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From Boyhood to Manhood|
XXI. Getting On.
by Thayer, William M.
|"Your press is rather dilapidated, I see," remarked Benjamin to Mr.
Keimer, after he had looked it over. "Second-hand, I conclude?"
"Yes, I had to buy what I could get cheap, as I had little money to
begin with. I guess it can be fixed up to answer my purpose."
"That is so; it can be improved very much with little expense,"
"Do you understand a printing press well enough to repair it?"
"I can repair that one well enough; I see what is wanted. You can't do
good work with it as it is," Benjamin answered.
"Then I can employ you at once, and you may go right about putting it
in order if you please."
"I will do it," Benjamin replied in his emphatic way. "It is not a
long job, by any means."
"Perhaps you will have it done by the time I get the Elegy set up, and
then you may print it." Keimer's interest was deepening since he found
that the Boston printer-boy could repair a printing press. He was
getting more than he bargained for.
Benjamin went to work upon the old press, saying "I may as well go
about it at once, and work till dinner time. Mr. Bradford will expect
me back then; but I will keep at it until it is done."
"Well, I hope you will not expose any secrets as I did," remarked Mr.
Keimer, humorously. "Old Bradford will be on the lookout for capital,
no doubt. See that he don't make as much out of you as he did out of
Benjamin met the Bradfords, senior and junior, at the dinner table,
where they gave him a cordial welcome.
"How does Philadelphia compare with Boston?" inquired the senior
Bradford of him.
"It is smaller, and I can't tell yet whether it is duller or not. When
I have been here a week I can tell more about it."
"And what are your prospects at Keimer's?" inquired the junior
"Well, I have begun to repair his old press. It is a dilapidated
affair, and I told him that I could improve it very much."
"Do you understand that part of the business?"
"I understand it sufficiently to make what repairs that machine
requires just now."
"Then you can probably do some repairs for me," said the junior
Bradford "My press needs some tutoring."
"I shall be happy to be its tutor," replied Benjamin, with a smile. "I
shall finish Keimer's to-morrow, and then I will take yours in hand. I
shall be glad to do something to repay you for your kindness."
"You must have had good school advantages in Boston," remarked the
elder Bradford to him. "Your conversation indicates that you are
well-read and well-informed."
"But I am not indebted to the schools for it; I never went to school
but two years in my life. But I have studied and read as much as any
body of my age, in leisure hours and nights; and I have written more
for the press, probably, than any one of my age in Boston."
This last remark caused the Bradfords to look at each other with
wonder for a moment. But the senior broke the silence by saying:
"You write for the press? How is that?" His astonishment charged his
questions with peculiar emphasis.
"Yes, sir; I wrote much for nearly a year for the New England
Courant, one of the newspapers in Boston."
"And only seventeen years old now?"
"I was only sixteen when I wrote the most."
That was as far as Benjamin dared to disclose his history, lest he
might make trouble for himself. He had disclosed enough, however, to
set his host to thinking. Neither of the Bradfords really believed his
story about his writing for the press; and yet there was something
about him, composed of intelligence, refinement, and manliness, that
impressed them. The more they conversed with him, the more were they
satisfied that he was an uncommon youth. While that conviction
awakened their curiosity to know more of his history, it served, also,
to cause them to respect his boy-manhood, and so not to ply him with
too many or close questions. Thus Benjamin escaped the necessity of
exposing the objectionable part of his career, and left his good
friends wondering over the mysterious young printer they were
Benjamin repaired Keimer's press, and then attended to Bradford's,
before the Elegy was ready to be printed. By that time, Keimer had
engaged to print a pamphlet and do some other small jobs, so that he
needed Benjamin's services all the time.
"I shall want you right along, now, I think; but you must change your
boarding-place. I don't want you should board with a man who knows so
much about my business." And Keimer laughed as he made this last
"Of course, I shall change. I only intended to stay there until I got
work. Mr. Bradford kindly invited me to stay there till I found a
place, and I shall not take any advantage of his generosity. I shall
always be grateful to him for it."
"He was a good friend to you, a stranger," continued Keimer, "and I
would have you appreciate his friendship; but, in the circumstances, I
think another boarding-place is best."
"And now I can make a more respectable appearance," responded
Benjamin; "for my chest of clothes has come."
"The man who owns this building lives a short distance away, and I am
thinking I can get you boarded there; it will be a good place," added
"As you please; I can make myself at home any where. I am not used to
much style and luxury."
"His name is Read, and he has an interesting daughter of eighteen,
which may be some attraction to you." The last remark was intended
more for pleasantry than any thing.
"Work will have to be the chief attraction for me, whose fortune is
reduced to the last shilling," responded Benjamin. "It takes money to
pay respectful attention to young ladies; and, besides, my forte
does not lie in that direction."
The result was, that he went to board at Mr. Read's, the father of the
young lady who stood in the door when he passed on Sunday morning with
a roll of bread under each arm. His appearance was much improved by
this time, so that even Miss Read saw that he was an intelligent,
promising young man.
Benjamin received good wages, attended closely to his work, improved
his leisure moments by reading and study, as he did in Boston, and
spent his evenings in systematic mental culture.
"You appear to be fond of books," said Mr. Read to him. "I think you
must have enjoyed good advantages at home. Where is your home?"
"Boston. I was born there seventeen years ago."
"Only seventeen! I supposed you were older. Your parents living?"
"Yes, both of them, as good people as there are in Boston."
"Got brothers and sisters?"
"Plenty of them. I am the fifteenth child, and have two sisters
younger than I am; only one of the whole number is dead."
"You surprise me; yours must have been the largest family in Boston,"
continued Mr. Read. "I am sure we have no family as large as that in
Philadelphia. Your father ought to be worth some money to provide for
such a family."
"He is not, he is a poor man; so poor that he kept me in school less
than two years. I went into the shop to work with him when I was ten
years old, and have not been to school since. All my brothers were
apprenticed at ten or twelve years of age. I was a printer's
apprentice at twelve years of age."
"And what was your father's business, if I may be permitted to ask?
Your story is a very interesting one, and I want to know more about
"My father is a tallow-chandler. He emigrated to Boston in 1685, from
Banbury, England, where he worked at the trade of a dyer. There was no
room for that business in Boston, so he took up the business of
"But you did not work at the candle business long, if you became a
printer at twelve?"
"No; I disliked the business so thoroughly that I was ready to engage
in almost any thing if I could get out of that. The printer's trade
has afforded me excellent opportunities for reading and study, and I
"Well, printers are generally an intelligent class, and their pursuit
is highly respected. One of our printers in Philadelphia is an
ignorant man, and not very familiar with the business."
"I found that out some time ago," answered Benjamin; "and ignorance is
a great drawback to a person in any business whatever. There is no
need of a man being ignorant, so long as he can command fragments of
time to read and study. What I call my leisure hours are my most
profitable and enjoyable hours."
Mr. Read had already concluded that Benjamin was never so happy as
when he had a book in his hand, or was with some intelligent companion
conversing upon a useful topic. He had formed a high estimate of his
talents and character in the few weeks he had been a boarder at his
house. He saw in him a rising young man, and predicted for him a
remarkable career. His daughter, too, was as favorably impressed by
acquaintance with him. She learned that he was the youth, who cut such
a comical figure on the street, eating his roll of bread, on a Sunday
morning a short time before, and she could scarcely believe her eyes.
The transformation in him was almost too great for belief. That such a
shack in appearance should turn out to be the brightest and
best-informed young man who ever boarded at her father's, was an
impressive fact. She was gratified at his appearance, and enjoyed
conversation with him.
Benjamin was well pleased with his boarding-place, and enjoyed himself
with the family; especially with the daughter, who was rather a
graceful, good-looking, bright girl. Several young men, also, boarded
there, whom he made companions. These, with others, whose acquaintance
he made within three or four months, became the source of so much
pleasure to him that he fast became weaned from Boston.
As soon as Benjamin was fairly settled in business, he wrote to his
old friend, John Collins, of Boston, giving him a full account of his
trip to Philadelphia, his trials and successes, and closing by
charging him with secrecy as to his whereabouts.
He had given such unjustifiable scope to his resentment of his
brother's harsh treatment, and his father's final endorsement of that
brother, that he did not stop to think of the sorrow he was bringing
upon his parents by his wayward course. For the time being, his filial
affection appeared to be sacrificed to his revengeful spirit.
At that time, the printer's trade ranked higher, in public estimation,
than any other mechanical business. All editors in the country were
printers, and most of the printers were better educated than any other
artisans; hence their social standing was higher. On this account, a
talented and brilliant boy like Benjamin took a high rank at once, and
readily found access to the respect and confidence of all who made his
In due time, Benjamin received a letter from Collins, detailing the
excitement that followed his sudden disappearance from Boston, what
was said, the sorrow among his friends over his disgraceful exit, how
his brother was getting on, and many other matters about which he was
glad to hear. The letter closed by assuring him that no person in
Boston was apparently so ignorant of the runaway's whereabouts as
himself, from which he inferred that Collins was keeping the secret
While Benjamin was flattering himself that his friends were entirely
ignorant of his place of residence, except John Collins, his
brother-in-law, Robert Homes, "master of a sloop that traded between
Boston and Delaware," was at Newcastle, forty miles from Philadelphia.
There he met a citizen of the latter place, of whom he made inquiries
as to the business of the town. Among other things, he said:
"A young printer from Boston has settled there recently, who ranks
high as a workman and as a talented young man."
"Do you know his name?" inquired Captain Homes, startled by the
With an effort to conceal his surprise and interest, he asked:
"For whom does he work?"
"For Mr. Keimer, our new printer."
"Are you acquainted with him?"
"Not particularly; I have met him."
"Is he a young man of standing and good habits?"
"He is. It is said that he is very talented, and that he wrote for the
press in Boston before he came to Philadelphia."
"Is that so?" responded the captain, to conceal that he was any
acquaintance of his.
"Yes; and, as a matter of course, such a young man is much thought of.
He is not set up at all, but appears to be modest and unassuming. He
is very much liked by all."
"Do you think he means to make Philadelphia his home in the future?"
"That is what he intends, as I understand it." In this way, Captain
Homes gained whatever information he wanted, without disclosing that
Benjamin Franklin was his brother-in-law. Then he embraced the first
opportunity to write and forward to him the following letter from
"DEAR BROTHER,--I have just learned from a citizen of Philadelphia
that you reside in that town. It is the first knowledge that any of
us have had of your whereabouts since you ran away from Boston. You
can have no idea of the sorrow you caused the family by your unwise
and thoughtless act. It well-nigh broke your mother's heart, and
added several years to your father's appearance. But I write to
advise and entreat you to return to Boston. I am confident that
your parents, and all other friends, will receive you with open
arms, forgetting the past in their joy over your presence. They do
not know even that you are alive; and your return will be to them
as one risen from the dead. I trust that this letter will find you
well, and disposed to heed my advice, and go back to Boston. It
will be the best thing for you and the whole family. Let me hear
from you; direct your letter to this place; if sent at once it will
reach me here.
The reader may very properly infer that Benjamin was taken by surprise
by this letter. Now his friends would know where he was. How did
Captain Homes discover his place of residence? This question kept
uppermost in his mind. His letter did not tell. Benjamin pondered the
matter through the day, and finally resolved to answer it squarely and
promptly in the evening. That night he wrote the following:
"CAPTAIN ROBERT HOMES:
Captain Homes was a strong, good man, used to roughing it in a
seafaring life; but when he read Benjamin's letter, tears stood in his
eyes, and his lips quivered with emotion, as his great heart went out
in sympathy for his wife's young brother.
"Dear Brother,--I received your letter to-day, and it was a
genuine surprise to me. How in the world you discovered my
whereabouts is a mystery to me; but it is all well and will turn
out for the best, no doubt. To answer your letter affords me an
opportunity to state exactly the cause of my sudden departure from
Boston, which I do not think you understand. The sole cause of my
leaving was the unjust and harsh treatment of James. Instead of
seeing in me a brother, he saw only an apprentice, indentured to
him until I was twenty-one, over whom he held the iron rod of a
master, and from whom he expected the most servile obedience. At
times I may have been saucy and provoking, but it was when I was
receiving more than flesh and blood could bear. For, in letting
loose his violent temper, he not only lashed me unmercifully with
his tongue, but he resorted to blows; and you ought to know enough
of the Franklins by this time to understand that no one of them
would submit to such oppression. Then, to cap the climax, father,
who had always sided with me whenever our difficulties were laid
before him, now gave his decision, for some reason, in favor of
James. That was the last straw on the camel's back. Nothing but
harsh treatment by a master, who asserted his rights under the law,
awaited me. To remain was to be trod upon, and suffer, and become a
slave instead of a man. To leave was impossible, unless I left
clandestinely. For many days a mighty contest was waged in my soul
between love of home and escape from a bondage as bad as Negro
"After all I had done for James, in his great trouble with the
Government, that he should treat me, his own brother, as a menial
to be abused, seemed hard indeed. Under such a burden of trial,
scarcely knowing whither to look for a friend, I resolved to
escape, and I do not now regret the step. I knew that I should be
misjudged--that I should be called a runaway, and thought to be on
the road to ruin. But I am not. I mean to make the most of myself
possible. I am now among good friends, who kindly second all my
efforts at self-improvement, and my business prospects were never
so good. If industry, economy, temperance, honesty, and
perseverance will win, then I shall win; you may be sure of that.
"Read that letter," he said to Governor Keith, who was present, "and
then I will tell you about the author of it."
Governor Keith read it, with moistened eyes, although he was a
stranger to the writer and his romantic history.
"A touching letter," he remarked, returning it to the captain.
"The author of it is my wife's youngest brother, only a boy now."
"How old?" inquired the governor.
"Indeed, he must be a remarkable boy."
"He is. The most gifted boy ever raised in Boston."
"Then he ran away from Boston?"
"Yes; his father's family is a prominent one in the city, and the
eldest son is a printer, to whom this youngest son was apprenticed."
"I see now," responded the governor. "That explains the letter. And he
is settled now in Philadelphia?"
"He is. I accidentally learned where he was, a few days ago, and wrote
to him; and this letter is his answer. Let me tell you more about
him." And the captain rehearsed his connection with the Courant, as
correspondent and editor, dwelling upon his ability and power as an
independent thinker, capable of canvassing and writing upon almost any
"Remarkable, for one so young!" exclaimed the governor, after
listening to the detailed account. "Such a young man should be
encouraged in his business."
"So I think," responded the captain. "His letter has opened my eyes,
and I see now that he had good reason to run away. I believe that he
will make his mark, live where he may."
"Of course he will," replied the governor. "His success is certain,
only give him a chance. I will assist him to establish a printing
house of his own in Philadelphia, and he shall have the government
printing to do."
"He is abundantly qualified to do it, and I think any aid of that sort
you can give him will be for your interest as well as his. He is
reliable and will do his best." The captain said this in the honesty
of his heart, having a strong desire to see Benjamin rise.
"We have two printing houses in Philadelphia now; but they are poor
affairs," continued the governor. "Neither proprietor understands his
business, and one of them is very ignorant. I think that this young
man would take the lead at once."
"I think that I can secure the government printing of Delaware for
him," interrupted Colonel French, of Newcastle, who had listened to
the conversation with the deepest interest.
"Captain Homes, I will see your brother-in-law as soon as I return to
Philadelphia," added Governor Keith. "We must not let such a young man
be buried up in a one-horse printing house."
"I am going to Philadelphia with the governor," interjected Colonel
French, "and I will accompany him to see the young man."
"I thank you both very much, and I think that neither of you will ever
regret your decision." Captain Homes spoke so warmly and approvingly
that both governor and colonel felt reassured as they separated.
The foregoing discloses two good traits of Benjamin's character, which
the reader may consider with profit. First, he must have been very
observing. He understood the construction of a printing-press so well,
that he could put an old one into running order, young as he was, when
its proprietor was unable to do it. This is more remarkable, because
he was not obliged to study the mechanism of a printing-press in order
to work it. Many persons operate machines without understanding their
construction at all. But a class of minds are never satisfied until
they understand whatever commands their attention. They are
inquisitive, and wish to know the philosophy of things. It was so with
Benjamin; and this quality proved a valuable element of his success.
It was the secret of his discoveries and inventions in his manhood, as
we shall see, just as it was with Stephenson. As soon as he was
appointed plugman of an engine, at seventeen years of age, he began to
study its construction. In his leisure hours, he took it to pieces,
and put it together again several times, in order to understand it.
In the second place, Benjamin was not proud. "Pride goeth before
destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." He never came under
this condemnation. A sight of him passing up Market Street, with a
loaf of bread under each arm, while devouring the third one in his
hand, in apparel that was less comely than that of many modern tramps,
is proof that pride had no dominion over him. Many boys of seventeen,
in such poverty and apparel, would have avoided a public street, and
even a Quaker meetinghouse. But these were small matters to Benjamin.
He was thinking of greater things--employment and a livelihood. He had
a destiny to work out, and in working that he must do as he could, and
not as he would. He cared not for the laughs and jeers of those who
could dress better and live more sumptuously than himself, since it
was absolutely necessary for him to dress as he did in order "to make
his ends meet." He might have followed the example of some young men,
and incurred a debt, in order "to cut a dash," but he believed then,
as he wrote afterwards, that "lying rides on debt's back," and that it
is "better to go to bed supperless than to rise in debt"; or, as he
expressed himself in other maxims, "Those have a short Lent who owe
money to be paid at Easter," and "It is easier to build two chimneys
than to keep one in fuel."