Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Horace-Bénédict de Saussure, 23 August 1783

To Horace-Bénédict de Saussure3

ALS: Bibliothèque de Genève

Passy, Augt 23. 1783


Reflecting with Pleasure on the agreable and instructive Conversation you favour’d me with, when I had the Happiness of seeing you in London,4 I embrace this Opportunity of recalling myself to your Remembrance, & of requesting your Acceptance of a Copy of the American Constitutions. With great and sincere Esteem I have the honour to be Sir, Your most obedient and most humble Servant

B Franklin

M. de Saussure

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

3The physicist, geologist, mountaineer, and professor of philosophy and natural sciences at the Académie de Genève, who discussed atmospheric electricity with BF in London around 1768 and in 1771 introduced the first lightning rod to Geneva. He and BF exchanged several letters on scientific matters around that time, but to the best of our knowledge they had no subsequent communication until the present letter. BF may have heard news of him from BFB, who attended the Collège in Geneva which Saussure (as rector from 1774 to 1776) had tried unsuccessfully to reform; it was that failed attempt that inspired him to found the Société des arts in 1776. Fascinated by the scientific potential of balloons, he went to Lyon in January, 1784, to witness an experiment by Joseph Montgolfier. Later that year he wrote a theory of atmospheric electricity as related to earthquakes: XIX, 324–7; XX, 75–9; Douglas W. Freshfield, The Life of Horace Benedict de Saussure (London, 1920), pp. 75–6, 116–19, 312–21, 352–3; Albert V. Carozzi, Horace-Bénédict de Saussure (1740–1799) (Geneva, 2005), pp. 81, 92–6, 222.

4Saussure described their time together in a Feb. 6, 1770, letter to Giambatista Beccaria: “J’ai eu le bonheur de voir souvent à Londres le Célèbre Franklin & même de faire bien des expériences avec lui, nous nous sommes Souvent entretenus de vous, Monsieur, il m’a paru rempli pour vous de la plus grande estime. L’Expérience qui a été le germe de vos curieuses recherches sur le Puits électrique, & à l’occasion de la quelle vous me faites l’honneur de parler de mes Théses, est bien de son invention, mais il n’en avoit pas tiré le parti, et ne l’avoit pas poussée aussi loin que vous l’avès fait.” (APS).

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