Benjamin Franklin. (17061790). His Autobiography.
The Harvard Classics. 190914.
Keimer ran down immediately, thinking it a visit to him; but the governor inquird for me, came up, and with a condescension of politeness I had been quite unusd to, made me many compliments, desired to be acquainted with me, blamd me kindly for not having made myself known to him when I first came to the place, and would have me away with him to the tavern, where he was going with Colonel French to taste, as he said, some excellent Madeira. I was not a little surprised, and Keimer stard like a pig poisond. I went, however, with the governor and Colonel French to a tavern, at the corner of Third-street, and over the Madeira he proposd my setting up my business, laid before me the probabilities of success, and both he and Colonel French assurd me I should have their interest and influence in procuring the public business of both governments. On my doubting whether my father would assist me in it, Sir William said he would give me a letter to him, in which he would state the advantages, and he did not doubt of prevailing with him. So it was concluded I should return to Boston in the first vessel, with the governors letter recommending me to my father. In the mean time the intention was to be kept a secret, and I went on working with Keimer as usual, the governor sending for me now and then to dine with him, a very great honor I thought it, and conversing with me in the most affable, familiar, and friendly manner imaginable.
About the end of April, 1724, a little vessel offerd for Boston. I took leave of Keimer as going to see my friends. The governor gave me an ample letter, saying many flattering things of me to my father, and strongly recommending the project of my setting up at Philadelphia as a thing that must make my fortune. We struck on a shoal in going down the bay, and sprung a leak; we had a blustering time at sea, and were obligd to pump almost continually, at which I took my turn. We arrivd safe, however, at Boston in about a fortnight. I had been absent seven months, and my friends had heard nothing of me; for my br. Holmes was not yet returnd, and had not written about me. My unexpected appearance surprizd the family; all were, however, very glad to see me, and made me welcome, except my brother. I went to see him at his printing-house. I was better dressd than ever while in his service, having a genteel new suit from head to foot, a watch, and my pockets lind with near five pounds sterling in silver. He receivd me not very frankly, lookd me all over, and turnd to his work again.
The journeymen were inquisitive where I had been, what sort of a country it was, and how I likd it. I praisd it much, the happy life I led in it, expressing strongly my intention of returning to it; and, one of them asking what kind of money we had there, I producd a handful of silver, and spread it before them, which was a kind of raree-show they had not been usd to, paper being the money of Boston. Then I took an opportunity of letting them see my watch; and, lastly (my brother still grum and sullen), I gave them a piece of eight to drink, and took my leave. This visit of mine offended him extreamly; for, when my mother some time after spoke to him of a reconciliation, and of her wishes to see us on good terms together, and that we might live for the future as brothers, he said I had insulted him in such a manner before his people that he could never forget or forgive it. In this, however, he was mistaken.
My father received the governors letter with some apparent surprise, but said little of it to me for some days, when Capt. Holmes returning he showed it to him, askd him if he knew Keith, and what kind of man he was; adding his opinion that he must be of small discretion to think of setting a boy up in business who wanted yet three years of being at mans estate. Holmes said what he could in favor of the project, but my father was clear in the impropriety of it, and at last gave a flat denial to it. Then he wrote a civil letter to Sir William, thanking him for the patronage he had so kindly offered me, but declining to assist me as yet in setting up, I being, in his opinion, too young to be trusted with the management of a business so important, and for which the preparation must be so expensive.
My friend and companion Collins, who was a clerk in the post-office, pleasd with the account I gave him of my new country, determined to go thither also; and, while I waited for my fathers determination, he set out before me by land to Rhode Island, leaving his books, which were a pretty collection of mathematicks and natural philosophy, to come with mine and me to New York, where he proposd to wait for me.
My father, tho he did not approve Sir Williams proposition, was yet pleasd that I had been able to obtain so advantageous a character from a person of such note where I had resided, and that I had been so industrious and careful as to equip myself so handsomely in so short a time; therefore, seeing no prospect of an accommodation between my brother and me, he gave his consent to my returning again to Philadelphia, advisd me to behave respectfully to the people there, endeavor to obtain the general esteem, and avoid lampooning and libeling, to which he thought I had too much inclination; telling me, that by steady industry and a prudent parsimony I might save enough by the time I was one-and-twenty to set me up; and that, if I came near the matter, he would help me out with the rest. This was all I could obtain, except some small gifts as tokens of his and my mothers love, when I embarkd again for New York, now with their approbation and their blessing.
The sloop putting in at Newport, Rhode Island, I visited my brother John, who had been married and settled there some years. He received me very affectionately, for he always lovd me. A friend of his, one Vernon, having some money due to him in Pensilvania, about thirty-five pounds currency, desired I would receive it for him, and keep it till I had his directions what to remit it in. Accordingly, he gave me an order. This afterwards occasiond me a good deal of uneasiness.
At Newport we took in a number of passengers for New York, among which were two young women, companions, and a grave, sensible, matron-like Quaker woman, with her attendants. I had shown an obliging readiness to do her some little services, which impressd her I suppose with a degree of good will toward me; therefore, when she saw a daily growing familiarity between me and the two young women, which they appeard to encourage, she took me aside, and said: Young man, I am concernd for thee, as thou has no friend with thee, and seems not to know much of the world, or of the snares youth is exposd to; depend upon it, those are very bad women; I can see it in all their actions; and if thee art not upon thy guard, they will draw thee into some danger; they are strangers to thee, and I advise thee, in a friendly concern for thy welfare, to have no acquaintance with them. As I seemd at first not to think so ill of them as she did, she mentioned some things she had observd and heard that had escapd my notice, but now convincd me she was right. I thankd her for her kind advice, and promisd to follow it. When we arrivd at New York, they told me where they livd, and invited me to come and see them; but I avoided it, and it was well I did; for the next day the captain missd a silver spoon and some other things, that had been taken out of his cabbin, and, knowing that these were a couple of strumpets, he got a warrant to search their lodgings, found the stolen goods, and had the thieves punishd. So, tho we had escapd a sunken rock, which we scrapd upon in the passage, I thought this escape of rather more importance to me.
At New York I found my friend Collins, who had arrivd there some time before me. We had been intimate from children, and had read the same books together; but he had the advantage of more time for reading and studying, and a wonderful genius for mathematical learning, in which he far outstript me. While I livd in Boston most of my hours of leisure for conversation were spent with him, and he continud a sober as well as an industrious lad; was much respected for his learning by several of the clergy and other gentlemen, and seemed to promise making a good figure in life. But, during my absence, he had acquird a habit of sotting with brandy; and I found by his own account, and what I heard from others, that he had been drunk every day since his arrival at New York, and behavd very oddly. He had gamd, too, and lost his money, so that I was obligd to discharge his lodgings, and defray his expenses to and at Philadelphia, which provd extremely inconvenient to me.
The then governor of New York, Burnet (son of Bishop Burnet), hearing from the captain that a young man, one of his passengers, had a great many books, desird he would bring me to see him. I waited upon him accordingly, and should have taken Collins with me but that he was not sober. The govr. treated me with great civility, showd me his library, which was a very large one, and we had a good deal of conversation about books and authors. This was the second governor who had done me the honor to take notice of me; which, to a poor boy like me, was very pleasing.
We proceeded to Philadelphia. I received on the way Vernons money, without which we could hardly have finishd our journey. Collins wished to be employd in some counting-house; but, whether they discoverd his dramming by his breath, or by his behaviour, tho he had some recommendations, he met with no success in any application, and continud lodging and boarding at the same house with me, and at my expense. Knowing I had that money of Vernons, he was continually borrowing of me, still promising repayment as soon as he should be in business. At length he had got so much of it that I was distressd to think what I should do in case of being calld on to remit it.
His drinking continud, about which we sometimes quarrelld; for, when a little intoxicated, he was very fractious. Once, in a boat on the Delaware with some other young men, he refused to row in his turn. I will be rowd home, says he. We will not row you, says I. You must, or stay all night on the water, says he, just as you please. The others said, Let us row; what signifies it? But, my mind being soured with his other conduct, I continud to refuse. So he swore he would make me row, or throw me overboard; and coming along, stepping on the thwarts, toward me, when he came up and struck at me, I clapped my hand under his crutch, and, rising, pitched him head-foremost into the river. I knew he was a good swimmer, and so was under little concern about him; but before he could get round to lay hold of the boat, we had with a few strokes pulld her out of his reach; and ever when he drew near the boat, we askd if he would row, striking a few strokes to slide her away from him. He was ready to die with vexation, and obstinately would not promise to row. However, seeing him at last beginning to tire, we lifted him in and brought him home dripping wet in the evening. We hardly exchangd a civil word afterwards, and a West India captain, who had a commission to procure a tutor for the sons of a gentleman at Barbadoes, happening to meet with him, agreed to carry him thither. He left me then, promising to remit me the first money he should receive in order to discharge the debt; but I never heard of him after.
The breaking into this money of Vernons was one of the first great errata of my life; and this affair showd that my father was not much out in his judgment when he supposd me too young to manage business of importance. But Sir William, on reading his letter, said he was too prudent. There was great difference in persons; and discretion did not always accompany years, nor was youth always without it. And since he will not set you up, says he, I will do it myself. Give me an inventory of the things necessary to be had from England, and I will send for them. You shall repay me when you are able; I am resolvd to have a good printer here, and I am sure you must succeed. This was spoken with such an appearance of cordiality, that I had not the least doubt of his meaning what he said. I had hitherto kept the proposition of my setting up, a secret in Philadelphia, and I still kept it. Had it been known that I depended on the governor, probably some friend, that knew him better, would have advisd me not to rely on him, as I afterwards heard it as his known character to be liberal of promises which he never meant to keep. Yet, unsolicited as he was by me, how could I think his generous offers insincere? I believd him one of the best men in the world.
I presented him an inventory of a little printg-house, amounting by my computation to about one hundred pounds sterling. He likd it, but askd me if my being on the spot in England to chuse the types, and see that every thing was good of the kind, might not be of some advantage. Then, says he, when there, you may make acquaintances, and establish correspondences in the bookselling and stationery way. I agreed that this might be advantageous. Then, says he, get yourself ready to go with Annis; which was the annual ship, and the only one at that time usually passing between London and Philadelphia. But it would be some months before Annis saild, so I continud working with Keimer, fretting about the money Collins had got from me, and in daily apprehensions of being calld upon by Vernon, which, however, did not happen for some years after.
I believe I have omitted mentioning that, in my first voyage from Boston, being becalmd off Block Island, our people set about catching cod, and hauled up a great many. Hitherto I had stuck to my resolution of not eating animal food, and on this occasion considerd, with my master Tryon, the taking every fish as a kind of unprovoked murder, since none of them had, or ever could do us any injury that might justify the slaughter. All this seemed very reasonable. But I had formerly been a great lover of fish, and, when this came hot out of the frying-pan, it smelt admirably well. I balancd some time between principle and inclination, till I recollected that, when the fish were opened, I saw smaller fish taken out of their stomachs; then thought I, If you eat one another, I dont see why we maynt eat you. So I dind upon cod very heartily, and continued to eat with other people, returning only now and then occasionally to a vegetable diet. So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.
Keimer and I livd 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 enthusiasms and lovd argumentation. We therefore had many disputations. I used to work him so with my Socratic method, and had trepannd him so often by questions apparently so distant from any point we had in hand, and yet by degrees lead to the point, and brought 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 opponents. When he came to explain with me upon the doctrines, I found several conundrums which I objected to, unless I might have my way a little too, and introduce some of mine.
Keimer wore his beard at full length, because somewhere in the Mosaic law it is said, Thou shalt not mar the corners of thy beard. He likewise kept the Seventh day, Sabbath; and these two points were essentials with him. I dislikd both; but agreed to admit them upon condition of his adopting the doctrine of using no animal food. I doubt, said he, my constitution will not bear that. I assurd him it would, and that he would be the better for it. He was usually a great glutton, and I promised myself some diversion in half starving him. He agreed to try the practice, if I would keep him company. I did so, and we held it for three months. We had our victuals dressd, and brought to us regularly by a woman in the neighborhood, who had from me a list of forty dishes to be prepard for us at different times, in all which there was neither fish, flesh, nor fowl, and the whim suited me the better at this time from the cheapness of it, not costing us above eighteenpence 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, tired of the project, longd for the flesh-pots of Egypt, and orderd a roast pig. He invited me and two women friends to dine with him; but, it being brought too soon upon table, he could not resist the temptation, and ate the whole before we came.
I had made some courtship during this time to Miss Read. I had a great respect and affection for her, and had some reason to believe she had the same for me; but, as I was about to take a long voyage, and we were both very young, only a little above eighteen, it was thought most prudent by her mother to prevent our going too far at present, as a marriage, if it was to take place, would be more convenient after my return, when I should be, as I expected, set up in my business. Perhaps, too, she thought my expectations not so well founded as I imagined them to be.
My chief acquaintances at this time were Charles Osborne, Joseph Watson, and James Ralph, all lovers of reading. The two first were clerks to an eminent scrivener or conveyancer in the town, Charles Brogden; the other was clerk to a merchant. Watson was a pious, sensible young man, of great integrity; the others rather more lax in their principles of religion, particularly Ralph, who, as well as Collins, had been unsettled by me, for which they both made me suffer. Osborne was sensible, candid, frank; sincere and affectionate to his friends; but, in literary matters, too fond of criticising. Ralph was ingenious, genteel in his manners, and extremely eloquent; I think I never knew a prettier talker. Both of them great admirers of poetry, and began to try their hands in little pieces. Many pleasant walks we four had together on Sundays into the woods, near Schuylkill, where we read to one another, and conferrd on what we read.
Ralph was inclind to pursue the study of poetry, not doubting but he might become eminent in it, and make his fortune by it, alleging that the best poets must, when they first began to write, make as many faults as he did. Osborne dissuaded him, assurd him he had no genius for poetry, and advisd him to think of nothing beyond the business he was bred to; that, in the mercantile way, tho he had no stock, he might, by his diligence and punctuality, recommend himself to employment as a factor, and in time acquire wherewith to trade on his own account. I approvd the amusing ones self with poetry now and then, so far as to improve ones language, but no farther.
On this it was proposd that we should each of us, at our next meeting, produce a piece of our own composing, in order to improve by our mutual observations, criticisms, and corrections. As language and expression were what we had in view, we excluded all considerations of invention by agreeing that the task should be a version of the eighteenth Psalm, which describes the descent of a Deity. When the time of our meeting drew nigh, Ralph called on me first, and let me know his piece was ready. I told him I had been busy, and, having little inclination, had done nothing. He then showd me his piece for my opinion, and I much approvd it, as it appeard to me to have great merit. Now, says he, Osborne never will allow the least merit in any thing of mine, but makes 1000 criticisms out of mere envy. He is not so jealous of you; I wish, therefore, you would take this piece, and produce it as yours; I will pretend not to have had time, and so produce nothing. We shall then see what he will say to it. It was agreed, and I immediately transcribd it, that it might appear in my own hand.
We met; Watsons performance was read; there were some beauties in it, but many defects. Osbornes was read; it was much better; Ralph did it justice; remarked some faults, but applauded the beauties. He himself had nothing to produce. I was backward; seemed desirous of being excused; had not had sufficient time to correct, etc.; but no excuse could be admitted; produce I must. It was read and repeated; Watson and Osborne gave up the contest, and joind in applauding it. Ralph only made some criticisms, and proposd some amendments; but I defended my text. Osborne was against Ralph, and told him he was no better a critic than poet, so he dropt the argument. As they two went home together, Osborne expressed himself still more strongly in favor of what he thought my production; having restraind himself before, as he said, lest I should think it flattery. But who would have imagind, said he, that Franklin had been capable of such a performance; such painting, such force, such fire! He has even improvd the original. In his common conversation he seems to have no choice of words; he hesitates and blunders; and yet, good God! how he writes! When we next met, Ralph discovered the trick we had plaid him, and Osborne was a little laught at.
This transaction fixed Ralph in his resolution of becoming a poet. I did all I could to dissuade him from it, but he continued scribbling verses till Pope cured him. He became, however, a pretty good prose writer. More of him hereafter. But, as I may not have occasion again to mention the other two, I shall just remark here, that Watson died in my arms a few years after, much lamented, being the best of our set. Osborne went to the West Indies, where he became an eminent lawyer and made money, but died young. He and I had made a serious agreement, that the one who happend first to die should, if possible, make a friendly visit to the other, and acquaint him how he found things in that separate state. But he never fulfilld his promise.
The governor, seeming to like my company, had me frequently to his house, and his setting me up was always mentiond as a fixed thing. I was to take with me letters recommendatory to a number of his friends, besides the letter of credit to furnish me with the necessary money for purchasing the press and types, paper, etc. For these letters I was appointed to call at different times, when they were to be ready, but a future time was still named. Thus he went on till the ship, whose departure too had been several times postponed, was on the point of sailing. Then, when I calld to take my leave and receive the letters, his secretary, Dr. Bard, came out to me and said the governor was extremely busy in writing, but would be down at Newcastle before the ship, and there the letters would be delivered to me.
Ralph, though married, and having one child, had determined to accompany me in this voyage. It was thought he intended to establish a correspondence, and obtain goods to sell on commission; but I found afterwards, that, thro some discontent with his wifes relations, he purposed to leave her on their hands, and never return again. Having taken leave of my friends, and interchangd some promises with Miss Read, I left Philadelphia in the ship, which anchord at Newcastle. The governor was there; but when I went to his lodging, the secretary came to me from him with the civillest message in the world, that he could not then see me, being engaged in business of the utmost importance, but should send the letters to me on board, wishd me heartily a good voyage and a speedy return, etc. I returned on board a little puzzled, but still not doubting.
Mr. Andrew Hamilton, a famous lawyer of Philadelphia, had taken passage in the same ship for himself and son, and with Mr. Denham, a Quaker merchant, and Messrs. Onion and Russel, masters of an iron work in Maryland, had engagd the great cabin; so that Ralph and I were forced to take up with a berth in the steerage, and none on board knowing us, were considered as ordinary persons. But Mr. Hamilton and his son (it was James, since governor) returnd from Newcastle to Philadelphia, the father being recalld by a great fee to plead for a seized ship; and, just before we saild, Colonel French coming on board, and showing me great respect, I was more taken notice of, and, with my friend Ralph, invited by the other gentlemen to come into the cabin, there being now room. Accordingly, we removd thither.
Understanding that Colonel French had brought on board the governors despatches, I askd the captain for those letters that were to be under my care. He said all were put into the bag together and he could not then come at them; but, before we landed in England, I should have an opportunity of picking them out; so I was satisfied for the present, and we proceeded on our voyage. We had a sociable company in the cabin, and lived uncommonly well, having the addition of all Mr. Hamiltons stores, who had laid in plentifully. In this passage Mr. Denham contracted a friendship for me that continued during his life. The voyage was otherwise not a pleasant one, as we had a great deal of bad weather.
When we came into the Channel, the captain kept his word with me, and gave me an opportunity of examining the bag for the governors letters. I found none upon which my name was put as under my care. I picked out six or seven, that, by the handwriting, I thought might be the promised letters, especially as one of them was directed to Basket, the kings printer, and another to some stationer. We arrivd in London the 24th of December, 1724. I waited upon the stationer, who came first in my way, delivering the letter as from Governor Keith. I dont know such a person, says he; but, opening the letter, O! this is from Riddlesden. I have lately found him to be a compleat rascal, and I will have nothing to do with him, nor receive any letters from him. So, putting the letter into my hand, he turnd on his heel and left me to serve some customer. I was surprized to find these were not the governors letters; and, after recollecting and comparing circumstances, I began to doubt his sincerity. I found my friend Denham, and opened the whole affair to him. He let me into Keiths character; told me there was not the least probability that he had written any letters for me; that no one, who knew him, had the smallest dependence on him; and he laught at the notion of the governors giving me a letter of credit, having, as he said, no credit to give. On my expressing some concern about what I should do, he advised me to endeavor getting some employment in the way of my business. Among the printers here, said he, you will improve yourself, and when you return to America, you will set up to greater advantage.
We both of us happend to know, as well as the stationer, that Riddlesden, the attorney, was a very knave. He had half ruind Miss Reads father by persuading him to be bound for him. By this letter it appeard there was a secret scheme on foot to the prejudice of Hamilton (supposd to be then coming over with us); and that Keith was concerned in it with Riddlesden. Denham, who was a friend of Hamiltons thought he ought to be acquainted with it; so, when he arrivd in England, which was soon after, partly from resentment and ill-will to Keith and Riddlesden, and partly from good-will to him, I waited on him, and gave him the letter. He thankd me cordially, the information being of importance to him; and from that time he became my friend, greatly to my advantage afterwards on many occasions.
But what shall we think of a governors playing such pitiful tricks, and imposing so grossly on a poor ignorant boy! It was a habit he had acquired. He wishd to please everybody; and, having little to give, he gave expectations. He was otherwise an ingenious, sensible man, a pretty good writer, and a good governor for the people, tho not for his constituents, the proprietaries, whose instructions he sometimes disregarded. Several of our best laws were of his planning and passed during his administration.
Ralph and I were inseparable companions. We took lodgings together in Little Britain at three shillings and sixpence a weekas much as we could then afford. He found some relations, but they were poor, and unable to assist him. He now let me know his intentions of remaining in London, and that he never meant to return to Philadelphia. He had brought no money with him, the whole he could muster having been expended in paying his passage. I had fifteen pistoles; so he borrowed occasionally of me to subsist, while he was looking out for business. He first endeavored to get into the playhouse, believing himself qualifyd for an actor; but Wilkes, to whom he applyd, advisd him candidly not to think of that employment, as it was impossible he should succeed in it. Then he proposd to Roberts, a publisher in Paternoster 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 find no vacancy.
I immediately got into work at Palmers, then a famous printing-house in Bartholomew Close, and here I continud near a year. I was pretty diligent, but spent with Ralph a good deal of my earnings in going to plays and other places of amusement. We had together consumed all my pistoles, and now just rubbed on from hand to mouth. He seemd quite to forget his wife and child, and I, by degrees, my engagements with Miss Read, to whom I never wrote more than one letter, and that was to let her know I was not likely soon to return. This was another of the great errata of my life, which I should wish to correct if I were to live it over again. In fact, by our expenses, I was constantly kept unable to pay my passage.
At Palmers I was employed in composing for the second edition of Wollastons Religion of Nature. Some of his reasonings not appearing to me well founded, I wrote a little metaphysical piece in which I made remarks on them. It was entitled A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain. I inscribed it to my friend Ralph; I printed a small number. It occasiond my being more considerd by Mr. Palmer as a young man of some ingenuity, tho he seriously expostulated with me upon the principles of my pamphlet, which to him appeard abominable. My printing this pamphlet was another erratum. While I lodgd in Little Britain, I made an acquaintance with one Wilcox, a bookseller, whose shop was at the next door. He had an immense collection of second-hand books. Circulating libraries were not then in use; but we agreed that, on certain reasonable terms, which I have now forgotten, I might take, read, and return any of his books. This I esteemd a great advantage, and I made as much use of it as I could.
My pamphlet by some means falling into the hands of one Lyons, a surgeon, author of a book entitled The Infallibility of Human Judgment, it occasioned an acquaintance between us. He took great notice of me, called on me often to converse on those subjects, carried me to the Horns, a pale alehouse in Lane, Cheapside, and introduced me to Dr. 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. Lyons, too, introduced me to Dr. Pemberton, at Batsons Coffee-house, who promisd to give me an opportunity, some time or other, of seeing Sir Isaac Newton, of which I was extreamely desirous; but this never happened.
I had brought over a few curiosities, among which the principal was a purse made of the asbestos, which purifies by fire. Sir Hans Sloane heard of it, came to see me, and invited me to his house in Bloomsbury Square, where he showd me all his curiosities, and persuaded me to let him add that to the number, for which he paid me handsomely.
In our house there lodgd a young woman, a milliner, who, I think, had a shop in the Cloisters. She had been genteelly bred, was sensible and lively, and of most pleasing conversation. Ralph read plays to her in the evenings, they grew intimate, she took another lodging, and he followed her. They livd 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 school, which he thought himself well qualified to undertake, as he wrote an excellent hand, and was a master of arithmetic and accounts. This, however, he deemed a business below him, and confident of future better fortune, when he should be unwilling to have it known that he once was so meanly employed, he changed his name, and did me the honor to assume mine; for I soon after had a letter from him, acquainting me that he was settled in a small village (in Berkshire, I think it was, where he taught reading and writing to ten or a dozen boys, at sixpence each per week), recommending Mrs. T to my care, and desiring me to write to him, directing for Mr. Franklin, schoolmaster, at such a place.
He continued to write frequently, sending me large specimens of an epic poem which he was then composing, and desiring my remarks and corrections. These I gave him from time to time, but endeavord rather to discourage his proceeding. One of Youngs Satires was then just published. I copyd and sent him a great part of it, which set in a strong light the folly of pursuing the Muses with any hope of advancement by them. All was in vain; sheets of the poem continued to come by every post. In the mean time, Mrs. T, having on his account lost her friends and business, was often in distresses, and usd to send for me, and borrow what I could spare to help her out of them. I grew fond of her company, and, being at that time under no religious restraint, and presuming upon my importance to her, I attempted familiarities (another erratum) which she repulsd with a proper resentment, and acquainted him with my behaviour. This made a breach between us; and, when he returned again to London, he let me know he thought I had cancelld all the obligations he had been under to me. So I found I was never to expect his repaying me what I lent to him, or advancd for him. This, however, was not then of much consequence, as he was totally unable; and in the loss of his friendship I found myself relieved from a burthen. I now began to think of getting a little money beforehand, and, expecting better work, I left Palmers to work at Wattss, near Lincolns Inn Fields, a still greater printing-house. Here I continued all the rest of my stay in London.
At my first admission into this printing-house I took to working at press, imagining I felt a want of the bodily exercise I had been usd to in America, where presswork is mixd with composing. I drank only water; the other workmen, near fifty in number, were great guzzlers of beer. On occasion, I carried up and down stairs a large form of types in each hand, when others carried but one in both hands. They wondered to see, from this and several instances, that the Water-American, as they called me, was stronger than themselves, who drank strong beer! We had an alehouse boy who attended always in the house to supply the workmen. My companion at the press drank every day a pint before breakfast, a pint at breakfast with his bread and cheese, a pint between breakfast and dinner, a pint at dinner, a pint in the afternoon about six oclock, and another when he had done his days work. I thought it a detestable custom; but it was necessary, he supposd, to drink strong beer, that he might be strong to labor. I endeavored to convince him that the bodily strength afforded by beer could only be in proportion to the grain or flour of the barley dissolved in the water of which it was made; that there was more flour in a pennyworth of bread; and therefore, if he would eat that with a pint of water, it would give him more strength than a quart of beer. He drank on, however, and had four or five shillings to pay out of his wages every Saturday night for that muddling liquor; an expense I was free from. And thus these poor devils keep themselves always under.
Watts, after some weeks, desiring to have me in the composing-room, I left the pressmen; a new bien venu or sum for drink, being five shillings, was demanded of me by the compositors. I thought it an imposition, as I had paid below; the master thought so too, and forbad my paying it. I stood out two or three weeks, was accordingly considered as an excommunicate, and had so many little pieces of private mischief done me, by mixing my sorts, transposing my pages, breaking my matter, etc., etc., if I were ever so little out of the room, and all ascribed to the chappel ghost, which they said ever haunted those not regularly admitted, that, notwithstanding the masters protection, I found myself obligd to comply and pay the money, convincd of the folly of being on ill terms with those one is to live with continually.
I was now on a fair footing with them, and soon acquird considerable influence. I proposd some reasonable alterations in their chappel1 laws, and carried them against all opposition. From my example, a great part of them left their muddling breakfast of beer, and bread, and cheese, finding they could with me be supplid from a neighboring house with a large porringer of hot water-gruel, sprinkled with pepper, crumbld with bread and a bit of butter in it, for the price of a pint of beer, viz., three half-pence. This was a more comfortable as well as cheaper breakfast, and kept their heads clearer. Those who continued sotting with beer all day, were often, by not paying, out of credit at the alehouse, and usd to make interest with me to get beer; their light, as they phrased it, being out. I watchd the pay-table on Saturday night, and collected what I stood engagd for them, having to pay sometimes near thirty shillings a week on their account. This, and my being esteemd a pretty good riggite, that is, a jocular verbal satirist, supported my consequence in the society. My constant attendance (I never making a St. Monday) recommended me to the master; and my uncommon quickness at composing occasioned my being put upon all work of dispatch, which was generally better paid. So I went on now very agreeably.
My lodging in Little Britain being too remote, I found another in Duke-street, opposite to the Romish Chapel. It was two pair of stairs backwards, at an Italian warehouse. A widow lady kept the house; she had a daughter, and a maid servant, and a journeyman who attended the warehouse, but lodgd abroad. After sending to inquire my character at the house where I last lodgd she agreed to take me in at the same rate, 3s. 6d. per week; cheaper, as she said, from the protection she expected in having a man lodge in the house. She was a widow, an elderly woman; had been bred a Protestant, being a clergymans daughter, but was converted to the Catholic religion by her husband, whose memory she much revered; had lived much among people of distinction, and knew a thousand anecdotes of them as far back as the times of Charles the Second. She was lame in her knees with the gout, and, therefore, seldom stirred out of her room, so sometimes wanted company; and hers was so highly amusing to me, that I was sure to spend an evening with her whenever she desired it. Our supper was only half an anchovy each, on a very little strip of bread and butter, and half a pint of ale between us; but the entertainment was in her conversation. My always keeping good hours, and giving little trouble in the family, made her unwilling to part with me; so that, when I talkd of a lodging I had heard of, nearer my business, for two shillings a week, which, intent as I now was on saving money, made some difference, she bid me not think of it, for she would abate me two shillings a week for the future; so I remained with her at one shilling and sixpence as long as I staid in London.
In a garret of her house there lived a maiden lady of seventy, in the most retired manner, of whom my landlady gave me this account: that she was a Roman Catholic, had been sent abroad when young, and lodgd in a nunnery with an intent of becoming a nun; but, the country not agreeing with her, she returned to England, where, there being no nunnery, she had vowd to lead the life of a nun, as near as might be done in those circumstances. Accordingly, she had given all her estate to charitable uses, reserving only twelve pounds a year to live on, and out of this sum she still gave a great deal in charity, living herself on water-gruel only, and using no fire but to boil it. She had lived many years in that garret, being permitted to remain there gratis by successive Catholic tenants of the house below, as they deemed it a blessing to have her there. A priest visited her to confess her every day. I have askd her, says my landlady, how she, as she livd, could possibly find so much employment for a confessor? Oh, said she, it is impossible to avoid vain thoughts. I was permitted once to visit her. She was chearful and polite, and conversd pleasantly. The room was clean, but had no other furniture than a matras, a table with a crucifix and book, a stool which she gave me to sit on, and a picture over the chimney of Saint Veronica displaying her handkerchief, with the miraculous figure of Christs bleeding face on it, which she explained to me with great seriousness. She lookd pale, but was never sick; and I give it as another instance on how small an income life and health may be supported.
At Wattss printing-house I contracted an acquaintance with an ingenious young man, one Wygate, who, having wealthy relations, had been better educated than most printers; was a tolerable Latinist, spoke French, and lovd reading. I taught him and a friend of his to swim at twice going into the river, and they soon became good swimmers. They introducd me to some gentlemen from the country, who went to Chelsea by water to see the College and Don Salteros curiosities. In our return, at the request of the company, whose curiosity Wygate had excited, I stripped and leaped into the river, and swam from near Chelsea to Blackfryars, performing on the way many feats of activity, both upon and under water, that surprisd and pleasd those to whom they were novelties.
I had from a child been ever delighted with this exercise, had studied and practisd all Thevenots motions and positions, added some of my own, aiming at the graceful and easy as well as the useful. All these I took this occasion of exhibiting to the company, and was much flatterd by their admiration; and Wygate, who was desirous of becoming a master, grew more and more attachd to me on that account, as well as from the similarity of our studies. He at length proposed to me travelling all over Europe together, supporting ourselves everywhere by working at our business. I was once inclined to it; but, mentioning it to my good friend Mr. Denham, with whom I often spent an hour when I had leisure, he dissuaded me from it, advising me to think only of returning to Pennsilvania, which he was now about to do.
I must record one trait of this good mans 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 acquird 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 thankd 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 interest.
He now told me he was about to return to Philadelphia, and should carry over a great quantity of goods in order to open a store there. He proposd to take me over as his clerk, to keep his books, in which he would instruct me, copy his letters, and attend the store. He added that, as soon as I should be acquainted with mercantile business, he would promote me by sending me with a cargo of flour and bread, etc., to the West Indies, and procure me commissions from others which would be profitable; and, if I managd well, would establish me handsomely. The thing pleasd me; for I was grown tired of London, remembered with pleasure the happy months I had spent in Pennsylvania, and wishd again to see it; therefore I immediately agreed on the terms of fifty pounds a year, Pennsylvania money; less, indeed, than my present gettings as a compositor, but affording a better prospect.
I now took leave of printing, as I thought, for ever, and was daily employed in my new business, going about with Mr. Denham among the tradesmen to purchase various articles, and seeing them packd up, doing errands, calling upon workmen to dispatch, etc.; and, when all was on board, I had a few days leisure. On one of these days, I was, to my surprise, sent for by a great man I knew only by name, a Sir William Wyndham, and I waited upon him. He had heard by some means or other of my swimming from Chelsea to Blackfriars, and of my teaching Wygate and another young man to swim in a few hours. He had two sons, about to set out on their travels; he wishd to have them first taught swimming, and proposed to gratify me handsomely if I would teach them. They were not yet come to town, and my stay was uncertain, so I could not undertake it; but, from this incident, I thought it likely that, if I were to remain in England and open a swimming-school, I might get a good deal of money; and it struck me so strongly, that, had the overture been sooner made me, probably I should not so soon have returned to America. After many years, you and I had something of more importance to do with one of these sons of Sir William Wyndham, become Earl of Egremont, which I shall mention in its place.
Thus I spent about eighteen months in London; most part of the time I workd hard at my business, and spent but little upon myself except in seeing plays and in books. My friend Ralph had kept me poor; he owed me about twenty-seven pounds, which I was now never likely to receive; a great sum out of my small earnings! I lovd him, notwithstanding, for he had many amiable qualities. I had by no means improvd my fortune; but I had picked up some very ingenious acquaintance, whose conversation was of great advantage to me; and I had read considerably.
We saild from Gravesend on the 23d of July, 1726. For the incidents of the voyage, I refer you to my Journal, where you will find them all minutely related. Perhaps the most important part of that journal is the plan2 to be found in it, which I formed at sea, for regulating my future conduct in life. It is the more remarkable, as being formed when I was so young, and yet being pretty faithfully adhered to quite thro to old age.
We landed in Philadelphia on the 11th of October, where I found sundry alterations. Keith was no longer governor, being superseded by Major Gordon. I met him walking the streets as a common citizen. He seemd a little ashamd at seeing me, but passd without saying anything. I should have been as much ashamd at seeing Miss Read, had not her friends, despairing with reason of my return after the receipt of my letter, persuaded her to marry another, one Rogers, a potter, which was done in my absence. With him, however, she was never happy, and soon parted from him, refusing to cohabit with him or bear his name, it being now said that he had another wife. He was a worthless fellow, tho an excellent workman, which was the temptation to her friends. He got into debt, ran away in 1727 or 1728, went to the West Indies, and died there. Keimer had got a better house, a shop well supplyd with stationery, plenty of new types, a number of hands, tho none good, and seemd to have a great deal of business.
Note 1. A printing-house is always called a chapel by the workmen, the origin of which appears to have been that printing was first carried on in England in an ancient chapel converted into a printing-house, and the title has been preserved by tradition. The bien venu among the printers answers to the terms entrance and footing among mechanics; thus a journeyman, on entering a printing-house, was accustomed to pay one or more gallons of beer for the good of the chapel; this custom was falling into disuse thirty years ago; it is very properly rejected entirely in the United States.W. T. F. [back]
Note 2. The Journal was printed by Sparks, from a copy made at Reading in 1787. But it does not contain the Plan.ED. [back]