Antoine Court de Gébelin to the American Philosophical Society: Extract5
Extracted from ALS: American Philosophical Society
Au musée de Paris Rue Dauphine6 15e. Mars 1783
Le 6. de ce mois, notre Societé litteraire connue sous le nom de Musée de Paris a donnè une brillante fete pour la paix: le Dr Franklin l’honora de sa presence: il y avoit l’élite des Academies, des Ambassadeurs, de Paris: 400. Dames plus brillantes les unes que les autres: les lectures en vers & en prose commencerent un peu après 5 heur. Le Concert entre 7. & 8. L’Orchestre etoit superieurement composè. Sur les 10h. & demi, on porta la Santé des Etats-Unis & Celle de Votre Societè litteraire— M. le Dr Franklin y repondit d’une maniere qui excita la plus vive sensation.7
5. This letter, addressed to the secretary of “la Societé Litteraire des Etats-Unis,” begins by recalling an earlier letter (which he fears may have been lost) thanking the Society for making him a member. Now that the peace is declared, he writes again giving news of his Musée de Paris, proposing that the two societies form an affiliation, and announcing that his two-year term as president is over (he is now Inspector General). He also promises to send volumes of his Monde Primitif by various messengers, including BF. The letter was read at the Sept. 26 meeting of the APS: Early Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society … from the manuscript minutes of its meetings from 1744 to 1838 (Philadelphia, 1884), p. 118. We excerpt here the paragraph describing BF’s attendance at a Musée celebration.
6. The Musée had recently moved to new quarters. The elaborate inaugural session on Nov. 21, 1782, is described in Bachaumont, Mémoires secrets, XXI, 203, 219–21.
7. According to the published accounts (which did not record BF’s toast) this public meeting was the most solemn that the Musée had organized to date. It was a celebration of the peace and, consequently, of “la naissance de la nouvelle république des Etats-Unis” represented by BF. His entrance at five o’clock was greeted with sustained applause. After the many speeches and verses, a bust of BF by Houdon was unveiled to great acclaim; the resemblance, which the assembled were in a position to verify, was extraordinary. M. Vieilh read a verse composed for the bust. (This was undoubtedly the young Jacques-François-Marie Vieilh de Boisjolin: Nouvelle biographie.) The concert, which ended with a piece by Bach, was described as brilliant, and the ensuing supper was sponsored by Court de Gébelin. Then, in “un aimable délire,” BF allowed himself to be crowned with laurel and myrtle: Bachaumont, Mémoires secrets, XXII, 134–5; Mercure de France (Jour. politique de Bruxelles) for March 22, 1783.
The bust of BF, assumed to be one of the plaster casts the sculptor distributed, has not been located. Houdon gave four of them to BF. WTF lent one to the Salon de la Correspondance in February, 1783, for their exhibition of famous men: Sellers, Franklin in Portraiture, pp. 306–9; Anne L. Poulet et al., Jean-Antoine Houdon: Sculptor of the Enlightenment (Washington, D.C., Chicago, and London, 2003), p. 250.