The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin/Section Twenty Eight
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Section Twenty Eight
At Burlington I made an Acquaintance with many principal People of the Province. Several of them had been appointed by the Assembly a Committee to attend the Press, and take Care that no more Bills were printed than the Law directed. They were therefore by Turns constantly with us, and generally he who attended brought with him a Friend or two for Company. My Mind having been much more improv’d by Reading than Keimer’s, I suppose it was for that Reason my Conversation seem’d to be more valu’d. They had me to their Houses, introduc’d me to their Friends and show’d me much Civility, while he, tho’ the Master, was a little neglected. In truth he was an odd Fish, ignorant of common Life, fond of rudely opposing receiv’d Opinions, slovenly to extreme dirtiness, enthusiastic in some Points of Religion, and a little Knavish withal. We continu’d there near 3 Months, and by that time I could reckon among my acquired Friends, Judge Allen, Samuel Bustill, the Secretary of the Province, Isaac Pearson, Joseph Cooper & several of the Smiths, Members of Assembly, and Isaac Decow the Surveyor General. The latter was a shrewd sagacious old Man, who told me that he began for himself when young by wheeling Clay for the Brick-makers, learned to write after he was of Age, carry’d the Chain for Surveyors, who taught him Surveying, and he had now by his Industry acquir’d a good Estate; and says he, I foresee, that you will soon work this Man out of his Business & make a Fortune in it at Philadelphia. He had not then the least Intimation of my Intention to set up there or any where. These Friends were afterwards of great Use to me, as I occasionally was to some of them. They all continued their Regard for me as long as they lived.
Before I enter upon my public Appearance in Business it may be well to let you know the then State of my Mind, with regard to my Principles and Morals, that you may see how far those influenc’d the future Events of my Life. My Parents had early given me religious Impressions, and brought me through my Childhood piously in the Dissenting Way. But I was scarce 15 when, after doubting by turns of several Points as I found them disputed in the different Books I read, I began to doubt of Revelation it self. Some Books against Deism fell into my Hands; they were said to be the Substance of Sermons preached at Boyle’s Lectures. It happened that they wrought an Effect on me quite contrary to what was intended by them: For the Arguments of the Deists which were quoted to be refuted, appeared to me much Stronger than the Refutations. In short I soon became a thorough Deist. My Arguments perverted some others, particularly Collins & Ralph: but each of them having afterwards wrong’d me greatly without the least Compunction and recollecting Keith’s Conduct toward me, (who was another Freethinker) and my own towards Vernon & Miss Read, which at Times gave me great Trouble, I began to suspect that this Doctrine tho’ it might be true, was not very useful. My London Pamphlet, which had for its Motto those Lines of Dryden —Whatever is, is right.— Tho’ purblind Man / Sees but a Part of the Chain, the nearest Link, His Eyes not carrying to the equal Beam, That poises all, above.
And from the Attributes of God, his infinite Wisdom, Goodness & Power concluded that nothing could possibly be wrong in the World, & that Vice & Virtue were empty Distinctions, no such Things existing: appear’d now not so clever a Performance as I once thought it; and I doubted whether some Error had not insinuated itself unperceiv’d, into my Argument, so as to infect all that follow’d, as is common in metaphysical Reasonings. I grew convinc’d that Truth, Sincerity & Integrity in Dealings between Man & Man, were of the utmost Importance to the Felicity of Life, and I form’d written Resolutions, (which still remain in my Journal Book) to practice them ever while I lived. Revelation had indeed no weight with me as such; but I entertain’d an Opinion, that tho’ certain Actions might not be bad because they were forbidden by it, or good because it commanded them; yet probably those Actions might be forbidden because they were bad for us, or commanded because they were beneficial to us, in their own Natures, all the Circumstances of things considered. And this Persuasion, with the kind hand of Providence, or some guardian Angel, or accidental favorable Circumstances & Situations, or all together, preserved me (thro’ this dangerous Time of Youth & the hazardous Situations I was sometimes in among Strangers, remote from the Eye & Advice of my Father) without any wilful gross Immorality or Injustice that might have been expected from my Want of Religion. I say wilful, because the Instances I have mentioned, had something of Necessity in them, from my Youth, Inexperience, & the Knavery of others. I had therefore a tolerable Character to begin the World with, I valued it properly, & determin’d to preserve it.
We had not been long return’d to Philadelphia, before the New Types arriv’d from London. We settled with Keimer, & left him by his Consent before he heard of it. We found a House to hire near the Market, and took it. To lessen the Rent, (which was then but 24£ a Year tho’ I have since known it let for 70) We took in Thomas Godfrey, a Glazier, & his Family, who were to pay a considerable Part of it to us, and we to board with them. We had scarce opened our Letters & put our Press in Order, before George House, an Acquaintance of Mine, brought a Country-man to us; whom he had met in the Street inquiring for a Printer. All our Cash was now expended in the Variety of Particulars we had been obliged to procure & this Countryman’s Five Shillings being our first Fruits, & coming so seasonably, gave me more Pleasure than any Crown I have since earn’d; and from the Gratitude I felt toward House, has made me often more ready, than perhaps I should otherwise have been to assist young Beginners.