The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin/Section Twenty Four
Section Twenty Four
My Lodging in Little Britain being too remote, I found another in Duke-street opposite to the Romish Chapel. It was two pair of Stairs backwards at an Italian Warehouse. A Widow Lady kept the House; she had a Daughter & a Maid Servant, and a Journeyman who attended the Warehouse, but lodg’d abroad. After sending to inquire my Character at the House where I last lodg’d, she agreed to take me in at the same Rate, 3/6 per Week, cheaper as she said from the Protection she expected in having a Man lodge in the House. She was a Widow, an elderly Woman, had been bred a Protestant, being a Clergyman’s Daughter, but was converted to the Catholic Religion by her Husband, whose Memory she much revered; had lived much among People of Distinction, and knew a 1000 Anecdotes of them as far back as the Times of Charles the Second. She was lame in her Knees with the Gout, and therefore seldom stirr’d out of her Room, so sometimes wanted Company; and hers was so highly amusing to me; that I was sure to spend an Evening with her whenever she desired it. Our Supper was only half an Anchovy each, on a very little Strip of Bread & Butter, and half a Pint of Ale between us. But the Entertainment was in her Conversation. My always keeping good Hours, and giving little Trouble in the Family, made her unwilling to part with me; so that when I talk’d of a Lodging I had heard of, nearer my Business, for 2/ a Week, which, intent as I now was on saving Money, made some difference; she bid me not think of it, for she would abate me two Shillings a Week for the future, so I remain’d with her at 1/6 as long as I stayed in London.
In a Garret of her House there lived a Maiden Lady of 70 in the most retired Manner, of whom my Landlady gave me this Account, that she was a Roman Catholic, had been sent abroad when young & lodg’d in a Nunnery with an Intent of becoming a Nun: but the Country not agreeing with her, she return’d to England, where there being no Nunnery, she had vow’d to lead the Life of a Nun as near as might be done in those Circumstances: Accordingly she had given all her Estate to charitable Uses, reserving only Twelve Pounds a Year to live on, and out of this Sum she still gave a great deal in Charity, living herself on Water-gruel only, & using no Fire but to boil it. She had lived many Years in that Garret, being permitted to remain there gratis by successive Catholic Tenants of the House below, as they deem’d it a Blessing to have her there. A Priest visited her, to confess her every Day. I have ask’d her, says my Landlady, how she, as she liv’d, could possibly find so much Employment for a Confessor? O, says she, it is impossible to avoid vain Thoughts. I was permitted once to visit her: She was cheerful & polite, & convers’d pleasantly. The Room was clean, but had no other Furniture than a Mattress, a Table with a Crucifix & Book, a Stool, which she gave me to sit on, and a Picture over the Chimney of St. Veronica, displaying her Handkerchief with the miraculous Figure of Christ’s bleeding Face on it, which she explain’d to me with great Seriousness. She look’d pale, but was never sick, and I give it as another Instance on how small an Income Life & Health may be supported.