"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 strange city.
"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 lasted.
"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 do?"
"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 country?"
"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 suit him."
"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 position."
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 vacancy."
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 Ralph.
"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 employing me."
"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 than none.
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 school."
"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 here.
"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 was penniless.
"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 kindness.
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 bookseller.
"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 superficial, too."
"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 suggested.
"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 my judgment."
"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 not."
"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 Lyons:
"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 on:
"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 him?"
"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 you?"
"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 strength."
"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 beer?"
"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 so?"
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," he suggested.
"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 strength."
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 beer."
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 brain."
"A Water-American, indeed!" said Mr. Watts, who heard much of the conversation. "But will you not allow some comfort to hard-working men?"
"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," responded Watts.
"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 weeks.
"A treat now, Ben; that is the condition of admission here," said the men.
"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 determination.
"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 continually."
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 working now."
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 says:
"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 trouble."
"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 hand."
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 of swimming.
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 from London.
"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 interest.
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 water?"
"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 as these:
"Wonderful! I had no idea that any man could attain to such skill in the water."
"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 Atlantic ocean."
"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 consideration whatever."
"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 undertake."
"Somewhat of a scheme; but a very interesting and instructive one if successfully prosecuted."
"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. Denham.
"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 occurs."
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 Street.
"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 week?"
"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 boarding-house keepers.
Benjamin records the following interesting incident respecting his friend Denham, of whom we have spoken, and to whom we shall refer again:
"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 interest."
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 trade now."
"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 yourself."
"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 Philadelphia."
"I shall accept your proposition, and resign my position at Watts' immediately, and be at your service early and late."
Benjamin, no doubt, was more interested to return to America on account of his relation to Miss Deborah Read. He had written to her but once, and that was directly after he began work at Palmer's printing house. He told her of Keith's fraud practised upon him, leaving him in London a stranger and nearly penniless, so that he could not return until he had earned money enough to pay his passage. He did not write to her again, and his conscience had condemned him, so that, at times, he dwelt sadly upon his unfaithfulness. He neglected to write for so long a time, that he became ashamed to write at all; and so the correspondence dropped. Yet, he did not forget Miss Read, nor cast her off; and he blamed himself every time his thoughts dwelt upon his sin of omission.
Benjamin's employer was very sorry to part with him.
"I am glad to have you as long as I have," he said, "but I wish you would stay. I feel safe to commit work or business to your care. If ever I can do you a favor, let me know, and I will only be too glad to do it."
"I thank you for your confidence. I have done the best for you I could, as I always mean to do for every employer. I regret to leave you, and my companions with whom I have spent so many hours. But I have a strong desire to return home." Benjamin spoke with considerable feeling.
"That is an honorable desire," answered Mr. Watts, "and I have no doubt that you will be prospered in gratifying it. At any rate, I hope you will."
So Benjamin separated from his old friends on the best of terms, and commenced work for Mr. Denham. Nor was it light work. He accompanied his employer from warehouse to warehouse, packing goods that he bought, and forwarding them to the ship Berkshire, which would sail on July 21st. It was new business for him, but he liked it all the more for its novelty; and he performed the labors with his accustomed tact and industry.
Benjamin had been nineteen months in London when he sailed on the 21st of July, 1726. A few months before, he made the acquaintance of Peter Collinson, a young man of noble English birth, whose talents gave him nearly as much standing as his ancestry. Collinson heard of Benjamin and sought him out, forming a life-long friendship. Collinson accompanied Benjamin to the ship. Just before the vessel weighed anchor, he handed his walking-stick to Benjamin, saying, "Let us exchange."
Benjamin exchanged, replying, "And let it be a pledge of friendship forever."
"And a pledge, also, of faithful correspondence with each other," added Collinson, as they shook hands and parted.
The Berkshire, Henry Clark, master, was eighty-two days on its voyage to Philadelphia. Benjamin landed there on the 11th day of October, 1726: and he was at home again.
 "Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin," vol. i. p. 136.
UPS AND DOWNS OF LIFE.
One of the first places that Benjamin visited was the printing house of Keimer, where he worked before leaving the country. Keimer had made up his mind that Benjamin would never return to America, so that when he entered the printing office he was startled.
"Why, Ben! can it be you?" he exclaimed in wonder. "I began to think that you would never be seen in Philadelphia again."
"Why did you think so?"
"Because you planned to be back here a long time ago; I concluded that you had forsaken us."
"Not yet; I have seen no place abroad quite equal to Philadelphia. I did not return as soon as I expected." And Benjamin rehearsed to Keimer substantially his experience with Governor Keith, that he might understand why his return was delayed.
"That is what you got for concealing your purpose," said Keimer. "I could have told you that Keith was wholly unreliable, and so could a good many other people. He has been turned out of office because of his rascality."
"I am glad to hear that. I am a little curious to see how he will act, and hear what he will say, when I meet him."
"He won't meet you if he can help it. I see him occasionally on the street, and he looks crestfallen."
"He will look more so, I imagine, when he meets me. I propose to talk matters over very plainly with him."
"That can do no good. The less breath you waste in that way, the better for you," replied Keimer. "But I suppose you want to go to work at your old trade? Plenty of work here, and you are just the man to do it."
Keimer's business had increased largely, and he had added many facilities for doing work, so that the establishment presented a more attractive appearance.
"No; I am a printer no longer," answered Benjamin. "I am booked for the mercantile business in Philadelphia"
"How is that? Were you not a printer in London?"
"Yes, I followed my trade there, and learned more about it than I ever knew before. London is a great place for printing. Two printing houses there, with more than fifty hands in each."
"Think you can do better in trading than printing?" asked Keimer, who was really anxious for Benjamin's services.
"Not exactly so. But I should be in London now, had not Mr. Denham's offer to become his clerk brought me home." And Benjamin told the story of his acquaintance with Mr. Denham and the outcome, which was his offer to make him his business manager.
"A good opportunity, I should think, if you like that business," answered Keimer; "but I should like to put you in manager of my printing office. You have had the experience, and understand the business much better than any man I have."
"That is out of the question now, of course, as I am under obligations to Mr. Denham."
"Of course; I only meant to tell you what I would do if you were at liberty."
Benjamin was anxious to learn about Miss Read, whom he was quite ashamed to meet because of his neglect. Keimer was acquainted with the family, and first introduced him to them, as was stated in a former chapter. So that he had no doubt he would know all about Deborah. He ventured to inquire:
"What can you tell me about Mrs. Read and her daughter?"
"Mrs. Read lives where she did, and continues to take a few boarders. Her daughter was married to a miserable fellow, nearly a year ago, but lived with him only a few weeks, when she left him."
"Indeed! That was unfortunate for her," Benjamin answered. "She deserves a better experience than that."
"She would not have married, had she been left to her own choice, but her mother and other friends persuaded her. Rogers was her husband's name, and he was a potter by trade, a first-class workman; and they thought he was capable of getting a good living, I suppose."
"A good character would have been of more service to him," suggested Benjamin; "a very unfortunate affair."
"I was going to sway," continued Keimer, "that she had been married but a few weeks before she found that Rogers had another wife. Of course her marriage was not legal, and she left him at once."
"Probably her mother made no inquiry about Rogers' character beforehand," remarked Benjamin. "Mothers ought to be wiser than that."
"We all have to live and learn, and experience is our best schoolmaster," added Keimer.
Keimer knew nothing of Benjamin's relation to Deborah Read, so that he spoke freely. The revelation was startling to Benjamin, and it set him to thinking. He concluded that Mrs. Read inferred from his first and only letter to Deborah that he would never return, or never be in a situation to support a wife and family; and, as time went on, and no other letters were received, she became fixed in her conclusion that he would not return. Benjamin took all the blame upon himself; and the honest sympathy of his heart asserted itself for the girl. He resolved to call upon her as soon as possible and confess his wrong-doing, ask her forgiveness, and renew his attentions.
"I should have said," Keimer added, "that Deborah has not changed her name. She refuses to be called Mrs. Rogers, and is still called Miss Read by her friends. This is all right, I suppose, because her marriage was illegal."
"Very wise for her, I think," responded Benjamin. "But she may consider herself fortunate to get released from such a bondage."
He improved the first opportunity to call at Mrs. Read's, to whom he appeared as one from the dead. She had not heard of his arrival, nor that he was expected. The American Weekly Mercury, the only newspaper of the town, announced, "Entered inwards, ship Berkshire, Henry Clark, from London." That was all; nothing was said about any passengers.
"Benjamin Franklin!" exclaimed Mrs. Read in great astonishment, throwing up her hands at first, as if fearing it was his ghost, and then giving him a most cordial welcome. "Can it be you?"
"It can be," Benjamin replied, with his old-time familiarity, being reassured by Mrs. Read's friendly appearance. "If I know myself, this is Benjamin Franklin."
Deborah made her appearance before the last words were fairly off the lips of the new comer, equally surprised and glad to see her old friend.
"I am really ashamed to meet you, Deborah, after my inexcusable neglect," he said, "and first of all I ask you to forgive me. It scarcely seems possible to myself that I should treat you so."
Before Deborah had time to reply her mother spoke:
"If there is any blame to be attached to any one, it is to me; for I opposed your engagement, and entreated Deborah to marry that apology for a man Rogers."
"But all that does not excuse me for not writing to Deborah," responded Benjamin "It was very wrong in me to treat her with such neglect. And I did not intend to do so; I meant to continue the correspondence, but one thing and another prevented for so long a time, that I really was ashamed to write."
"Well, it is all over now, and there is no help for what has been done, except to learn a good lesson from it for the future, if we are all bright enough to do that."
Mrs. Read swept the deck by these last remarks. There was no obstacle now to consummate an engagement with Deborah. She did not tell Benjamin to go ahead and make sure of his bird now, that she would not interpose the slightest objection; but she might as well have said so; and he so understood it, so that he felt perfectly at ease.
Deborah Read had never lost her first love, and never wholly abandoned the idea that her lover would return. She had no love for Rogers when she married him; she married him to please her mother. Now, her love for Benjamin was as fresh and strong as ever; and so was his love for her. Their intimacy was renewed, an engagement consummated.
Benjamin was twenty years old—a fine-appearing, handsome young man. Mr. Denham thought so, and so did Deborah Read. The first was fortunate in securing him for his clerk, and the second was equally fortunate in securing him for her future husband. And Benjamin himself was as fortunate as either of them in having such an employer as Denham, and such a betrothed as Deborah. It was a tidal wave of good fortune now.
"And I am prepared to go to work at once."
"I will pay you extra wages to take the whole charge of the printing office, so that I can give my attention to the stationer's shop."
"I can do that, or any thing else you desire; am not at all particular. I am now twenty-one years old, and ought to be a man any way, and do the best I can wherever I am put."
Keimer's offer was liberal, and Benjamin accepted it, and entered upon his work as superintendent of the printing house, a very responsible position. But, in a short time, he had good reason to believe that Keimer paid him so liberal wages because he wanted the poor printers to improve under his superintendence; and when that end was accomplished, he would cut down his wages, or hire another man for less money. However, he went to work with a will, as he always did, resolved to do the best he could for his employer.
As the workmen improved under Benjamin's supervision, Keimer evidently began to think of discharging him, or cutting down his wages. On paying his second quarter's wages, he told him that he could not continue to pay him so much. He became uncivil in his treatment, frequently found fault with him, and plainly tried to make his situation uncomfortable so that he would leave. At length a rare opportunity offered for him to make trouble. An unusual noise in the street one day caused Benjamin to put his head out of the window to learn what was the matter. Keimer happened to be in the street, and seeing him, cried out:
"Put your head in and attend to your business," adding some reproachful words which all the people around him heard. Then hastening up stairs into the office, he continued his insulting language.
"Men who work for me must give better heed to their business. If they care more for a noise in the street than they do for their work, it is high time they left."
"I am ready to leave any time you please," retorted Benjamin, nettled by such uncalled-for treatment. "I am not dependent on you for a living, and I shall not bear such treatment long, I assure you."
"That, indeed!" replied Keimer, derisively. "You would not stay another day were it not for our agreement, in accordance with which I now warn you that, at the end of this quarter, I shall cease to employ you."
"And I will notify you that I shall not work another minute for you. A man who is neither honest, nor a gentleman, does not deserve the service of decent men." Benjamin was aroused.
And, as he spoke these last cutting words, he took his hat and left. As he passed down, he said to Meredith:
"Bring all my things to my lodgings."
In the evening, Meredith carried all the articles belonging to Benjamin to his boarding-place, where he had a long interview.
"Keimer lost the last claim for respect that he had on his men to-day," said Meredith. "Not a man in his establishment, who does not condemn his course."
"Just what I expected. He does not want to pay me my price, now that the men have learned their business. This was the first occasion he has had to drive me off." Benjamin spoke with the utmost coolness.
"It is the worst act for himself that he has done," continued Meredith. "Every man he employs would leave him if work could be had elsewhere."
"I think I shall return to Boston, whether I remain there or not. It is a good time for me to visit my friends."
"I have something better than that to suggest. My thoughts have been busy on it all day, and I wanted to see you about it to-night before you laid any plans." Meredith's manner indicated something of importance.
"What have you to propose? I am ready for any practicable enterprise you can name."
"I want to set up the printing business for myself, and I am not sufficiently acquainted with it, and you are. Can we not arrange to go into business together?"
Meredith's proposition took Benjamin by surprise, and evidently seemed impracticable to him.
"And have poverty for our capital?" replied Benjamin with a laugh. "I am about as rich as you are."
"No; have money for our capital, all that is necessary to start us well in business," answered Meredith.
"That would be fine, I declare; but I would like to see the money first," added Benjamin, before Meredith could explain.
"Hold on a minute, let me explain, and you will see that my plan is not so impracticable as you seem to think. My father has money; and he has always said that he would start me in business whenever I got a good knowledge of it. He knows, of course, that I have not that knowledge yet; but he knows, too, that a man who can run Keimer's establishment has the requisite knowledge, and would be a good partner for me."
"But your father will never advance the necessary capital," interrupted Benjamin. "If I was ten years older he might do it."
"I am confident that he will; at any rate, I will consult him about the matter, and learn just what he will do. I have told him all about you, and he will think it is a good opportunity for me."
Meredith consulted his father, and received the prompt answer:
"Yes, I will do it gladly. I know of no young man I would select for your partner in preference to Franklin."
In a subsequent interview with Benjamin, Mr. Meredith said:
"I am all the more ready to furnish the capital, because your influence over my son has been so good. You influenced him to stop drinking when he was fast becoming intemperate, and I shall always feel grateful for it. You are just the one to be intimately associated with him."
It was settled that they should enter into partnership, and start their business as soon as the necessary outfit could be obtained from England.
THE LEATHERN-APRON CLUB.
Benjamin began to reflect much upon his religious opinions (or, rather, irreligious), on his return voyage from England, as related to the errors and mistakes of his life. He had much time, during those three long, wearisome months, to study himself, past and present. Evidently he came to possess a more correct knowledge of himself on that voyage than he ever had before. He was so sincere in the matter that he drew up a number of rules by which to regulate his future life. A year and more afterwards he enlarged and perfected this code of morals. The rules which he adopted on the Berkshire were prefaced with the following paragraph:
"Those who write of the art of poetry teach us that, if we would write what may be worth reading, we ought always, before we begin, to form a regular plan and design of our piece, otherwise we shall be in danger of incongruity. I am apt to think it is the same as to life. I have never fixed a regular design of life, by which means it has been a confused variety of different scenes. I am now entering upon a new one; let me, therefore, make some resolutions, and form some scheme of action, that thenceforth I may live like a rational creature."
The closing sentence shows that his conscience was making him considerable trouble, and that he concluded his life had been very irrational. Perhaps he thought of Collins, whom he made a free thinker, and of Ralph, whom he corrupted in the same way. One of them became a drunkard, and the other a polygamist; both of them cheating him out of a sum of money; might not their free thinking be related to their immoralities? He could not help thinking of these things, and so he wrote down the following rules:
"1. It is necessary for me to be extremely frugal for some time till I have paid what I owe.
"2. To endeavor to speak truth in every instance; to give nobody expectations that are not likely to be answered, but aim at sincerity in every word and action; the most amiable excellence in a rational being.
"3. To apply myself industriously to whatever business I take in hand, and not divert my mind from my business by any foolish project of growing suddenly rich; for industry and patience are the surest means of plenty.
"4. I resolve to speak ill of no man whatever, not even in a matter of truth; but rather by some means excuse the faults I hear charged upon others, and, upon proper occasions, speak all the good I know of every body."
This was not all he wrote to guide his future career; but we have cited enough to show the current of Benjamin's thoughts at the time of which we are speaking. We shall see hereafter that he did not cease to reflect upon his career, and resolve upon a nobler life.
Soon after his return from England, perhaps after the death of Mr. Denham, Benjamin organized a literary club, composed, at first, of eleven members, all of them more or less talented and desirous of self-improvement, and nearly all of them mechanics, which fact caused the institution to be christened "THE LEATHERN-APRON CLUB," although the real name of it, as suggested by Franklin, was "THE JUNTO."
The society was patterned after one formed by Cotton Mather in Boston. The first thing done at their meetings was to read the following questions, pausing after reading each for any remarks or propositions members might desire to make. The principal questions were as follows:
"1. Is there any remarkable disorder in the place that requires our endeavor for the suppression of it? And in what fair, likely way may we endeavor it?
"2. Is there any particular person, whose disorderly behavior may be so scandalous and notorious that we may do well to send unto the said person our charitable admonitions? Or, are there any contending persons whom we should admonish to quench their contentions?
"3. Is there any special service to the interest of Religion which we may conveniently desire our ministers to take notice of?
"4. Is there any thing we may do well to mention unto the justices for the further promoting good order?
"5. Is there any sort of officers among us to such a degree unmindful of their duty that we may do well to mind them of it?
"6. Can any further methods be devised that ignorance and wickedness may be chased from our people in general, and that household piety in particular may flourish among them?
"7. Does there appear any instance of oppression or fraudulence in the dealings of any sort of people that may call for our essays to get it rectified?
"8. Is there any matter to be humbly moved unto the Legislative Power, to be enacted into a Law for the public benefit?
"9. Do we know of any person languishing under sore and sad affliction; and is there any thing we can do for the succor of such an afflicted neighbor?
"10. Has any person any proposal to make for our own further advantage and assistance, that we ourselves may be in a probable and regular capacity to pursue the intention before us?"
"I should pronounce that an ingenious society for doing good and getting good," said Coleman, after the questions were read.
"It was so, and Cotton Mather himself was a member of twenty of these societies," said Benjamin. "They became very popular, and I recall with what interest my father participated in the meetings. I often accompanied him, and, young as I was, they were very interesting to me. It was that fact which suggested the questions I have reported for our club."
When a person united with the Junto, he was required to stand up, lay his hand on his heart, and answer the following questions:
"1. Have you any particular disrespect to any present member?
"Answer. I have not.
"2. Do you sincerely declare that you love mankind in general, of what profession or religion soever?
"Answer. I do.
"3. Do you think any person ought to be harmed in his body, name, or goods, for mere speculative opinion, or his external way of worship?
"4. Do you love truth for truth's sake; and will you endeavor impartially to find and receive it yourself, and communicate it to others?
At one of their earliest meetings Benjamin proposed that each member (the number of members was limited to twelve) should bring his books to the club-room for reference during their discussions.
"A capital idea," said Coleman, "and I would suggest that each member have the privilege of reading the books belonging to other members."
"Another good idea," rejoined Benjamin; "I second that motion with all my heart."
"It will not take any one of us a great while to read all the books we can muster," suggested Potts.
At that time there was no bookstore in Philadelphia, nor was there one of considerable note anywhere in the Colonies, except in Boston. The people of Philadelphia sent to England for the books they wanted, which was expensive and inconvenient.
After this plan had been successfully used for several months, Benjamin made another proposition.
"I propose that we establish a library, interesting parties outside to join us in the enterprise."
"Raising money for the same by subscription, do you mean?" inquired Maugridge.
"Yes; unless there is a better way of doing it."
"I doubt if outsiders can be interested to join us in such a project," said Grace. "Few people care enough about books to put money into such an enterprise."
"Perhaps so; but we can try; if we fail we shall still be as well off as we are now," was Benjamin's answer. "Unless we make the effort we shall never know what we can do."
"And you are the one to solicit subscriptions, Ben," remarked Godfrey. "If anybody can succeed, you can. If I should undertake and fail, as I should, it would not prove that the scheme is impracticable."
"I am perfectly willing to solicit subscriptions, and I will begin at once and be able to report success or failure at the next meeting," was Benjamin's generous offer.
At the following meeting he was able to report success, so far as he had been able to work; and he continued until fifty young tradesmen had pledged forty shillings each as a subscription, and, in addition, ten shillings per annum. This was unexpected success, and the members of the Junto were highly elated. Thus was established the first circulating library in this country. Benjamin Franklin was the author of it; and that library numbers now one hundred thousand volumes. Since that day the library scheme has proved so beneficial to individuals and the public, that there are thousands of circulating libraries in the land. Almost every town of two or three thousand inhabitants has one. It must not be forgotten, however, that Benjamin Franklin conceived and reduced the idea to practice.
The following are some of the questions discussed by members of the Junto:
"Is sound an entity or body?
"How may the phenomenon of vapors be explained?
"Is self-interest the rudder that steers mankind, the universal monarch to whom all are tributaries?
"Which is the best form of government, and what was that form which first prevailed among mankind?
"Can any one particular form of government suit all mankind?
"What is the reason that the tides rise higher in the Bay of Fundy than the Bay of Delaware?
"Is the emission of paper money safe?
"What is the reason that men of the greatest knowledge are not the most happy?
"How may the possession of the lakes be improved to our advantage?
"Why are tumultuous, uneasy sensations united with our desires?
"Whether it ought to be the aim of philosophy to eradicate the passions?
"How may smoky chimneys be best cured?
"Why does the flame of a candle tend upwards in a spire?
"Which is the least criminal, a bad action joined with a good intention, or a good action with a bad intention?
"Is it inconsistent with the principles of liberty in a free government, to punish a man as a libeller when he speaks the truth?"
The foregoing Rules and Questions show that it could not have been an ordinary class of young men to meet and discuss such subjects. Benjamin's talent is manifest both in the organization and the themes considered.
Improvements have been the order of the day since the Junto was organized; but we doubt if there has been much improvement upon the Junto in literary organizations for the young. It is not surprising, that, of the original twelve members, two became surveyors-general; one the inventor of a quadrant; one a distinguished mechanic and influential man; one a merchant of great note and a provincial judge, and all but one respected and honored men. At the same time, Benjamin, the founder, became "Minister to the Court of St. James," "Minister Plenipotentiary to France," and the greatest Statesman and Philosopher of America, in the eighteenth century.
In old age Doctor Franklin said of the Junto: "It was the best school of philosophy, morality, and politics that then existed in the Province; for our queries, which were read the week preceding their discussion, put us upon reading with attention on the several subjects, that we might speak more to the purpose; and here, too, we acquired better habits of conversation, every thing being studied in our rules which might prevent our disgusting each other."
The Junto was copied in England fifty years after Benjamin organized it in Philadelphia, by Cleming Jenkinson (who became Earl of Liverpool) and others; and, within it, they began careers that became illustrious. It has been copied in different parts of our own land down to the present day, blessing the people and the country in more ways than one.
"I can tell you how to get over the difficulty," said Benjamin: "let each member get up a club of twelve, and that will give a chance for one hundred and forty-four members."
"And when that number is attained, I suppose you will have each one of the one hundred and forty-four organize a Junto, and that will make the membership seventeen hundred and twenty-eight, enough to constitute a good township," suggested Coleman, who did not endorse Benjamin's plan.
"One Junto will be of more service to members, as well as to the public, than a dozen can be, only abolish the limit to twelve members, and allow all who desire to join," was Coleman's view.
"More interesting, also, to have a larger number of members," suggested Parsons. "Numbers create enthusiasm."
"And numbers often create friction, too," retorted Benjamin; "we want to avoid both shoals and rocks."
"Another thing that I object to very much is this: if each one of us organizes another Junto, we no longer associate with each other—the very thing for which this Junto was organized." This was the strongest objection that Coleman urged.
"That is the selfish side of the question," suggested Benjamin. "On the other hand, there will be twelve times as many persons to be benefited. If we twelve are benefited, how much better and grander to have one hundred and forty-four benefited!"
"Ben is right; and I am of the opinion that the sooner we adopt this plan the better. It will be unpleasant to sacrifice our social connections to form new ones, but the new ones may become equally pleasant." Scull thus supported Benjamin's proposition; and so did Meredith, Maugridge, and others.
This discussion arose from the popularity of the Junto. It became so popular that large numbers of persons wanted to join it, and besought the members to abolish the rule limiting the membership to twelve. Hence, Benjamin's proposition to meet the exigency, which was carried, with this amendment:
"The new clubs shall be auxiliary to this, the original one, each reporting its proceedings to the parent society, that one harmonious purpose and plan may characterize all."
All the members did not organize a club, but five or six did, and these clubs flourished for many years, blessing the town and the whole colony.
The Junto was not many months old, when Benjamin made another proposition.
"The books we read have words and phrases in other languages, and I do not know their meaning. I studied Latin some in Boston, before I was ten years old, and Latin words I can guess at, but French I can't. Suppose we study French."
"You can study it if you want to," replied Scull, "but I have not the time for another study."
"And I have not the taste for it," said Meredith. "One language is all that I can handle, and I can't handle that as I want to."
"I like the suggestion," responded Coleman "and can give a little time to French, though not a great deal. If Ben becomes an expert linguist he can translate the foreign words and phrases for us."
"That last suggestion is best of all," remarked Parsons. "Ben can go ahead and become a linguist for our benefit. That is the benevolent side of this question," punning on his argument for the benevolent side of the club question.
Whether other members of the Junto studied the languages we have no means of knowing, but Benjamin did, with remarkable success. First he studied French, and when he could read it quite well, he took up Italian and Spanish. By this time he became so interested in foreign languages that he revived his acquaintance with Latin, becoming quite a good scholar therein. It was a mystery to his companions how he found time to accomplish so much; but he did it by method and industry, improving the smallest fragments of time, working early and late. He was very fond of playing chess; but he denied himself the pleasure wholly in order that he might have the more time for study. While at Keimer's he found more time for reading and hard study, because his employer observed Saturday as his Sabbath, giving only five days in the week to work.
It would require several months for the printing outfit ordered from England to reach Philadelphia. In the mean time, Benjamin was considering what to do; and, while canvassing the field, he received the following note from Keimer:
"PHILADELPHIA, 10 Dec., 1727.
"MR. BENJAMIN FRANKLIN:
"Dear Sir,—It is not wise for old friends like you and I to separate for a few words spoken in passion. I was very hasty, and am sorry for it. I want my old foreman back again at the old price. I have plenty of work, and if you think well of my proposition, come and see me.
Benjamin's first impulse was to destroy the letter and take no further notice of it. But the second, sober thought led him to consult Meredith, who continued to work for Keimer. Meredith read the letter, and said:
"I should advise you to accept his proposition, as you have nothing to do."
"But can you tell me what selfish end he has in view, for Keimer would never come down like that unless he had an axe to grind?" Benjamin said.
"Most certainly I can. He can have a government job if he can do the work. The Province of New Jersey is going to make a new issue of paper money, and he can get the job; but you are the only printer in Philadelphia who can do that work, so he wants you."
"I knew there must be something of that sort, or he never would have asked for my work again. He is too contemptible a man to work for." Benjamin spoke with much feeling; and he was right, too.
"But here is the point," continued Meredith. "I am poorly equipped to set up business for myself, and you can teach me. It will be anywhere from six to eight months before our outfit arrives from England, so here is a good opportunity for me to improve."
"I suppose that is the best way of looking at it; but Keimer has so little manhood about him that I have no respect for him. I dislike to work for a man whom I despise, and can't help it." Benjamin's language showed that it was almost too much to ask him to return to Keimer's printing office; but Meredith persevered.
"For my sake, I want you should decide to accept the proposition. Keimer has made an apology, so that you can return without compromising your manhood at all. It looks to me as if it were wiser to accept his proposal than to decline it."
"I will sleep over it to-night before I decide, and let you know in the morning," replied Benjamin, as he took his leave.
In the morning Benjamin put in his appearance at Keimer's office, ready for work. He received a hearty welcome, and was at once apprized of the paper-money job of New Jersey.
Benjamin succeeded in contriving and completing a copper-plate press; and when cuts and ornaments were all ready, Keimer and he proceeded to Burlington, N.J., where they remained three months to fulfill the contract. It proved a rare school for Benjamin. It brought him in contact with many prominent men, who were of much assistance to him afterwards. He was so much more intelligent than Keimer, that the latter was of little consequence, as very little notice was taken of him. One day Isaac Decon, the surveyor-general, said to him:
"You are complete master of your business, and success is before you."
"I have improved my opportunities," modestly answered Benjamin, "and done the best I could to learn my trade. I don't like the half-way method of doing business."
"I commenced business in a very humble way," continued Decon, "without dreaming that I should ever possess such an estate as I do now."
"What was your business?"
"I wheeled clay for the brickmakers, and had no opportunity of going to school in my boyhood. I did not learn to write until I became of age. I acquired my knowledge of surveying when I carried a chain for surveyors, who were pleased with my desire to learn the business, and assisted me. By constant industry, and close application, and not a little perseverance, I have succeeded in reaching the place where you now see me."
"That is the only way any person ever reached an honorable position," remarked Benjamin, after listening to the interesting story of success.
"You are right in that view, and one-half of the battle is fought when correct views of life are fixed. When an employer like Keimer is inferior to his employee in ability, tact, and enterprise, there is a very poor show for him. If you set up for yourself in Philadelphia, you will work him completely out of his business."
Late in the spring of 1728 the printing outfit arrived from England. Benjamin and Meredith had settled with Keimer, who was unusually happy because his profits on his paper-money job in New Jersey had tided him over very discouraging embarrassments. Keimer knew nothing of their plans, however, when a settlement was consummated, as both had kept the secret. The first intimation that he, or the public, had of such an enterprise, was the opening of their printing house in the lower part of Market Street—"FRANKLIN & MEREDITH."
"Here's a man looking for a printer," said George House, an old friend of Benjamin. "He inquired of me where he could get a job done, and I told him that here was the place above all others."
"Thank you for the advertisement, George. Yes, sir, we can serve you here at short notice. What will you have done?" Benjamin won the customer over at once by his genial, familiar way.
The man made known his wants; and it proved to be a five-shilling job, all the more acceptable because it was the first.
With the members of the Junto all interested in his success, and the public men of New Jersey, who made his acquaintance at Burlington, Benjamin's business was soon well advertised. Many people were taken by surprise, and most of them predicted a failure, since there were two printers in town already. One day Samuel Nickle, an old citizen of the town, known somewhat as a croaker, was passing by, and, looking up, he read the sign.
"Another printing house!" he said to himself. "And two in town already! Who can be so thoughtless?" He stopped and mused a few moments, and then entered.
"Are you the young man who has opened this printing house?" he inquired of Benjamin.
"I am, sir."
"I am very sorry for you. You are throwing away your money; you can't succeed with two old printing houses here. You will fail."
"What makes you think so?"
"Because Philadelphia is degenerating, and half the people are now bankrupt, or nearly so, and how can they support so many printers?"
"But the appearance of Philadelphia indicates thrift," answered Benjamin. "See how many buildings are going up, and how rents are rising every month. This does not look like going backward, it seems to me."
"These are the very things that will ruin us," responded Nickle. "They are no evidence of prosperity, but of extravagance, that will bring disaster sooner or later."
"That sort of disaster is what we want," suggested Benjamin; "the more of it the better. If Philadelphia ever becomes much of a town, it will be in just that way." Benjamin saw at once that he was talking with a croaker and treated him accordingly.
There was an organization of business men in Philadelphia at that time, known as the "Merchants' Every-Night Club," answering, perhaps, to a "Board of Trade" of our day. Its purpose was to advance the business interests of the town. A member raised the question, "Can another printing house prosper in town?"
"Not with the present population," was the view of one member.
"It will be a long time before three printing houses will be required," remarked another.
"They could not have had very discreet advisers, it seems to me," still another remarked.
In this manner the subject was canvassed, every member but one predicting the failure of the enterprise. That one was Doctor Baird, a prominent physician, and he said:
"It will prove a success. For the industry of that Franklin is superior to any thing I ever saw of the kind. I see him still at work when I go home from club, and he is at work again before his neighbors are out of bed."
"Doctor, I guess you are right, I did not think of that when I spoke," remarked one who had predicted failure. This member was so much impressed by Doctor Baird's remark that he subsequently went to Benjamin and made this proposition:
"I think you can add a stationer's department to your business, and thus increase your profits; and if you think so, I will furnish you with stock on credit."
"Your offer is a very generous one, and I thank you for it," answered Benjamin; "but I think we had better stick to our trade at present and not put too many irons in the fire at once."
"That is a wise caution, I think, and I am all the more impressed that you are a young man of sound judgment, and you will succeed."
He had no doubt now that the printing house would succeed.
"Your good opinion encourages me very much, and I shall do my best to have it realized," replied Benjamin. "I thank you very much for your generous offer, and, perhaps, at some future day, I shall wish to accept it."
"Let me know whenever you are ready for it," said the gentleman as he took his departure.
"We will start a weekly paper as soon as we are able," said Benjamin to Meredith one day; "the Mercury is as near nothing as it can be. I believe that an able paper here, abreast with the times, will succeed."
"You can make it succeed if any one can," replied Meredith, to whom his partner had given a full account of his connection with the New England Courant in Boston.