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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 endeavoured 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 farther.
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 great merit. Now,” said he, “ Osborne never will allow the least merit in any thing 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 7
agreed, and I immediately transcribed it, that it might appear in my own hand.
We met; Watson's performance was read; there were some beauties 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 bis 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 made money, but died young. He and I had made a serious agreement, that the one, u ho 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.
* Ralph obtained much celebrity as a political and historical writer. He also wrote poetry and plays, but with less success. He published “ Night,” a poem; and another poem, called “Sawney.” In this latter he abused Swift, Pope, and Gay. In revenge Pope introduced his name into the DUNCIAD.
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 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.
“ Silence, ye wolves, while Ralph to Cynthia howls,
And makes Night hideous; answer him, ye owls.” He wrote a much approved work, entitled “Use and Abuse of Parliaments"; and also a “History of England during the Reign of William the Third,” in two folio volumes. Alluding to this work, Fox pronounces the author “a historian of great acuteness, as well as diligence, but who falls sometimes into the common error of judging by the event.” Ralph produced also many political pamphlets, and was employed by the ministry at different times to promote their aims with his pen. For these services he was pensioned. He was deeply skilled in the party tactics of politicians, and his principles were so flexible, that he made little difficulty in adapting them to circumstances. For many years, however, he was the confidential associate of the ministers and courtiers ; and, just before his death, his pension was increased by the interest of the Earl of Bute to the liberal amount of six hundred pounds a year. He died, January 24th, 1762. An account of his life and writings is contained in CHALMERS's Biographical Dictionary. — Editor.
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.
Sails for London, accompanied by Ralph. — On his Arrival delivers Let
ters supposed to be written by the Governor. -- Discovers that Keith had deceived him. — His Money exhausted. — Engages to work as a Printer at Palmer's, in Bartholomew Close. — Writes and prints a metaphysical Tract. — Frequents a Club, consisting of Dr. Mandeville and Others. Disagreement with Ralph and Separation. Removes to Watts's Printing-house, near Lincoln's Inn Fields. – Habits of the Workmen. — His Expenses of Living. — Feats of Activity in Swimming. — Enters into Mercantile Business with Mr. Denham. — Sir William Wyndham.
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 for the present, and we proceeded