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to be made a pressman. George Webb, an Oxford scholar, whose time for four years he had likewise bought, intending him for a compositor (of whom more presently); and David Harry, a country boy, whom he had taken apprentice.
I soon perceived that the intention of engaging me at wages, so much higher than he had been used to give, was to have these raw, cheap hands formed through me; and as soon as I had instructed them, then they being all articled to him, he should be able to do without me. I went however very cheerfully, put his printing-house in order, which had been in great confusion, and brought his hands by degrees to mind their business and to do it better.
It was an odd thing to find an Oxford scholar in the situation of a bought servant; he was not more than 18 years of age, and he gave me this account of himself: that he was born in Gloucester, educated at a grammar school, and had been distinguished among the scholars for some apparent superiority in performing his part, when they exhibited plays; belonged to the Wit's Club there, and had written some pieces in prose and verse which were printed in the Gloucester newspapers. Thence was sent to Oxford; there he continued about a year, but not well satisfied; wishing of all things to see London, and become a player. At length receiving his quarterly allowance of 15 guineas, instead of discharging his debts, he went out of town, hid his gown in a furze bush, and walked to London; where having no friend to advise him, he fell into bad company, soon spent his guineas, found no means of being introduced among the players, grew necessitous, pawned his clothes and wanted bread. Walking the street very hungry, and not knowing what to do with himself, a crimp's bill was put into his hand, offering immediate entertainment and encouragement to such as would bind themselves to serve in America. He went directly, signed the indentures, was put into the ship and came over; never writing a line to his friends to acquaint them what was become of him. He was lively, witty, good-natured, and a pleasant companion; but idle, thoughtless, and imprudent to the last degree.
John, the Irishman, soon ran away; with the rest I began to live very agreeably, for they all respected me the more, as they found Keimer incapable of instructing them, and that from me they learned something daily. My acquaintance with ingenious people in the town increased. We never worked on Saturday, that being Keimer's Sabbath, so that I had two days for reading. Keimer himself treated me with great civility and apparent regard, and nothing now made me uneasy but my debt to Vernon, which I was yet unable to pay, being hitherto but a poor economist. He however kindly made no demand of it.
Our printing-house often wanted sorts, and there was no letter-foundry in America; I had seen types cast at James's in London, but without much attention to the manner: however, I now contrived a mould, and made use of the letters we had as puncheons, struck the matrices in lead, and thus supplied in a pretty tolerable way all deficiencies. I also engraved several tilings on occasion; made the ink ; I was warehouseman, and in short, quite ajac-totum.
But however serviceable I might be, I found that my services became every day of less importance, as the other hands improved in their business; and when Keimer paid me a second quarter's wages, he let me know that he felt them too heavy, and thought I should make an abatement. He grew by degress less civil, put on more the airs of master, frequently found fault, was captious and seemed ready for an outbreaking. I went on nevertheless with a good deal of patience, thinking that his incumbered circumstances were partly the cause. At length a trifle snapped our connexion; for a great noise happening near the court-house, I put my head out of the window to see what was the matter. Keimer being in the street looked up and saw me, called out to me in a loud voice and angry tone to mind my business, adding some reproachful words, that nettled me the more for their publicity; all the neighbours who were looking out on the same occasion being witnesses how I was treated. He came up immediately into the printing-house, continued the quarrel, high words passed on both sides, he gave me the quarter's warning we had stipulated, expressing a wish that he had not been obliged to so long a warning. I told him his wish was unnecessary for I would leave him that instant; and so taking my hat walked out of doors, desiring Meredith, whom I saw below, to take care of some things I left, and bring them to my lodgings.
Meredith came accordingly in the evening, when we talked my affair over. He had conceived a great regard for me, and was very unwilling that I should leave the house while he remained in it. He dissuaded me from returning to my native country, which I began to think of; he reminded me that Keimer was in debt for all he possessed, that his creditors began to be uneasy ; that he kept his shop miserably, sold often without a profit for ready money, and often trusted without keeping accounts: that he must therefore fail, which would make a vacancy I might profit of. I objected my want of money. He then let me know that his father had a high opinion of me, and from some discourse that had passed between them, he was sure would advance money to set me up, if I would enter into partnership with him. My time, said he, will be out with Keimer in the spring; by that time we may have our press and types in from London; I am sensible I am no workman. If you like it, your skill in the business shall be set against the stock I furnish, and we will share the profits equally. The proposal was agreeable to me, and I consented: his father was in town and approved of it; the more as he said I had great influence with his son, had prevailed on him to abstain long from dram-drinking, and he hoped might break him of that wretched habit entirely when we came to be so closely connected. I gave an inventory to the father, who carried it to a merchant: the things were sent for, the secret was to be kept till they should arrive, and in the mean time I was to get work, if I could, at the other printing-house. But I found no vacancy there, and so remained idle a few days, when Keimer, on a prospect of being employed to print some paper-money in New Jersey, which would require cuts and various types, that I only could supply, and apprehending Bradford might engage me and get the job from him, sent me a very civil message, that old friends should not part for a few words the effect of sudden passion, and wishing me to return. Meredith persuaded me to comply, as it would give more opportunity for his improvement under my daily instructions; so I returned and we went on more smoothly than for some time before. The New Jersey job was obtained, I contrived a copper-plate press for it, the first that had been seen in the country; I cut several ornaments and checks for the bills. We went together to Burlington, where I executed the whole to satisfaction ; and he received so large a sum for the work as to be enabled thereby to keep himself longer from ruin.
At Burlington I made an acquaintance with many principal people of the province. Several of them had been appointed by the assembly a committee to attend the press, and take care that no more bills were printed than the law directed. They were therefore by turns constantly with us, and generally he who attended brought with him a friend or two for company. My mind having been much more improved by reading than Keimer's, I suppose it was for that reason my conversation seemed to be more valued. They had me to their houses, introduced me to their friends, and shewed me much civility; while he, though the master, was a little neglected. In truth, he was an odd creature; ignorant of common life, fond of rudely opposing received opinions; slovenly to extreme dirtiness; enthusiastic in some points of religion, and a little knavish withal. We continued there near three months; and by that time I could reckon among my acquired friends, Judge Allen, Samuel Bustill, the Secretary of the Province, Isaac Pearson, Joseph Cooper, and several of the Smiths, Members of Assembly, and Isaac Decow, the Surveyor General. The latter was a shrewd, sagacious old man, who told me that he began for himself when young by wheeling clay for the brickmakers, learned to write after he was of age, carried the chain for surveyors, who taught him surveying, and he had now by his industry acquired a good estate; and said he, I foresee that you will soon work this man out of his business, and make a fortune in it at Philadelphia. He had then not the least intimation of my intention to set up there or anywhere. These friends were afterwards of great use to me, as I occasionally was to some of them. They all continued their regard for me as long as they lived.
Before I enter upon my public appearance in business, it may be well to let you know the then state of my mind, with regard to my principles and morals, that you may see bow far those influenced the future events of my life. My parents had early given me religious impressions, and brought me through my childhood piously in the dissenting way. But I was scarce 15, when after doubting by turns several points, as I found them disputed in the different books I read, I began to doubt of the Revelation itself. Some books against deism fell into my hands, they were said to be the substance of the sermons which had been preached at Boyle's lectures. It happened that they wrought an effect on me quite contrary to what was intended by them. For the arguments of the Deists which were quoted to be refuted, appeared to me much stronger than the refutations; in short, I soon became a thorough Deist. My arguments perverted some others, particularly Collins and Ralph: but each of these having wronged me greatly without the least compunction; and recollecting Keith's conduct towards me, (who was another freethinker) and my own towards Vernon and Miss Read, which at times gave me great trouble; I began to suspect that this doctrine, though it might be true, was not very useful. My London pamphlet1 (printed in 1725,) which had for its motto, these lines of Dryden;
Whatever is, is right. Tho' purblind man
Sees but a part o' the chain, the nearest link;
1 Dr. Franklin in part of a letter to Mr. B. Vaughan, dated Nov. 9, 1779, gives a further account of this pamphlet, in these words.
"It was addressed to Mr. I. R., that is, James Ralph, then a youth of about my age, and my intimate friend; afterwards a political writer and historian. The purport of it was to prove the doctrine of fate, from the supposed attributes of God; in some such manner as this. That in erecting and governing the world, as he was infinitely wise, he knew what would be best; infinitely good, he must be disposed, and infinitely powerful, he must be able, to execute it. Consequently all is right.
"There were only an hundred copies printed, of which I gave a few to friends; and afterwards disliking the piece, as conceiving it might have an ill-tendency, I burnt the rest, except one copy, the margin of which was filled with manuscript notes by Lyons, author of the Infallibility of Human Judgment, who was at that time another of my acquaintance in London. I was not 19 years of age when it was written. In 1730, I wrote a piece on the other side of the question, which began with laying for its foundation this fact; 'That almost all men in all ages and countries, have at times made use of Prayer.' Thence I reasoned, that if all things are ordained, prayer must among the rest be ordained. But as prayer can procure no change in things that are ordained, praying must then be useless, and an absurdity. God would therefore not ordain praying if every thing else was ordained. But praying exists, therefore all other things are not ordained, &c. This pamphlet was never printed, and the manuscript has been long lost. The great uncertainty I found in metaphysical reasonings disgusted me, and I quitted that kind of reading and study for others more satisfactory."
and which from the attributes of God, his infinite wisdom, goodness and power, concluded that nothing could possibly be wrong in the world; and that vice and virtue were empty distinctions, no such things existing; appeared now not so clever a performance as I once thought it; and I doubted whether some error had not insinuated itself unperceived into my argument, so as to infect all that followed, as is common in metaphysical reasonings. I grew convinced that truth, sincerity, and integrity, in dealings between man and man, were of the utmost importance to the felicity of life ; and I formed written resolutions (which still remain in my journal book) to practise them ever while I lived. Revelation had indeed no weight with me as such; but I entertained an opinion, that though certain actions might not be bad, because they were forbidden by it, or good because it commanded them; yet probably those actions might be forbidden because they were bad for us, or commanded because they were beneficial to us, in their own natures, all the circumstances of things considered. And this persuasion, with the kind hand of Providence, or some guardian angel, or accidental favorable circumstances and situations, or all together; preserved me through this dangerous time of youth and the hazardous situations I was sometimes in among strangers, remote from the eye and advice of my father; free from any wilful gross immorality or injustice, that might have been expected from my want of religion. I say wilful, because the instances I have mentioned had something of necessity in them, from my youth, inexperience, and the knavery of others. I had therefore a tolerable character to begin the world with; I valued it properly, and determined to preserve it.
We had not been long returned to Philadelphia, before the new types arrived from London. We settled with Keimer, and left him by his consent before he heard of it. We found a house to hire near the market, and took it. To lessen the rent (which was then but twenty four pounds a year, though I have since known it