From Charles Churchill4
ALS: American Philosophical Society
Bennet St: (No: 5.) Westr: [Westminster]
July 14th: 1783.
Singular as this address may appear at first sight, I am sanguine to beleive it will not pass unnoticed by you: Though I have not at present the long-wish’d-for honor to be personally known (to a Gentleman, whose well-known abilities, and incorruptible integrity of character, recommended him to the confidence of the noblest association ever formed to stem the tide of corruption & Tyranny, & once more erect the too long over-borne standard of American freedom) I am well assured the Name must have been rendered rather familiar to you, from the Poetical Works of a deceased father, whose Pen, like your own, was uniformly exerted in the cause of Liberty and truth.
You will I hope Sir, excuse me for avoiding a studied form of words and every hackneyed art of insinuation to apologize for this address.
An obscure Stranger is about to implore your kind assistance—it is his duty—& he feels it a pleasure to explain his business with candour & without reserve.
My Father, the late Charles Churchill, whose literary Productions you cannot be unacquainted with,5 resolved at every disadvantage to cultivate some seeds of genius which his Paternal fondness alone inclined him to fancy he had discovered in me. Thus entered did I pursue a course of studies till his death, when the want of every necessary means put a stop to the prosecution of them.
Full of the romantic ideas with which so ill-adapted an education served to fill my mind, I rambled through England, France & the West Indies, without friends to procure, or discretion to continue in any necessary employment:
One time Assistant in a Grammar-School, next Edidor of a News-Paper; soon after dependent on the profits of some Satyrical Squibs, next a Lecturer on Elocution &c. &c., stranger as I was to the virtues of moderation, as well as to the Arts of knavery, I attempted too many things to have succeeded in any.
I am too sensible, Sir, of the value of your time to think of taking it up with any further detail of my chimerical pursuits.
Cured of castle-building, I could now profit by a favourable opportunity which presents itself of forming an Academical Establishment in America, but tho’ I have always supported the character & appearances of a Gentleman, I am really from an increase of family, & a variety of misfortunes, destitute of the means necessary to provide me with a passage and procure some few Articles.— 50 £. or 60 £ would complete my wishes— If Sir! You will vouchsafe to aid an unhappy Stranger, (without friends, or power) with that sum; I shall deem myself bound in Gratitude to acknowledge with chearfulness, & remember Eternally the Benevolent Deed.
In short, Sir! if this artless statement of my situation serves in any sort to recommend me to your kind regard; I flatter myself neither my ingratitude, nor indeserts will ever make you repent having favored me with your assistance.
I have the honor to be, Sir, with the sincerest respect Yr. most humble servant,
PS. The favor of an immediate answer is most earnestly requested.6
4. The elder of the two known sons of the poet Charles Churchill (1732–1764). Charles (b. 1754) was educated at the expense of a family friend, and what portion he inherited of his father’s estate was dissipated by the time he wrote the present letter. He wrote begging letters to John Wilkes, a friend of his father’s, until 1786: Douglas Grant, ed., The Poetical Works of Charles Churchill (Oxford, 1956), p. xiiin; DNB and ODNB, under the poet.
5. BF was in London in 1761 when Churchill’s first published poem, The Rosciad …, became an immediate success and established his reputation: ODNB. BF owned both that work (4th ed., London, 1761) and the harsh critique it inspired: The Churchiliad: or, a Few Modest Questions Proposed to the Reverend Author of the Rosciad (London, 1761). His copies are at the Hist. Soc. of Pa.: Wolf and Hayes, Library of Benjamin Franklin, p. 197.
6. Churchill wrote again on July 31 and Aug. 25, begging BF for a reply (APS). There is no evidence that he received one, or that he ever emigrated. In 1789 he was still in London, acknowledged as a “notorious swindler”: The [London] Times, Sept. 9, 1789.