Benjamin Franklin Papers

Four Letters of Introduction for Joseph Priestley, 20–21 August 1774

Four Letters of Introduction for Joseph Priestley

ALS (drafts): Library of Congress

In late August Joseph Priestley left with his patron, Lord Shelburne, for a Continental tour. It included the Low Countries and the Rhineland and ended in October in Paris, where Priestley demonstrated some of his experiments with gases and discussed them with Lavoisier in the first meeting between those two giants of chemistry.5 Franklin gave Priestley introductions to Dubourg, two Dutch academics of his acquaintance, and the secretary of the Batavian Society of Experimental Science, of which he had been a member since 1771.6 Some of the notes were more concerned with Franklin’s own affairs than with his friend, but all were intended to pave the way for him; we therefore print them together.

I. To Jacques Barbeu-Dubourg

London, Augt. 20. 1774

Dear Friend,

This Line will be put into your Hands by my excellent Friend Dr. Priestly, whose Character in the learned World is not unknown to you. His Name alone is a sufficient Recommendation to those Civilities you have so much Pleasure in showing to Strangers of Merit.7 My best Respects to the good Ladies and believe me ever, My dear Friend Yours most affectionately

B Franklin

Mons. Dubourg

II. To Johann David Hahn8

[August 20 or 21, 1774]


I am much oblig’d by your valuable Present of several Tracts which I received thro’ the Hands of our common Friend Sir John Pringle; particularly for that on Fix’d Air,9 a Subject which of late engages much the Attention of our Philosophers here, and in which no one has more distinguish’d himself than Dr. Priestly, who puts this Letter into your Hands. His Character in the Republick of Letters you must be well acquainted with, and I am sure you will be pleas’d with the Opportunity of conversing with him. I beg your Acceptance of the enclos’d Pamphlet,10 and am with the greatest Esteem, Sir, Your most obedient and most humble Servant


M. Hahn,

III. To Jean-Nicolas-Sébastien Allamand1

London Aug 21. 1774


I was much obliged by the Readiness with which you gratified me, by sending me a Copy of the Letter relating to the smoothing of the Sea by Oil. You will see that I have in the enclos’d, of which I beg your Acceptance, made some Use of that Letter.2

Dr. Priestly, so celebrated thro’out Europe for his philosophical Writings, does me the Honour to present this Line to your Hands. His Character alone will be a sufficient Recommendation to your Civilities, and I am sure you will be pleas’d with an Opportunity of conversing with him. I am ever, with the greatest Esteem and Respect, Sir, Your most obedient humble Servant

B Franklin

Please to present my respectful Compliments with the other Copy to his Excy. Count Bentinck3

Professor Allemand,

IV. To Lambertus Bicker4

London Aug 21. 1774


I order’d from Paris a Copy of the Translation into French of my Philosophical Works, to be sent to the Batavian Society at Rotterdam, as a Mark of my great Respect for that Society. I wish to know whether it came to hand.

Having this Opportunity by my excellent Friend Dr. Priestly, (with whose Character as a Philosopher you must be acquainted) I send to the Society another Trifle of mine; of which I beg their Acceptance.5

If the Society have published any of their Transactions, I should be glad to have them, and will readily pay the Charge. I am very respectfully Sir, Your most obedient humble Servant


Mr. Secry of the Batavian Society   Rotterdam

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

5DNB; Douglas McKie, Antoine Lavoisier … (New York, [1952]), pp. 112, 116. Priestley described the tour, and commented on what he saw, but made no mention of the men to whom BF gave him introductions: Jack Lindsay, ed., Autobiography of Joseph Priestley (Bath, [1970]), pp. 99–111.

6Above, XVIII, 100 n.

7Dubourg’s reply below, Oct. 10, expressed admiration for Priestley but was vague about civilities.

8Hahn (1729–84) had been since the 1750’s a scientific department in himself at the University of Utrecht: he was professor of philosophy, experimental physics, astronomy, botany, and chemistry. Biographisches Lexikon der hervorragenden Ärtze aller Zeiten und Völker (5 vols., Berlin, 1929–35), III, 18. BF had presumably met him during his Dutch visit in 1766. Priestley delivered his note, in all likelihood, for his party stopped overnight at Utrecht: Lindsay, op. cit., p. 105.

9Diderik van (Didericus de) Smeth, Dissertatio philosophica inauguralis de aëre fixo (Utrecht, 1772); the presentation copy, inscribed by Hahn, is among BF’s books in the library of the Hist. Soc. of Pa. Smeth’s work attracted Lavoisier’s attention, and he criticized it at length. René Fric, ed., Œuvres de Lavoisier, Correspondance … (3 vols. to date, Paris, 1955–64), II, 408; Œuvres de Lavoisier … (6 vols., Paris, 1862–93), I, 499–511. With this “tract” Hahn must have sent other dissertations that he had directed; several were in print at the time.

10The same one, we suspect, that he sent to Allamand with the note that follows.

1For the professor of philosophy and natural history at Leyden see above, XVIII, 106 n.

2BF included in his long letter to Brownrigg above, XX, 463–74, an extract that Allamand had sent him. The letter, as noted there, was printed in shortened form in the Phil. Trans.; it was also published separately, On the Stilling of Waves by Means of Oil … (London, 1774), and a copy is among BF’s pamphlets now in the Hist. Soc. of Pa.

3See above, XX, 470–1 n.

4Bicker (1732–1801) was a physician who since 1770 had been secretary of the Batavian Society of Experimental Science. He was a Leyden graduate, and established a large practice in Rotterdam; he later translated Pringle’s work (above, XX, 444 n) on diseases of the army. Nieuw Nederlandsch biografisch Woordenboek … (10 vols., Leyden, 1911–37), I, 346–7.

5BF had sent the present of his Œuvres by the chaplain of the Dutch embassy: above, XX, 485. The “Trifle” was doubtless the same pamphlet that he sent to Allamand with the preceding note.

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