Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from William James, [after 7 June 1783]

From William James

ALS: American Philosophical Society

Grand Hotel de Russie Rue Richlieu
Sunday Morning. [after June 7, 1783]9


I meant soon after I had the Honor of dining with you at passy, to have Returned to England, but meeting with an English Phyzician, he has made Paris so agreable to me, that I think of Staying Until the Middle of September, without I Can gain An Establishment in France Or America.—

Having taken, in my leisure Hours, An Active part in the Improvements in England, I was equally desirous of not being Idle in Paris.— My Communicant has been daily surveying this great City, And Communicating by Letters my Remarks to Monsr Le Roy.— A few weeks ago, I made a Tour with my Friend into Normandy, And sent him likewise my Observations on what I thought most Momentous.— I discover many Things Right in France.— Their Roads Are Magnificent, And well Conducted— The Arts flourish in Architecture, Ship building, painting, sculpture &ca yet I think them deficient in many Essential Circumstances.— Their Modern Bridges Are fine, but Unhappily Are Over Uncorrected Rivers— There is not a City Or Town in France Conducted on a Regular survey like London And Windsor. Neither is there One Carriage of Any Sort Upon a Mechanic principle.— Paris is Unreformed— It wants a better supply of water, And Oval sewers to Carry off the Filth.—The English seldom Revisit paris— The Reason is they Can neither Ride, drive Or walk About the City.— The plantations without Are however Very grand, pleasant, And Agreable.— If Rome, by the Remains of its Ancient Magnificence, brings in by the Resort of Foreigners more than London gains by its Trade, what would not France do, if all the Cities, And Towns, were Conducted upon the principle of London And Westminster?— I have but poor Abilities, And yet I think the Hints I have given Mr Le Roy, would Advantage France many Million a year.—1 I Judge Improved Carriages would save nearly half the draft Horses.— That Roads, And pavements, in their Repairs, might be decreased One half, by a proportional Broad wheel— The same in the wear and Tear of Carriages of Every denomination.— In the preservation of Goods 10 per Ct.— Hoop Fellies would save 4/5ths of the Timber now wasted, And last as long again.— In Barge work 100 per Ct may be gained, by Creating deeper upper Levels.— The Ingenious Mr Peronetts Books being published, his Art of Bridge Building is now Universally Known.—2 If in the Reform of Rivers, Any Even of his Own Bridges Should prove Unsafe, they may be Rebuilt On the same Construction.— The present structures of that sort Are not Equal to a deepened Navigation.— I have walked under An Intire dry Arch of pont Neuilly— This proves the River defective, not the Bridge.— The navigation of the Thames is Ruined. The Corporation of London want to Regain it by Lock work.— I Recommend Improved Ballast work.

Although I Intend to Return to England in a few Days, yet I had Rather spend the Remainder of my Days in France, Or America.— I was used Ill by the Bank Directors in the year 1772, Or Rather by Mr Payne the Governor3 who Ruined me to save himself.— After I had paid Away Twenty thousand pounds in supporting a Million of Stock against Sr George Colebrooke,4 who gave false Dividends On India stock, they Supported him, And Others in July 1772 to the Amount of 8 Millions of Money—by which Means, Instead of Recovering £50,000 which I Should have done, I was forced to pay £10,000 More.— I was then a Tenant of the Bank— I Resented their treatment, but they were too powerfull to Contend with.— I then took up the American Cause very Warmly, And Sent them Letters to the proprietors, which they Smuggled, that if Ever America was lost to England, it would be thro’ the Bank parlor, And that [torn: all(?)] their political Discounts were paper swords Issued to destroy the Innocent Americans, but that they would not succeed, for the Inglorious Conduct of England would End in a happy Independency to America.—5 Now sir, As you have done Numberless great Things in your Life, I Should not be Ungratefull, if through your Consequence, you Could Establish me in France, Or America, in any Employ I am Equal to.— I had Rather Remain Abroad On 200 per Annum, than Return to England on £500.—

I am, Sr, your Most, Obedt And Obliged Hum Servt.—

Wm James.

P.S.— If it is Necessarry for Me to quit France I intend taking the Liberty of waiting upon your Excellency to take my Leave, And to thank you for the several Civilities I have Received.—6

To his Excellency Dr Franklin

Notation: Wm. James

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

9The date of James’s only other letter, in which he introduces himself more fully (he had already waited on BF) and reveals his connections with two men BF knew well: Le Roy and John Viny. The dinner James mentions in the first sentence, below, probably took place after that letter. His allusion to a subsequent trip to Normandy and a mid-September departure also suggest a date later in the summer.

1James had met with Le Roy years earlier; see his June 7 letter. Once he returned home, he filled the London press with rumors of France’s remarkable progress, as he had done after his earlier meeting. The French had “already begun upon improving their internal Navigations,” and they were “ambitious of imitating the English” by adopting a national plan for proportional broad wheels and spearheading the cause across Europe: Public Advertiser, Feb. 28, April 14, and July 5, 1784. By the end of 1785, however, James was still pressing Le Roy on road reform in France, the lack of which had kept the French postal service far behind that of England and even America: “I address you to take the lead in this great post improvement,” he wrote in a public letter, “and Germany will soon imitate France.” Gen. Advertiser, Oct. 25, 1785.

2Engineer Jean-Rodolphe Perronet (XXVII, 249) had recently published Description des projets et de la construction des ponts de Neuilly, de Mantes, d’Orléans et autres … (2 vols., Paris, 1782–83).

3Edward Payne, governor of the Bank of England: The Royal Kalendar … for the Year 1772 (London, [1772]), p. 215.

4The banker and speculator Sir George Colebrooke was a director of the East India Company from 1767 to 1773. He served as its chairman in 1769, 1770, and 1772; during his final year he was accused of stockjobbing and was heavily in debt. His own bank failed in 1773, and four years later he was declared bankrupt: ODNB; Namier and Brooke, House of Commons, II, 235–6.

5James had integrated his pro-American sentiments into his pleas to the British government for road and canal reform: “Small Sums are grudged by Administration for any commendable National Improvement, but we don’t mind Millions in Support of an Army to demolish the innocent Subjects of America.” Public Advertiser, July 9, 1777.

6James was back in London by Nov. 3, agitating to be awarded the position of Water Bailiff, for which he had been recruited two years earlier by “some of the Heads of the City” but which was still vacant and evidently contested: James to the Corporation of London, published in the Public Advertiser, Nov. 11, 1783. After BF left Europe, James began invoking the American’s name in his newspaper articles urging reform. According to these accounts, BF had recommended to the French ministers that they issue an edict mandating proportional broad wheels, urged the French to use hoop felly wheels exclusively in order to improve carriages, and advised them on how to make rivers navigable without locks: Morning Herald, Nov. 30, 1786; Public Advertiser, Dec. 7, 1786, and March 12, 1790.

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