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From Boyhood to Manhood|
XXVI. 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
"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
"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 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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
"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.