Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Ezra Stiles, 1 September 1755

To Ezra Stiles7

ALS: Yale University Library

Philada. Sept. 1. 1755.

Dear Sir

At the same time I acknowledge the Receipt of your Favours of March 12th from New Haven,8 and May 20th. from Newport,9 I must beg your Pardon for not answering them sooner. Mr. Allison will tell you how my Time has been devoured this Summer, and how impracticable it has been for me to keep up my philosophical Correspondencies.

I have not yet made the Experiment I intended, nor that ingenious one which you suggest: But I purpose it the next time my Bells ring. The Compass Needle I imagine, should be supported out of the Box by a Point fix’d in a Glass or Wax Handle; and, (to vary it,) on a Wire Point without the Wax Handle.

I send you my Extracts from Wilkins’s Real Character or Philosophical Language;1 tho’ I doubt you will find them difficult to understand without having seen the Book itself. The whole Character and Language are in the Broad Sheet. Things or Notions to be express’d are reduc’d, in the preceding Leaves to 40 Genus’s, each of which commonly (but not always) makes a Column. Each Genus is divided commonly into 6 Species, and each Species into 8 or 9 Differences. Over against the Differences are placed Words, either of Affinity or Opposition: those of Opposition have a Dot prefix’d; those of Affinity, none. The 40 Genus’s are express’d each by a simple Character, or by a single Sound, and there are particular Marks or particular Sounds to be prefix’d or added, to show the Species and Difference, &c. There is a little Paper on which you will see some Words formed in Relation Oeconomical, that may give you some Idea of the Language, and show how all Words under the same Gen us must have the same Beginning, which greatly facilitates the Learning and Understanding of the Language. But the Explanation of the whole requires a Book, and will be too long for a Letter. I was but a Boy of 16, when I made the Extract, and 34 Years Business has almost effac’d every thing relating to the Language from my Memory; but being at that time much pleas’d with it, I understood a good deal of it, and was and am fully of Opinion, that it could be well learnt in a tenth Part of the time requir’d to learn Latin. I wish I could see a Specimen of the new Philosophical Language you mention’d to me.2

I never before knew, what that ingenious Mechanic taught you, relating to the Difference of Magnetism in a Tool plac’d in a different Position. I try’d it, and find several Varieties in it, which are very curious, but at present I cannot pursue them for want of Leisure. I am, however, extreamly oblig’d to you for the Communication. I sent you Knight on Magnetism,3 which I hope you receiv’d. I thank you also for the very particular and intelligible Account of the Thunder-Stroke at Newport. By all my Observations this Summer, I still find the Clouds more frequently and for a longer Continuance, in a Negative than in a Positive State; that is, if Glass does, as I think it does, electrise positively. But I will not by any longer Scribble detain you and Mr. Allison from the Pleasure you will both enjoy in each other’s Conversation. I enclose a few Experiments I made last Spring:4 But I have not one left of the second Part of my printed Letters5 which you desire to see, or I should immediately send it. With great Esteem and Respect I am, Dear Sir, Your most obedient humble Servant

B Franklin

Mr. Stiles

Endorsed: Mr. Franklin’s Letter Septr. 1. 1755.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

7Tucked into the draft of Stiles’ congratulatory address to BF (see above, V, 492), in Yale Univ. Lib. is a slip which contains on one side a reference to this letter and its contents and on the other a hitherto unnoticed copy of BF’s epitaph (see above, I, 109) made Dec. 19, 1766, and not the one Stiles took from Jane Mecom’s MS in 1779. Its text most closely resembles that of Jonathan Bayard Smith. See Lyman H. Butterfield, “B. Franklin’s Epitaph,” New Colophon, III (1950), 13–14.

8See above, V, 515.

9Not found.

1John Wilkins, in An Essay towards a real Character and a Philosophical Language (London, 1668), attempted to create a language of symbols, supplanting the existing diversity of languages, and thus promote the dissemination of knowledge. Wilkins’ effort anticipated in some ways both Linnaeus’ classification and Roget’s Thesaurus. The extracts BF enclosed have not been found. See Clark Emery, “John Wilkins’ Universal Language,” Isis, XXXVIII (1947–48), 174–85.

2Not identified.

3Gowin Knight, An attempt to demonstrate that all the Phenomena in Nature may be explained by two simple active principles, attraction and repulsion (London, 1748).

4Possibly the experiments made in pursuance of Canton’s, dated March 14, 1755, and sent to Dr. John Lining, March 18, and to Collinson in the “philosophical Packet” of June 26. See above, V, 516, 521, and this volume, pp. 83–4.

5Part II of New Experiments and Observations on Electricity (London, 1754), which Stiles had requested March 12, above, V, 515.

Index Entries