Benjamin Franklin Papers
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To Benjamin Franklin from Achille-Guillaume Lebègue de Presle, 1 October 1777

From Achille-Guillaume Lebègue de Presle

ALS: American Philosophical Society

A Chatillon sous Bagneux ce 1 8bre [1777]

Monsieur,

J’ai l’honneur de vous communiquer une lettre ecrite de Bowood-Park, sur le dernier tour d’adresse que mr. B. Wilson a fait voir a la cour de Londres dans le Pantheon. Mon correspondant, dont je vous ai montré une lettre la semaine derniere, me charge expressement de vous faire part de celle cy, et de vous presenter ses respectueuses civilités. Il voudroit que je fisse usage de ces details pour detromper les Physiciens francois des assertions que m. Wilson a fait mettre dans divers papiers, mais son exposé n’est pas fait de maniere qu’il soit suffisant d’en donner une traduction.5 Il seroit beaucoup plus avantageux que vous voulussies bien, Monsieur, appretier ce qui s’est passé a Londres, et confirmer l’utilité des conducteurs pointus, ainsi que la preference qu’ils meritent sur ceux qui ne le sont pas, par l’explication de ce qui est arrivé a Purfleet.

Je profite de la permission que vous m’avez donnée en joignant ici une lettre que je vous prie, Monsieur, d’envoyer par l’occasion la plus sure qui s’offrira, je vous en serai très obligé.6 Vous voudres bien achever L’adresse en mettant le nom des lieux [où il?] faut. Quant a la lettre d’Angleterre, conservez la, s’il vous plait, jusqu’au moment ou je pourrai aller vous rendre mes devoirs. Je suis avec Respect, Monsieur, votre tres humble tres obeissant serviteur

Lebegue DE Presle

Notation: Le Begue, Chatillon 1 8b.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

5This is our only evidence that the correspondent, Magellan, was part of the Bowood circle. He had reported before on the episode at Purfleet and its aftermath: above, XXIV, 163, 487–9. A copy of the long communication that Lebègue is here enclosing is in the Library of Congress; it is dated Sept. 15, has a note by WTF that it was supposedly from Ingenhousz, and seems to be incomplete because it makes no mention of communicating it to BF or using it to undeceive French physicists. It is a highly intemperate attack on Wilson, whose “tour d’adresse,” or sleight of hand, was the experiments that he was carrying on. They impressed the King so much that he had pointed rods removed from the Queen’s House (now incorporated in Buckingham Palace) and replaced by round rods; the work was under way by September: Hist. MSS. Commission, Second Report, appendix, p. 13. This development was the talk of the town, and inspired an epigram that was widely publicized. A copy is among BF’s papers in the APS:

“While you great George for knowledge hunt

And sharp conductors change for blunt

The Empire’s out of Joint.

Franklin another course pursues

And all your thunder heedless views

By keeping to the point.”

Wilson’s apparent victory turned out to be hollow, for further experiments proved him mistaken. Magellan announced this in another letter from London on Oct. 3, which he asked the recipient to pass on to BF; a copy, also with WTF’s tentative attribution to Ingenhousz, is with the first copy in the Library of Congress. A third letter, unsigned and undated, described Wilson’s experiments at length. It was apparently addressed to BF and certainly endorsed by him, but has disappeared; we have only an article about it with extensive quotations: Park Benjamin, “On a Letter to Benjamin Franklin,” Cassiers Mag., IX (1895–96), 273–82. BF endorsed it as from John Berkenhout, a physician and naturalist, for whom see the DNB. Berkenhout was a stranger to BF, but had known Arthur Lee and had approached him about peace negotiations: above, XXIV, 554. Perhaps the physician’s report to BF on Wilson was self-introduction with the same end in mind.

6Undoubtedly to his brother, Duportail. See above, XXIV, 326.

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