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From Boyhood to Manhood
A Bogus Scheme
by Thayer, William M.


"I'm thinking of going to England with you," said Ralph to Benjamin, one day in October, 1724.

"You don't mean it."

"I do mean it. I am thinking seriously of going."

"I shall be delighted to have your company, but the news is almost too good to be true," continued Benjamin.

"I have been looking the matter over ever since you told me that you expected to go; and now it is settled in my own mind that I shall go."

"Going out for your employer?"

"No, going out to establish a correspondence, if possible, and arrange to obtain goods to sell on commission."

"That is a capital scheme, it seems to me, Ralph. I think you can establish a good business with your tact and experience. You'll have to hurry up; for I expect that Captain Annis will sail in three weeks." Benjamin's words showed his gladness that one of his intimate companions would accompany him.

"It won't take me long to get ready; I have been arranging matters for some time with reference to going, though I have spoken to no one about it." Ralph was careful not to divulge the real reason of his going, lest Benjamin should disapprove.

At length it was announced that the London Hope, Captain Annis, master, would sail about the 10th of November. And now, Benjamin was full of business. He made known his intentions to Keimer and other friends, without disclosing the real object of his trip, or that he was going under the patronage of Governor Keith. Considerable surprise and regret were expressed by several friends that he was going, and yet they were free to say that it would prove an excellent school for such a young man as Benjamin. Governor Keith was lavish in his attentions and interest.

"You will want letters of introduction from me; and I shall have some instructions, which I will write out carefully," he said.

"The letters will be indispensable; and the instructions I shall most surely need to relieve my lack of experience," Benjamin replied.

"I will have them all ready two or three days before Captain Annis sails," added the governor, "and you can call for them. I may want to see you again before I get them ready, and I will send for you."

Benjamin thanked Governor Keith for his great kindness, assuring him that he should always feel himself under a heavy debt of gratitude, never dreaming that the scheming politician was luring him into a snare. He put his whole heart and soul into preparation to leave. To him it was the great event of his life; and it would have been, if Sir William Keith had been an honest man instead of a rogue. For an American youth, eighteen years of age, to represent the governor of Pennsylvania in the city of London, to consummate a business enterprise of the greatest importance to a thriving American town, was an unusual occurrence. Any youth of considerable ability and ambition must have realized the value and dignity of the enterprise; but to such a youth as Benjamin was,--talented, aspiring, coveting success, striving for the best,--the opportunity of this business enterprise, proposed and patronized by the highest officer in the colony, must have appealed strongly to his manly and noble nature. We shall see, however, as it turned out, that all the honesty and high-minded purpose that invested it was in Benjamin's soul. Treachery, dishonesty, and perfidy blackened the soul of his patron, loading him down with infamy almost without a parallel.

Three days before Captain Annis set sail, Benjamin called for his letters.

"My time has been so thoroughly occupied by public business that I have not been able to prepare them, but I will attend to it."

"I can call again without any trouble," answered Benjamin, exceedingly grateful for the governor's patronage.

"I am sorry that I have not been able to prepare them; but I will not disappoint you again. Call day after to-morrow." The more the governor said and promised, the more thankful Benjamin felt that he had fallen into such generous hands.

"I will call in the afternoon, day after to-morrow," replied Benjamin; and thanking him again for his great kindness, took his leave.

He called as he promised for the letters and other papers. Instead of being ushered into the governor's presence, as usual, his secretary, Colonel French, came out to announce:

"The governor regrets exceedingly that he has not the documents ready yet, and desires that you shall call again to-morrow, just before the vessel sails."

"Very well, I will call," replied Benjamin, without the least suspicion that any trouble was brewing for him.

On the next day, with all his baggage on board, and the "good-bye" said to all his friends, he hastened to the governor's head-quarters for his papers. Again Colonel French met him with the announcement:

"The governor desires me to say that he is really ashamed to disappoint you again; but a constant pressure of business has prevented. But the vessel will stop at Newcastle, and he will meet you and deliver yours with other letters he has to send; and he hopes that you will have a pleasant voyage and meet with great success."

"Please convey my thanks to him for his many kindnesses and present good wishes," answered Benjamin, "and say to him that I will execute his commands to the very best of my ability, and report at the earliest possible time."

So saying, Benjamin returned and boarded the vessel, which soon dropped down the Delaware, thinking all the while of his good fortune in having so great and good a man as Governor Keith for his friend.

At Newcastle, Benjamin landed and hastened to see the governor, whom he expected to be there, as Colonel French said; but he met only the secretary, who announced again:

"The governor is now writing the last dispatch, and will send your documents, with others, on board before the ship weighs anchor. He would be glad to see you again before you leave, but requires me to say that every moment of his time will be occupied to the very last minute, so he must content himself with sending to you, by me, his last words of confidence and his best wishes."

"Convey mine, also, to him," Benjamin replied, as he turned away to go to the vessel.

Just as the ship was about to sail, a bag of letters and other documents came on board from the governor. Benjamin supposed that it contained his indispensable letters, and, at a suitable time, he went to the captain and said:

"Governor Keith was to furnish me with letters of introduction to friends in London, and I suppose they are in the bag which he sent aboard. Can I look them over for my letters?"

"Just now I am too busy to give the matter any attention," Captain Annis said; "but I assure you that, long before we reach London, you shall have the opportunity to examine and take what belongs to you."

"That will do; I thank you," replied Benjamin, perfectly satisfied that all was right; and he settled down to enjoy the voyage.

When the vessel entered the English Channel, Captain Annis brought out the bag of documents from the governor for Benjamin to inspect. He was surprised beyond measure not to find any letters addressed to himself. He found several addressed to other parties with his name written upon them, as under his care, but not one addressed to himself. It was very singular, he thought, but he concluded that one of the number was devoted to his mission, as it was addressed to Baskett, the king's printer. He found seven or eight letters addressed to different parties, "Care of Benjamin Franklin," and he took them all from the bag. He still supposed that every thing about his mission was correct.

They arrived in London on the 24th of December, when Benjamin lacked about a month of being nineteen years old. With Ralph, he proceeded to find lodgings at once; and just as soon as that arrangement was made, he hastened to deliver the letters submitted to his care. The first party upon whom he called was a stationer.

"I have the honor of bringing a letter to you, sir, from Governor Keith of Pennsylvania, America," he said, with considerable assurance.

"I have not the honor of his acquaintance," answered the stationer. "Pray, tell me who Governor Keith may be."

"The letter will inform you, no doubt," replied Benjamin, giving him the letter.

The stationer opened it; but read scarcely three lines before he exclaimed, to Benjamin's consternation:

"Oh, this is from Riddlesden! I have lately found him to be a complete rascal, and I will have nothing to do with him, nor receive any letters from him," and he handed the letter back to Benjamin without reading all of it, turned upon his heel and went back to his work.

Benjamin's feelings can be imagined better than described. He was well-nigh dumbfounded to learn that the letter was not from Governor Keith. And then it was that the first flash of suspicion that he had been deceived entered his mind. He was still more surprised to learn, on examination, that not one of the letters he had taken from the bag was written by Governor Keith. There he was without one letter of introduction to any person in London, the scheme of establishing a printing house in Philadelphia discovered to be a myth, a mere boy, friendless and without work, in a great city, three thousand miles from home. If another American youth was ever lured into a baser trap, by a baser official, his name has never been recorded. Benjamin was at his wits' end--he knew not what to do. His feelings bordered upon despair. Had he not been a wonderful youth to rise superior to difficulties, he must have yielded to overwhelming discouragement.

To add to his troubles, when he disclosed his situation to Ralph, he learned that his old companion had abandoned his wife and child, never intending to return to America.

"You are a hard-hearted wretch; I never would have thought such a thing of you, Ralph," he exclaimed. "Such meanness ought to be left to baser men than you are."

"I suppose that you would never look with any favor upon such a plan as mine, and so I did not tell you," replied Ralph.

"It is lucky for you that you did not; for I never would have consented to be the companion of a young man running away from his wife and child."

"Well, I have never been treated well by one member of my wife's family from the day I was married, and before, too. I have borne it without complaining to any one, until I could bear it no longer. Now let them reflect."

"But that is no excuse for a man to abandon his family, no excuse whatever. Why, Ralph, I am almost as much deceived in you as I have been in Governor Keith. I did not think that you were capable of such meanness." Benjamin meant every word he uttered; and he was not disposed to spare his old friend at all. Another bit of information just here magnified his sorrows.

"I am out of funds entirely, Ben, so that I have begun to be cursed already, you see, without yours." Ralph spoke as if the remarks of Ben cut him to the quick.

"Out of money!" exclaimed Ben. "Come here dead broke? You must be crazy, Ralph. Abandon your family, and shove yourself upon me to support in London! I am shocked."

"I am afraid that both of us will be more shocked than that before we get through," answered Ralph with the utmost coolness. "You have been too good a friend to desert me now, Ben."

The last remark touched a tender spot in Benjamin's heart. He and Ralph had been true friends, and passed many happy hours together. He abhorred his inhumanity to his wife and child, and his deceitfulness in claiming to go to London to secure goods to sell on commission and establish correspondence; but he had no heart to abandon him in a strange city.

"Get work, Ralph, as soon as possible, or we shall be in a bad plight; for I have only fifteen pistoles in all, which will not keep up a connection between soul and body long." This remark of Benjamin's implied that he should divide what he had with Ralph as long as it lasted.

"I shall do that, Ben, you may rest assured; for I will not take advantage of your generosity any longer than I can help. I mean to continue a good friend of yours whether you continue to be a good friend of mine or not." This was a shrewd way of putting it. Ralph knew the young man he was talking with thoroughly.

Benjamin resolved to seek the advice of Mr. Denham. He was a Quaker merchant who sailed from Philadelphia with him. He was a stranger to him; but, when Colonel French came on board with letters from the governor at Newcastle, he introduced Benjamin to Denham. For this reason Denham became deeply interested in Benjamin, and showed him many favors. Now his advice would be specially useful to Benjamin; so he sought and found him.

"I find, Mr. Denham, that Governor Keith has been deceiving me. I came here under his auspices, and he promised me letters of introduction to parties, and the means to purchase an outfit for a first-class printing house in Philadelphia; and he has not fulfilled either promise. There are no letters for me among the dispatches he sent on board at Newcastle. He has proved himself a fraud and a cheat."

"He always did that," Mr. Denham replied. "If I had known that you were depending on Keith for any thing, I could have opened your eyes to his rascality at once. Keith is an official scamp."

"Here is a letter from Riddlesden to a stationer here," and passing the letter to Denham, he rehearsed his interview with the stationer.

"Riddlesden!" exclaimed Denham; "so base an attorney-at-law never cursed Pennsylvania. He is matched in perfidy only by Keith. Two worse rogues never occupied important positions in any country."

Then, reading the letter through, he went on:

"And this very letter proves that he is an arrant knave. For here is proof of a conspiracy against Mr. Hamilton, who was booked to sail with Captain Annis, and Keith is in it." Denham read the letter to Benjamin, explaining its meaning as he went along, for he was well posted about Keith and the villainous attorney.

"You should keep this letter, Franklin, and show it to Mr. Hamilton when he comes," added Denham. "Hamilton will come just as soon as he can. He came aboard our ship with his son, intending to come; but a party appeared, offering him a very large fee to wait and conduct a case in court, and he consented. He is the greatest lawyer in Pennsylvania. Keep the letter and give it to him."

We may say here, once for all, that Benjamin did keep the letter until the arrival of Mr. Hamilton, several months later, when he presented it to him, for which favor Hamilton was very grateful, and became Benjamin's life-long friend.

"But what can I do, Mr. Denham?" asked Benjamin. "I am here a stranger in a strange city, with very little money. What would you advise me to do?"

"I do not see but one thing that you can do just now. You are a printer, and you can get work without doubt in some printing office until you see fit to return."

"I thought of that; but it occurred to me that an American printer would be at a discount here, where the printing business is so much better understood," suggested Benjamin.

"You can get over that difficulty quickly by showing them what you can do," answered Mr. Denham. "You have more intelligence and culture than most of the English printers; and that will help you."

"I will lose no time in making an application for a place," said Benjamin. "I am under obligations to you for your interest in me."

"It may prove of great advantage to you to have this opportunity to become familiar with printing in London," continued Mr. Denham. "You can perfect yourself in the art against the time you return, and set up business in Philadelphia. So you may get some good out of your trials, after all. 'It is an ill wind that blows no one any good.'"

"It looks so, certainly," Benjamin answered. "I will accept your advice, and see what I can do."

Benjamin had paid too dear for the whistle again; but he made the best of it. First of all, he found a permanent boarding-place for himself and Ralph, where the charges were in proportion to his pecuniary ability. It was in Little Britain Street; and the weekly charge was only three shillings and sixpence. Then both started out in search of work. Benjamin went direct to Palmer's famous printing house in Bartholomew Close, where fifty hands were then employed, and applied for a situation.

"What experience have you had?" inquired the overseer.

"Several years. I learned the business of my brother, James Franklin, in Boston, America; and he came to your country and learned it, before setting up the business in his own country."

"You ought to understand it, then. But why do you seek work in this country?"

"I did not come to London for work, but for an outfit with which to establish the business in Philadelphia." And Benjamin rehearsed his arrangement with Governor Keith, and the treachery which had been practised upon him, which interested the manager very much, and, at the same time, won his sympathy.

"Though Governor Keith proved so treacherous to you, the facts show his confidence in your ability as a printer," he remarked; "and, surely, in these misfortunes, a friend in need is a friend indeed. I think I can find something for you to do."

"You can try me, and I shall be very thankful for the chance," Benjamin answered. "I have no desire to work for any man unless I can suit him."

"That is an honorable view of the matter; and I have no doubt of your ability to satisfy me. You can come at once, and I will give you a position."

They agreed upon wages that were satisfactory to Benjamin, and the next day he went to work. The truth was, that the boss of Palmer's printing house was very much pleased with Benjamin's appearance. He saw at once that he was a young man of uncommon ability. He was surprised to learn that he was not quite nineteen years of age, since his appearance was that of a young man of twenty-two. Therefore, he was not only desirous of aiding him in his embarrassing situation, but he was glad to employ a young man of so much promise.

Ralph was not so successful. Here and there he applied for work, but no one appeared to want him. Benjamin rendered him all the assistance possible evenings; but his efforts met with no success. In advanced life, Benjamin spoke of Ralph's efforts as follows:

"He first endeavored to get into the playhouse, believing himself qualified for an actor; but Wilkes, to whom he applied, advised him candidly not to think of that employment, as it was impossible he should succeed in it. Then he proposed to Roberts, a publisher in Pater Noster Row, to write for him a weekly paper like the Spectator, on certain conditions; which Roberts did not approve. Then he endeavored to get employment as a hackney writer, to copy for the stationers and lawyers about the Temple; but could not find a vacancy."

Ralph possessed considerable ability as an amateur player of tragedy or comedy; and he was quite a racy writer, also; hence his application for a situation as above. Benjamin was familiar with his qualifications on the lines mentioned, and seconded his efforts as best he could; but all to no purpose.

As Ralph had no money or work, Benjamin was obliged to support him. He paid his board, and loaned him small sums from time to time, so that he could maintain the appearance of a respectable citizen. But he was another elephant on Benjamin's hands. The weeks multiplied, and still Ralph had no employment. He was a constant bill of expense. Willing to work, abhorring a life of idleness, his condition and prospects were a torment to himself. He was more troubled even than Benjamin over his misfortune. At length, however, he announced:

"I am going to put an end to this sort of a life, Ben. I have stood it as long as I can. I am going out into the country to find a school to teach. I am told that I can easily find one."

"Not a bad idea, in the circumstances," replied Benjamin. "Teaching is an honorable and useful business; and it will make you friends."

"I should much prefer to remain in this city and find a more congenial situation; but beggars can't be choosers, and so I have concluded to make the best of it. I am completely discouraged in trying for work in London." Ralph spoke as he felt, for he had become disheartened.

"It seems strange, almost," continued Benjamin "that you can find no situation of any sort in this great city, where----"

"I was not born under a lucky star, as you were, Ben," interrupted Ralph.

"My experience with Governor Keith doesn't show much of a star any way," rejoined Benjamin. "Certainly, it is not a lucky one, nor a morning star; if it is a star at all, it must be an evening star, seen only when it is getting dark."

"I wish I could accept disappointment and defeat as philosophically as you can, Ben; but I can't. It is quite impossible for me to make the best out of the worst; but you can."

"It is the way I am made, no doubt," said Benjamin in reply. "I never could make any thing by fretting."

"Nor any body else," quickly answered Ralph, "and still I fret and worry as if thereby I could mend the matter. But I am going to strike out for a school, and leave London to suffer the consequences of not employing me."

"That is philosophical, sure," added Benjamin.

The school was secured within a short time, and Ralph became a schoolmaster a few miles out of London. Benjamin continued to serve in the Palmer printing house, where he gave satisfaction, and made his mark, as we shall see.

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