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My chief acquaintances at this time were Charles Osborne, Joseph Watson, and James Ralph ; all lovers of reading. The two first were clerks to an eminent scrivener or conveyanger in the town, Charles Brockden; the other was a clerk to a merchant. Watson was a pious, sensible young man, of great integrity; the others rather more lax in their principles of religion, particularly Ralph, who, as well as Collins, had been unsettled by me; for which they both made me suffer. Osborne was sensible, candid, frank; sincere and affectionate to his friends, but in literary matters too fond of criticism. Ralph was ingenious, genteel in his manners, and extremely eloquent; I think I never knew a prettier talker. Both were great admirers of poetry, and began to try their hands in little pieces. Many pleasant walks we have had together on Sundays in the woods, on the banks of the Schuylkill, where we read to one another, and conferred on what we had read.
Ralph was inclined to give himself up entirely to poetry, not doubting that he might make great proficiency in it, and even make his fortune by it. He pretended that the greatest poets must, when they first began to write, have committed as many faults as he did. Osborne endeavored to dissuade him, assured him he had no genius for poetry, and advised him to think of nothing beyond the business he was bred to; that in the mercantile way, though he had no stock, he might by his diligence and punctuality recommend himself to employment as a factor, and in time acquire wherewith to trade on his own account. I approved, for my part, the amusing one's self with poetry now and then, so far as to improve one's language, but no further.
On this, it was proposed that we should each of us at our next meeting produce a piece of our own composing, in order to improve by our mutual observations, criticisms, and corrections. As language and expression were what we had in view, we excluded all considerations of invention, by agreeing that the task should be a version of the eighteenth Psalm, which describes the descent of a Deity. When the time of our meeting drew nigh, Ralph called on me first, and let me know his piece was ready. I told him I had been busy, and, having little inclination, had done nothing. He then showed me his piece for my opinion, and I much approved it, as it appeared to me to have
• Now,” said he, “ Osborne never will allow the least merit in anything of mine, but makes a thousand criticisms out of mere envy. He is not so jealous of you; I wish therefore you would take this piece and produce it as yours; I will
pretend not to have had time, and so produce nothing. We shall then hear what he will say to it.” It was agreed, and I immediately transcribed it, that it might appear in my own hand.
We met; Watson's performance was read: there were some heauties in it, but many defects. Osborne's was read: it was much better; Ralph did it justice; remarked some faults, but applauded the beauties. He himself had nothing to produce. I was backward, seemed desirous of being excused, had not had sufficient time to correct, &c.; but no excuse could be admitted ; produce I must. It was read and repeated: Watson and Osborne gave up the contest, and joined in applauding it. Ralph only made some criticisms, and proposed some amendments; but I defended my text. Osborne was severe against Ralph, and told me he was no better able to criticize than compose verses. As these two were returning home, Osborne expressed himself still more strongly in favor of what he thought my production ; having before refrained, as he said, lest I should think he meant to flatter me. “But who would have imagined,” said he, “that Franklin was capable of such a performance; such painting, such force, such fire! He has even improved on the original. In common conversation he seems to have no choice of words; he hesitates and blunders; and yet, good God, how he writes ! When we next met, Ralph discovered the trick we had played, and Osborne was laughed at.
This transaction fixed Ralph in his resolution of becoming a poet. I did all I could to dissuade him from it, but he continued scribbling verses till Pope cured him.* He became, however, a pretty good prose writer. More of him hereafter. But, as I may not have occasion to mention the other two, I shall just remark here that Watson died in my arms a few years after, much lamented, being the best of our set. Osborne went to the West Indies, where he became an eminent lawyer and
* Ralph stands pilloried to posterity in Pope's somewhat overrated « Dunciad”.
“Silence, ye wolves, while Ralph to Cynthia howls,
And makes Night hideous; answer him, ye owls ! ” The allusion here, Pope tells us, is to “a thing” of Ralph's, entitled “ Night.” He calls him “a low writer,” who praised himself in the journals — wholly illiterate, &c From Franklin's account, he was evidently à map of little principle. This did not prevent his becoming a successful political writer. Hie was pensioned in consideration of his pamphlets in support of the ministry. Having obtained possession of a manuscript belonging to Frederick, Prince of Wales, his pension was increased, shortly before his death, 1762, to six hundred pounds a year in consequence of his surrender of the manuscripts
made money, but died young. He and I had made a serious agreement, that the one who happened first to die should, if possible, make a friendly visit to the other, and acquaint him how he found things in that separate state.
But he never fulfilled his promise.
The governor, seeming to like my company, had me frequently at his house, and his setting me up was always mentioned as a fixed thing. I was to take with me letters recommendatory to a number of his friends, besides the letter of credit to furnish me with the necessary money for purchasing the press, types, paper, &c. For these letters I was appointed to call at different times, when they were to be ready; but a future time was still named. Thus we went on till the ship, whose departure too had been several times postponed, was on the point of sailing. Then, when I called to take my leave and receive the letters, his secretary, Dr. Baird, came out to me, and said the governor was extremely busy in writing, but would be down at Newcastle before the ship, and then the letters would be delivered to me.
Ralph, though married, and having one child, had determined to accompany me in this voyage. It was thought he intended to establish a correspondence, and obtain goods to sell on commission; but I found after, that, having some cause of discontent with his wife's relations, he proposed to leave her on their hands, and never to return to America. Having taken leave of my friends, and exchanged promises with Miss Read, I quitted Philadelphia, in the ship, which anchored at Newcastle. The governor was there; but when I went to his lodging, his secretary came to me from him, with expressions of the greatest regret that he could not then see me, being engaged in business of the utmost importance; but that he would send the letters to me on board, wishing me heartily a good voyage, and a speedy return, &c. I returned on board a little puzzled, but still not doubting.
Mr. Andrew Hamilton, a celebrated lawyer of Philadelphia, had taken his passage in the same ship for himself and son, with Mr. Denham, a Quaker merchant, and Messrs. Oniam and Russel, masters of an iron-work in Maryland, who had engaged the great cabin ; so that Ralph and I were forced to take up with a berth in the steerage, and, none on board knowing us, were considered as ordinary persons. But Mr. Hamilton and his son (it was James, since governor) returned from Newcastle to Philadelphia ; the father being recalled by a great fee to plead for a seized ship. And, just before we sailed, Colonel French coming on board, and showing me great respect, I was
more taken notice of, and, with my friend Ralph, invited by the other gentlemen to come into the cabin, there being now room. Accordingly we removed thither.
Understanding that Colonel French had brought on board the governor's despatches, I asked the captain for those letters that were to be under my care. He said all were put into the bag together, and he could not then come at them ; but, before we landed in England, I should have an opportunity of picking them out; so I was satisfied at present, and we proceeded on our voyage. We had a sociable company in the cabin, and lived uncommonly well, having the addition of all Mr. Hamilton's stores, who had laid in plentifully. In this Denham contracted a friendship for me that continued during his life. The voyage was otherwise not a pleasant one, as we had a great deal of bad weather.
When we came into the channel, the captain kept his word with me, and gave me an opportunity of examining the bag for the governor's letters. I found some upon which my name was put, as under my care. I picked out six or seven, that, by the hand-writing, I thought might be the promised letters, especially as one of them was addressed to Buskett, the king's printer, and another to some stationer.
Arrival in London - Finds his Letters are worthless — Intimacy with Ralph
- Gets Work in a Printing-house — Metaphysical Treatise — Frequents a Club - A Promise to see Sir Isaac Newton Sir Hans Sloane A Dangerous Acquaintance Offends Ralph — Watts's Printing-house Press-work - Mode of Life Habits of London Printers — Makes & Reform A Landlady and a Recluse - Swimming - Anecdote of Mr. Denbam — New Employment Almost a Swimming-teacher — Sir William Wyndham.
WE arrived in London the 24th December, 1724. I waited upon the stationer, who came first in my way, delivering the letter as from Governor Keith. “ I don't know such a person," said he ; but, opening the letter, “O! this is from Riddlesden. I have lately found him to be a complete rascal, and I will have nothing to do with him, nor receive any letters from him.” So, putting the letter into my hand, he turned on his heel and left
me to serve some customer. I was surprised to find these. were not the governor's letters; and, after recollecting and comparing circumstances, I began to doubt his sincerity. I found my friend Denham, and opened the whole affair to him. He let me into Keith's character: told me there was not the least probability that he had written any letters for me; that no one, who knew him, had the smallest dependence on him; and he laughed at the idea of the governor's giving me a letter of credit, having, as he said, no credit to give. On my expressing some concern about what I should do, he advised me to endeavor getting some employment in the way of my business. “ Among the printers here,” said he, “you will improve yourself, and, when you return to America, you will set up to greater advantage."
We both of us happened to know, as well as the stationer, that Riddlesden, the attorney, was a very knave. He had half ruined Miss Read's father, by persuading him to be bound for him. By his letter it appeared there was a secret scheme on foot to the prejudice of Mr. Hamilton (supposed to be then coming over with us); that Keith was concerned in it, with Riddlesden. Denham, who was a friend of Hamilton's, thought he ought to be acquainted with it; so, when he arrived in England, which was soon after, partly from resentment and ill-will to Keith and Riddlesden, and partly from good-will to him, I waited on him, and gave him the letter. He thanked me cordially, the information being of importance to him; and from that time he became my friend, greatly to my advantage afterwards on many occasions.
But what shall we think of a governor playing such pitiful tricks, and imposing so grossly on a poor ignorant boy? It was a habit he had acquired. He wished to please everybody; and, having little to give, he gave expectations. He was otherwise an ingenious, sensible man, a pretty good writer, and a good governor for the people; though not for his constituents, the Proprietaries, whose instructions he sometimes disregarded. Several of our best laws were of his planning, and passed during his administration.
Ralph and I were inseparable companions. We took Lodgings together in Little Britain at three shillings and sixpence a week; as much as we could then afford. He found some relations, but they were poor and unable to assist him. He now let me know his intentions of remaining in London, and that he never meant to return to Philadelphia. He had brought no money with him; the whole he could muster having been expended in paying his