Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from David Colden, 26 October 1758

From David Colden7

ALS: American Philosophical Society; draft (incomplete): New-York Historical Society

Coldengham October 26th. 1758


About the time you left America, I was employd in endeavouring, with my Fathers assistance, to form an explication of the phenomena of Electricity, on his Principles of action in matter:8 some conceptions had occur’d to me in pursuing the Experiments made by you and Mr. Canton, which gave me reason to hope it might be effected on very simple principles. When I had compleated this attempt, a Copy of it was designed to be sent to London last September was a Year, but being unfortunately taken by the French on board the Irene, Captain Jacobson, was carried into Lewisburgh.9

Had not your absence from America prevented your seeing those papers before they were finished, I doubt not but they would have been much more correct; however I am so unwilling to have them appear in publick before you have had an oppertunity of judging them, that I have desired my Cousin Alexander Colden (as I formerly did) to leave the Copy I now send, some time with you, for your consideration.1 The favour which I have formerly had of corresponding with you on this subject, gives me assurance that you will take the trouble of considering it, and of leting me know your sentiments of it. I shall esteem it a great favour Sir, that you make corrections in any part which may appear to want it. I had much rather not have it publishd, than that it should afterwards appear unworthy the notice of the Judicious: but if it meet with your approbation I shall reckon myself very safe in the publication. I must beg you to let my Cousin see what you write me on this occasion, that he may know how to order the Printing; for I shall desire him to delay it, in case you make any material objections, till I have an oppertunity of obviating them, or recalling my error.2

My Father desires his sincere Complements to you.

Your advice to my Cousin, in any thing concerning this peice, shall be most gratefully acknowledgd by, Sir Your most Obedient and most Humble Servant

David Colden

To Benjm. Franklin Esq.

Addressed: To / Benjamine Franklin Esqr / att / London

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

7Son of Cadwallader Colden and the author of a defense of BF’s electrical theories; see above, V, 135–44. He had written a letter very similar to this, Sept. 18, 1757, but, as he explains here, it never reached BF; see above, VII, 263–4.

8Cadwallader Colden, The Principles of Action in Matter, the Gravitation of Bodies, and the Motion of the Planets (London, 1751). See above, II, 416–18.

9David Colden had directed that the paper sent in 1757 be delivered to the Academy of Sciences in Paris in case of its capture by a French ship. There is no evidence, however, that this was done. In May 1759, Alexander Colden saw some extracts from the Histoire of the Academy reprinted in Gent. Mag. and jumped to the erroneous conclusion that they were pirated from his cousin’s work. They were, in fact, on the controversy between Nollet and LeRoy over BF’s electrical theories. Gent. Mag., XXIX (1759), 220–3; Colden Paps., V, 254, 259, 301–2.

1The paper which Colden now sent was revised and hence “more correct” than the one of the preceding year. Colden Paps., V, 259–60. A copy of a paper by David Colden, “Supplement to Principles of Action in Matter,” extending his father’s theories of matter and gravitation to the electrical phenomena, is in N.-Y. Hist. Soc. Another copy of the “Supplement” is appended to a manuscript revision of his father’s work in the University of Edinburgh Library. Probably, but not certainly, both these documents are copies of the 1758 revision, which was never published.

2Colden sent his paper to Peter Collinson for delivery to Alexander Colden. Collinson reported, March 6, 1759, that he had carried out these instructions and that next Franklin is to see David’s paper. “It happens very Suiteable for Him for he has Just finish’d an Electrical Machine on his own place [plan?]—which is remarkly Different from any I have Seen.” Alexander wrote twelve days later that he had “not yet had time to examine my Cousins theory of Electricity with the attention it deserves, but shall convey it to Mr. Franklyn, who will probably be able either to confirm or illustrate it by his Experiments.” BF wrote Cadwallader Colden, Dec. 3, 1760, expressing his regret that the “valuable Work” of the “very ingenious young Gentleman … has not yet been made publick.” Colden Paps., V, 297, 298–9, 376. Some of David’s work has not been entirely unnoticed, however; The American Magazine, 1 (January 1758), pp. 164–6, published his “New Experiments in Electricity”; and descriptions of some other experiments, sent to his father, March 2, 1758, were printed in 1923 in Colden Paps., V, 220–7.

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