Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from John Perkins, 17 February 1752

From John Perkins8

ALS: American Philosophical Society

Feb. 17th. 1752. Boston


I received your Bill by the last Post and thank you for it as I do likewise for the Pamphlets last Summer.

It was a sincere pleasure to me to see good Dr. Thompson so well defended by his generous Friend Dr. Hamilton.9 I am much pleas’d with both these Gentlemen’s Performances.

I beg’d your Plain Truth1 of Mrs. Mecom a few Weeks since which I had never seen before and about the same Time had the good Fortune to see your Plan of an English School.2

Mr. Kennersley was well receiv’d among us by whome I have seen some of your Experiments which were very entertaining.3 But this new found Element ambresine!4 I can by no means understand it any more than Magnetism. I imagin it has very important Uses in the World possibly not in our Power to discover. I cant help thinking Sensation and Muscular Motion are at least in part performed by it. Your Rationale on Clouds and Rain appears extreamly probable to me and so that of the Aurora Borealis. As to the Fulmen it is demonstrable that it is the same Thing.

I made an Observation or two on the Fulmen and the Thundring Sound of it in August last which I would transmit to you if I tho’t you were enough at Leisure.

We have had a Cold Winter. The first of January was the sharpest Day when my Glass reach’d, 100 which is three Degrees and a half colder than any since I had it being 7 or 8 Years.5 It was at 66 on December 30. hor. 8. A.M. at which Time the air began to alter. I should be glad to know how it was with you And (if you have Intelligence) how it was at Virginia or South Carolina and when it began, was at the height, &c. It was by common Report at Hallifax the same Day as with us, at the height.

The Small Pox threatens spreading here and some of our People are runing into a Course of Tar-Water as a preparative.

If your Doctors have found any benefit by any previous Medicinal management to the common way of Infection I should be glad to know it for the safety of such as are not pleas’d with Inoculation and for the meliorating this too. I believe something may be done in this Matter and would promote Tryals of every Thing likely: Tho’ I differ from my Bretheren in the affair of Diet.

Dear Sir, I had the pleasure to see your Son while he was with us and need say no more of him than to wish you all the Happiness in him that his Genius and Accomplishments seem to me to promise. I hope he got well home. I am Sir Your Obliged Humble Servant

John Perkins

Addressed: For  Mr. Franklin Post Master  In Philadelphia

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

8John Perkins (1698–1781), born in Lynn, Mass., began to practice medicine at Boston, where, after 1721, Cotton Mather extended his patronage. He carried to England a letter from Mather to Dr. James Jurin of the Royal Society, 1723, extolling him as “a Physician of Great Learning and Wisdom and Success; and Inferiour to none that we have in this Countrey” (George L. Kittredge, “Cotton Mather’s Scientific Communications to the Royal Society,” Amer. Antiq. Soc. Proc., n.s., XXVI, 1916, 53). He corresponded with BF on smallpox, tornadoes, colds, and the formation of coal; wrote An Essay on the Agitations of the Sea (Boston, 1761), which was a revision of an article that first appeared in James Parker’s New American Magazine, 1758; Thoughts on Agency (New Haven, 1765); Theory of Agency (Boston, 1771); The True Nature and Cause of the Tails of Comets (Boston, 1772); and sent a paper “On Tornadoes, Hurricanes and Waterspouts” to APS, 1773. He was elected a member of the Society the next year. Henry Phillips, Jr., comp., Early Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society (Phila., 1884), pp. 84, 87. He sent a paper on epidemic catarrhal fevers to BF in Paris; it was published in the Histoire de la Société Royale de Médecine. Année M.DCC.LXXVI (1779), 206–12, and that society elected him a member. A lifelong friend described his library as “very handsome,” and remembered that “he had the least credulity in common philosophic opinions of any man of his times, was eminent in his profession, and wanted only a regular education to have given him celebrity.” The Diary of William Bentley, D.D. (Salem, Mass., 1905–14), II, 434. He died at Lynn, where he had moved during the siege of Boston. See also Amer. Antiq. Soc. Proc., n.s., LXVI, pt. 2 (1956), 101.

9See above, pp. 80–1.

1See above, III, 180.

2See above, p. 101.

3On Ebenezer Kinnersley, see above, II, 259. His lectures on electricity at Faneuil Hall and elsewhere in Boston between October 1751 and January 1752 were so successful he had to repeat them. William N. Morse, “Lectures on Electricity in Colonial Times,” New Eng. Quar., VII (1934), 367–70.

4A probable reading. Ambrésin(e) is the French for “composed of amber.” Kinnersley explains in his first lecture that the word electricity comes from the Greek word for amber, “The first Substance observ’d by the antient Greeks to have a Property of attracting light Matters after friction.” Cohen, BF’s Experiments, pp. 409–10.

5On the centigrade scale of Anders Celsius (1701–1744), the boiling point of water was at zero, the freezing point at 100. Celsius’ scale was inverted by Christin of Lyons, France, 1743, and centigrade thermometers were known for some time afterwards as “thermometers of Lyons.” J. A. Chaldecott, Handbook of the Collection [in the Science Museum] illustrating Temperature Measurement and Control, Pt. II (London, 1955), pp. 7–8.

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