The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin By Benjamin Franklin Summary and Analysis Part 1: Section 5 - The First Trip to England

Summary

Governor Keith frequently entertained Franklin, always mentioned backing him in business, and proposed that Franklin take letters of credit with him to buy supplies in England. Franklin often called for the letters, but found they were never ready. When his ship was about to sail, Franklin was told that the letters would be delivered to him on shipboard. When Colonel French, a close friend of the Governor's, came aboard with letters, Franklin assumed his were included. The Captain made a check impossible, however, by stating that no letters could be sorted or delivered until the ship reached England.

Having said good-bye to his friends and "interchang'd some Promises with Miss Read," Franklin left Philadelphia accompanied by his friend James Ralph, who ostensibly went abroad to arrange for goods to sell. Because a lawyer and his son were prevented from sailing at the last minute, Franklin and Ralph were invited to travel in the ship's cabin. The trip was marred by rough weather, but valuable in fostering Franklin's friendship with a Quaker merchant named Denham, who later became his adviser in England.

As they approached London, Franklin looked through the bag of letters but found none bearing his name. From the handwriting, and from the addresses to a stationer and a printer, however, he identified several that he felt must be on his behalf, and personally delivered one. But the stationer receiving it asserted that he had never heard of Governor Keith and that the letter was from a rascal named Riddlesden. He then put it back into Franklin's hand and turned away. The letter suggested that a scheme was afloat, in which Keith was implicated along with Riddlesden, to hurt the interests of Andrew Hamilton, a famous Philadelphia lawyer. To revenge himself on Keith for the "pitiful Tricks" played "so grossly on a poor ignorant Boy," when Hamilton arrived in England, Franklin visited him and gave him the letter.

Meanwhile Denham advised Franklin to get a job, learn what he could from English printers, and save his money to get home again. Denham added that nobody ever believed promises Keith made, since Keith "wisli'd to please every body; and having little to give, he gave Expectations."

Franklin and Ralph took inexpensive lodgings together, and Ralph confided that he planned to desert his Philadelphia wife and child. Though Franklin quickly found work in a printing-house, Ralph was unable to get suitable employment. Together, the two spent most of Franklin's wages on plays and amusements, and both conveniently forgot the women back home. Franklin wrote Miss Read only once to say he would not return soon, a lapse he considered "another of the great Errata of my Life." Ralph soon established a liaison with a young milliner, and the two moved into other lodgings. Then, since her earnings could not support the two of them plus her child, Ralph decided to become a provincial schoolteacher — a profession he considered so far beneath him that he assumed Franklin's name for the job. Meanwhile, the milliner, who had lost her friends and business because of Ralph, became dependent on Franklin for small loans. Franklin made improper advances to her that she indignantly reported to Ralph, who considered Franklin's conduct sufficiently reprehensible to cancel all past debts. Franklin believed that his behavior toward Ralph's lady constituted an erratum, but felt well rid of so costly a friendship.

Benjamin was composing type for an edition of Wollaston's Religion of Nature when he decided that certain passages contained specious reasoning, and he wrote and printed a pamphlet attacking the work (another erratum). His employer thereupon decided he was an ingenious young man, though of abominable principles. But a surgeon named Lyons read the pamphlet, sought Franklin out, and later introduced him into prominent London intellectual circles.

Franklin was known among his fellow workmen for his exceptional strength and his habit of drinking water instead of beer. Though he ran into some temporary trouble when he refused to pay a standard fee twice after being transferred from press work to the composing room, Franklin got along well with his fellows and was soon popular enough to be able to institute various reforms among them. For one, he convinced a number to substitute a nourishing breakfast for their morning beer. And because he never celebrated the weekend so riotously that he was sick Monday, the owner also liked him. After a while he grew friendly with a young man named Wygate, who was better educated than most printers, and whom Franklin taught to swim. In the company of Wygate's gentlemen friends, Franklin performed such remarkable swimming feats in the Thames that word of him spread to a nobleman, who wanted Franklin to give his sons swimming lessons. But by this time Franklin was ready to return home.

The merchant Denham advised Franklin against a proposed scheme of traveling over Europe with Wygate, and instead offered him a job as clerk and manager of Denham's Philadelphia store. Franklin decided to accept the offer, since Mr. Denham promised to set him up in business if he did well at his duties. Franklin knew Denham to be scrupulously honest: having failed in England and left debts there, Denham went to America and quickly made a fortune; he then returned, invited all his old creditors to a dinner, and placed under their plates checks for all he owed them plus interest.

Analysis

The pamphlet Franklin wrote answering William Wollaston's The Religion of Nature Delineated argued against the existence of free will, explaining human behavior as the result of a desire to experience pleasure and avoid pain. It also argued against the idea of an afterlife. Wollaston's work, on the other hand, asserted that nature itself provided the logical support for most traditional and orthodox beliefs. Franklin dedicated the hundred copies of his tract, entitled A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain, to James Ralph, but burned most of them after distributing a few copies. He decided that writing and printing the pamphlet was an erratum because of its possible bad effect on others.

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