Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

Prints, medallion portraits, and busts of Franklin, were multiplied throughout France; and rings, bracelets, canes and snuff-boxes, bearing his likeness, were worn or carried quite generally Such was the steady modesty of his nature, however, that he experienced more embarrassment th gratification from Turgot's brilliant compliment. In palliation of it, he wrote to John Jay: “You must know that the desire of pleasing, by a perpetual rise of complinents, in this polite nation, has so used up all the common expressions of approbation, that they are become flat and insipid, and to use them almost implies censure. Hence music, that formerly might be sufficiently praised when it was called bonne, to go a little further they called it excellente, then superbe, magnifique, exquise, céleste, all which being in their turns worn out, there only remains divine ; and, when that is grown as insignificant as its predecessors, I think they must

return to common speech and common sense.” To a poetaster of the day, Felix Nogaret, who applied to him for his opinion on a French translation of Turgot's verse, he replied:

" Passy, 8 March, 1781. “SIR: I received the letter you have done me the honor of writing to me the 2d instant, wherein, after overwhelming me with a flood of compliments, which I can never hope to merit, you request my opinion of your translation of a Latin verse that has been applied to me. If I were, which I really am not, sufficiently skilled in your excellent language to be a judge of its poesy, the supposition of my being the subject must restrain me from any opinion on that line, except that it ascribes too much to me, especially in what relates to the tyrant ; the revolution having been the work of many able and brave men, wherein it is sufficient honor for me if I am allowed a small share.”

Among the first to welcome Franklin at Paris, was Condorcet, the friend and biographer of both Voltaire and Turgot, and whom John Adams describes as “a philosopher with a face as pale, or rather as white, as a sheet of paper." Cabanis, the celebrated physician, and the friend of Mirabeau, Buffon, the “Pliny of France," Raynal, Mably, Vico d'Azyr, La Rochefoucauld, the Abbé Morellet, the Abbé La Roche, Le Roy, Le Veillard, Malesherbes, and other eminent statesmen and men of letters, were among the associates or intimate friends of Franklin. With Mirabeau, before the latter had attained his marvellous reputa

tion, he seems to have been well acquainted, and gave him a letter of introduction to Benjamin Vaughan, in London. “ This will be handed you,” he writes, “by Count Mirabeau, son of the Marquis of that name, author of L'Ami des Hommes. This gentleman is esteemed here, and I recommend him to your civilities and counsels, particularly with respect to the printing of a piece he has written on the subject of hereditary nobility, on occasion of the order of Cincinnati lately attempted to be established in America, which cannot be printed here. I find that some of the best judges think it extremely well written, with great clearness, force and elegance. If you can recommend him to an honest, reasonable bookseller, that will undertake it, you will do bim service, and perhaps some to mankind, who are too much bigoted in many countries to that kind of imposition.”

We have already seen that he was subjected, in his diplomatic capacity, to numerous applications, which taxed his time and patience exorbitantly. His scientific reputation invited propositions hardly less annoying from speculators and inventors. " The number of wild schemes proposed to me," he writes, “is so great, and they have heretofore taken so much of my time, that I begin to reject all, though possibly some of them may be worth notice. Under date of Passy, December 13, 1778, after recording in his diary the visits of three of these experimenters on the same day, he makes the following note: “Received a parcel from an unknown .philosopher, who submits to my consideration a memoir on the subject of elementary fire, containing experiments in a dark chamber. It seems to be well written, and is in English, with a little tincture of French idiom. I wish to see the experiments, without which I cannot well judge of it.” This unknown philosopher

was afterwards discovered to be Marat, the sanguinary monster, whose atrocities during the revolution roused Charlotte Corday to rid the world of his presence.

Franklin spoke French but indifferently, and his pronunciation was defective. He told John Adams that he was wholly inattentive to the grammar.

Madame Geoffrin, to whom, in his visit to France in 1767 or 1769, he brought a letter from David Hume, reported that she could not initiate him into the language. Notwithstanding his advanced

age, when he established himself at Passy, he lived to make a great improvement in speaking French, and to enjoy it perfectly in the hearing. In the year 1779, he read a paper on the_Aurora Borealis to the Royal Academy of Sciences at Paris, in which he traced the phenomenon to electrical agencies. At times he would be led into amusing misapprehensions, through his difficulty in understanding the language when uttered with rapidity. On one occasion, being present at a sitting of the Lyceum or the Academy, during the delivery of a lecture, and not distinctly understanding the French that was spoken, he thought, in order not to be wanting in politeness, that every time he saw Madame de Bouflers give signs of approbation, he would applaud; but he afterwards found that, without knowing it, he had applauded most vigorously those passages which had been complimentary to himself.

In March, 1784, a royal commission was appointed to investigate the subject of animal magnetism, the marvels of which had been recently disclosed by Mesmer. Franklin was placed at the head of this commission, which numbered Le Roy, Bailly, Guillotin (proposer of the guillotine as an instrument of death), and other men of science and physicians. Some six months were given to an investigation of the subject; but Franklin, through indisposition, was absent from many of the sittings. An attempt was on one occasion made to affect him by the mesmeric passes, but it did not succeed. The commissioners, through Bailly, reported adversely to the claims of Mesmer, but admitted certain phenomena, which they attributed to the agency of the imagination. This was merely giving a vague name to what was inexplicable. Franklin wrote thus cautiously upon the subject, to M. de la Condamine, prior to the action of the commission : "As to the animal magnetism, so much talked of, I must doubt its existence till I can see or feel some effect of it. None of the cures said to be performed by it have fallen under my observation, and there are so many disorders which cure themselves, and such a disposition in mankind to deceive themselves and one another on these occasions, and living long has given me so frequent opportunities of seeing certain remedies cried up as curing everything, and yet soon after totally laid aside as useless,

At a

I cannot but fear that the expectation of great advantage from this new method of treating diseases will prove a delusion. That delusion may, however, and in some cases, be of use while it lasts. There are in every great, rich city a number of persons who are never in health, because they are fond of medicines, and always taking them, whereby they derange the natural functions, and hurt their constitution. If these people can be persuaded to forbear their drugs, in expectation of being cured by only the physician's finger, or an iron rod pointing at them, they may possibly find good effects, though they mistake the cause. later period he wrote to Dr. Ingenhousz: “Mesmer is still here, and has still some adherents and some practice. It is surprising how much credulity still subsists in the world. I suppose all the phys: ns in France put together have not made so much money, uuring the time he has been here, as he alone has done. And we have now a fresh folly. Α. magnetizer pretends that he can, by establishing what is called a rapport between any person and a somnambule, put it in the power of that person to direct the actions of the somnambule, by a simple strong volition only, without speaking or making any signs; and many people daily flock to see this strange operation.

While resident at Passy, Franklin received a present of Cowper's Poems, then beginning to win their way to fame, and he wrote to the donor: “The relish for reading poetry had long since left me; but there is something so new in the manner, so easy and yet so correct in the language, so clear in the expression, yet concise, and so just in the sentiments, that I have read the whole with great pleasure, and some of the pieces more than once. I beg you to accept my thankful acknowledgments, and to present my respects to the author.” Cowper was well pleased with the compliment, coming, as he said, from one of the first philosophers, one of the most eminent literary characters, as well as one of the most important in the political world, that the present age can boast of;" and he playfully remarks:

We may now treat the critics as the Archbishop of Toledo treated Gil Blas when he found fault with one of his

[ocr errors]

sermons."

Among the opportunities which Franklin took for employ

ing his official powers in behalf of the cause of humanity and science, was that of instructing American cruisers not to seize Captain Cook's vessel, and granting passports to vessels despatched with relief to the Moravian missions, and alms for sufferers in the West India Colonies. On the publication of "Cook's Voyage,a copy was forwarded to Franklin, with the approbation of the king; and, subsequently, one of the gold medals struck in honor of Captain Cook by the Royal Society was sent to him.

The period for his departure from France having now arrived, he received from Count Vergennes and other official personages the most cordial assurances of esteem, and regrets at his quitting the country. A French national vessel would have been provided for him, if the minister of marine had been apprized sooner of his intended return home. His many distinguished friends took leave of him, one by one, with marks of the most affectionate interest and regard. To his old friend, David Hartley, he wrote, “in his eightieth year:" " I cannot quit the coasts of Europe without taking leave of my ever dear friend, Mr. Hartley. We were long fellow-laborers in the best of all works, the work of peace. I leave you still in the field, but, having finished my day's task, I am going home to go to bed. Wish me a good night's rest, as I do you a pleasant evening. Adieu !"

He set out from Passy, with his two grandsons and M. Veillard, July 12, 1785. He travelled in one of the queen's litters, borne by two large mules, the muleteer riding another. The journey to Havre occupied six days, and he was entertained on the route with great distinction, by the Cardinal de la Rochefoucauld, M. Holker the banker, and others. At Rouen a deputation from the Academy came with their compliments. From Havre he passed over in a packet-boat to Southampton, where he remained four days. Here he was met by his son, William Temple Franklin,- expatriated on account of his loyalist principles, and in the receipt of a pension from the British government. Here, also, were assembled to welcome him the "good bishop” of St. Asaph, his wife and daughter, Mr. Benjamin Vaughan, and other English friends. On the 27th of July, he embarked in the London packet, Cap

« AnteriorContinuar »