Benjamin Franklin Papers
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To Benjamin Franklin from Francis Hopkinson, 29 April 1782

From Francis Hopkinson

ALS: Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Philada. April 29th. 1782

Dear sir.

I am told there is a most valuable Work in the Press at Paris, entitled Encyclopœdia Methodique, to be published in yearly Volumes, & that the Subscription will in the whole amount to about 100 Dollars.8 I am very desirous of having this Compendium of human Knowledge, & request the favour of you to enter me as a Subscriber. If you will be so good as to advance the first Deposit for me I will repay it to Mr. Bache or otherwise as you shall direct; or my friend Mr. Barclay will make the necessary Advance which I will repay to any of his Correspondents here.

I am, dear Sir Your ever affectionate

Fr. Hopkinson

Honb. Dr. Franklin

Addressed: To The Honourable / Doctor Franklin / at Passy / near Paris

Notation: F. Hopkinson 29. April 1782.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

8The colossal project to redesign and rewrite Diderot’s Encyclopédie, now under the direction of Parisian publisher Charles-Joseph Panckoucke, was announced in December, 1781, with a prospectus for subscribers. The Encyclopédie méthodique (conceived at this point as 26 dictionaries and seven volumes of plates) would contain a systematic and fully cross-referenced compendium of knowledge arranged by subject rather than alphabetically. Each finely printed volume would be written by a leading expert in the field. Both the quarto edition (42 vols.) and the octavo (84 vols.) were offered to the public at the same subscription price of 672 l.t. The subscription would close on July 1, 1782, after which the price would be 798 l.t. The entire series was to be completed in five years.

The failure of this prospectus to attract subscribers induced Panckoucke in March, 1782, to abandon the octavo edition, shorten the subscription period, change the financial terms, and issue a new prospectus. This time he generated a frenzy of interest, and the project was able to move forward. The tortured history of the Méthodique is detailed in Robert Darnton, The Business of Enlightenment (Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1979), pp. 395–519.

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