Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Champigny, 24 July 1778

To Champigny

ALS (draft): American Philosophical Society

Passy, July 24 1778


I have received your Letter of the 9th Instant, wherein you reproach me with breaking my Engagements to you, in not having paid you twenty one Ducats which you say I owe you, reminding me that while I charge Breach of Faith on the King respecting my Constituents I ought not to break mine to you, as private Engagements are more sacred than those of Sovereigns. I hold myself always ready to pay my just Debts, and shall pay this as soon as I am convinc’d it is of that kind. But as you have not favour’d me with your Account I know not how it arises. I have not here my Books [interlined: and Receipts relating to] that contain my Money Transactions and Expences while in England: But I remember that many years since a Gentleman of your Name, to whom I was entirely a Stranger, apply’d to me for a Subscription to a History of England which he propos’d to write. I consider’d the Affair as one of those genteel Methods by which Men of Letters are assisted when their Circumstances require Assistance, without being put to the Blush in being oblig’d to ask it as a Benevolence. In that Light I gave him perhaps two or three Guineas (I do not exactly remember the Sum) and took his Receipt promising the History, but without the least Expectation of ever seeing it. Accordingly I never enquired after it, I never ask’d him for it. I had by me at the time near a Dozen such Receipts, for Books not yet printed, and many of them I believe never intended to be written. I have however lately received 2 Volumes, as they are Called of that History, and four Volumes of Histories of Sweden and Denmark which I never desired or heard of before. They are badly printed and so thin, as not to make more than two sizable Quarto Volumes when bound together, so that I cannot conceive them worth more than I have already paid. Nevertheless7 I do not on that Account desire to keep them. Had you publish’d Your History of England within the Time you first promis’d to your Subscribers, I might possibly have lived to read it. But you broke your Engagement with me, and that long before you could have the least Pretence for accusing me, as you now do, of the same Crime, and I never complain’d of it. You have since made another Promise,8 that from the Month of September 1777, (when the two first Volumes appear’d) two more should be publish’d every 5 Months. Ten Months are since elaps’d, and not one of the four Volumes due9 has yet been heard of; so that I can have no Dependance on ever seeing the Work compleated. Besides I am now grown very old, have but little time left, and that is occupy’d with too much public Business to allow me any Leisure for the private Amusement of reading History. I request therefore that you would direct your Correspondent here to call for and receive back the 6 Volumes of different Histories you have sent me;1 and I desire you would accept what you formerly had of me, and believe me your Welwisher and very humble Servant


I return enclos’d your Receipts.2

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

7BF wrote and deleted a different conclusion: “Nevertheless if you are the Person, and will be so good as to send me a Copy of my Subscription that I may know what I stand engag’d for, I shall take care to comply with it: But I request you would take again the Histories of Denmark and Sweden, and not put them into your Account; for my little Estate in America being in the Hands of our Enemies, I am now too poor to pay for all the Histories you may be capable of writing and translating; and that at so high a Price as 21 Ducats for two 4to Volumes unbound. I am, Sir, Your &c.”

8Apparently in a letter now missing.

9Champigny had spoken of four volumes (XXIV, 399) and Quérard of a planned fifteen (France littéraire); but only the two ever appeared.

1Presumably the three vols. of the Histoire des rois de Dannemark, the one-vol. Histoire abrégée de Suède, and the two vols. of the Nouvelle histoire générale d’Angleterre. See above, XXIV, 400 n.

2If BF thought that this bristling rejoinder would bring matters to a close, he was wrong. Champigny wrote him three more times. The first letter, of Aug. 10, reaffirmed that BF was honor-bound to pay at least for the history of England. If he chose to return the history of Denmark, his debt—to be paid to the bearer—would amount to only 12 ducats. Later that day, Champigny, claiming to have just received this letter, wrote again and stressed that far from having extended mere charity, back in England, the American had pledged himself to become a subscriber. On Oct. 22, a last attempt was made to extract the 12 ducats Champigny still felt were his due. The outcome is unknown. All three letters are at the APS.

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