The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin/Section Twenty Seven
Section Twenty Seven
It was an odd Thing to find an Oxford Scholar in the Situation of a bought Servant. He was not more than 18 Years of Age, & gave me this Account of himself; that he was born in Gloucester, educated at a Grammar School there, had been distinguish’d among the Scholars for some apparent Superiority in performing his Part when they exhibited Plays; belong’d to the Witty Club there, and had written some Pieces in Prose & Verse which were printed in the Gloucester Newspapers. Thence he was sent to Oxford; there he continu’d about a Year, but not well-satisfy’d, wishing of all things to see London & become a Player. At length receiving his Quarterly Allowance of 15 Guineas, instead of discharging his Debts, he walk’d out of Town, hid his Gown in a Furze Bush, and footed it to London, where having no Friend to advise him, he fell into bad Company, soon spent his Guineas, found no means of being introduc’d among the Players, grew necessitous, pawn’d his Clothes & wanted Bread. Walking the Street very hungry, & not knowing what to do with himself, a Crimp’s Bill was put into his Hand, offering immediate Entertainment & Encouragement to such as would bind themselves to serve in America. He went directly, sign’d the Indentures, was put into the Ship & came over; never writing a Line to acquaint his Friends what was become of him. He was lively, witty, good-natur’d, and a pleasant Companion, but idle, thoughtless & imprudent to the last Degree.
John the Irishman soon ran away. With the rest I began to live very agreeably; for they all respected me, the more as they found Keimer incapable of instructing them, and that from me they learned something daily. We never work’d on a Saturday, that being Keimer’s Sabbath. So I had two Days for Reading. My Acquaintance with Ingenious People in the Town, increased. Keimer himself treated me with great Civility, & apparent Regard; and nothing now made me uneasy but my Debt to Vernon, which I was yet unable to pay being hitherto but a poor Economist. He however kindly made no Demand of it.
Our Printinghouse often wanted Sorts, and there was no Letter Founder in America. I had seen Types cast at James’s in London, but without much Attention to the Manner: However I now contriv’d a Mold, made use of the Letters we had, as Puncheons, struck the Matrices in Lead, and thus supply’d in a pretty tolerable way all Deficiencies. I also engrav’d several Things on occasion. I made the Ink, I was Warehouse-man & every thing, in short quite a Factotum.
But however serviceable I might be, I found that my Services became every Day of less Importance, as the other Hands improv’d in the Business. And when Keimer paid my second Quarter’s Wages, he let me know that he felt them too heavy, and thought I should make an Abatement. He grew by degrees less civil, put on more of the Master, frequently found Fault, was captious and seem’d ready for an Out- breaking. I went on nevertheless with a good deal of Patience, thinking that his incumber’d Circumstances were partly the Cause. At length a Trifle snapped our Connection. For a great Noise happening near the Courthouse, I put my Head out of the Window to see what was the Matter. Keimer being in the Street look’d up & saw me, call’d out to me in a loud voice and angry Tone to mind my Business, adding some reproachful Words, that nettled me the more for their Publicity, all the Neighbors who were looking out on the same Occasion being Witnesses how I was treated. He came up immediately into the Printinghouse, continu’d the Quarrel, high Words pass’d on both Sides, he gave me the Quarter’s Warning we had stipulated, expressing a Wish that he had not been oblig’d to so long a Warning: I told him his Wish was unnecessary for I would leave him that Instant; and so taking my Hat walk’d out of Doors; desiring Meredith whom I saw below to take care of some Things I left, & bring them to my Lodging.
Meredith came accordingly in the Evening, when we talk’d my Affair over. He had conceiv’d a great Regard for me, & was very unwilling that I should leave the House while he remain’d in it. He dissuaded me from returning to my native Country which I began to think of. He reminded me that Keimer was in debt for all he possess’d, that his Creditors began to be uneasy, that he kept his Shop miserably, sold often without Profit for ready Money, and often trusted without keeping Accounts. That he must therefore fail; which would make a Vacancy I might profit of. I objected my Want of Money. He then let me know, that his Father had a high Opinion of me, and from some Discourse that had pass’d between them, he was sure would advance Money to set us up, if I would enter into Partnership with him. My Time, says he, will be out with Keimer in the Spring. By that time we may have our Press & Types in from London: I am sensible I am no Workman. If you like it, Your Skill in the Business shall be set against the Stock I furnish; and we will share the Profits equally. The Proposal was agreeable, and I consented. His Father was in Town, and approv’d of it, the more as he saw I had great Influence with his Son, had prevail’d on him to abstain long from Dramdrinking, and he hop’d might break him of that wretched Habit entirely, when we came to be so closely connected. I gave an Inventory to the Father, who carry’d it to a Merchant; the Things were sent for; the Secret was to be kept till they should arrive, and in the mean time I was to get work if I could at the other Printinghouse. But I found no Vacancy there, and so remain’d idle a few Days, when Keimer, on a Prospect of being employ’d to print some Paper-money, in New Jersey, which would require Cuts & various Types that I only could supply, and apprehending Bradford might engage me & get the Job from him, sent me a very civil Message, that old Friends should not part for a few Words, the Effect of sudden Passion, and wishing me to return. Meredith persuaded me to comply, as it would give more Opportunity for his Improvement under my daily Instructions. So I return’d, and we went on more smoothly than for some time before. The New Jersey Job was obtain’d. I contriv’d a Copper-Plate Press for it, the first that had been seen in the Country. I cut several Ornaments and Checks for the Bills. We went together to Burlington, where I executed the Whole to Satisfaction, & he received so large a Sum for the Work, as to be enabled thereby to keep his Head much longer above Water.