Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to James Read, 17 August 1745

To James Read6

MS not found; reprinted from The Port Folio, I (1801), 165–6.7

Saturday morning, Aug. 17, ’45

Dear J[emmy],

I have been reading your letter over again, and since you desire an answer, I sit me down to write you one; yet, as I write in the market, [it] will, I believe, be but a short one, tho’ I may be long about it. I approve of your method of writing one’s mind, when one is too warm to speak it with temper: but being myself quite cool in this affair, I might as well speak as write, if I had an opportunity. Your copy of Kempis, must be a corrupt one, if it has that passage as you quote it, in omnibus requiem quaesivi, sed non inveni, nisi in angulo cum libello.8 The good father understood pleasure (requiem) better, and wrote, in angulo cum puella. Correct it thus, without hesitation. I know there is another reading, in angulo puellae; but this reject, tho’ more to the point, as an expression too indelicate.

Are you an attorney by profession, and do you know no better, how to chuse a proper court in which to bring your action? Would you submit to the decision of a husband, a cause between you and his wife?9 Don’t you know, that all wives are in the right? It may be you don’t, for you are yet but a young husband. But see, on this head, the learned Coke, that oracle of the law, in his chapter De Jus Marit.Angl.1 I advise you not to bring it to trial; for if you do, you’ll certainly be cast.

Frequent interruptions make it impossible for me to go thro’ all your letter. I have only time to remind you of the saying of that excellent old philosopher, Socrates, that in differences among friends, they that make the first concessions are the WISEST; and to hint to you, that you are in danger of losing that honour in the present case, if you are not very speedy in your acknowledgments; which I persuade myself you will be, when you consider the sex of your adversary.

Your visits never had but one thing disagreeable in them, that is, they were always too short. I shall exceedingly regret the loss of them, unless you continue, as you have begun, to make it up to me by long letters. I am dear J[emmy], with sincerest love to our dearest Suky, Your very affectionate friend and cousin,

B. Franklin

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

6James Read (1718–1793), son of Charles Read who was a cousin of Deborah Read Franklin; went into business with his widowed mother Sarah Harwood Read, 1737, in a shop next to BF’s. He visited London, 1739–40, meeting Peter Collinson, Charles Wesley, and William Strahan. Admitted to the bar, 1742, he was clerk of the Crown and prothonotary of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, 1746, and tried unsuccessfully to replace BF as clerk of the Assembly, 1747; removed to Reading, Pa., where he was appointed prothonotary, 1752, and subsequently and simultaneously held the offices of register of wills, clerk of Quarter Sessions, and justice of the peace; held minor appointments from the Board of War and Supreme Executive Council, 1776–77; elected to the Assembly, 1777, to the Supreme Executive Council, 1778–81, 1787–90, and to the Council of Censors, 1783; appointed register of the Court of Admiralty, 1781. His career, related in terms of a long-standing and unpaid debt to Strahan, is recounted at length in J. Bennett Nolan, Printer Strahan’s Book Account: A Colonial Controversy (Reading, Pa., 1939).

7This letter has been reprinted at least seven times since 1801, and there is an 1859 transcript of an earlier transcript in APS. These versions vary significantly. Sparks (Works, VII, 17–18) was the first to indicate that the addressee was James Read and to print out “Jemmy” in the salutation and the final paragraph, where previous editors had given only “J——.” But Sparks (and Bigelow and Smyth, apparently copying from him) silently omitted all that part of the first paragraph that follows the word “opportunity.” Two versions incorrectly dated the letter August 27. The ALS was listed in Parke-Bernet Galleries Sale No. 79 (Jan. 11–12, 1939), but has not been found.

8These words are inscribed on a picture of Thomas à Kempis at Zwolle, Holland. According to Heribert Rosweyde (preface to Imitatio Christi, 1617), the author wrote them in a copy of the Imitatio. Burton Stevenson, The Home Book of Quotations (8th edit., N.Y., 1956), p. 189.

9Nolan surmises that the misunderstanding or quarrel was between Read and Deborah Franklin, and that it may have arisen from there being too many women in the house in Market Street. Read had married, April 20, 1745, Susanna (the “Suky” of BF’s letter) Leacock, and brought her to live at his mother’s house next door to the Franklins on Market Street. Printer Strahan’s Book Account, p. 27.

1Neither Coke On Littleton nor the Institutes employed such chapter-headings; and this may very well be one of BF’s small jokes, and (a parody of pomposity) de Jus Marit. Angl. his translation of The Lady’s Law: or, a Treatise of Feme Coverts, containing all the Laws and Statutes relating to Women … (London, 1727), largely drawn from Coke, of which a copy of 2d edit., 1732, is in Lib. Co. Phila.

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