The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin/Section Fifteen
I began now to have some Acquaintance among the young People of the Town, that were Lovers of Reading with whom I spent my Evenings very pleasantly and gaining Money by my Industry & Frugality, I lived very agreeably, forgetting Boston as much as I could, and not desiring that any there should know where I resided, except my Friend Collins who was in my Secret, & kept it when I wrote to him. At length an Incident happened that sent me back again much sooner than I had intended.
I had a Brother-in-law, Robert Homes, Master of a Sloop, that traded between Boston and Delaware. He being at Newcastle 40 Miles below Philadelphia, heard there of me, and wrote me a Letter, mentioning the Concern of my Friends in Boston at my abrupt Departure, assuring me of their Good Will to me, and that every thing would be accommodated to my Mind if I would return, to which he exhorted me very earnestly. I wrote an Answer to his Letter, thank’d him for his Advice, but stated my Reasons for quitting Boston fully, & in such a Light as to convince him I was not so wrong as he had apprehended. Sir William Keith, Governor of the Province, was then at New Castle, and Capt. Homes happening to be in Company with him when my Letter came to hand, spoke to him of me, and show’d him the Letter. The Governor read it, and seem’d surpris’d when he was told my Age. He said I appear’d a young Man of promising Parts, and therefore should be encouraged: The Printers at Philadelphia were wretched ones, and if I would set up there, he made no doubt I should succeed; for his Part, he would procure me the public Business, & do me every other Service in his Power. This my Brother-in-Law afterwards told me in Boston. But I knew as yet nothing of it; when one Day Keimer and I being at Work together near the Window, we saw the Governor and another Gentleman (which prov’d to be Col. French, of New Castle) finely dress’d, come directly across the Street to our House, & heard them at the Door. Keimer ran down immediately, thinking it a Visit to him. But the Governor inquir’d for me, came up, & with a Condescension & Politeness I had been quite unus’d to, made me many Compliments, desired to be acquainted with me, blam’d me kindly for not having made myself known to him when I first came to the Place, and would have me away with him to the Tavern where he was going with Col. French to taste as he said some excellent Madeira. I was not a little surpris’d, and Keimer star’d like a Pig poison’d. I went however with the Governor & Col. French, to a Tavern the Corner of Third Street, and over the Madeira he propos’d my Setting up my Business, laid before me the Probabilities of Success, & both he & Col. French assur’d me I should have their Interest & Influence in procuring the Public Business of both Governments. On my doubting whether my Father would assist me in it, Sir William said he would give me a Letter to him, in which he would state the Advantages, and he did not doubt of prevailing with him. So it was concluded I should return to Boston in the first Vessel with the Governor’s Letter recommending me to my Father. In the mean time the Intention was to be kept secret, and I went on working with Keimer as usual, the Governor sending for me now & then to dine with him, a very great Honor I thought it, and conversing with me in the most affable, familiar, & friendly manner imaginable. About the End of April 1724. a little Vessel offer’d for Boston. I took Leave of Keimer as going to see my Friends. The Governor gave me an ample Letter, saying many flattering things of me to my Father, and strongly recommending the Project of my setting up at Philadelphia, as a Thing that must make my Fortune. We struck on a Shoal in going down the Bay & sprung a Leak, we had a blustering time at Sea, and were oblig’d to pump almost continually, at which I took my Turn. We arriv’d safe however at Boston in about a Fortnight. I had been absent Seven Months and my Friends had heard nothing of me; for my Br. Homes was not yet return’d; and had not written about me. My unexpected Appearance surpris’d the Family; all were however very glad to see me and made me Welcome, except my Brother. I went to see him at his Printinghouse: I was better dress’d than ever while in his Service, having a genteel new Suit from Head to foot, a Watch, and my Pockets lin’d with near Five Pounds Sterling in Silver. He receiv’d me not very frankly, look’d me all over, and turn’d to his Work again. The Journey-Men were inquisitive where I had been, what sort of a Country it was, and how I lik’d it? I prais’d it much, & the happy Life I led in it; expressing strongly my Intention of returning to it; and one of them asking what kind of Money we had there, I produc’d a handful of Silver and spread it before them, which was a kind of Raree-Show they had not been us’d to, Paper being the Money of Boston. Then I took an Opportunity of letting them see my Watch: and lastly, (my Brother still grum & sullen) I gave them a Piece of Eight to drink, & took my Leave. This Visit of mine offended him extremely. For when my Mother some time after spoke to him of a Reconciliation, & of her Wishes to see us on good Terms together, & that we might live for the future as Brothers, he said, I had insulted him in such a Manner before his People that he could never forget or forgive it. In this however he was mistaken.
My Father receiv’d the Governor’s Letter with some apparent Surprise; but said little of it to me for some Days; when Capt. Homes returning, he show’d it to him, ask’d if he knew Keith, and what kind of a Man he was: Adding his Opinion that he must be of small Discretion, to think of setting a Boy up in Business who wanted yet 3 Years of being at Man’s Estate. Homes said what he could in favor of the Project; but my Father was clear in the Impropriety of it; and at last gave a flat Denial to it. Then he wrote a civil Letter to Sir William thanking him for the Patronage he had so kindly offered me, but declining to assist me as yet in Setting up, I being in his Opinion too young to be trusted with the Management of a Business so important, & for which the Preparation must be so expensive.
My Friend & Companion Collins, who was a Clerk at the Post-Office, pleas’d with the Account I gave him of my new Country, determin’d to go thither also: And while I waited for my Father’s Determination, he set out before me by Land to Rhode Island, leaving his Books which were a pretty Collection of Mathematics & Natural Philosophy, to come with mine & me to New York where he propos’d to wait for me. My Father, tho’ he did not approve of Sir William’s Proposition was yet pleas’d that I had been able to obtain so advantageous a Character from a Person of such Note where I had resided, and that I had been so industrious & careful as to equip myself so handsomely in so short a time: therefore seeing no Prospect of an Accommodation between my Brother & me, he gave his Consent to my Returning again to Philadelphia, advis’d me to behave respectfully to the People there, endeavor to obtain the general Esteem, & avoid lampooning & libelling to which he thought I had too much Inclination; telling me, that by steady Industry and a prudent Parsimony, I might save enough by the time I was One and Twenty to set me up, & that if I came near the Matter he would help me out with the rest. This was all I could obtain, except some small Gifts as Tokens of his & my Mother’s Love, when I embark’d again for New York, now with their Approbation & their Blessing.