Samuel G. (Samuel Griswold) Goodrich.

Lives of benefactors; online

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apparelled in a complete new suit of clothes, had an
excellent silver watch, and about five pounds sterling
in his pocket. His father was exceedingly surprised
when informed of the object of his visit, and still more
at the contents of Governor Keith's epistle. After
long deliberation, he came to the resolution of refus-
ing compliance Avith the request, on account of his son
being too young to undertake the management of such
a speculation ; adding, that he thought the governor
a man of little discretion in proposing it. He prom-
ised, however, when his son should attain his twenty-
first year, that he would supply him with Avhat money



BENJABIIN FRANKLIN. 129

he required to set him up in business, praising
liim highly, at the same time, for his industry and
good conduct. Franklin, accordingly, was obliged to
return to Philadelphia with the news of his bad suc-
cess, but left Boston on this occasion accompanied by
the blessings of his parents. "When he arrived at
Philadelphia, he immediately waited upon the gover-
nor, and communicated the result of his journey. Sir
William observed that his father was " too prudent ;"
but added, " since he will not do it, I will do it myself."
It was ultimately arranged, therefore, that Franklin
should proceed personally to London to purchase
everything necessary for the proposed establishment,
for the expense of which the governor promised him
a letter of credit to the extent of £100, with recom-
mendations to various people of influence.

It had been arranged that Franklin was to go to
England in the regular packet-ship ; and as the time
of her sailing drew near, he became importunate for
the governor's letters of credit and recommendation,
but the latter always put him off under various pre-
tences. At last, when the vessel was on the point of
departing, he was sent on board, under the assurance
that Colonel French would bring the letters to him
immediately. That gentleman accordingly came on
board with a packet of despatches tied together, which
were put into the captain's bag, and Franklin was
informed that those intended for him were tied up
with the rest, and would ^e delivered to him before
landing in England. When they arrived in the
Thames, accordingly, the captain allowed him to
search the bag, but Franklin could find no letters
I



loO BENJAMIN FRANKLIN.

directed either to himself, or addressed as to his care;
but he selected six or seven, which, from the directions
on them, he conceived to be those intended for his ser-
vice. One of these was to the king's printer, and
Franklin accordingly Avaited upon that gentleman
with it ; but the latter had no sooner opened it, than
he exclaimed, " Oh, this is from Riddlesden ! — a well-
known rascally attorney at Philadelphia; I have
lately discovered him to be an arrant knave, and wish
to have nothing to do either with him or his letters."
So saying, he turned on his heel, and resumed his
occupation. In short, it turned out that none of the
letters were from the governor ; and he soon learned
from a gentleman, of the name of Denham, who had
been a fellow-passenger with him, and to whom he
explained his awkward situation, that the governor
was a complete cheat, deceiving people from vanity
and a love of self-consequence, with promises which
he neither intended nor was able to fulfil — and laughed
at the idea of a man giving a letter of credit for £100,
who had no credit for himself.

Franklin's situation was now even more desolate
than when set ashore, ragged, hungry, and almost
penniless, at Philadelphia, little more than a twelve-
month before. But the heart, at eighteen, is not
naturally inclined to despond, and never was one less
so than that of Franklin. He immediately applied
for and obtained employment in the office of the cele-
brated Mr. Palmer. Amongst other works on Avhich
he was set to work here, was a second edition of
Wollaston's Religion of Nature. Conceiving some
of the positions assumed in it to be weak or erroneous,



BENJAMIN FRANKLIN. 131

he composed and published a small metaphysical trea-
tise in refutation of them. This pamphlet acquired
him considerable credit with his master, as a man of
talent ; but that gentleman reprobated, Avith the utmost
abhorrence, the doctrines maintained in his publica-
tion, which, truth compels us to say, were completely
irreligious, so far as regarded the Christian faith, or
any other acknowledged system of belief. Free-
thinking, however, was then in fashion among the
higher and more learned classes, and his pamphlet
procured him the countenance of various eminent
individuals ; amongst the rest, of Dr. Mandeville,
author of the Fable of the Bees, and Dr. Pemberton,
Sir Isaac Newton's friend. He was likewise Avaited
upon by Sir Hans Sloane, who had been informed of
his bringing some curiosities with him from America ;
amongst others, a purse of asbestos — a natural sub-
stance which resists the action of fire, and then very
little knoAATi — for which he paid Franklin a high
price. From Mr. Palmer's office he removed to Mr.
Watts', in consideration of higher wages. Here
he gave a striking proof of that resolute adherence
to temperance, industry, and frugality, which were
among the leading features of his character. Whilst
Mr. Watts' other workmen spent generally five or six
shillings a week on beer, Avhich was brought into the
office to them during the day, he drank nothing but
water ; and they were surprised to see that he was
much stronger than any of them, while he himself
had the additional comfort and satisfaction of being
always clear-headed. At first, they ridiculed his
abstinence, and conferred on him the soubriquet of the



132 BEXJAT.IIN FRANKLIN.

American Aquatic; but as his character rose amongst
them, his example, he says, "prevailed with several
of them to renounce their abominable breakfast of
bread and cheese, with beer ; and they procured, like
me, from a neighboring house, a good basin of warm
gruel, in which was a small slice of butter ; with
toasted bread and nutmeg. This was a much better
breakfast, which did not cost more than a pint of beer,
namely, three halfpence, and at the same time pre-
served the head clearer." His assiduous application
to business, at the same time, together with remarka-
ble quickness in composi?ig, (setting up the types,)
recommended him to his employer, and procured him
all the most urgent and best-paid work ; so that, with
his frugal mode of living, he quickly laid up money.
After having been about eighteen months in Lon-
don, much to his advantage in every respect, he was
about to set out on a tour through Europe, with a
young, intelligent fellow-workman — designing to
maintain themselves during their pilgrimage by means
of their calling — when he accidentally met with Mr.
Denham, before noticed as being his fellow-passenger
from America. That gentleman was on the eve of
returning to Philadelphia, to open a merchant's store,
and offered Franklin the situation of his clerk, with
a salary of £50 per annum. This sum was less than
he was making as a compositor; but an anxious
desire to revisit his native country induced him to
accept it. They set sail accordingly — Franklin now
supposing he had relinquished the composing-stick
forever — and arrived at Philadelphia on the 11th of
October, 1726. Franklin had just entered his twenty-



BENJAMIN FRANKLIN.



133



first year at this time ; and he mentions having drawn
up for himself in writing, during the voyage, a plan
for the regulation of his future conduct. This inter-
esting document was afterwards unfortunately lost;
but he tells us himself that he pretty faithfully adhered
to the rules thus early laid down, even into old age.
Upon his arrival, he found his old acquaintance, the
governor, had been supplanted in his office, and was
held in general contempt. They met several times,
but no allusion was ever made by Franklin to the
disgraceful imposture the other had practised on him.
Franklin's new employer had only been in business
for a few months, when both were seized at the same
time with a violent disorder, Avhich carried ofT the
master in a few days, and brought the clerk to the
brink of the grave. On his recovery, being thus once
more left destitute, he was fain to accept employment
as a printer from his old master, Keimer, who Avas now
somewhat better off in the world, but still utterly
ignorant of his profession. The whole charge of the
office, with that of instructing four or five ignorant
apprentices, devolved on Franklin.

Keimer, having engaged him solely Avith the view
of having his apprentices so far initiated in the art as
that he could dispense with their instructor's services,
took the first occasion to quarrel with him when he
thought he had sufficiently attained his object. Upon
their separation, one of Keimer's apprentices, named
Meredith, who, like all the others, had conceived a great
veneration for Franklin, proposed that they should
enter into partnership together— JMeredith's friends
undertaking to furnish the capital necessary for pur-
VI.— 12



134 BENJAMIN FRANKLIN.

chasing llie materials, &c. This offer was too advan-
tageous to be refused ; and types, press, &c., were
forthwith ordered from London ; but while preparing
to put their plan into execution, Franklin was in-
duced, during the interval, to return again to Keimer,
at the urgent solicitation of the latter. The motive for
this humble entreaty was that individual's having
taken a contract for the printing of some paper m.oney
for the state of New Jersey, requiring a variety of new
cuts and types, which he knew well nobody in that
place but Franklin could supply. This presents • us
with a very striking instance of Franklin's remarkable
gift of invention.

" To execute the order," says he, " I constructed a
copper-plate printing-press — the first that had been
seen in the country. I engraved various ornaments
and vignettes for the bills, and we repaired to Bur-
lington together, where I executed the whole to the
general satisfaction, and Keimer received a sum of
money for this work, which enabled him to keep his
head above water for a considerable time longer."

At Burlington, Franklin formed acquaintance with
all the principal personages of the province, who were
attracted by his superior abilities and intelligence.
Scarcely had he returned to Philadelphia, when the
types ordered for himself and Meredith, from London,
arrived; and having settled rhatters with Keimer, the
partners immediately took a house, and commenced
business. They were in the act of opening their
packages, when a countryman came in to have a job
done; and as all their cash had been expended in
their various purchases, " this countryman's five shil-



BENJAMIN FRANKLIN. 135

lings," says Franklin, "being our first fruits, and
coming so seasonably, gave me more pleasure than
any crown I have since earned." A number of young
men having, during the preceding year, formed them-
selves, at Franklin's suggestion, into a weekly club
for the purpose of mutual improvement, they were so
well pleased with the beneficial results they experi-
enced from their meetings, that, when the originator
of their society set up in business, every one exerted
himself to procure him employment. One of them
obtained from the Quakers the printing of forty sheets
of a history of that sect, then preparing at the expense
of the body. "Upon these," says Franklin, "we
worked exceeding hard, for the price was very low.
It was in folio, upon pro jyatria paper, and in the pica
letter, with heavy notes in the smallest type. I com-
posed a sheet a day, and Meredith put it to press. It
was frequently eleven o'clock at night, sometimes later,
before I had finished my distribution for the next day's
task, — for the other little jobs that came in kept us back
in this work ; but I was so determined to compose a
sheet a day, that, one evening, when my form was
imposed, and my day's work, as I thought, at an end,
an accident broke the form, and deranged two com-
plete folio pages. I immediately distributed and
composed them anew before I went to bed." This
unwearied industry, Avhich soon became known,
acquired Franklin great reputation and credit amongst
his townsmen, and business began rapidly to flow in
upon them.

The establishment and management of a newspaper
seems to have always been a favorite project with



136 BENJAMIN FRANKLIN,

Franklin ; probably because, from, his former experi-
ence in it, and the consciousness of his powers of
writing, he felt himself so well adapted for the task.
The partners soon found themselves in circumstances
to enable them to make the trial ; but Franklin having
incautiously divulged their intention to a third person,
that individual informed their old master, Keimer, of
the fact, who immediately took steps to anticipate
them, and issued a prospectus of a paper of his own.
The manner in which Franklin met and defeated this
treachery is exceedingly characteristic. There was
another paper published in Philadelphia by Mr. Brad-
ford, which had been in existence for some years, but
was such a miserable affair that it only preserved its
vitality because no other arose to knock it on the head.
In order to keep down Keimer's publication, however,
Franklin saw the policy of supporting the old one,
until prepared to start his own. He thereupon set
about writing a series of amusing articles for it, which
the pviblisher, Bradford, was of course very glad to
insert. " By this means," says Franklin, "the atten-
tion of the public was kept fixed on that paper, and
Keimer's proposals, which we burlesqued and ridicu-
led, were disregarded. He began his paper, however,
and after continuing it for nine months, having at
most not more than ninety subscribers, he offered it to
me for a mere trifle. I had for some time been pre-
pared for it. I therefore instantly took it upon myself,
and in a few years it proved very profitable to me."
In fact, it obtained notoriety and applause from the
very first number, in consequence of some observations
therein by Franklin, on an important colonial question ;



liENJAMlN FKANKLIN. 137

and various members of the assembly exerted them-
selves so well in his behalf, that the printing of the
house was speedily transferred from Bradford to his
two young rivals. In the management of his news-
paper, Franklin pursued a system of unflinching integ-
rity. He steadfastly refused to give admission into
his columns of any article containing personal abuse.
Whenever he was requested to publish anything of
this sort, his answer was, that he would print the
piece by itself, and give the author as many copies for
his own distribution as he wished. He very wisely
considered that his subscribers expected him to furnish
them with useful and entertaining information, and
not with personal slander or private discussions with
which they had no concern.

Luckily for Franklin, almost at the commencement
of the newspaper, an opportunity occurred of getting
rid of his partner, Meredith, who had become an idle,
drunken fellow, and had all along been of compara-
tively little use in the concern. Meredith's father
failed to complete the bargain for advancing the neces-
sary capital to pay the demands of the paper merchant,
and other expenses necessarily attending their specu-
lation, when they became due. A suit was accordingly
instituted against the partners, and, as Meredith's
father declared his inability to pay the amount of the
claims upon them, the son ofTered to relinquish the
whole concern into Franklin's hands, on condition
that the latter would take upon him the debts of the
company, repay his father what he had already
advanced, settle his own little personal debts, and
give him thirty pounds — and a neio saddle .' By the
12*



138 BENJAMIN FRANKLIN.

kindness of two friends, who, unknown to each other,
came forward, simuhaneously and unasked, to his
assistance, Franklin was enabled to accept the ofTer.
The agreement was carried into effect; and thus do
we find this extraordinary man, at the age of twenty-
four, and in the place where he had arrived penniless
only seven years before, settled down in business, with
a thriving trade; proprietor of an extensively circu-
lated newspaper, and a firmly established reputation
of no ordinary kind. All this success, however, the
result of his own good conduct, perseverance, and
frugality, had no undue effect on his well-regulated
mind, nor could it induce him to assume those airs
of arrogant superiority and pretension, which have
but too frequently blemished the character of those
who have worthily achieved their own elevation in
society. On the contrary, he dressed more plainly,
and deported himself more humbly, than ever ; and to
show that he was not above his business, he sometimes
wheeled home on a barrow, with his own hands, the
paper which he purchased at the stores.

Although we are, in a manner, only arrived at the
commencement of that long career of usefulness as a
citizen, a statesman, and a philosopher, which has
rendered his name so illustrious, we have undoubtedly
passed through the most interesting part of his biog-
raphy. We have noted by what means — by what
patient exertion, self-control, industry, frugality, tem-
perance, and integrity, he overcame all obstacles, and
attained the station at which we have seen him arrive
— fitted himself for the discharge of those important
duties to which the voice of his country called him —



BENJAMIN FRANKLIN. 139

and acquired those fixed habits of study, observation,
and inquisitive research, by which he afterwards pene-
trated so deep into the arcanuin'of nature's mysteries.
It will be needless for us, therefore, to trace his private
history so minutely as we have hitherto done, through
the remainder of his eminently successful career.

Soon after getting the whole printing and news-
paper concern into his hands, there was an outcry
among the people for a new emission of paper money.
Franklin took up the cause, and by his arguments, in
a pamphlet which he published on the subject, contrib-
uted so greatly to the success of the proposal, and,
obtained himself so much popularity, that, upon its
being resolved to issue the notes, Franklin was selected
to print them. He then opened a stationer's shop, and,
from his success in business, began gradually to pay
ofT his debts. He took care, he says, not only to be
really industrious and frugal, but also to avoid every
appearance to the contrary — was plainly dressed, and
was never seen in any place of public amusement ;
never went a fishing or hunting. A book, indeed,
enticed him sometimes from his work, but even that
indulgence was seldom, and by stealth. Meanwhile,
his old master, Keimer, went fast to ruin, and, with the
exception of old Mr. Bradford, who was rich and did
not care for business, he was the only printer in the
place. He shortly afterwards married Miss Read, the
lady named in a former part of this memoir, Frank-
lin s behavior to this young lady had not been
altogether blameless. Previous to his sailing for
England, he had exchanged pledges of affection with
her ; yet, all the while he was away, he only sent her



140 BENJAMIN FKANKLIN.

one letter. She as Avell as her friends concluded that,
he either never meant to return, or that he wished to
drop his connection 'with her; she was therefore
induced to accept the hand of another suitor ; and, on
his return to America, Franklin found her married —
an event that seems to have given him extremely lit-
tle uneasiness. The lady's husband proved a great
rogue, and deserted her, and it was subsequently
ascertained that he had still a former wife living.
After being established in business, and rising in the
world, the intimacy between Franklin and her family
was renewed, and it was not long, despite her dubious
situation, that they hazarded a fulfilment of their early
vows. The lady was about Franklin's own age, and
proved, according to his own testimony, " an honor
and a blessing" to him.

In 1731, Franklin drew up proposals for a public
subscription library at Philadelphia, being the first
project of the sort that had been started in America.
Fifty persons at first subscribed forty shillings each,
and agreed to pay ten shillings annually ; and the
establishment was put under such judicious rules of
management, that in the course of ten years it became
so valuable and important as to induce the proprietors
to get themselves incorporated by royal charter. This
library afforded its founder facilities of improvement
of which he did not fail to avail himself, setting apart,
as he tells us, an hour or two every day for study,
which was the only amusement he allowed himself.

In 1732, Franklin began to publish his Poor Eich-
ard's Almanac, so called from his giving it forth
under the name of Richard Saunders. It was chiefly



BENJAMIN FRANKLIN. 141

remarkable for the numerous and pithy maxims it
contained, all tending to inculcate industry and fru-
gality. It was continued annually for twenty-five
years, and the proverbs and trite moral observations
scattered throughout were afterwards thrown to-
gether into a connected discourse, under the title of
the "Way to Wealth." So highly esteemed was this
production amongst his countrymen, that copies of it
were long to be found, framed and glazed, in the
houses of the p'fcople in Philadelphia, and indeed in
every part of the country.

As Franklin advanced in worldly prosperity, he
endeavored to make his personal acquirements keep
pace with his upward progress in society ; and,
amongst other accomplishments, he applied himself
sedulously to the study of the dead and modern lan-
guages, of which, besides his native tongue, he as yet
scarcely knew anything. The following is his own
account of his progress : —

" I had begun, in 1733, to study languages. I soon
made myself so much a master of the French, as to
be able to read the books in that language -with ease.
I then undertook the Italian. An acquaintance, who
was also learning it, used often to tempt me to play
chess with him. Finding this took up too much of
the time I had to spare for study, I at length refused
to play any more, unless on this condition ; that the
victor in every game should have a right to impose a
task, cither of parts of the grammar to be got by
heart, or in translations, &c., which tasks the van-
quished was to perform upon honor before our next
meeting. As we played pretty equally, we thus beat



142 BENJAMIN FRANKLIN.

one another into that language. I afterwards, with
a little pains-taking, acquired as much of the Spanish
as to read their books also. I have already men-
tioned that I had only one year's instruction in a
Latin school, and that when very young, after which
I neglected that language entirely ; but when I had
attained an acquaintance with the French, Italian,
and Spanish, I was surprised to find, on looking over
a Latin Testament, that I understood more of that
language than I had imagined, which' encouraged me
to apply myself again to the study of it ; and I met
with the more success, as those preceding languages
had greatly smoothed my way."

It was not to be supposed that a man of Franklin's
comprehensive mind and useful practical talents,
would be allowed to remain long in the ranks of pri-
vate life. Accordingly, in the year 1736, he was
appointed clerk to the General Assembly of Pennsyl-
vania. No opposition was made to his appointment
the first year ; but, on the next election, a new mem-
ber of the house opposed his return in a long speech.
Franklin was, however, again elected, much to his
satisfaction ; for, although the place was one of very
little direct emolument, it gave him an opportunity of
making friends amongst the members, and ultimately
to secure to himself the printing of most of the public
papers, which was previously shared with his rivals.
The new member who had resisted his reelection, was
a man of talents and character ; and Franklin, although
too independent to pay any cringing servility to him,
perceived the propriety of gaining his good opinion ;
and the expedient he hit upon for this purpose affords



BEXJAMIN FRANKLIN. 143

another instance of his shrewdness and knowledge of
human nature. Having learned that the gentleman
possessed a very rare and curious book, he wrote him
a polite note, requesting that he would do him the


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Online LibrarySamuel G. (Samuel Griswold) GoodrichLives of benefactors; → online text (page 9 of 21)