Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Cadwallader Colden, [October 1743]

From Cadwallader Colden9

Draft: New-York Historical Society

[October 1743]


Ever since I had the Pleasure of a Conversation with you tho very short by our accedental Meeting on the Road1 I have been very desirous to engage you in a Correspondence. You was pleas’d to take some notice of a Method of Printing which I mentioned to you at that time and to think it practicable. I have no further concern for it than as it may be usefull to the publick. My reasons for thinking so you will find in the inclosed Copy of a Paper which I last year sent to Mr. Collinson in London.2 Perhaps my fondness for my own Conceptions may make me think more of it than it deserves and may make me Jealous that the Common Printers are willing to discourage out of private Interest any Discovery of this sort. But as you have given me reason to think you Zealous in promoting every usefull attempt you will be able absolutely to determine my Opinion of it. I long very much to hear what you have done in your scheme of erecting a society at Philadelphia for promoting of usefull Arts and Sciences in America. If you think any thing in my power whereby I can promote so usefull an undertaking I will with much pleasure receive your Instructions for that end. As my son Cadwallader bears this I thereby think my self secured of the pleasure of a Line from you by him.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

9Cadwallader Colden (1688–1776), a prominent member of BF’s scientific circle, was born in Ireland of Scottish parents, graduated from the University of Edinburgh, 1705, studied medicine in London, and migrated to Philadelphia, 1710, where he practiced medicine and engaged in business until he moved to New York in 1718. Appointed surveyor general, 1720, member of the Governor’s Council, 1721, and lieutenant governor of the province, 1761, he made and forcefully administered policies respecting lands, Indian affairs, trade laws, and the civil service. He was burned in effigy for his determination to enforce the Stamp Act, 1765. In BF’s life he appears as a man of science and philosopher. His correspondence with Peter Collinson, John Bartram, and BF shows him to have been a central figure in the American world of science, putting American correspondents in touch with one another, as well as with European scientists like Linnaeus, Gronovius, and Dillenius. Colden himself was the author of a number of treatises, both published and unpublished, on history, botany, mathematics, and medicine. He was a member of APS, 1744. His letterbooks and papers, published in eleven volumes in the Collections of the New-York Historical Society, are a rich source of information not only about him but about his and BF’s philosopher-friends. DAB; Alice M. Keys, Cadwallader Colden: A Representative Eighteenth Century Official (N.Y., 1906), pp. 1–26.

1This meeting presumably took place in Connecticut during BF’s journey to or from Boston, which he visited the previous May and June (see below, p. 450 n). Colden spent most of the summer in Connecticut on public business. Colden Paps., III, 23, 25.

In a letter to William Strahan, Dec. 3, 1743, Colden described the meeting, which was the beginning of a long and fruitful friendship for both men: “I accidentally last summer fell into Company with a Printer (the most ingenious in his way without question of any in America). Upon my mentioning my thoughts which I wrote to Mr. Collinson he told me of the Method which had been used in Holland which you likewise mention but he thought the method by types en creuse to be an improvement of that Method and as he is a man very lucky in improving every hint he has done something on this foundation and which I have seen which has puzled all the printers in this country to conceive by what method it is done. As printing is this mans trade and he makes a Benefite of it I do not think my self at liberty to communicate it without his consent tho’ as to my own part I have no interest in keeping the secret....” Strahan guessed at once the identity of Colden’s new acquaintance. “From the Character you give of him,” he replied, May 9, 1744, “I am sure it must be Mr. Franklin you mean, whose Fame has long ago reached this Part of the World, for a most ingenious Man in his Way. I have had the Pleasure of corresponding with him lately, and have Sent him by the Mercurey Captain Hargrave, one of my Journeymen, to whom he intends to give the Management of one of his Printing houses. His Name is David Hall.” Colden Paps., III, 38, 59. The first letter has been revised slightly by comparison with the MS, in N.-Y. Hist. Soc.

2A MS copy of this paper is in the Colden Papers, N.-Y. Hist. Soc. It was printed in Amer. Medical and Philosophical Register, I (1810–11), 439–45, and reprinted in Sparks, Works, VI, 18–24, as though the essay and this covering letter formed a single whole. Colden’s proposed new method of printing was a form of stereotyping. Collinson consulted a London printer, who reported that the scheme had been tried before and found “expencive and inconvenient” even for works in continuing demand, and of no profit to authors. As Colden still insisted his scheme was practicable, Collinson asked the London printer William Strahan (see above, p. 383 n) to comment; Strahan wrote out his objections, which Colden accepted. Colden Paps., III, II, 37–9, 58–9.

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