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From Boyhood to Manhood
At Home Again
by Thayer, William M.


We have seen that James Ralph and Benjamin parted company. Ralph had more brains than heart. His intellectual powers were greater than his principles. The reader may ask what became of him. After continuing poor and unsuccessful, engaging in several literary ventures that did little more than aggravate his poverty, and changing from one kind of work to another, good fortune seemed to become his portion. Mr. Parton says:

"As a political writer, pamphleteer, and compiler of booksellers' history, he flourished long. Four ministers thought his pen worth purchasing: Sir Robert Walpole, Mr. Pelham, Lord Bute, and the Duke of Bedford. The nobleman last named evidently held him in high esteem, and furnished the money for one of Ralph's political periodicals. Lord Bute, it is said, settled upon him an annuity of six hundred pounds. Fox praises the fairness, and Hallam the diligence, displayed in his two huge folios of the 'History of William III.' His works may be examined by the curious in the library of Harvard University and in the Philadelphia city library. In estimating the career of this erring man, we should not forget that many of the noblemen and statesmen with whom he associated, and for whose advancement he toiled, had less principle than he, and had not his excuse." [*]

[* "Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin," vol. i. p. 136.]

"Swimming is one of the fine arts, I think," said Benjamin to Wygate, a printer with whom he was on the most intimate terms. "I feel about as much at home in the water as I do on the land."

"Well, I should go to the bottom pretty quick if I should venture where the water is over my head, for I can't swim any more than this printing-press can," answered Wygate.

"Why don't you learn? It might be of great use to you sometime."

"I should like to know how, but I never tried to learn."

"And that is a good reason for not knowing how to swim. You can't expect to know any thing without learning. I can teach you without any trouble."

"I accept your offer, and will try my best to learn; and Hall will try with me, I think. You can teach two as well as one, can't you?"

"Yes, a dozen, so far as that goes; the more the merrier."

"When will you go?"

"Just when you please. You and Hall fix the time, and I will be on hand."

The result was that Benjamin was in the water with his two pupils within a few days, and he taught both of them to swim well in two lessons. At the same time, he gave them an exhibition of what an expert swimmer can do in the water, performing different feats on and under the water, that filled his two companions with surprise.

"You are a water-American in more senses than one," remarked Wygate, in admiration of Benjamin's pranks in the water. "You could live in the water about as well as on the land."

"That is not strange," responded Hall; "he believes in water, inside and outside; he only practises what he preaches, and that is what he ought to do."

"Some people can't practise what they preach if they try ever so hard, in business or in morals," rejoined Wygate.

Wygate was the son of a wealthy man, who educated him quite thoroughly. He could read Latin and French about as well as he could English, and he could write very entertaining articles. He was fond of reading, too, and loved to discuss important questions. Such a young man was not often found in a printing office, and he just suited Benjamin in his literary tastes, so that they became boon companions. Their mutual attachment was strengthened by this experience in the art of swimming.

Not long after Wygate learned to swim, and while the feats that Benjamin performed in the water were still a subject of remark, some gentlemen proposed an excursion by water to Chelsea, several miles from London.

"Wouldn't you like to go, Ben?"

"Of course I would, if you are going."

"I will go if you go. I will call round with some of the party and introduce you to them."

This was done in due time, and Benjamin learned from them that they were going to Chelsea "to see the college and Don Saltero's curiosities," which object of the excursion more than doubled his interest.

On the trip Wygate talked much with some of the party about Benjamin's feats in the water as almost too wonderful to be believed. On returning, one of the gentlemen said:

"Franklin, why can you not give us an exhibition of your antics in the water?"

"Yes, Ben, do; let them see that what I have told them is literally true," entreated Wygate.

"Come, Ben, do it," added Hall; "it will put Saltero's curiosities into the shade. These gentlemen will be so interested in your performances that they will forget all other curiosities."

"Well, I am always ready to accommodate," replied Benjamin, "and it will not cross my disposition to have a little frolic in the water, so I will consent."

So saying, he took off his clothing and leaped into the river, and was soon as much at home there as a water-fowl. Sometimes he was under the water, and sometimes on it; it did not seem to make much difference to him which. He swam from Chelsea to Blackfriars, four miles, entertaining the company with many manoeuvres all the way. Then he got on board, arrayed himself in his apparel to hear such words of praise as these:

"Wonderful! I had no idea that any man could attain to such skill in the water."

"No one in London who can do that!"

"Nor in all England and Wales."

"Couldn't drown you, Franklin, if you were left in the middle of the Atlantic ocean."

"You could make a fortune, if you chose to exhibit your skill."

As this brief experience, together with his teaching Wygate and Hall to swim, won him quite a reputation on this line, we may state here, that after Benjamin had decided to return to Philadelphia and arranged therefor, he received a note from Sir William Wyndham, a noted public man, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Bolingbroke administration, inviting him to pay him a visit. Benjamin was again perplexed to know what this great man could want of him; but he went to see him.

"I am happy to see you, Mr. Franklin, and I hope it has been no inconvenience to you to call at this time."

"None at all," answered Benjamin. "On the other hand, I consider myself highly honored by your invitation to call; and I have gladly embraced the first opportunity to do so."

"I have heard of your great skill in the art of swimming," continued Sir Wyndham; "and how quickly you taught two young printers to swim."

"Yes," modestly answered Benjamin, "I have some skill in the water, and I did teach two of my companions the art of swimming, so that they are excellent swimmers now."

"That is what I heard; and I have two sons who are soon to start upon extensive travels, and I want they should learn to swim before they go. It may be of great service to them."

"I have no doubt it would prove a benefit to them," responded Benjamin. "I should not want to part with my skill for any consideration whatever."

"Can you teach my two sons the art at once?"

"I regret to say that I can not, for the reason that I am soon to leave London and return to America."

"Sorry for that, very sorry indeed. Allow me to suggest that, if you could prolong your stay here, you might make a real pecuniary success of establishing a swimming school. I should be willing to pay almost any price for the instruction of my two sons." Sir Wyndham was very earnest in his counsel, and made this suggestion sincerely.

"I really feel under great obligations for your interest and good opinions," Benjamin answered; "but I have already accepted an invitation to engage in business in Philadelphia, my home, and may leave within a few days."

"That settles the matter, of course; but I am sorry that it is so," added Sir Wyndham. "I trust that you may prosper wherever you are."

Benjamin thanked him heartily for his complimentary words and good wishes, and left him, almost wishing that he could cancel his engagement with Mr. Denham and open a swimming school. Wygate and Hall assured him that he could do well in that business.

Soon after the excursion to Chelsea, Wygate made known to Benjamin a scheme that was in his mind.

"I want to travel extensively over Europe," he said, "and I have decided to do it if you will become my traveling companion. We can stop as necessity requires, from time to time, and work at our business, so as to pay our way."

"I should like nothing better than to travel all over Europe," answered Benjamin. "I have a desire to see more than I have seen of this part of the world."

"Well, what do you think of the plan?"

"I should say that it is practicable, although the suggestion is entirely new to me. Could we get work at our business?"

"I took it for granted that we could," replied Wygate. "I have no more means of knowing than you have."

"I should take it for granted that we could, too," said Benjamin; "still I shall want to consider it; it is quite an enterprise to undertake."

"Somewhat of a scheme; but a very interesting and instructive one if successfully prosecuted."

"That is so, and I think favorably of it. I will consult my good friend, Denham, about it. He has seen more of the world than we have."

Benjamin was evidently favorably impressed with the proposition; for he embraced the first opportunity to lay the subject before Mr. Denham.

"It does not strike me favorably," said Mr. Denham.

"We could both see and learn a great deal," remarked Benjamin.

"That is true; but other things are to be considered, which are of equal importance. What might do for Wygate, whose home is here, might not do for you, whose home is in America."

"That may be." Benjamin's brief reply indicated that he was not quite certain on that point.

"It appears to me," continued Mr. Denham, "that your first thoughts should be concerned about returning to Philadelphia, that you may set up business for yourself there."

"I do not see much prospect of that at present. Of course I should be glad to return home; for there is no place I prefer to Philadelphia."

"So far as prospects of which you speak are concerned, we can not always judge; unexpected opportunities sometimes offer; and you do not want to put yourself where you can not accept and use them."

"Of course not," Benjamin answered, evidently disappointed that his friend did not endorse the scheme.

"I should recommend decidedly that you abandon the project entirely, and think no more about it. Then you can continue your work with the intention of returning to America whenever a favorable opportunity occurs."

Benjamin accepted the advice of Mr. Denham, and reported to Wygate, to the no small disappointment of the latter; and both discarded the scheme and devoted themselves to honest labor.

Benjamin heard of a place where he could get boarded at two shillings a week, when he was paying three shillings and sixpence a week in Duke Street.

"I think I shall be under the necessity of changing," he said to the widow with whom he was boarding. "I want to save all the money I can, so as to return to America."

"I shall be very sorry to have you leave, Mr. Franklin, if I can possibly arrange with you to remain."

"I have no desire to leave, except to save a little in my expenses, that I may return to America sooner: that is all."

"Rather than have you go, I will deduct two shillings a week from what you are paying me now."

"That is, you propose to board me for one shilling and sixpence a week?"

"Yes, that is it, and it is a bargain if you say so."

"It is a bargain, then." And Benjamin continued to board there as long as he remained in London.

Before this woman received him for a boarder in the first place, she sent to the printing house to inquire about his character. The report was so favorable that she took him to board. And now she had tried him, and was a greater admirer of his character than ever.

It is one of the things to be said in Benjamin's favor, that, with all his faults, he always pleased and satisfied his employers and boarding-house keepers.

Benjamin records the following interesting incident respecting his friend Denham, of whom we have spoken, and to whom we shall refer again:
"I must record one trait of this good man's character. He had formerly been in business at Bristol, but failed, in debt to a number of people, compounded, and went to America. There, by a close application to business as a merchant, he acquired a plentiful fortune in a few years. Returning to England in the ship with me, he invited his old creditors to an entertainment, at which he thanked them for the easy composition they had favored him with, and, when they expected nothing but the treat, every man at the first remove found under his plate an order on a banker for the full amount of the unpaid remainder, with interest."
It was this excellent man and friend, who finally approached Benjamin with a proposition.

"How would you like to return to Philadelphia?" he said to Benjamin.

"I should like nothing better, if the way was open for me to go."

"I will open a way for you if you will go."

"How?"

"I am going myself. I intend to open a store of goods in Philadelphia, and will employ you in the business, if you will go."

"I should like to go; but that will be a new business for me; perhaps I shall not succeed in it."

"That is my lookout. I think you will succeed; at any rate, I am prepared to take the risk."

"And I am prepared to go if you will." Benjamin was really delighted with the proposition.

"I will pay you fifty pounds for one year, and increase your wages thereafter as you become familiar with the business."

"That offer is satisfactory, though it is not as much as I make at my trade now."

"It will be better if you succeed. When you become well acquainted with the business, I will send you with a cargo of bread and flour to the West Indies, and I will procure you commissions from others that will be profitable. In this way you can establish a good business for yourself."

"That is a very generous offer on your part, and I hope that I shall merit your kindness."

"It will be necessary for you to close up your business at the printing house at once, as I want you to assist me in purchasing, packing, and shipping goods. My purpose is to carry a large stock to Philadelphia."

"I shall accept your proposition, and resign my position at Watts' immediately, and be at your service early and late."

Benjamin, no doubt, was more interested to return to America on account of his relation to Miss Deborah Read. He had written to her but once, and that was directly after he began work at Palmer's printing house. He told her of Keith's fraud practised upon him, leaving him in London a stranger and nearly penniless, so that he could not return until he had earned money enough to pay his passage. He did not write to her again, and his conscience had condemned him, so that, at times, he dwelt sadly upon his unfaithfulness. He neglected to write for so long a time, that he became ashamed to write at all; and so the correspondence dropped. Yet, he did not forget Miss Read, nor cast her off; and he blamed himself every time his thoughts dwelt upon his sin of omission.

Benjamin's employer was very sorry to part with him.

"I am glad to have you as long as I have," he said, "but I wish you would stay. I feel safe to commit work or business to your care. If ever I can do you a favor, let me know, and I will only be too glad to do it."

"I thank you for your confidence. I have done the best for you I could, as I always mean to do for every employer. I regret to leave you, and my companions with whom I have spent so many hours. But I have a strong desire to return home." Benjamin spoke with considerable feeling.

"That is an honorable desire," answered Mr. Watts, "and I have no doubt that you will be prospered in gratifying it. At any rate, I hope you will."

So Benjamin separated from his old friends on the best of terms, and commenced work for Mr. Denham. Nor was it light work. He accompanied his employer from warehouse to warehouse, packing goods that he bought, and forwarding them to the ship Berkshire, which would sail on July 21st. It was new business for him, but he liked it all the more for its novelty; and he performed the labors with his accustomed tact and industry.

Benjamin had been nineteen months in London when he sailed on the 21st of July, 1726. A few months before, he made the acquaintance of Peter Collinson, a young man of noble English birth, whose talents gave him nearly as much standing as his ancestry. Collinson heard of Benjamin and sought him out, forming a life-long friendship. Collinson accompanied Benjamin to the ship. Just before the vessel weighed anchor, he handed his walking-stick to Benjamin, saying, "Let us exchange."

Benjamin exchanged, replying, "And let it be a pledge of friendship forever."

"And a pledge, also, of faithful correspondence with each other," added Collinson, as they shook hands and parted.

The Berkshire, Henry Clark, master, was eighty-two days on its voyage to Philadelphia. Benjamin landed there on the 11th day of October, 1726: and he was at home again.

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