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From Boyhood to Manhood|
XXIV. His Return, and What Came of It.
by Thayer, William M.
|John left Boston two or three days before Benjamin. The sloop in which
Benjamin sailed stopped at Newport, where his brother John lived,
affording him the opportunity to visit him. John was well-nigh
overcome by the sight of Benjamin, for whom he ever had the most
sincere affection. Their meeting was as glad to him as it was
unexpected. There he met a Mr. Vernon, who said:
"I have a bill of thirty-five pounds currency in New York, which I
have no doubt can be collected readily--could you collect it for me?"
"I will do it with pleasure," replied Benjamin.
"You can collect and keep it until I write what disposition to make of
it. I am not quite certain just now."
"Very well; I will hold it subject to your direction."
"And I will give you an order for the money, which will be necessary."
"Yes, I suppose that is the business way."
His stay in Newport was very brief. On returning to the sloop in
season to sail, he found that several passengers had been taken on
board from that town. Among them was a motherly sort of a Quaker lady,
and, also, two young women traveling together. Benjamin was a polite
young man, and sought to be of service to them. The old Quaker lady
was attended by two servants, yet Benjamin found an opportunity to be
of some service to her, and she appreciated his kindness. Nor was he
indifferent towards the two young women. He made their acquaintance,
and showed them some attention; and they, in turn, showed him
attention, with interest. The Quaker lady looked on, understanding the
situation better than he did; and finally she called him aside, by
some kind of a motion, and said:
"Young man, beware of those girls, or they will lead you astray."
"How so?" inquired Benjamin, considerably surprised.
"They are bad girls, and thee is not much acquainted with the ways of
"You are right, madam; I am not much acquainted with the women world,
and I dare say they might easily lead me astray." Benjamin did not
exactly believe what the Quakeress said, but he was a little given to
humor, and so he spoke as he did.
"It is a serious matter, young man; thee may depend on that. I know
that they are bad girls by their actions. They mean to set a snare for
"Well, I assure you that I will not fall into it. They have not caught
"And I hope they won't," added the good lady. "If I were in your place
I would cut their acquaintance at once. And she stated some things she
had observed of their acts, and a remark one of them made, all of
which convinced Benjamin that she was right.
"I thank you for your interest," said Benjamin "I will not keep up an
acquaintance with them, but will follow your advice."
The good lady kept her eye on Benjamin, and so did the girls. The
latter plied their arts with considerable ingenuity to lure him on,
but his eyes were opened now, and he avoided them as much as he could.
Before reaching New York, however, the girls managed to inform him
where they lived, and gave him a very pressing invitation to call. The
outcome was as follows, given in his own language, as related in his
"When we arrived at New York, they told me where they lived, and
invited me to come and see them; but I avoided it, and it was well I
did. For the next day the captain missed a silver spoon and some other
things, that had been taken out of his cabin, and, knowing that these
were a couple of strumpets, he got a warrant to search their lodgings,
found the stolen goods, and had the thieves punished. So, though we
had escaped a sunken rock, which we scraped upon in the passage, I
thought this escape of rather more importance to me."
When Benjamin arrived in New York, John Collins was waiting there for
him, but it was John Collins drunk.
"Waitin' for you, Ben, old fellow," said John, patting him on the
back, too much under the power of drink to know exactly what the said
or did. "Goin' to Philadelphy; come on."
Benjamin was taken by surprise, and scarcely knew what to say.
Rallying himself, however, he replied:
"You are not the John Collins I invited to accompany me to
Philadelphia. I don't wish for your company."
"You are joking, Ben, old fellow"; and another pat on his back.
"I invited John Collins sober to go to Philadelphia with me; you are
John Collins drunk."
"Complimentary again," answered John, with a show of temper.
"It is time," retorted Benjamin, "It is putting me into an
embarrassing situation to be tied to a drunken companion. I rather be
"Don't see how I can 'scuse you, Ben. It is too late now." And the
boozy fellow appeared not to imagine that he was making a fool of
On reaching John's boarding place, the landlord said:
"He has been drunk ever since he reached New York; and he has gambled,
too, I judge."
"What makes you think he has gambled?"
"Because he is out of money now; every cent he had is gone, I think."
"And he owes you for board and lodgings?"
"Yes; he has not paid me any thing. His appetite is complete master of
"Well, I scarcely know what to do," remarked Benjamin thoughtfully;
and he rehearsed to the inn-keeper the circumstances of his
connection with John, not omitting to repeat his fair promises.
"Promises!" retorted the landlord. "What does he care for promises! A
fellow with no more control over his appetite than he has don't care
for any thing. He's a goner, if I am any judge."
Benjamin embraced the first opportunity to canvass the matter with
John; and, from his own account, he was satisfied that the case was
full as bad as the landlord had represented. John had not a cent left,
and he was in a maudlin state of mind, such as Benjamin did not
observe in Boston. His self-respect was gone, and he appeared to glory
in his shame.
While Benjamin was considering what to do, and attending to some
matters of business, particularly collecting the thirty-five pounds
for Mr. Vernon, the captain of the sloop came to him, saying:
"Governor Burnet wants to see you."
"Who is Governor Burnet, that he should want to see me?" responded
Benjamin in surprise. One governor had been after him, and now that
another was seeking his patronage was almost too much to believe.
"Governor of New York," answered the captain. "I had some business
with him, and I happened to say that a passenger on board my sloop had
a large quantity of books with him; and this interested him so much
that he wanted I should bring you to his house."
"I will go," replied Benjamin; "and I must go at once if I go at all."
They posted off, Benjamin querying on the way whether the governor of
New York would prove as friendly to him as the governor of
It was a pleasant call he had upon the governor. This dignitary gave
him a cordial welcome, took him into his library, conversed with him
about books and authors, complimented him for his love of learning and
his evident high aims, and invited him to call whenever he should
visit New York. Benjamin began to think that governors had a
particular passion for him; and what little vanity he possessed became
inflated. Many years thereafter, referring to the experience, he said:
"This was the second governor who had done me the honor to take notice
of me; and, for a poor boy like me, it was very pleasing." If he had
been as foolish as some youth, and some men, too, he would have
concluded that it pays to run away, since the only boy that two
governors were known to patronize especially was a runaway. But we
repeat what we have said before, that Benjamin, the wise son, never
concluded that it pays to run away from home. He met with some
pleasant experiences, but they came, not through his runaway
qualities, but through his aspiring and noble aims.
Collins was not too drunk to understand that Benjamin went to see the
governor by invitation, and he was on tiptoe to learn what it all
"Been to see the governor, hey?" he said.
"Yes; and I should have taken you if you had not been drunk."
"Good on you, Ben; you'll be governor yourself yet." And John laughed
at his own suggestion as only a silly drinker will.
"You will not, John, unless you change your course. I have a mind to
leave you here in New York; then I shall not be disgraced by you in
Philadelphia. If you can't keep sober for your own sake nor mine, I
want nothing more to do with you."
This was a revelation to John. He had not dreamed of being left
penniless and friendless in New York. So he was ready to make promises
of the most flattering kind, in order to proceed with Benjamin to
"But you promised me as squarely as possible in Boston that you would
not drink any more," continued Benjamin. "Your promise is not worth
any thing to me, when it is worth nothing to you; and it is not worth
as much to you as a glass of brandy. I am tempted to leave you and all
your truck in the sloop here in New York."
John begged and entreated Benjamin not to desert him now, and promised
by all that was great and good that he would stop drinking and lead a
sober life. In the circumstances, Benjamin could scarcely do otherwise
than to pay his bill at the inn and take him along with him, though he
very reluctantly decided to do so. Having collected the thirty-five
pounds for Mr. Vernon, paid John's bill, and transacted some other
business, by the time the sloop was ready to sail, they proceeded to
There is no record preserved of his experience on the sloop between
New York and Philadelphia, except a paragraph in a letter written by
Doctor Franklin to Doctor Priestley, in 1780, when the former was
seventy-four years of age. He related the experience in order to
illustrate the truth, "that all situations in life have their
inconveniences." The paragraph is as follows:
"In my youth, I was passenger in a little sloop, descending the river
Delaware. There being no wind, we were obliged, when the ebb was
spent, to cast anchor and wait for the next. The heat of the sun on
the vessel was excessive, the company strangers to me, and not very
agreeable. Near the river-side I saw what I took to be a pleasant
green meadow, in the middle of which was a large shady tree, where, it
struck my fancy, I could sit and read (having a book in my pocket),
and pass the time agreeably till the tide turned. I therefore
prevailed with the captain to put me ashore. Being landed, I found the
greatest part of my meadow was really a marsh, in crossing which, to
come at my tree, I was up to my knees in mire; and I had not placed
myself under its shade five minutes, before the mosquitoes in swarms
found me out, attacked my legs, hands, and face, and made my reading
and my rest impossible; so that I returned to the beach, and called
for the boat to come and take me on board again, where I was obliged
to bear the heat I had strove to quit, and also the laugh of the
company. Similar cases in the affairs of life have since frequently
fallen under my observation."
In these modern days, it would be said that, when Benjamin arrived in
Philadelphia, he "had an elephant on his hands." The most
unmanageable and dangerous sort of an elephant on one's hands is a
dissolute friend. Benjamin scarcely knew what to do with John. It
troubled him exceedingly. But he was wont to make the best of
everything, and so he did in this case.
He took John with him to his boarding place, promising to pay his
bills until he could find work in some counting-room. John was well
qualified for such business, and Benjamin supposed that he could
readily find a situation. His estimate of Collins, before and after
he began to drink to excess, is given by his own pen, as follows:
"At New York I found my friend Collins, who had arrived there some
time before me. We had been intimate from children, and had read the
same books together; but he had the advantage of more time for reading
and studying, and a wonderful genius for mathematical learning, in
which he far outstripped me. While I lived in Boston, most of my
hours of leisure for conversation were spent with him, and he
continued a sober as well as industrious lad; was much respected for
his learning by several of the clergy and other gentlemen, and seemed
to promise making a good figure in life. But, during my absence, he
had acquired a habit of drinking brandy and I found by his own
account, as well as that of others, that he had been drunk every day
since his arrival at New York, and behaved himself in a very
extravagant manner. He had gamed, too, and lost his money, so that I
was obliged to discharge his lodgings, and defray his expenses on the
road and at Philadelphia; which proved a great burden to me."
Benjamin called upon Governor Keith as soon as possible, with a letter
from his father, in which the governor was thanked and praised for his
kindness to his son.
"Your father is too cautious," remarked the governor, after reading
the letter. "Some young men are better qualified to do business for
themselves at eighteen than others are at twenty-one."
"He said that he would assist me at twenty-one if I should need
assistance," replied Benjamin.
"Yes; he says so in this letter. But I think you will be established
in a good business three years from now, and need no help. Some aid
now will do more for you than at any future time."
"I dare say that is true; but, as father declines to do it, that ends
the matter, I suppose."
"No; not by any means," replied the governor, earnestly. "If your
father will not set you up in business, I'll see what I can do for
you. I want a first-class printing house in this town; and a young man
like you, capable of running it, should be encouraged."
"That is more than I expected, and I shall feel myself under great
obligations to you for aid of that kind, if you deem it best."
Benjamin spoke in a tone of grateful feeling, but without the least
show of importunity.
"I do deem it best; and I will give you a start in business. You can
keep the matter a secret; continue at work for Keimer, and use your
first leisure moments to make out an inventory of what a first-class
printing establishment requires. That will be the first thing."
"How soon will you want the inventory of articles?"
"As soon as you can make it out. I shall be obliged to send to England
for them, and that will take considerable time."
It was a lengthy interview that Benjamin had with the governor, and he
was very much elated by this turn of affairs. It looked now as if he
would start the printing business in Philadelphia under the patronage
of the governor himself! That seemed to promise more than to go into
business by the aid of only a tallow-chandler.
He reported next to Keimer, who was glad to welcome him back,
especially so because he had considerable work on hand, and no person
could turn it off like Benjamin.
"Glad to see you, Ben. I suppose the governor will be round to see you
when he hears of your arrival." Keimer spoke in a vein of pleasantry
rather than as a fling.
"Possibly, unless he should send for me to call on him. The governor
of New York sent for me--Governor Burnet--what do you think of that?"
"You are joking now, Ben; it can't be that all the governors are after
"Well, the governor of New York was, and I went to see him." And
Benjamin went on to describe his interview with Governor Burnet in
detail, and how it came about, to which Keimer listened with the
greatest interest and wonder.
"Governor Burnet has the largest library in this country," continued
Benjamin, "and judging from the number of books I had on the sloop, he
concluded that I loved books, and so wanted to show me his."
"Well," answered Keimer, after being in a sort of reverie some
minutes, "if this thing goes on, you will not be willing to associate
long with us fellows in the printing business."
"I will give you due notice when I get to that. I will not cut your
acquaintance suddenly." Benjamin could treat the matter jocosely as
well as Keimer.
To return to John Collins. He sought a position as clerk or bookkeeper
in several stores; but was unsuccessful. Then he tried other kinds of
work; but no one appeared to want him. Benjamin went with him to
several places, to introduce him and intercede for him; but there was
no opening for him. Days passed away, and still he was without a
position; and he kept on drinking, too, not so beast-like as he did in
New York, but enough to be more or less disguised.
"It is your disgusting habit of intemperance; they smell your breath
or study your face, and then don't want you around. I told you in
Boston, that no one wants a drinking employee about." Benjamin's
patience was nearly exhausted, and he spoke as he felt.
"That is your surmise; you are a fanatic on drink, and are not capable
of exercising sound judgement when you come to that," John replied
with considerable temper.
"And you would not be capable of keeping your soul and body together
if it were not for my money. You have no regard at all for your word;
a promise amounts to nothing with you, and never will until you stop
"I shall not stop drinking until I get ready," retorted John, becoming
very angry. "You are an insulting dog, when you get to attacking
Brandy was John's favorite beverage in Philadelphia, as it was in
Boston. He frequently borrowed money of Benjamin; the latter not
having the heart to deny him, with which he continued to gratify his
appetite. Benjamin often remonstrated with him, and threatened to
complain of him; but the old friendship of former days always came in
to favor John. Frequently they had serious difficulties, for John was
very irritable, and daily grew more so. Yet, Benjamin continued to pay
his board, and loan him a little money from time to time, though
Collins continued unsuccessful in his search for a position.
Several young men were enjoying a pastime on the Delaware one day,
boating, among them Benjamin and John. The latter was under the
influence of drink sufficiently to be very irritable; and he refused
to take his turn rowing.
"I will be rowed home," he said in anger.
"No, you won't, unless you do your part," replied Benjamin, who
thought it was quite time to teach the boozy fellow a lesson.
"Then we will stay here all night on the water," snapped out John.
"Just as you please; I can stay as long as you can," said Benjamin,
who had endured about as much of John's impudence as he could.
"Come, Ben, let us row him; he don't know what he is about," said one
of the other boys; "what signifies it?"
"Not one stroke," replied Benjamin emphatically; "it is his turn to
row, and he shall row, if he is full of brandy."
"I'll make you row, you insulting dog," exclaimed John, as he rose and
made for Benjamin. "I'll throw you overboard if you don't row."
Approaching Benjamin with the vehemence of a mad bull, determined to
throw him into the river, Benjamin clapped his head under his thighs,
when he came up and struck at him, and, rising, pitched him head
foremost into the river.
"He'll drown," shouted one.
"No, he won't," answered Benjamin, "he is a good swimmer, and he is
not too drunk to swim."
"Will you row, John?" shouted another.
"No, you ----," he shouted back, with an oath.
"We'll take you in when you will promise to row," said Benjamin.
"I shall not promise to row; I'll drown first." He turned about to
reach the boat, but just as he was ready to grasp it with his hand,
the rowers pushed it forward out of his reach.
"Will you row now?" shouted Benjamin.
"No; but I will give you a thrashing when I can get at you." And he
continued to swim after the boat, the rowers pushing it forward out of
his reach, whenever he got near enough to seize it. Then Benjamin
would cry out:
"Will you row now, John?" and back the defiant answer would come:
"Never; but I'll throw you into the river if I can get at you."
Then forward the rowers would push the boat beyond his reach. For
twenty minutes this game was played with the miserable fellow in the
water, when one of the number said:
"He is giving out, we must take him in, or he'll drown."
"Well, we don't want to drown him," replied Benjamin; "I guess we
better take him in." Then, turning to John, he continued:
"Say, John, we'll take you in now; you are soaked outside as much as
you were inside," and, stopping the boat, they hauled the poor fellow
in, too much exhausted to throw Benjamin or any one else overboard.
"John!" shouted Benjamin, as they laid him down, dripping wet, on the
bottom of the boat, "it don't pay to drink too much brandy. You are
the only one in the crowd who can't take care of himself."
Benjamin was rather severe, but then he had endured insult and
ingratitude so long from his old friend, that his patience was
exhausted. The outcome of this scrape on the Delaware Benjamin shall
tell in his own words:
"We hardly exchanged a civil word after this adventure. At length a
West India captain, who had a commission to procure a preceptor for
the sons of a gentleman at Barbadoes, met with him and proposed to
carry him thither to fill the situation. He accepted, and promised to
remit what he owed me out of the first money he should receive; but I
never heard of him after."
Probably he died, a miserable sot, in Barbadoes, without a friend to
mark his grave or write the story of his shame. Benjamin lost, of
course, all the money he had loaned him. In later life he referred to
the end of John Collins, and said that he (Benjamin) received
retribution for his influence over Collins, when he made him as much
of a skeptic as himself in Boston. It was there that he unsettled his
mind as to the reality of religion. At that time he was industrious,
temperate, and honest. But, losing his respect for religion, he was
left without restraint and went rapidly to ruin. Benjamin was the
greatest sufferer by his fall, and thus was terribly rebuked for
influencing him to treat religion with contempt.
Governor Keith frequently sent for Benjamin to dine with him, that he
might converse with him about the proposed printing house. At length
Benjamin was able to take with him an inventory of all the articles
necessary for establishing a printing house.
"It is not on a large scale," said Benjamin. "I think I better begin
moderately. I can enlarge as business increases."
"That is wise," answered the governor; "but you want a suitable outfit
for a first-class printing office."
"Yes; and my inventory contemplates that. The cost will be about one
hundred pounds sterling, I judge."
"Not so expensive as I supposed," remarked Governor Keith. "I have
been thinking whether you better not go to England to purchase these
articles. You understand what is wanted."
"I had not thought of that," replied Benjamin, both surprised and
pleased by the proposition to visit London. "I should defer to your
judgment in that as in other things."
"If you go it will be necessary for you to sail with Captain Annis,
who makes a trip once a year from here to London. It will be some
months before he will sail, so that you have plenty of time to think
"I think favorably of the proposition now," continued Benjamin. "I
could select the types and see that every thing ordered was good of
the kind, and this would be of advantage."
"That is what I thought. And more than that; while there you can
establish correspondences in the book-selling and stationery line."
"I think I could; and such acquaintance might prove of advantage to me
in other respects."
"It certainly would; and I decide that you get yourself ready to sail
with Captain Annis. You can continue to work for Keimer, still keeping
the secret, but completing your plans."
This was the final agreement, and Benjamin never dreamed that Governor
Keith was not honest. If he had divulged to Mr. Read, or Bradford, or
even to Mr. Keimer, what the governor proposed, they would have
exposed his deceitful, unreliable character, and the enterprise would
have been abandoned.