The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin By Benjamin Franklin Summary and Analysis Part 1: Section 6 - Preparations to Enter Business

Summary

After using the voyage home to devise a plan for his conduct that he "pretty faithfully adhered to" through old age, Franklin arrived to find things changed in Philadelphia. Keith was no longer governor and "seem'd a little asham'd" when encountered on the street. Franklin felt he himself would have been equally ashamed before Miss Read, had she not married in his absence. But she had since left her husband, who then ran away to the West Indies and died. Keimer, on the contrary, seemed — with better equipment, more business, and more helpers — to be prospering.

Franklin soon grew expert at selling merchandise in Denham's store. The two lived together amiably for about four months, until both became seriously ill. Only Franklin eventually recovered. Denham willed him a small legacy, and left him once more to the wide World."

At this point Keimer offered Franklin large yearly wages to manage his printing-house. Though Franklin wanted no more to do with the man, he accepted the offer because he found no other work. He discovered that Keimer planned to fire him as soon as he had trained the other five workers properly, but he nevertheless did his job well. The men liked him and respected his knowledge of printing. Franklin invented a method of replacing damaged type and could also engrave, make ink, and serve as warehouseman. But as he shared his knowledge with the others, his services became expendable, So Keimer first began to hint that he should take a cut in wages, and then grew increasingly quarrelsome. Presently a trifle caused a rupture between them: Franklin heard a noise and stuck his head out of the window to see what had happened. Outside, Keimer saw him, yelled for him to mind his own business, and Franklin quit, feeling he had been publicly embarrassed.

One of Keimer's workers, Hugh Meredith, came to Franklin and reminded him that Keimer's debts and bad judgment would inevitably ruin him soon. Then Meredith proposed that the two establish a partnership in a printing house: Meredith's father would furnish the capital if Franklin would furnish the expertise, and they would share the profits equally. They decided to set up business the following spring, when Meredith's contract with Keimer would run out. Meanwhile they ordered equipment from England.

In a few days Keimer had a chance to print paper money for New Jersey, a lucrative commission requiring skills that only Franklin possessed. Keimer therefore tried to rehire Franklin, and Meredith persuaded him to consent, since he could teach Meredith more that way. To print the bills, Franklin and Keimer moved to Burlington for three months, where the New Jersey Assembly closely supervised the business. The committee members appointed to oversee the work were constantly present. They liked Franklin, entertained him in their homes, and introduced him to their friends. Thus life was pleasant and "these Friends were afterwards of great Use" to Franklin, who said of them, "They all continued their Regard for me as long as they lived."

Franklin also describes his beliefs at this time. While his parents had taught him "religious Impressions," he had become at the age of fifteen "a thorough Deist." He had also "perverted some others, particularly Collins and Ralph." But summing up the conduct of the freethinkers he knew — Collins's, Ralph's, Keith's, and his own toward Vernon and Miss Read — he "began to suspect that this Doctrine tho' it might be true, was not very useful." He grew more tolerant of traditional religion because of its morality. Not having had the restraints of these conventional ethics, however, he felt lucky to have survived many youthful hazards. "I had therefore a tolerable Character to begin the World with, I valued it properly, and determin'd to preserve it."

When their type arrived from London, Meredith and Franklin left Keimer before he heard of their plans. They rented a house, the costs of which were cut by subletting part of it to a glassworker's family, with whom they boarded. They had just finished setting up their equipment when a friend brought in a countryman who had been looking for a printer. This first job paid five shillings, which "coming so seasonably, gave me more Pleasure than any Crown I have since earn'd." Franklin felt so grateful that he always tried after that to help beginners.

Analysis

This section, as others, suggests the great amount of time Franklin spent thinking through his religious beliefs. Even when mentioning how his convictions differed from those of colonial Christians, Franklin suggests the importance such convictions had for him. Interestingly, his beliefs center on the proper conduct for daily life; the matters which he felt most important of all were "Truth, Sincerity, and Integrity in Dealings between Man and Man." Franklin later refined his religious convictions, but they remained mainly a set of ethics to govern man's earthly behavior. He never seemed much concerned about a possible afterlife. But his tolerance for other religious systems grew; his convictions grew that the best systems were the most useful systems, and that any religion that fostered moral conduct should be respected.

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