To Mary Stevenson6
ALS: American Philosophical Society
Tunbridge Wells,7 Augt. 20. 1758
My Son I know intended writing to you this Morning, so as to send per this Days Post; but sundry unexpected Hindrances have prevented him as well as me. He is gone to dine abroad, and I doubt will hardly be able to disengage himself before the Post goes. Therefore, as well as to acknowledge the Receipt of your kind Favour of the 18th.8 I snatch a Moment from Company, and write this Line to let you know that we are well, and that you will hear from us both by Tuesday’s Post. ’Till then I shall only say, that I find my self, with greater Esteem and Regard than ever, Dear Child, Your sincerely affectionate Friend and Servant
Endorsed: Aug 20–58
6. Mary (Polly) Stevenson (1739–1795), daughter of BF’s landlady, Mrs. Margaret Stevenson (see above, VII, 273–4 n), was one of the charming, intelligent girls to whom BF gave the long and affectionate friendship for which he had such a talent (Catharine Ray and Georgiana Shipley were others). Polly’s almost filial devotion to him was a major influence in her life. She had acquired an unusually good education and by the time BF arrived at Craven Street in 1757, she was spending most of her time as companion to an elderly aunt, a Mrs. Tickell, in Wanstead, a village about ten miles from London, apparently with the understanding that the aunt would leave her a comfortable estate. Nothing came of BF’s hope of having her as a daughter-in-law; in 1770 she married William Hewson, a brilliant young physician and anatomist, who four years later died from an infection incurred while dissecting. Polly devoted the rest of her life to the care and education of her two sons and daughter. From 1775 BF had tried to persuade her to move to America and in 1784–85 she and the children visited him in Passy. Finally in 1786 she brought her family to Philadelphia, and was at BF’s bedside when he died (1790), five years before her own death at her son’s home near Bristol, Pa.
About 170 letters between the bright, spirited woman, remarkable in her own right, and the fatherly philosopher survive. They are full of humor and good will, and range from science and the phonetic alphabet to marriage counseling and public affairs, not to mention a stream of reports on growing children and grandchildren. Eight of his letters to her appear in the 1769 edition of Experiments and Observations on Electricity. In 1783 he wrote: “In looking forward,—Twenty-five Years seems a long Period; but in looking back, how short! Could you imagine that ’tis now full a Quarter of a Century since we were first acquainted! It was in 1757. During the greatest Part of the Time I lived in the same House with my dear deceased Friend your Mother; of course you and I saw and convers’d with each other much and often. It is to all our Honours, that in all that time we never had among us the smallest Misunderstanding. Our Friendship has been all clear Sunshine, without any the least Cloud in its Hemisphere.” Many of their letters are in James M. Stifler, “My Dear Girl” The Correspondence of Benjamin Franklin with Polly Stevenson, Georgiana and Catherine Shipley (N.Y., 1927). Whitfield J. Bell, Jr., “‘All Clear Sunshine’: New Letters of Franklin and Mary Stevenson Hewson,” APS Proc., C(1956), 521–36, describes the extent and character of the full correspondence.
7. See below, p. 131 n, for the visit to Tunbridge Wells.
8. Not found.