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SIR HANS SLOANE - ASBESTOS PURSE.

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perience of a journeyman printer, a youth of nineteen, and a stranger from a land beyond the ocean, was his becoming acquainted with Sir Hans Sloane, with the occasion of it. Among some rarities which Benjamin had taken with him from Philadelphia, was a purse made of asbestos, or, as it is sometimes called, amianthus; a kind of stone, which is not only inconsumable by fire, but so fibrous as to be separable into threads flexible enough to be compactly and smoothly woven; and the webs made of it, when soiled by use, are cleaned by putting them into the fire, instead of a wash-tub.

Benjamin, whose pistoles, with his friend Ralph's assistance, had run very low, having learned something of the character and tastes of Sir Hans, who was very much of a virtuoso, a lover and collector of rare and curious things, addressed him a note, dated June 2d, 1725, in which he says:

" Having lately been in the northern parts of America, I have brought thence a purse made of the asbestos, a piece of the stone, and a piece of wood the pithy part of which is of the same nature, and is called by the inhabitants there, salamander-cotton. As you are noted to be a lover of curiosities, I have informed you of these ; and if

you
have

any

inclination to purchase or see them, let me know your pleasure by a line for me at the Golden Fan, Little Britain, and I will wait upon you with them.” On receiving the note, Sir Hans, instead of writing, called in person upon the young tradesman, whom he politely invited to his house in Bloomsbury square, showed him his extensive collections of things rare and curious, and finally purchased the inconsumable purse, paying for it handsomely, says Franklin, though he does not name the sum.

CHAPTER X.

BETTER HABITS IMPROVE HIS OWN CONDITION AND

BENEFIT OTHERS.

As soon as Benjamin had got rid of Ralph, he began to think of laying up some of his earnings; and with a view to more productive employment also, he went from Palmer's to Watts's printing-house, a larger one near Lincoln's Inn Fields, where he continued as long as he remained in London. Upon entering this office he first worked at the press, for the sake of the bodily exercise it gives, which he felt the want of, and to which he had been accustomed in America, where press-work and case-work were in those days almost universally, and are even now to a considerable extent, performed by the same hands.

Here he became an efficient and valuable promoter of temperance. He was a teetotaller himself, drinking only water; while the fifty other hands in the office were excessive drinkers of beer. For the sake of expediting his labor, or for convenience, he would now-and-then carry, up or down stairs, a large form of types in each hand, while others carried but one such form, with both hands. It was indeed unquestionable evidence of the power of his arms; and his fellow-workmen wondered to see the strength of the “Water-American," as they called him, so much exceed their own, which had, as

PRINTING-OFFICE USAGES.

93

+

they fancied, been nourished and increased by strong beer. So frequent were the calls for beer at that one establishment, that a boy, called the Ale-House Boy, was kept for no other purpose but to go and come with drink.

The heavy drain upon the wages of the beer-drinkers, made by this practice, may be seen from the fact that Benjamin's companion in working the press, drank six pints a day regularly; that is to say, a pint before breakfast, a pint at breakfast, a pint between that meal and dinner, a pint at dinner, a pint about 6 o'clock, P. M., and a pint at the close of the day's work. And all this he did, in the opinion that it was necessary to give him strength; an opinion still very common, in which, however, is involved the serious error of mistaking the transient effect of mere stimulation, for the permanent increase of muscular power.

“I thought the custom detestable,” says Franklin, and I endeavored to convince him that the bodily strength afforded by beer, could only be in proportion to the grain, or flour, of the barley, dissolved in the water of which it was made; that there was more flour in a penny-worth of bread; and therefore, if he would eat that, with a pint of water, it would give him more strength than a quart of beer. He drank on, however, and had four or five shillings to pay out of his wages, every Saturday night, for that vile liquor ; an expense I was free from.” No wonder that these mistaken hardworking men always, as he says, “kept themselves under."

Much to his own credit, as well as to the benefit of the whole set of hands at Watts's large printing-house, Benjamin exerted himself to reform some of their habits. His efforts were obstructed for a while, by his resisting the payment of a certain fee, alleged to be customary, but which he thought unfairly demanded. When he first went to this establishment, he began working, as we have seen, at press-work, and then paid his bienvenu, as it was called ; that is, his welcome fee. After a few weeks, however, Mr. Watts, needing more help at case-work, requested Benjamin to transfer himself to the composing-room. On doing so, the compositors demanded of him another bien-venu. This he refused, and Mr. Watts also forbade his paying it.

For this refusal, however, the compositors, of course, excommunicated him from all the privileges of their fellowship; and while he thus lay under interdict, he was subjected to all manner of annoyance by vexatious tricks and practical jokes. His sorts of type were mixed in his cases ; his matter was broken and transposed, as it stood on the galleys; or was thrown into pi, whenever he was for a moment absent. No remedy could be had, because all these naughty things were done by “the ghost of the chapel" (as the rooms of a printing-office are termed by the craft), which always haunt every one, whose entrance is not according to the chapel canons, and nobody can be held responsible for what is done by a ghost.

In short, there was no protection for the refractory compositor, as long as he continued recusant; and after persisting for two or three weeks in recusancy, he saw that the best thing he could do, was to pay the welcome money; having, in the exercise of his good sense, come to the conclusion, that it is always foolish to be voluntarily on “ill terms with those you are to live with continually."

Being once placed on good terms and a fair footing with the whole body of his fellow-workmen, his shrewdness, good temper, ingenuity, and obliging disposition, soon gave him, as usual, a leading influence with them,

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