Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

was I arrived at fifteen years of age, when, after having doubted in turn of different tenets, according as I found them combated in the different hooks that I read, I began to doubt of revelation itself. Some volumes against deism fell into iny hands. They were said to be the substance of sermons preached at Boyle's Lecture it happened that they produced un me an effect precisely the reverse of what was intended by the writers, for the argunents of the deists, which were cited in order to be refuted, appeared to me much more forcible than the refutation itself. In a word, I soon became a perfect deist. My arguments perverted some other young persons, particularly Collins and Ralph. But in the sequel, when I recollected that they had both usel me extremely ill, without the smallest remorse ; when I considered the behaviour of Keith, another frec-thinker, and my own conduct towards Vernon and Miss Read, which, at tires, gave me great uneasiness, I was led to suspect that this doctrine, though it might be true, was not very useful. I began to entertain a less favourable opinion of my London pamphlet, to which I nad prefixed, as a mottn, the following lines of Dryden:

Whatever is is right; though purblind man
Sees but part of the chain, the nearest link,
His eyes not carrying to the equal beam
That poises all above.

And of which the object was to prove, from the attributes of God, his goodness, wisdom and power, that there could be no such thing as evil in the world ; that vice and virtue did not in reality exist, and were nothing more than vain distinctions. I no longer regarded it as so blameless a work as I had formerly imagined ; and I suspected that some error must have imperceptibly glided into my argument, by which all the inferences I had drawn from it had been affected, as frequently happens in metaphysical reasonings. In a word, I was at last convinced that truth, probity, and sincerity, in transactions between man and man, were of the utmost importance to the happiness of life; and I resolved from that moment, and wrote the

resolution in my Joumal, to practise them as long as I lived.

Revelation, indeed, as such, had no influence on my inind; but I was of opinion that, though certain actions could not be bad merely because revelation had prohibited thein, or good because it enjoined thom, yet it was probable that those actions were prohibited because they were bad for us, or enjoined because advantageous in their nature, all things considered. This persuasion, Divine Providence, or some guardian angel, and perhaps a concurrence of favourable circumstances co-operating, preserved me from all immorality, or gross and voluntary injustice, to which my want ot' religion was calculated to expose me, in the dangerous period of youth, and in the hazardous situations in which I sometimes found myself, amorg strangers, and at a distance from the eye and admonitions of my father. I may say voluntary, because the errors into which I had fallen, had been, in a manner, the forced result either of iny own inexperience, or the dishonesty of others. Thus, before I entered on my own new career, I had imbibed solid principles, and a character of probity. I knew their value; and I made a solemn engagement with myself never to depart from them.

I had not long returned from Burlington before our printing materials arrived from London. I settled my accounts with Keimer, and quitted him, with his uwn consent, before he had any knowledge of our plan. We found a house to let near the market. We iook it; and, to render the rent less burdensome (it was then twenty-four pounds a year, but I have since known it let for seventy), we admitted Thomas Godfrey, a glazier, with his family, who eased us of a considerable part of it; and with him we agreed to board.

We had no sooner unpacked our letters, and put our press in order, than a person of my acquaintance, George House, brought us a countryman, whom he had met in the streets inquiring for a printer. Our money was almost exhausted by the number of things we had been obliged to procure. The five shillings we received from this countryman, the first fruit of

.

our earnings, coming so seasonably, gave me more pleasure than any sum I have since gained; and the recollection of the gratitude I felt on this occasion to George House, bas rendered me often more disposed, than perhaps I should otherwise have been, to encourage young beginners in trade.

There are in every country morose beings, who are always prognosticating ruin. There was one of this stamp at Philadelphia. He was a man of fortune, declined in years, had an air of wisdom, and a very grave manner of speaking. His name was Samuel Mickle. I knew him not; but he stopped one day at my door, and asked me if I was the young man who had lately opened a new printing-house. Upon my answering in the affirmative, he said that he was very sorry for me, as it was an expensive undertaking, and the money that had been laid out upon it would be lost, Philadelphia being a place falling into decay ; its inhabitants having all, or nearly all of them, been obliged to call together their creditors. That he knew, from undoubted fact, the circumstances which might lead us to suppose the contrary, such as new builaings, and the advanced price of rent, to be deceitful appearances, which, in reality, contributed to hasten the general ruin ; and he gave me so long a detail of misfortunes, actually existing, or which were soon to take place, that he left me almost in a state of despair. Ilad I known this man before I entered into trade, I should doubtless never have ventured. He continued however, to live in this place of decay, and to declaim in the same style, refusing for many years to buy a house, because all was going to wreck; and, in the cnd, I had the satisfaction to see him pay five times as much for one, as it would have cost him, had he purchased it when he first began his lamentations.

I ought to have related, that, during the autumn of the preceding year, I had united the majority of wellinformed persons of my acquaintance, into a club, which we called by the name of the Junto, and the ohject of which was to improve our understandings. Wo met every Friday evening. The regulations I drew up, obliged every member to propose, in his turn, one or more questions upon some point of mo

rality, mlitics, or philosophy, which were to be discussed oy the society; and to read, once in three months, an essay of his own composition, on whatever subject he pleased. Our debates were under the direction of a president, and were to be dictated only by a sincere desire of truth; the pleasure of disputing, and the vanity of triumph, having no share in the business; and in order to prevent undue warmth, every expression which implied obstinate adherence to an opinion, and all direct contradiction, were prohibited, under small pecuniary penalties.

The first members of our club were Joseph Breintnal, whose occupation was that of a scrivener. He was a middle-aged man, of a good natural disposition, strongly attached to his friends, a great lover of poetry, reading erery thing that came in his way, and writing tolerably well, ingenious in many little trifles, and of an agreeable conversation.

Thomas Godfrey, a skilful, though self-taught mathematician, and who was afterwards the inventor of vhat now goes by the name of Hadley's dial; but he had little knowledge out of his own line, and was irsupportable in company, always requiring, like the majority of mathematicians that have fallen in my way, an unusual precision in every thing that is said, continually contradicting, or making trifling distinctions; a sure way of defeating all the ends of conversation. He very soon left us.

Nicholas Scull, a surveyor, and who became, afterwards, surveyor-general. He was fond of books, and wrote verses.

William Parsons, brought up to the trade of a shoemaker, but who, having a taste for reading, had arquired a profound knowledge of mathematics. He first studied them with a view to astrology, and was afterwards the first to laugh at his folly. He also became surveyor-general.

William Mawgride, a joiner, and very excellent mechanic; and in other respects a man of solid inflerstanding.

Hugh Meredith, Stephen Potts, and George Welih, of whom I have already spoken.

Robert Grace, a young man of fortune; generous, animated, and wilty; fond of epigrams, but more fond of his friends.

And, lastly, William Coleman, at that time a merchant's clerk, and nearly of my own age. He had a cooler and clearer head, a better heart, and more scrupulous morals, than almost any other person I have ever met with. He became a very respectable merchant, and one of our provincial judges. Our friendship subsisted, without interruption, for more than forty years, till the period of his death; and the club continued to exist almost as long.

This was the best school for politics and philosophy that then existed in the province; for our questions, which were read once a week previous to their discussion, induced us to peruse attentively, such books as were written upon the subjects proposed, that we might be able to speak upon them more pertinently. We thus acquired the habit of conversing more agreeably; every object being discussed conformably to our regulations, and in a manner to prevent mutual disgust. To this circumstance may be attributed the long duration of the club; which I shall have frequent occasion to mention as I proceed.

I have introduced it here, as being one of the means on which I had to count for success in my business, every member exerting himself to procure work for us. Breintnal, among others, obtained for us, on the part of the quakers, the printing of forty sheets of their history; of which the rest was to be done by Keimer. Our execution of this work was, by no means, masterly; as the price was very low. li was in folio, upon pro patria paper, and in the pica letter, with heavy notes, in the smallest type. I composed a sheet a-day, and Meredith put it to the press. It was frequently eleven o'clock at night, sometimes later, before I had finished my distribution for the next day's task; for the little things which our friends occasionally sent us, kept us back in this work : but I was so determined to compose a sheet a-day, that one evening, when my form was imposed, and my day's work, as I thought, at an end, an accident having broken this form, and deranged two complete folio pages, I immediately distributed, and composed them unew before I went to bed.

« ZurückWeiter »