The Correspondence of Thomas Jefferson
I feel both the wish and the duty to communicate, in compliance with
your request, whatever, within my knowledge, might render justice to
the memory of our great countryman, Dr. Franklin, in which Philosophy
has to deplore one of its principal luminaries extinguished. But my
opportunities of knowing the interesting facts of his life, have not
been equal to my desire of making them known. I could indeed relate a
number of those bon mots, with which he used to charm every society,
as having heard many of them. But these are not your object.
Particulars of greater dignity happened not to occur during his stay
of nine months, after my arrival in France.
A little before that, Argand had invented his celebrated lamp, in
which the flame is spread into a hollow cylinder, and thus brought
into contact with the air within as well as without. Doctor Franklin
had been on the point of the same discovery. The idea had occurred to
him; but he had tried a bull-rush as a wick, which did not succeed.
His occupations did not permit him to repeat and extend his trials to
the introduction of a larger column of air than could pass through the
stem of a bull-rush.
The animal magnetism too of the maniac Mesmer, had just received its
death wound from his hand in conjunction with his brethren of the
learned committee appointed to unveil that compound of fraud and
folly. But after this, nothing very interesting was before the public,
either in philosophy or politics, during his stay; and he was
principally occupied in winding up his affairs there.
I can only therefore testify in general, that there appeared to me
more respect and veneration attached to the character of Doctor
Franklin in France, than to that of any other person in the same
country, foreign or native. I had opportunities of knowing
particularly how far these sentiments were felt by the foreign
ambassadors and ministers at the court of Versailles. The fable of his
capture by the Algerines, propagated by the English newspapers,
excited no uneasiness; as it was seen at once to be a dish cooked up
to the palate of their readers. But nothing could exceed the anxiety
of his diplomatic brethren, on a subsequent report of his death,
which, though premature, bore some marks of authenticity.
I found the ministers of France equally impressed with the talents
and integrity of Dr. Franklin. The Count de Vergennes particularly
gave me repeated and unequivocal demonstrations of his entire
confidence in him.
When he left Passy, it seemed as if the village had lost its
patriarch. On taking leave of the court, which he did by letter, the
King ordered him to be handsomely complimented, and furnished him with
a litter and mules of his own, the only kind of conveyance the state
of his health could bear.
The succession to Dr. Franklin, at the court of France, was an
excellent school of humility. On being presented to any one as the
minister of America, the commonplace question used in such cases was "
c'est votts, Monsieur, qui remplace le Docteur Franklin?"
"it is you, Sir, who replace Doctor Franklin?" I generally
answered, "no one can replace him, Sir: I am only his successor.
to Unknown Recipient, 19 February 1791