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From Boyhood to Manhood
The Walking Comedy
by Thayer, William M.


Benjamin was very hungry, and he was considering how he could appease his hunger, when he met a boy who was eating a piece of bread.

"That is what I want," he said to the boy; "where did you get that?"

"Over there, at the bake-shop," the boy replied, pointing to it.

"Thank you," and Benjamin hurried on.

He had eaten nothing since he dined with the shop-woman in Burlington, on the day before. Besides, bread was a staple article with him. He had made many a meal of plain bread in his brother's printing office in Boston. Although he knew well which side his bread was buttered, his appetite for unbuttered bread never failed him. Entering the bake-shop, he inquired:

"Have you biscuit?" He was thinking of what he had in Boston.

"We make nothing of the kind."

"Give me a three-penny loaf, then."

"We have none."

Benjamin began to think he should have to go hungry still, for, evidently, he did not know the names used to designate the different sorts of bread in Philadelphia. But, soon recovering himself, he said:

"Then give me three-penny worth of any kind." To his surprise, the baker passed three great puffy rolls to him, enough for three men to eat at one meal. At first, he was puzzled to know what to do with them, whether to take all three or not.

"What! All that?" he said, scarcely knowing what he did say.

"Yes, there's three-penny worth; that is what you said, was it not?"

"It was," and Benjamin paid the money and took the loaves, trying to conceal his surprise, without exposing his ignorance of methods in the Quaker City. He was a boy of remarkable tact, as we have seen, so that he was never put to his wits long without finding a way out. It was so in this case. He put a roll under each arm, and taking the third one in his hand, he proceeded up the street, eating as he went.

Recollect that it was Sunday morning, and people were already swarming in the streets, arrayed in their best clothes. Benjamin was clad in his poorest clothes, and they were very shabby. His best suit was in his chest, and that was sent from New York by water. He was a sight to behold as he trudged up Market Street with his three loaves of bread, and his large pockets stuffed with shirts and stockings. He preferred pockets to the usual "bandanna bundle"; they were more convenient for storing away his wardrobe, but contributed largely to his comical appearance. He was a walking comedy. People gazed at him inquiringly and smiled. No doubt, many of them wondered where he came from and where he was going. He was seedy enough, but no one saw the seed of a philosopher or statesman about him. There was no promise in that direction. He was an embryo "Minister Plenipotentiary to the Court of France"; but his appearance was that of a shack, or modern tramp, to whom Sunday is like all other days, and whose self-respect is at a large discount.

On he went, however, regardless of opinions concerning the figure he cut, stowing away in his stomach the baker's loaf in his hand. He passed by the residence of one Mr. Read, whose daughter, in her teens, Miss Deborah Read, was standing at the door. She gazed in wonder at the singular specimen of humanity passing before her; thought he was the most awkward and comical creature in the form of a man she had ever seen; and turned away with a laugh to tell her people in the house of the queer spectacle. She little thought that she was taking a bird's eye view of her future husband, as the young man with the rolls under his arms turned out to be. But just then he cared more for bread than he did for her; some years thereafter, the case was reversed, and he cared more for her than he did for bread.

He turned down Chestnut Street, and walked on until he came round to the wharf where he landed. Being thirsty, he went to the boat for water, where he found the woman and child, who came down the river with them on the previous night, waiting to go further.

"Are you hungry?" he said to the little one, who looked wistfully at the bread.

"We are both very hungry," replied the mother quickly for herself and child.

"Well, I have satisfied my hunger with one loaf, and you may have the other two if you want them"; and Benjamin passed the two rolls under his arms to her. "It appears that, in Philadelphia, three-penny worth of bread is three times as much as a man can eat. If other things can be had in the same proportion, the last dollar I have left will go a great way."

"I thank you a thousand times; you are very kind indeed," responded the woman, with a heart overflowing with gratitude, which was as good pay for the bread as Benjamin wanted. "May you never want for bread."

"No one would want for bread if they who have it will divide with those who have none, as they should."

In the last reply was incorporated a leading virtue of Benjamin's character--a trait that manifested itself, as we shall see, all through his life. His generosity was equal to his wisdom. An American statesman said of him, in a eulogy delivered in Boston:

"No form of personal suffering or social evil escaped his attention, or appealed in vain for such relief or remedy as his prudence could suggest, or his purse supply. From that day of his early youth, when, a wanderer from his home and friends in a strange place, he was seen sharing the rolls with a poor woman and child, to the last act of his public life, when he signed that well-known memorial to Congress, a spirit of earnest and practical benevolence runs like a golden thread along his whole career."

"I must be after finding a boarding place," said Benjamin to the owner of the boat, as he was about leaving. "I do not know where to go any more than the man in the moon. Are you acquainted here?"

"Scarcely at all; could not be of any service to you any way on that line," the owner answered. "Goin' to stop some time in Philadelphy?"

"I am going to live here if I can find work, as I expect to, and become a citizen of this town."

"Wall, you'll make a good one, I know. May you never have reason to repent of your choice. Goodbye."

"Good-bye"; and Benjamin walked up the street again. The people were on their way to meeting, so that he was reminded of divine worship, which he had partially forsaken in Boston. Being very tired, in consequence of a hard time on the boat and a wakeful night, he concluded to follow the people to church. They entered a large old-fashioned meeting-house, and he followed them and took a seat near the door. His appearance attracted much attention, as his dress was not exactly that of a Quaker, and otherwise he was not quite of the Quaker type; and it was a Quaker church in which he was. But he wasted no thoughts upon his apparel, and did not stop to think or care whether he was arrayed in shoddy or fine linen.

Whether he did not know that he was in a Quaker congregation, or knowing that fact, was ignorant of the Quaker worship, does not appear; but he waited for something to be said. While waiting for this, he dropped into a sound sleep, and slept through the entire service, and would have slept on, and been fastened into the meeting-house, had not the sexton discovered him.

"Hulloo, stranger! Meeting's over; going to shut up the house," shouted the sexton, shaking the sleeper thoroughly.

"I was very tired," responded Benjamin, trying to get his eyes open. "I was on the boat last night and got no sleep."

"Where did you come from?"

"Boston; I came here for work."

"Well, Philadelphy is a great place for work; what sort of work do you want?"

"I am a printer by trade, and hope to find work in a printing office."

"And I hope you will. Sorry to disturb your nap, but I have to lock up the house."

Benjamin thanked the sexton for waking him instead of locking him in, and went out into the street. He had not proceeded far before he met a Quaker whose face indicated a man of amiable and generous heart, and Benjamin ventured to speak to him.

"I am a stranger in this town; arrived here this morning; can you tell me where I can get a night's lodging?"

"Certainly I can; I suppose thee wants a respectable place." The gentleman spoke so kindly as to draw Benjamin to him at once.

"Yes, sir; but not an expensive one; my purse will not permit of any extra expense."

"Thee going to remain here some time?"

"Permanently, if I can get work; I am a printer by trade."

"I wish thee success," added the Quaker. "But here we are close by the 'Three Mariners'; but it is not exactly a reputable house, and thee wants a better one."

"Yes; I want one that has a good reputation if there is such a one," said Benjamin.

"Well, if thee will follow me, I will show thee a better one; it is not far away."

Benjamin followed him into Water Street, where he pointed out a public house.

"There's the 'Crooked Billet,'" said the Quaker, "a tavern that is reputable, where thee can find board and lodgings for a day or a year."

"Thank you, sir, for your kindness," said Benjamin; "I shall not forget you. May every body be as friendly to you as you have been to me."

At the same time, Benjamin thought it was a very queer name for a public house. He did not like either part of it, and he said to himself, "'Crooked Billet'!--crookedness and a cudgel to strike down the turbulent with, are suggested." The name did not suggest any thing pleasant to him. But he went in, and engaged lodging and board until Monday.

"Where are you from?" asked the landlord, scanning him from head to foot.

"I am from Boston."

"Boston, hey? How long have you been on the way?"

"Two weeks."

"Got friends in Philadelphia?"

"Not one; all strangers to me."

"What did you come here for?"

"I came to secure work in a printing office. I am a printer by trade."

"How old are you?"

"Seventeen."

"And came all the way from Boston alone?"

"Yes, sir."

Benjamin saw by this time that the landlord suspected him of being a runaway apprentice. This class of characters was large at that day, for apprentices were often subjected to cruelty that made them runaways. So he closed the conversation as soon as possible and went to his room, where he slept until six o'clock, when he was called to supper. Not long after supper he went to bed and slept soundly until morning.

He arose early, took special pains to make himself as presentable as possible, paid his bill without waiting for breakfast, perhaps because he was reducing his cash so nearly to the last cent, and sallied forth in search of Mr. Bradford. He experienced no trouble in finding the printing office; but was very much surprised to find Mr. Bradford of New York there, father of the young printer Bradford of Philadelphia, to whom the father sent him.

"Glad to see you, my young friend. I got here first, after all, as you see," remarked Mr. Bradford, the father, as he welcomed Benjamin with a hearty shake of the hand. "Had any ill-luck on your way?"

"Not exactly bad luck, for I considered myself quite lucky to get here at all; but a slow, tedious trip, with delays and storms and disappointments most of the time," was Benjamin's answer, and he entered somewhat into details.

"Well, you are here, and I am glad to meet you; and, now, you want work." Then, turning to his son, Mr. Bradford continued: "My son, let me introduce this young man to you. He is a printer by trade, from Boston, in search of work: Benjamin Franklin. He called upon me in New York, and I advised him to come to you, knowing that your leading printer had died."

The young printer and the runaway were soon acquainted,--young Bradford being as genial and friendly as the senior.

"I regret that I have no work for you now. I have filled the place made vacant by the death of Bolder."

"There is another printer here, is there not?" asked the senior Bradford.

"Yes, Keimer; it is possible he may want a man. But it is breakfast time now; let us all go to breakfast, and then we'll see what can be done."

Benjamin was invited to breakfast with them, and there learned that Mr. Bradford of New York came all the way on horseback, starting very unexpectedly the next day after Benjamin left New York. He was somewhat surprised, also, to learn that Philadelphia had only seven thousand inhabitants at that time--five thousand less than Boston.

"I will go with you to see Mr. Keimer," said the senior Bradford, after breakfast. "Perhaps I may be of service to you."

"I shall feel myself under great obligations to you if you will," answered Benjamin. "It is quite necessary that I should get work, as my money is nearly gone."

"We can fix that, I think," said young Bradford. "I may be able to give you a little something to do, if Keimer don't want you, so that you won't starve. You can lodge at my house."

"Thanks," replied Benjamin. "I appreciate your kindness, and hope to be able to make some return for it in the future. I am sorry not to appear before you in more respectable apparel, but my chest of clothes comes by water from New York, and I have not received it yet."

"Clothes don't make the man," responded the elder Bradford, who had discovered a remarkably bright and intelligent youth in Benjamin. "Brains take the precedence of clothes in New York and Philadelphia."

Benjamin found himself among good friends, so he cheerfully accepted their counsel. The senior Bradford accompanied him to Keimer's.

"Neighbor," said Bradford, "I have brought to you a young man from Boston, a printer by trade; he is after work. Perhaps you can employ him."

"That depends on his qualifications," answered Mr. Keimer. "I want some one who is acquainted with the business."

"You will find him all right, I think; he appears to know what he is about."

"How long have you worked at the business?" inquired Keimer, turning to Benjamin.

"Over three years."

"Do you understand all parts of it so that you can go on with it?"

"Yes, I think I do; you can ascertain by trying me."

"Take this composing-stick and try your hand; let me see what you can do."

Benjamin proceeded to give an exhibition of his skill at type-setting, which he did so rapidly and easily that Keimer was delighted.

"Very well done, indeed. I think you told the truth; you must have had considerable experience. I will employ you as soon as I have sufficient work. At present, I have nothing for you to do."

"It is not often, Mr. Keimer, that you have the opportunity to employ a skilled hand like this young man," suggested Bradford. "If you could give him enough to do to pay his board, until you are full of work, it may be for your interest and his, too."

"That is true. I am at work now upon this Elegy on Aquila Rose, who was clerk of the Pennsylvania Legislature; and I may want him to print it. I shall have it ready in three or four days. I am expecting other work soon, also."

"You can return to my son's house to eat and sleep," said Mr. Bradford to Benjamin. "I think Mr. Keimer will want you before long. He expects to have business."

"What do you think of my prospects here, sir?" inquired Keimer of Mr. Bradford, supposing him to be a citizen of Philadelphia. "I have hardly got under way yet; it is only a few weeks since I began."

"That will depend upon your own exertions and business talents. Philadelphia is a growing town, where industry and perseverance will do wonders."

"I shall do all in my power to draw the business of the town; and I think I can do it by industry and giving first-class work."

"How can you expect to get all the business when there is another printer here, who has been established some time?"

Keimer answered the last inquiry by disclosing his plans, as Bradford artfully drew him out on every point, until he learned how he was calculating to command all the business, and run his son out of it. Nor did Keimer dream that he was conversing with the father of the other printer, whom he designed to deprive of his livelihood. All the while Benjamin stood and listened to their conversation, perceiving that Bradford was shrewdly learning Keimer's plans for the benefit of his son.

"You did not know that man, did you?" inquired Benjamin, after Bradford left.

"No; but I concluded he was some business man of the town, who would be interested to see a printing office successful, and so took pains to introduce you to me."

"Then you will be surprised to learn who he is, when I tell you. That was the father of Andrew Bradford, your neighbor, the printer. He carries on printing in New York."

"Can that be?" exclaimed Keimer, astonished over the bit of news, and startled at the thought of having made known his plans to a competitor.

"Yes, it is even so. That was Mr. Bradford, the New York printer, father of Andrew Bradford, the printer of your town; and not his apparition."

"How in the world did he happen to come here with you?"

"I can tell you in a few words," replied Benjamin. "I called on him for work in New York, and he directed me to his son here, who had just lost a good hand by death. Very unexpectedly, on the next day, he started for Philadelphia on horseback, and, when I called upon his son, this morning, I found him there. His son had just hired a man; and so he directed me to you, and his father offered to come and introduce me."

"Well, all that is natural enough, but it is pretty hard on me," answered Keimer. "If I had known that was Bradford's father, I should have kept my mouth shut, of course."

"You opened it pretty wide to him, and he took advantage of it, as most men will do. But I guess no harm is done. He and his son both appear to be friendly to you; they would not have proposed that I should come here for work, if they had not been."

"That looks so, I must confess," said Keimer; "but I have learned one good lesson from it: never to divulge secrets to a stranger. When I do that again I shall not be in my right mind. But I wanted to ask you about your Boston experience in a printing office; what office was you in?"

"My brother's, James Franklin. He published a paper, the New England Courant. He did a large business."

"Yes, our paper here gave some account of it. The editor had some trouble with the Government, did he not?"

"Yes, and a serious trouble it was. He believed in the freedom of the press, and the officials did not; so there was a collision. He determined to fight the censorship of the press, and he was imprisoned for it. Then I edited and published the paper in my own name."

"You run it!" exclaimed Keimer in a tone of wonder and unbelief.

"Yes, I run it,--without letting up one jot in attacking the intolerant Government. It was a hot contest, but the common people, true Americans, rallied to our support, and left the aristocratic officials to toady to the English Government."

"A new order of things when a boy edits and publishes a paper in a straight fight with Great Britain," was all that Keimer said, in reply, evidently not believing a word of Benjamin's story about the Courant. However, the more he talked with the new comer, the more he was impressed with his intelligence and manly character. He found that his clothes were the poorest part of him, that underneath his shabby garments there dwelt a soul of large possessions and aspirations.

Benjamin learned at Keimer's office what a blessing it was to him to have practised doing things well. Thoroughness in learning the printer's art, as well as in studying the use of language and composition, characterized him in Boston, as we have seen. Now he was reaping the benefits of it. He handled the composing-stick so dexterously, and answered every question so intelligently and promptly, that Keimer saw at once he was really an expert. Many boys are satisfied if they can only "pass muster." Their ambition rises no higher than that. But not so with Benjamin. He sought to understand the business to which he attended, and to do as well as possible the work he undertook. The consequence was that he was a thorough workman, and, in five minutes, he was able to satisfy Keimer of the fact. This was greatly in his favor; and such a young man is never long out of business. Doctor Johnson said, "What is worth doing at all, is worth doing well."

Samuel Budgett said, "In whatever calling a man is found, he ought to strive to be the best in that calling; if only a shoe-black, he should try to be the best shoe-black in the neighborhood." Budgett conducted his immense business, in which he employed six hundred men, on this principle. When a boy was introduced into his warehouse he was set to straightening old nails. If he straightened nails well, he was promoted to bag-mending; if he did not do it well, he was dismissed. The thorough nail-straightener and bag-mender moved upwards into larger and higher fields of work; and so the great English merchant could boast of having the most efficient and faithful class of employes in the British realm. Training them to do their best did it.

James Parton said to David Maydole, inventor of the modern hammer and manufacturer of the best hammers in the world, "By this time you ought to be able to make a pretty good hammer." Maydole replied, "No, I can't. I can't make a pretty good hammer, I make the best that's made." Once a party applied for several hammers, to whom Maydole was indebted for some favor, and the party said to him, "You ought to make my hammer a little better than the others." Maydole responded, "I can't make any better ones. When I make a thing, I make it as well as I can, no matter whom it is for." Doing his best every time led him on to fortune. He never pushed his business. He never advertised. Making the best hammer in the market created all the business he wanted.

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