Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from John Peter Miller, 12 June 1771

From [John] Peter Miller8

ALS: American Philosophical Society

Ephrata in Pennsylvania the 12th. of June 1771.


Being prevented by many Interruptions, the Discharge upon your worthy Letter was so long postponed. I send you hereby a Collection, which for the most part uncommon. I do not pretend, that they Word for Words hath been the Father’s Tenets; for he himself would never publish any, and protested against others, which, by doing also, hath increased the Division in the Church.9 Yet can I give Assurance, that if the Father was alive, and would read them, that he would own them. I wish, that it hath been in my Hand, to make all pallatable according to the modern Taste: but Truth hath haired Lipps, and used in its Utterance a rough Tune. I offer the whole to your Freedom, either to burn or publish the same, or to make such alterations, as you think best: for altho’ I am convinc’d of the Veracity of the Substance of the whole, yet must I sue for Pardon when the Expressions are defective, for I am a Foreigner to the Idiotism of the Language, which I hope to obtain from your Clemency. I hope, the whole will be forwarded by the Care of your Lady, with which and her Family we have in your Absence cultivated the same Friendship, which was established for many Years: but I gave Mr. Christ. Marshal Liberty, to peruse said Writings, and even to copy of for his Friends, if he would, which have inquired for such Things, which I thought necessary not to conceal from you.1

The Present, which I have added, was the Father’s musical Book, wherein are contained the most part of the musical Concerts, by himself composed. It did cost three Brethren three Quarters of a Year Work to write the same: by the Imbellishment thereof it will appear, what a great Regard we had for our Superior, in the whole Book there is no musical Error. And as it was written, before the Mystery of Singing was fully discovered, therefore are not all the Keys therein mentioned. The Masters of that Angelic Art will be astonished to see, that therein a Man, destituted of all human Instruction, came therein to the highest Pitch of Perfection meerly through his own Industry. Also that, when he did set up a School in the Camp, not only the Members of the Single Station were therewith occupied for Many Years: but also the Family-Brethren were also thereby enamoured, that their naturall Affection to their Families suffered a great Loss.2

It is a Wonder, how the seven Notes and few half-notes can be so marvellously transposed, as to make thereby 1000 Melodies, all of 5 Tunes, and some of 6 Tunes, yea some of 7 Tunes, also that they came not one the other in the Way. In the Composition the Father had the same Way as in his Writings, viz: he suspended his considering Faculty, and putting his Spirit on the Pen, followed its Dictates strictly, also were all the Melodies flown from the Mystery of Singing, that was opened within him, therefore have they that Simplicity, which was required, to raise Edification. It is certain, that the Confusion of Languages, which began at Babel, never did affect Singing: and therefore is in the Substance of the Matter in the whole World but one Way of Singing; altho’ in particulars there may be Differences.

As concerning our Oeconomy: it is true that it received by the Father’s death a severe Shok; yet have we through the Grace of God, both Brethren and Sisters, hitherto maintained our Ground and a visible Congregation. But shall not propagate the Monastic Life upon the Posterity; since we have no Successors, and the Genius of the Americans is bound another way.

I have your kind Greeting communicated both to the Brethren and Sisters in the Camp: which all send you their humble Reciprocation, the number of Brethren being 12. and of the Ladies 26 all good old Warriours. We all wish, that God would grant you in your high Age the Spirit of Rejuvenescency, and that, when Satiated with Years, you might occupy your Lot in the Lord’s Inheritance: in which humble Wishes I in particular remain Sir your obedient Servant

Peter Miller

P.S. Please to tell Mr. Neate3 the humble Respect from all the Camp, especially from Brother Obed and me.

To Benjamin Franklin Esquire!

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

8The second head of the Solitary Brethren of the Community of Seventh Day Baptists at Ephrata (they were also called Dunkers) and one of the most learned of the Pennsylvania clergy; see the DAB and above, IX, 323 n. His letter is clearly in answer to one from BF that has been lost.

9The Father was Johann Conrad Beissel, founder of the Ephrata Community, for whom see ibid. and the DAB. The massive enclosure, 147 pages in Miller’s inimitable English, was primarily his exposition of Beissel’s doctrines, followed by a translation of three Beissel tracts from the German: a discourse written in 1734 on the seven-headed beast in Revelations, “Ninety-nine Mystical Sentences” printed by BF in German in 1730, and fifty-seven apothegms from Beissel’s writings. The last two are printed in Julius F. Sachse, “A Unique Manuscript by Rev. Peter Miller,” Pa.-German Soc. Proc., XXI (1910), 1–44. In the first page of his introduction Miller explained how Beissel created division among his followers by constantly frustrating their intentions.

1For Christopher Marshall (1709–97), a Philadelphia pharmacist and diarist, see the DAB. He had helped to publish Miller’s translation of a work by Beissel in 1765: Sachse, op. cit., p. 4.

2Beissel required continence of married couples at Ephrata, and music was apparently one way to divert their attention to spiritual matters. His own musical compositions were intricate to a degree; see Julius F. Sachse, “The Music of the Ephrata Cloister...,” Pa.-German Soc. Proc., XII (1901), 5–92. The Ephrata Codex, a long and richly illuminated MS that the Community had presented to Beissel shortly before his death, was what Miller sent to BF, who considered it “a most valuable Curiosity”: to DF below, Jan. 28, 1772. Inside the cover of the MS is an unsigned note, supposedly in the hand of John Wilkes, saying that BF had lent the writer the codex just before leaving for America in 1775. Library of Congress, Report of the Librarian of Congress... (Washington, 1927), pp. 109–12. Wilkes is the last man who would have wanted to know about music as a way of subduing carnal desire. His brother Israel might have, but a careful examination of the handwriting convinces us that both men must be ruled out; the writer is unidentifiable.

3Doubtless William Neate, a London merchant trading with Philadelphia, for whom see above, XII, 192 n.

Index Entries