Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

however, he seized two British vessels, with cargoes, one from Bordeaux, and the other from Rochefort. Early on the morning of November 28th, he came in sight of Belleisle, and, having taken a pilot, he ran the sloop the next day into Quiberon Bay, where she continued till December 3d. The winds being against her entering the Loire, Franklin and his grandsons went on board a fishing-boat, which had come along-side, and were put on shore at Auray, so that they did not reach Nantes till December 7th. Here they stayed eight days, being fêted and treated with the utmost distinction. No announcement of Franklin's coming had reached France; nor was it known in Europe that Congress had decided on any application for aid. But it was now generally surmised that he was present on some official errand, and he found himself none the less welcome on that account. It was the 21st of December, 1776, when he arrived in Paris. Here he found his colleagues, Messrs. Deane and Lee. On the 1st of January following, Congress directed Franklin to proceed to Spain, there to transact such business as might be intrusted to him. This mission he declined, and it was arranged among the commissioners that Mr. Lee should undertake it.

X.

The diplomatic career of Franklin in France extends over a period of nearly nine years. He had made two previous visits to Paris, in 1767 and 1769. His reputation in that metropolis at those periods had been great, - greater than it was either in England or America ; but it was now matured by the lapse of time, and he was received with a degree of distinction rarely accorded to any foreigner. After remaining a week or two in Paris, he established himself at Passy, a village about three miles from the central part of the city. He took up his abode

He took up his abode in a large and handsome house, belonging, with its extensive garden, to M. Le Ray de Chaumont. In regard to the rent, John Adams wrote, some months afterwards, that he never could discover it; “but,” he adds, " from the magnificence of the place, it was universally suspected to be enormously high."

It appeared, however, as he himself confessed, that there was much exaggeration in this suspicion. The owner of the estate, a stanch friend of America, was content to have Franklin occupy his house on very moderate terms, and, after our revolution, to receive his pay from our government in grants of the public land.

Franklin's prompt attention was given to the great object of his mission. Previous to his arrival, the French court, which was not yet prepared for an open breach with England, had secretly advanced, through M. Beaumarchais, the celebrated dramatist, about two hundred thousand dollars for the remission of arms and military stores to America, it being arranged that Congress should send tobacco and other produce in return. The three American commissioners were received in their private capacity very kindly by Vergennes, minister for foreign affairs; but it was thought advisable to defer, for the present, any open recognition of their diplomatic character. It was arranged, however, that they should receive, ostensibly from a private source, though really from the king's treasury, for the use of Congress, a quarterly allowance, amounting in the whole to about four hundred thousand dollars; and half as much more was advanced on loan by the “farmers general,” to be repaid by remittances of tobacco. Being thus at once supplied with upwards of half a million of dollars, they sent home arms and equipments, fitted out armed vessels, and supplied the American cruisers touching at French ports.

Meanwhile the British ambassador at Paris, Lord Stormont, was loud in his remonstrances, complaining of the underhand aid afforded to the insurgents, their fitting out vessels of war from French ports, bringing in prizes and effecting sales, &c. Vergennes made a show of rebuking the commissioners, but the latter do not seem to have been deterred by it from their operations. They wrote to Lord Stormont relative to an exchange of prisoners. His lordship pompously replied: "The king's ambassador receives no application from rebels, unless they come to implore his majesty's mercy.” Franklin's reply signed also by Deane, to this impertinence, was: “My Lord: In answer to a letter, which concerns some of the most material interests of humanity, and of the two nations, Great Britain and the

[ocr errors]

United States of America, now at war, we received the enclosed indecent paper as coming from your lordship, which we return for your lordship's more mature consideration." The British ministry, finding the balance of prisoners against them, were soon glad to accept the proposition thus magnificently put aside by Lord Stormont.

Although the sympathies of the French court seemed to be heartily with the Americans from the first, it abstained from committing itself openly until the news of Burgoyne's surrender to the Americans under Gates, * at Saratoga, October 17th, 1777, was received in France. That event decided the French cabinet in its course. "The capitulation of Burgoyne," writes Franklin, “has caused the most general joy in France, as if it were a victory won by her own troops over her own enemies. Such is the universal ardent and sincere good-will and attachment of this nation for us and our cause.' He availed himself of this moment of enthusiasm to promote the interests of his country.

On the 7th of December, Vergennes informed the American commissioners that his majesty was disposed to establish more direct relations with the United States. Two treaties were signed February 6, 1778; one of amity and commerce, the other of alliance for mutual defence, by which the king agreed to make common cause with the United States, should England attempt to obstruct the commerce with France; and guaranteed to the United States their liberty, sovereignty and independence. “The king,

" writes Franklin, "has treated with us generously and magnanimously; taken no advantage of our present difficulties to exact terms which we would not willingly grant when established in prosperity and power.'

England is in great consternation.", The intelligence of the signing of these treaties, which were at once ratified by Congress, was received with the greatest rejoicing throughout the United States. In England it created much dissatisfaction, and led to the recall of her ambassador from Paris.

* This surrender gave occasion to Sheridan's mischievous epigram upon Burgoyne, who aspired to be a dramatist as well as a military commander :

“ Burgoyne surrendered ? O, ye fates !
Could not that Samson carry Gates ?"

The American commissioners now appeared at court on a footing with the representatives of other independent powers. Franklin was presented by Vergennes to Louis the Sixteenth at Versailles, and was received with the clapping of hands and other tokens of welcome from the surrounding courtiers. He appeared at this royal audience very simply attired, with straight, unpowdered hair, a brown cloth coat, and round hat. A crowd had collected to see him. His age, his venerable aspect, his simple dress, contrasted with the finery around him, the recollection of his services to science and humanity, all combined to waken the utmost enthusiasm of the spectators. The king received him with much cordiality, charging him to assure the United States of his friendship, and expressing his satisfaction with the conduct of their commissioner during his residence in France. On his withdrawing from this audience, the crowd in the passage-ways received Franklin with renewed manifestations of welcome, and followed him for some distance. The enthusiasm of which he had been the object at Versailles was renewed at Paris. Voltaire had recently arrived there, after an absence of thirty years. He was in his eightyfifth year. Franklin called upon him, and was received with evident pleasure. Voltaire at first accosted him in English; but, having lost the habit of speaking it, he resumed the conversation in French, adroitly remarking, "I could not resist the temptation of speaking for a moment the language of Franklin." The Philadelphia sage then presented his grandson to the patriarch of Ferney, and asked his blessing upon him. “God and liberty !” said Voltaire, raising his hands over the young man's head; "that is the only benediction appropriate to the grandson of Franklin.”

A few days after this interview, the same parties met at the Academy of Sciences, and were placed side by side. The sight of these distinguished old men elicited another outbreak of Parisian enthusiasm. The cry arose that they should embrace. They stood up, bowed, took each other by the hand, and spoke. But this was not enough. The clamor continued. Il faut s'embrasser à la Francaise," was the cry; whereupon they kissed each other on the cheek,- and not till then did the tumult subside. The scene was classically compared, by the litterateurs of the

1

day, to “Solon embracing Sophocles." Voltaire lived only a month after this second encounter with his American contemporary

Franklin was greatly annoyed at this time by applications for employment in the service of the United States. In a letter to a friend he says: “Frequently, if a man has no useful talents, is good for nothing, and burdensome to bis relations, or is indiscreet, profligate and extravagant, they are glad to get rid of him by sending him to the other enil of the world; and for that purpose scruple not to recommend him to those they wish should recommend him to others, as 'un bon sujet -- plein de merite,' &c. &c. In consequence of my crediting such recommendations, my own are out of credit, and I cannot advise anybody to have the least dependence on them.” And he humorously adds : “ You can have no conception how I am harassed. All my friends are sought out and teased to tease me. Great oficers of all ranks, in all departments, ladies great and small, besides professed solicitors, worry me from morning to night. The noise of every coach now that enters my couit terrifies me. I am afraid to accept an invitation to dine abroad, being almost sure of meeting with some officer or officer's friend, who, as soon as I am put in good humor by a glass or two of champagne, begins his attack upon me."

There was one illustrious exception to the annoyances le received from applications for letters to America. The following passage is from a letter to Congress, signed by him and Mr. Deane: “ The Marquis de Lafayette, a young nobleman of great family connections here, and great wealth, is gone to America in a ship of his own, accompanied by some officers of distinction, in order to serve in our armies. He is exceedingly beloved, and everybody's good wishes attend him. We cannot but hope he may meet with such a reception as will make the country and his expedition agreeable to him."

Most of the business of the commission was, for the first eight or nine months, transacted by Franklin and Deane, Mr. Arthur Lee being absent the greater part of the time in Spain and Germany. The feelings of this gentleman towards his colleagues do not seem to have been of a character that promised harmony of action. Thinking that Mr.

« AnteriorContinuar »