Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from David Hartley, 26 September 1781

From David Hartley

ALS: American Philosophical Society

Margate Sept 26 1781

My Dear friend

Having an opportunity of a conveyance to you, I write one short line (as my notice is very sudden and short) just to tell you how happy I shd have been to have had an opportunity of seeing and Conversing with you. I fear that pleasure must be delayed, but it wd make me infinitely happy to look forward to that pleasure upon some future occasion.—7 At present the particular occasion of this letter, is to suggest to you a plan, of preventing the horrid consequences of fire in opera houses & play houses. I mean as far as relates to the lives & safety of the spectators.8 The general idea is this, viz to have a screen of fire plates where the green curtain hangs, to shut like a common scene, upon any alarm of fire—to put fire plates under the floor of the parterre & boxes, if hollow underneath; and likewise over the cieling and sounding board. The other three sides of that space wch contains the spectators, are of course built of brick or stone, & impenetrable to fire. This is the plan in general. I will send you drawings & a farther detail, & thro your means to Monsr Le Comte D’Angivilliers.9 I will only add that I have tried the security of the firescreen at least an hundred times, with the most intense fires, and have always found them proof. The Canvass, and oil, & woodden frames, & all the combustibles of a play house, can never be made fire proof, but all lives may be saved— verbum sapiente—So much for the present I am always your affecte


Addressed: To Dr Franklin / &c. &c. &c. à / Passy autour / Paris—

Notation: D Hartley sept 26. 1781

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

7In June Hartley had asked whether he could pay a visit to BF in Passy, but the American minister declined the offer: Hartley to BF, June 15, and BF to Hartley, June 30, both above.

8Hartley must recently have heard about the June 8 fire in the opera hall at the Palais royal: BF to Mme Brillon, June 7[-15], above. The Englishman had long been interested in the protection of buildings against fire and was granted recognition by Parliament for a model fireproof house he built on Putney Common. Between 1774 and 1792 he published a number of pamphlets on the subject. One of the early ones, An Account of the Method of Securing Buildings (and Ships) against Fire (London, 1774), is in a collection of pamphlets that was part of BF’s library (Franklin Collection, Yale University Library). The final one deals specifically with fire in theaters: Proposals for the Security of Spectators in any Public Theatre against Fire (London, 1792). See George H. Guttridge, David Hartley, M.P., an Advocate of Conciliation, 1774–1783 (University of Cal. Pubs. in History, XIV, no. 3; Berkeley and London, 1926), pp. 238–40.

9Charles-Claude de Flahault de La Billarderie, comte d’Angiviller (d. 1810), director of buildings and gardens since 1774. He was a member of the Académie royale des sciences, the Académie de peinture et de sculpture, and the APS (elected to membership in 1784). His belongings were confiscated in 1791 and he left the country, dying in Germany: Larousse; Jean-Louis Harouel, L’Embellissement des Villes: L’Urbanisme Français au XVIII Siecle (Paris, 1993), pp. 137–40; Jacques Silvestre de Sacy, Le Comte d’Angiviller: Dernier Directeur General des Batiments du Roi ([Paris, 1953]); Early Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society … (Philadelphia, 1884), p. 122.

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