Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Catharine Ray, [March 1755–April 1755]

To Catharine Ray

ALS (fragment): American Philosophical Society

[March–April 1755]6

[I told him that as] I did not know her, I must refer him for Advice to his good Friends in Boston, who could better adapt it to Situations, Tempers and Circumstances. Only this I hinted in general, that I thought he would do well not to be too forward in Professions of Love, till by his Assiduities and little Services he had made some Progress in gaining the Lady’s Esteem and Affection. For when he had brought Matters to such a Pass, as that she would wish to know his Intention, think he delay’d too long his Declaration, and, as the Song says,

Had rather be marry’d than plagu’d with him so,

his Proposals, in my Opinion, would be likely to meet with much less Difficulty. I find, however, by yours, that he has declar’d himself all at once violently in love with you.7 He seems like a Brand brought flaming to a fresh Hearth; not kindled there, indeed, but it burns nevertheless. Nobody can judge for you in this Affair, better than you can for yourself; you know both the Gentlemen, and I believe you will determine rightly. I only pray God to bless you in your Choice; whether it be either of them or any other; and you may depend I shall mention nothing of your having communicated the Matter to me.

You may write freely everything you think fit, without the least Apprehension of any Person’s seeing your Letters but myself. You have complimented me so much in those I have already receiv’d, that I could not show them without being justly thought a vain Coxcomb for so doing; and the Hint you give in your last is sufficient for those you may favour me with hereafter. I know very well that the most innocent Expressions of warm Friendship, and even those of meer Civility and Complaisance, between Persons of different Sexes, are liable to be misinterpreted by suspicious Minds; and therefore though you say more, I say less than I think, and end this Letter coolly in the plain common Form, with only Dear Miss, Your humble Servant

B Franklin

My respectful Compliments to your good Father, Mother and Sister. I am glad to hear of his Recovery.

Miss Katy Ray

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

6Catharine Ray wrote BF on March 31 and April 28 (March 31 and May 1 according to his letter of September 11) and these letters reached him during his absence from Philadelphia, April 9–May 12. In one or both she must have spoken of her father’s death, which happened March 19. But as BF did not know of Simon Ray’s death when he wrote the present letter, it must have been written between his letter of March 4 and his departure on April 9. When Caty received it is not certain, for she complained to him on June 28, 1755, that she had had no replies to her letters of March 3 and 31 and April 28. None of those three has been found. William G. Roelker, ed., Benjamin Franklin and Catharine Ray Greene: Their Correspondence, 1755–1790 (Phila., 1949), pp. 22–3, from which the bracketed words are taken.

7Roelker’s explanation is that some young man must have asked BF how to court a girl, not named, and BF put him off, saying he did not know her, and suggested consulting “his good Friends in Boston,” where, perhaps, the young man lived. Then Catharine surprised BF by writing him that this was the man who had declared his love for her; and, unable to choose between him and another suitor, she asked for advice, which BF here declines to give.

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