Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Pierre Chabrit, 20 May 1783

From Pierre Chabrit3

ALS: American Philosophical Society

à Paris le 20 Mai 1783.

Monsieur le Docteur,

Permettés que J’offre à un homme qui doit donner des Loix au nouveau monde, le premier volume de l’histoire de celles d’un des grands peuples de l’ancien:4 Je serois au comble de mes vœux, si le législateur de l’Amérique m’avoit Jugé digne de ses conseils.

Je suis avec un profond respect, Monsieur le Docteur, Votre très humble et très obéïssant serviteur5


Rue des fossés de M. le Prince.

Notation: Chabri 20 May 1783.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

3Chabrit (1747–1785), a conseiller in the Conseil souverain de Bouillon and an avocat au Parlement, had just completed the first volume of De la Monarchie française, ou de ses loix (2 vols., Bouillon, 1783–85), his study of the French legal system. He moved to Paris from Clermont-Ferrand after an unsuccessful attempt to establish a newspaper, the Feuille hebdomadaire pour la province d’Auvergne. In 1781 Diderot proposed him to Catherine II as an expert on legislation, forwarding a copy of his table of contents and first chapters. As there was no response, the jurist remained in France but continued to struggle financially. Despite the acclaim he received for his study (see the following note), he committed suicide shortly after the second volume was published, reportedly because of his mounting debt: DBF; Jean Sgard, Dictionnaire des journaux, 1600–1789 (2 vols., Paris, 1991), I, 14–16; Denis Diderot, Œuvres complètes, ed. Roger Lewinter (15 vols., Paris, 1969–73), XIII, 1000–2; Tourneux, Correspondance littéraire, XIV, 196–7; Maurice Tourneux, Diderot et Catherine II (1899; reprint, Geneva, 1970), pp. 508–10.

4De la Monarchie française was announced for sale on June 28 and favorably reviewed on Aug. 19 in the Jour. de Paris. The Académie française awarded Chabrit a prize “pour l’encouragement des Lettres” the following spring: Bachaumont, Mémoires secrets, XXV, 171; Jour. de Paris, March 17, 1784.

5Among BF’s papers at the Hist. Soc. of Pa. is a copy by Chabrit of two pieces he had given to the Musée de Paris, of which he was a member. The first is a text he had hoped to deliver at a meeting he knew BF would attend; it consisted of the introduction to De la Monarchie française prefaced by remarks alluding to the “Sage” in the audience who had worked so successfully for “la liberté du nouveau monde.” (The occasion was undoubtedly the March 6 celebration of the peace described in XXXIX, 342–3.) His reading was refused, however, on the pretext “qu’elle ne plairoit point aux femmes.” The second piece is his response, which he hoped to read at a future assembly. It outlined his ideals for readings at the Musée: that they be serious rather than frivolous, designed to instruct as well as to please, and done without condescension.

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