The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin/Section Twenty Nine
Section Twenty Nine
There are Croakers in every Country always boding its Ruin. Such a one then lived in Philadelphia, a Person of Note, an elderly Man, with a wise Look, and very grave Manner of speaking. His Name was Samuel Mickle. This Gentleman, a Stranger to me, stopped one Day at my Door, and asked me if I was the young Man who had lately opened a new Printing-house: Being answer’d in the Affirmative, he said he was sorry for me, because it was an expensive Undertaking & the Expense would be lost; for Philadelphia was a sinking Place, the People already half Bankrupts or near being so; all Appearances of the contrary, such as new Buildings & the Rise of Rents being to his certain Knowledge fallacious, for they were in fact among the Things that would soon ruin us. And he gave me such a Detail of Misfortunes, now existing or that were soon to exist, that he left me half-melancholy. Had I known him before I engag’d in this Business, probably I never should have done it. This Man continu’d to live in this decaying Place, and to declaim in the same Strain, refusing for many Years to buy a House there, because all was going to Destruction, and at last I had the Pleasure of seeing him give five times as much for one as he might have bought it for when he first began his Croaking.
I should have mention’d before, that in the Autumn of the preceding Year I had form’d most of my ingenious Acquaintances into a Club for mutual Improvement, which we called the Junto. We met on Friday Evening. The Rules I drew up requir’d that every Member in his Turn should produce one or more Queries on any Point of Morals, Politics or Natural Philosophy, to be discuss’d by the Company, and once in three Months produce & read an Essay of his own Writing on any Subject he pleased. Our Debates were to be under the Direction of a President, and to be conducted in the sincere Spirit of Inquiry after Truth, without Fondness for Dispute, or Desire of Victory; and to prevent Warmth all Expressions of Positiveness in Opinion or of direct Contradiction, were after some time made contraband & prohibited under small pecuniary Penalties. The first Members were Joseph Breintnal, a Copyer of Deeds for the Scriveners; a good-natur’d friendly middle-ag’d Man, a great Lover of Poetry, reading all he could meet with, & writing some that was tolerable; very ingenious in many little Nicknackeries, & of sensible Conversation. Thomas Godfrey, a self-taught Mathematician, great in his Way, & afterwards Inventor of what is now call’d Hadley’s Quadrant. But he knew little out of his way, and was not a pleasing Companion, as like most Great Mathematicians I have met with, he expected unusual Precision in every thing said, or was forever denying or distinguishing upon Trifles, to the Disturbance of all Conversation. He soon left us. Nicholas Scull, a Surveyor, afterwards Surveyor-General, Who lov’d Books, & sometimes made a few Verses. William Parsons, bred a Shoemaker, but loving Reading, had acquir’d a considerable Share of Mathematics, which he first studied with a View to Astrology that he afterwards laughed at. He also became Surveyor General. William Maugridge, a Joiner, a most exquisite Mechanic & a solid sensible Man. Hugh Meredith, Stephen Potts, & George Webb, I have Characteris’d before. Robert Grace, a young Gentleman of some Fortune, generous, lively & witty, a Lover of Punning and of his Friends. And William Coleman, then a Merchant’s Clerk, about my Age, who had the coolest clearest Head, the best Heart, and the exactest Morals, of almost any Man I ever met with. He became afterwards a Merchant of great Note, and one of our Provincial Judges: Our Friendship continued without Interruption to his Death upwards of 40 Years. And the club continu’d almost as long and was the best School of Philosophy, Morals & Politics that then existed in the Province; for our Queries which were read the Week preceding their Discussion, put us on Reading with Attention upon the several Subjects, that we might speak more to the purpose: and here too we acquired better Habits of Conversation, every thing being studied in our Rules which might prevent our disgusting each other. From hence the long Continuance of the Club, which I shall have frequent Occasion to speak farther of hereafter; But my giving this Account of it here, is to show something of the Interest I had, every one of these exerting themselves in recommending Business to us. Breintnal particularly procur’d us from the Quakers, the Printing 40 Sheets of their History, the rest being to be done by Keimer: and upon this we work’d exceeding hard, for the Price was low. It was a Folio, Pro Patria Size, in Pica with Long Primer Notes. I compos’d of it a Sheet a Day, and Meredith work’d it off at Press. It was often 11 at Night and sometimes later, before I had finish’d my Distribution for the next days Work: For the little Jobs sent in by our other Friends now & then put us back. But so determin’d I was to continue doing a Sheet a Day of the Folio, that one Night when having impos’d my Forms, I thought my Day’s Work over, one of them by accident was broken and two Pages reduc’d to Pie, I immediately distributed & compos’d it over again before I went to bed. And this Industry visible to our Neighbors began to give us Character and Credit; particularly I was told, that mention being made of the new Printing Office at the Merchants every-night-Club, the general Opinion was that it must fail, there being already two Printers in the Place, Keimer & Bradford; but Doctor Baird (whom you and I saw many Years after at his native Place, St. Andrews in Scotland) gave a contrary Opinion; for the Industry of that Franklin, says he, is superior to any thing I ever saw of the kind: I see him still at work when I go home from Club; and he is at Work again before his Neighbors are out of bed. This struck the rest, and we soon after had Offers from one of them to Supply us with Stationery. But as yet we did not choose to engage in Shop Business.
I mention this Industry the more particularly and the more freely, tho’ it seems to be talking in my own Praise, that those of my Posterity who shall read it, may know the Use of that Virtue, when they see its Effects in my Favor throughout this Relation.