamin, "that all the nutriment there is in the
barley is destroyed to convert it into beer. Your beer is very dirty
water made bitter with malt, out of which nearly every particle of
nutriment has been squeezed. There is as much nourishment in dishwater
as there is in that stuff."
"Here, Jake, where are you?" called out another workman. "Bring on the
Jake was the ale-boy, whose business it was to supply the men with
beer from the ale-house.
"Another nuisance required by your beer business," exclaimed Benjamin.
"Better by far pay a boy double price to bring water from the well,
instead of bringing that stuff to absorb your money and sodden your
"A _Water-American_, indeed!" said Mr. Watts, who heard much of the
conversation. "But will you not allow some comfort to hard-working
"Certainly; that is what I am after. There is more comfort in one
glass of pure water than there is in a whole barrel of beer. Here is
Watts, paying out four or five shillings every week for beer, when
water would cost him nothing, and he would have that amount to spend
for genuine comforts. Besides, beer unfits him to get real comfort out
of any thing, even out of his home."
"You are about right on that," replied Watts; "beer does make a class
of men most miserable. But must I discard it because some men use it
to their injury?"
"Of course you must," Benjamin answered quickly and triumphantly.
"There is where duty and right come in. The strong must bear the
infirmities of the weak, or they won't amount to much in the world."
"Many of them won't amount to much any way, beer or no beer,"
"Any of them will amount to more with water than they will with beer,"
retorted Benjamin, who felt competent to support his side of the
question. He went on:
"Look here: I am supplied with a large porringer of hot-water gruel,
sprinkled with pepper, crumbled with bread, and a bit of butter in it,
for just the price of a pint of beer, three half-pence. Now, honestly,
is not this much better for me, or for yourself, than the same amount
of filthy beer?"
"Possibly; it is a new view of the case to me," was all that Mr. Watts
could say, evidently conceding that Benjamin was about right.
Benjamin exchanged the press-room for the composing-room, after a few
"A treat now, Ben; that is the condition of admission here," said the
"I guess not; I fulfilled that condition in the press-room," answered
Benjamin. "Once will do in this establishment."
"But you _will_," retorted a fellow-worker, enforced by a dozen
voices. "The rule is irrevocable."
"We will see about that," replied Benjamin, with coolness, but
"Yes, we _will_ see," chimed in a resolute voice.
"And after all your seeing and blustering I shall not do it," added
Benjamin, in a tone that indicated he meant what he said.
"Ben is right," interrupted Mr. Watts, who had listened to the
colloquy; "he has met that condition once in the press-room, and he
will not be required to repeat it. I forbid his doing it."
"It is a very foolish custom any way," said Benjamin, "and the sooner
it is abandoned in England or anywhere else the better."
After all he did not carry his point. His own words about the affair
were as follows:
"I stood out two or three weeks, was accordingly considered as an
excommunicate, and had so many little pieces of private malice
practised on me, by mixing my sorts, transposing and breaking my
matter, etc., etc., if ever I stepped out of the room,--and all
ascribed to the _chapel ghost_, which they said ever haunted those not
regularly admitted,--that, notwithstanding the master's protection, I
found myself obliged to comply and pay the money; convinced of the
folly of being on ill terms with those one is to live with
Benjamin kept up the fight against beer-drinking until he fairly
conquered. One after another yielded to his example and arguments, and
abandoned the old habit of swilling down beer, until a thorough
reformation was wrought in the printing office. The strength, health,
tact, and enterprise of the "_water-drinker_" convinced them that he
was right. The title, "_Our Water-drinker_" bandied about the printing
house, came to be really an appellation of esteem.
The printing press, on which Benjamin worked at Watts' printing house,
is now in the Patent Office at Washington, where many visitors go to
see it. Forty years after he worked on it, Franklin was in London,
where his fame was greater than that of any other man, and he called
at the old printing house, and going up to the familiar press, he said
to the employees:
"It is just forty years since I worked at this press, as you are
[Illustration: FRANKLIN'S LONDON PRINTING PRESS]
The announcement rather startled them. That a public man of so much
fame should ever have even served in a printing office as they were
serving, was almost too much for them to believe.
The publisher of this volume has in his possession _fac-simile_
letters from different gentlemen in England, fully verifying the press
the engraving of which appears above.
AT HOME AGAIN.
We have seen that James Ralph and Benjamin parted company. Ralph had
more brains than heart. His intellectual powers were greater than his
principles. The reader may ask what became of him. After continuing
poor and unsuccessful, engaging in several literary ventures that did
little more than aggravate his poverty, and changing from one kind of
work to another, good fortune seemed to become his portion. Mr. Parton
"As a political writer, pamphleteer, and compiler of booksellers'
history, he flourished long. Four ministers thought his pen worth
purchasing: Sir Robert Walpole, Mr. Pelham, Lord Bute, and the Duke of
Bedford. The nobleman last named evidently held him in high esteem,
and furnished the money for one of Ralph's political periodicals. Lord
Bute, it is said, settled upon him an annuity of six hundred pounds.
Fox praises the fairness, and Hallam the diligence, displayed in his
two huge folios of the 'History of William III.' His works may be
examined by the curious in the library of Harvard University and in
the Philadelphia city library. In estimating the career of this erring
man, we should not forget that many of the noblemen and statesmen with
whom he associated, and for whose advancement he toiled, had less
principle than he, and had not his excuse."
"Swimming is one of the fine arts, I think," said Benjamin to Wygate,
a printer with whom he was on the most intimate terms. "I feel about
as much at home in the water as I do on the land."
"Well, I should go to the bottom pretty quick if I should venture
where the water is over my head, for I can't swim any more than this
printing-press can," answered Wygate.
"Why don't you learn? It might be of great use to you sometime."
"I should like to know how, but I never tried to learn."
"And that is a good reason for not knowing how to swim. You can't
expect to know any thing without learning. I can teach you without any
"I accept your offer, and will try my best to learn; and Hall will try
with me, I think. You can teach two as well as one, can't you?"
"Yes, a dozen, so far as that goes; the more the merrier."
"When will you go?"
"Just when you please. You and Hall fix the time, and I will be on
The result was that Benjamin was in the water with his two pupils
within a few days, and he taught both of them to swim well in two
lessons. At the same time, he gave them an exhibition of what an
expert swimmer can do in the water, performing different feats on and
under the water, that filled his two companions with surprise.
"You are a water-American in more senses than one," remarked Wygate,
in admiration of Benjamin's pranks in the water. "You could live in
the water about as well as on the land."
"That is not strange," responded Hall; "he believes in water, inside
and outside; he only practises what he preaches, and that is what he
ought to do."
"Some people can't practise what they preach if they try ever so hard,
in business or in morals," rejoined Wygate.
Wygate was the son of a wealthy man, who educated him quite
thoroughly. He could read Latin and French about as well as he could
English, and he could write very entertaining articles. He was fond of
reading, too, and loved to discuss important questions. Such a young
man was not often found in a printing office, and he just suited
Benjamin in his literary tastes, so that they became boon companions.
Their mutual attachment was strengthened by this experience in the art
Not long after Wygate learned to swim, and while the feats that
Benjamin performed in the water were still a subject of remark, some
gentlemen proposed an excursion by water to Chelsea, several miles
"Wouldn't you like to go, Ben?"
"Of course I would, if you are going."
"I will go if you go. I will call round with some of the party and
introduce you to them."
This was done in due time, and Benjamin learned from them that they
were going to Chelsea "to see the college and Don Saltero's
curiosities," which object of the excursion more than doubled his
On the trip Wygate talked much with some of the party about Benjamin's
feats in the water as almost too wonderful to be believed. On
returning, one of the gentlemen said:
"Franklin, why can you not give us an exhibition of your antics in the
"Yes, Ben, do; let them see that what I have told them is literally
true," entreated Wygate.
"Come, Ben, do it," added Hall; "it will put Saltero's curiosities
into the shade. These gentlemen will be so interested in your
performances that they will forget all other curiosities."
"Well, I am always ready to accommodate," replied Benjamin, "and it
will not cross my disposition to have a little frolic in the water, so
I will consent."
So saying, he took off his clothing and leaped into the river, and was
soon as much at home there as a water-fowl. Sometimes he was under the
water, and sometimes on it; it did not seem to make much difference to
him which. He swam from Chelsea to Blackfriars, four miles,
entertaining the company with many manoeuvres all the way. Then he got
on board, arrayed himself in his apparel to hear such words of praise
"Wonderful! I had no idea that any man could attain to such skill in
"No one in London who can do that!"
"Nor in all England and Wales."
"Couldn't drown you, Franklin, if you were left in the middle of the
"You could make a fortune, if you chose to exhibit your skill."
As this brief experience, together with his teaching Wygate and Hall
to swim, won him quite a reputation on this line, we may state here,
that after Benjamin had decided to return to Philadelphia and arranged
therefor, he received a note from Sir William Wyndham, a noted public
man, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Bolingbroke
administration, inviting him to pay him a visit. Benjamin was again
perplexed to know what this great man could want of him; but he went
to see him.
"I am happy to see you, Mr. Franklin, and I hope it has been no
inconvenience to you to call at this time."
"None at all," answered Benjamin. "On the other hand, I consider
myself highly honored by your invitation to call; and I have gladly
embraced the first opportunity to do so."
"I have heard of your great skill in the art of swimming," continued
Sir Wyndham; "and how quickly you taught two young printers to swim."
"Yes," modestly answered Benjamin, "I have some skill in the water,
and I did teach two of my companions the art of swimming, so that they
are excellent swimmers now."
"That is what I heard; and I have two sons who are soon to start upon
extensive travels, and I want they should learn to swim before they
go. It may be of great service to them."
"I have no doubt it would prove a benefit to them," responded
Benjamin. "I should not want to part with my skill for any
"Can you teach my two sons the art at once?"
"I regret to say that I can not, for the reason that I am soon to
leave London and return to America."
"Sorry for that, very sorry indeed. Allow me to suggest that, if you
could prolong your stay here, you might make a real pecuniary success
of establishing a swimming school. I should be willing to pay almost
any price for the instruction of my two sons." Sir Wyndham was very
earnest in his counsel, and made this suggestion sincerely.
"I really feel under great obligations for your interest and good
opinions," Benjamin answered; "but I have already accepted an
invitation to engage in business in Philadelphia, my home, and may
leave within a few days."
"That settles the matter, of course; but I am sorry that it is so,"
added Sir Wyndham. "I trust that you may prosper wherever you are."
Benjamin thanked him heartily for his complimentary words and good
wishes, and left him, almost wishing that he could cancel his
engagement with Mr. Denham and open a swimming school. Wygate and Hall
assured him that he could do well in that business.
Soon after the excursion to Chelsea, Wygate made known to Benjamin a
scheme that was in his mind.
"I want to travel extensively over Europe," he said, "and I have
decided to do it if you will become my traveling companion. We can
stop as necessity requires, from time to time, and work at our
business, so as to pay our way."
"I should like nothing better than to travel all over Europe,"
answered Benjamin. "I have a desire to see more than I have seen of
this part of the world."
"Well, what do you think of the plan?"
"I should say that it is practicable, although the suggestion is
entirely new to me. Could we get work at our business?"
"I took it for granted that we could," replied Wygate. "I have no more
means of knowing than you have."
"I should take it for granted that we could, too," said Benjamin;
"still I shall want to consider it; it is quite an enterprise to
"Somewhat of a scheme; but a very interesting and instructive one if
"That is so, and I think favorably of it. I will consult my good
friend, Denham, about it. He has seen more of the world than we have."
Benjamin was evidently favorably impressed with the proposition; for
he embraced the first opportunity to lay the subject before Mr.
"It does not strike me favorably," said Mr. Denham.
"We could both see and learn a great deal," remarked Benjamin.
"That is true; but other things are to be considered, which are of
equal importance. What might do for Wygate, whose home is here, might
not do for you, whose home is in America."
"That may be." Benjamin's brief reply indicated that he was not quite
certain on that point.
"It appears to me," continued Mr. Denham, "that your first thoughts
should be concerned about returning to Philadelphia, that you may set
up business for yourself there."
"I do not see much prospect of that at present. Of course I should be
glad to return home; for there is no place I prefer to Philadelphia."
"So far as prospects of which you speak are concerned, we can not
always judge; unexpected opportunities sometimes offer; and you do not
want to put yourself where you can not accept and use them."
"Of course not," Benjamin answered, evidently disappointed that his
friend did not endorse the scheme.
"I should recommend decidedly that you abandon the project entirely,
and think no more about it. Then you can continue your work with the
intention of returning to America whenever a favorable opportunity
Benjamin accepted the advice of Mr. Denham, and reported to Wygate, to
the no small disappointment of the latter; and both discarded the
scheme and devoted themselves to honest labor.
Benjamin heard of a place where he could get boarded at two shillings
a week, when he was paying three shillings and sixpence a week in Duke
"I think I shall be under the necessity of changing," he said to the
widow with whom he was boarding. "I want to save all the money I can,
so as to return to America."
"I shall be very sorry to have you leave, Mr. Franklin, if I can
possibly arrange with you to remain."
"I have no desire to leave, except to save a little in my expenses,
that I may return to America sooner: that is all."
"Rather than have you go, I will deduct two shillings a week from what
you are paying me now."
"That is, you propose to board me for one shilling and sixpence a
"Yes, that is it, and it is a bargain if you say so."
"It is a bargain, then." And Benjamin continued to board there as long
as he remained in London.
Before this woman received him for a boarder in the first place, she
sent to the printing house to inquire about his character. The report
was so favorable that she took him to board. And now she had tried
him, and was a greater admirer of his character than ever.
It is one of the things to be said in Benjamin's favor, that, with all
his faults, he always pleased and satisfied his employers and
Benjamin records the following interesting incident respecting his
friend Denham, of whom we have spoken, and to whom we shall refer
"I must record one trait of this good man's character. He had formerly
been in business at Bristol, but failed, in debt to a number of
people, compounded, and went to America. There, by a close application
to business as a merchant, he acquired a plentiful fortune in a few
years. Returning to England in the ship with me, he invited his old
creditors to an entertainment, at which he thanked them for the easy
composition they had favored him with, and, when they expected nothing
but the treat, every man at the first remove found under his plate an
order on a banker for the full amount of the unpaid remainder, with
It was this excellent man and friend, who finally approached Benjamin
with a proposition.
"How would you like to return to Philadelphia?" he said to Benjamin.
"I should like nothing better, if the way was open for me to go."
"I will open a way for you if you will go."
"I am going myself. I intend to open a store of goods in Philadelphia,
and will employ you in the business, if you will go."
"I should like to go; but that will be a new business for me; perhaps
I shall not succeed in it."
"That is _my_ lookout. I think you will succeed; at any rate, I am
prepared to take the risk."
"And I am prepared to go if you will." Benjamin was really delighted
with the proposition.
"I will pay you fifty pounds for one year, and increase your wages
thereafter as you become familiar with the business."
"That offer is satisfactory, though it is not as much as I make at my
"It will be better if you succeed. When you become well acquainted
with the business, I will send you with a cargo of bread and flour to
the West Indies, and I will procure you commissions from others that
will be profitable. In this way you can establish a good business for
"That is a very generous offer on your part, and I hope that I shall
merit your kindness."
"It will be necessary for you to close up your business at the
printing house at once, as I want you to assist me in purchasing,
packing, and shipping goods. My purpose is to carry a large stock to
"I shall accept your proposition, and resign my position at Watts'
immediately, and be at your service early and late."