The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin/Section Twenty Three
Section Twenty Three
At my first Admission into this Printing House, I took to working at Press, imagining I felt a Want of the Bodily Exercise I had been us’d to in America, where Presswork is mix’d with Composing. I drank only Water; the other Workmen, near 50 in Number, were great Guzzlers of Beer. On occasion I carried up & down Stairs a large Form of Types in each hand, when others carried but one in both Hands. They wonder’d to see from this & several Instances that the water-American as they call’d me was stronger than themselves who drank strong Beer. We had an Ale-house Boy who attended always in the House to supply the Workmen. My Companion at the Press, drank every day a Pint before Breakfast, a Pint at Breakfast with his Bread and Cheese; a Pint between Breakfast and Dinner; a Pint at Dinner; a Pint in the Afternoon about Six o’Clock, and another when he had done his Day’s-Work. I thought it a detestable Custom. But it was necessary, he suppos’d, to drink strong Beer that he might be strong to labor. I endeavor’d to convince him that the Bodily Strength afforded by Beer could only be in proportion to the Grain or Flour of the Barley dissolved in the Water of which it was made; that there was more Flour in a Penny-worth of Bread, and therefore if he would eat that with a Pint of Water, it would give him more Strength than a Quart of Beer. He drank on however, & had 4 or 5 Shillings to pay out of his Wages every Saturday Night for that muddling Liquor; an Expense I was free from. And thus these poor Devils keep themselves always under.
Watts after some Weeks desiring to have me in the Composing-Room, I left the Pressmen. A new Bienvenu or Sum for Drink, being 5/, was demanded of me by the Compositors. I thought it an Imposition, as I had paid below. The Master thought so too, and forbad my Paying it. I stood out two or three Weeks, was accordingly considered as an Excommunicate, and had so many little Pieces of private Mischief done me, by mixing my Sorts, transposing my Pages, breaking my Matter, &c, &c. if I were ever so little out of the Room, & all ascrib’d to the Chapel Ghost, which they said ever haunted those not regularly admitted, that notwithstanding the Master’s Protection, I found myself oblig’d to comply and pay the Money; convinc’d of the Folly of being on ill Terms with those one is to live with continually. I was now on a fair Footing with them, and soon acquir’d considerable Influence. I propos’d some reasonable Alterations in their Chapel** Laws, and carried them against all Opposition. From my Example a great Part of them left their muddling Breakfast of Beer & Bread & Cheese, finding they could with me be supply’d from a neighboring House with a large Porringer of hot Water-gruel, sprinkled with Pepper, crumb’d with Bread, & a Bit of Butter in it, for the Price of a Pint of Beer, viz, three half-pence. This was a more comfortable as well as cheaper Breakfast, & kept their Heads clearer. Those who continu’d sotting with Beer all day, were often, by not paying, out of Credit at the Alehouse, and us’d to make Interest with me to get Beer, their Light, as they phras’d it, being out. I watch’d the Pay table on Saturday Night, & collected what I stood engag’d for them, having to pay some times near Thirty Shillings a Week on their Accounts. This, and my being esteem’d a pretty good Riggite, that is a jocular verbal Satirist, supported my Consequence in the Society. My constant Attendance, (I never making a St. Monday), recommended me to the Master; and my uncommon Quickness at Composing, occasion’d my being put upon all Work of Dispatch which was generally better paid. So I went on now very agreeably.